Part 4 out of 4
"'Love her!' he repeated, in the utmost astonishment; 'what on earth
is there in her to love? She's nothing but a bad translation of a
modern French comedy, with the interest omitted.'
"This 'tired' me--to use an Americanism. 'You came to me a month
ago,' I said, 'raving over her, and talking about being the dirt
under her feet and kissing her doorstep.'
"He turned very red. 'I wish, my dear Mac,' he said, 'you would pay
me the compliment of not mistaking me for that detestable little cad
with whom I have the misfortune to be connected. You would greatly
oblige me if next time he attempts to inflict upon you his vulgar
drivel you would kindly kick him downstairs.'
"'No doubt,' he added, with a sneer, as we walked on, 'Miss Trevior
would be his ideal. She is exactly the type of woman, I should say,
to charm that type of man. For myself, I do not appreciate the
artistic and literary female.'
"'Besides,' he continued, in a deeper tone, 'you know my feelings.
I shall never care for any other woman but Elizabeth.'
"'And she?' I said
"'She,' he sighed, 'is breaking her heart for Smith.'
"'Why don't you tell her you are Smith?' I asked.
"'I cannot,' he replied, 'not even to win her. Besides, she would
not believe me.'
"We said good-night at the corner of Bond Street, and I did not see
him again till one afternoon late in the following March, when I ran
against him in Ludgate Circus. He was wearing his transition blue
suit and bowler hat. I went up to him and took his arm.
"'Which are you?' I said.
"'Neither, for the moment,' he replied, 'thank God. Half an hour
ago I was Smythe, half an hour hence I shall be Smith. For the
present half-hour I am a man.'
"There was a pleasant, hearty ring in his voice, and a genial,
kindly light in his eyes, and he held himself like a frank
"'You are certainly an improvement upon both of them,' I said.
"He laughed a sunny laugh, with just the shadow of sadness dashed
across it. 'Do you know my idea of Heaven?' he said.
"'No,' I replied, somewhat surprised at the question.
"'Ludgate Circus,' was the answer. 'The only really satisfying
moments of my life,' he said, 'have been passed in the neighbourhood
of Ludgate Circus. I leave Piccadilly an unhealthy, unwholesome
prig. At Charing Cross I begin to feel my blood stir in my veins.
From Ludgate Circus to Cheapside I am a human thing with human
feeling throbbing in my heart, and human thought throbbing in my
brain--with fancies, sympathies, and hopes. At the Bank my mind
becomes a blank. As I walk on, my senses grow coarse and blunted;
and by the time I reach Whitechapel I am a poor little uncivilised
cad. On the return journey it is the same thing reversed.'
"'Why not live in Ludgate Circus,' I said, 'and be always as you are
"'Because,' he answered, 'man is a pendulum, and must travel his
"'My dear Mac,' said he, laying his hand upon my shoulder, 'there is
only one good thing about me, and that is a moral. Man is as God
made him: don't be so sure that you can take him to pieces and
improve him. All my life I have sought to make myself an
unnaturally superior person. Nature has retaliated by making me
also an unnaturally inferior person. Nature abhors lopsidedness.
She turns out man as a whole, to be developed as a whole. I always
wonder, whenever I come across a supernaturally pious, a
supernaturally moral, a supernaturally cultured person, if they also
have a reverse self.'
"I was shocked at his suggested argument, and walked by his side for
a while without speaking. At last, feeling curious on the subject,
I asked him how his various love affairs were progressing.
"'Oh, as usual,' he replied; 'in and out of a cul de sac. When I am
Smythe I love Eliza, and Eliza loathes me. When I am Smith I love
Edith, and the mere sight of me makes her shudder. It is as
unfortunate for them as for me. I am not saying it boastfully.
Heaven knows it is an added draught of misery in my cup; but it is a
fact that Eliza is literally pining away for me as Smith, and--as
Smith I find it impossible to be even civil to her; while Edith,
poor girl, has been foolish enough to set her heart on me as Smythe,
and as Smythe she seems to me but the skin of a woman stuffed with
the husks of learning, and rags torn from the corpse of wit.'
"I remained absorbed in my own thoughts for some time, and did not
come out of them till we were crossing the Minories. Then, the idea
suddenly occurring to me, I said:
"'Why don't you get a new girl altogether? There must be medium
girls that both Smith and Smythe could like, and that would put up
with both of you.'
"'No more girls for this child,' he answered 'they're more trouble
than they're worth. Those yer want yer carn't get, and those yer
can 'ave, yer don't want.'
"I started, and looked up at him. He was slouching along with his
hands in his pockets, and a vacuous look in his face.
"A sudden repulsion seized me. 'I must go now,' I said, stopping.
'I'd no idea I had come so far.'
"He seemed as glad to be rid of me as I to be rid of him. 'Oh, must
yer,' he said, holding out his hand. 'Well, so long.'
"We shook hands carelessly. He disappeared in the crowd, and that
is the last I have ever seen of him."
"Is that a true story?" asked Jephson.
"Well, I've altered the names and dates," said MacShaughnassy; "but
the main facts you can rely upon."
The final question discussed at our last meeting been: What shall
our hero be? MacShaughnassy had suggested an author, with a critic
for the villain. My idea was a stockbroker, with an undercurrent of
romance in his nature. Said Jephson, who has a practical mind:
"The question is not what we like, but what the female novel-reader
"That is so," agreed MacShaughnassy. "I propose that we collect
feminine opinion upon this point. I will write to my aunt and
obtain from her the old lady's view. You," he said, turning to me,
"can put the case to your wife, and get the young lady's ideal. Let
Brown write to his sister at Newnham, and find out whom the
intellectual maiden favours, while Jephson can learn from Miss
Medbury what is most attractive to the common-sensed girl."
This plan we had adopted, and the result was now under
consideration. MacShaughnassy opened the proceedings by reading his
aunt's letter. Wrote the old lady:
"I think, if I were you, my dear boy, I should choose a soldier.
You know your poor grandfather, who ran away to America with that
WICKED Mrs. Featherly, the banker's wife, was a soldier, and so was
your poor cousin Robert, who lost eight thousand pounds at Monte
Carlo. I have always felt singularly drawn towards soldiers, even
as a girl; though your poor dear uncle could not bear them. You
will find many allusions to soldiers and men of war in the Old
Testament (see Jer. xlviii. 14). Of course one does not like to
think of their fighting and killing each other, but then they do not
seem to do that sort of thing nowadays."
"So much for the old lady," said MacShaughnassy, as he folded up the
letter and returned it to his pocket. "What says culture?"
Brown produced from his cigar-case a letter addressed in a bold
round hand, and read as follows:
"What a curious coincidence! A few of us were discussing this very
subject last night in Millicent Hightopper's rooms, and I may tell
you at once that our decision was unanimous in favour of soldiers.
You see, my dear Selkirk, in human nature the attraction is towards
the opposite. To a milliner's apprentice a poet would no doubt be
satisfying; to a woman of intelligence he would he an unutterable
bore. What the intellectual woman requires in man is not something
to argue with, but something to look at. To an empty-headed woman I
can imagine the soldier type proving vapid and uninteresting; to the
woman of mind he represents her ideal of man--a creature strong,
handsome, well-dressed, and not too clever."
"That gives us two votes for the army," remarked MacShaughnassy, as
Brown tore his sister's letter in two, and threw the pieces into the
waste-paper basket. "What says the common-sensed girl?"
"First catch your common-sensed girl," muttered Jephson, a little
grumpily, as it seemed to me. "Where do you propose finding her?"
"Well," returned MacShaughnassy, "I looked to find her in Miss
As a rule, the mention of Miss Medbury's name brings a flush of joy
to Jephson's face; but now his features wore an expression
distinctly approaching a scowl.
"Oh!" he replied, "did you? Well, then, the common-sensed girl
loves the military also."
"By Jove!" exclaimed MacShaughnassy, "what an extraordinary thing.
What reason does she give?"
"That there's a something about them, and that they dance so
divinely," answered Jephson, shortly.
"Well, you do surprise me," murmured MacShaughnassy, "I am
Then to me he said: "And what does the young married woman say?
"Yes," I replied, "precisely the same."
"Does SHE give a reason?" he asked.
"Oh yes," I explained; "because you can't help liking them."
There was silence for the next few minutes, while we smoked and
thought. I fancy we were all wishing we had never started this
That four distinctly different types of educated womanhood should,
with promptness and unanimity quite unfeminine, have selected the
soldier as their ideal, was certainly discouraging to the civilian
heart. Had they been nursemaids or servant girls, I should have
expected it. The worship of Mars by the Venus of the white cap is
one of the few vital religions left to this devoutless age. A year
or two ago I lodged near a barracks, and the sight to be seen round
its huge iron gates on Sunday afternoons I shall never forget. The
girls began to assemble about twelve o'clock. By two, at which hour
the army, with its hair nicely oiled and a cane in its hand, was
ready for a stroll, there would be some four or five hundred of them
waiting in a line. Formerly they had collected in a wild mob, and
as the soldiers were let out to them two at a time, had fought for
them, as lions for early Christians. This, however, had led to
scenes of such disorder and brutality, that the police had been
obliged to interfere; and the girls were now marshalled in QUEUE,
two abreast, and compelled, by a force of constables specially told
off for the purpose, to keep their places and wait their proper
At three o'clock the sentry on duty would come down to the wicket
and close it. "They're all gone, my dears," he would shout out to
the girls still left; "it's no good your stopping, we've no more for
"Oh, not one!" some poor child would murmur pleadingly, while the
tears welled up into her big round eyes, "not even a little one.
