Part 13 out of 15
When Harris and Philip went back to their bed-room they found a tall man
changing his clothes and a boy of sixteen whistling as loud as he could
while he brushed his hair. In a minute or two without saying a word to
anybody the tall man went out. Harris winked at the boy, and the boy,
whistling still, winked back. Harris told Philip that the man was called
Prior; he had been in the army and now served in the silks; he kept pretty
much to himself, and he went off every night, just like that, without so
much as a good-evening, to see his girl. Harris went out too, and only the
boy remained to watch Philip curiously while he unpacked his things. His
name was Bell and he was serving his time for nothing in the haberdashery.
He was much interested in Philip's evening clothes. He told him about the
other men in the room and asked him every sort of question about himself.
He was a cheerful youth, and in the intervals of conversation sang in a
half-broken voice snatches of music-hall songs. When Philip had finished
he went out to walk about the streets and look at the crowd; occasionally
he stopped outside the doors of restaurants and watched the people going
in; he felt hungry, so he bought a bath bun and ate it while he strolled
along. He had been given a latch-key by the prefect, the man who turned
out the gas at a quarter past eleven, but afraid of being locked out he
returned in good time; he had learned already the system of fines: you had
to pay a shilling if you came in after eleven, and half a crown after a
quarter past, and you were reported besides: if it happened three times
you were dismissed.
All but the soldier were in when Philip arrived and two were already in
bed. Philip was greeted with cries.
"Oh, Clarence! Naughty boy!"
He discovered that Bell had dressed up the bolster in his evening clothes.
The boy was delighted with his joke.
"You must wear them at the social evening, Clarence."
"He'll catch the belle of Lynn's, if he's not careful."
Philip had already heard of the social evenings, for the money stopped
from the wages to pay for them was one of the grievances of the staff. It
was only two shillings a month, and it covered medical attendance and the
use of a library of worn novels; but as four shillings a month besides was
stopped for washing, Philip discovered that a quarter of his six shillings
a week would never be paid to him.
Most of the men were eating thick slices of fat bacon between a roll of
bread cut in two. These sandwiches, the assistants' usual supper, were
supplied by a small shop a few doors off at twopence each. The soldier
rolled in; silently, rapidly, took off his clothes and threw himself into
bed. At ten minutes past eleven the gas gave a big jump and five minutes
later went out. The soldier went to sleep, but the others crowded round
the big window in their pyjamas and night-shirts and, throwing remains of
their sandwiches at the women who passed in the street below, shouted to
them facetious remarks. The house opposite, six storeys high, was a
workshop for Jewish tailors who left off work at eleven; the rooms were
brightly lit and there were no blinds to the windows. The sweater's
daughter--the family consisted of father, mother, two small boys, and a
girl of twenty--went round the house to put out the lights when work was
over, and sometimes she allowed herself to be made love to by one of the
tailors. The shop assistants in Philip's room got a lot of amusement out
of watching the manoeuvres of one man or another to stay behind, and they
made small bets on which would succeed. At midnight the people were turned
out of the Harrington Arms at the end of the street, and soon after they
all went to bed: Bell, who slept nearest the door, made his way across the
room by jumping from bed to bed, and even when he got to his own would not
stop talking. At last everything was silent but for the steady snoring of
the soldier, and Philip went to sleep.
He was awaked at seven by the loud ringing of a bell, and by a quarter to
eight they were all dressed and hurrying downstairs in their stockinged
feet to pick out their boots. They laced them as they ran along to the
shop in Oxford Street for breakfast. If they were a minute later than
eight they got none, nor, once in, were they allowed out to get themselves
anything to eat. Sometimes, if they knew they could not get into the
building in time, they stopped at the little shop near their quarters and
bought a couple of buns; but this cost money, and most went without food
till dinner. Philip ate some bread and butter, drank a cup of tea, and at
half past eight began his day's work again.
"First to the right. Second on the left, madam."
Soon he began to answer the questions quite mechanically. The work was
monotonous and very tiring. After a few days his feet hurt him so that he
could hardly stand: the thick soft carpets made them burn, and at night
his socks were painful to remove. It was a common complaint, and his
fellow `floormen' told him that socks and boots just rotted away from the
continual sweating. All the men in his room suffered in the same fashion,
and they relieved the pain by sleeping with their feet outside the
bed-clothes. At first Philip could not walk at all and was obliged to
spend a good many of his evenings in the sitting-room at Harrington Street
with his feet in a pail of cold water. His companion on these occasions
was Bell, the lad in the haberdashery, who stayed in often to arrange the
stamps he collected. As he fastened them with little pieces of stamp-paper
he whistled monotonously.
The social evenings took place on alternate Mondays. There was one at the
beginning of Philip's second week at Lynn's. He arranged to go with one of
the women in his department.
"Meet 'em 'alf-way," she said, "same as I do."
This was Mrs. Hodges, a little woman of five-and-forty, with badly dyed
hair; she had a yellow face with a network of small red veins all over it,
and yellow whites to her pale blue eyes. She took a fancy to Philip and
called him by his Christian name before he had been in the shop a week.
"We've both known what it is to come down," she said.
She told Philip that her real name was not Hodges, but she always referred
to 'me 'usband Misterodges;" he was a barrister and he treated her simply
shocking, so she left him as she preferred to be independent like; but she
had known what it was to drive in her own carriage, dear--she called
everyone dear--and they always had late dinner at home. She used to pick
her teeth with the pin of an enormous silver brooch. It was in the form of
a whip and a hunting-crop crossed, with two spurs in the middle. Philip
was ill at ease in his new surroundings, and the girls in the shop called
him `sidey.' One addressed him as Phil, and he did not answer because he
had not the least idea that she was speaking to him; so she tossed her
head, saying he was a `stuck-up thing,' and next time with ironical
emphasis called him Mister Carey. She was a Miss Jewell, and she was going
to marry a doctor. The other girls had never seen him, but they said he
must be a gentleman as he gave her such lovely presents.
"Never you mind what they say, dear," said Mrs. Hodges. "I've 'ad to go
through it same as you 'ave. They don't know any better, poor things. You
take my word for it, they'll like you all right if you 'old your own same
as I 'ave."
The social evening was held in the restaurant in the basement. The tables
were put on one side so that there might be room for dancing, and smaller
ones were set out for progressive whist.
"The 'eads 'ave to get there early," said Mrs. Hodges.
She introduced him to Miss Bennett, who was the belle of Lynn's. She was
the buyer in the `Petticoats,' and when Philip entered was engaged in
conversation with the buyer in the `Gentlemen's Hosiery;' Miss Bennett was
a woman of massive proportions, with a very large red face heavily
powdered and a bust of imposing dimensions; her flaxen hair was arranged
with elaboration. She was overdressed, but not badly dressed, in black
with a high collar, and she wore black glace gloves, in which she played
cards; she had several heavy gold chains round her neck, bangles on her
wrists, and circular photograph pendants, one being of Queen Alexandra;
she carried a black satin bag and chewed Sen-sens.
"Please to meet you, Mr. Carey," she said. "This is your first visit to
our social evenings, ain't it? I expect you feel a bit shy, but there's no
cause to, I promise you that."
She did her best to make people feel at home. She slapped them on the
shoulders and laughed a great deal.
"Ain't I a pickle?" she cried, turning to Philip. "What must you think of
me? But I can't 'elp meself."
Those who were going to take part in the social evening came in, the
younger members of the staff mostly, boys who had not girls of their own,
and girls who had not yet found anyone to walk with. Several of the young
gentlemen wore lounge suits with white evening ties and red silk
handkerchiefs; they were going to perform, and they had a busy, abstracted
air; some were self-confident, but others were nervous, and they watched
their public with an anxious eye. Presently a girl with a great deal of
hair sat at the piano and ran her hands noisily across the keyboard. When
the audience had settled itself she looked round and gave the name of her
"A Drive in Russia."
There was a round of clapping during which she deftly fixed bells to her
wrists. She smiled a little and immediately burst into energetic melody.
There was a great deal more clapping when she finished, and when this was
over, as an encore, she gave a piece which imitated the sea; there were
little trills to represent the lapping waves and thundering chords, with
the loud pedal down, to suggest a storm. After this a gentleman sang a
song called Bid me Good-bye, and as an encore obliged with Sing me to
Sleep. The audience measured their enthusiasm with a nice discrimination.
Everyone was applauded till he gave an encore, and so that there might be
no jealousy no one was applauded more than anyone else. Miss Bennett
sailed up to Philip.
"I'm sure you play or sing, Mr. Carey," she said archly. "I can see it in
"I'm afraid I don't."
"Don't you even recite?"
"I have no parlour tricks."
The buyer in the `gentleman's hosiery' was a well-known reciter, and he
was called upon loudly to perform by all the assistants in his department.
Needing no pressing, he gave a long poem of tragic character, in which he
rolled his eyes, put his hand on his chest, and acted as though he were in
great agony. The point, that he had eaten cucumber for supper, was
divulged in the last line and was greeted with laughter, a little forced
because everyone knew the poem well, but loud and long. Miss Bennett did
not sing, play, or recite.
"Oh no, she 'as a little game of her own," said Mrs. Hodges.
"Now, don't you begin chaffing me. The fact is I know quite a lot about
palmistry and second sight."
"Oh, do tell my 'and, Miss Bennett," cried the girls in her department,
eager to please her.
"I don't like telling 'ands, I don't really. I've told people such
terrible things and they've all come true, it makes one superstitious
"Oh, Miss Bennett, just for once."
A little crowd collected round her, and, amid screams of embarrassment,
giggles, blushings, and cries of dismay or admiration, she talked
mysteriously of fair and dark men, of money in a letter, and of journeys,
till the sweat stood in heavy beads on her painted face.
"Look at me," she said. "I'm all of a perspiration."
Supper was at nine. There were cakes, buns, sandwiches, tea and coffee,
all free; but if you wanted mineral water you had to pay for it. Gallantry
often led young men to offer the ladies ginger beer, but common decency
made them refuse. Miss Bennett was very fond of ginger beer, and she drank
two and sometimes three bottles during the evening; but she insisted on
paying for them herself. The men liked her for that.
