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Tales of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Part 3 out of 4

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After a honeymoon of five weeks in the shining cities of the
Mediterranean and in Paris, they re-entered the British Empire by the
august portals of the Chatham and Dover Railway. They stood impatiently
waiting, part of a well-dressed, querulous crowd, while a few officials
performed their daily task of improvising a Custom-house for registered
luggage on a narrow platform of Victoria Station. John, Mr. Norris's
man, who had met them, attended behind. Suddenly, with a characteristic
movement, the husband lifted his head, and then looked down at his wife.

'I say, May!'

'Well?'

She knew that he was about to propose some swift alteration of their
plans, but she smiled upwards out of her furs at his grave face, and
the tone of her voice granted all requests in advance.

'I think I'd better go to the office,' he said.

'Now?'

She smiled again, inviting him to do exactly what he chose. She was
already familiar with his restiveness under enforced delays and
inaction, and his unfortunate capacity for being actively bored by
trifles which did not interest him aroused in her a sort of maternal
sympathy.

'Yes,' he answered. 'I can be there and back in an hour or less. You
titivate yourself, and we'll dine at the Savoy, or anywhere you please.
We'll keep the ball rolling to-night. Yes,' he repeated, as if to
convince himself that he was not a deserter, 'I really must call in at
the office. You and John can see to the luggage, can't you?'

'Of course,' she replied, with calm good-nature, and also with perfect
self-confidence. 'But give me the keys of the trunks, and don't be late,
Ted.'

'Oh, I shan't be late,' he said.

Their fingers touched as she took the keys. He went away enraptured
anew by her delightful acquiescences, her unique smile, her
common-sense, her mature charm, and the astonishing elegance of her
person. The honeymoon was over--and with what finished discretion,
combining the innocent girl with the woman of the world, she had lived
through the honeymoon!--another life, more delicious, was commencing.

'What a wife!' he thought triumphantly. 'She does understand a man! And
fancy leaving any ordinary bride to look after luggage!'

Nevertheless, once in his offices at Winchester House, he managed to
forget her, and to forget time, for nearly an hour and a half. When at
last he came to himself from the enchantment of affairs, he jumped into
a hansom, and told the driver to drive fast to Knightsbridge. He was
ardent to see her again. In the dark seclusion of the cab he speculated
upon her toilette, the colour of her shoes. He thought of the last five
weeks, of the next five years. Dwelling on their mutual love and esteem,
their health, their self-knowledge and experience and cheerfulness, her
sense and grace, his talent for getting money first and keeping it
afterwards, he foresaw nothing but happiness for them. Children? H'm!
Possibly....

At Piccadilly Circus it began to rain--cold, heavy March rain.

'Window down, sir?' asked the voice of the cabman.

'Yes,' he ordered sardonically. 'Better be suffocated than drowned.'

'You're right, sir,' said the voice.

Soon, through the streaming glass, which made every gas-jet into a
shooting pillar of flame, Norris discerned vaguely the vast bulk of Hyde
Park Mansions. 'Good!' he muttered, and at that very moment he was shot
through the window into the thin, light-reflecting mire of the street.
Enormous and strange beasts menaced him with pitiless hoofs. Millions of
people crowded about him. In response to a question that seemed to float
slowly towards him, he tried to give his address. He realized, by a
considerable feat of intellect, that the horse must have fallen down;
and then, with a dim notion that nothing mattered, he went to sleep.

II

In the boudoir of the magnificent flat on the first floor, shielded from
the noise and the inclemency of the world by four silk-hung walls and a
double window, and surrounded by all the multitudinous and costly luxury
that a stockbroker with brains and taste can obtain for the wife of his
love, May was leisurely finishing her toilette. And every detail in the
long, elaborate process was accomplished with a passionate intention to
bewitch the man at Winchester House.

These two had first met seven years before, when May, the daughter of a
successful wholesale draper at Hanbridge, in the Five Towns district of
Staffordshire, was aged twenty-two. Mr. Scarratt went to Manchester each
Tuesday to buy, and about once a month he took May with him. One day,
when they were lunching at the Exchange Restaurant, a young man came up
whom her father introduced as Mr. Edward Norris, his stockbroker. Mr.
Norris, whose years were thirty, glanced keenly at May, and accepted Mr.
Scarratt's invitation to join them. Ever afterwards May vividly
remembered the wonderful sensation, joyous yet disconcerting, which she
then experienced--the sensation of having captivated her father's
handsome and correct stockbroker. The three talked horses with a certain
freedom, and since May was accustomed to drive the Scarratt dogcart, so
famous in the Five Towns, she could bring her due share to the
conversation. The meal over, Mr. Norris discussed business matters with
his client, and then sedately departed, but not without the obviously
sincere expression of a desire to meet Miss Scarratt again. The
wholesale draper praised Edward's financial qualities behind his back,
and wondered that a man of such aptitude should remain in Manchester
while London existed. As for May, she decided that she would have a new
frock before she came to Manchester in the following month.

She had a new frock, but not of the colour intended. By the following
month her father was enclosed in a coffin, and it happened to his
estate, as to the estates of many successful men who employ
stockbrokers, that the liabilities far more than covered the assets. May
and her mother were left without a penny. The mother did the right
thing, and died--it was best. May went direct to Brunt's, the largest
draper in the Five Towns, and asked for a place under 'Madame' in the
dress-making department. Brunt's daughter, who was about to be married,
gave her the place instantly. Three years later, when 'Madame' returned
to Paris, May stepped into the French-woman's shoes.

On Sundays and on Thursday afternoons, and sometimes (but not too often)
at the theatre, May was the finest walking advertisement that Brunt's
ever had. Old Brunt would have proposed to her, it was rumoured, had he
not been scared by her elegance. Sundry sons of prosperous
manufacturers, unabashed by this elegance, did in fact secretly propose,
but with what result was known only to themselves.

Later, as May waxed in importance at Brunt's, she was sent to Manchester
to buy. She lunched at the Exchange Restaurant. The world and Manchester
are very small. The first man she set eyes on was Edward Norris. Another
week, Norris said to her with a thrill, and he would have been gone for
ever to London. Chance is not to be flouted. The sequel was inevitable.
They loved. And all the select private bars in Hanbridge tinkled to the
news that May Scarratt had been and hooked a stockbroker!

When the toilette was done, and the maid gone, she wound a thin black
scarf round her olive neck and shoulders, and sat down negligently on a
Chippendale settee in the attitude of a portrait by Boldini; her little
feet were tucked up sideways on the settee; the perforated lace ends of
the scarf fell over her low corsage to the level of the seat. And she
waited, still the bride. He was late, but she knew he would be late.
Sure in the conviction that he was a strong man, a man of imagination
and of deeds, she could easily excuse this failing in him, as she did
that other habit of impulsive action in trifles. Nay, more, she found
keen pleasure in excusing it. 'Dear thing!' she reflected, 'he forgets
so.' Therefore she waited, content in enjoying the image in the glass of
her dark face, her small plump person, and her Paris gown--that dream!
She thought with assuaged grief of her father's tragedy; she would have
liked him to see her now, the jewel in the case--her father and she had
understood each other.

All around, and above and below, she felt, without hearing it, the
activity of the opulent, complex life of the mansions. Her mind dwelt
with satisfaction on long carpeted corridors noiselessly paraded by
flunkeys, mahogany lifts continually ascending and descending like the
angels of the ladder, the great entrance hall with its fire always
burning and its doors always swinging, the _salle a manger_ sown with
rose-shaded candles, and all the splendid privacies rising stage upon
stage to the attics, where the flunkeys philosophized together. She
confessed the beauty and distinction achieved by this extravagant
organization for gratifying earthly desires. Often, in the pinching days
of her servitude, she had murmured against the injustice of things, and
had called wealth a crime while poverty starved. But now she perceived
that society was what it was inevitably, and could not be altered. She
accepted it in profound peace of mind, gaily fraternal towards the
fortunate, compassionate towards those in adversity.

In the next flat someone began to play very brilliantly a Hungarian
Rhapsody of Liszt's. And even the faint sound of that riotous torrent of
melody, so arrogantly gorgeous, intoxicated her soul. She shivered under
the sudden vision of the splendid joy of being alive. And how she envied
the player! French she had learned from 'Madame,' but she had no skill
on the piano; it was her one regret.

She touched the bell.

'Has your master come in yet?' she inquired of the maid.

'No, madam, not yet.'

She knew he had not come in, but she could not resist the impulse to
ask.

Ten minutes later, when the piano had ceased, she jumped up, and,
creeping to the front-door of the flat, gazed foolishly across the
corridor at the grille of the lift. She heard the lift in travail. It
appeared and passed out of sight above. No, he had not come! Glancing
aside, she saw the tall slender figure of a girl in a green tea-gown--a
mere girl: it was the player of the Hungarian Rhapsody. And this girl,
too, she thought, was expectant and disappointed! They shut their doors
simultaneously, she and May, who also had her girlish moments. Then the
rhapsody recommenced.

'Oh, madam!' screamed the maid, almost tumbling into the boudoir.

'What is it?' May demanded with false calm.

The maid lifted the corner of her black apron to her eyes, as though she
had been a stage soubrette in trouble.

'The master, madam! He's fell out of his cab--just in front of the
mansions--and they're bringing him in--such blood I never did see!'

The maid finished with hysterics.

III

'And them just off their honeymoon!'

The inconsolable tones of the lady's-maid came from the kitchen to the
open door of the bedroom, where May was giving instructions to the
elderly cook.