I've been waiting SUCH a long time."
"Can't help that," the honest fellow would reply, gruffly, but not
unkindly, turning aside to hide his emotion; "you've had 'em all
between you. We don't make 'em, you know: you can't have 'em if we
haven't got 'em, can you? Come earlier next time."
Then he would hurry away to escape further importunity; and the
police, who appeared to have been waiting for this moment with
gloating anticipation, would jeeringly hustle away the weeping
remnant. "Now then, pass along, you girls, pass along," they would
say, in that irritatingly unsympathetic voice of theirs. "You've
had your chance. Can't have the roadway blocked up all the
afternoon with this 'ere demonstration of the unloved. Pass along."
In connection with this same barracks, our char-woman told Amenda,
who told Ethelbertha, who told me a story, which I now told the
Into a certain house, in a certain street in the neighbourhood,
there moved one day a certain family. Their servant had left them--
most of their servants did at the end of a week--and the day after
the moving-in an advertisement for a domestic was drawn up and sent
to the Chronicle. It ran thus:
WANTED, GENERAL SERVANT, in small family of eleven. Wages, 6
pounds; no beer money. Must be early riser and hard worker.
Washing done at home. Must be good cook, and not object to window-
cleaning. Unitarian preferred.--Apply, with references, to A. B.,
That advertisement was sent off on Wednesday afternoon. At seven
o'clock on Thursday morning the whole family were awakened by
continuous ringing of the street-door bell. The husband, looking
out of window, was surprised to see a crowd of about fifty girls
surrounding the house. He slipped on his dressing-gown and went
down to see what was the matter. The moment he opened the door,
fifteen of them charged tumultuously into the passage, sweeping him
completely off his legs. Once inside, these fifteen faced round,
fought the other thirty-five or so back on to the door-step, and
slammed the door in their faces. Then they picked up the master of
the house, and asked him politely to conduct them to A. B."
At first, owing to the clamour of the mob outside, who were
hammering at the door and shouting curses through the keyhole, he
could understand nothing, but at length they succeeded in explaining
to him that they were domestic servants come ill answer to his
wife's advertisement. The man went and told his wife, and his wife
said she would see them, one at a time.
Which one should have audience first was a delicate question to
decide. The man, on being appealed to, said he would prefer to
leave it to them. They accordingly discussed the matter among
themselves. At the end of a quarter of an hour, the victor, having
borrowed some hair-pins and a looking-glass from our charwoman, who
had slept in the house, went upstairs, while the remaining fourteen
sat down in the hall, and fanned themselves with their bonnets.
"A. B." was a good deal astonished when the first applicant
presented herself. She was a tall, genteel-looking girl. Up to
yesterday she had been head housemaid at Lady Stanton's, and before
that she had been under-cook for two years to the Duchess of York.
"And why did you leave Lady Stanton?" asked "A. B."
"To come here, mum," replied the girl. The lady was puzzled.
"And you'll be satisfied with six pounds a year?" she asked.
"Certainly, mum, I think it ample."
"And you don't mind hard work?"
"I love it, mum."
"And you're an early riser?"
"Oh yes, mum, it upsets me stopping in bed after half-past five."
"You know we do the washing at home?"
"Yes, mum. I think it so much better to do it at home. Those
laundries ruin good clothes. They're so careless."
"Are you a Unitarian?" continued the lady.
"Not yet, mum," replied the girl, "but I should like to be one."
The lady took her reference, and said she would write.
The next applicant offered to come for three pounds--thought six
pounds too much. She expressed her willingness to sleep in the back
kitchen: a shakedown under the sink was all she wanted. She
likewise had yearnings towards Unitarianism.
The third girl did not require any wages at all--could not
understand what servants wanted with wages--thought wages only
encouraged a love of foolish finery--thought a comfortable home in a
Unitarian family ought to be sufficient wages for any girl.
This girl said there was one stipulation she should like to make,
and that was that she should be allowed to pay for all breakages
caused by her own carelessness or neglect. She objected to holidays
and evenings out; she held that they distracted a girl from her
The fourth candidate offered a premium of five pounds for the place;
and then "A. B." began to get frightened, and refused to see any
more of the girls, convinced that they must be lunatics from some
neighbouring asylum out for a walk.
Later in the day, meeting the next-door lady on the door-step, she
related her morning's experiences.
"Oh, that's nothing extraordinary," said the next-door lady; "none
of us on this side of the street pay wages; and we get the pick of
all the best servants in London. Why, girls will come from the
other end of the kingdom to get into one of these houses. It's the
dream of their lives. They save up for years, so as to be able to
come here for nothing."
"What's the attraction?" asked "A. B.," more amazed than ever.
"Why, don't you see," explained the next door lady, "our back
windows open upon the barrack yard. A girl living in one of these
houses is always close to soldiers. By looking out of window she
can always see soldiers; and sometimes a soldier will nod to her or
even call up to her. They never dream of asking for wages. They'll
work eighteen hours a day, and put up with anything just to be
allowed to stop."
"A. B." profited by this information, and engaged the girl who
offered the five pounds premium. She found her a perfect treasure
of a servant. She was invariably willing and respectful, slept on a
sofa in the kitchen, and was always contented with an egg for her
The truth of this story I cannot vouch for. Myself, I can believe
it. Brown and MacShaughnassy made no attempt to do so, which seemed
unfriendly. Jephson excused himself on the plea of a headache. I
admit there are points in it presenting difficulties to the average
intellect. As I explained at the commencement, it was told to me by
Ethelbertha, who had it from Amenda, who got it from the char-woman,
and exaggerations may have crept into it. The following, however,
were incidents that came under my own personal observation. They
afforded a still stronger example of the influence exercised by
Tommy Atkins upon the British domestic, and I therefore thought it
right to relate them.
"The heroine of them," I said, "is our Amenda. Now, you would call
her a tolerably well-behaved, orderly young woman, would you not?"
"She is my ideal of unostentatious respectability," answered
"That was my opinion also," I replied. "You can, therefore, imagine
my feelings on passing her one evening in the Folkestone High Street
with a Panama hat upon her head (MY Panama hat), and a soldier's arm
round her waist. She was one of a mob following the band of the
Third Berkshire Infantry, then in camp at Sandgate. There was an
ecstatic, far-away look in her eyes. She was dancing rather than
walking, and with her left hand she beat time to the music.
"Ethelbertha was with me at the time. We stared after the
procession until it had turned the corner, and then we stared at
"'Oh, it's impossible,' said Ethelbertha to me.
"'But that was my hat,' I said to Ethelbertha.
"The moment we reached home Ethelbertha looked for Amenda, and I
looked for my hat. Neither was to be found.
"Nine o'clock struck, ten o'clock struck. At half-past ten, we went
down and got our own supper, and had it in the kitchen. At a
quarter-past eleven, Amenda returned. She walked into the kitchen
without a word, hung my hat up behind the door, and commenced
clearing away the supper things.
"Ethelbertha rose, calm but severe.
"'Where have you been, Amenda?' she inquired.
"'Gadding half over the county with a lot of low soldiers,' answered
Amenda, continuing her work.
"'You had on my hat,' I added.
"'Yes, sir,' replied Amenda, still continuing her work, 'it was the
first thing that came to hand. What I'm thankful for is that it
wasn't missis's best bonnet.'
"Whether Ethelbertha was mollified by the proper spirit displayed in
this last remark, I cannot say, but I think it probable. At all
events, it was in a voice more of sorrow than of anger that she
resumed her examination.
"'You were walking with a soldier's arm around your waist when we
passed you, Amenda?' she observed interrogatively.
"'I know, mum,' admitted Amenda, 'I found it there myself when the
"Ethelbertha looked her inquiries. Amenda filled a saucepan with
water, and then replied to them.
"'I'm a disgrace to a decent household,' she said; 'no mistress who
respected herself would keep me a moment. I ought to be put on the
doorstep with my box and a month's wages.'
"'But why did you do it then?' said Ethelbertha, with natural
"'Because I'm a helpless ninny, mum. I can't help myself; if I see
soldiers I'm bound to follow them. It runs in our family. My poor
cousin Emma was just such another fool. She was engaged to be
married to a quiet, respectable young fellow with a shop of his own,
and three days before the wedding she ran off with a regiment of
marines to Chatham and married the colour-sergeant. That's what I
shall end by doing. I've been all the way to Sandgate with that lot
you saw me with, and I've kissed four of them--the nasty wretches.
I'm a nice sort of girl to be walking out with a respectable
"She was so deeply disgusted with herself that it seemed superfluous
for anybody else to be indignant with her; and Ethelbertha changed
her tone and tried to comfort her.
"'Oh, you'll get over all that nonsense, Amenda,' she said,
laughingly; 'you see yourself how silly it is. You must tell Mr.
Bowles to keep you away from soldiers.'
"'Ah, I can't look at it in the same light way that you do, mum,'
returned Amenda, somewhat reprovingly; 'a girl that can't see a bit
of red marching down the street without wanting to rush out and
follow it ain't fit to be anybody's wife. Why, I should be leaving
the shop with nobody in it about twice a week, and he'd have to go
the round of all the barracks in London, looking for me. I shall
save up and get myself into a lunatic asylum, that's what I shall
"Ethelbertha began to grow quite troubled. 'But surely this is
something altogether new, Amenda,' she said; 'you must have often
met soldiers when you've been out in London?'
