Part 6 out of 8
Three real actual positive gold and silver guineas! It was almost
too much for either of them to believe, and all for a single
morning's light labour! What a perfect Eldorado of wealth and
happiness seemed now to be opening out unexpectedly before them!
So much Arthur Berkeley, his own eyes glistening too with a sympathetic
moisture, saw and heard before he went away in a happier mood and
left them to their own domestic congratulations. But he did not see
or know the reaction that came in the dead of night, after all that
day's unwonted excitement, to poor, sickening, weary, over-burdened
Ernest. Even Edie never knew it all, for Ernest was careful to
hide it as much as possible from her knowledge. But he knew himself,
though he would not even light the candle to see it, that he had
got those three glorious guineas--the guineas they had so delighted
in--with something more than a morning's labour. He had had to pay
for them, not figuratively but literally, with some of his very
A week or two later, while 'The Primate of Fiji' was still running
vigorously at the Ambiguities Theatre, Arthur Berkeley's second
opera, 'The Duke of Bermondsey; or, the Bold Buccaneers of the Isle
of Dogs,' was brought out with vast success and immense exultation
at the Marlborough. There is always a strong tendency to criticise
a little severely the second work of a successful beginner: people
like to assume a knowing air, and to murmur self-complacently that
they felt sure from the beginning he couldn't keep up permanently
to his first level. But in spite of that natural tendency of the
unregenerate human mind, and in spite, too, of a marked political
bias on the author's part, 'The Duke of Bermondsey' took the town
by storm almost as completely as 'The Primate of Fiji' had done before
it. Everybody said that though the principles of the piece were
really quite atrocious, when one came to think of them seriously,
yet the music and the dialogue were crisp and brisk enough to float
any amount of social or economical heresy that that clever young
man, Mr. Arthur Berkeley, might choose to put into one of his
amusing and original operas.
The social and economical heresies, of course, were partly due
to Ernest Le Breton's insidious influence. At the same time that
Berkeley was engaged in partially converting Ernest, Ernest was
engaged in the counter process of partially converting Berkeley.
To say the truth, the conversion was not a very difficult matter
to effect; the neophyte had in him implicitly already the chief
saving doctrines of the socialistic faith, or, if one must put it
conversely, the germs of the disease were constitutionally implanted
in his system, and only needed a little external encouragement
to cring the poison out fully in the most virulent form of the
complaint. The great point of 'The Duke of Bermondsey' consisted in
the ridiculous contrast it exhibited between the wealth, dignity,
and self-importance of the duke himself, and the squalid, miserable,
shrinking poverty of the East-end purlieus from which he drew his
enormous revenues. Ernest knew a little about the East-end from
practical experience; he had gone there often with Ronald, on his
rounds of mercy, and had seen with his own eyes those dens of misery
which most people have only heard or read about. It was Ernest who
had suggested this light satirical treatment of the great social
problem, whose more serious side he himself had learnt to look
at in Max Schurz's revolutionary salon; and it was to Ernest that
Arthur Berkeley owed the first hint of that famous scene where the
young Countess of Coalbrookdale converses familiarly on the natural
beauties of healthful labour with the chorus of intelligent colliery
hands, in the most realistic of grimy costumes, from her father's
estates in Staffordshire. The stalls hardly knew whether to laugh
or frown when the intelligent colliers respectfully invited the
countess, in her best Ascot flounces and furbelows, to enjoy the
lauded delights of healthful mine labour in propriā personā: but
they quite recovered their good humour when the band of theatrical
buccaneers, got up by the duke in Spanish costumes, with intent
to deceive his lawless tenants in the East-end, came unexpectedly
face to face with the genuine buccaneers of the Isle of Dogs,
clothed in real costermonger caps and second-hand pilot-jackets
of the marine-storedealers' fashionable pattern. It was all only
the ridiculous incongruity of our actual society represented in the
very faintest shades of caricature upon the stage; but it made the
incongruities more incongruous still to see them crowded together
so closely in a single concentrated tableau. Unthinking people
laughed uproariously at the fun and nonsense of the piece; thinking
people laughed too, but not without an uncomfortable side twinge of
conscientious remorse at the pity of it all. Some wise heads even
observed with a shrug that when this sort of thing was applauded
upon the stage, the fine old institutions of England were getting
into dangerous contact with these pernicious continental socialistic
theories. And no doubt those good people were really wise in their
generation. 'When Figaro came,' Arthur Berkeley said himself
to Ernest, 'the French revolution wasn't many paces behind on the
track of the ages.'
'Better even than the Primate, Mr. Berkeley,' said Hilda Tregellis,
as she met him in a London drawing-room a few days later. 'What
a delightful scene, that of the Countess of Coalbrookdale! You're
doing real good, I do believe, by making people think about
these things more seriously, you know. As poor dear Mr. Le Breton
would have said, you've got an ethical purpose--isn't that the
word?--underlying even your comic operas. By the way, do you ever
see the Le Bretons now? Poor souls, I hear they're doing very
badly. The elder brother, Herbert Le Breton--horrid wretch!--he's
here to-night; going to marry that pretty Miss Faucit, they say;
daughter of old Mr. Faucit, the candle-maker--no, not candles,
soap I think it is--but it doesn't matter twopence nowadays, does
it? Well, as I was saying, you're doing a great deal of good
with characters like this Countess of Coalbrookdale. We want more
mixture of classes, don't we? more free intercourse between them;
more familiarity of every sort. For my part, now, I should really
very much like to know more of the inner life of the working classes.'
'If only he'd ask me to go to lunch,' she thought, 'with his dear
old father, the superannuated shoemaker! so very romantic, really!'
But Arthur only smiled a sphinx-like smile, and answered lightly,
'You would probably object to their treatment of you as much as the
countess objected to the uupleasant griminess of the too-realistic
coal galleries. Suppose you were to fall into the hands of a logical
old radical workman, for example, who tore you to pieces, mentally
speaking, with a shake or two of his big teeth, and calmly
informed you that in his opinion you were nothing more than a very
empty-headed, pretentious, ignorant young woman--perhaps even,
after the plain-spoken vocabulary of hie kind, a regular downright
minx and hussey?'
'Charming,' Lady Hilda answered, with perfect candour; 'so very
different from the senseless adulation of all the Hughs, and Guys,
and Berties! What I do love in talking to clever men, Mr. Berkeley,
is their delicious frankness and transparency. If they think one
a fool, they tell one so plainly, or at least they let one see it
without any reserve. Now that, you know, is really such a very
delightful trait in clever people's characters!'
'I don't know how you can have had the opportunity of judging, Lady
Hilda,' Arthur answered, looking at her handsome open face with a
momentary glance of passing admiration--Hilda Tregellis was improving
visibly as she matured--'for no one can possibly ever have thought
anything of the sort with you, I'm certain: and that I can say
quite candidly, without the slightest tinge of flattery or adulation.'
'What! YOU don't think me a fool, Mr. Berkeley,' cried Lady Hilda,
delighted even with that very negative bit of favourable appreciation.
'Now, that I call a real compliment, I assure you, because I know
you clever people pitch your standard of intelligence so very,
very high! You consider everybody fools, I'm sure, except the few
people who are almost as clever as you yourselves are. However, to
return to the countess: I do think there ought to be more mixture
of classes in England, and somebody told me'--this was a violent
effort to be literary on Hilda's part, by way of rising to the
height of the occasion--'somebody told me that Mr. Matthew Arnold,
who's so dreadfully satirical, and cultivated, and so forth,
thinks exactly the same thing, you know. Why shouldn't the Countess
of Coalbrookdale have really married the foreman of the colliers?
I daresay she'd have been a great deal happier with a kind-hearted
sensible man like him than with that lumbering, hunting,
pheasant-shooting, horse-racing lout of a Lord Coalbrookdale, who
would go to Norway on a fishing tour without her--now wouldn't
'Very probably,' Berkeley answered: 'but in these matters we don't
regard happiness only,--that, you see, would be mere base, vulgar,
commonplace utilitarianism:--we regard much more that grand
impersonal overruling entity, that unseen code of social morals,
which we commonly call the CONVENANCES. Proper people don't
take happiness into consideration at all, comparatively: they act
religiously after the fashion that the CONVENANCES impose upon
'Ah, but why, Mr. Berkeley,' Lady Hilda said, vehemently, 'why
should the whole world always take it for granted that because
a girl happens to be born the daughter of people whose name's in
the peerage, she must necessarily be the slave of the proprieties,
devoid of all higher or better instincts? Why should they take it
for granted that she's destitute of any appreciation for any kind
of greatness except the kind that's represented by a million and a
quarter in the three per cents., or a great-great-grandfather who
fought at the battle of Naseby? Why mayn't she have a spark of
originality? Why mayn't she be as much attracted by literature,
by science, by art, by... by... by beautiful music, as, say, the
daughter of a lawyer, a doctor, or, or, or a country shopkeeper?
What I want to know is just this, Mr. Berkeley: if people don't
believe in distinctions of birth, why on earth should they suppose
that Lady Mary, or Lady Betty, or Lady Winifred, must necessarily
be more banale and vulgar-minded, and common-place than plain Miss
Jones, or Miss Brown, or Miss Robinson? You admit that these other
girls may possibly care for higher subjects: then why on earth
shouldn't we, can you tell me?'
'Certainly,' Arthur Berkeley answered, looking down into Lady
Hilda's beautiful eyes after a dreamy fashion, 'certainly there's no
inherent reason why one person shouldn't have just as high tastes
by nature as another. Everything depends, I suppose, upon inherited
qualities, variously mixed, and afterwards modified by society and
education.--It's very hot here, to-night, Lady Hilda, isn't it?'
'Very,' Lady Hilda echoed, taking his arm as she spoke. 'Shall we
go into the conservatory?'
'I was just going to propose it myself,' Berkeley said, with a faint
tremor thrilling in his voice. She was a very beautiful woman,
certainly, and her unfeigned appreciation of his plays and his
music was undeniably very flattering to him.
'Unless I bring him fairly to book this evening,' Hilda thought to
herself as she swept with him gracefully into the conservatory, 'I
shall have to fall back upon the red-haired hurlyburlying Scotch
professor, after all--if I don't want to end by getting into the
clutches of one of those horrid Monties or Algies!'
The occasional social articles for the 'Morning Intelligence' supplied
Ernest with work enough for the time being to occupy part of his
leisure, and income enough to keep the ship floating somehow, if
not securely, at least in decent fair-weather fashion. His frequent
trips with Ronald into the East-end gave him something comparatively
fresh to write about, and though he was compelled to conceal his own
sentiments upon many points, in order to conform to that impersonal
conscience, 'the policy of the paper,' he was still able to deal
with subjects that really interested him, and in which he fancied
he might actually be doing a little good. A few days after he had
taken seriously to the new occupation, good Mrs. Halliss made her
appearance in the tiny sitting-room one morning, and with many
apologies and much humming and hawing ventured to make a slight
personal representation to wondering little Edie.
'If you please, mum,' she said nervously, fumbling all the while with
the corner of the table cloth she was folding on the breakfast-table,
'if I might make so bold, mum, without offence, I should like to
say as me an' John 'as been talkin' it hover, an' we think now as
your good gentleman 'as so much writin' to do, at 'is littery work,
mum, as I may make bold to call it, perhaps you wouldn't mind, so
as not to disturb 'im with the blessed baby--not as that dear child
couldn't never disturb nobody, bless 'er dear 'eart, the darling,
not even when she's cryin', she's that sweet and gentle,--but we
thought, mum, as littery gentlemen likes to 'ave the coast clear,
in the manner of speakin', and perhaps you wouldn't mind bein' so
good as to use the little front room upstairs, mum, for a sort o'
nursery, as I may call it, for the dear baby. It was our bedroom,
that was, where John an' me used to sleep; but we've been an'
putt our things into the front hattic, mum, as is very nice and
comfortable in every way, so as to make room for the dear baby. An'
if you won't take it as a liberty, mum, me an' John 'ud be more'n
glad if you'd kindly make use of that there room for a sort of
occasional nursery for the dear baby.'