'Send that girl out of the flat this moment!' May said.

'Yes, ma'am.'

'Make the beef-tea in case it's wanted, and let me have some more warm
water. There's John and the doctor!'

She started at a knock.

'No, it's only the postman, ma'am.'

Some letters danced on the hall floor and on her nerves.

'Oh dear!' May whispered. 'I thought it was the doctor at last.'

'John's bound to be back with one in a minute, ma'am. Do bear up,' urged
the cook, hurrying to the kitchen.

She could have destroyed the woman for those last words.

With the proud certainty of being equal to the dreadful crisis, she
turned abruptly into the bedroom, where her husband lay insensible on
one of the new beds. Assisted by the policemen and the cook, she had
done everything that could be done: cut away the coats and the
waistcoat, removed the boots, straightened the limbs, washed the face
and neck--especially the neck--which had to be sponged continually, and
scattered messengers, including John, over the vicinity in search of
medical aid. And now the policemen had gone, the general emotion on the
staircase had subsided, the front-door of the flat was shut. The great
ocean of the life of the mansions had closed smoothly upon her little
episode. She was alone with the shattered organism.

She bent fondly over the bed, and her Paris frock, and the black scarf
which she had not removed, touched its ruinous burden. Her right hand
directed the sponge with ineffable tenderness, and then the long thin
fingers tightened to a frenzied clutch to squeeze it over the basin. The
whole of her being was absorbed in a deep passion of pity and an
intolerable hunger for the doctor.

Through the wall came once more the faint sound of the Hungarian
Rhapsody, astonishingly rapid and brilliant. She set her teeth to endure
its unconscious message of the vast indifference of life to death.

The organism stirred, and May watched the deathly face for a sign. The
eyes opened and stared at her in agonized bewilderment. The lips tried
to speak, and failed.

'It's all right, darling,' she said softly. 'You're in your own bed. The
doctor will be here directly. Drink this.'

She gave him some brandy-and-water, and they looked at each other. He
was no longer Edward Norris, the finely regulated intelligence, the
masterful volition, the conqueror of the world and of a woman; but
merely the embodiment of a frightened, despairing, flickering,
hysterical will-to-live, which glanced in terror at the corners of the
room as though it saw fate there. And beneath her intense solicitude was
the instinctive feeling, which hurt her, but which she could not
dismiss, of her measureless, dominating superiority. With what glad
relief would she have changed places with him!

'I'm dying, May,' he murmured at length, with a sigh. 'Why doesn't the
doctor come?'

'He is coming,' she replied soothingly. 'You'll be better soon.'

But his effort in speaking obliged her to use the sponge again, and he
saw it, and drew another sigh, more mortal than the first.

'Oh! I'm dying,' he repeated.

'Not you, Ted!' And her smile cost her an awful pang.

'I am. I know it.' This time he spoke with sad resignation. 'You must
face it. And--listen.'

'What, dear?'

A physical sensation of sickness came over her. She could not disguise
from herself the fact that he was dying. The warped and pallid face, the
panic-struck eyes, the sweat, the wound in the neck, the damp hands
nervously pulling the hem of the sheet--these indications were not to be
gainsaid. The truth was too horrible to grasp; she wanted to put it away
from her. 'This calamity cannot happen to me!' she thought urgently, and
all the while she knew that it was happening to her.

He collected the feeble remnant of his powers by an immense effort, and
began to speak, slowly and fragmentarily, and with such weakness that
she could only catch his words by putting her ear to his mouth. The
restless hands dropped the sheet and took the end of the black scarf.

'You'll be comfortable--for money,' he said. 'Will made.... It's not
that. It's ... I must tell you. It's----'

'Yes?' she encouraged him. 'Tell me. I can hear.'

'It's about your father. I didn't treat him quite right ... once....
Week after I first met you, May.... No, not quite right. He was holding
Hull and Barnsley shares ... you know, railway ... great gambling stock,
then, Hull and Barn--Barnsley. Holding them on cover; for the rise....
They dropped too much--dropped to 23.... He couldn't hold any longer ...
wired to me to sell and cut the loss. Understand?'

'Yes,' she said, trembling. 'I quite understand.'

'Well ... I wired back, "Sold at 23." ... But some mistake. Shares not
sold. Clerk's mistake.... Clerk didn't sell.... Next day rise began....
I didn't wire him shares not sold. Somehow, I couldn't.... Put it
off.... Rise went on.... I took over shares myself ... you
see--myself.... Made nearly five thousand clear.... I wanted money
then.... I think I would have told him, perhaps, later ... made it
right ... but he died ... sudden ... I wasn't going to let his creditors
have that five thou.... No, he'd meant to sell ... and, look here, May,
if those shares had dropped lower ... 'stead of rising ... I should have
had to stand the racket ... with your father, for my clerk's
mistake.... See?... He'd meant to sell.... Hard lines on him, but he'd
meant to sell.... He'd meant----'

'Don't say any more, dear.'

'Must explain this, May. Why didn't I give the money to you ... when he
was dead?... Because I knew you'd only ... give it ... to creditors....
I knew you.... That's straight.... I've told you now.'

He lost consciousness again, but for an instant May did not notice it.
She was crying, and her tears fell on his face.

Then came a doctor, a little dark man, who explained with calm
politeness that he had been out when the messenger first arrived. He
took off his coat, hung it up, opened his bag, and proceeded to a minute
examination of the patient. His movements were so methodical, and he
gave orders to May in a tone so quiet, casual, and ordinary, that she
almost lost her sense of the reality of the scene.

'Yes, yes,' he said, from time to time, as if to himself; nothing else;
not a single enlightening word to May.

'I'm dying,' moaned Edward, opening his eyes.

The doctor glanced round at May and winked. That wink, deliberate and
humorous, was like an electric shock to her. She could actually feel her
heart leap in her breast. If she had not been afraid of the doctor, she
would have fainted.

'You all think you're dying,' the doctor remarked in a low, amused tone
to the ceiling, as he wiped a pair of scissors, 'when you've been
knocked silly, especially if there's a lot of blood about.'

The door opened.

'Here's John, ma'am,' said the cook, 'with two more doctors. What am I
to do?'

May involuntarily turned towards the door.

'Don't you go, Mrs. Norris,' the little dark man commanded. 'I want
you.' Then he carelessly scrutinized the elderly servant. 'Tell 'em
they're too late,' he said. 'It's generally like that when there's an
accident,' he continued after the housekeeper had gone. 'First you can't
get a doctor anywhere, and then in half an hour or so we come in crowds.
I've known seven doctors turn up one after another. But in that affair
the man happened to have been killed outright.'

He smiled grimly. In a little while he was snapping his bag.

'I'll come in the morning, of course,' he said, as he wrote on a piece
of paper. 'Have this made up, and give it him in the night if he is
wakeful. Keep him warm. You might put a couple of hot-water bags, one on
either side of him. You've got beef-tea made, you say? That's right. Let
him have as much as he wants. Mr. Norris, you'll sleep like a top.'

'But, doctor,' May inquired the next morning in the hall, after Edward
had smiled at a joke, and been informed that he must run down to
Bournemouth in a week, 'have we nothing to fear?'

'I think not,' was the measured answer. 'These affairs nearly always
seem much worse than they are. Of course, the immediate upset is
tremendous--the disorganization, and all that sort of thing. But
Nature's pretty wonderful. You'll find your husband will soon get over
it. I should say he had a good constitution.'

'And there will be no permanent effects?'

'Yes,' said the doctor, with genial cynicism. 'There'll be one
permanent effect. Nobody will ever persuade him to ride in a hansom
again. If he can't find a four-wheeler, he'll walk in future.'

She returned to the bedroom. The man on the bed was Edward Norris once
more, in control of himself, risen out of his humiliation. A feeling of
thankfulness overwhelmed her for a moment, and she sat down.

'Well, May?' he murmured.

'Well, dear.'

They both realized that what they had been through was a common, daily
street accident. The smile of each was self-conscious, apprehensive,
insincere.

'Quite a concert going on next door,' he said with an affectation of
lightness.

It was the Hungarian Rhapsody, impetuous and brilliant as ever. How she
hated it now--this symbol of the hurried, unheeding, relentless, hollow
gaiety of the world! Yet she longed for the magic fingers of the player,
that she, too, might smother grief in such glittering veils!

IV

The marriage which had begun so dramatically fell into placid routine.
Edward fulfilled the prophecy of the doctor. In a week they were able to
go to Bournemouth for a few days, and in less than a fortnight he was at
the office--the strong man again, confident and ambitious.

After days devoted to finance, he came home in the evenings
high-spirited and determined to enjoy himself. His voice was firm and
his eye steady when he spoke to his wife; there was no trace of
self-consciousness in his demeanour. She admired the masculinity of the
brain that could forget by an effort of will. She felt that he trusted
her to forget also; that he relied on her common-sense, her
characteristic sagacity, to extinguish for ever the memory of an awkward
incident. He loved her. He was intensely proud of her. He treated her
with every sort of generosity. And in return he expected her to behave
like a man.

She loved him. She esteemed him as a wife should. She made a profession
of wifehood. He gave his days to finance and his nights to diversion;
but her vocation was always with her--she was never off duty. She aimed
to please him to the uttermost in everything, to be in all respects the
ideal helpmate of a husband who was at once strenuous, fastidious, and
wealthy. Elegance and suavity were a religion with her. She was the
delight of the eye and of the ear, the soother of groans, the refuge of
distress, the uplifter of the heart.