"'Oh yes, one or two at a time, walking about anyhow, I can stand
that all right. It's when there's a lot of them with a band that I
lose my head.'
"'You don't know what it's like, mum,' she added, noticing
Ethelbertha's puzzled expression; 'you've never had it. I only hope
you never may.'
"We kept a careful watch over Amenda during the remainder of our
stay at Folkestone, and an anxious time we had of it. Every day
some regiment or other would march through the town, and at the
first sound of its music Amenda would become restless and excited.
The Pied Piper's reed could not have stirred the Hamelin children
deeper than did those Sandgate bands the heart of our domestic.
Fortunately, they generally passed early in the morning when we were
indoors, but one day, returning home to lunch, we heard distant
strains dying away upon the Hythe Road. We hurried in. Ethelbertha
ran down into the kitchen; it was empty!--up into Amenda's bedroom;
it was vacant! We called. There was no answer.
"'That miserable girl has gone off again,' said Ethelbertha. 'What
a terrible misfortune it is for her. It's quite a disease.'
"Ethelbertha wanted me to go to Sandgate camp and inquire for her.
I was sorry for the girl myself, but the picture of a young and
innocent-looking man wandering about a complicated camp, inquiring
for a lost domestic, presenting itself to my mind, I said that I'd
Ethelbertha thought me heartless, and said that if I would not go
she would go herself. I replied that I thought one female member of
my household was enough in that camp at a time, and requested her
not to. Ethelbertha expressed her sense of my inhuman behaviour by
haughtily declining to eat any lunch, and I expressed my sense of
her unreasonableness by sweeping the whole meal into the grate,
after which Ethelbertha suddenly developed exuberant affection for
the cat (who didn't want anybody's love, but wanted to get under the
grate after the lunch), and I became supernaturally absorbed in the
"In the afternoon, strolling out into the garden, I heard the faint
cry of a female in distress. I listened attentively, and the cry
was repeated. I thought it sounded like Amenda's voice, but where
it came from I could not conceive. It drew nearer, however, as I
approached the bottom of the garden, and at last I located it in a
small wooden shed, used by the proprietor of the house as a dark-
room for developing photographs.
"The door was locked. 'Is that you, Amenda?' I cried through the
"'Yes, sir,' came back the muffled answer. 'Will you please let me
out? you'll find the key on the ground near the door.'
"I discovered it on the grass about a yard away, and released her.
'Who locked you in?' I asked.
"'I did, sir,' she replied; 'I locked myself in, and pushed the key
out under the door. I had to do it, or I should have gone off with
those beastly soldiers.'
"'I hope I haven't inconvenienced you, sir,' she added, stepping
out; 'I left the lunch all laid.'"
Amenda's passion for soldiers was her one tribute to sentiment.
Towards all others of the male sex she maintained an attitude of
callous unsusceptibility, and her engagements with them (which were
numerous) were entered into or abandoned on grounds so sordid as to
seriously shock Ethelbertha.
When she came to us she was engaged to a pork butcher--with a
milkman in reserve. For Amenda's sake we dealt with the man, but we
never liked him, and we liked his pork still less. When, therefore,
Amenda announced to us that her engagement with him was "off," and
intimated that her feelings would in no way suffer by our going
elsewhere for our bacon, we secretly rejoiced.
"I am confident you have done right, Amenda," said Ethelbertha; "you
would never have been happy with that man."
"No, mum, I don't think I ever should," replied Amenda. "I don't
see how any girl could as hadn't the digestion of an ostrich."
Ethelbertha looked puzzled. "But what has digestion got to do with
it?" she asked.
"A pretty good deal, mum," answered Amenda, "when you're thinking of
marrying a man as can't make a sausage fit to eat."
"But, surely," exclaimed Ethelbertha, "you don't mean to say you're
breaking off the match because you don't like his sausages!"
"Well, I suppose that's what it comes to," agreed Amenda,
"What an awful idea!" sighed poor Ethelbertha, after a long pause.
"Do you think you ever really loved him?"
"Oh yes," said Amenda, "I loved him right enough, but it's no good
loving a man that wants you to live on sausages that keep you awake
"But does he want you to live on sausages?" persisted Ethelbertha.
"Oh, he doesn't say anything about it," explained Amenda; "but you
know what it is, mum, when you marry a pork butcher; you're expected
to eat what's left over. That's the mistake my poor cousin Eliza
made. She married a muffin man. Of course, what he didn't sell
they had to finish up themselves. Why, one winter, when he had a
run of bad luck, they lived for two months on nothing but muffins.
I never saw a girl so changed in all my life. One has to think of
these things, you know."
But the most shamefully mercenary engagement that I think Amenda
ever entered into, was one with a 'bus conductor. We were living in
the north of London then, and she had a young man, a cheesemonger,
who kept a shop in Lupus Street, Chelsea. He could not come up to
her because of the shop, so once a week she used to go down to him.
One did not ride ten miles for a penny in those days, and she found
the fare from Holloway to Victoria and back a severe tax upon her
purse. The same 'bus that took her down at six brought her back at
ten. During the first journey the 'bus conductor stared at Amenda;
during the second he talked to her, during the third he gave her a
cocoanut, during the fourth he proposed to her, and was promptly
accepted. After that, Amenda was enabled to visit her cheesemonger
He was a quaint character himself, this 'bus conductor. I often
rode with him to Fleet Street. He knew me quite well (I suppose
Amenda must have pointed me out to him), and would always ask me
after her--aloud, before all the other passengers, which was trying-
-and give me messages to take back to her. Where women were
concerned he had what is called "a way" with him, and from the
extent and variety of his female acquaintance, and the evident
tenderness with which the majority of them regarded him, I am
inclined to hope that Amenda's desertion of him (which happened
contemporaneously with her jilting of the cheesemonger) caused him
less prolonged suffering than might otherwise have been the case.
He was a man from whom I derived a good deal of amusement one way
and another. Thinking of him brings back to my mind a somewhat odd
One afternoon, I jumped upon his 'bus in the Seven Sisters Road. An
elderly Frenchman was the only other occupant of the vehicle. "You
vil not forget me," the Frenchman was saying as I entered, "I desire
"I won't forget yer," answered the conductor, "you shall 'ave yer
Sharing Cross. Don't make a fuss about it."
"That's the third time 'ee's arst me not to forget 'im," he remarked
to me in a stentorian aside; "'ee don't giv' yer much chance of
doin' it, does 'ee?"
At the corner of the Holloway Road we drew up, and our conductor
began to shout after the manner of his species: "Charing Cross--
Charing Cross--'ere yer are--Come along, lady--Charing Cross."
The little Frenchman jumped up, and prepared to exit; the conductor
pushed him back.
"Sit down and don't be silly," he said; "this ain't Charing Cross."
The Frenchman looked puzzled, but collapsed meekly. We picked up a
few passengers, and proceeded on our way. Half a mile up the
Liverpool Road a lady stood on the kerb regarding us as we passed
with that pathetic mingling of desire and distrust which is the
average woman's attitude towards conveyances of all kinds. Our
"Where d'yer want to go to?" he asked her severely--"Strand--Charing
The Frenchman did not hear or did not understand the first part of
the speech, but he caught the words "Charing Cross," and bounced up
and out on to the step. The conductor collared him as he was
getting off, and jerked him back savagely.
"Carn't yer keep still a minute," he cried indignantly; "blessed if
you don't want lookin' after like a bloomin' kid."
"I vont to be put down at Sharing Cross," answered the Frenchman,
"You vont to be put down at Sharing Cross," repeated the other
bitterly, as he led him back to his seat. "I shall put yer down in
the middle of the road if I 'ave much more of yer. You stop there
till I come and sling yer out. I ain't likely to let yer go much
past yer Sharing Cross, I shall be too jolly glad to get rid o'
The poor Frenchman subsided, and we jolted on. At "The Angel" we,
of course, stopped. "Charing Cross," shouted the conductor, and up
sprang the Frenchman.
"Oh, my Gawd," said the conductor, taking him by the shoulders and
forcing him down into the corner seat, "wot am I to do? Carn't
somebody sit on 'im?"
He held him firmly down until the 'bus started, and then released
him. At the top of Chancery Lane the same scene took place, and the
poor little Frenchman became exasperated.
"He keep saying Sharing Cross, Sharing Cross," he exclaimed, turning
to the other passengers; "and it is NO Sharing Cross. He is fool."
"Carn't yer understand," retorted the conductor, equally indignant;
"of course I say Sharing Cross--I mean Charing Cross, but that don't
mean that it IS Charing Cross. That means--" and then perceiving
from the blank look on the Frenchman's face the utter impossibility
of ever making the matter clear to him, he turned to us with an
appealing gesture, and asked:
"Does any gentleman know the French for 'bloomin' idiot'?"
A day or two afterwards, I happened to enter his omnibus again.
"Well," I asked him, "did you get your French friend to Charing
Cross all right?"
"No, sir," he replied, "you'll 'ardly believe it, but I 'ad a bit of
a row with a policeman just before I got to the corner, and it put
'im clean out o' my 'ead. Blessed if I didn't run 'im on to
Said Brown one evening, "There is but one vice, and that is
Jephson was standing before the fire lighting his pipe. He puffed
the tobacco into a glow, threw the match into the embers, and then
"And the seed of all virtue also."
"Sit down and get on with your work," said MacShaughnassy from the
sofa where he lay at full length with his heels on a chair; "we're
discussing the novel. Paradoxes not admitted during business
Jephson, however, was in an argumentative mood.