Edie bit her lip hard in her momentary confusion. 'Oh, dear, Mrs.
Halliss,' she said, almost crying at the kindly meant offer, 'I'm
afraid we can't afford to have THREE rooms all for ourselves as
things go at present. How much do you propose to charge us for the
'Charge you for it, mum,' Mrs. Halliss echoed, almost indignantly;
'charge our lodgers for any little hextry accommodation like the
small front room upstairs, mum--now, don't you go and say that to
John, mum, I beg of you; for 'is temper's rather short at times,
mum, thro' boin' asmatic and the rheumatiz, though you wouldn't
think it to look at 'im, that you wouldn't; an' I'm reely afraid,
mum, he might get angry if anybody was to holler 'im anythink for
a little bit of hextry accommodation like that there. Lord bless
your dear 'eart, mum, don't you say nothink more about that, I beg
of you; for if John was to 'ear of it, he'd go off in a downright
tearin' tantrum at the bare notion. An' about dinner, mum, you'll
'ave the cold mutton an' potatoes, and a bit of biled beetroot; and
I'll just run round to the greengrocer's this moment to order it
for early dinner.' And before Edie had time to thank her, the good
woman was out of tha room again, and down in the kitchen at her
daily preparations, with tears trickling slowly down both her hard
red cheeks in her own motherly fashion.
So from that time forth, Ernest had the small sitting-room entirely
to himself, whenever he was engaged in his literary labours, while
Edie and Dot turned the front bedroom on the first floor into
a neat and commodious nursery. As other work did not turn up so
rapidly as might have been expected, and as Ernest grew tired after
a while of writing magazine articles on 'The Great Social Problem,'
which were invariably 'declined with thanks' so promptly as to lead
to a well-founded suspicion that they had never even been opened by
the editor, he determined to employ his spare time in the production
of an important economical volume, a treatise on the ultimate ethics
of a labouring community, to be entitled 'The Final Rule of Social
Right Living.' This valuable economical work he continued to toil
at for many months in the intervals of his other occupations; and
when at last it was duly completed, he read it over at full length
to dear little Edie, who considered it one of the most profoundly
logical and convincing political treatises ever written. The various
leading firms, however, to whom it was afterwards submitted with
a view to publication, would appear, oddly enough, to have doubted
its complete suitability to the tastes and demands of the reading
public in the present century; for they invariably replied to Ernest's
inquiries that they would be happy to undertake its production
for the trilling sum of one hundred guineas, payable in advance;
but that they did not see their way to accepting the risk and
responsibility of floating so speculative a volume on their own
account. In the end, the unhappy manuscript, after many refusals,
was converted into cock-boats, hats, and paper dollies for little
Dot; and its various intermediate reverses need enter no further
into the main thread of this history. It kept Ernest busy in the
spare hours of several months, and prevented him from thinking too
much of his own immediate prospects, in his dreams for the golden
future of humanity; and insomuch it did actually subserve some
indirectly useful function; but on the other hand it wasted a
considerable quantity of valuable tenpenny foolscap, and provided
him after all with one more severe disappointment, to put on top of
all the others to which he was just then being subjected. Clearly,
the reading public took no paying interest in political economy; or
if they did, then the article practically affected by the eternal
laws of supply and demand was at least not the one meted out to
them from the enthusiastic Schurzian pen of Ernest Le Breton.
One afternoon, not long after Ernest and Edie had taken rooms at
Mrs. Halliss's, they were somewhat surprised at receiving the honour
of a casual visit from a very unexpected and unusual quarter. Ronald
was with them, talking earnestly over the prospects of the situation,
when a knock came at the door, and to their great astonishment
the knock was quickly followed by the entrance of Herbert. He had
never been there before, and Ernest felt sure he had come now for
some very definite and sufficient purpose. And so he had indeed:
it was a strange one for him; but Herbert Le Breton was actually
bound upon a mission of charity. We have all of us our feelings,
no doubt, and Herbert Le Breton, too, in his own fashion, had his.
Ernest was after all a good fellow enough at bottom, and his own
brother: (a man can't for very rospectability's sake let his own
brother go utterly to the dogs if he can possibly help it); and so
Herbert had made up his mind, much against his natural inclination,
to warn Ernest of the danger he incurred in having anything more
to do or say with this insane, disreputable old Schurz fellow. For
his own part, he hated giving advice; people never took it; and that
was a deadly offence against his amour propre and a gross insult to
his personal dignity; but still, in this case, for Ernest's sake,
he determined after an inward struggle to swallow his own private
scruples, and make an effort to check his brother on the edge of
the abyss. Not that he would come to the point at once; Herbert
was a careful diplomatic agent, and he didn't spoil his hand
by displaying all his cards too openly at the outset; he would
begin upon comparatively indifferent subjects, and lead round the
conversation gradually to the perils and errors of pure Schurzianism.
So he set out by admiring his niece's fat arms--a remarkable stretch
of kindliness on Herbert's part, for of course other people's babies
are well known to be really the most uninteresting objects in the
whole animate universe--and then he passed on by natural transitions
to Ernest's housekeeping arrangements, and to the prospects of
journalism as a trade, and finally to the necessity for a journalist
to consult the tastes of his reading public. 'And by the way,
Ernest,' he said quietly at last, 'of course after this row at
Pilbury, you'll drop the acquaintance of your very problematical
Edie started in surprise. 'What? Herr Schurz?' she said eagerly.
'Dear simple, kindly old Herr Schurz! Oh no, Herbert, that I'm sure
he won't; Ernest will never drop HIS acquaintance, whatever happens.'
Herbert coughed drily. 'Then there are two of them for me to contend
against,' he said to himself with an inward smile. 'I should really
hardly have expected that, now. One would have said a priori
that the sound common-sense and practical regard for the dominant
feelings of society, which is so justly strong in most women,
would have kept HER at any rate--with her own social disabilities,
too--from aiding and abetting her husband in such a piece of
egregious folly'--'I'm sorry to hear it, Mrs. Le Breton,' he went
on aloud,--he never called her by her Christian name, and Edie was
somehow rather pleased that he didn't: 'for you know Herr Schurz
is far from being a desirable acquaintance. Quite apart from his
own personal worth, of course--which is a question that I for my part
am not called upon to decide--he's a snare and a stumbling-block
in the eyes of society, and very likely indeed to injure Ernest's
future prospects, as he has certainly injured his career in the
past. You know he's going to be tried in a few weeks for a seditious
libel and for inciting to murder the Emperor of Russia. Now, you
will yourself admit, Mrs. Le Breton, that it's an awkward thing
to be mixed up with people who are tried on a criminal charge for
inciting to murder. Of course, we all allow that the Czar's a very
despotic and autocratic sovereign, that his existence is an anomaly,
and that the desire to blow him up is a very natural desire for
every intelligent Russian to harbour privately in the solitude of
his own bosom. If we were Russians ourselves, no doubt we'd try to
blow him up too, if we could conveniently do so without detection.
So much, every rational Englishman, who isn't blinded by prejudice
or frightened by the mere sound of words, must at once frankly
acknowledge. But unfortunately, you see, the mass of Englishmen
ARE blinded by prejudice, and ARE frightened by the mere sound
of words. To them, blowing up a Czar is murder (though of course
blowing up any number of our own black people isn't); and inciting
to blow up the Czar, or doing what seems to most Englishmen
equivalent to such incitement, as for example, saying in print
that the Czar's government isn't quite ideally perfect and ought
gradually and tentatively to be abolished--why, that, I say,
is a criminal offence, and is naturally punishable by a term of
imprisonment. Now, is it worth while to mix oneself up with people
like that, Ernest, when you can just as easily do without having
anything on earth to say to them?'
Edie's face burnt scarlet as she listened, but Ernest only answered
more quietly--he never allowed anything that Herbert said to disturb
his equanimity--'We don't think alike upon this subject, you know,
Herbert; and I'm afraid the disagreement is fundamental. It doesn't
matter so much to us what the world thinks as what is abstractly
right; and Edie would prefer to cling to Herr Schurz, through good
report and evil report, rather than to be applauded by your mass
of Englishmen for having nothing to do with inciting to murder. We
know that Herr Max never did anything of the kind; that he is the
gentlest and best of men; and that in Russian affairs he has always
been on the side of the more merciful methods, as against those
who would have meted out to the Czar the harsher measure of pure
'Well,' Herbert answered bravely, with a virtuous determination not
to be angry at this open insult to his own opinion, but to persevere
in his friendly efforts for his brother's sake, 'we won't take Herr
Max into consideration at all, but will look merely at the general
question. The fact is, Ernest, you've chosen the wrong side. The
environment is too strong for you; and if you set yourself up against
it, it'll crush you between the upper and the nether mill-stone.
It isn't your business to reform the world; it's your business to
live in it; and if you go on as you're doing now, it strikes me that
you'll fail at the outset in that very necessary first particular.'
'If I fail,' Ernest answered with a heavy heart, 'I can only die
once; and after all every man can do no more than till to the best
of his ability the niche in nature that he finds already cut out
for him by circumstances.'
'My dear Ernest,' Herbert continued quietly, twisting himself
a cigarette with placid deliberateness, as a preliminary to his
departure; 'your great mistake in life is that you WILL persist in
considering the universe as a cosmos. Now the fact is, it isn't
a cosmos; it's a chaos, and a very poor one at that.'
'Ah, yes,' Ernest answered gravely; 'nobody recognises that fact
more absolutely than I do; but surely it's the duty of man to try
as far as in him lies to cosmise his own particular little corner
'In the abstract, certainly: as a race, most distinctly so; but as
individuals, why, the thing's clearly impossible. There was one
man who once tried to do it, and his name was Don Quixote.'
'There was another, I always thought,' Ernest replied more solemnly,
'and after his name we've all been taught as children to call
ourselves Christians. At bottom, my ideal is only the Christian
'But, my dear fellow, don't you see that the survival of the fittest
must succeed in elbowing your ideal, for the present at least, out
of existence? Look here, Ernest, you're going the wrong way to work
altogether for your own happiness and comfort. It doesn't matter
to me, of course; you can do as you like with yourself, and I oughtn't
to interfere with you; but I do it because I'm your brother, and
because I take a certain amount of interest in you accordingly.
Now, I quite grant with you that the world's in a very unjust social
condition at present. I'm not a fool, and I can't help seeing that
wealth is very badly distributed, and that happiness is very unequally
meted. But I don't feel called upon to make myself the martyr of
the cause of readjustment for all that. If I were a working man,
I should take up the side that you're taking up now; I should have
everything to gain, and nothing to lose by it. But your mistake
is just this, that when you might identify your own interests with
the side of the "haves," as I do, you go out of your way to identify
them with the side of the "have-nots," out of pure idealistic Utopian
philanthropy. You belong by birth to the small and intrinsically
weak minority of persons specially gifted by nature and by fortune;
and why do you lay yourself out with all your might to hound on the
mass of your inferiors till they trample down and destroy whatever
gives any special importance, interest, or value to intellectual
superiority, vigour of character, political knowledge, or even
wealth? I can understand that the others should wish to do this;
I can understand that they will inevitably do it in the long run;
but why on earth do you, of all men, want to help them in pulling
down a platform on which you yourself might, if you chose, stand
well above their heads and shoulders?'
'Because I feel the platform's an unjust one,' Ernest answered,
'An excellent answer for them,' Herbert chimed in, in his coldest
and calmest tone, 'but a very insufficient one for you. The injustice,
if any, tells all in your own favour. As long as the mob doesn't
rise up and tear the platform down (as it will one day), why on
earth should you be more anxious about it than they are?'