She made new acquaintances for him, and cemented old friendships. Her
manner towards his old friends enchanted him; but when they were gone
she had a way of making him feel that she was only his. She thought that
she was succeeding in her aim. She thought that all these sweet, endless
labours--of traffic with dressmakers, milliners, coiffeurs, maids,
cooks, and furnishers; of paying and receiving calls; of delicious
surprise journeys to the City to bring home the breadwinner; of giving
and accepting dinners; of sitting alert and appreciative in theatres and
music-halls; of supping in golden restaurants; of being serious,
cautionary, submissive, and seductive; of smiles, laughter, and kisses;
and of continuous sympathetic responsiveness--she thought that all these
labours had attained their object: Edward's complete serenity and
satisfaction. She imagined that love and duty had combined successfully
to deceive him on one solitary point. She was sure that he was deceived.
But she was wrong.

One evening they were at the theatre alone together. It was a musical
comedy, and they had a large stage-box. May sat a little behind. After
having been darkened for a scenic conjuring trick, the stage was very
suddenly thrown into brilliant light. Edward turned with equal
suddenness to share his appreciation of the effect with his wife, and
the light and his eye caught her unawares. She smiled instantly, but too
late; he had seen the expression of her features. For a second she felt
as if the whole fabric which she had been building for the last six
months had crumbled; but this disturbing idea passed as she recovered
herself.

'Let's go home, eh?' he said, at the end of the first act.

'Yes,' she agreed. 'It would be nice to be in early, wouldn't it?'

In the brougham they exchanged the amiable banalities of people who are
thoroughly intimate. When they reached the flat, she poured out his
whisky-and-potass, and sat on the arm of his particular arm-chair while
he sipped it; then she whispered that she was going to bed.

'Wait a bit,' he said; 'I want to talk to you seriously.'

'Dear thing!' she murmured, stroking his coat.

She had not the slightest notion of his purpose.

'You've tried your best, May,' he said bluntly, 'but you've failed. I've
suspected it for a long time.'

She flushed, and retired to a sofa, away from the orange electric lamp.

'What do you mean, Edward?' she asked.

'You know very well what I mean, my dear,' he replied. 'What I told
you--that night! You've tried to forget it. You've tried to look at me
as though you had forgotten it. But you can't do it. It's on your mind.
I've noticed it again and again. I noticed it at the theatre to-night.
So I said to myself, "I'll have it out with her." And I'm having it
out.'

'My dear Ted, I assure you----'

'No, you don't,' he stopped her. 'I wish you did. Now you must just
listen. I know exactly what sort of an idiot I was that night as well as
you do. But I couldn't help it. I was a fool to tell you. Still, I
thought I was dying. I simply had a babbling fit. People are like that.
You thought I was dying, too, didn't you?'

'Yes,' she said quietly, 'for a minute or two.'

'Ah! It was that minute or two that did it. Well, I let it out, the
rotten little secret. I admit it wasn't on the square, that bit of
business. But, on the other hand, it wasn't anything really bad--like
cruelty to animals or ruining a girl. Of course, the chap was your
father, but, but----. Look here, May, you ought to be able to see that I
was exactly the same man after I told you as I was before. You ought to
be able to see that. My character wasn't wrecked because I happened to
split on myself, like an ass, about that affair. Mind you, I don't blame
you. You can't help your feelings. But do you suppose there's a single
man on this blessed earth without a secret? I'm not going to grovel
before gods or men. I'm not going to pretend I'm so frightfully sorry.
I'm sorry in a way. But can't you see----'

'Don't say any more, Ted,' she begged him, fingering her sash. 'I know
all that. I know it all, and everything else you can say. Oh, my darling
boy! do you think I would look down on you ever so little because
of--what you told me? Who am I? I wouldn't care twopence even if----'

'But it's between us all the same,' he broke in. 'You can't get over
it.'

'Get over it!' she repeated lamely.

'Can you? Have you?' He pinned her to a direct answer.

She did not flinch.

'No,' she said.

'I thought you would have done,' he remarked, half to himself. 'I
thought you would. I thought you were enough a woman of the world for
that, May. It isn't as if the confounded thing had made any real
difference to your father. The old man died, and----'

'Ted!' she exclaimed, 'I shall have to tell you, after all. It killed
him.'

'What killed him? He died of gastritis.'

'He was ill with gastritis, but he died of suicide. It's easy for a
gastritis patient to commit suicide. And father did.'

'Why?'

'Oh, ruin, despair! He'd been in difficulties for a long time. He said
that selling those shares just one day too soon was the end of it. When
he saw them going up day after day, it got on his mind. He said he knew
he would never, never have any luck. And then ...'

'You kept it quiet.' He was walking about the room.

'Yes, that was pretty easy.'

'And did your mother know?'

He turned and looked at her.

'Yes, mother knew. It finished her. Oh, Ted!' she burst out, 'if you'd
only telegraphed to him the next morning that the shares weren't sold,
things might have been quite different.'

'You mean I killed your father--and your mother.'

'No, I don't,' she cried passionately. 'I tell you I don't. You didn't
know. But I think of it all, sometimes. And that's why--that's why----'

She sat down again.

'By God, May,' he swore, 'I'm frightfully sorry!'

'I never meant to tell you,' she said, composing herself. 'But, there!
things slip out. Good-night.'

She was gone, but in passing him she had timidly caressed his shoulder.

'It's all up,' he said to himself. 'This will always be between us. No
one could expect her to forget it.'

V

Gradually her characteristic habits deserted her; she seemed to lose
energy and a part of her interest in those things which had occupied her
most. She changed her dress less frequently, ignoring dressmakers, and
she showed no longer the ravishing elegance of the bride. She often lay
in bed till noon, she who had always entered the dining-room at nine
o'clock precisely to dispense his coffee and listen to his remarks on
the contents of the newspaper. She said 'As you please' to the cook, and
the meals began to lose their piquancy. She paid no calls, but some of
her women friends continued, nevertheless, to visit her. Lastly, she
took to sewing. The little dark doctor, who had become an acquaintance,
smiled at her and told her to do no more than she felt disposed to do.
She reclined on sofas in shaded rooms, and appeared to meditate. She was
not depressed, but thoughtful. It was as though she had much to settle
in her own mind. At intervals the faint sound of the Hungarian Rhapsody
mingled with her reveries.

As for Edward, his behaviour was immaculate. During the day he made
money furiously. In the evening he sat with his wife. They did not talk
much, and he never questioned her. She developed a certain curious
whimsicality now and then; but for him she could do no wrong.

The past was not mentioned. They both looked apprehensively towards the
future, towards a crisis which they knew was inexorably approaching.
They were afraid, while pretending to have no fear.

And one afternoon, precipitately, surprisingly, the crisis came.

'You are the father of a son--a very noisy son,' said the doctor, coming
into the drawing-room where Edward had sat in torture for three hours.

'And May?'

'Oh, never fear: she's doing excellently.'

'Can I go and see her?' he asked, like a humble petitioner.

'Well--yes,' said the doctor, 'for one minute; not more.'

So he went into the bedroom as into a church, feeling a fool. The nurse,
miraculously white and starched, stood like a sentinel at the foot of
the bed of mystery.

'All serene, May?' he questioned. If he had attempted to say another
word he would have cried.

The pale mother nodded with a fatigued smile, and by a scarcely
perceptible gesture drew his attention to a bundle. From the next flat
came a faint, familiar sound, insolently joyous.

'Yes,' he thought, 'but if they had both been lying dead here that tune
would have been the same.'

Two months later he left the office early, telling his secretary that he
had a headache. It was a mere fibbing excuse. He suffered from sudden
fits of anxiety about his wife and child. When he reached the flat, he
found no one at home but the cook.

'Where's your mistress?' he demanded.

'She's out in the park with baby and nurse, sir.'

'But it's going to rain,' he cried angrily. 'It is raining. They'll get
wet through.'

He rushed into the corridor, and met the procession--May, the
perambulator, and the nursemaid.

'Only fancy, Ted!' May exclaimed, 'the perambulator will go into the
lift, after all. Aren't you glad?'

'Yes,' he said. 'But you're wet, surely?'

'Not a drop. We just got in in time.'

'Sure?'

'Quite.'

The tableau of May, elegant as ever, but her eyes brighter and her body
more leniently curved, of the hooded perambulator, and of the
fluffy-white nursemaid behind--it was too much for him. Touching
clumsily the apron of the perambulator, the stockbroker turned into his
doorway. Just then the girl from the next flat came out into the
corridor, dressed for social rites of the afternoon. The perambulator
was her excuse for stopping.

'What a pretty boy!' she exclaimed in ecstasy, trying to squeeze her
picture hat under the hood of the perambulator.

'Do you really think so?' said the mother, enchanted.

'Of course! The darling! How I envy you!'

May wanted to reciprocate this politeness.

'I can't tell you,' she said, 'how I envy you your piano-playing.
There's one piece----'

'Envy me! Why! It's only a pianola we've got!'

'Isn't he the picture of his granddad?' said May to Edward when they
bent over the cot that night before retiring.

And as she said it there was such candour in her voice, such content in
her smiling and courageous eyes, that Edward could not fail to
comprehend her message to him. Down in some very secret part of his soul
he felt for the first time the real force of the great explanatory truth
that one generation succeeds another.