"Selfishness," he continued, "is merely another name for Will.
Every deed, good or bad, that we do is prompted by selfishness. We
are charitable to secure ourselves a good place in the next world,
to make ourselves respected in this, to ease our own distress at the
knowledge of suffering. One man is kind because it gives him
pleasure to be kind, just as another is cruel because cruelty
pleases him. A great man does his duty because to him the sense of
duty done is a deeper delight than would be the case resulting from
avoidance of duty. The religious man is religious because he finds
a joy in religion; the moral man moral because with his strong self-
respect, viciousness would mean wretchedness. Self-sacrifice itself
is only a subtle selfishness: we prefer the mental exaltation
gained thereby to the sensual gratification which is the alternative
reward. Man cannot be anything else but selfish. Selfishness is
the law of all life. Each thing, from the farthest fixed star to
the smallest insect crawling on the earth, fighting for itself
according to its strength; and brooding over all, the Eternal,
working for HIMSELF: that is the universe."
"Have some whisky," said MacShaughnassy; "and don't be so
complicatedly metaphysical. You make my head ache."
"If all action, good and bad, spring from selfishness," replied
Brown, "then there must be good selfishness and bad selfishness:
and your bad selfishness is my plain selfishness, without any
adjective, so we are back where we started. I say selfishness--bad
selfishness--is the root of all evil, and there you are bound to
agree with me."
"Not always," persisted Jephson; "I've known selfishness--
selfishness according to the ordinarily accepted meaning of the
term--to be productive of good actions. I can give you an instance,
if you like."
"Has it got a moral?" asked MacShaughnassy, drowsily,
Jephson mused a moment. "Yes," he said at length; "a very practical
moral--and one very useful to young men."
"That's the sort of story we want," said the MacShaughnassy, raising
himself into a sitting position. "You listen to this, Brown."
Jephson seated himself upon a chair, in his favourite attitude, with
his elbows resting upon the back, and smoked for a while in silence.
"There are three people in this story," he began; "the wife, the
wife's husband, and the other man. In most dramas of this type, it
is the wife who is the chief character. In this case, the
interesting person is the other man.
"The wife--I met her once: she was the most beautiful woman I have
ever seen, and the most wicked-looking; which is saying a good deal
for both statements. I remember, during a walking tour one year,
coming across a lovely little cottage. It was the sweetest place
imaginable. I need not describe it. It was the cottage one sees in
pictures, and reads of in sentimental poetry. I was leaning over
the neatly-cropped hedge, drinking in its beauty, when at one of the
tiny casements I saw, looking out at me, a face. It stayed there
only a moment, but in that moment the cottage had become ugly, and I
hurried away with a shudder.
"That woman's face reminded me of the incident. It was an angel's
face, until the woman herself looked out of it: then you were
struck by the strange incongruity between tenement and tenant.
"That at one time she had loved her husband, I have little doubt.
Vicious women have few vices, and sordidness is not usually one of
them. She had probably married him, borne towards him by one of
those waves of passion upon which the souls of animal natures are
continually rising and falling. On possession, however, had quickly
followed satiety, and from satiety had grown the desire for a new
"They were living at Cairo at the period; her husband held an
important official position there, and by virtue of this, and of her
own beauty and tact, her house soon became the centre of the Anglo-
Saxon society ever drifting in and out of the city. The women
disliked her, and copied her. The men spoke slightingly of her to
their wives, lightly of her to each other, and made idiots of
themselves when they were alone with her. She laughed at them to
their faces, and mimicked them behind their backs. Their friends
said it was clever.
"One year there arrived a young English engineer, who had come out
to superintend some canal works. He brought with him satisfactory
letters of recommendation, and was at once received by the European
residents as a welcome addition to their social circle. He was not
particularly good-looking, he was not remarkably charming, but he
possessed the one thing that few women can resist in a man, and that
is strength. The woman looked at the man, and the man looked back
at the woman; and the drama began.
"Scandal flies swiftly through small communities. Before a month,
their relationship was the chief topic of conversation throughout
the quarter. In less than two, it reached the ears of the woman's
"He was either an exceptionally mean or an exceptionally noble
character, according to how one views the matter. He worshipped his
wife--as men with big hearts and weak brains often do worship such
women--with dog-like devotion. His only dread was lest the scandal
should reach proportions that would compel him to take notice of it,
and thus bring shame and suffering upon the woman to whom he would
have given his life. That a man who saw her should love her seemed
natural to him; that she should have grown tired of himself, a thing
not to be wondered at. He was grateful to her for having once loved
him, for a little while.
"As for 'the other man,' he proved somewhat of an enigma to the
gossips. He attempted no secrecy; if anything, he rather paraded
his subjugation--or his conquest, it was difficult to decide which
term to apply. He rode and drove with her; visited her in public
and in private (in such privacy as can be hoped for in a house
filled with chattering servants, and watched by spying eyes); loaded
her with expensive presents, which she wore openly, and papered his
smoking-den with her photographs. Yet he never allowed himself to
appear in the least degree ridiculous; never allowed her to come
between him and his work. A letter from her, he would lay aside
unopened until he had finished what he evidently regarded as more
important business. When boudoir and engine-shed became rivals, it
was the boudoir that had to wait.
"The woman chafed under his self-control, which stung her like a
lash, but clung to him the more abjectly.
"'Tell me you love me!' she would cry fiercely, stretching her white
arms towards him.
"'I have told you so,' he would reply calmly, without moving.
"'I want to hear you tell it me again,' she would plead with a voice
that trembled on a sob. 'Come close to me and tell it me again,
"Then, as she lay with half-closed eyes, he would pour forth a flood
of passionate words sufficient to satisfy even her thirsty ears, and
afterwards, as the gates clanged behind him, would take up an
engineering problem at the exact point at which half an hour before,
on her entrance into the room, he had temporarily dismissed it.
"One day, a privileged friend put bluntly to him this question:
'Are you playing for love or vanity?'
"To which the man, after long pondering, gave this reply: ''Pon my
soul, Jack, I couldn't tell you.'
"Now, when a man is in love with a woman who cannot make up her mind
whether she loves him or not, we call the complication comedy; where
it is the woman who is in earnest the result is generally tragedy.
"They continued to meet and to make love. They talked--as people in
their position are prone to talk--of the beautiful life they would
lead if it only were not for the thing that was; of the earthly
paradise--or, maybe, 'earthy' would be the more suitable adjective--
they would each create for the other, if only they had the right
which they hadn't.
"In this work of imagination the man trusted chiefly to his literary
faculties, which were considerable; the woman to her desires. Thus,
his scenes possessed a grace and finish which hers lacked, but her
pictures were the more vivid. Indeed, so realistic did she paint
them, that to herself they seemed realities, waiting for her. Then
she would rise to go towards them only to strike herself against the
thought of the thing that stood between her and them. At first she
only hated the thing, but after a while there came an ugly look of
hope into her eyes.
"The time drew near for the man to return to England. The canal was
completed, and a day appointed for the letting in of the water. The
man determined to make the event the occasion of a social gathering.
He invited a large number of guests, among whom were the woman and
her husband, to assist at the function. Afterwards the party were
to picnic at a pleasant wooded spot some three-quarters of a mile
from the first lock.
"The ceremony of flooding was to be performed by the woman, her
husband's position entitling her to this distinction. Between the
river and the head of the cutting had been left a strong bank of
earth, pierced some distance down by a hole, which hole was kept
closed by means of a closely-fitting steel plate. The woman drew
the lever releasing this plate, and the water rushed through and
began to press against the lock gates. When it had attained a
certain depth, the sluices were raised, and the water poured down
into the deep basin of the lock.
"It was an exceptionally deep lock. The party gathered round and
watched the water slowly rising. The woman looked down, and
shuddered; the man was standing by her side.
"'How deep it is,' she said.
"'Yes,' he replied, 'it holds thirty feet of water, when full.'
"The water crept up inch by inch.
"'Why don't you open the gates, and let it in quickly?' she asked.
"'It would not do for it to come in too quickly,' he explained; 'we
shall half fill this lock, and then open the sluices at the other
end, and so let the water pass through.'
"The woman looked at the smooth stone walls and at the iron-plated
"'I wonder what a man would do,' she said, 'if he fell in, and there
was no one near to help him?'
"The man laughed. 'I think he would stop there,' he answered.
'Come, the others are waiting for us.'
"He lingered a moment to give some final instructions to the
workmen. 'You can follow on when you've made all right,' he said,
'and get something to eat. There's no need for more than one to
stop.' Then they joined the rest of the party, and sauntered on,
laughing and talking, to the picnic ground.
After lunch the party broke up, as is the custom of picnic parties,
and wandered away in groups and pairs. The man, whose duty as host
had hitherto occupied all his attention, looked for the woman, but
she was gone.
"A friend strolled by, the same that had put the question to him
about love and vanity.
"'Have you quarrelled?' asked the friend.
"'No,' replied the man.
"'I fancied you had,' said the other. 'I met her just now walking
with her husband, of all men in the world, and making herself quite
agreeable to him.'
"The friend strolled on, and the man sat down on a fallen tree, and
lighted a cigar. He smoked and thought, and the cigar burnt out,
but he still sat thinking.
"After a while he heard a faint rustling of the branches behind him,
and peering between the interlacing leaves that hid him, saw the
crouching figure of the woman creeping through the wood.