'Because, Herbert, if there must be injustice, I would rather suffer
it than do it.'
'Well, go your own way,' Herbert answered, with a calm smile
of superior wisdom; 'go your own way and let it land you where it
will. For my part, I back the environment. But it's no business
of mine; I have done my best to warn you. Liberavi animam meam. You
won't take my advice, and I must leave you to your own devices.'
And with just a touch of the hand to Edie, and a careless nod to
his two brothers, he sauntered out of the room without another
word. 'As usual,' he thought to himself as he walked down the stairs,
'I go out of my way to give good advice to a fellow-creature, and
I get only the black ingratitude of a snubbing in return. This is
really almost enough to make even me turn utterly and completely
'I wonder, Ernest,' said Ronald, looking up as Herbert shut the
door gently behind him, 'how you and I ever came to have such a
brother as Herbert!'
'I think it's easy enough to understand, Ronald, on plain hereditary
Ronald sighed. 'I see what you mean,' he said; 'it's poor mother's
strain--the Whitaker strain--coming out in him.'
'I often fancy, Ronald, I can see the same two strains in varying
intensity, running through all three of us alike. In Herbert the
Whitaker strain is uppermost, and the Le Breton comparatively in
abeyance; in me, they're both more or less blended; in you, the
Le Breton strain comes out almost unadulterated. Yet even Herbert
has more of a Le Breton in him than one might imagine, for he's with
us intellectually; it's the emotional side only that's wanting to
him. Even when members of a family are externally very much unlike
one another in the mere surface features of their characters,
I believe you can generally see the family likeness underlying it
for all that.'
'Only you must know how to analyse the character to see it,' said
Edie. 'I don't think it ever struck me before that there was anything
in common between you and Herbert, Ernest, and yet now you point
it out I believe there really is something after all. I'm sorry
you told me, for I can't bear to think that you're like Herbert.'
'Oh, no,' Ronald put in hastily; 'it isn't Ernest who has something
in him like Herbert; it's Herbert who has something in him like
Ernest. There's a great deal of difference between the one thing
and the other. Besides, he hasn't got enough of it, Edie, and Ernest
RONALD COMES OF AGE.
'Strange,' Ronald Le Breton thought to himself, as he walked
along the Embankment between Westminster and Waterloo, some weeks
later--the day of Herr Max's trial,--'I had a sort of impulse
to come down here alone this afternoon: I felt as if there was an
unseen Hand somehow impelling me. Depend upon it, one doesn't have
instincts of that sort utterly for nothing. The Finger that guides
us guides us always aright for its own wise and unfathomable
purposes. What a blessing and a comfort it is to feel that one's
steps are continually directed from above, and that even an
afternoon stroll through the great dreary town is appointed to us
for some fit and sufficient reason! Look at that poor girl over
there now, at the edge of the Embankment! I wonder what on earth
she can have come here for. Why...how pale and excited she looks.
What's she going so near the edge for? Gracious heavens! it can't
be...yes...it is... no, no, but still it must be...that's what the
Finger was guiding me here for this afternoon. There's no denying
it. The poor creature's tempted to destroy herself. My instinct
tells me so at once, and it never tells me wrong. Oh, Inscrutable
Wisdom, help me, help me: give me light to act rightly! I must go
up this very moment and speak to her!'
The girl was walking moodily along the edge of the bank, and looking
in a dreamy fashion over the parapet into the sullen fast-flowing
brown water below. An eye less keen than Ronald's might have seen
in a moment, from her harassed weary face and her quick glance
to right and left after the disappearing policeman, that she was
turning over in her own mind something more desperate than any
common everyday venture. Ronald stepped up to her hastily, and,
firm in his conviction that the Finger was guiding him aright,
spoke out at once with boldness on the mere strength of his rapid
'Stop, stop,' he said, laying his hand gently on her shoulder: 'not
for a moment, I beg of you, not for a moment. Not till you've at
least told me what is your trouble.'
Selah turned round sharply and looked up in his face with a vague
feeling of indefinable wonder. 'What do you mean?' she asked, in
a husky voice. 'Don't do what? How do you know I was going to do
'You were going to throw yourself into the river,'Ronald answered
confidently; 'or at least you were debating about it in your own
soul. I know you were, because a sure Guide tells me so.'
Selah's lip curled a little at the sound of that familiar language.
'And suppose I was,' she replied, defiantly, in her reckless
fashion; 'suppose I was: what's that to you or anybody, I should
like to know? Are you your brother's keeper, as your own Bible puts
it? Well, yes, then, perhaps I WAS going to drown myself: and if I
choose, as soon as your back's turned, I shall go and do it still;
so there; and that's all I have to say about it.'
Ronald turned his face towards her with an expression of the
intensest interest, but before he could put in a single word, Selah
'I know what you're going to say,' she went on, looking up at him
rebelliously. 'I know what you're going to say every bit as well
as if you'd said it. You're one of these city missionary sort of
people, you are; and you're going to tell me it's awfully wicked
of me to try and destroy myself, and ain't I afraid of a terrible
hereafter! Ugh! I hate and detest all that mummery.'
Ronald looked down upon her in return with a sort of silent
wondering pity. 'Awfully wicked,' he said slowly, 'awfully wicked!
How meaningless! How incomprehensible! Awfully wicked to be
friendless, or poor, or wretched, or unhappy! Awfully wicked to be
driven by despair, or by heartlessness, to such a pitch of misery
or frenzy that you want to fling yourself wildly into the river,
only to be out of it all, anywhere, in a minute! Why you poor,
unhappy girl, how on earth can you possibly help it?'
There was something in the tone of his earnest voice that melted
for a moment even Selah Briggs's pride and vehemence. It was very
impertinent of him to try and interfere with her purely personal
business, no doubt, but he seemed to do so in a genuinely
kindly rather than in a fussy interfering spirit. At any rate he
didn't begin by talking to her that horrid cant about the attempt
to commit suicide being so extremely wicked! If he had done that,
Selah would have felt it was not only an unwarrantable intrusion
upon her liberty of action, but a grotesque insult to her natural
intelligence as well.
'I've a right to drown myself if I choose,' she faltered out,
leaning faintly as she spoke against the parapet, 'and nobody else
has any possible right to hinder or prevent me. If you people make
laws against my rights in that matter, I shall set your laws aside
whenever and wherever it happens to suit my personal convenience.'
'Exactly so,' Ronald answered, in the same tone of gentle and
acquiescent persuasion. 'I quite agree with you. It's as clear
as daylight that every individual human being has a perfect right
to put an end to his own life whenever it becomes irksome or
unpleasant to him; and nobody else has any right whatever to interfere
with him. The prohibitions that law puts upon our freedom in that
respect are only of a piece with the other absurd restrictions of
our existing unchristian legislation--as opposed to the spirit of
the Word as the old rule that made us bury a suicide at four cross
roads with a hideously barbarous and brutal ceremonial. They're
all mere temporary survivals from a primitive paganism: the truth
shall make us free. But though we mayn't rightly interfere, we may
surely inquire in a brotherly spirit of interest, whether it isn't
possible for us to make life less irksome for those who, unhappily,
want to get rid of it. After all, the causes of our discontent are
often quite removable. Tell me, at least, what yours are, and let
me see whether I'm able to do anything towards removing them.'
Selah hung back a little sullenly. This was a wonderful mixture of
tongues that the strange young man was talking in! When he spoke
about the right and wrong of suicide, ethically considered, it
might have been Herbert Walters himself who was addressing her:
when he glided off sideways to the truth and the Word, it might
have been her Primitive Methodist friends at Hastings, in full
meeting assembled. And, by the way, he reminded her strangely,
somehow, of Herbert Walters! What manner of man could he be, she
wondered, and what strange sort of new Gospel was this that he was
preaching to her?
'How do I know who you are?' she asked him, carelessly. 'How do
I know what you want to know my story for? Perhaps you're only
trying to get something out of me.'
'Trust me,' Ronald said simply. 'By faith we live, you know. Only
Selah answered nothing.
'Come over here to the bench by the garden,' Ronald went on earnestly.
'We can talk there more at our leisure. I don't like to see you
leaning so close to the parapet. It's a temptation; I know it's a
Seiah looked at him again inquiringly. She had never before met
anybody so curious, she fancied. 'Aren't you afraid of being seen
sitting with me like this,' she said, 'on the Embankment benches?
Some of your fine friends might come by and wonder who on earth you
had got here with you.' And, indeed, Selah's dress had grown vory
shabby and poor-looking during a long and often fruitless search
for casual work or employment in London.
But Ronald only surveyed her gently from head to foot with a quiet
smile, and answered softly, 'Oh, no; there's no reason on earth why
we shouldn't sit down and talk together; and even if there were,
my friends all know me far too well by this time to be surprised
at anything I may do, when the Hand guides me. If you will only sit
down and tell me your story, I should like to see whether I could
possibly do anything to help you.'
Selah let him lead her in his gentle half-womanly fashion to the
bench, and sat down beside him mechanically. Still, she made no
attempt to begin her pitiful story. Ronald suspected for a second
some special cause for her embarrassment, and ventured to suggest
a possible way out of it. 'Perhaps,' he said timidly, 'you would
rather speak to some older and more fatherly man about it, or to
some kind lady. If so, I have many good friends in London who would
listen to you with as much interest and attention as I should.'
The old spirit flared up in Selah for a second, as she answered
quickly, 'No, no, sir, it's nothing of that sort. I can tell YOU
as well as I can tell anybody. If I've been unfortunate, it's been
through no fault of my own, thank goodness, but only through the
hard-heartedness and unkindness of other people. I'd rather speak
to you than to anyone else, because I feel somehow--why, I don't
know--as if you had something or other really good in you.'
'I beg your pardon,' Ronald said hastily, 'for even suggesting it
but you see, I often have to meet a great many people who've been
unhappy through a great many different causes, and that leads one
occasionally for a time into mistaken inferences. Let me hear all
your history, please, and I firmly believe, through the aid that
never forsakes us, I shall be able to do something or other to help
you in your difficulties.'
Thus adjured, Selah began and told her whole unhappy history
through, without pause or break, into Ronald's quietly sympathetic
ear. She told him quite frankly and fully how she had picked up
the acquaintance of a young Mr. Walters from Oxford at Hastings:
how this Mr. Walters had led her to believe he would marry her:
how she had left her home hurriedly, under the belief that he would
be induced to keep his promise: how he had thrown her over to her
own devices: and how she had ever since been trying to pick up a
precarious livelihood for herself in stray ways as a sempstress,
work for which she wag naturally very ill-fitted, and for which
she had no introductions. She slurred over nothing on either side
of the story; and especially she did not forget to describe the
full measure of her troubles and trials from her Methodist friends
at Hastings. Ronald shook his head sympathetically at this stage
of the story. 'Ah, I know, I know,' he muttered, half under his
breath; 'nasty pious people! Very well meaning, very devout, very
earnest, one may be sure of it--but oh! what terrible soul-killing
people to live among! I can understand all about it, for I've met
them often--Sabbath-keeping folks; preaching and praying folks;
worrying, bothering, fussy-religious folks: formalists, Pharisees,
mint-anise and-cummin Christians: awfully anxious about your soul,
and so forth, and doing their very best to make you as miserable
all the time as a slave at the torture! I don't wonder you ran away
'And I wasn't really going to drown myself, you know, when you
spoke to me.' Selah said, quite apologetically. 'I was only just
looking over into the beautiful brown water, and thinking how
delicious it would be to fling oneself in there, and be carried
off down to the sea, and rolled about for ever into pebbles on
the shingle, and there would be an end of one altogether--oh, how
'Very natural,' Ronald answered calmly. 'Very natural. Of course
it would. I've often thought the same thing myself. Still, one
oughtn't, if possible, to give way to these impulses: one ought to
do all that's in one's power to prevent such a miserable termination
to one's divinely allotted existence. After all, it is His will,
you see, that we should be happy.'