* * * * *

THE SISTERS QITA

The manuscript ran thus:

* * * * *

When I had finished my daily personal examination of the ropes
and-trapezes, I hesitated a moment, and then climbed up again, to the
roof, where the red and the blue long ropes were fastened. I took my
sharp scissors from my chatelaine, and gently fretted the blue rope with
one blade of the scissors until only a single strand was left intact. I
gazed down at the vast floor a hundred feet below. The afternoon
varieties were over, and a phrenologist was talking to a small crowd of
gapers in a corner. The rest of the floor was pretty empty save for the
chairs and the fancy stalls, and the fatigued stall-girls in their black
dresses. I too, had once almost been a stall-girl at the Aquarium! I
descended. Few observed me in my severe street dress. Our secretary,
Charles, attended me on the stage.

'Everything right, Miss Paquita?' he said, handing me my hat and gloves,
which I had given him, to hold.

I nodded. I could see that he thought I was in one of my stern, far-away
moods.

'Miss Mariquita is waiting for you in the carriage,' he said.

We drove away in silence--I with my inborn melancholy too sad, Sally
(Mariquita) too happy to speak. This daily afternoon drive was really
part of our 'turn'! A team of four mules driven by a negro will make a
sensation even in Regent Street. All London looked at us, and contrasted
our impassive beauty--mine mature (too mature!) and dark, Sally's so
blonde and youthful, our simple costumes, and the fact that we stayed at
an exclusive Mayfair hotel, with the stupendous flourish of our turnout.
The renowned Sisters Qita--Paquita and Mariquita Qita--and the renowned
mules of the Sisters Qita! Two hundred pounds a week at the Aquarium!
Twenty-five thousand francs for one month at the Casino de Paris! Twelve
thousand five hundred dollars for a tour of fifty performances in the
States! Fifteen hundred pesos a night and a special train _de luxe_ in
Argentina and Brazil! I could see the loungers and the drivers talking
and pointing as usual. The gilded loungers in Verrey's cafe got up and
watched us through the windows as we passed. This was fame. For nearly
twenty years I had been intimate with fame, and with the envy of women
and the foolish homage of men.

We saw dozens of omnibuses bearing the legend 'Qita.' Then we met one
which said: 'Empire Theatre. Valdes, the matchless juggler,' and Sally
smiled with pleasure.

'He's coming to see our turn to-night, after his,' she remarked,
blushing.

'Valdes? Why?' I asked, without turning my head.

'He wants us to sup with him, to celebrate our engagement.'

'When do you mean to get married?' I asked her shortly. I felt quite
calm.

'I guess you're a Tartar to-day,' said the pretty thing, with a touch of
her American sauciness. 'We haven't studied it out yet. It was only
yesterday afternoon he kissed me for the first time.' Then she bent
towards me with her characteristic plaintive, wistful appeal. 'Say! You
aren't vexed, Selina, are you, because of this? Of course, he wants me
to tour with him after we're married, and do a double act. He's got lots
of dandy ideas for a double act. But I won't, I won't, Selina, unless
you say the word. Now, don't you go and be cross, Selina.'

I let myself expand generously.

'My darling girl!' I said, glancing at her kindly. 'You ought to know me
better. Of course I'm not cross. And of course you must tour with
Valdes. I shall be all right. How do you suppose I managed before I
invented you?' I smiled like an indulgent mother.

'Oh! I didn't mean that,' she said. 'I know you're frightfully clever.
I'm nothing----'

'I hope you'll be awfully happy,' I whispered, squeezing her hand. 'And
don't forget that I introduced him to you--I knew him years before you
did. I'm the cause of this bliss----Do you remember that cold morning in
Berlin?'

'Oh! well, I should say!' she exclaimed in ecstasy.

When we reached our rooms in the hotel I kissed her warmly. Women do
that sort of thing.

Then a card was brought to me. 'George Capey,' it said; and in pencil,
'Of the Five Towns.'

I shrugged my shoulders. Sally had gone to scribble a note to her
Valdes. 'Show Mr. Capey in,' I said, and a natty young man entered, half
nervousness, half audacity.

'How did you know I come from the Five Towns?' I questioned him.

'I am on the _Evening Mail_,' he said, 'where they know everything,
madam.'

I was annoyed. 'Then they know, on the _Evening Mail_ that Paquita Qita
has never been interviewed, and never will be,' I said.

'Besides,' he went on, 'I come from the Five Towns myself.'

'Bursley?' I asked mechanically.

'Bursley,' he ejaculated; then added, 'you haven't been near old Bosley
since----'

It was true.

'No,' I said hastily. 'It is many years since I have been in England,
even. Do they know down there who Qita is?'

'Not they!' he replied.

I grew reflective. Stars such as I have no place of origin. We shoot up
out of a void, and sink back into a void. I had forgotten Bursley and
Bursley folk. Recollections rushed in upon me.... I felt beautifully
sad. I drew off my gloves, and flung my hat on a chair with a movement
that would have bewitched a man of the world, but Mr. George Capey was
unimpressed. I laughed.

'What's the joke?' he inquired. I adored him for his Bursliness.

'I was just thinking, of fat Mrs. Cartledge, who used to keep that
fishmonger's shop in Oldcastle Street, opposite Bates's. I wonder if
she's still there?'

'She is,' he said. 'And fatter than ever! She's getting on in years
now.'

I broke the rule of a lifetime, and let him interview me.

'Tell them I'm thirty-seven,' I said. 'Yes, I mean it. Tell them.'

And then for another tit-bit I explained to him how I had discovered
Sally at Koster and Bial's, in New York, five years ago, and made her my
sister for stage purposes because I was lonely, and liked her American
simplicity and twang. He departed full of tea and satisfaction.

* * * * *

It was our last night at the Aquarium. The place was crammed. The houses
where I performed were always crammed. Our turn was in three parts, and
lasted half an hour. The first part was a skirt dance in full afternoon
dress (_danse de modernite_, I called it); the second was a double
horizontal bar act; the third was the famous act of the red and the blue
ropes, in full evening dress. It was 10.45 when we climbed the silk
ladders for the third part. High up in the roof, separated from each
other by nearly the length of the great hall, Sally and I stood on two
little platforms. I held the ends of the red and the blue ropes. I had
to let the blue rope swing across the hall to her. She would seize it,
and, clutching it, swoop like the ball of an enormous pendulum from her
platform to mine. (But would she?) I should then swing on the red rope
to the platform she had left.

Then the band would stop for the thrilling moment, and the lights would
be lowered. Each lighting and holding a powerful electric
hand-light--one red, one blue--we should signal the drummer and plunge
simultaneously into space, flash past each other in mid-flight,
exchanging lights as we passed (this was the trick), and soar to
opposite platforms again, amid frenzied applause. There were no nets.

That was what ought to occur.

I stood bowing to the floor of tiny upturned heads, and jerking the
ropes a little. Then I let Sally's rope go with a push, and it dropped
away from me, and in a few seconds she had it safe in her strong hand.
She was taller than me, with a fuller figure, yet she looked quite small
on her distant platform. All the evening I had been thinking of fat old
Mrs. Cartledge messing and slopping among cod and halibut on white
tiles. I could not get Bursley and my silly infancy out of my head. I
followed my feverish career from the age of fifteen, when that strange
Something in me, which makes an artist, had first driven me forth to
conquer two continents. I thought of all the golden loves I had scorned,
and my own love, which had been ignored, unnoticed, but which still
obstinately burned. I glanced downwards and descried Valdes precisely
where Sally had said he would be. Valdes, what a fool you were! And I
hated a fool. I am one of those who can love and hate, who can love and
despise, who can love and loathe the same object in the same moment.
Then I signalled to Sally to plunge, and my eyes filled with tears. For,
you see, somehow, in some senseless sentimental way, the thought of fat
Mrs. Cartledge and my silly infancy had forced me to send Sally the red
rope, not the blue one. We exchanged ropes on alternate nights, but this
was her night for the blue one.

She swung over, alighting accurately at my side with that exquisite
outward curve of the spine which had originally attracted me to her.

'You sent me the red one,' she said to me, after she had acknowledged
the applause.

'Yes,' I said. 'Never mind; stick to it now you've got it. Here's the
red light. Have you seen Valdes?'

She nodded.

I took the blue light and clutched the blue rope. Instead of
murder--suicide, since it must be one or the other. And why not? Indeed,
I censured myself in that second for having meant to kill Sally. Not
because I was ashamed of the sin, but because the revenge would have
been so pitiful and weak. If Valdes the matchless was capable of passing
me over and kneeling to the pretty thing----

I stood ready. The world was to lose that fineness, that distinction,
that originality, that disturbing subtlety, which constituted Paquita
Qita. I plunged.

... I was on the other platform. The rope had held, then: I remembered
nothing of the flight except that I had passed near the upturned,
pleasant face of Valdes.

The band stopped. The lights of the hall were lowered. All was dark. I
switched on my dazzling blue light; Sally switched on her red one. I
stood ready. The rope could not possibly endure a second strain. I waved
to Sally and signalled to the conductor. The world was to lose Paquita.
The drum began its formidable roll. Whirrr! I plunged, and saw the red
star rushing towards me. I snatched it and soared upwards. The blue rope
seemed to tremble. As I came near the platform at decreasing speed, it
seemed to stretch like elastic. It broke! The platform jumped up
suddenly over my head, but I caught at the silk ladder. I was saved!
There was a fearful silence, and then the appalling shock of hysterical
applause from seven thousand throats. I slid down the ladder, ran across
the stage into my dressing-room for a cloak, out again into the street.
In two days I was in Buda-Pesth.