"She's a rum old bird," they said, "but mind you, she's not a bad sort,
she's not like what some are."
After supper progressive whist was played. This was very noisy, and there
was a great deal of laughing and shouting, as people moved from table to
table. Miss Bennett grew hotter and hotter.
"Look at me," she said. "I'm all of a perspiration."
In due course one of the more dashing of the young men remarked that if
they wanted to dance they'd better begin. The girl who had played the
accompaniments sat at the piano and placed a decided foot on the loud
pedal. She played a dreamy waltz, marking the time with the bass, while
with the right hand she `tiddled' in alternate octaves. By way of a change
she crossed her hands and played the air in the bass.
"She does play well, doesn't she?" Mrs. Hodges remarked to Philip. "And
what's more she's never 'ad a lesson in 'er life; it's all ear."
Miss Bennett liked dancing and poetry better than anything in the world.
She danced well, but very, very slowly, and an expression came into her
eyes as though her thoughts were far, far away. She talked breathlessly of
the floor and the heat and the supper. She said that the Portman Rooms had
the best floor in London and she always liked the dances there; they were
very select, and she couldn't bear dancing with all sorts of men you
didn't know anything about; why, you might be exposing yourself to you
didn't know what all. Nearly all the people danced very well, and they
enjoyed themselves. Sweat poured down their faces, and the very high
collars of the young men grew limp.
Philip looked on, and a greater depression seized him than he remembered
to have felt for a long time. He felt intolerably alone. He did not go,
because he was afraid to seem supercilious, and he talked with the girls
and laughed, but in his heart was unhappiness. Miss Bennett asked him if
he had a girl.
"No," he smiled.
"Oh, well, there's plenty to choose from here. And they're very nice
respectable girls, some of them. I expect you'll have a girl before you've
been here long."
She looked at him very archly.
"Meet 'em 'alf-way," said Mrs. Hodges. "That's what I tell him."
It was nearly eleven o'clock, and the party broke up. Philip could not get
to sleep. Like the others he kept his aching feet outside the bed-clothes.
He tried with all his might not to think of the life he was leading. The
soldier was snoring quietly.
The wages were paid once a month by the secretary. On pay-day each batch
of assistants, coming down from tea, went into the passage and joined the
long line of people waiting orderly like the audience in a queue outside
a gallery door. One by one they entered the office. The secretary sat at
a desk with wooden bowls of money in front of him, and he asked the
employe's name; he referred to a book, quickly, after a suspicious
glance at the assistant, said aloud the sum due, and taking money out of
the bowl counted it into his hand.
"Thank you," he said. "Next."
"Thank you," was the reply.
The assistant passed on to the second secretary and before leaving the
room paid him four shillings for washing money, two shillings for the
club, and any fines that he might have incurred. With what he had left he
went back into his department and there waited till it was time to go.
Most of the men in Philip's house were in debt with the woman who sold the
sandwiches they generally ate for supper. She was a funny old thing, very
fat, with a broad, red face, and black hair plastered neatly on each side
of the forehead in the fashion shown in early pictures of Queen Victoria.
She always wore a little black bonnet and a white apron; her sleeves were
tucked up to the elbow; she cut the sandwiches with large, dirty, greasy
hands; and there was grease on her bodice, grease on her apron, grease on
her skirt. She was called Mrs. Fletcher, but everyone addressed her as
`Ma'; she was really fond of the shop assistants, whom she called her
boys; she never minded giving credit towards the end of the month, and it
was known that now and then she had lent someone or other a few shillings
when he was in straits. She was a good woman. When they were leaving or
when they came back from the holidays, the boys kissed her fat red cheek;
and more than one, dismissed and unable to find another job, had got for
nothing food to keep body and soul together. The boys were sensible of her
large heart and repaid her with genuine affection. There was a story they
liked to tell of a man who had done well for himself at Bradford, and had
five shops of his own, and had come back after fifteen years and visited
Ma Fletcher and given her a gold watch.
Philip found himself with eighteen shillings left out of his month's pay.
It was the first money he had ever earned in his life. It gave him none of
the pride which might have been expected, but merely a feeling of dismay.
The smallness of the sum emphasised the hopelessness of his position. He
took fifteen shillings to Mrs. Athelny to pay back part of what he owed
her, but she would not take more than half a sovereign.
"D'you know, at that rate it'll take me eight months to settle up with
"As long as Athelny's in work I can afford to wait, and who knows, p'raps
they'll give you a rise."
Athelny kept on saying that he would speak to the manager about Philip, it
was absurd that no use should be made of his talents; but he did nothing,
and Philip soon came to the conclusion that the press-agent was not a
person of so much importance in the manager's eyes as in his own.
Occasionally he saw Athelny in the shop. His flamboyance was extinguished;
and in neat, commonplace, shabby clothes he hurried, a subdued, unassuming
little man, through the departments as though anxious to escape notice.
"When I think of how I'm wasted there," he said at home, "I'm almost
tempted to give in my notice. There's no scope for a man like me. I'm
stunted, I'm starved."
Mrs. Athelny, quietly sewing, took no notice of his complaints. Her mouth
tightened a little.
"It's very hard to get jobs in these times. It's regular and it's safe; I
expect you'll stay there as long as you give satisfaction."
It was evident that Athelny would. It was interesting to see the
ascendency which the uneducated woman, bound to him by no legal tie, had
acquired over the brilliant, unstable man. Mrs. Athelny treated Philip
with motherly kindness now that he was in a different position, and he was
touched by her anxiety that he should make a good meal. It was the solace
of his life (and when he grew used to it, the monotony of it was what
chiefly appalled him) that he could go every Sunday to that friendly
house. It was a joy to sit in the stately Spanish chairs and discuss all
manner of things with Athelny. Though his condition seemed so desperate he
never left him to go back to Harrington Street without a feeling of
exultation. At first Philip, in order not to forget what he had learned,
tried to go on reading his medical books, but he found it useless; he
could not fix his attention on them after the exhausting work of the day;
and it seemed hopeless to continue working when he did not know in how
long he would be able to go back to the hospital. He dreamed constantly
that he was in the wards. The awakening was painful. The sensation of
other people sleeping in the room was inexpressibly irksome to him; he had
been used to solitude, and to be with others always, never to be by
himself for an instant was at these moments horrible to him. It was then
that he found it most difficult to combat his despair. He saw himself
going on with that life, first to the right, second on the left, madam,
indefinitely; and having to be thankful if he was not sent away: the men
who had gone to the war would be coming home soon, the firm had guaranteed
to take them back, and this must mean that others would be sacked; he
would have to stir himself even to keep the wretched post he had.
There was only one thing to free him and that was the death of his uncle.
He would get a few hundred pounds then, and on this he could finish his
course at the hospital. Philip began to wish with all his might for the
old man's death. He reckoned out how long he could possibly live: he was
well over seventy, Philip did not know his exact age, but he must be at
least seventy-five; he suffered from chronic bronchitis and every winter
had a bad cough. Though he knew them by heart Philip read over and over
again the details in his text-book of medicine of chronic bronchitis in
the old. A severe winter might be too much for the old man. With all his
heart Philip longed for cold and rain. He thought of it constantly, so
that it became a monomania. Uncle William was affected by the great heat
too, and in August they had three weeks of sweltering weather. Philip
imagined to himself that one day perhaps a telegram would come saying that
the Vicar had died suddenly, and he pictured to himself his unutterable
relief. As he stood at the top of the stairs and directed people to the
departments they wanted, he occupied his mind with thinking incessantly
what he would do with the money. He did not know how much it would be,
perhaps no more than five hundred pounds, but even that would be enough.
He would leave the shop at once, he would not bother to give notice, he
would pack his box and go without saying a word to anybody; and then he
would return to the hospital. That was the first thing. Would he have
forgotten much? In six months he could get it all back, and then he would
take his three examinations as soon as he could, midwifery first, then
medicine and surgery. The awful fear seized him that his uncle,
notwithstanding his promises, might leave everything he had to the parish
or the church. The thought made Philip sick. He could not be so cruel. But
if that happened Philip was quite determined what to do, he would not go
on in that way indefinitely; his life was only tolerable because he could
look forward to something better. If he had no hope he would have no fear.
The only brave thing to do then would be to commit suicide, and, thinking
this over too, Philip decided minutely what painless drug he would take
and how he would get hold of it. It encouraged him to think that, if
things became unendurable, he had at all events a way out.
"Second to the right, madam, and down the stairs. First on the left and
straight through. Mr. Philips, forward please."
Once a month, for a week, Philip was `on duty.' He had to go to the
department at seven in the morning and keep an eye on the sweepers. When
they finished he had to take the sheets off the cases and the models.
Then, in the evening when the assistants left, he had to put back the
sheets on the models and the cases and `gang' the sweepers again. It was
a dusty, dirty job. He was not allowed to read or write or smoke, but just
had to walk about, and the time hung heavily on his hands. When he went
off at half past nine he had supper given him, and this was the only
consolation; for tea at five o'clock had left him with a healthy appetite,
and the bread and cheese, the abundant cocoa which the firm provided, were
One day when Philip had been at Lynn's for three months, Mr. Sampson, the
buyer, came into the department, fuming with anger. The manager, happening
to notice the costume window as he came in, had sent for the buyer and
made satirical remarks upon the colour scheme. Forced to submit in silence
to his superior's sarcasm, Mr. Sampson took it out of the assistants; and
he rated the wretched fellow whose duty it was to dress the window.
"If you want a thing well done you must do it yourself," Mr. Sampson
stormed. "I've always said it and I always shall. One can't leave anything
to you chaps. Intelligent you call yourselves, do you? Intelligent!"
He threw the word at the assistants as though it were the bitterest term
"Don't you know that if you put an electric blue in the window it'll kill
all the other blues?"
He looked round the department ferociously, and his eye fell upon Philip.
"You'll dress the window next Friday, Carey. let's see what you can make
He went into his office, muttering angrily. Philip's heart sank. When
Friday morning came he went into the window with a sickening sense of
shame. His cheeks were burning. It was horrible to display himself to the
passers-by, and though he told himself it was foolish to give way to such
a feeling he turned his back to the street. There was not much chance that
any of the students at the hospital would pass along Oxford Street at that
hour, and he knew hardly anyone else in London; but as Philip worked, with
a huge lump in his throat, he fancied that on turning round he would catch
the eye of some man he knew. He made all the haste he could. By the simple
observation that all reds went together, and by spacing the costumes more
than was usual, Philip got a very good effect; and when the buyer went
into the street to look at the result he was obviously pleased.