"His lips were parted to call her name, when she turned her
listening head in his direction, and his eyes fell full upon her
face. Something about it, he could not have told what, struck him
dumb, and the woman crept on.
"Gradually the nebulous thoughts floating through his brain began to
solidify into a tangible idea, and the man unconsciously started
forward. After walking a few steps he broke into a run, for the
idea had grown clearer. It continued to grow still clearer and
clearer, and the man ran faster and faster, until at last he found
himself racing madly towards the lock. As he approached it he
looked round for the watchman who ought to have been there, but the
man was gone from his post. He shouted, but if any answer was
returned, it was drowned by the roar of the rushing water.
"He reached the edge and looked down. Fifteen feet below him was
the reality of the dim vision that had come to him a mile back in
the woods: the woman's husband swimming round and round like a rat
in a pail.
"The river was flowing in and out of the lock at the same rate, so
that the level of the water remained constant. The first thing the
man did was to close the lower sluices and then open those in the
upper gate to their fullest extent. The water began to rise.
"'Can you hold out?' he cried.
"The drowning man turned to him a face already contorted by the
agony of exhaustion, and answered with a feeble 'No.'
"He looked around for something to throw to the man. A plank had
lain there in the morning, he remembered stumbling over it, and
complaining of its having been left there; he cursed himself now for
"A hut used by the navvies to keep their tools in stood about two
hundred yards away; perhaps it had been taken there, perhaps there
he might even find a rope.
"'Just one minute, old fellow!' he shouted down, 'and I'll be back.'
"But the other did not hear him. The feeble struggles ceased. The
face fell back upon the water, the eyes half closed as if with weary
indifference. There was no time for him to do more than kick off
his riding boots and jump in and clutch the unconscious figure as it
"Down there, in that walled-in trap, he fought a long fight with
Death for the life that stood between him and the woman. He was not
an expert swimmer, his clothes hampered him, he was already blown
with his long race, the burden in his arms dragged him down, the
water rose slowly enough to make his torture fit for Dante's hell.
"At first he could not understand why this was so, but in glancing
down he saw to his horror that he had not properly closed the lower
sluices; in each some eight or ten inches remained open, so that the
stream was passing out nearly half as fast as it came in. It would
be another five-and-twenty minutes before the water would be high
enough for him to grasp the top.
"He noted where the line of wet had reached to, on the smooth stone
wall, then looked again after what he thought must be a lapse of ten
minutes, and found it had risen half an inch, if that. Once or
twice he shouted for help, but the effort taxed severely his already
failing breath, and his voice only came back to him in a hundred
echoes from his prison walls.
"Inch by inch the line of wet crept up, but the spending of his
strength went on more swiftly. It seemed to him as if his inside
were being gripped and torn slowly out: his whole body cried out to
him to let it sink and lie in rest at the bottom.
"At length his unconscious burden opened its eyes and stared at him
stupidly, then closed them again with a sigh; a minute later opened
them once more, and looked long and hard at him.
"'Let me go,' he said, 'we shall both drown. You can manage by
"He made a feeble effort to release himself, but the other held him.
"'Keep still, you fool!' he hissed; 'you're going to get out of this
with me, or I'm going down with you.'
"So the grim struggle went on in silence, till the man, looking up,
saw the stone coping just a little way above his head, made one mad
leap and caught it with his finger-tips, held on an instant, then
fell back with a 'plump' and sank; came up and made another dash,
and, helped by the impetus of his rise, caught the coping firmly
this time with the whole of his fingers, hung on till his eyes saw
the stunted grass, till they were both able to scramble out upon the
bank and lie there, their breasts pressed close against the ground,
their hands clutching the earth, while the overflowing water swirled
softly round them.
"After a while, they raised themselves and looked at one another.
"'Tiring work,' said the other man, with a nod towards the lock.
"'Yes,' answered the husband, 'beastly awkward not being a good
swimmer. How did you know I had fallen in? You met my wife, I
"'Yes,' said the other man.
"The husband sat staring at a point in the horizon for some minutes.
'Do you know what I was wondering this morning?' said he.
"'No,' said the other man.
"'Whether I should kill you or not.'
"'They told me,' he continued, after a pause, 'a lot of silly gossip
which I was cad enough to believe. I know now it wasn't true,
because--well, if it had been, you would not have done what you have
"He rose and came across. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, holding out
"'I beg yours,' said the other man, rising and taking it; 'do you
mind giving me a hand with the sluices?'
"They set to work to put the lock right.
"'How did you manage to fall in?' asked the other man, who was
raising one of the lower sluices, without looking round.
"The husband hesitated, as if he found the explanation somewhat
difficult. 'Oh,' he answered carelessly, 'the wife and I were
chaffing, and she said she'd often seen you jump it, and'--he
laughed a rather forced laugh--'she promised me a--a kiss if I
cleared it. It was a foolish thing to do.'
"'Yes, it was rather,' said the other man.
"A few days afterwards the man and woman met at a reception. He
found her in a leafy corner of the garden talking to some friends.
She advanced to meet him, holding out her hand. 'What can I say
more than thank you?' she murmured in a low voice.
"The others moved away, leaving them alone. 'They tell me you
risked your life to save his?' she said.
"'Yes,' he answered.
"She raised her eyes to his, then struck him across the face with
her ungloved hand.
"'You damned fool!' she whispered.
"He seized her by her white arms, and forced her back behind the
orange trees. 'Do you know why?' he said, speaking slowly and
distinctly; 'because I feared that, with him dead, you would want me
to marry you, and that, talked about as we have been, I might find
it awkward to avoid doing so; because I feared that, without him to
stand between us, you might prove an annoyance to me--perhaps come
between me and the woman I love, the woman I am going back to. Now
do you understand?'
"'Yes,' whispered the woman, and he left her.
"But there are only two people," concluded Jephson, "who do not
regard his saving of the husband's life as a highly noble and
unselfish action, and they are the man himself and the woman."
We thanked Jephson for his story, and promised to profit by the
moral, when discovered. Meanwhile, MacShaughnassy said that he knew
a story dealing with the same theme, namely, the too close
attachment of a woman to a strange man, which really had a moral,
which moral was: don't have anything to do with inventions.
Brown, who had patented a safety gun, which he had never yet found a
man plucky enough to let off, said it was a bad moral. We agreed to
hear the particulars, and judge for ourselves.
"This story," commenced MacShaughnassy, "comes from Furtwangen, a
small town in the Black Forest. There lived there a very wonderful
old fellow named Nicholaus Geibel. His business was the making of
mechanical toys, at which work he had acquired an almost European
reputation. He made rabbits that would emerge from the heart of a
cabbage, flap their ears, smooth their whiskers, and disappear
again; cats that would wash their faces, and mew so naturally that
dogs would mistake them for real cats, and fly at them; dolls, with
phonographs concealed within them, that would raise their hats and
say, 'Good morning; how do you do?' and some that would even sing a
"But he was something more than a mere mechanic; he was an artist.
His work was with him a hobby, almost a passion. His shop was
filled with all manner of strange things that never would, or could,
be sold--things he had made for the pure love of making them. He
had contrived a mechanical donkey that would trot for two hours by
means of stored electricity, and trot, too, much faster than the
live article, and with less need for exertion on the part of the
driver; a bird that would shoot up into the air, fly round and round
in a circle, and drop to earth at the exact spot from where it
started; a skeleton that, supported by an upright iron bar, would
dance a hornpipe; a life-size lady doll that could play the fiddle;
and a gentleman with a hollow inside who could smoke a pipe and
drink more lager beer than any three average German students put
together, which is saying much.
"Indeed, it was the belief of the town that old Geibel could make a
man capable of doing everything that a respectable man need want to
do. One day he made a man who did too much, and it came about in
"Young Doctor Follen had a baby, and the baby had a birthday. Its
first birthday put Doctor Follen's household into somewhat of a
flurry, but on the occasion of its second birthday, Mrs. Doctor
Follen gave a ball in honour of the event. Old Geibel and his
daughter Olga were among the guests.
"During the afternoon of the next day, some three or four of Olga's
bosom friends, who had also been present at the ball, dropped in to
have a chat about it. They naturally fell to discussing the men,
and to criticising their dancing. Old Geibel was in the room, but
he appeared to be absorbed in his newspaper, and the girls took no
notice of him.
"'There seem to be fewer men who can dance, at every ball you go
to,' said one of the girls.
"'Yes, and don't the ones who can, give themselves airs,' said
another; 'they make quite a favour of asking you.'
"'And how stupidly they talk,' added a third. 'They always say
exactly the same things: "How charming you are looking to-night."
"Do you often go to Vienna? Oh, you should, it's delightful."
"What a charming dress you have on." "What a warm day it has been."
"Do you like Wagner?" I do wish they'd think of something new.'
"'Oh, I never mind how they talk,' said a fourth. 'If a man dances
well he may be a fool for all I care.'
"'He generally is,' slipped in a thin girl, rather spitefully.
"'I go to a ball to dance,' continued the previous speaker, not
noticing the interruption. 'All I ask of a partner is that he shall
hold me firmly, take me round steadily, and not get tired before I
"'A clockwork figure would be the thing for you,' said the girl who
"'Bravo!' cried one of the others, clapping her hands, 'what a
"'What's a capital idea?' they asked.
"'Why, a clockwork dancer, or, better still, one that would go by
electricity and never run down.'
"The girls took up the idea with enthusiasm.
"'Oh, what a lovely partner he would make,' said one; 'he would
never kick you, or tread on your toes.'
"'Or tear your dress,' said another.