* * * * *

NOCTURNE AT THE MAJESTIC

I

In the daily strenuous life of a great hotel there are periods during
which its bewildering activities slacken, and the vast organism seems to
be under the influence of an opiate. Such a period recurs after dinner
when the guests are preoccupied by the mysterious processes of digestion
in the drawing-rooms or smoking-rooms or in the stalls of a theatre. On
the evening of this nocturne the well-known circular entrance-hall of
the Majestic, with its tessellated pavement, its malachite pillars, its
Persian rugs, its lounges, and its renowned stuffed bears at the foot of
the grand stairway, was for the moment deserted, save by the head
hall-porter and the head night-porter and the girl in the bureau. It was
a quarter to nine, and the head hall-porter was abdicating his pagoda
to the head night-porter, and telling him the necessary secrets of the
day. These two lords, before whom the motley panorama of human existence
was continually being enrolled, held a portentous confabulation night
and morning. They had no illusions; they knew life. Shakespeare himself
might have listened to them with advantage.

The girl in the bureau, like a beautiful and languishing animal in its
cage, leaned against her window, and looked between two pillars at the
magnificent lords. She was too far off to catch their talk, and, indeed,
she watched them absently in a reverie induced by the sweet melancholy
of the summer twilight, by the torpidity of the hour, and by the
prospect of the next day, which was her day off. The liveried
functionaries ignored her, probably scorned her as a mere pretty little
morsel. Nevertheless, she was the centre of energy, not they. If money
were payable, she was the person to receive it; if a customer wanted a
room, she would choose it; and the lords had to call her 'miss.' The
immense and splendid hotel pulsed round this simple heart hidden under a
white blouse. Especially in summer, her presence and the presence of
her companions in the bureau (but to-night she was alone) ministered to
the satisfaction of male guests, whose cruel but profoundly human
instincts found pleasure in the fact that, no matter when they came in
from their wanderings, the pretty captives were always there in the
bureau, smiling welcome, puzzling stupid little brains and puckering
pale brows over enormous ledgers, twittering borrowed facetiousness from
rosy mouths, and smoothing out seductive toilettes with long thin hands
that were made for ring and bracelet and rudder-lines, and not a bit for
the pen and the ruler.

The pretty little thing despised of the functionaries corresponded
almost exactly in appearance to the typical bureau girl. She was
moderately tall; she had a good slim figure, all pleasant curves, flaxen
hair and plenty of it, and a dainty, rather expressionless face; the
ears and mouth were very small, the eyes large and blue, the nose so-so,
the cheeks and forehead of an equal ivory pallor, the chin trifling,
with a crease under the lower lip and a rich convexity springing out
from below the crease. The extremities of the full lips were nearly
always drawn up in a smile, mechanical, but infallibly attractive. The
hair was of an orthodox frizziness. You would have said she was a nice,
kind, good-natured girl, flirtatious but correct, well adapted to adorn
a dogcart on Sundays.

This was Nina, foolish Nina, aged twenty-one. In her reverie the entire
Hotel Majestic weighed on her; she had a more than adequate sense of her
own solitary importance in the bureau, and stirring obscurely beneath
that consciousness were the deep ineradicable longings of a poor pretty
girl for heaps of money, endless luxury of finery and chocolates, and
sentimental silken dalliance.

Suddenly a stranger entered the hall. His advent seemed to wake the
place out of the trance into which it had fallen. The nocturne had
begun. Nina straightened herself and intensified her eternal smile. The
two porters became military, and smiled with a special and peculiar
urbanity. Several lesser but still lordly functionaries appeared among
the pillars; a page-boy emerged by magic from the region of the
chimney-piece like Mephistopheles in Faust's study; and some guests of
both sexes strolled chattering across the tessellated pavement as they
passed from one wing of the hotel to the other.

'How do, Tom?' said the stranger, grasping the hand of the head
hall-porter, and nodding to the head night-porter.

His voice showed that he was an American, and his demeanour that he was
one of those experienced, wealthy, and kindly travellers who know the
Christian names of all the hall-porters in the world, and have the trick
of securing their intimacy and fealty. He wore a blue suit and a light
gray wideawake, and his fine moustache was grizzled. In his left hand he
carried a brown bag.

'Nicely, thank you, sir,' Tom replied. 'How are you, sir?'

'Oh, about six and six.'

Whereupon both porters laughed heartily.

Tom escorted him to the bureau, and tried to relieve him of his bag.
Inferior lords escorted Tom.

'I guess I'll keep the grip,' said the stranger. 'Mr. Pank will be
around with some more baggage pretty soon. We've expressed the rest on
to the steamer. Well, my dear,' he went on, turning to Nina, 'you're a
fresh face here.'

He looked her steadily in the eyes.

'Yes, I am,' she said, conquered instantly.

Radiant and triumphant, the man brought good-humour into every face,
like some wonderful combination of the sun and the sea-breeze.

'Give me two bedrooms and a parlour, please,' he commanded.

'First floor?' asked Nina prettily.

'First floor! Well--I should say! _And_ on the Strand, my dear.'

She bent over her ledgers, blushing.

'Send someone to the 'phone, Tom, and let 'em put me on to the Regency,
will you?' said the stranger.

'Yes, sir. Samuels, go and ring up the Regency Theatre--quick!'

Swift departure of a lord.

'And ask Alphonse to come up to my bedroom in ten minutes from now,' the
stranger proceeded to Tom. 'I shall want a dandy supper for fourteen at
a quarter after eleven.'

'Yes, sir. No dinner, sir?'

'No; we dined on the Pullman. Well, my dear, figured it out yet?'

'Numbers 102, 120, and 107,' said Nina.

'Keys 102, 120, and 107,' said Tom.

Swift departure of another lord to the pagoda.

'How much?' demanded the stranger.

'The bedrooms are twenty-five shillings, and the sitting-room two
guineas.'

'I guess Mr. Pank won't mind that. Hullo, Pank, you're here! I'm
through. Your number's 102 or 120, which you fancy. Just going to the
'phone a minute, and then I'll join you upstairs.'

Mr. Pank was a younger man, possessing a thin, astute, intellectual
face. He walked into the hall with noticeable deliberation. His
travelling costume was faultless, but from beneath his straw hat his
black hair sprouted in a somewhat peculiar fashion over his broad
forehead. He smiled lazily and shrewdly, and without a word disappeared
into a lift. Two large portmanteaus accompanied him.

Presently the elder stranger could be heard battling with the obstinate
idiosyncrasies of a London telephone.

'You haven't registered,' Nina called to him in her tremulous,
delicate, captivating voice, as he came out of the telephone-box.

He advanced to sign, and, taking a pen and leaning on the front of the
bureau, wrote in the visitor's book, in a careful, legible hand: 'Lionel
Belmont, New York.' Having thus written, and still resting on the right
elbow, he raised his right hand a little and waved the pen like a
delicious menace at Nina.

'Mr. Pank hasn't registered, either,' he said slowly, with a charming
affectation of solemnity, as though accusing Mr. Pank of some appalling
crime.

Nina laughed timidly as she pushed his room-ticket across the page of
the big book. She thought that Mr. Lionel Belmont was perfectly
delightful.

'No,' he hasn't,' she said, trying also to be arch; 'but he must.'

At that moment she happened to glance at the right hand of Mr. Belmont.
In the brilliance of the electric light she could see the fair skin of
the wrist and forearm within the whiteness of his shirt-sleeve. She
stared at what she saw, every muscle tense.

'I guess you can round up Mr. Pank yourself, my dear, later on,' said
Lionel Belmont, and turned quickly away, intent on the next thing.

He did not notice that her large eyes had grown larger and her pale face
paler. In another moment the hall was deserted again. Mr. Belmont had
ascended in the lift, Tom had gone to his rest, and the head
night-porter was concealed in the pagoda. Nina sank down limply on her
stool, her nostrils twitching; she feared she was about to faint, but
this final calamity did not occur. She had, nevertheless, experienced
the greatest shock of her brief life, and the way of it was thus.

II

Nina Malpas was born amid the embers of one of those fiery conjugal
dramas which occur with romantic frequency in the provincial towns of
the northern Midlands, where industrial conditions are such as to foster
an independent spirit among women of the lower class generally, and
where by long tradition 'character' is allowed to exploit itself more
freely than in the southern parts of our island. Lemuel Malpas was a
dashing young commercial traveller, with what is known as 'an agreeable
address,' in Bursley, one of the Five Towns, Staffordshire. On the
strength of his dash he wooed and married the daughter of an
hotel-keeper in the neighbouring town of Hanbridge. Six months after the
wedding--in other words, at the most dangerous period of the connubial
career--Mrs. Malpas's father died, and Mrs. Malpas became the absolute
mistress of eight thousand pounds. Lemuel[1] had carefully foreseen this
windfall, and wished to use the money in enterprises of the earthenware
trade. Mrs. Malpas, pretty and vivacious, with a self-conceit hardened
by the adulation of saloon-bars, very decidedly thought otherwise. Her
motto was, 'What's yours is mine, but what's mine's my own.' The
difference was accentuated. Long mutual resistances were followed by
reconciliations, which grew more and more transitory, and at length both
recognised that the union, not founded on genuine affection, had been a
mistake.

[1] This name is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable in
the Five Towns.