"I knew I shouldn't go far wrong in putting you on the window. The fact
is, you and me are gentlemen, mind you I wouldn't say this in the
department, but you and me are gentlemen, and that always tells. It's no
good your telling me it doesn't tell, because I know it does tell."
Philip was put on the job regularly, but he could not accustom himself to
the publicity; and he dreaded Friday morning, on which the window was
dressed, with a terror that made him awake at five o'clock and lie
sleepless with sickness in his heart. The girls in the department noticed
his shamefaced way, and they very soon discovered his trick of standing
with his back to the street. They laughed at him and called him `sidey.'
"I suppose you're afraid your aunt'll come along and cut you out of her
On the whole he got on well enough with the girls. They thought him a
little queer; but his club-foot seemed to excuse his not being like the
rest, and they found in due course that he was good-natured. He never
minded helping anyone, and he was polite and even tempered.
"You can see he's a gentleman," they said.
"Very reserved, isn't he?" said one young woman, to whose passionate
enthusiasm for the theatre he had listened unmoved.
Most of them had `fellers,' and those who hadn't said they had rather than
have it supposed that no one had an inclination for them. One or two
showed signs of being willing to start a flirtation with Philip, and he
watched their manoeuvres with grave amusement. He had had enough of
love-making for some time; and he was nearly always tired and often
Philip avoided the places he had known in happier times. The little
gatherings at the tavern in Beak Street were broken up: Macalister, having
let down his friends, no longer went there, and Hayward was at the Cape.
Only Lawson remained; and Philip, feeling that now the painter and he had
nothing in common, did not wish to see him; but one Saturday afternoon,
after dinner, having changed his clothes he walked down Regent Street to
go to the free library in St. Martin's Lane, meaning to spend the
afternoon there, and suddenly found himself face to face with him. His
first instinct was to pass on without a word, but Lawson did not give him
"Where on earth have you been all this time?" he cried.
"I?" said Philip.
"I wrote you and asked you to come to the studio for a beano and you never
"I didn't get your letter."
"No, I know. I went to the hospital to ask for you, and I saw my letter in
the rack. Have you chucked the Medical?"
Philip hesitated for a moment. He was ashamed to tell the truth, but the
shame he felt angered him, and he forced himself to speak. He could not
"Yes, I lost the little money I had. I couldn't afford to go on with it."
"I say, I'm awfully sorry. What are you doing?"
"I'm a shop-walker."
The words choked Philip, but he was determined not to shirk the truth. He
kept his eyes on Lawson and saw his embarrassment. Philip smiled savagely.
"If you went into Lynn and Sedley, and made your way into the `made robes'
department, you would see me in a frock coat, walking about with a
degage air and directing ladies who want to buy petticoats or stockings.
First to the right, madam, and second on the left."
Lawson, seeing that Philip was making a jest of it, laughed awkwardly. He
did not know what to say. The picture that Philip called up horrified him,
but he was afraid to show his sympathy.
"That's a bit of a change for you," he said.
His words seemed absurd to him, and immediately he wished he had not said
them. Philip flushed darkly.
"A bit," he said. "By the way, I owe you five bob."
He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some silver.
"Oh, it doesn't matter. I'd forgotten all about it."
"Go on, take it."
Lawson received the money silently. They stood in the middle of the
pavement, and people jostled them as they passed. There was a sardonic
twinkle in Philip's eyes, which made the painter intensely uncomfortable,
and he could not tell that Philip's heart was heavy with despair. Lawson
wanted dreadfully to do something, but he did not know what to do.
"I say, won't you come to the studio and have a talk?"
"No," said Philip.
"There's nothing to talk about."
He saw the pain come into Lawson's eyes, he could not help it, he was
sorry, but he had to think of himself; he could not bear the thought of
discussing his situation, he could endure it only by determining
resolutely not to think about it. He was afraid of his weakness if once he
began to open his heart. Moreover, he took irresistible dislikes to the
places where he had been miserable: he remembered the humiliation he had
endured when he had waited in that studio, ravenous with hunger, for
Lawson to offer him a meal, and the last occasion when he had taken the
five shillings off him. He hated the sight of Lawson, because he recalled
those days of utter abasement.
"Then look here, come and dine with me one night. Choose your own
Philip was touched with the painter's kindness. All sorts of people were
strangely kind to him, he thought.
"It's awfully good of you, old man, but I'd rather not." He held out his
Lawson, troubled by a behaviour which seemed inexplicable, took his hand,
and Philip quickly limped away. His heart was heavy; and, as was usual
with him, he began to reproach himself for what he had done: he did not
know what madness of pride had made him refuse the offered friendship. But
he heard someone running behind him and presently Lawson's voice calling
him; he stopped and suddenly the feeling of hostility got the better of
him; he presented to Lawson a cold, set face.
"What is it?"
"I suppose you heard about Hayward, didn't you?"
"I know he went to the Cape."
"He died, you know, soon after landing."
For a moment Philip did not answer. He could hardly believe his ears.
"How?" he asked.
"Oh, enteric. Hard luck, wasn't it? I thought you mightn't know. Gave me
a bit of a turn when I heard it."
Lawson nodded quickly and walked away. Philip felt a shiver pass through
his heart. He had never before lost a friend of his own age, for the death
of Cronshaw, a man so much older than himself, had seemed to come in the
normal course of things. The news gave him a peculiar shock. It reminded
him of his own mortality, for like everyone else Philip, knowing perfectly
that all men must die, had no intimate feeling that the same must apply to
himself; and Hayward's death, though he had long ceased to have any warm
feeling for him, affected him deeply. He remembered on a sudden all the
good talks they had had, and it pained him to think that they would never
talk with one another again; he remembered their first meeting and the
pleasant months they had spent together in Heidelberg. Philip's heart sank
as he thought of the lost years. He walked on mechanically, not noticing
where he went, and realised suddenly, with a movement of irritation, that
instead of turning down the Haymarket he had sauntered along Shaftesbury
Avenue. It bored him to retrace his steps; and besides, with that news, he
did not want to read, he wanted to sit alone and think. He made up his
mind to go to the British Museum. Solitude was now his only luxury. Since
he had been at Lynn's he had often gone there and sat in front of the
groups from the Parthenon; and, not deliberately thinking, had allowed
their divine masses to rest his troubled soul. But this afternoon they had
nothing to say to him, and after a few minutes, impatiently, he wandered
out of the room. There were too many people, provincials with foolish
faces, foreigners poring over guide-books; their hideousness besmirched
the everlasting masterpieces, their restlessness troubled the god's
immortal repose. He went into another room and here there was hardly
anyone. Philip sat down wearily. His nerves were on edge. He could not get
the people out of his mind. Sometimes at Lynn's they affected him in the
same way, and he looked at them file past him with horror; they were so
ugly and there was such meanness in their faces, it was terrifying; their
features were distorted with paltry desires, and you felt they were
strange to any ideas of beauty. They had furtive eyes and weak chins.
There was no wickedness in them, but only pettiness and vulgarity. Their
humour was a low facetiousness. Sometimes he found himself looking at them
to see what animal they resembled (he tried not to, for it quickly became
an obsession,) and he saw in them all the sheep or the horse or the fox or
the goat. Human beings filled him with disgust.
But presently the influence of the place descended upon him. He felt
quieter. He began to look absently at the tombstones with which the room
was lined. They were the work of Athenian stone masons of the fourth and
fifth centuries before Christ, and they were very simple, work of no great
talent but with the exquisite spirit of Athens upon them; time had
mellowed the marble to the colour of honey, so that unconsciously one
thought of the bees of Hymettus, and softened their outlines. Some
represented a nude figure, seated on a bench, some the departure of the
dead from those who loved him, and some the dead clasping hands with one
who remained behind. On all was the tragic word farewell; that and nothing
more. Their simplicity was infinitely touching. Friend parted from friend,
the son from his mother, and the restraint made the survivor's grief more
poignant. It was so long, long ago, and century upon century had passed
over that unhappiness; for two thousand years those who wept had been dust
as those they wept for. Yet the woe was alive still, and it filled
Philip's heart so that he felt compassion spring up in it, and he said:
"Poor things, poor things."
And it came to him that the gaping sight-seers and the fat strangers with
their guide-books, and all those mean, common people who thronged the
shop, with their trivial desires and vulgar cares, were mortal and must
die. They too loved and must part from those they loved, the son from his
mother, the wife from her husband; and perhaps it was more tragic because
their lives were ugly and sordid, and they knew nothing that gave beauty
to the world. There was one stone which was very beautiful, a bas relief
of two young men holding each other's hand; and the reticence of line, the
simplicity, made one like to think that the sculptor here had been touched
with a genuine emotion. It was an exquisite memorial to that than which
the world offers but one thing more precious, to a friendship; and as
Philip looked at it, he felt the tears come to his eyes. He thought of
Hayward and his eager admiration for him when first they met, and how
disillusion had come and then indifference, till nothing held them
together but habit and old memories. It was one of the queer things of
life that you saw a person every day for months and were so intimate with
him that you could not imagine existence without him; then separation
came, and everything went on in the same way, and the companion who had
seemed essential proved unnecessary. Your life proceeded and you did not
even miss him. Philip thought of those early days in Heidelberg when
Hayward, capable of great things, had been full of enthusiasm for the
future, and how, little by little, achieving nothing, he had resigned
himself to failure. Now he was dead. His death had been as futile as his
life. He died ingloriously, of a stupid disease, failing once more, even
at the end, to accomplish anything. It was just the same now as if he had
Philip asked himself desperately what was the use of living at all. It all
seemed inane. It was the same with Cronshaw: it was quite unimportant that
he had lived; he was dead and forgotten, his book of poems sold in
remainder by second-hand booksellers; his life seemed to have served
nothing except to give a pushing journalist occasion to write an article
in a review. And Philip cried out in his soul:
"What is the use of it?"