When Selah had quite finished all her story, Ronald began drawing
circles in the road with the end of his stick, and perpending
within himself what had better be done about it, now that all was
told him. 'No work,' he said, half to himself; 'no money; no food.
Why, why, I suppose you must be hungry.'
Selah nodded assent.
'Will you allow me to offer you a little lunch?' he asked, hesitatingly,
with something of Herbert's stately politeness. Even in this last
extremity, Ronald felt instinctively what was due to Selah Briggs's
natural sentiments of pride and delicacy. He must speak to her
deferentially as if she were a lady, not give her alms as if she
were a beggar.
Then for the first time that day Selah burst suddenly into tears.
'Oh, sir,' she said, sobbing, 'you are very kind to me.'
Ronald waited a moment or two till her eyes were dry, and then took
her across the gardens and into Gatti's. Any other man might have
chosen some other place of entertainment under the circumstances,
but Ronald, in his perfect simplicity of heart, looked only for
the first shop where he could get Selah the food she needed. He
ordered something hot hastily, and, when it came, though he had had
his own lunch already, he played a little with a knife and fork
himself for show's sake, in order not to seem as if he were merely
looking on while Selah was eating. These little touches of feeling
were not lost upon Selah: she noticed them at once, and recognised
in what Ernest would have called her aboriginal unregenerate
vocabulary that she was dealing with a true gentleman.
'Walters,' Ronald said, pausing a second with a bit of chop poised
lightly on the end of his fork; 'let me see--Walters. I don't know
any man of that name, myself, but I've had two brothers at Oxford,
and perhaps one of them could tell me who he is. Walters--Walters.
You said your own name was Miss Briggs, I think, didn't you? My
name's Ronald Le Breton.'
'How curious,' Selah said, colouring up. 'I'm sure I remember Mr.
Walters talking more than once to me about his brother Ronald.'
'Indeed,' Ronald answered, without even a passing tinge of suspicion.
That any man should give a false name to other people with intent
to deceive was a thing that would never have entered into his simple
head--far less that his own brother Herbert should be guilty of
such a piece of disgraceful meanness.
'I think,' Ronald went on, as soon as Selah had finished her lunch,
'you'd better come with me back to my mother's house for the present.
I suppose, now you've talked it over a little, you won't think of
throwing yourself into the river any more for to-day. You'll postpone
your intention for the present, won't you? Adjourn it sine die till
we can see what can be done for you.'
Selah smiled faintly. Even with the slight fresh spring of hope
that this chance rencontre had roused anew within her, it seemed
rather absurd and childish of her to have meditated suicide only
an hour ago. Besides, she had eaten and drunk since then, and the
profoundest philosophers have always frankly admitted that the
pessimistic side of human nature is greatly mitigated after a good
Ronald called a hansom, and drove up rapidly to Epsilon Terrace.
When he got there, he took Selah into the little back breakfast
room, regardless of the proprieties, and began once more to consider
the prospects of the future.
'Is Lady Le Breton in?' he asked the servant: and Selah noticed
with surprise and wonder that this strange young man's mother was
actually 'a lady of title,' as she called it to herself in her
curious ordinary language.
'No, sir,' the girl answered; 'she have been gone out about an
'Then I must leave you here while I go out and get you lodgings for
the present,' Ronald said, quietly; 'you won't object to my doing
that, of course: you can easily pay me back from your salary as
soon as we succeed in finding you some suitable occupation. Let
me see, where can I put you for the next fortnight? Naturally you
wouldn't like to live with religious people, would you?'
'I hate them,' Selah answered vigorously.
'Of course, of course,' Ronald went on, as if to himself. 'Perfectly
natural. She hates them! So should I if I'd been bothered and worried
out of my life by them in the way she has. I hate them myself--that
kind: or, rather, it's wrong to say that of them, poor creatures,
for they mean well, they really mean well at bottom, in their
blundering, formal, pettifogging way. They think they can take the
kingdom of Heaven, not by storm, but by petty compliances, like
servile servants who have to deal with a capricious, exacting
master. Poor souls, they know no better. They measure the universe
by the reflection in their muddy mill-pond. Nasty pious people is
what I always call them; nasty pious people: little narrow souls,
trying hard to be Christians after their lights, and only attaining,
after all, to a sort of second-hand diluted Judaism, a religion
of cup-washing, and phylacteries, and new moons, and sabbaths, and
daily sacrifices. However, that's neither here nor there. I won't
hand you over, Miss Briggs, to any of those poor benighted people.
No, nor to any religious people at all. It wouldn't suit you: you
want to be well out of it. I know the very place for you. There
are the Baumanns: they'd be glad to let a room: Baumann's a German
refugee, and a friend of Ernest's: a good man, but a secularist.
THEY wouldn't bother you with any religion: poor things, they
haven't got any. Mrs. Baumann's an excellent woman--educated, too;
no objection at all in any way to the Baumanns. They're people I
like and respect immensely--every good quality they have; and I'm
often grieved to think such excellent people should be deprived of
the comfort and pleasure of believing. But, then, so's my dear brother
Ernest; and you know, they're none the worse for it, apparently,
any of them: indeed, I don't know that there's anybody with whom
I can talk more sympathetically on spiritual matters than dear
Ernest. Depend upon it, most of the most spiritually-minded people
nowadays are outside all the churches altogether.'
Selah listened in blank amazement to this singular avowal of
heterodox opinion from an obviously religious person. What Ronald
Le Breton could be she couldn't imagine; and she thought with
an inward smile of the very different way in which her friends at
Hastings would have discussed the spiritual character of a wicked
Just at that moment a latch-key turned lightly in the street door,
and two sets of footsteps came down the passage to Lady Le Breton's
little back breakfast-room. One set turned up the staircase, the
other halted for a second at the breakfast-room doorway. Then the
door opened gently, and Herbert Le Breton and Selah Briggs stood
face to face again in blank astonishment.
There was a moment's pause, as Selah rose with burning cheeks from
the chair where she was sitting; and neither spoke a word as they
looked with eyes of mutual suspicion and dislike into each other's
faces. At last Herbert Le Breton turned with some acerbity to his
brother Ronald, and asked in a voice of affected contempt, 'Who is
'This LADY'S name is Miss Briggs,' Ronald answered, pointedly, but,
of course, quite innocently.
'I needn't ask you who this man is,' Selah said, with bitter
emphasis. 'It's Herbert Walters.'
A horrible light burst in upon Ronald instantaneously as she uttered
the name; but he could not believe it; he would not believe it: it
was too terrible, too incredible. 'No, no,' he said falteringly,
turning to Selah; 'you must be mistaken. This is not Mr. Walters.
This is my brother, Herbert Le Breton.'
Selah gazed into Herbert's slinking eyes with a concentrated
expression of scorn and disgust. 'Then he gave me a false name,'
she said, slowly, fronting him like a tigress. 'He gave me a false
name, it seems, from the very beginning. All through, the false
wretch, all through, he actually meant to deceive me. He laid his
vile scheme for it beforehand. I never wish to see you again,
you miserable cur, Herbert Le Breton, if that's your real name at
last. I never wish to see you again: but I'm glad I've done it now
by accident, if it were only to inflict upon you the humiliation
of knowing that I have measured the utmost depth of your infamy!
You mean, common, false scoundrel, I have measured to the bottom
the depth of your infamy!'
'Oh, don't,' Ronald said imploringly, laying his hand upon her arm.
'He deserves it, no doubt; but don't glory over his humiliation.'
He had no need to ask whether she spoke the truth; his brother's
livid and scarlet face was evidence enough against him.
Herbert, however, answered nothing. He merely turned angrily
to Ronald. 'I won't bandy words,' he said constrainedly in his
coldest tone, 'with this infamous woman whom you have brought here
on purpose to insult me; but I must request you to ask her to leave
the house immediately. Your mother's home is no place to which to
bring people of such a character.'
As he spoke, the door opened again, and Lady Le Breton, attracted
by the sound of angry voices, entered unexpectedly. 'What does all
this riot mean, Herbert?' she asked, imperiously. 'Who on earth
is this young woman that Ronald has brought into my own house,
actually without my permission?'
Herbert whispered a few words quietly into her ear, and then left
the room hurriedly with a stiff and formal bow to his brother
Ronald. Lady Le Breton turned round to the culprit severely.
'Disgraceful, Ronald!' she cried in her sternest and most angry
voice; 'perfectly disgraceful! You aid and abet this wretched
creature--whose object is only to extort money by false pretences
out of your brother Herbert--you aid and abet her in her abominable
stratagems, and you even venture to introduce her clandestinely
into my own breakfast-room. I wonder you're not ashamed of yourself.
What on earth can you mean by such extraordinary, such unChristian
conduct? Go to your own room this moment, sir, and ask this young
woman to leave the house immediately.'
'I shall go without being asked,' Selah said, proudly, her big eyes
flashing defiance haughtily into Lady Le Breton's. 'I don't know
who you all may be, or what this gentleman who brought me here may
have to do with you: but if you are in any way connected with that
wretch Herbert Le Breton, who called himself Herbert Walters for
the sake of deceiving me, I don't want to have anything further to
say to any of the whole pack of you. Please stand out of my way,'
she went on to Ronald, 'and I shall have done with you all together
this very instant. I wish to God I had never seen a single one of
'No, no, not just yet, please,' Ronald put in hastily. 'You mustn't
go just yet, I implore you, I beg of you, till I have explained to
my mother, before you, how this all happened; and then, when you
go, I shall go with you. Though I have the misfortune to be the
brother of the man who gave you a false name in order to deceive
you, I trust you will still allow me to help you as far as I am
able, and to take you to my German friends of whom I spoke to you.'
'Ronald,' Lady Le Breton cried, in her most commanding tone, 'you
must have taken leave of your senses. How dare you keep this person
a moment longer in my house against my wish, when even she herself
is anxious to quit it? Let her go at once, let her go at once,
'No, mother,' Ronald answered firmly. 'We are commanded in the Word
to obey our parents in all things, "in the Lord." I think you've
forgotten that proviso, mother, "in the Lord." Now, mother, I will
tell you all about it.' And then, in a rapid sketch, Ronald, with
his back planted solidly against the door, told his mother briefly
all he knew about Selah Briggs, how he had found her, how he had
brought her home not knowing who she was, and how she had recognised
Herbert as her unfaithful lover. Lady Le Breton, when she saw
that escape was practically impossible, flung herself back in an
easy-chair, where she swayed herself backward and forward gently
all the while, without once lifting her eyes towards Ronald, and
sighed impatiently from time to time audibly, as if the story merely
bored her. As for poor Selah, she stood upright in front of Ronald
without a word, looking neither to the right nor to the left, and
waiting eagerly for the story to be finished.
When Ronald had said his say, Lady Le Breton looked up at last and
said simply, with a pretended yawn, 'Now, Ronald, will you go to
your own room?'
'I will not,' Ronald answered, in a soft whisper. 'I will go with
this lady to the rooms of which I have spoken to her.'
'Then,' Lady Le Breton said coldly, 'you shall not return here.
It seems I'm to lose all my children, one after another, by their
'By your own act--yes,' Ronald answered, very calmly. 'You
forgot that last Thursday was my birthday, I daresay, mother; but
I didn't forget it; it was; and I came of age then. I'm my own
master now. I've stopped here as long as I could, mother, because
of the commandment: but I can't stop here any longer. I shall go
to Ernest's for to-night as soon as I've got rooms for this lady.'