'Keep your d----d brass!' Lemuel exclaimed one morning, and he went off
on a journey and forgot to come back. A curious letter dated from
Liverpool wished his wife happiness, and informed her that, since she
was well provided for, he had no scruples about leaving her. Mrs. Malpas
was startled at first, but she soon perceived that what Lemuel had done
was exactly what the brilliant and enterprising Lemuel might have been
expected to do. She jerked up her doll's head, and ejaculated, 'So much
the better!'

A few weeks later she sold the furniture and took rooms in Scarborough,
where, amid pleasurable surroundings, she determined to lead the joyous
life of a grass-widow, free of all cares. Then, to her astonishment and
disgust, Nina was born. She had not bargained for Nina. She found
herself in the tiresome position of a mother whose explanations of her
child lack plausibility. One lodging-housekeeper to whom she hazarded
the statement that Lemuel was in Australia had saucily replied: 'I
thought maybe it was the North Pole he was gone to!'

This decided Mrs. Malpas. She returned suddenly to the Five Towns,
where at least her reputation was secure. Only a week previously Lemuel
had learnt indirectly that she had left their native district. He
determined thenceforward to forget her completely. Mrs. Malpas's
prettiness was of the fleeting sort. After Nina's birth she began to get
stout and coarse, and the nostalgia of the saloon-bar, the coffee-room,
and the sanded portico overtook her. The Tiger at Bursley was for sale,
a respectable commercial hotel, the best in the town. She purchased it,
wines, omnibus connection, and all, and developed into the typical
landlady in black silk and gold rings.

In the Tiger Nina was brought up. She was a pretty child from her
earliest years, and received the caresses of all as a matter of course.
She went to a good school, studied the piano, and learnt dancing, and at
sixteen did her hair up. She did as she was told without fuss, being
apparently of a lethargic temperament; she had all the money and all the
clothes that her heart could desire; she was happy, and in a quiet way
she deemed herself a rather considerable item in the world. When she was
eighteen her mother died miserably of cancer, and it was discovered
that the liabilities of Mrs. Malpas's estate exceeded its assets--and
the Tiger mortgaged up to its value! The creditors were not angry; they
attributed the state of affairs to illness and the absence of male
control, and good-humouredly accepted what they could get. None the
less, Nina, the child of luxury and sloth, had to start life with
several hundreds of pounds less than nothing. Of her father all trace
had been long since lost. A place was found for her, and for over two
years she saw the world from the office of a famous hotel in Doncaster.
Her lethargy, and an invaluable gift of adapting herself to
circumstances, saved her from any acute unhappiness in the Yorkshire
town. Instinctively she ceased to remember the Tiger and past
splendours. (Equally, if she had married a Duke instead of becoming a
book-keeper, she would have ceased to remember the Tiger and past
humility.) Then by good or ill fortune she had the offer of a situation
at the Hotel Majestic, Strand, London. The Majestic and the sights
thereof woke up the sleeping soul.

Before her death Mrs. Malpas had told Nina many things about the
vanished Lemuel; among others, the curious detail that he had two small
moles--one hairless, the other hirsute--close together on the under side
of his right wrist. Nina had seen precisely such marks of identification
on the right wrist of Mr. Lionel Belmont.

She was convinced that Lionel Belmont was her father. There could not be
two men in the world so stamped by nature. She perceived that in
changing his name he had chosen Lionel because of its similarity to
Lemuel. She felt certain, too, that she had noticed vestiges of the Five
Towns accent beneath his Americanisms. But apart from these reasons, she
knew by a superrational instinct that Lionel Belmont was her father; it
was not the call of blood, but the positiveness of a woman asserting
that a thing is so because she is sure it is so.

III

Nina was not of an imaginative disposition. The romance of this
extraordinary encounter made no appeal to her. She was the sort of girl
that constantly reads novelettes, and yet always, with fatigued scorn,
refers to them as 'silly.' Stupid little Nina was intensely practical
at heart, and it was the practical side of her father's reappearance
that engaged her birdlike mind. She did not stop to reflect that truth
is stranger than fiction. Her tiny heart was not agitated by any
ecstatic ponderings upon the wonder and mystery of fate. She did not
feel strangely drawn towards Lionel Belmont, nor did she feel that he
supplied a something which had always been wanting to her.

On the other hand, her pride--and Nina was very proud--found much
satisfaction in the fact that her father, having turned up, was so fine,
handsome, dashing, good-humoured, and wealthy. It was well, and
excellently well, and delicious, to have a father like that. The
possession of such a father opened up vistas of a future so enticing and
glorious that her present career became instantly loathsome to her.

It suddenly seemed impossible that she could have tolerated the
existence of a hotel clerk for a single week. Her eyes were opened, and
she saw, as many women have seen, that luxury was an absolute necessity
to her. All her ideas soared with the magic swiftness of the
bean-stalk. And at the same time she was terribly afraid, unaccountably
afraid, to confront Mr. Belmont and tell him that she was his Nina; he
was entirely unaware that he had a Nina.

'I'm your daughter! I know by your moles!'

She whispered the words in her tiny heart, and felt sure that she could
never find courage to say them aloud to that great and important man.
The announcement would be too monstrous, incredible, and absurd. People
would laugh. He would laugh. And Nina could stand anything better than
being laughed at. Even supposing she proved to him his paternity--she
thought of the horridness of going to lawyers' offices--he might decline
to recognise her. Or he might throw her fifty pounds a year, as one
throws sixpence to an importunate crossing-sweeper, to be rid of her.
The United States existed in her mind chiefly as a country of
highly-remarkable divorce laws, and she thought that Mr. Belmont might
have married again. A fashionable and arrogant Mrs. Belmont, and a
dazzling Miss Belmont, aged possibly eighteen, might arrive, both of
them steeped in all conceivable luxury, at any moment. Where would Nina
be then, with her two-and-eleven-pence-halfpenny blouse from Glave's?...

Mr. Belmont, accompanied by Alphonse, the head-waiter in the _salle a
manger_, descended in the lift and crossed the hall to the portico,
where he stood talking for a few seconds. Mr. Belmont turned, and, as he
conversed with Alphonse, gazed absently in the direction of the bureau.
He looked straight through the pretty captive. After all, despite his
superficial heartiness, she could be nothing to him--so rich, assertive,
and truly important. A hansom was called for him, and he departed; she
observed that he was in evening dress now.

No! Her cause was just; but it was too startling--that was what was the
matter with it.

Then she told herself she would write to Lionel Belmont. She would write
a letter that night.

At nine-thirty she was off duty. She went upstairs to her perch in the
roof, and sat on her bed for over two hours. Then she came down again
to the bureau with some bluish note-paper and envelopes in her hand,
and, in response to the surprised question of the pink-frocked colleague
who had taken her place, she explained that she wanted to write a
letter.

'You do look that bad, Miss Malpas,' said the other girl, who made a
speciality of compassion.

'Do I?' said Nina.

'Yes, you do. What have you got _on_, _now_, my poor dear?'

'What's that to you? I'll thank you to mind your own business, Miss
Bella Perkins.'

Usually Nina was not soon ruffled; but that night all her nerves were
exasperated and exceedingly sensitive.

'Oh!' said the girl. 'What price the Duchess of Doncaster? And I was
just going to wish you a nice day to-morrow for your holiday, too.'

Nina seated herself at the table to write the letter. An electric light
burned directly over her frizzy head. She wrote a weak but legible and
regular back-hand. She hated writing letters, partly because she was
dubious about her spelling, and partly because of an obscure but
irrepressible suspicion that her letters were of necessity silly. She
pondered for a long time, and then wrote: 'Dear Mr. Belmont,--I
venture----' She made a new start: 'Dear Sir,--I hope you will not think
me----' And a third attempt: 'My dear Father----' No! it was
preposterous. It could no more be written than it could be said.

The situation was too much for simple Nina.

Suddenly the grand circular hall of the Majestic was filled with a
clamour at once charming and fantastic. There was chattering of musical,
gay American voices, pattering of elegant feet on the tessellated
pavement, the unique incomparable sound of the _frou-frou_ of many
frocks; and above all this the rich tones of Mr. Lionel Belmont. Nina
looked up and saw her radiant father the centre of a group of girls all
young, all beautiful, all stylish, all with picture hats, all
self-possessed, all sparkling, doubtless the recipients of the dandy
supper.

Oh, how insignificant and homicidal Nina felt!

'Thirteen of you!' exclaimed Lionel Belmont, pulling his superb
moustache. 'Two to a hansom. I guess I'll want six and a half hansoms,
boy.'

There was an explosion of delicious laughter, and the page-boy grinned,
ran off, and began whistling in the portico like a vexed locomotive. The
thirteen fair, shepherded by Lionel Belmont, passed out into the
murmurous summer night of the Strand. Cab after cab drove up, and Nina
saw that her father, after filling each cab, paid each cabman. In three
minutes the dream-like scene was over. Mr. Belmont re-entered the hotel,
winked humorously at the occupant of the pagoda, ignored the bureau, and
departed to his rooms.