The effort was so incommensurate with the result. The bright hopes of
youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment. Pain
and disease and unhappiness weighed down the scale so heavily. What did it
all mean? He thought of his own life, the high hopes with which he had
entered upon it, the limitations which his body forced upon him, his
friendlessness, and the lack of affection which had surrounded his youth.
He did not know that he had ever done anything but what seemed best to do,
and what a cropper he had come! Other men, with no more advantages than
he, succeeded, and others again, with many more, failed. It seemed pure
chance. The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for
nothing was there a why and a wherefore.
Thinking of Cronshaw, Philip remembered the Persian rug which he had given
him, telling him that it offered an answer to his question upon the
meaning of life; and suddenly the answer occurred to him: he chuckled: now
that he had it, it was like one of the puzzles which you worry over till
you are shown the solution and then cannot imagine how it could ever have
escaped you. The answer was obvious. Life had no meaning. On the earth,
satellite of a star speeding through space, living things had arisen under
the influence of conditions which were part of the planet's history; and
as there had been a beginning of life upon it so, under the influence of
other conditions, there would be an end: man, no more significant than
other forms of life, had come not as the climax of creation but as a
physical reaction to the environment. Philip remembered the story of the
Eastern King who, desiring to know the history of man, was brought by a
sage five hundred volumes; busy with affairs of state, he bade him go and
condense it; in twenty years the sage returned and his history now was in
no more than fifty volumes, but the King, too old then to read so many
ponderous tomes, bade him go and shorten it once more; twenty years passed
again and the sage, old and gray, brought a single book in which was the
knowledge the King had sought; but the King lay on his death-bed, and he
had no time to read even that; and then the sage gave him the history of
man in a single line; it was this: he was born, he suffered, and he died.
There was no meaning in life, and man by living served no end. It was
immaterial whether he was born or not born, whether he lived or ceased to
live. Life was insignificant and death without consequence. Philip
exulted, as he had exulted in his boyhood when the weight of a belief in
God was lifted from his shoulders: it seemed to him that the last burden
of responsibility was taken from him; and for the first time he was
utterly free. His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself
suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for,
if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did
or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success
amounted to nothing. He was the most inconsiderate creature in that
swarming mass of mankind which for a brief space occupied the surface of
the earth; and he was almighty because he had wrenched from chaos the
secret of its nothingness. Thoughts came tumbling over one another in
Philip's eager fancy, and he took long breaths of joyous satisfaction. He
felt inclined to leap and sing. He had not been so happy for months.
"Oh, life," he cried in his heart, "Oh life, where is thy sting?"
For the same uprush of fancy which had shown him with all the force of
mathematical demonstration that life had no meaning, brought with it
another idea; and that was why Cronshaw, he imagined, had given him the
Persian rug. As the weaver elaborated his pattern for no end but the
pleasure of his aesthetic sense, so might a man live his life, or if one
was forced to believe that his actions were outside his choosing, so might
a man look at his life, that it made a pattern. There was as little need
to do this as there was use. It was merely something he did for his own
pleasure. Out of the manifold events of his life, his deeds, his feelings,
his thoughts, he might make a design, regular, elaborate, complicated, or
beautiful; and though it might be no more than an illusion that he had the
power of selection, though it might be no more than a fantastic
legerdemain in which appearances were interwoven with moonbeams, that did
not matter: it seemed, and so to him it was. In the vast warp of life (a
river arising from no spring and flowing endlessly to no sea), with the
background to his fancies that there was no meaning and that nothing was
important, a man might get a personal satisfaction in selecting the
various strands that worked out the pattern. There was one pattern, the
most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to
manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but
there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not
enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be
discovered a more troubling grace. Some lives, and Hayward's was among
them, the blind indifference of chance cut off while the design was still
imperfect; and then the solace was comfortable that it did not matter;
other lives, such as Cronshaw's, offered a pattern which was difficult to
follow, the point of view had to be shifted and old standards had to be
altered before one could understand that such a life was its own
justification. Philip thought that in throwing over the desire for
happiness he was casting aside the last of his illusions. His life had
seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed
to gather strength as he realised that it might be measured by something
else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as
all the other details of his life came in, to the elaboration of the
design. He seemed for an instant to stand above the accidents of his
existence, and he felt that they could not affect him again as they had
done before. Whatever happened to him now would be one more motive to add
to the complexity of the pattern, and when the end approached he would
rejoice in its completion. It would be a work of art, and it would be none
the less beautiful because he alone knew of its existence, and with his
death it would at once cease to be.
Philip was happy.
Mr. Sampson, the buyer, took a fancy to Philip. Mr. Sampson was very
dashing, and the girls in his department said they would not be surprised
if he married one of the rich customers. He lived out of town and often
impressed the assistants by putting on his evening clothes in the office.
Sometimes he would be seen by those on sweeping duty coming in next
morning still dressed, and they would wink gravely to one another while he
went into his office and changed into a frock coat. On these occasions,
having slipped out for a hurried breakfast, he also would wink at Philip
as he walked up the stairs on his way back and rub his hands.
"What a night! What a night!" he said. "My word!"
He told Philip that he was the only gentleman there, and he and Philip
were the only fellows who knew what life was. Having said this, he changed
his manner suddenly, called Philip Mr. Carey instead of old boy, assumed
the importance due to his position as buyer, and put Philip back into his
place of shop-walker.
Lynn and Sedley received fashion papers from Paris once a week and adapted
the costumes illustrated in them to the needs of their customers. Their
clientele was peculiar. The most substantial part consisted of women from
the smaller manufacturing towns, who were too elegant to have their frocks
made locally and not sufficiently acquainted with London to discover good
dressmakers within their means. Beside these, incongruously, was a large
number of music-hall artistes. This was a connection that Mr. Sampson had
worked up for himself and took great pride in. They had begun by getting
their stage-costumes at Lynn's, and he had induced many of them to get
their other clothes there as well.
"As good as Paquin and half the price," he said.
He had a persuasive, hail-fellow well-met air with him which appealed to
customers of this sort, and they said to one another:
"What's the good of throwing money away when you can get a coat and skirt
at Lynn's that nobody knows don't come from Paris?"
Mr. Sampson was very proud of his friendship with the popular favourites
whose frocks he made, and when he went out to dinner at two o'clock on
Sunday with Miss Victoria Virgo--"she was wearing that powder blue we made
her and I lay she didn't let on it come from us, I 'ad to tell her meself
that if I 'adn't designed it with my own 'ands I'd have said it must come
from Paquin"--at her beautiful house in Tulse Hill, he regaled the
department next day with abundant details. Philip had never paid much
attention to women's clothes, but in course of time he began, a little
amused at himself, to take a technical interest in them. He had an eye for
colour which was more highly trained than that of anyone in the
department, and he had kept from his student days in Paris some knowledge
of line. Mr. Sampson, an ignorant man conscious of his incompetence, but
with a shrewdness that enabled him to combine other people's suggestions,
constantly asked the opinion of the assistants in his department in making
up new designs; and he had the quickness to see that Philip's criticisms
were valuable. But he was very jealous, and would never allow that he took
anyone's advice. When he had altered some drawing in accordance with
Philip's suggestion, he always finished up by saying:
"Well, it comes round to my own idea in the end."
One day, when Philip had been at the shop for five months, Miss Alice
Antonia, the well-known serio-comic, came in and asked to see Mr. Sampson.
She was a large woman, with flaxen hair, and a boldly painted face, a
metallic voice, and the breezy manner of a comedienne accustomed to be on
friendly terms with the gallery boys of provincial music-halls. She had a
new song and wished Mr. Sampson to design a costume for her.
"I want something striking," she said. "I don't want any old thing you
know. I want something different from what anybody else has."
Mr. Sampson, bland and familiar, said he was quite certain they could get
her the very thing she required. He showed her sketches.
"I know there's nothing here that would do, but I just want to show you
the kind of thing I would suggest."
"Oh no, that's not the sort of thing at all," she said, as she glanced at
them impatiently. "What I want is something that'll just hit 'em in the
jaw and make their front teeth rattle."
"Yes, I quite understand, Miss Antonia," said the buyer, with a bland
smile, but his eyes grew blank and stupid.
"I expect I shall 'ave to pop over to Paris for it in the end."
"Oh, I think we can give you satisfaction, Miss Antonia. What you can get
in Paris you can get here."
When she had swept out of the department Mr. Sampson, a little worried,
discussed the matter with Mrs. Hodges.
"She's a caution and no mistake," said Mrs. Hodges.
"Alice, where art thou?" remarked the buyer, irritably, and thought he had
scored a point against her.
His ideas of music-hall costumes had never gone beyond short skirts, a
swirl of lace, and glittering sequins; but Miss Antonia had expressed
herself on that subject in no uncertain terms.
"Oh, my aunt!" she said.
And the invocation was uttered in such a tone as to indicate a rooted
antipathy to anything so commonplace, even if she had not added that
sequins gave her the sick. Mr. Sampson `got out' one or two ideas, but
Mrs. Hodges told him frankly she did not think they would do. It was she
who gave Philip the suggestion:
"Can you draw, Phil? Why don't you try your 'and and see what you can do?"
Philip bought a cheap box of water colours, and in the evening while Bell,
the noisy lad of sixteen, whistling three notes, busied himself with his
stamps, he made one or two sketches. He remembered some of the costumes he
had seen in Paris, and he adapted one of them, getting his effect from a
combination of violent, unusual colours. The result amused him and next
morning he showed it to Mrs. Hodges. She was somewhat astonished, but took
it at once to the buyer.
"It's unusual," he said, "there's no denying that."
It puzzled him, and at the same time his trained eye saw that it would
make up admirably. To save his face he began making suggestions for
altering it, but Mrs. Hodges, with more sense, advised him to show it to
Miss Antonia as it was.
"It's neck or nothing with her, and she may take a fancy to it."
"It's a good deal more nothing than neck," said Mr. Sampson, looking at
the decolletage. "He can draw, can't he? Fancy 'im keeping it dark all
When Miss Antonia was announced, the buyer placed the design on the table
in such a position that it must catch her eye the moment she was shown
into his office. She pounced on it at once.
"What's that?" she said. "Why can't I 'ave that?"