"'Or get out of step.'
"'Or get giddy and lean on you.'
"'And he would never want to mop his face with his handkerchief. I
do hate to see a man do that after every dance.'
"'And wouldn't want to spend the whole evening in the supper-room.'
"'Why, with a phonograph inside him to grind out all the stock
remarks, you would not be able to tell him from a real man,' said
the girl who had first suggested the idea.
"'Oh yes, you would,' said the thin girl, 'he would be so much
"Old Geibel had laid down his paper, and was listening with both his
ears. On one of the girls glancing in his direction, however, he
hurriedly hid himself again behind it.
"After the girls were gone, he went into his workshop, where Olga
heard him walking up and down, and every now and then chuckling to
himself; and that night he talked to her a good deal about dancing
and dancing men--asked what they usually said and did--what dances
were most popular--what steps were gone through, with many other
questions bearing on the subject.
"Then for a couple of weeks he kept much to his factory, and was
very thoughtful and busy, though prone at unexpected moments to
break into a quiet low laugh, as if enjoying a joke that nobody else
"A month later another ball took place in Furtwangen. On this
occasion it was given by old Wenzel, the wealthy timber merchant, to
celebrate his niece's betrothal, and Geibel and his daughter were
again among the invited.
"When the hour arrived to set out, Olga sought her father. Not
finding him in the house, she tapped at the door of his workshop.
He appeared in his shirt-sleeves, looking hot, but radiant.
"'Don't wait for me,' he said, 'you go on, I'll follow you. I've
got something to finish.'
"As she turned to obey he called after her, 'Tell them I'm going to
bring a young man with me--such a nice young man, and an excellent
dancer. All the girls will like him.' Then he laughed and closed
"Her father generally kept his doings secret from everybody, but she
had a pretty shrewd suspicion of what he had been planning, and so,
to a certain extent, was able to prepare the guests for what was
coming. Anticipation ran high, and the arrival of the famous
mechanist was eagerly awaited.
"At length the sound of wheels was heard outside, followed by a
great commotion in the passage, and old Wenzel himself, his jolly
face red with excitement and suppressed laughter, burst into the
room and announced in stentorian tones:
"'Herr Geibel--and a friend.'
"Herr Geibel and his 'friend' entered, greeted with shouts of
laughter and applause, and advanced to the centre of the room.
"'Allow me, ladies and gentlemen,' said Herr Geibel, 'to introduce
you to my friend, Lieutenant Fritz. Fritz, my dear fellow, bow to
the ladies and gentlemen.'
"Geibel placed his hand encouragingly on Fritz's shoulder, and the
lieutenant bowed low, accompanying the action with a harsh clicking
noise in his throat, unpleasantly suggestive of a death rattle. But
that was only a detail.
"'He walks a little stiffly' (old Geibel took his arm and walked him
forward a few steps. He certainly did walk stiffly), 'but then,
walking is not his forte. He is essentially a dancing man. I have
only been able to teach him the waltz as yet, but at that he is
faultless. Come, which of you ladies may I introduce him to, as a
partner? He keeps perfect time; he never gets tired; he won't kick
you or tread on your dress; he will hold you as firmly as you like,
and go as quickly or as slowly as you please; he never gets giddy;
and he is full of conversation. Come, speak up for yourself, my
"The old gentleman twisted one of the buttons of his coat, and
immediately Fritz opened his mouth, and in thin tones that appeared
to proceed from the back of his head, remarked suddenly, 'May I have
the pleasure?' and then shut his mouth again with a snap.
"That Lieutenant Fritz had made a strong impression on the company
was undoubted, yet none of the girls seemed inclined to dance with
him. They looked askance at his waxen face, with its staring eyes
and fixed smile, and shuddered. At last old Geibel came to the girl
who had conceived the idea.
"'It is your own suggestion, carried out to the letter,' said
Geibel, 'an electric dancer. You owe it to the gentleman to give
him a trial.'
"She was a bright saucy little girl, fond of a frolic. Her host
added his entreaties, and she consented.
"Herr Geibel fixed the figure to her. Its right arm was screwed
round her waist, and held her firmly; its delicately jointed left
hand was made to fasten itself upon her right. The old toymaker
showed her how to regulate its speed, and how to stop it, and
"'It will take you round in a complete circle,' he explained; 'be
careful that no one knocks against you, and alters its course.'
"The music struck up. Old Geibel put the current in motion, and
Annette and her strange partner began to dance.
"For a while every one stood watching them. The figure performed
its purpose admirably. Keeping perfect time and step, and holding
its little partner tightly clasped in an unyielding embrace, it
revolved steadily, pouring forth at the same time a constant flow of
squeaky conversation, broken by brief intervals of grinding silence.
"'How charming you are looking to-night,' it remarked in its thin,
far-away voice. 'What a lovely day it has been. Do you like
dancing? How well our steps agree. You will give me another, won't
you? Oh, don't be so cruel. What a charming gown you have on.
Isn't waltzing delightful? I could go on dancing for ever--with
you. Have you had supper?'
"As she grew more familiar with the uncanny creature, the girl's
nervousness wore off, and she entered into the fun of the thing
"'Oh, he's just lovely,' she cried, laughing, 'I could go on dancing
with him all my life.'
"Couple after couple now joined them, and soon all the dancers in
the room were whirling round behind them. Nicholaus Geibel stood
looking on, beaming with childish delight at his success,
"Old Wenzel approached him, and whispered something in his ear.
Geibel laughed and nodded, and the two worked their way quietly
towards the door.
"'This is the young people's house to-night,' said Wenzel, as soon
as they were outside; 'you and I will have a quiet pipe and a glass
of hock, over in the counting-house.'
"Meanwhile the dancing grew more fast and furious. Little Annette
loosened the screw regulating her partner's rate of progress, and
the figure flew round with her swifter and swifter. Couple after
couple dropped out exhausted, but they only went the faster, till at
length they were the only pair left dancing.
"Madder and madder became the waltz. The music lagged behind: the
musicians, unable to keep pace, ceased, and sat staring. The
younger guests applauded, but the older faces began to grow anxious.
"'Hadn't you better stop, dear,' said one of the women, 'You'll make
yourself so tired.'
"But Annette did not answer.
"'I believe she's fainted,' cried out a girl, who had caught sight
of her face as it was swept by.
"One of the men sprang forward and clutched at the figure, but its
impetus threw him down on to the floor, where its steel-cased feet
laid bare his cheek. The thing evidently did not intend to part
with its prize easily.
"Had any one retained a cool head, the figure, one cannot help
thinking, might easily have been stopped. Two or three men, acting
in concert, might have lifted it bodily off the floor, or have
jammed it into a corner. But few human heads are capable of
remaining cool under excitement. Those who are not present think
how stupid must have been those who were; those who are, reflect
afterwards how simple it would have been to do this, that, or the
other, if only they had thought of it at the time.
"The women grew hysterical. The men shouted contradictory
directions to one another. Two of them made a bungling rush at the
figure, which had the result of forcing it out of its orbit in the
centre of the room, and sending it crashing against the walls and
furniture. A stream of blood showed itself down the girl's white
frock, and followed her along the floor. The affair was becoming
horrible. The women rushed screaming from the room. The men
"One sensible suggestion was made: 'Find Geibel--fetch Geibel.'
"No one had noticed him leave the room, no one knew where he was. A
party went in search of him. The others, too unnerved to go back
into the ballroom, crowded outside the door and listened. They
could hear the steady whir of the wheels upon the polished floor, as
the thing spun round and round; the dull thud as every now and again
it dashed itself and its burden against some opposing object and
ricocheted off in a new direction.
"And everlastingly it talked in that thin ghostly voice, repeating
over and over the same formula: 'How charming you are looking to-
night. What a lovely day it has been. Oh, don't be so cruel. I
could go on dancing for ever--with you. Have you had supper?'
"Of course they sought for Geibel everywhere but where he was. They
looked in every room in the house, then they rushed off in a body to
his own place, and spent precious minutes in waking up his deaf old
housekeeper. At last it occurred to one of the party that Wenzel
was missing also, and then the idea of the counting-house across the
yard presented itself to them, and there they found him.
"He rose up, very pale, and followed them; and he and old Wenzel
forced their way through the crowd of guests gathered outside, and
entered the room, and locked the door behind them.
"From within there came the muffled sound of low voices and quick
steps, followed by a confused scuffling noise, then silence, then
the low voices again.
"After a time the door opened, and those near it pressed forward to
enter, but old Wenzel's broad shoulders barred the way.
"'I want you--and you, Bekler,' he said, addressing a couple of the
elder men. His voice was calm, but his face was deadly white. 'The
rest of you, please go--get the women away as quickly as you can.'
"From that day old Nicholaus Geibel confined himself to the making
of mechanical rabbits and cats that mewed and washed their faces."
We agreed that the moral of MacShaughnassy's story was a good one.
How much more of our--fortunately not very valuable--time we devoted
to this wonderful novel of ours, I cannot exactly say. Turning the
dogs'-eared leaves of the dilapidated diary that lies before me, I
find the record of our later gatherings confused and incomplete.
For weeks there does not appear a single word. Then comes an
alarmingly business-like minute of a meeting at which there were--
"Present: Jephson, MacShaughnassy, Brown, and Self"; and at which
the "Proceedings commenced at 8.30." At what time the "proceedings"
terminated, and what business was done, the chronicle, however,
sayeth not; though, faintly pencilled in the margin of the page, I
trace these hieroglyphics: "3.14.9-2.6.7," bringing out a result of
"1.8.2." Evidently an unremunerative night.