Nina ripped her inchoate letters into small pieces, and, with a tart
good-night to Miss Bella Perkins, who was closing her ledgers, the hour
being close upon twelve-thirty, she passed sedately, stiffly, as though
in performance of some vestal's ritual, up the grand staircase. Turning
to the right at the first landing, she traversed a long corridor which
was no part of the route to her cubicle on the ninth floor. This
corridor was lighted by glowing sparks, which hung on yellow cords from
the central line of the ceiling; underfoot was a heavy but narrow
crimson patterned carpet with a strip of polished oak parquet on either
side of it. Exactly along the central line of the carpet Nina tripped,
languorously, like an automaton, and exactly over her head glittered the
line of electric sparks. The corridor and the journey seemed to be
interminable, and Nina on some inscrutable and mystic errand. At length
she moved aside from the religious line, went into a service cabinet,
and emerged with a small bunch of pass-keys. No. 107 was Lionel
Belmont's sitting-room; No. 102, his bedroom, was opposite to 107. No.
108, another sitting-room, was, as Nina knew, unoccupied. She
noiselessly let herself into No. 108, closed the door, and stood still.
After a minute she switched on the light. These two rooms, Nos. 108 and
107, had once communicated, but, as space grew precious with the growing
success of the Majestic, they had been finally separated, and the door
between them locked and masked by furniture. By reason of the door, Nina
could hear Lionel Belmont moving to and fro in No. 107. She listened a
long time. Then, involuntarily, she yawned with fatigue.

'How silly of me to be here!' she thought. 'What good will this do me?'

She extinguished the light and opened the door to leave. At the same
instant the door of No. 107, three feet off, opened. She drew back with
a start of horror. Suppose she had collided with her father on the
landing! Timorously she peeped out, and saw Lionel Belmont, in his
shirt-sleeves, disappear round the corner.

'He is going to talk with his friend Mr. Pank,' Nina thought, knowing
that No. 120 lay at some little distance round that corner.

Mr. Belmont had left the door of No. 107 slightly ajar. An unseen and
terrifying force compelled Nina to venture into the corridor, and then
to push the door of No. 107 wide open. The same force, not at all
herself, quite beyond herself, seemed to impel her by the shoulders into
the room. As she stood unmistakably within her father's private
sitting-room, scared, breathing rapidly, inquisitive, she said to
herself:

'I shall hear him coming back, and I can run out before he turns the
corner of the corridor.' And she kept her little pink ears alert.

She looked about the softly brilliant room, such an extravagant triumph
of luxurious comfort as twenty years ago would have aroused comment even
in Mayfair; but there were scores of similar rooms in the Majestic. No
one thought twice of them. Her father's dress-coat was thrown arrogantly
over a Louis Quatorze chair, and this careless flinging of the expensive
shining coat across the gilded chair somehow gave Nina a more intimate
appreciation of her father's grandeur and of the great and glorious life
he led. She longed to recline indolently in a priceless tea-gown on the
couch by the fireplace and issue orders.... She approached the
writing-table, littered with papers, documents, in scores and hundreds.
To the left was the brown bag. It was locked, and very heavy, she
thought. To the right was a pile of telegrams. She picked up one, and
read:

'_Pank, Grand Hotel, Birmingham. Why not burgle hotel? Simplest
most effective plan and solves all difficulties._--BELMONT.'

She read it twice, crunched it in her left hand, and picked up another
one:

'_Pank, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool. Your objection absurd. See safe
in bureau at Majestic. Quite easy. Scene with girl second
evening_.--BELMONT.'

The thing flashed blindingly upon her. Her father and Mr. Pank belonged
to the swell mob of which she had heard and seen so much at Doncaster.
She at once became the excessively knowing and suspicious hotel employe,
to whom every stranger is a rogue until he has proved the contrary. Had
she lived through three St. Leger weeks for nothing? At the hotel at
Doncaster, what they didn't know about thieves and sharpers was not
knowledge. The landlord kept a loaded revolver in his desk there during
the week. And she herself had been provided with a whistle which she was
to blow at the slightest sign of a row; she had blown it once, and seven
policemen had appeared within thirty seconds. The landlord used to tell
tales of masterly and huge scoundrelism that would make Charles Peace
turn in his grave. And the landlord had ever insisted that no one, no
one at all, could always distinguish with certainty between a real gent
and a swell-mobsman.

So her father and Mr. Pank had deceived everyone in the hotel except
herself, and they meant to rob the safe in the bureau to-morrow night.
Of course Mr. Lionel Belmont was a villain, or he would not have
deserted her poor dear mother; it was annoying, but indubitable.... Even
now he was maturing his plans round the corner with that Mr. Pank....
Burglars always went about in shirt-sleeves.... The brown bag contained
the tools....

The shock was frightful, disastrous, tragic; but it had solved the
situation by destroying it. Practically, Nina no longer had a father. He
had existed for about four hours as a magnificent reality, full of
possibilities; he now ceased to be recognisable.

She was about to pick up a third telegram when a slight noise caused her
to turn swiftly; she had forgotten to keep her little pink ears alert.
Her father stood in the doorway. He was certainly the victim of some
extraordinary emotion; his face worked; he seemed at a loss what to do
or say; he seemed pained, confused, even astounded. Simple, foolish Nina
had upset the balance of his equations.

Then he resumed his self-control and came forward into the room with a
smile intended to be airy. Meanwhile Nina had not moved. One is inclined
to pity the artless and defenceless girl in this midnight duel of wits
with a shrewd, resourceful, and unscrupulous man of the world. But one's
pity should not be lavished on an undeserving object. Though Nina
trembled, she was mistress of herself. She knew just where she was, and
just how to behave. She was as impregnable as Gibraltar.

'Well,' said Mr. Lionel Belmont, genially gazing at her pose, 'you do
put snap into it, any way.'

'Into what?' she was about to inquire, but prudently she held her
tongue. Drawing, herself up with the gesture of an offended and
unapproachable queen, the little thing sailed past him, close past her
own father, and so out of the room.

'Say!' she heard him remark: 'let's straighten this thing out, eh?'

But she heroically ignored him, thinking the while that, with all his
sins, he was attractive enough. She still held the first telegram in her
long, thin fingers.

So ended the nocturne.

IV

At five o'clock the next morning Nina's trifling nose was pressed
against the windowpane of her cubicle. In the enormous slate roof of the
Majestic are three rows of round windows, like port-holes. Out of the
highest one, at the extremity of the left wing, Nina looked. From thence
she could see five other vast hotels, and the yard of Charing Cross
Station, with three night-cabs drawn up to the kerb, and a red van of
W.H. Smith and Son disappearing into the station. The Strand was quite
empty. It was a strange world of sleep and grayness and disillusion.
Within a couple of hundred yards or so of her thousands of people lay
asleep, and they would all soon wake into the disillusion, and the
Strand would wake, and the first omnibus of all the omnibuses would come
along....

Never had simple Nina felt so sad and weary. She was determined to give
up her father. She was bound to tell the manager of her discovery, for
Nina was an honest servant, and she was piqued in her honesty. No one
should know that Lionel Belmont was her father.... She saw before her
the task of forgetting him and forgetting the rich dreams of which he
had been the origin. She was once more a book-keeper with no prospects.

At eight she saw the manager in the managerial room. Mr. Reuben was a
young Jew, aged about thirty-four, with a cold but indestructibly polite
manner. He was a great man, and knew it; he had almost invented the
Majestic.

She told him her news; it was impossible for foolish Nina to conceal her
righteousness and her sense of her importance.

'Whom did you say, Miss Malpas?' asked Mr. Reuben.

'Mr. Lionel Belmont--at least, that's what he calls himself.'

'Calls himself, Miss Malpas?'

'Here's one of the telegrams.'

Mr. Reuben read it, looked at little Nina, and smiled; he never laughed.

'Is it possible, Miss Malpas,' said he, 'that you don't know who Mr.
Belmont and Mr. Pank are?' And then, as she shook her head, he continued
in his impassive, precise way: 'Mr. Belmont is one of the principal
theatrical managers in the United States. Mr. Pank is one of the
principal playwrights in the United States. Mr. Pank's melodrama
'Nebraska' is now being played at the Regency by Mr. Belmont's own
American company. Another of Mr. Belmont's companies starts shortly for
a tour in the provinces with the musical comedy 'The Dolmenico Doll.' I
believe that Mr. Pank and Mr. Belmont are now writing a new melodrama,
and as they have both been travelling, but not together, I expect that
these telegrams relate to that melodrama. Did you suppose that
safe-burglars wire their plans to each other like this?' He waved the
telegram with a gesture of fatigue.

Silly, ruined Nina made no answer.

'Do you ever read the papers--the _Telegraph_ or the _Mail_, Miss
Malpas?'

'N-no, sir.'

'You ought to, then you wouldn't be so ignorant and silly. A hotel-clerk
can't know too much. And, by-the-way, what were you doing in Mr.
Belmont's room last night, when you found these wonderful telegrams?'

'I went there--I went there--to----'

'Don't cry, please, it won't help you. You must leave here to-day.
You've been here three weeks, I think. I'll tell Mr. Smith to pay you
your month's wages. You don't know enough for the Majestic, Miss Malpas.
Or perhaps you know too much. I'm sorry. I had thought you would suit
us. Keep straight, that's all I have to say to you. Go back to
Doncaster, or wherever it is you came from. Leave before five o'clock.
That will do.'

With a godlike air, Mr. Reuben swung round his office-chair and faced
his desk. He tried not to perceive that there was a mysterious quality
about this case which he had not quite understood. Nina tripped
piteously out.

In the whole of London Nina had one acquaintance, and an hour or so
later, after drinking some tea, she set forth to visit this
acquaintance. The weight of her own foolishness, fatuity, silliness, and
ignorance was heavy upon her. And, moreover, she had been told that Mr.
Lionel Belmont had already departed back to America, his luggage being
marked for the American Transport Line.

She was primly walking, the superlative of the miserable, past the
facade of the hotel, when someone sprang out of a cab and spoke to her.
And it was Mr. Lionel Belmont.