'Good evening,' Lady Le Breton said, bowing frigidly, without
'Good evening, mother,' Ronald replied, in his natural voice. 'Miss
Briggs, will you come with me? I'm very sorry that this unhappy
scene should have been inflicted upon you against my will; but I
hope and pray that you won't have lost all confidence in my wish
to help you, in spite of these unfortunate accidents.'
Selah followed him blindly, in a dazzled fashion, out on to the
flagstones of Epsilon Terrace.
'Dear me, dear me,' moaned Lady Le Breton, sinking back vacantly
once more, with an air of resignation after her efforts, into the
easy-chair: 'was there ever a mother so plagued and burdened with
unnatural and undutiful sons as I am? If it weren't for dear Herbert,
I'm sure I don't know what I should ever do between them. Ronald,
too, who always pretended to be so very, very religious! To think
that he should go and uphold the word of a miserable, abandoned,
improper adventuress against his own brother Herbert! Atrocious,
perfectly atrocious! Where on earth he can have picked up such a
woman I'm positively at a loss to imagine. But it's exactly like
his poor dear father: I remember once when we were stationed at
Moozuffernugger, in the North-West Provinces, with the 14th Bengal,
poor Owen absolutely insisted on taking up the case of some Eurasian
waman, who pretended she'd been badly treated by young Walker of
our regiment! I call it quite improper--almost unseemly--to meddle
in the affairs of such people. I daresay Herbert has had something
or other to say to this horrid girl; young men will be young men,
and in the army we know how to make allowances for that sort of
thing: but that Ronald should positively think of bringing such a
person into my breakfast-room is not to be heard of. Ronald's a pure
Le Breton--that's undeniable, thank goodness; not a single one of
the good Whitaker points to be found in all his nature. However,
poor dear Sir Owen, in spite of all his nonsense, was at least
an officer and a gentleman; whereas the nonsense these boys have
picked up at Oxford and among their German refugee people is both
irreligious, and, I may even say, indecent, or, to put it in the
mildest way, indecorous. I wish with all my heart I'd never sent
them to Oxford. I've always thought that if only Ernest had gone
in for a direct commission, he'd soon have got all that absurd
revolutionary rubbish knocked out of him in a mess-room! But it's
a great comfort to me to think I have one real blessing in dear
Herbert, who's just such a son as any mother might well be thoroughly
proud of in every way!'
While Lady Le Breton was thus communing with herself in the
breakfast-room, and while Herbert was trying to patch up a hollow
truce with his own much-bruised self-respect in his own bedroom,
Ronald was taking poor dazed and wearied Selah round to the refuge
of the Baumanns' hospitable roof. As soon as that matter was
temporarily arranged to the mutual satisfaction of all the parties
concerned, Ronald walked over alone to Ernest's little lodgings at
Holloway. He would sleep there that night, and send round a letter
to Amelia, the housemaid, in the morning, asking her to pack up his
things and forward them at once to Mrs. Halliss's. For himself,
he did not propose, unless circumstances compelled it, again to
enter his mother's rooms, except by her own express invitation.
After all, he thought, even his little income, if clubbed with Edie
and Ernest's, would probably help them all to live now in tolerable
So he told Edie all his story, and Edie listened to it with an
approving smile. 'I think, dear Ronald,' she said, taking his hand
in hers, 'you did quite right--quite as Ernest himself would have
done under the circumstances.'
'Where's Ernest?' asked Ronald, half smiling at that naive wifely
standard of right conduct.
'Gone with Mr. Berkeley to the trial,' Edie answered.
'The trial! What trial?'
'Oh, don't you know? Herr Max's. They're trying him to-day for
littering a seditious libel and inciting to murder the chief of
the Third Section at St. Petersburg.'
'But he said nothing at all,' Ronald cried in astonishment. 'I read
the article myself. He said nothing that any Englishman mightn't
have said under the same circumstances. Why, I could have written
the libel, as they call it, myself, even, and I'm not much of a
politician either! They can't ever be trying him in a country like
England for anything so ridiculously little as that!'
'But they are,' Edie answered quietly; 'and dear Ernest's dreadfully
afraid the verdict will go against him.'
'Nonsense,' Ronald answered with natural confidence. 'No English
jury would ever convict a man for speaking up like that against
an odious and abominable tyranny.'
Very late in the afternoon, Ernest and Berkeley returned to the
lodgings. Ernest's face was white with excitement, and his lips
were trembling violently with suppressed emotion. His eyes were red
and swollen. Edie hardly needed to ask in a breathless whisper of
Arthur Berkeley, 'What verdict?'
'Guilty,' Arthur Berkeley answered with a look of unfeigned horror
and indignation. He had learnt by this time quite to take the
communistic view of such questions.
'Guilty,' Ronald cried, jumping up from his chair in astonishment.
'Impossible! And what sentence?'
'Twelve months' hard labour,' Berkeley answered, slowly and
'An atrocious sentence!' Ronald exclaimed, turning red with excitement.
'An abominable sentence! A most malignant and vindictive sentence!
Who was the judge, Arthur?'
'Bassenthwaite,' Berkeley replied half under his breath.
'And may the Lord have mercy upon his soul!' said Ronald solemnly,
But Ernest never said a single word. He only sat down and ate his
supper in silence, like one stunned and dazzled. He didn't even
notice Ronald's coming. And Edie knew by his quick breath and his
face alternately flushed and pallid that there would be another
crisis in his gathering complaint before the next morning.
TELL IT NOT IN OATH.
As they sat silent in that little sitting-room after supper, a double
knock at the door suddenly announced the arrival of a telegram
for Ernest. He opened it with trembling lingers. It was from
Lancaster:--'Come down to the office at once. Schurz has been
sentenced to a year's imprisonment, and we want a leader about
him for to-morrow.' The telegram roused Ernest at once from his
stupefied lethargy. Here was a chance at last of doing something
for Max Schurz and for the cause of freedom! Here was a chance
of waking up all England to a sense of the horrible crime it had
just committed through the voice of its duly accredited judicial
mouthpiece! The country was trembling on the brink of an abyss, and
he, Ernest Le Breton, might just be in time to save it. The Home
Secretary must be compelled by the unanimous clamour of thirty
millions of free working people to redress the gross injustice of
the law in sending Max Sohurz, the greatest, noblest, and purest-minded
of mankind, to a common felon's prison! Nothing else on earth could
have moved Ernest, jaded and dispirited as he was at that moment,
to the painful exertion of writing a newspaper leader after the
day's fatigues and excitements, except the thought that by doing so
he might not only blot out this national disgrace, as he considered
it, but might also help to release the martyr of the people's rights
from his incredible, unspeakable punishment. Flushed and feverish
though he was, he rose straight up from the table, handed the
telegram to Edie without a word, and started off alone to hail a
hansom cab and drive down immediately to the office. Arthur Berkeley,
fearful of what might happen to him in his present excited state,
stole out after him quietly, and followed him unperceived in another
hansom at a little distance.
When Ernest got to the 'Morning Intelligence' buildings, he was
shown up at once into the editorial room. He expected to find Mr.
Lancaster at the same white heat of indignation as himself; but
to his immense surprise he actually found him in the usual sleepy
languid condition of apathetic impartiality. 'I wired for you, Le
Breton,' the impassive editor said calmly, 'because I understand
you know all about this man Schurz, who has just got his twelve
months' imprisonment this evening. I suppose, of course, you've
heard already all about it.'
'I've been at the trial all day,' Ernest answered, 'and myself
heard the verdict and sentence.'
'Good,' Mr. Lancaster said, with a dreamy touch of approval in his
tone. 'That's good journalism, certainly, and very smart of you.
Helps you to give local colour and realistic touches to the matter.
But you ought to have called in here to see me immediately. We
shall have a regular reporter's report of the trial, of course;
but reporters' reports are fearfully and wonderfully lifeless. If
you like, besides the leader, you might work up a striking headed
article on the Scene in Court. This is an important case, and we
want something more about it than mere writing, you know; a little
about the man himself and his personal history, which Berkeley tells
me you're well acquainted with. He's written something called "Gold
and the Proletariate," or whatever it is; just tell our readers
all about it. As to the leader, say what you like in it--of course
I shall look over the proof, and tone it down a bit to suit the
taste of our public--we appeal mainly to the mercantile middle class,
I need hardly say; but you know the general policy of the paper,
and you can just write what you think best, subject to subsequent
editorial revision. Get to work at once, please, as the articles
are wanted immediately, and send down slips as fast as they're
written to the printers.'
Ernest could hardly contain his surprise at Mr. Lancaster's calmness
under such unheard-of circumstances, when the whole laborious
fabric of British liberties was tottering visibly to its base--but
he wisely concluded to himself that the editor had to see articles
written about every possible subject every evening--from a European
convulsion to a fire at a theatre,--and that use must have made
it in him a property of easiness. When a man's obliged to work
himself up perpetually into a state of artificial excitement about
every railway accident, explosion, shipwreck, earthquake, or volcanic
eruption, in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and the islands of the
Pacific Ocean, why then, Ernest charitably said to himself, his
sympathies must naturally end by getting a trifle callous, especially
when he's such a very apathetic person to start with as this laconic
editorial Lancaster. So he turned into the little bare box devoted
to his temporary use, and began writing with perfectly unexampled
and extraordinary rapidity at his leader and his article about the
injured and martyred apostle of the slighted communistic religion.
It was only a few months since Ernest had, with vast toil and
forethought, spun slowly out his maiden newspaper article on the
Italian organ-boy, and now he found himself, to his own immense
surprise, covering sheet after sheet of paper in feverish haste
with a long account of Max Schurz's splendid life and labours, and
with a really fervid and eloquent appeal to the English people not
to suffer such a man as he to go helplessly and hopelessly to an
English prison, at the bare bidding of a foreign despot. He never
stopped for one moment to take thought, or to correct what he had
written; in the excitement of the moment his pen travelled along
over the paper as if inspired, and he found the words and thoughts
thronging his brain almost faster than his lagging hand could
suffice to give them visible embodiment. As each page was thrown
off hurriedly, he sent it down, still pale and wet, to the printers
in the office; and before two o'clock in the morning, he had full
proofs of all he had written sent up to him for final correction. It
was a stirring and vigorous leader, he felt quite certain himself
as he read it over; and he thought with a swelling breast that
it would appear next day, with all the impersonal authority of
the 'Morning Intelligence' stamped upon its face, at ten thousand
English breakfast tables, where it might rouse the people in their
millions to protest sternly before it was too late against this
horrid violation of our cherished and boasted national hospitality.
Meanwhile, Arthur Berkeley had stopped at the office, and run in
hastily for five minutes' talk with the terrible editor. 'Don't
say anything to shock Le Breton, I beg of you, Lancaster,' he said,
'about this poor man Schurz who has just been sent for a year to
prison. It's a very hard case, and I'm awfully sorry for the man
myself, though that's neither here nor there. I can see from your
face that you, for your part, don't sympathise with him; but at
any rate, don't say anything about it to hurt Le Breton's feelings.
He's in a dreadfully feverish and excited condition this evening;
Max Schurz has always been to him almost like a father, and he
naturally takes his sentence very bitterly to heart. To tell you
the truth, I regret it a great deal myself, I know a little of
Schurz, through Le Breton, and I know what a well-meaning, ardent,
enthusiastic person he really is, and how much good actually
underlies all his chaotic socialistic notions. But at any rate, I
do beg of you, don't say anything to further excite and hurt poor
'Certainly not,' the editor answered, smoothing his large hands
softly one over the other. 'Certainly not; though I confess, as a
practical man, I don't sympathise in the least with this preposterous
German refugee fellow. So far as I can learn, he's been at the
bottom of half the revolutionary and insurrectionary movements of
the last twenty years--a regular out-and-out professional socialistic
'You wouldn't say so,' Berkeley replied quietly, 'if you'd seen
more of him, Lancaster.' But being a man of the world, and having
come mainly on Ernest's account, he didn't care to press the abstract
question of Herr Max's political sincerity any further.