On September 13th we seem to have become suddenly imbued with energy
to a quite remarkable degree, for I read that we "Resolved to start
the first chapter at once"--"at once" being underlined. After this
spurt, we rest until October 4th, when we "Discussed whether it
should be a novel of plot or of character," without--so far as the
diary affords indication--arriving at any definite decision. I
observe that on the same day "Mac told a story about a man who
accidentally bought a camel at a sale." Details of the story are,
however, wanting, which, perhaps, is fortunate for the reader.
On the 16th, we were still debating the character of our hero; and I
see that I suggested "a man of the Charley Buswell type."
Poor Charley, I wonder what could have made me think of him in
connection with heroes; his lovableness, I suppose--certainly not
his heroic qualities. I can recall his boyish face now (it was
always a boyish face), the tears streaming down it as he sat in the
schoolyard beside a bucket, in which he was drowning three white
mice and a tame rat. I sat down opposite and cried too, while
helping him to hold a saucepan lid over the poor little creatures,
and thus there sprang up a friendship between us, which grew.
Over the grave of these murdered rodents, he took a solemn oath
never to break school rules again, by keeping either white mice or
tame rats, but to devote the whole of his energies for the future to
pleasing his masters, and affording his parents some satisfaction
for the money being spent upon his education.
Seven weeks later, the pervadence throughout the dormitory of an
atmospheric effect more curious than pleasing led to the discovery
that he had converted his box into a rabbit hutch. Confronted with
eleven kicking witnesses, and reminded of his former promises, he
explained that rabbits were not mice, and seemed to consider that a
new and vexatious regulation had been sprung upon him. The rabbits
were confiscated. What was their ultimate fate, we never knew with
certainty, but three days later we were given rabbit-pie for dinner.
To comfort him I endeavoured to assure him that these could not be
his rabbits. He, however, convinced that they were, cried steadily
into his plate all the time that he was eating them, and afterwards,
in the playground, had a stand-up fight with a fourth form boy who
had requested a second helping.
That evening he performed another solemn oath-taking, and for the
next month was the model boy of the school. He read tracts, sent
his spare pocket-money to assist in annoying the heathen, and
subscribed to The Young Christian and The Weekly Rambler, an
Evangelical Miscellany (whatever that may mean). An undiluted
course of this pernicious literature naturally created in him a
desire towards the opposite extreme. He suddenly dropped The Young
Christian and The Weekly Rambler, and purchased penny dreadfuls; and
taking no further interest in the welfare of the heathen, saved up
and bought a second-hand revolver and a hundred cartridges. His
ambition, he confided to me, was to become "a dead shot," and the
marvel of it is that he did not succeed.
Of course, there followed the usual discovery and consequent
trouble, the usual repentance and reformation, the usual
determination to start a new life.
Poor fellow, he lived "starting a new life." Every New Year's Day
he would start a new life--on his birthday--on other people's
birthdays. I fancy that, later on, when he came to know their
importance, he extended the principle to quarter days. "Tidying up,
and starting afresh," he always called it.
I think as a young man he was better than most of us. But he lacked
that great gift which is the distinguishing feature of the English-
speaking race all the world over, the gift of hypocrisy. He seemed
incapable of doing the slightest thing without getting found out; a
grave misfortune for a man to suffer from, this.
Dear simple-hearted fellow, it never occurred to him that he was as
other men--with, perhaps, a dash of straightforwardness added; he
regarded himself as a monster of depravity. One evening I found him
in his chambers engaged upon his Sisyphean labour of "tidying up." A
heap of letters, photographs, and bills lay before him. He was
tearing them up and throwing them into the fire.
I came towards him, but he stopped me. "Don't come near me," he
cried, "don't touch me. I'm not fit to shake hands with a decent
It was the sort of speech to make one feel hot and uncomfortable. I
did not know what to answer, and murmured something about his being
no worse than the average.
"Don't talk like that," he answered excitedly; "you say that to
comfort me, I know; but I don't like to hear it. If I thought other
men were like me I should be ashamed of being a man. I've been a
blackguard, old fellow, but, please God, it's not too late. To-
morrow morning I begin a new life."
He finished his work of destruction, and then rang the bell, and
sent his man downstairs for a bottle of champagne.
"My last drink," he said, as we clicked glasses. "Here's to the old
life out, and the new life in."
He took a sip and flung the glass with the remainder into the fire.
He was always a little theatrical, especially when most in earnest.
For a long while after that I saw nothing of him. Then, one
evening, sitting down to supper at a restaurant, I noticed him
opposite to me in company that could hardly be called doubtful.
He flushed and came over to me. "I've been an old woman for nearly
six months," he said, with a laugh. "I find I can't stand it any
"After all," he continued, "what is life for but to live? It's only
hypocritical to try and be a thing we are not. And do you know"--he
leant across the table, speaking earnestly--"honestly and seriously,
I'm a better man--I feel it and know it--when I am my natural self
than when I am trying to be an impossible saint."
That was the mistake he made; he always ran to extremes. He thought
that an oath, if it were only big enough, would frighten away Human
Nature, instead of serving only as a challenge to it. Accordingly,
each reformation was more intemperate than the last, to be duly
followed by a greater swing of the pendulum in the opposite
Being now in a thoroughly reckless mood, he went the pace rather
hotly. Then, one evening, without any previous warning, I had a
note from him. "Come round and see me on Thursday. It is my
I went. He was once more "tidying up." All his drawers were open,
and on the table were piled packs of cards, betting books, and much
written paper, all, as before, in course of demolition.
I smiled: I could not help it, and, no way abashed, he laughed his
usual hearty, honest laugh.
"I know," he exclaimed gaily, "but this is not the same as the
Then, laying his hand on my shoulder, and speaking with the sudden
seriousness that comes so readily to shallow natures, he said, "God
has heard my prayer, old friend. He knows I am weak. He has sent
down an angel out of Heaven to help me."
He took her portrait from the mantelpiece and handed it me. It
seemed to me the face of a hard, narrow woman, but, of course, he
raved about her.
As he talked, there fluttered to the ground from the heap before him
an old restaurant bill, and, stooping, he picked it up and held it
in his hand, musing.
"Have you ever noticed how the scent of the champagne and the
candles seems to cling to these things?" he said lightly, sniffing
carelessly at it. "I wonder what's become of her?"
"I think I wouldn't think about her at all tonight," I answered.
He loosened his hand, letting the paper fall into the fire.
"My God!" he cried vehemently, "when I think of all the wrong I have
done--the irreparable, ever-widening ruin I have perhaps brought
into the world--O God! spare me a long life that I may make amends.
Every hour, every minute of it shall be devoted to your service."
As he stood there, with his eager boyish eyes upraised, a light
seemed to fall upon his face and illumine it. I had pushed the
photograph back to him, and it lay upon the table before him. He
knelt and pressed his lips to it.
"With your help, my darling, and His," he murmured.
The next morning he was married. She was a well-meaning girl,
though her piety, as is the case with most people, was of the
negative order; and her antipathy to things evil much stronger than
her sympathy with things good. For a longer time than I had
expected she kept him straight--perhaps a little too straight. But
at last there came the inevitable relapse.
I called upon him, in answer to an excited message, and found him in
the depths of despair. It was the old story, human weakness,
combined with lamentable lack of the most ordinary precautions
against being found out. He gave me details, interspersed with
exuberant denunciations of himself, and I undertook the delicate
task of peace-maker.
It was a weary work, but eventually she consented to forgive him.
His joy, when I told him, was boundless.
"How good women are," he said, while the tears came into his eyes.
"But she shall not repent it. Please God, from this day forth,
He stopped, and for the first time in his life the doubt of himself
crossed his mind. As I sat watching him, the joy died out of his
face, and the first hint of age passed over it.
"I seem to have been 'tidying up and starting afresh' all my life,"
he said wearily; "I'm beginning to see where the untidiness lies,
and the only way to get rid of it."
I did not understand the meaning of his words at the time, but
learnt it later on.
He strove, according to his strength, and fell. But by a miracle
his transgression was not discovered. The facts came to light long
afterwards, but at the time there were only two who knew.
It was his last failure. Late one evening I received a hurriedly-
scrawled note from his wife, begging me to come round.
"A terrible thing has happened," it ran; "Charley went up to his
study after dinner, saying he had some 'tidying up,' as he calls it,
to do, and did not wish to be disturbed. In clearing out his desk
he must have handled carelessly the revolver that he always keeps
there, not remembering, I suppose, that it was loaded. We heard a
report, and on rushing into the room found him lying dead on the
floor. The bullet had passed right through his heart."
Hardly the type of man for a hero! And yet I do not know. Perhaps
he fought harder than many a man who conquers. In the world's
courts, we are compelled to judge on circumstantial evidence only,
and the chief witness, the man's soul, cannot very well be called.
I remember the subject of bravery being discussed one evening at a
dinner party, when a German gentleman present related an anecdote,
the hero of which was a young Prussian officer.
"I cannot give you his name," our German friend explained--"the man
himself told me the story in confidence; and though he personally,
by virtue of his after record, could afford to have it known, there
are other reasons why it should not be bruited about.
"How I learnt it was in this way. For a dashing exploit performed
during the brief war against Austria he had been presented with the
Iron Cross. This, as you are well aware, is the most highly-prized
decoration in our army; men who have earned it are usually conceited
about it, and, indeed, have some excuse for being so. He, on the
contrary, kept his locked in a drawer of his desk, and never wore it
except when compelled by official etiquette. The mere sight of it
seemed to be painful to him. One day I asked him the reason. We
are very old and close friends, and he told me.