"That's just an idea we got out for you," said Mr. Sampson casually.
"D'you like it?"
"Do I like it!" she said. "Give me 'alf a pint with a little drop of gin
"Ah, you see, you don't have to go to Paris. You've only got to say what
you want and there you are."
The work was put in hand at once, and Philip felt quite a thrill of
satisfaction when he saw the costume completed. The buyer and Mrs. Hodges
took all the credit of it; but he did not care, and when he went with them
to the Tivoli to see Miss Antonia wear it for the first time he was filled
with elation. In answer to her questions he at last told Mrs. Hodges how
he had learnt to draw--fearing that the people he lived with would think
he wanted to put on airs, he had always taken the greatest care to say
nothing about his past occupations--and she repeated the information to
Mr. Sampson. The buyer said nothing to him on the subject, but began to
treat him a little more deferentially and presently gave him designs to do
for two of the country customers. They met with satisfaction. Then he
began to speak to his clients of a "clever young feller, Paris
art-student, you know," who worked for him; and soon Philip, ensconced
behind a screen, in his shirt sleeves, was drawing from morning till
night. Sometimes he was so busy that he had to dine at three with the
`stragglers.' He liked it, because there were few of them and they were
all too tired to talk; the food also was better, for it consisted of what
was left over from the buyers' table. Philip's rise from shop-walker to
designer of costumes had a great effect on the department. He realised
that he was an object of envy. Harris, the assistant with the queer-shaped
head, who was the first person he had known at the shop and had attached
himself to Philip, could not conceal his bitterness.
"Some people 'ave all the luck," he said. "You'll be a buyer yourself one
of these days, and we shall all be calling you sir."
He told Philip that he should demand higher wages, for notwithstanding the
difficult work he was now engaged in, he received no more than the six
shillings a week with which he started. But it was a ticklish matter to
ask for a rise. The manager had a sardonic way of dealing with such
"Think you're worth more, do you? How much d'you think you're worth, eh?"
The assistant, with his heart in his mouth, would suggest that he thought
he ought to have another two shillings a week.
"Oh, very well, if you think you're worth it. You can 'ave it." Then he
paused and sometimes, with a steely eye, added: "And you can 'ave your
It was no use then to withdraw your request, you had to go. The manager's
idea was that assistants who were dissatisfied did not work properly, and
if they were not worth a rise it was better to sack them at once. The
result was that they never asked for one unless they were prepared to
leave. Philip hesitated. He was a little suspicious of the men in his room
who told him that the buyer could not do without him. They were decent
fellows, but their sense of humour was primitive, and it would have seemed
funny to them if they had persuaded Philip to ask for more wages and he
were sacked. He could not forget the mortification he had suffered in
looking for work, he did not wish to expose himself to that again, and he
knew there was small chance of his getting elsewhere a post as designer:
there were hundreds of people about who could draw as well as he. But he
wanted money very badly; his clothes were worn out, and the heavy carpets
rotted his socks and boots; he had almost persuaded himself to take the
venturesome step when one morning, passing up from breakfast in the
basement through the passage that led to the manager's office, he saw a
queue of men waiting in answer to an advertisement. There were about a
hundred of them, and whichever was engaged would be offered his keep and
the same six shillings a week that Philip had. He saw some of them cast
envious glances at him because he had employment. It made him shudder. He
dared not risk it.
The winter passed. Now and then Philip went to the hospital, slinking in
when it was late and there was little chance of meeting anyone he knew, to
see whether there were letters for him. At Easter he received one from his
uncle. He was surprised to hear from him, for the Vicar of Blackstable had
never written him more than half a dozen letters in his whole life, and
they were on business matters.
If you are thinking of taking a holiday soon and care to come down here I
shall be pleased to see you. I was very ill with my bronchitis in the
winter and Doctor Wigram never expected me to pull through. I have a
wonderful constitution and I made, thank God, a marvellous recovery.
The letter made Philip angry. How did his uncle think he was living? He
did not even trouble to inquire. He might have starved for all the old man
cared. But as he walked home something struck him; he stopped under a
lamp-post and read the letter again; the handwriting had no longer the
business-like firmness which had characterised it; it was larger and
wavering: perhaps the illness had shaken him more than he was willing to
confess, and he sought in that formal note to express a yearning to see
the only relation he had in the world. Philip wrote back that he could
come down to Blackstable for a fortnight in July. The invitation was
convenient, for he had not known what to do, with his brief holiday. The
Athelnys went hopping in September, but he could not then be spared, since
during that month the autumn models were prepared. The rule of Lynn's was
that everyone must take a fortnight whether he wanted it or not; and
during that time, if he had nowhere to go, the assistant might sleep in
his room, but he was not allowed food. A number had no friends within
reasonable distance of London, and to these the holiday was an awkward
interval when they had to provide food out of their small wages and, with
the whole day on their hands, had nothing to spend. Philip had not been
out of London since his visit to Brighton with Mildred, now two years
before, and he longed for fresh air and the silence of the sea. He thought
of it with such a passionate desire, all through May and June, that, when
at length the time came for him to go, he was listless.
On his last evening, when he talked with the buyer of one or two jobs he
had to leave over, Mr. Sampson suddenly said to him:
"What wages have you been getting?"
"I don't think it's enough. I'll see that you're put up to twelve when you
"Thank you very much," smiled Philip. "I'm beginning to want some new
"If you stick to your work and don't go larking about with the girls like
what some of them do, I'll look after you, Carey. Mind you, you've got a
lot to learn, but you're promising, I'll say that for you, you're
promising, and I'll see that you get a pound a week as soon as you deserve
Philip wondered how long he would have to wait for that. Two years?
He was startled at the change in his uncle. When last he had seen him he
was a stout man, who held himself upright, clean-shaven, with a round,
sensual face; but he had fallen in strangely, his skin was yellow; there
were great bags under the eyes, and he was bent and old. He had grown a
beard during his last illness, and he walked very slowly.
"I 'm not at my best today," he said when Philip, having just arrived, was
sitting with him in the dining-room. "The heat upsets me."
Philip, asking after the affairs of the parish, looked at him and wondered
how much longer he could last. A hot summer would finish him; Philip
noticed how thin his hands were; they trembled. It meant so much to
Philip. If he died that summer he could go back to the hospital at the
beginning of the winter session; his heart leaped at the thought of
returning no more to Lynn's. At dinner the Vicar sat humped up on his
chair, and the housekeeper who had been with him since his wife's death
"Shall Mr. Philip carve, sir?"
The old man, who had been about to do so from disinclination to confess
his weakness, seemed glad at the first suggestion to relinquish the
"You've got a very good appetite," said Philip.
"Oh yes, I always eat well. But I'm thinner than when you were here last.
I'm glad to be thinner, I didn't like being so fat. Dr. Wigram thinks I'm
all the better for being thinner than I was."
When dinner was over the housekeeper brought him some medicine.
"Show the prescription to Master Philip," he said. "He's a doctor too. I'd
like him to see that he thinks it's all right. I told Dr. Wigram that now
you're studying to be a doctor he ought to make a reduction in his
charges. It's dreadful the bills I've had to pay. He came every day for
two months, and he charges five shillings a visit. It's a lot of money,
isn't it? He comes twice a week still. I'm going to tell him he needn't
come any more. I'll send for him if I want him."
He looked at Philip eagerly while he read the prescriptions. They were
narcotics. There were two of them, and one was a medicine which the Vicar
explained he was to use only if his neuritis grew unendurable.
"I'm very careful," he said. "I don't want to get into the opium habit."
He did not mention his nephew's affairs. Philip fancied that it was by way
of precaution, in case he asked for money, that his uncle kept dwelling on
the financial calls upon him. He had spent so much on the doctor and so
much more on the chemist, while he was ill they had had to have a fire
every day in his bed-room, and now on Sunday he needed a carriage to go to
church in the evening as well as in the morning. Philip felt angrily
inclined to say he need not be afraid, he was not going to borrow from
him, but he held his tongue. It seemed to him that everything had left the
old man now but two things, pleasure in his food and a grasping desire for
money. It was a hideous old age.
In the afternoon Dr. Wigram came, and after the visit Philip walked with
him to the garden gate.
"How d'you think he is?" said Philip.
Dr. Wigram was more anxious not to do wrong than to do right, and he never
hazarded a definite opinion if he could help it. He had practised at
Blackstable for five-and-thirty years. He had the reputation of being very
safe, and many of his patients thought it much better that a doctor should
be safe than clever. There was a new man at Blackstable--he had been
settled there for ten years, but they still looked upon him as an
interloper--and he was said to be very clever; but he had not much
practice among the better people, because no one really knew anything
"Oh, he's as well as can be expected," said Dr. Wigram in answer to
"Has he got anything seriously the matter with him?"
"Well, Philip, your uncle is no longer a young man," said the doctor with
a cautious little smile, which suggested that after all the Vicar of
Blackstable was not an old man either.
"He seems to think his heart's in a bad way."
"I'm not satisfied with his heart," hazarded the doctor, "I think he
should be careful, very careful."
On the tip of Philip's tongue was the question: how much longer can he
live? He was afraid it would shock. In these matters a periphrase was
demanded by the decorum of life, but, as he asked another question
instead, it flashed through him that the doctor must be accustomed to the
impatience of a sick man's relatives. He must see through their
sympathetic expressions. Philip, with a faint smile at his own hypocrisy,
cast down his eyes.
"I suppose he's in no immediate danger?"
This was the kind of question the doctor hated. If you said a patient
couldn't live another month the family prepared itself for a bereavement,
and if then the patient lived on they visited the medical attendant with
the resentment they felt at having tormented themselves before it was
necessary. On the other hand, if you said the patient might live a year
and he died in a week the family said you did not know your business. They
thought of all the affection they would have lavished on the defunct if
they had known the end was so near. Dr. Wigram made the gesture of washing
"I don't think there's any grave risk so long as he--remains as he is," he
ventured at last. "But on the other hand, we mustn't forget that he's no
longer a young man, and well, the machine is wearing out. If he gets over
the hot weather I don't see why he shouldn't get on very comfortably till
the winter, and then if the winter does not bother him too much, well, I
don't see why anything should happen."