'Well,' the editor went on, a little testily, 'be that as it may, I
won't discuss the subject with your friend Le Breton, who's really
a nice, enthusiastic young fellow, I think, as far as I've seen
him. I'll simply let him write to-night whatever he pleases, and
make the necessary alterations in proof afterwards, without talking
it over with him personally at all. That'll avoid any needless
discussion and ruffling of his supersensitive communistic feelings.
Poor fellow, he looks very ill indeed to-night. I'm really extremely
sorry for him.'
'When will he be finished?' asked Arthur.
'At two,' the editor answered.
'I'll send a cab for him,' Arthur said; 'there'll be none about
at that hour, probably. Will you kindly tell him it's waiting for
At two o'clock or a little after, Ernest drove home with his heart
on fire, full of eagerness and swelling hope for to-morrow morning.
He found Edie waiting for him, late as it was, with a little bottle
of wine--an unknown luxury at Mrs. Halliss's lodgings--and such
light supper as she thought he could manage to swallow in his
excitement. Ernest drank a glass of the wine, but left the supper
untasted. Then he went to bed, and tossed about uneasily till
morning. He couldn't sleep through his anxiety to see his great
leader appear in all the added dignity of printer's ink and rouse
the slumbering world of England up to a due sense of Max Schurz's
wrongs and the law's incomprehensible iniquity.
Before seven, he rose very quietly, dressed himself without
saying a word, and stole out to buy an early copy of the 'Morning
Intelligence.' He got one at the small tobacconist's shop round the
corner, where he had taken his first hint for the Italian organ-boy
leader. It was with difficulty that he could contain himself till
he was back in Mrs. Halliss's little front parlour; and there
he tore open the paper eagerly, and turned to the well-remembered
words at the beginning of his desperate appealing article. He could
recollect the very run of every clause and word he had written: 'No
Englishman can read without a thrill of righteous indignation,' it
began,'the sentence passed last night upon Max Schurz, the author
of that remarkable economical work, "Gold and the Proletariate."
Herr Schurz is one of those numerous refugees from German despotism
who have taken advantage of the hospitable welcome usually afforded
by England to the oppressed of all creeds or nations'--and so forth,
and so forth. Where was it now? Yes, that was it, in the place of
honour, of course--the first leader under the clock in the 'Morning
Intelligence.' His eye caught at once the opening key-words, 'No
Englishman.' Sinking down into the easy-chair by the flowers in the
window he prepared to run it through at his leisure with breathless
'No Englishman can read without a feeling of the highest approval
the sentence passed last night upon Max Schurz, the author of that
misguided economical work, "Gold and the Proletariate." Herr Schurz
is one of those numerous refugees from German authority, who have
taken advantage of the hospitable welcome usually afforded by England
to the oppressed of all creeds or nations, in order to hatch plots
in security against the peace of sovereigns or governments with
which we desire always to maintain the most amicable and cordial
relations.' Ernest's eyes seemed to fail him. The type on the paper
swam wildly before his bewildered vision. What on earth could
this mean? It was his own leader, indeed, with the very rhythm and
cadence of the sentences accurately preserved, but with all the
adjectives and epithets so ingeniously altered that it was turned
into a crushing condemnation of Max Schurz, his principles,
his conduct, and his ethical theories. From beginning to end, the
article appealed to the common-sense of intelligent Englishmen to
admire the dignity of the law in thus vindicating itself against
the atrocious schemes of a dangerous and ungrateful political exile
who had abused the hospitality of a great fres country to concoct
vile plots against the persons of friendly sovereigns and innocent
ministers on the European continent.
Ernest laid down the paper dreamily, and leant back for a moment
in his chair, to let his brain recover a little from the reeling
dizziness of that crushing disappointment. Then he turned in a
giddy mechanical fashion to the headed article on the fourth page.
There the self-same style of treatment met once more his astonished
gaze. All the minute facts as to Max Schurz's history and personality
were carefully preserved; the description of his simple artisan
life, his modest household, his Sunday evening receptions, his great
following of earnest and enthusiastic refugees--every word of all
this, which hardly anyone else could have equally well supplied,
was retained intact in the published copy; yet the whole spirit
of the thing had utterly evaporated, or rather had been perverted
into the exact opposite unsympathetic channel. Where Ernest had
written 'enthusiasm,' Lancaster had simply altered the word to
'fanaticism;' where Ernest had spoken of Herr Max's 'single-hearted
devotion,' Lancaster had merely changed the phrase into 'undisguised
revolutionary ardour.' The whole paper was one long sermon against
Max Schurz's Utopian schemes, imputing to him not only folly but
even positive criminality as well. We all know how we all in England
look upon the foreign political refugee--a man to be hit again with
impunity, because he has no friends; but to Ernest, who had lived
so long in his own little socialistic set, the discovery that people
could openly say such things against his chosen apostle at the very
moment of his martyrdom, was a hideous and blinding disillusionment.
He put the paper down upon the table once more, and buried his face
helplessly between his burning hands.
The worst of it all was this: if Herr Max ever saw those articles
he would naturally conclude that Ernest had been guilty of the
basest treachery, and that too on the very day when he most needed
the aid and sympathy of all his followers. With a thrill of horror
he thought in his own soul that the great leader might suspect him
for an hour of being the venal Judas of the little sect.
How Ernest ever got through that weary day he did not know himself;
nothing kept him up through it except his burning indignation
against Lancaster's abominable conduct. About eleven o'clock,
Arthur Berkeley called in to see him. 'I'm afraid you've been a
little disappointed,' he said, 'about the turn Lancaster has given
to your two articles. He told me he meant to alter the tone so
as to suit the policy of the paper, and I see he's done so very
thoroughly. You can't look for much sympathy from commonplace,
cold, calculating Englishmen for enthusiastic natures like Herr
Ernest turned to him in blank amazement. He had expected Berkeley
to be as angry as himself at Lancaster's shameful mutilation of his
appealing leader; and he found now that even Berkeley accepted it
as an ordinary incident in the course of journalistic business. His
heart sank within him as he thought how little hope there could be
of Herr Max's liberation, when even his own familiar friend Berkeley
looked upon the matter in such a casual careless fashion.
'I shall never write another word for the "Morning Intelligence,"'
he cried vehemently, after a moment's pause. 'If we starve for
it, I shall never write another word in that wicked, abominable,
dishonourable paper. I can die easily enough, heaven knows, without
a murmur: but I can't be disloyal to dear Herr Max, and to all my
innate ingrained principles.'
'Don't say that, Ernest,' Berkeley answered gently. 'Think of
Mrs. Le Breton and the baby. The luxury of starvation for the sake
of a cause is one you might venture to allow yourself if you were
alone in the world as I am, but not one which you ought to force
unwillingly upon your wife and children. You've been getting a
trifle more practical of late under the spur of necessity; don't go
and turn impossible again at the supreme moment. Whatever happens,
it's your plain duty to go on writing for the "Morning Intelligence."
You say with your own hand only what you think and believe yourself:
the editor alone is responsible for the final policy of the paper.'
Ernest only muttered slowly to himself,--'Never, never, never!'
Still, though the first attempt had failed, Ernest did not wholly
give up his hopes of doing something towards the release of Herr Max
from that unutterable imprisonment. He drew up a form of petition
to the Home Secretary, in which he pointed out the reasons for
setting aside the course of the law in the case of this particular
political prisoner. With feverish anxiety he ran about London
for the next two days, trying to get influential signatures to his
petition, and to rouse the people in their millions to demand the
release of the popular martyr. Alas for the stolid indifference of
the British public! The people in their millions sat down to eat
and drink, and rose up to play, exactly as if nothing unusual in
any way had happened. Most of them had never heard at all of Herr
Max, or of 'Gold and the Proletariate,' and those who had heard
understood for the most part that he was a bad lot who was imprisoned
for trying nefariously to blow up the Emperor of Rooshia. Crowds
of people nightly besieged the doors of the Ambiguities and the
Marlborough, to hear the fate of 'The Primate of Fiji' and 'The Duke
of Bermondsey;' but very few among the millions took the trouble to
sign their names to Ernest Le Breton's despairing petition. Even
the advanced radicals of the market-place, the men who figured
largely at Trafalgar Square meetings and Agricultural Labourers'
Unions, feared to damage their reputation for moderation and sobriety
by getting themselves mixed up with a continental agitator like
this man Schurz that people were talking about. The Irish members
expressed a pious horror of the very word dynamite: the working-man
leaders hemmed and hawed, and regretted their inability, in their
very delicate position, to do anything which might seem like
countenancing Russian nihilism. In the end, Ernest sent, in his
petition with only half a dozen unknown signatures; and the Home
Secretary's private prompter threw it into the waste-paper basket
entire, without even taking the trouble to mention its existence
to his harassed and overburdened chief. Just a Marylebone communist
refugee in prison! How could a statesman with half the bores and
faddists of England on his troubled hands, find time to look at
uninfluential petitions about an insignificant worthless nobody
So gentle, noble-natured, learned Herr Max went to prison and served
his year there uncomplainingly, like any other social malefactor;
and Society talked about his case with languid interest for nearly
a fortnight, and then straightway found a new sensation, and forgot
all about him. But there are three hundred and sixty-five days of
twenty-four hours each in every year; and for every one of those days
Herr Max and Herr Max's friends never forgot for an hour together
that he was in prison.
And at the end of the week Ernest got a letter from Lancaster,
enclosing a cheque for eight guineas. That is a vast sum of money,
eight guineas: just think of all the bread, and meat, and tea,
and clothing one can buy with it for a small family! 'My dear Le
Breton,' the editor wrote--in his own hand, too; a rare honour;
for he was a kindly man, and he had learned, much to his surprise,
from Arthur Berkeley, that Ernest was angry at his treatment of the
Schurzian leader: 'My dear Le Breton, I enclose cheque for eight
guineas, for your two articles. I hope you didn't mind the way
I was obliged to cut them up in some unessential details, so as
to suit the policy of the paper. I kept whatever was really most
distinctive as embodying special information in them. You know
we are above all things strictly moderate. Please send us another
It was a kind letter, undoubtedly a kind and kindly-meant letter:
but Ernest flung it from him as though he had been stung by a
serpent or a scorpion. Then he handed the cheque to Edie in solemn
silence, to see what she would do with it. He merely wanted to try
her constancy. For himself, he would have felt like a Judas indeed
if he had taken and used their thirty pieces of silver.
Edie looked at the cheque intently and sighed a deep sigh of regret.
How could she do otherwise? They were so very poor, and it was
such an immense sum of money! Then she rose quietly without saying
a word, and lighted a match from the box on the mantelpiece. She
held the cheque firmly between her finger and thumb till it was
nearly burnt, end let it drop slowly at last into the empty fireplace.
Ernest rose up and kissed her tenderly. The leaden weight of the
thirty pieces of silver was fairly off their united conscience. They
had made what reparation they could for the evil of that unhappy,
undesigned leader. After all Ernest had wasted the last remnant of
his energy on one eventful evening, all for nothing.
As Edie sat looking wistfully at the smouldering fragments of the
burnt cheque, Ernest roused her again by saying quietly, 'To-day's
Saturday. Have we got anything for to-morrow's dinner, Edie?'
'Nothing,' Edie answered, simply. 'How much money have you left,
'Sixpence,' Ernest said, without needing to consult his empty
purse for confirmation--he had counted the pence, as they went, too
carefully for that already. 'Edie, I'm afraid we must go at last
to the poor man's banker till I can get some more money.'
'Oh, Ernest--not--not--not the pawnbroker!'
'Yes, Edie, the pawnbroker.'
The tears came quickly into Edie's eyes, but she answered nothing.