"The incident occurred when he was a young lieutenant. Indeed, it
was his first engagement. By some means or another he had become
separated from his company, and, unable to regain it, had attached
himself to a line regiment stationed at the extreme right of the
"The enemy's effort was mainly directed against the left centre, and
for a while our young lieutenant was nothing more than a distant
spectator of the battle. Suddenly, however, the attack shifted, and
the regiment found itself occupying an extremely important and
critical position. The shells began to fall unpleasantly near, and
the order was given to 'grass.'
"The men fell upon their faces and waited. The shells ploughed the
ground around them, smothering them with dirt. A horrible, griping
pain started in my young friend's stomach, and began creeping
upwards. His head and heart both seemed to be shrinking and growing
cold. A shot tore off the head of the man next to him, sending the
blood spurting into his face; a minute later another ripped open the
back of a poor fellow lying to the front of him.
"His body seemed not to belong to himself at all. A strange,
shrivelled creature had taken possession of it. He raised his head
and peered about him. He and three soldiers--youngsters, like
himself, who had never before been under fire--appeared to be
utterly alone in that hell. They were the end men of the regiment,
and the configuration of the ground completely hid them from their
"They glanced at each other, these four, and read one another's
thoughts. Leaving their rifles lying on the grass, they commenced
to crawl stealthily upon their bellies, the lieutenant leading, the
other three following.
"Some few hundred yards in front of them rose a small, steep hill.
If they could reach this it would shut them out of sight. They
hastened on, pausing every thirty yards or so to lie still and pant
for breath, then hurrying on again, quicker than before, tearing
their flesh against the broken ground.
"At last they reached the base of the slope, and slinking a little
way round it, raised their heads and looked back. Where they were
it was impossible for them to be seen from the Prussian lines.
"They sprang to their feet and broke into a wild race. A dozen
steps further they came face to face with an Austrian field battery.
"The demon that had taken possession of them had been growing
stronger the further they had fled. They were not men, they were
animals mad with fear. Driven by the same frenzy that prompted
other panic-stricken creatures to once rush down a steep place into
the sea, these four men, with a yell, flung themselves, sword in
hand, upon the whole battery; and the whole battery, bewildered by
the suddenness and unexpectedness of the attack, thinking the entire
battalion was upon them, gave way, and rushed pell-mell down the
"With the sight of those flying Austrians the fear, as independently
as it had come to him, left him, and he felt only a desire to hack
and kill. The four Prussians flew after them, cutting and stabbing
at them as they ran; and when the Prussian cavalry came thundering
up, they found my young lieutenant and his three friends had
captured two guns and accounted for half a score of the enemy.
"Next day, he was summoned to headquarters.
"'Will you be good enough to remember for the future, sir,' said the
Chief of the Staff, 'that His Majesty does not require his
lieutenants to execute manoeuvres on their own responsibility, and
also that to attack a battery with three men is not war, but damned
tomfoolery. You ought to be court-martialled, sir!'
"Then, in somewhat different tones, the old soldier added, his face
softening into a smile: 'However, alertness and daring, my young
friend, are good qualities, especially when crowned with success.
If the Austrians had once succeeded in planting a battery on that
hill it might have been difficult to dislodge them. Perhaps, under
the circumstances, His Majesty may overlook your indiscretion.'
"'His Majesty not only overlooked it, but bestowed upon me the Iron
Cross,' concluded my friend. 'For the credit of the army, I judged
it better to keep quiet and take it. But, as you can understand,
the sight of it does not recall very pleasurable reflections.'"
To return to my diary, I see that on November 14th we held another
meeting. But at this there were present only "Jephson,
MacShaughnassy, and Self"; and of Brown's name I find henceforth no
further trace. On Christmas eve we three met again, and my notes
inform me that MacShaughnassy brewed some whiskey-punch, according
to a recipe of his own, a record suggestive of a sad Christmas for
all three of us. No particular business appears to have been
accomplished on either occasion.
Then there is a break until February 8th, and the assemblage has
shrunk to "Jephson and Self." With a final flicker, as of a dying
candle, my diary at this point, however, grows luminous, shedding
much light upon that evening's conversation.
Our talk seems to have been of many things--of most things, in fact,
except our novel. Among other subjects we spoke of literature
"I am tired of this eternal cackle about books," said Jephson;
"these columns of criticism to every line of writing; these endless
books about books; these shrill praises and shrill denunciations;
this silly worship of novelist Tom; this silly hate of poet Dick;
this silly squabbling over playwright Harry. There is no soberness,
no sense in it all. One would think, to listen to the High Priests
of Culture, that man was made for literature, not literature for
man. Thought existed before the Printing Press; and the men who
wrote the best hundred books never read them. Books have their
place in the world, but they are not its purpose. They are things
side by side with beef and mutton, the scent of the sea, the touch
of a hand, the memory of a hope, and all the other items in the sum-
total of our three-score years and ten. Yet we speak of them as
though they were the voice of Life instead of merely its faint echo.
Tales are delightful AS tales--sweet as primroses after the long
winter, restful as the cawing of rooks at sunset. But we do not
write 'tales' now; we prepare 'human documents' and dissect souls."
He broke off abruptly in the midst of his tirade. "Do you know what
these 'psychological studies,' that are so fashionable just now,
always make me think of?" he said. "One monkey examining another
monkey for fleas.
"And what, after all, does our dissecting pen lay bare?" he
continued. "Human nature? or merely some more or less unsavoury
undergarment, disguising and disfiguring human nature? There is a
story told of an elderly tramp, who, overtaken by misfortune, was
compelled to retire for a while to the seclusion of Portland. His
hosts, desiring to see as much as possible of their guest during his
limited stay with them, proceeded to bath him. They bathed him
twice a day for a week, each time learning more of him; until at
last they reached a flannel shirt. And with that they had to be
content, soap and water proving powerless to go further.
"That tramp appears to me symbolical of mankind. Human Nature has
worn its conventions for so long that its habit has grown on to it.
In this nineteenth century it is impossible to say where the clothes
of custom end and the natural man begins. Our virtues are taught to
us as a branch of 'Deportment'; our vices are the recognised vices
of our reign and set. Our religion hangs ready-made beside our
cradle to be buttoned upon us by loving hands. Our tastes we
acquire, with difficulty; our sentiments we learn by rote. At cost
of infinite suffering, we study to love whiskey and cigars, high art
and classical music. In one age we admire Byron and drink sweet
champagne: twenty years later it is more fashionable to prefer
Shelley, and we like our champagne dry. At school we are told that
Shakespeare is a great poet, and that the Venus di Medici is a fine
piece of sculpture; and so for the rest of our lives we go about
saying what a great poet we think Shakespeare, and that there is no
piece of sculpture, in our opinion, so fine as the Venus di Medici.
If we are Frenchmen we adore our mother; if Englishmen we love dogs
and virtue. We grieve for the death of a near relative twelve
months; but for a second cousin we sorrow only three. The good man
has his regulation excellencies to strive after, his regulation sins
to repent of. I knew a good man who was quite troubled because he
was not proud, and could not, therefore, with any reasonableness,
pray for humility. In society one must needs be cynical and mildly
wicked: in Bohemia, orthodoxly unorthodox. I remember my mother
expostulating with a friend, an actress, who had left a devoted
husband and eloped with a disagreeable, ugly, little low comedian (I
am speaking of long, long ago).
"'You must be mad,' said my mother; 'what on earth induced you to
take such a step?'
"'My dear Emma,' replied the lady; 'what else was there for me? You
know I can't act. I had to do SOMETHING to show I was 'an artiste!'
"We are dressed-up marionettes. Our voice is the voice of the
unseen showman, Convention; our very movements of passion and pain
are but in answer to his jerk. A man resembles one of those
gigantic bundles that one sees in nursemaids' arms. It is very
bulky and very long; it looks a mass of delicate lace and rich fur
and fine woven stuffs; and somewhere, hidden out of sight among the
finery, there is a tiny red bit of bewildered humanity, with no
voice but a foolish cry.
"There is but one story," he went on, after a long pause, uttering
his own thoughts aloud rather than speaking to me. "We sit at our
desks and think and think, and write and write, but the story is
ever the same. Men told it and men listened to it many years ago;
we are telling it to one another to-day; we shall be telling it to
one another a thousand years hence; and the story is: 'Once upon a
time there lived a man, and a woman who loved him.' The little
critic cries that it is not new, and asks for something fresh,
thinking--as children do--that there are strange things in the
At that point my notes end, and there is nothing in the book beyond.
Whether any of us thought any more of the novel, whether we ever met
again to discuss it, whether it were ever begun, whether it were
ever abandoned--I cannot say. There is a fairy story that I read
many, many years ago that has never ceased to haunt me. It told how
a little boy once climbed a rainbow. And at the end of the rainbow,
just behind the clouds, he found a wondrous city. Its houses were
of gold, and its streets were paved with silver, and the light that
shone upon it was as the light that lies upon the sleeping world at
dawn. In this city there were palaces so beautiful that merely to
look upon them satisfied all desires; temples so perfect that they
who once knelt therein were cleansed of sin. And all the men who
dwelt in this wondrous city were great and good, and the women
fairer than the women of a young man's dreams. And the name of the
city was, "The city of the things men meant to do."