Philip went back to the dining-room where his uncle was sitting. With his
skull-cap and a crochet shawl over his shoulders he looked grotesque. His
eyes had been fixed on the door, and they rested on Philip's face as he
entered. Philip saw that his uncle had been waiting anxiously for his
"Well, what did he say about me?"
Philip understood suddenly that the old man was frightened of dying. It
made Philip a little ashamed, so that he looked away involuntarily. He was
always embarrassed by the weakness of human nature.
"He says he thinks you're much better," said Philip.
A gleam of delight came into his uncle's eyes.
"I've got a wonderful constitution," he said. "What else did he say?" he
"He said that if you take care of yourself there's no reason why you
shouldn't live to be a hundred."
"I don't know that I can expect to do that, but I don't see why I
shouldn't see eighty. My mother lived till she was eighty-four."
There was a little table by the side of Mr. Carey's chair, and on it were
a Bible and the large volume of the Common Prayer from which for so many
years he had been accustomed to read to his household. He stretched out
now his shaking hand and took his Bible.
"Those old patriarchs lived to a jolly good old age, didn't they?" he
said, with a queer little laugh in which Philip read a sort of timid
The old man clung to life. Yet he believed implicitly all that his
religion taught him. He had no doubt in the immortality of the soul, and
he felt that he had conducted himself well enough, according to his
capacities, to make it very likely that he would go to heaven. In his long
career to how many dying persons must he have administered the
consolations of religion! Perhaps he was like the doctor who could get no
benefit from his own prescriptions. Philip was puzzled and shocked by that
eager cleaving to the earth. He wondered what nameless horror was at the
back of the old man's mind. He would have liked to probe into his soul so
that he might see in its nakedness the dreadful dismay of the unknown
which he suspected.
The fortnight passed quickly and Philip returned to London. He passed a
sweltering August behind his screen in the costumes department, drawing in
his shirt sleeves. The assistants in relays went for their holidays. In
the evening Philip generally went into Hyde Park and listened to the band.
Growing more accustomed to his work it tired him less, and his mind,
recovering from its long stagnation, sought for fresh activity. His whole
desire now was set on his uncle's death. He kept on dreaming the same
dream: a telegram was handed to him one morning, early, which announced
the Vicar's sudden demise, and freedom was in his grasp. When he awoke and
found it was nothing but a dream he was filled with sombre rage. He
occupied himself, now that the event seemed likely to happen at any time,
with elaborate plans for the future. In these he passed rapidly over the
year which he must spend before it was possible for him to be qualified
and dwelt on the journey to Spain on which his heart was set. He read
books about that country, which he borrowed from the free library, and
already he knew from photographs exactly what each city looked like. He
saw himself lingering in Cordova on the bridge that spanned the
Gaudalquivir; he wandered through tortuous streets in Toledo and sat in
churches where he wrung from El Greco the secret which he felt the
mysterious painter held for him. Athelny entered into his humour, and on
Sunday afternoons they made out elaborate itineraries so that Philip
should miss nothing that was noteworthy. To cheat his impatience Philip
began to teach himself Spanish, and in the deserted sitting-room in
Harrington Street he spent an hour every evening doing Spanish exercises
and puzzling out with an English translation by his side the magnificent
phrases of Don Quixote. Athelny gave him a lesson once a week, and Philip
learned a few sentences to help him on his journey. Mrs. Athelny laughed
"You two and your Spanish!" she said. "Why don't you do something useful?"
But Sally, who was growing up and was to put up her hair at Christmas,
stood by sometimes and listened in her grave way while her father and
Philip exchanged remarks in a language she did not understand. She thought
her father the most wonderful man who had ever existed, and she expressed
her opinion of Philip only through her father's commendations.
"Father thinks a rare lot of your Uncle Philip," she remarked to her
brothers and sisters.
Thorpe, the eldest boy, was old enough to go on the Arethusa, and Athelny
regaled his family with magnificent descriptions of the appearance the lad
would make when he came back in uniform for his holidays. As soon as Sally
was seventeen she was to be apprenticed to a dressmaker. Athelny in his
rhetorical way talked of the birds, strong enough to fly now, who were
leaving the parental nest, and with tears in his eyes told them that the
nest would be there still if ever they wished to return to it. A shakedown
and a dinner would always be theirs, and the heart of a father would never
be closed to the troubles of his children.
"You do talk, Athelny," said his wife. "I don't know what trouble they're
likely to get into so long as they're steady. So long as you're honest and
not afraid of work you'll never be out of a job, that's what I think, and
I can tell you I shan't be sorry when I see the last of them earning their
Child-bearing, hard work, and constant anxiety were beginning to tell on
Mrs. Athelny; and sometimes her back ached in the evening so that she had
to sit down and rest herself. Her ideal of happiness was to have a girl to
do the rough work so that she need not herself get up before seven.
Athelny waved his beautiful white hand.
"Ah, my Betty, we've deserved well of the state, you and I. We've reared
nine healthy children, and the boys shall serve their king; the girls
shall cook and sew and in their turn breed healthy children." He turned to
Sally, and to comfort her for the anti-climax of the contrast added
grandiloquently: "They also serve who only stand and wait."
Athelny had lately added socialism to the other contradictory theories he
vehemently believed in, and he stated now:
"In a socialist state we should be richly pensioned, you and I, Betty."
"Oh, don't talk to me about your socialists, I've got no patience with
them," she cried. "It only means that another lot of lazy loafers will
make a good thing out of the working classes. My motto is, leave me alone;
I don't want anyone interfering with me; I'll make the best of a bad job,
and the devil take the hindmost."
"D'you call life a bad job?" said Athelny. "Never! We've had our ups and
downs, we've had our struggles, we've always been poor, but it's been
worth it, ay, worth it a hundred times I say when I look round at my
"You do talk, Athelny," she said, looking at him, not with anger but with
scornful calm. "You've had the pleasant part of the children, I've had the
bearing of them, and the bearing with them. I don't say that I'm not fond
of them, now they're there, but if I had my time over again I'd remain
single. Why, if I'd remained single I might have a little shop by now, and
four or five hundred pounds in the bank, and a girl to do the rough work.
Oh, I wouldn't go over my life again, not for something."
Philip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than
unending labour, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just to be accepted in
the same spirit as one accepts the changes of the seasons. Fury seized him
because it all seemed useless. He could not reconcile himself to the
belief that life had no meaning and yet everything he saw, all his
thoughts, added to the force of his conviction. But though fury seized him
it was a joyful fury. life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and
he faced it with a strange sense of power.
The autumn passed into winter. Philip had left his address with Mrs.
Foster, his uncle's housekeeper, so that she might communicate with him,
but still went once a week to the hospital on the chance of there being a
letter. One evening he saw his name on an envelope in a handwriting he had
hoped never to see again. It gave him a queer feeling. For a little while
he could not bring himself to take it. It brought back a host of hateful
memories. But at length, impatient with himself, he ripped open the
7 William Street,
Can I see you for a minute or two as soon as possible. I am in awful
trouble and don't know what to do. It's not money.
He tore the letter into little bits and going out into the street
scattered them in the darkness.
"I'll see her damned," he muttered.
A feeling of disgust surged up in him at the thought of seeing her again.
He did not care if she was in distress, it served her right whatever it
was, he thought of her with hatred, and the love he had had for her
aroused his loathing. His recollections filled him with nausea, and as he
walked across the Thames he drew himself aside in an instinctive
withdrawal from his thought of her. He went to bed, but he could not
sleep; he wondered what was the matter with her, and he could not get out
of his head the fear that she was ill and hungry; she would not have
written to him unless she were desperate. He was angry with himself for
his weakness, but he knew that he would have no peace unless he saw her.
Next morning he wrote a letter-card and posted it on his way to the shop.
He made it as stiff as he could and said merely that he was sorry she was
in difficulties and would come to the address she had given at seven
o'clock that evening.
It was that of a shabby lodging-house in a sordid street; and when, sick
at the thought of seeing her, he asked whether she was in, a wild hope
seized him that she had left. It looked the sort of place people moved in
and out of frequently. He had not thought of looking at the postmark on
her letter and did not know how many days it had lain in the rack. The
woman who answered the bell did not reply to his inquiry, but silently
preceded him along the passage and knocked on a door at the back.
"Mrs. Miller, a gentleman to see you," she called.
The door was slightly opened, and Mildred looked out suspiciously.
"Oh, it's you," she said. "Come in."
He walked in and she closed the door. It was a very small bed-room, untidy
as was every place she lived in; there was a pair of shoes on the floor,
lying apart from one another and uncleaned; a hat was on the chest of
drawers, with false curls beside it; and there was a blouse on the table.
Philip looked for somewhere to put his hat. The hooks behind the door were
laden with skirts, and he noticed that they were muddy at the hem.
"Sit down, won't you?" she said. Then she gave a little awkward laugh. "I
suppose you were surprised to hear from me again."
"You're awfully hoarse," he answered. "Have you got a sore throat?"
"Yes, I have had for some time."
He did not say anything. He waited for her to explain why she wanted to
see him. The look of the room told him clearly enough that she had gone
back to the life from which he had taken her. He wondered what had
happened to the baby; there was a photograph of it on the chimney-piece,
but no sign in the room that a child was ever there. Mildred was holding
her handkerchief. She made it into a little ball, and passed it from hand
to hand. He saw that she was very nervous. She was staring at the fire,
and he could look at her without meeting her eyes. She was much thinner
than when she had left him; and the skin, yellow and dryish, was drawn
more tightly over her cheekbones. She had dyed her hair and it was now
flaxen: it altered her a good deal, and made her look more vulgar.
"I was relieved to get your letter, I can tell you," she said at last. "I
thought p'raps you weren't at the 'ospital any more."
Philip did not speak.
"I suppose you're qualified by now, aren't you?"
"I'm no longer at the hospital. I had to give it up eighteen months ago."
"You are changeable. You don't seem as if you could stick to anything."
Philip was silent for another moment, and when he went on it was with
"I lost the little money I had in an unlucky speculation and I couldn't
afford to go on with the medical. I had to earn my living as best I
"What are you doing then?"
"I'm in a shop."