They must have food, and there was no other way open before them.
They rose together and went quietly into the bedroom. There they
gathered together the few little trinkets and other things that might
be of use to them, and Ernest took down his hat from the stand to
go out with them to the pawnbroker's.
As he turned out he was met energetically on the landing by a
stout barricade from good Mrs. Halliss. 'No, sir, not you, sir,'
the landlady said firmly, trying to take the parcel from him as he
went towards the door. 'I beg your pardon, sir, for 'avin' over'eard
what wasn't meant for me to 'ear, no doubt, but I couldn't 'elp it,
sir, and John an' me can't allow nothink of this sort, we can't.
We're used to this sort o' things, sir, John and me is; but you
and the dear lady isn't used to 'em, sir, and didn't nought to be
neither, and John an' me can't allow it, not anyhow.'
Ernest turned scarlet with shame, but could say nothing. Edie only
whispered softly, 'Dear, dear Mrs. Halliss, we're so sorry, but we
can't help it.'
''Elp it, ma'am,' said Mrs. Halliss, herself almost crying, 'nor
there ain't no reason why you should try to 'elp it neither. As I
says to John, "John," says I, "there ain't no 'arm in it, noways,"
says I, "but I can't stand by," says I, "and see them two poor dear
young creechurs," meanin' no offence, ma'am, "a-pawning of their
own jewelry and things to go and pay for their Sunday's dinner."
And John, 'e says, says 'e, "Quite right, Martha," says 'e; "don't
let 'em, my dear," says 'e. "The Lord has prospered us a bit in our
'umble way, Martha," says 'e, "and we ain't got no cause to want,
we ain't; and if the dear lady and the good gentleman wouldn't
take it as a liberty," says 'e, "it 'ud be better they should just
borrer a pound or two for a week from us," says 'e, beggin' your
pardon, ma'am, for 'intin' of it, "than that there Mr. Le Breting,
as ain't accustomed to such places nohow, should go a-makin'
acquaintance, for the fust time of his life, as you may say, with
the inside of a pawnbroker's shop," says 'e. "John," says I, "it's
my belief the lady and gentleman 'ud be insulted," says I, "though
they ARE the sweetest unassoomin'est young gentlefolk I ever did
see," says I, "if we were to go as tin' them to accept the loan
of money from the likes of you and me, John, as is no better, by
the side of them, nor old servants, in the manner o' speakin'."
"Insulted," says 'e; "not a bit of it, they needn't, Martha,"
says 'e, "for I knows the ways of the aristocracy," says 'e, "and
I knows as there's many a gentleman as owns 'is own 'osses and
'is own 'ounds as isn't afraid to borrer a pound or so from 'is own
coachman, or even from 'is own groom--not but what to borrer from
a groom is lowerin'," says 'e, "in a tempory emergency. Mind you,
Martha," says 'e, "a tempory emergency is a thing as may 'appen
to landed gentlefolks any day," says 'e. "It's like a 'ole in your
coat made by a tear," says 'e; "a haccident as may 'appen to-morrer
to the Prince of Wales 'isself upon the 'untin' field," 'e says.
"Well, then, John," says I, "I'll just go an' speak to 'em about
it, this very minnit," says I, and if I might make so bold, ma'am,
without seemin' too presumptious, I should be very glad if you'd
kindly allow me, ma'am, to lend Mr. Le Breting a few suvverins till
'e gets 'is next remittances, ma'am.'
Edie looked at Ernest, and Ernest looked at Edie and the landlady;
and then they all three burst out crying together without further
apology. Perhaps it was the old Adam left in Ernest a little;
but though he could stand kindness from Dr. Greatrex or from Mr.
Lancaster stoically enough, he couldn't watch the humble devotion
of those two honest-hearted simple old servants without a mingled
thrill of shame and tenderness. 'Mrs. Halliss,' he said, catching
up the landlady's hard red hand gratefully in his own, 'you are too
good and too kind, and too considerate for us altogether. I feel
we have done nothing to deserve such great kindness from you. But
I really don't think it would be right of us to borrow from you when
we don't even know how long it may be before we're able to return
your money or whether we shall ever be able to return it at all.
We're so much obliged to you, so very very much obliged to you,
dear Mrs. Halliss, but I think we ought as a matter of duty to pawn
these few little things rather than run into debt which we've no
fair prospect at present of ever redeeming.'
'HAS you please, sir,' Mrs. Halliss said gently, wiping her eyes
with her snow-white apron, for she saw at once that Ernest really
meant what he said. 'Not that John an' me would think of it for a
minnit, sir, so long as you wouldn't mind our takin' the liberty;
but any'ow, sir, we can't allow you to go out yourself and go to
the pawnbroker's. It ain't no fit place for the likes of you, sir,
a pawnbroker's ain't, in all that low company; and I don't suppose
you'd rightly know 'ow much to hask on the articles, neither.
John, 'e ain't afeard of goin'; an' 'e says, 'e insists upon it as
'e's to go, for 'e don't think, sir, for the honour of the 'ouse,
'e says, sir, as a lodger of ours ought to be seen a-goin' to the
pawnbroker's. Just you give them things right over to John, sir,
and 'e'll get you a better price on 'em by a long way nor they'd
ever think of giving a gentleman like you, sir.'
Ernest fought off the question in a half-hearted fashion for a
little while, but Mrs. Halliss insisted upon it, and after a short
time Ernest gave way, for to say the truth he had very vague ideas
himself as to how he ought to proceed in a pawnbroking expedition.
Mrs. Halliss ran down the kitchen stairs quickly, for fear he
should change his mind as soon as her back was turned, and called
out gaily to her husband in the first delight of her unexpected
'John,' she cried, '--drat that man, where is 'e? John, dear, you
just putt your 'at on, and purtend to run round the corner a bit
to Aston's the pawnbroker's. The Lord have mercy upon me for the
stories I've been a-tellin' of 'em, but I couldn't bear to see them
two pore things a-pawnin' their little bits of jewelry and sich,
and Mr. Le Breting, too, 'im as ain't fit to go knockin' together
with underbred folks like pawnbrokers. So I told 'im as you'd take
'em round and pawn 'em for 'im yourself; not as I don't suppose
you've never pawned nothink in your 'ole life, John, leastways not
since ever you an' me kep' company, for afore that I suppose you
was purty much like other young men is, John, for all you shakes
your 'ead at it now so innocent like. But you just run round,
there's a dear, and make as if you was goin' to the pawnbroker's,
and then you come straight 'ome again unbeknown to 'em. I ain't
a goin' to let them two pore dears go pawnin' their things for a
dinner nohow. You take them two suvverins out of your box, John,
and putt away these 'ere little things for the present time till
the pore souls is able to pay us, and if they never don't, small
matter neither. Now you go fast, John, there's a dear, and come
back, and mind you give them two suvverins to Mr. Le Breting as
natural like as ever you're able.'
'Pawn 'em,' John said in a pitying voice, 'no indeed, it ain't
come to that yet, I should 'ope, that they need go a-pawnin' their
effects while we've got a suvverin or two laid by in our box,
Martha. Not as anybody need be ashamed of pawnin' on occasions, for
that matter,--I don't say as a reg'lar thing, but now an' then on
occasions, as you may call it; for even in the best dookal families,
I've 'eard tell they DO sometimes 'ave to pawn the dimonds, so
that pawnin' ain't in the runnin' noways, bless you, as respects
gentility. Not as I'd like to go into a pawnshop myself, Martha,
as I've always been brought up respectable; but when you send for
Mr. Hattenborough to your own ressydence and say quite commandin'
like, "'Er Grace 'ud be obleeged if you'd wait upon 'er in Belgrave
Square to hinspeck 'er dimonds as I want to raise the wind on 'em,"
why, that's quite another matter nat'rally.'
When honest John came back in a few minutes and handed the
two sovereigns over to Ernest, he did it with such an unblushing
face as might have won him applause on any stage for its perfect
naturalness. 'Lor' bless your 'eart, sir,' he said in answer to
Ernest's shamefaced thanks, touching the place where his hat ought
to be mechanically, 'it ain't nothing, sir, that ain't. If it
weren't for the dookal families of England, sir, it's my belief the
pawnbrokin' business wouldn't be worth mentioning in the manner o'
That evening, Ernest paced up and down the little parlour rather
moodily for half an hour with three words ringing perpetually in his
dizzy ears-the 'Never, never, never,' he had used so short a tune
since about the 'Morning Intelligence.' He must get money somehow
for Dot and Edie! he must get money somehow to pay good Mrs. Halliss
for their board and lodging! There was only one way possible.
Fight against it as he would, in the end he must come back to that
inevitable conclusion. At last he sat down with a gloomy face at
the centre table, and pulled out a sheet of blank foolscap.
'What are you going to do, Ernest?' Edie asked him.
Ernest groaned. 'I'm writing a social for the "Morning Intelligence,"
Edie,' he answered bitterly.
'Oh, Ernest!' Edie said with a face of horror and surprise. 'Not
after the shameful way they've treated poor Max Schurz!'
Ernest groaned again. 'There's nothing else to be done, Edie,' he
said, looking up at her despondently. 'I must earn money somehow
to keep the house going.'
It is the business of the truthful historian to narrate facts, not
to palliate or extenuate the conduct of the various actors. Whether
Ernest did right or wrong, at least he did it; he wrote a playful
social for Monday's 'Morning Intelligence,' and carried it into
the office on Sunday afternoon himself, beause there was no postal
delivery in the London district.
That night, he lay awake once more for hours together, tossing
and turning, and reflecting bitterly on his own baseness and his
final moral downfall. Herbert was right, after all. The environment
was beginning to conquer. He could hold out no longer. Herr Max
was in prison; the world was profoundly indifferent; he himself
had fallen away like Peter; and there was nothing left for him now
but to look about and find himself a dishonourable grave.
And Dot? And Edie? What was to become of them after? Ah me, for
the pity of it when a man cannot even crawl quietly into a corner
and die in peace like a dog, without being tortured by fears
and terrors beforehand as to what will come to those he loves far
better than life when he himself is quietly dead and buried out of
A MAN AND A MAID.
IF Ernest and Edie had permitted it, Ronald Le Breton would have
gone at once, after his coming of age, to club income and expenditure
with his brother's household. But, as Edie justly remarked, when
he proposed it, such a course would pretty nearly have amounted to
clubbing HIS income with THEIR expenditure; and even in their last
extreme of poverty that was an injustice which neither she nor her
husband could possibly permit. Ronald needed all his little fortune
for his own simple wants, and though they themselves starved,
they couldn't bear to deprive him of the small luxuries which had
grown into absolute necessaries for one so feeble and weak. Indeed,
ill as Ernest himself now was, he had never outgrown the fixed
habit of regarding Ronald as the invalid of the family; and to have
taken anything, though in the direst straits, from him, would have
seemed like robbing the helpless poor of their bare necessities.
So Ronald was fain at last to take lodgings for himself with
a neighbour of good Mrs. Halliss's, and only to share in Ernest's
troubles to the small extent of an occasional loan, which Edie
would have repaid to time if she had to go without their own poor
little dinner for the sake of the repayment.