She gave him a quick glance and turned her eyes away at once. He thought
that she reddened. She dabbed her palms nervously with the handkerchief.
"You've not forgotten all your doctoring, have you?" She jerked the words
out quite oddly.
"Because that's why I wanted to see you." Her voice sank to a hoarse
whisper. "I don't know what's the matter with me."
"Why don't you go to a hospital?"
"I don't like to do that, and have all the stoodents staring at me, and
I'm afraid they'd want to keep me."
"What are you complaining of?" asked Philip coldly, with the stereotyped
phrase used in the out-patients' room.
"Well, I've come out in a rash, and I can't get rid of it."
Philip felt a twinge of horror in his heart. Sweat broke out on his
"Let me look at your throat?"
He took her over to the window and made such examination as he could.
Suddenly he caught sight of her eyes. There was deadly fear in them. It
was horrible to see. She was terrified. She wanted him to reassure her;
she looked at him pleadingly, not daring to ask for words of comfort but
with all her nerves astrung to receive them: he had none to offer her.
"I'm afraid you're very ill indeed," he said.
"What d'you think it is?"
When he told her she grew deathly pale, and her lips even turned, yellow.
she began to cry, hopelessly, quietly at first and then with choking sobs.
"I'm awfully sorry," he said at last. "But I had to tell you."
"I may just as well kill myself and have done with it."
He took no notice of the threat.
"Have you got any money?" he asked.
"Six or seven pounds."
"You must give up this life, you know. Don't you think you could find some
work to do? I'm afraid I can't help you much. I only get twelve bob a
"What is there I can do now?" she cried impatiently.
"Damn it all, you MUST try to get something."
He spoke to her very gravely, telling her of her own danger and the danger
to which she exposed others, and she listened sullenly. He tried to
console her. At last he brought her to a sulky acquiescence in which she
promised to do all he advised. He wrote a prescription, which he said he
would leave at the nearest chemist's, and he impressed upon her the
necessity of taking her medicine with the utmost regularity. Getting up to
go, he held out his hand.
"Don't be downhearted, you'll soon get over your throat."
But as he went her face became suddenly distorted, and she caught hold of
"Oh, don't leave me," she cried hoarsely. "I'm so afraid, don't leave me
alone yet. Phil, please. There's no one else I can go to, you're the only
friend I've ever had."
He felt the terror of her soul, and it was strangely like that terror he
had seen in his uncle's eyes when he feared that he might die. Philip
looked down. Twice that woman had come into his life and made him
wretched; she had no claim upon him; and yet, he knew not why, deep in his
heart was a strange aching; it was that which, when he received her
letter, had left him no peace till he obeyed her summons.
"I suppose I shall never really quite get over it," he said to himself.
What perplexed him was that he felt a curious physical distaste, which
made it uncomfortable for him to be near her.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Let's go out and dine together. I'll pay."
He hesitated. He felt that she was creeping back again into his life when
he thought she was gone out of it for ever. She watched him with sickening
"Oh, I know I've treated you shocking, but don't leave me alone now.
You've had your revenge. If you leave me by myself now I don't know what
I shall do."
"All right, I don't mind," he said, "but we shall have to do it on the
cheap, I haven't got money to throw away these days."
She sat down and put her shoes on, then changed her skirt and put on a
hat; and they walked out together till they found a restaurant in the
Tottenham Court Road. Philip had got out of the habit of eating at those
hours, and Mildred's throat was so sore that she could not swallow. They
had a little cold ham and Philip drank a glass of beer. They sat opposite
one another, as they had so often sat before; he wondered if she
remembered; they had nothing to say to one another and would have sat in
silence if Philip had not forced himself to talk. In the bright light of
the restaurant, with its vulgar looking-glasses that reflected in an
endless series, she looked old and haggard. Philip was anxious to know
about the child, but he had not the courage to ask. At last she said:
"You know baby died last summer."
"Oh!" he said.
"You might say you're sorry."
"I'm not," he answered, "I'm very glad."
She glanced at him and, understanding what he meant, looked away
"You were rare stuck on it at one time, weren't you? I always thought it
funny like how you could see so much in another man's child."
When they had finished eating they called at the chemist's for the
medicine Philip had ordered, and going back to the shabby room he made her
take a dose. Then they sat together till it was time for Philip to go back
to Harrington Street. He was hideously bored.
Philip went to see her every day. She took the medicine he had prescribed
and followed his directions, and soon the results were so apparent that
she gained the greatest confidence in Philip's skill. As she grew better
she grew less despondent. She talked more freely.
"As soon as I can get a job I shall be all right," she said. "I've had my
lesson now and I mean to profit by it. No more racketing about for yours
Each time he saw her, Philip asked whether she had found work. She told
him not to worry, she would find something to do as soon as she wanted it;
she had several strings to her bow; it was all the better not to do
anything for a week or two. He could not deny this, but at the end of that
time he became more insistent. She laughed at him, she was much more
cheerful now, and said he was a fussy old thing. She told him long stories
of the manageresses she interviewed, for her idea was to get work at some
eating-house; what they said and what she answered. Nothing definite was
fixed, but she was sure to settle something at the beginning of the
following week: there was no use hurrying, and it would be a mistake to
take something unsuitable.
"It's absurd to talk like that," he said impatiently. "You must take
anything you can get. I can't help you, and your money won't last for
"Oh, well, I've not come to the end of it yet and chance it."
He looked at her sharply. It was three weeks since his first visit, and
she had then less than seven pounds. Suspicion seized him. He remembered
some of the things she had said. He put two and two together. He wondered
whether she had made any attempt to find work. Perhaps she had been lying
to him all the time. It was very strange that her money should have lasted
"What is your rent here?"
"Oh, the landlady's very nice, different from what some of them are; she's
quite willing to wait till it's convenient for me to pay."
He was silent. What he suspected was so horrible that he hesitated. It was
no use to ask her, she would deny everything; if he wanted to know he must
find out for himself. He was in the habit of leaving her every evening at
eight, and when the clock struck he got up; but instead of going back to
Harrington Street he stationed himself at the corner of Fitzroy Square so
that he could see anyone who came along William Street. It seemed to him
that he waited an interminable time, and he was on the point of going
away, thinking his surmise had been mistaken, when the door of No. 7
opened and Mildred came out. He fell back into the darkness and watched
her walk towards him. She had on the hat with a quantity of feathers on it
which he had seen in her room, and she wore a dress he recognized, too
showy for the street and unsuitable to the time of year. He followed her
slowly till she came into the Tottenham Court Road, where she slackened
her pace; at the corner of Oxford Street she stopped, looked round, and
crossed over to a music-hall. He went up to her and touched her on the
arm. He saw that she had rouged her cheeks and painted her lips.
"Where are you going, Mildred?"
She started at the sound of his voice and reddened as she always did when
she was caught in a lie; then the flash of anger which he knew so well
came into her eyes as she instinctively sought to defend herself by abuse.
But she did not say the words which were on the tip of her tongue.
"Oh, I was only going to see the show. It gives me the hump sitting every
night by myself."
He did not pretend to believe her.
"You mustn't. Good heavens, I've told you fifty times how dangerous it is.
You must stop this sort of thing at once."
"Oh, hold your jaw," she cried roughly. "How d'you suppose I'm going to
He took hold of her arm and without thinking what he was doing tried to
drag her away.
"For God's sake come along. Let me take you home. You don't know what
you're doing. It's criminal."
"What do I care? Let them take their chance. Men haven't been so good to
me that I need bother my head about them."
She pushed him away and walking up to the box-office put down her money.
Philip had threepence in his pocket. He could not follow. He turned away
and walked slowly down Oxford Street.
"I can't do anything more," he said to himself.
That was the end. He did not see her again.
Christmas that year falling on Thursday, the shop was to close for four
days: Philip wrote to his uncle asking whether it would be convenient for
him to spend the holidays at the vicarage. He received an answer from Mrs.
Foster, saying that Mr. Carey was not well enough to write himself, but
wished to see his nephew and would be glad if he came down. She met Philip
at the door, and when she shook hands with him, said:
"You'll find him changed since you was here last, sir; but you'll pretend
you don't notice anything, won't you, sir? He's that nervous about
Philip nodded, and she led him into the dining-room.
"Here's Mr. Philip, sir."
The Vicar of Blackstable was a dying man. There was no mistaking that when
you looked at the hollow cheeks and the shrunken body. He sat huddled in
the arm-chair, with his head strangely thrown back, and a shawl over his
shoulders. He could not walk now without the help of sticks, and his hands
trembled so that he could only feed himself with difficulty.
"He can't last long now," thought Philip, as he looked at him.
"How d'you think I'm looking?" asked the Vicar. "D'you think I've changed
since you were here last?"
"I think you look stronger than you did last summer."
"It was the heat. That always upsets me."
Mr. Carey's history of the last few months consisted in the number of
weeks he had spent in his bed-room and the number of weeks he had spent
downstairs. He had a hand-bell by his side and while he talked he rang it
for Mrs. Foster, who sat in the next room ready to attend to his wants, to
ask on what day of the month he had first left his room.
"On the seventh of November, sir."
Mr. Carey looked at Philip to see how he took the information.
"But I eat well still, don't I, Mrs. Foster?"
"Yes, sir, you've got a wonderful appetite."
"I don't seem to put on flesh though."
Nothing interested him now but his health. He was set upon one thing
indomitably and that was living, just living, notwithstanding the monotony
of his life and the constant pain which allowed him to sleep only when he
was under the influence of morphia.
"It's terrible, the amount of money I have to spend on doctor's bills." He
tinkled his bell again. "Mrs. Foster, show Master Philip the chemist's
Patiently she took it off the chimney-piece and handed it to Philip.
"That's only one month. I was wondering if as you're doctoring yourself
you couldn't get me the drugs cheaper. I thought of getting them down from
the stores, but then there's the postage."
Though apparently taking so little interest in him that he did not trouble
to inquire what Phil was doing, he seemed glad to have him there. He asked
how long he could stay, and when Philip told him he must leave on Tuesday
morning, expressed a wish that the visit might have been longer. He told
him minutely all his symptoms and repeated what the doctor had said of
him. He broke off to ring his bell, and when Mrs. Foster came in, said:
"Oh, I wasn't sure if you were there. I only rang to see if you were."