Meanwhile, Ronald had another interest on hand which to his
enthusiastic nature seemed directly imposed upon him by the finger
of Providence--to provide a home and occupation for poor Selah,
whom Herbert had cast aside as a legacy to him. As soon as he
had got settled down to his own new mode of life in the Holloway
lodgings, he began to look about for a fit place for the homeless
girl--a place, he thought to himself, which must combine several
special advantages; plenty of work--she wanted that to take her
mind off brooding; good, honest, upright people; and above all, no
religion. Ronald recognised that last undoubted requirement as of
absolutely paramount importance. 'She'll stand any amount of talk
or anything else from me,' he said to himself often, 'because she
knows I'm really in earnest; but she wouldn't stand it for a moment
from those well-meaning, undiscriminating, religious busy-bodies,
who are so awfully anxious about other people's souls, though
they never seem for a single minute to consider in any way other
people's feelings.' After a little careful hunting among his
various acquaintances, however, he found at last a place that would
exactly suit Selah at a stationer's in Netting Hill; and there he
put her--with full confidence that Selah would do the work entrusted
to her well and ably, if not from conscientiousness, at least from
personal pride, 'which, after all,' Roland soliloquised dreamily,
'is as good a substitute for the genuine article as one can
reasonably expect to find in poor fallen human nature.'
'I wish, Mr. Le Breton,' Selah said, quite timidly for her (maidenly
reserve, it must be admitted, was not one of Selah Briggs's strong
points), 'that I wasn't going to be quite so far from you as Notting
Hill. If I could see you sometimes, you know, I should feel that
it might keep me more straight--keep me away from the river in
future, I mean. I can't stand most people's preaching, but somehow,
your preaching seems to do me more good than harm, really, which is
just the exact opposite way, it seems to me, from everybody else's.'
Ronald smiled sedately. 'I'm glad you want to see me sometimes,'
he said, with a touch of something very like gallantry in his tone
that was wholly unusual with him. 'I shall walk over every now and
then, and look you up at your lodgings over yonder; and besides,
you can come on Sundays to dear Edie's, and I shall be able to
meet you there once a fortnight or thereabouts. But I'm not going
to let you call me Mr. Le Breton any longer; it isn't friendly:
and, what's more, it isn't Christian. Why should there be these
artificial barriers between soul and soul, eh, Selah? I shall
call you Selah in future: it seems more genuine and heartfelt, and
unencumbered with needless conventions, than your misters and
misses. After all, why should we keep up such idle formalities
between brethren and fellow-workers?'
Selah started a little--she knew better than Ronald himself did
what such first advances really led to. 'Oh, Mr. Le Breton,' she
said quickly, 'I really can't call you Ronald. I can never call
any other man by his Christian name as long as I live, after--your
'You mistake me, Selah,' Ronald put in hastily, with his quaint
gravity. 'I mean it merely as a sign of confidence and a mark of
Christian friendship. Sisters call their brothers by their Christian
names, don't they? So there can be no harm in that, surely. It seems
to me that if you call me Mr. Le Breton, you're putting me on the
footing of a man merely; if you call me Ronald, you're putting me
on the footing of a brother, which is really a much more harmless
and unequivocal position for me to stand in. Do, please, Selah,
call me Ronald.'
'I'm afraid I can't,' Selah answered. 'I daren't. I mustn't.' But
she faltered a little for a moment, notwithstanding.
'You must, Selah,' Ronald said, with all the force of his enthusiastic
nature, fixing his piercing eyes full upon her. 'You must, I tell
you. Call me Ronald.'
'Very well--Ronald,' Selah said at last, after a long pause.
'Good-bye, now. I must be going. Good-bye, and thank you. Thank
you. Thank you.' There was a tear quivering even in Selah Briggs's
eye, as she held his hand lingeringly a moment in hers before
releasing it. He was a very good fellow, really, and he had been
so very kind, too, in interesting himself about her future.
'What a marvellous thread of sameness,' Ronald thought to himself,
as he walked back rapidly to his solitary lodgings, 'runs through
the warp and woof of a single family, after all! What an underlying
unity of texture there must be throughout, in all its members,
however outwardly dissimilar they may seem to be from one another!
One would say at first sight there was very little, if anything,
in common between me and Herbert. And yet this girl interests me
wonderfully. Of course I'm not in love with her--the notion of
MY falling in love with anybody is clearly too ridiculous. But I'm
attracted by her, drawn towards her, fascinated as it were; I feel
a sort of curious spell upon me whenever I look into her deep big
eyes, flashing out upon one with their strange luminousness. It
isn't merely that the Hand has thrown her in my way: that counts
for something, no doubt, but not for everything. Besides, the
Hand doesn't act blindly--nay, rather, acts with supreme wisdom,
surpassing the powers or the comprehension of man. When it threw
Selah Briggs in my way, depend upon it, it was because the Infinite
saw in me something that was specially adapted to her, and in her
something that was specially adapted to me. The instrument is duly
shaped by inscrutable Wisdom for its own proper work. Now, whatever
interests ME in her, must have also interested Herbert in her
equally and for the same reason. We're drawn towards her, clearly;
she exercises over both of us some curious electric power that she
doesn't exercise, presumably, over other people. For Herbert must
have been really in love with her--not that I'm in love with her,
of course; but still, the phenomena are analogous, even if on
a slightly different plane--Herbert must have been really in love
with her, I'm sure, or such a prudent man as he is would never have
let himself get into what he would consider such a dangerous and
difficult entanglement. Yes, clearly, there's something in Selah
Briggs that seems to possess a singular polarity, as Ernest would
call it, for the Le Breton character and individuality!
'And then, it cuts both ways, too, for Selah was once desperately
in love with Herbert: of that I'm certain. She must have been, to
judge from the mere strength of the final revulsion. She's a girl
of intensely deep passions--I like people to have some depth to
their character, even if it's only in the way of passion--and she'd
never have loved him at all without loving him fervently and almost
wildly: hers is a fervent, wild, indomitable nature. Yes, she was
certainly in love with Herbert; and now, though of course I don't
mean to say she's in love with me (I hope it isn't wrong to think
in this way about an unmarried girl), still I can't help seeing
that I have a certain influence over her in return--that she pays
much attention to what I say and think, considers me a person
worth considering, which she doesn't do, I'm sure, with most other
people. Ah, well, there's a vast deal of truth, no doubt, in these
new hereditary doctrines of Darwin's and Galton's that Herbert
and Ernest talk about so much; a family's a family, that's certain,
not a mere stray collection of casual acquaintances. How the
likeness runs through the very inmost structure of our hearts and
natures! I see in Selah very much what Herbert saw in Selah: Selah
sees in me very much what she saw in Herbert. Extraordinary insight
into human nature men like Darwin and Galton have, to be sure? And
David, too, what a marvellous thinker he was, really! What unfathomed
depths of meaning lie unexpected in that simple sentence of his,
"I am fearfully and wonderfully made." Fearfully and wonderfully,
indeed, when one remembers that from one father and mother Herbert
and I have both been compounded, so unlike in some things that we
scarcely seem to be comparable with one another (look at Herbert's
splendid intellect beside mine!), so like in others that Selah
Briggs--goodness gracious, what am I thinking of? I was just going
to say that Selah Briggs falls in love first with one of us and
then with the other. I do hope and trust it isn't wrong of me to
fill my poor distracted head so much with these odd thoughts about
that unfortunate girl, Selah!'
THE ENVIRONMENT FINALLY TRIUMPHS.
Winter had come, and on a bitter cold winter's night, Ernest
Le Breton once more received an unexpected telegram asking him to
hurry down without a moment's delay on important business to the
'Morning Intelligence' office. The telegram didn't state at all
what the business was; it merely said it was urgent and immediate
without in any way specifying its nature. Ernest sallied forth
in some perturbation, for his memories of the last occasion when
the 'Morning Intelligence' required his aid on important business
were far from pleasant ones; but for Edie's sake he felt he must
go, and so he went without a murmur.
'Sit down, Le Breton,' Mr. Lancaster said slowly when Ernest
entered. 'The matter I want to see you about's a very peculiar one.
I understand from some of my friends that you're a son of Sir Owen
Le Breton, the Indian general.'
'Yes, I am,' Ernest answered, wondering within himself to what
end this curious preamble could possibly be leading up. If there's
any one profession, he thought, which is absolutely free from the
slightest genealogical interest in the persons of its professors,
surely that particular calling ought to be the profession of
'Well, so I hear, Le Breton. Now, I believe I'm right in saying,
am I not, that it was your father who first subdued and organised
a certain refractory hill-tribe on the Tibetan frontier, known as
the Bodahls, wasn't it?'
'Quite right,' Ernest replied, with a glimmering idea slowly rising
in his mind as to what Mr. Lancaster was now driving at.
'Ah, that's good, very good indeed, certainly. Well, tell me,
Le Breton, do you yourself happen to know anything on earth about
these precious insignificant people?'
'I know all about them,' Ernest answered quickly. 'I've read all
my father's papers and despatches, and seen his maps and plans and
reports in our house at home from my boyhood upward. I know as much
about the Bodahls, in fact, as I know about Bayswater, or Holborn,
or Fleet Street.'
'Capital, capital,' the editor said, fondling his big hands softly;
'that'll exactly suit us. And could you get at these plans and papers
now, this very evening, just to refresh the gaps in your memory?'
'I could have them all down here,' Ernest answered, 'at an hour's
'Good,' the editor said again. 'I'll send a boy for them with a
cab. Meanwhile, you'd better be perpending this telegram from our
Simla correspondent, just received. It's going to be the question
of the moment, and we should very much like you to give us a leader
of a full column about the matter.'
Ernest took the telegram and read it over carefully. It ran in the
usual very abbreviated newspaper fashion: 'Russian agents revolted
Bodahls Tibetan frontier. Advices Peshawur state Russian army
marching on Merv. Bodahls attacked Commissioner, declared independence
'Will you write us a leader?' the editor asked, simply.
Ernest drew a long breath. Three guineas! Edie, Dot, an empty
exchequer! If he could only have five minutes to make his mind up!
But he couldn't. After all, what did it matter what he said about
these poor unknown Bodahls? If HE didn't write the leader, somebody
else who knew far less about the subject than he did would be sure
to do it. He wasn't responsible for that impalpable entity 'the
policy of the paper.' Beside the great social power of the 'Morning
Intelligence,' of the united English people, what was he, Ernest
Le Breton, but a miserable solitary misplaced unit? One way or the
other, he could do very little indeed, for good or for evil. After
half a minute's internal struggle, he answered back the editor
faintly, 'Yes, I will.' 'For Edie,' he muttered half audibly to
himself; 'I must do it for dear Edie.'
'And you'll allow me to make whatever alterations I think necessary
in the article to suit the policy of the paper?' the editor asked
once more, looking through him with his sleepy keen grey eyes.
'You see, Le Breton, I don't want to annoy you, and I know your
own principles are rather peculiar; but of course all we want you
for is just to give us the correct statement of facts about these
outlandish people. All that concerns our own attitude towards them
as a nation falls naturally under the head of editorial matter.
You must see yourself that it's quite impossible for us to let any
one single contributor dictate from his own standpoint the policy
of the paper.'
Ernest bent his head slowly. 'You're very kind to argue out the
matter with me so, Mr. Lancaster,' he said, trembling with excitement.
'Yes, I suppose I must bury my scruples. I'll write a leader about
these Bodahls, and let you deal with it afterwards as you think
They showed him into the bare little back room, and sent a boy
up with a hastily written note to Ronald for the maps and papers.
There Ernest sat for an hour or two, writing away for very life,
and putting on paper everything that he knew about the poor Bodahls.
By two o'clock, the proofs had all come up to him, and he took
his hat in a shamefaced manner to sally out into the cold street,
where he hoped to hide his rising remorse and agony under cover of
the solitary night. He knew too well what 'the policy of the paper'
would be, to venture upon asking any questions about it. As he
left the office, a boy brought him down a sealed envelope from Mr.
Lancaster. With his usual kindly thoughtfulness the editor had sent
him at once the customary cheque for three guineas. Ernest folded
it up with quivering fingers, and felt the blood burn in his cheeks
as he put it away in his waistcoat pocket. That accursed money!
For it he had that night sold his dearest principles! And yet, not
for it, not for it, not for it--oh, no, not for it, but for Dot
The boy had a duplicate proof in his other hand, and Ernest saw at