When she had gone he explained to Philip that it made him uneasy if he was
not certain that Mrs. Foster was within earshot; she knew exactly what to
do with him if anything happened. Philip, seeing that she was tired and
that her eyes were heavy from want of sleep, suggested that he was working
her too hard.
"Oh, nonsense," said the Vicar, "she's as strong as a horse." And when
next she came in to give him his medicine he said to her:
"Master Philip says you've got too much to do, Mrs. Foster. You like
looking after me, don't you?"
"Oh, I don't mind, sir. I want to do everything I can."
Presently the medicine took effect and Mr. Carey fell asleep. Philip went
into the kitchen and asked Mrs. Foster whether she could stand the work.
He saw that for some months she had had little peace.
"Well, sir, what can I do?" she answered. "The poor old gentleman's so
dependent on me, and, although he is troublesome sometimes, you can't help
liking him, can you? I've been here so many years now, I don't know what
I shall do when he comes to go."
Philip saw that she was really fond of the old man. She washed and dressed
him, gave him his food, and was up half a dozen times in the night; for
she slept in the next room to his and whenever he awoke he tinkled his
little bell till she came in. He might die at any moment, but he might
live for months. It was wonderful that she should look after a stranger
with such patient tenderness, and it was tragic and pitiful that she
should be alone in the world to care for him.
It seemed to Philip that the religion which his uncle had preached all his
life was now of no more than formal importance to him: every Sunday the
curate came and administered to him Holy Communion, and he often read his
Bible; but it was clear that he looked upon death with horror. He believed
that it was the gateway to life everlasting, but he did not want to enter
upon that life. In constant pain, chained to his chair and having given up
the hope of ever getting out into the open again, like a child in the
hands of a woman to whom he paid wages, he clung to the world he knew.
In Philip's head was a question he could not ask, because he was aware
that his uncle would never give any but a conventional answer: he wondered
whether at the very end, now that the machine was painfully wearing itself
out, the clergyman still believed in immortality; perhaps at the bottom of
his soul, not allowed to shape itself into words in case it became urgent,
was the conviction that there was no God and after this life nothing.
On the evening of Boxing Day Philip sat in the dining-room with his uncle.
He had to start very early next morning in order to get to the shop by
nine, and he was to say good-night to Mr. Carey then. The Vicar of
Blackstable was dozing and Philip, lying on the sofa by the window, let
his book fall on his knees and looked idly round the room. He asked
himself how much the furniture would fetch. He had walked round the house
and looked at the things he had known from his childhood; there were a few
pieces of china which might go for a decent price and Philip wondered if
it would be worth while to take them up to London; but the furniture was
of the Victorian order, of mahogany, solid and ugly; it would go for
nothing at an auction. There were three or four thousand books, but
everyone knew how badly they sold, and it was not probable that they would
fetch more than a hundred pounds. Philip did not know how much his uncle
would leave, and he reckoned out for the hundredth time what was the least
sum upon which he could finish the curriculum at the hospital, take his
degree, and live during the time he wished to spend on hospital
appointments. He looked at the old man, sleeping restlessly: there was no
humanity left in that shrivelled face; it was the face of some queer
animal. Philip thought how easy it would be to finish that useless life.
He had thought it each evening when Mrs. Foster prepared for his uncle the
medicine which was to give him an easy night. There were two bottles: one
contained a drug which he took regularly, and the other an opiate if the
pain grew unendurable. This was poured out for him and left by his
bed-side. He generally took it at three or four in the morning. It would
be a simple thing to double the dose; he would die in the night, and no
one would suspect anything; for that was how Doctor Wigram expected him to
die. The end would be painless. Philip clenched his hands as he thought of
the money he wanted so badly. A few more months of that wretched life
could matter nothing to the old man, but the few more months meant
everything to him: he was getting to the end of his endurance, and when he
thought of going back to work in the morning he shuddered with horror. His
heart beat quickly at the thought which obsessed him, and though he made
an effort to put it out of his mind he could not. It would be so easy, so
desperately easy. He had no feeling for the old man, he had never liked
him; he had been selfish all his life, selfish to his wife who adored him,
indifferent to the boy who had been put in his charge; he was not a cruel
man, but a stupid, hard man, eaten up with a small sensuality. It would be
easy, desperately easy. Philip did not dare. He was afraid of remorse; it
would be no good having the money if he regretted all his life what he had
done. Though he had told himself so often that regret was futile, there
were certain things that came back to him occasionally and worried him. He
wished they were not on his conscience.
His uncle opened his eyes; Philip was glad, for he looked a little more
human then. He was frankly horrified at the idea that had come to him, it
was murder that he was meditating; and he wondered if other people had
such thoughts or whether he was abnormal and depraved. He supposed he
could not have done it when it came to the point, but there the thought
was, constantly recurring: if he held his hand it was from fear. His uncle
"You're not looking forward to my death, Philip?" Philip felt his heart
beat against his chest.
"Good heavens, no."
"That's a good boy. I shouldn't like you to do that. You'll get a little
bit of money when I pass away, but you mustn't look forward to it. It
wouldn't profit you if you did."
He spoke in a low voice, and there was a curious anxiety in his tone. It
sent a pang into Philip's heart. He wondered what strange insight might
have led the old man to surmise what strange desires were in Philip's
"I hope you'll live for another twenty years," he said.
"Oh, well, I can't expect to do that, but if I take care of myself I don't
see why I shouldn't last another three or four."
He was silent for a while, and Philip found nothing to say. Then, as if he
had been thinking it all over, the old man spoke again.
"Everyone has the right to live as long as he can."
Philip wanted to distract his mind.
"By the way, I suppose you never hear from Miss Wilkinson now?"
"Yes, I had a letter some time this year. She's married, you know."
"Yes, she married a widower. I believe they're quite comfortable."
Next day Philip began work again, but the end which he expected within a
few weeks did not come. The weeks passed into months. The winter wore
away, and in the parks the trees burst into bud and into leaf. A terrible
lassitude settled upon Philip. Time was passing, though it went with such
heavy feet, and he thought that his youth was going and soon he would have
lost it and nothing would have been accomplished. His work seemed more
aimless now that there was the certainty of his leaving it. He became
skilful in the designing of costumes, and though he had no inventive
faculty acquired quickness in the adaptation of French fashions to the
English market. Sometimes he was not displeased with his drawings, but
they always bungled them in the execution. He was amused to notice that he
suffered from a lively irritation when his ideas were not adequately
carried out. He had to walk warily. Whenever he suggested something
original Mr. Sampson turned it down: their customers did not want anything
outre, it was a very respectable class of business, and when you had a
connection of that sort it wasn't worth while taking liberties with it.
Once or twice he spoke sharply to Philip; he thought the young man was
getting a bit above himself, because Philip's ideas did not always
coincide with his own.
"You jolly well take care, my fine young fellow, or one of these days
you'll find yourself in the street."
Philip longed to give him a punch on the nose, but he restrained himself.
After all it could not possibly last much longer, and then he would he
done with all these people for ever. Sometimes in comic desperation he
cried out that his uncle must be made of iron. What a constitution! The
ills he suffered from would have killed any decent person twelve months
before. When at last the news came that the Vicar was dying Philip, who
had been thinking of other things, was taken by surprise. It was in July,
and in another fortnight he was to have gone for his holiday. He received
a letter from Mrs. Foster to say the doctor did not give Mr. Carey many
days to live, and if Philip wished to see him again he must come at once.
Philip went to the buyer and told him he wanted to leave. Mr. Sampson was
a decent fellow, and when he knew the circumstances made no difficulties.
Philip said good-bye to the people in his department; the reason of his
leaving had spread among them in an exaggerated form, and they thought he
had come into a fortune. Mrs. Hodges had tears in her eyes when she shook
hands with him.
"I suppose we shan't often see you again," she said.
"I'm glad to get away from Lynn's," he answered.
It was strange, but he was actually sorry to leave these people whom he
thought he had loathed, and when he drove away from the house in
Harrington Street it was with no exultation. He had so anticipated the
emotions he would experience on this occasion that now he felt nothing: he
was as unconcerned as though he were going for a few days' holiday.
"I've got a rotten nature," he said to himself. "I look forward to things
awfully, and then when they come I'm always disappointed."
He reached Blackstable early in the afternoon. Mrs. Foster met him at the
door, and her face told him that his uncle was not yet dead.
"He's a little better today," she said. "He's got a wonderful
She led him into the bed-room where Mr. Carey lay on his back. He gave
Philip a slight smile, in which was a trace of satisfied cunning at having
circumvented his enemy once more.
"I thought it was all up with me yesterday," he said, in an exhausted
voice. "They'd all given me up, hadn't you, Mrs. Foster?"
"You've got a wonderful constitution, there's no denying that."
"There's life in the old dog yet."
Mrs. Foster said that the Vicar must not talk, it would tire him; she
treated him like a child, with kindly despotism; and there was something
childish in the old man's satisfaction at having cheated all their
expectations. It struck him at once that Philip had been sent for, and he
was amused that he had been brought on a fool's errand. If he could only
avoid another of his heart attacks he would get well enough in a week or
two; and he had had the attacks several times before; he always felt as if
he were going to die, but he never did. They all talked of his
constitution, but they none of them knew how strong it was.
"Are you going to stay a day or two?" He asked Philip, pretending to
believe he had come down for a holiday.
"I was thinking of it," Philip answered cheerfully.
"A breath of sea-air will do you good."
Presently Dr. Wigram came, and after he had seen the Vicar talked with
Philip. He adopted an appropriate manner.
"I'm afraid it is the end this time, Philip," he said. "It'll be a great
loss to all of us. I've known him for five-and-thirty years."
"He seems well enough now," said Philip.
"I'm keeping him alive on drugs, but it can't last. It was dreadful these
last two days, I thought he was dead half a dozen times."
The doctor was silent for a minute or two, but at the gate he said
suddenly to Philip:
"Has Mrs. Foster said anything to you?"
"What d'you mean?"
"They're very superstitious, these people: she's got hold of an idea that
he's got something on his mind, and he can't die till he gets rid of it;
and he can't bring himself to confess it."