'Get right into this hansom, Miss Malpas,' he said kindly, 'and I guess
we'll talk it out.'

'Talk what out?' she thought.

But she got in.

'Marble Arch, and go up Regent Street, and don't hurry,' said Mr.
Belmont to the cabman.

'How did he know my name?' she asked herself.

'A hansom's the most private place in London,' he said after a pause.

It certainly did seem to her very cosy and private, and her nearness to
one of the principal theatrical managers in America was almost
startling. Her white frock, with the black velvet decorations, touched
his gray suit.

'Now,' he said, 'I do wish you'd tell me why you were in my parlour last
night. Honest.'

'What for?' she parried, to gain time.

Should she begin to disclose her identity?

'Because--well, because--oh, look here, my girl, I want to be on very
peculiar terms with you. I want to straighten out everything. You'll be
sort of struck, but I'll be bound to tell you I'm your father. Now,
don't faint or anything.'

'Oh, I knew that!' she gasped. 'I saw the moles on your wrist when your
were registering--mother told me about them. Oh, if I had only known you
knew!'

They looked at one another.

'It was only the day before yesterday I found out I possessed such a
thing as a daughter. I had a kind of fancy to go around to the old spot.
This notion of me having a daughter struck me considerable, and I
concluded to trace her and size her up at once.' Nina was bound to
smile. 'So your poor mother's been dead three years?'

'Yes,' said Nina.

'Ah! don't let us talk about that. I feel I can't say just the right
thing.... And so you knew me by those pips.' He pulled up his right
sleeve. 'Was that why you came up to my parlour?'

Nina nodded, and Lionel Belmont sighed with relief.

'Why didn't you tell me at once, my dear, who you where?'

'I didn't dare,' she smiled; 'I was afraid. I thought you wouldn't----'

'Listen,' he said; 'I've wanted someone like you for years, years, and
years. I've got no one to look after----'

'Then why didn't _you_ tell _me_ at once who you were?' she questioned
with adorable pertness.

'Oh!' he laughed; 'how could I--plump like that? When I saw you first,
in the bureau, the stricken image of your mother at your age, I was
nearly down. But I came up all right, didn't I, my dear? I acted it out
well, didn't I?'

* * * * *

The hansom was rolling through Hyde Park, and the sunshiny hour was
eleven in June. Nina looked forth on the gay and brilliant scene:
rhododendrons, duchesses, horses, dandies--the incomparable wealth and
splendour of the capital. She took a long breath, and began to be happy
for the rest of her life. She felt that, despite her plain frock, she
was in this picture. Her father had told her that his income was rising
on a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and he would thank her
to spend it. Her father had told her, when she had confessed the scene
with Mr. Reuben and what led to it, that she had grit, and that the
mistake was excusable, and that a girl as pretty as she was didn't want
to be as fly as Mr. Reuben had said. Her father had told her that he was
proud of her, and he had not been so rude as to laugh at her blunder.

She felt that she was about to enter upon the true and only vocation of
a dainty little morsel--namely, to spend money earned by other people.
She thought less homicidally now of the thirteen chorus-girls of the
previous night.

'Say,' said her father, 'I sail this afternoon for New York, Nina.'

'They said you'd gone, at the hotel.'

'Only my baggage. The _Minnehaha_ clears at five. I guess I want you to
come along too. On the voyage we'll get acquainted, and tell each other
things.'

'Suppose I say I won't?'

She spoke despotically, as the pampered darling should.

'Then I'll wait for the next boat. But it'll be awkward.'

'Then I'll come. But I've got no things.'

He pushed up the trap-door.

Driver, Bond Street. And get on to yourself, for goodness' sake! Hurry!'

'You told me not to hurry,' grumbled the cabby.

'And now I tell you to hustle. See?'

'Shall you want me to call myself Belmont?' Nina asked.

'I chose it because it was a fine ten-horse-power name twenty years
ago,' said her father; and she murmured that she liked the name very
much.

As Lionel Belmont the Magnificent paid the cabman, and Nina walked
across the pavement into one of the most famous repositories of
expensive frippery in the world, she thrilled with the profoundest
pleasure her tiny soul was capable of. Foolish, simple Nina had achieved
the _nec plus ultra_ of her languorous dreams.

* * * * *

CLARICE OF THE AUTUMN CONCERTS

I

'What did you say your name was?' asked Otto, the famous concert
manager.

'Clara Toft.'

'That won't do,' he said roughly.

'My real proper name is Clarice,' she added, blushing. 'But----'

'That's better, that's better.' His large, dark face smiled carelessly.
'Clarice--and stick an "e" on to Toft--Clarice Tofte. Looks like either
French or German then. I'll send you the date. It'll be the second week
in September. And you can come round to the theatre and try the
piano--Bechstein.'

'And what do you think I had better play, Mr. Otto?'

'You must play what you have just played, of course. Tschaikowsky's all
the rage just now. Your left hand's very weak, especially in the last
movement. You've got to make more noise--at my concerts. And see here,
Miss Toft, don't you go and make a fool of me. I believe you have a
great future, and I'm backing my opinion. Don't you go and make a fool
of me.'

'I shall play my very best,' she smiled nervously. 'I'm awfully obliged
to you, Mr. Otto.'

'Well,' he said, 'you ought to be.'

At the age of fifteen her father, an earthenware manufacturer, and the
flamboyant Alderman of Turnhill, in the Five Towns, had let her depart
to London to the Royal College of Music. Thence, at nineteen, she had
proceeded to the Conservatoire of Liege. At twenty-two she could play
the great concert pieces--Liszt's 'Rhapsodies Hongroises,' Chopin's
Ballade, Op. 47, Beethoven's Op. 111, etc.--in concert style, and she
was the wonder of the Five Towns when she visited Turnhill. But in
London she had obtained neither engagements nor pupils: she had never
believed in herself. She knew of dozens of pianists whom she deemed
more brilliant than little, pretty, modest Clara Toft; and after her
father's death and the not surprising revelation of his true financial
condition, she settled with her faded, captious mother in Turnhill as a
teacher of the pianoforte, and did nicely.

Then, when she was twenty-six, and content in provincialism, she had met
during an August holiday at Llandudno her old fellow pupil, Albert
Barbellion, who was conducting the Pier concerts. Barbellion had asked
her to play at a 'soiree musicale' which he gave one night in the
ball-room of his hotel, and she had performed Tschaikowsky's immense and
lurid Slavonic Sonata; and the unparalleled Otto, renowned throughout
the British Empire for Otto's Bohemian Autumn Nightly Concerts at Covent
Garden Theatre, had happened to hear her and that seldom played sonata
for the first time. It was a wondrous chance. Otto's large, picturesque,
extempore way of inviting her to appear at his promenade concerts
reminded her of her father.

II

In the bleak three-cornered artists'-room she could faintly hear the
descending impetuous velocities of the Ride of the Walkyries. She was
waiting in her new yellow dress, waiting painfully. Otto rushed in, a
glass in his hand.

'You all right?' he questioned sharply.

'Oh, yes,' she said, getting up from the cane-chair.

'Let me see you stand on one leg,' he said; and then, because she
hesitated: 'Go on, quick! Stand on one leg. It's a good test.' So she
stood on one leg, foolishly smiling. 'Here, drink this,' he ordered, and
she had to drink brandy-and-soda out of the glass. 'You're better now,'
he remarked; and decidedly, though her throat tingled and she coughed,
she felt equal to anything at that moment.

A stout, middle-aged woman, in a rather shabby opera cloak, entered the
room.

'Ah, Cornelia!' exclaimed Otto grandly.

'My dear Otto!' the woman responded, wrinkling her wonderfully enamelled
cheeks.

'Miss Toft, let me introduce you to Madame Lopez.' He turned to the
newcomer. 'Keep her calm for me, bright star, will you?'

Then Otto went, and Clarice was left alone with the world-famous
operatic soprano, who was advertised to sing that night the Shadow Song
from 'Dinorah.'

'Where did he pick you up, my dear?' the decayed diva inquired
maternally.

Clarice briefly explained.

'You aren't paying him anything, are you?'

'Oh, no!' said Clarice, shocked. 'But I get no fee this time----'

'Of course not, my dear,' the Lopez cut her short. 'It's all right so
long as you aren't paying him anything to let you go on. Now run along.'

Clarice's heart stopped. The call-boy, with his cockney twang, had
pronounced her name.

She moved forward, and, by dint of following the call-boy, at length
reached the stage. Applause--good-natured applause--seemed to roll
towards her from the uttermost parts of the vast auditorium. She
realized with a start that this applause was exclusively for her. She
sat down to the piano, and there ensued a death-like silence--a silence
broken only by the striking of matches and the tinkle of the embowered
fountain in front of the stage. She had a consciousness, rather than a
vision, of a floor of thousands of upturned faces below her, and tier
upon tier of faces rising above her and receding to the illimitable dark
distances of the gallery. She heard a door bang, and perceived that some
members of the orchestra were creeping quietly out at the back. Then she
plunged, dizzy, into the sonata, as into a heaving and profound sea. The
huge concert piano resounded under the onslaught of her broad hands.
When she had played ten bars she knew with an absolute conviction that
she would do justice to her talent. She could see, as it were, the
entire sonata stretched out in detail before her like a road over which
she had to travel....

At the end of the first movement the clapping enheartened her; she
smiled confidently at the conductor, who, unemployed during her number,
sat on a chair under his desk. Before recommencing she gazed boldly at
the house, and certain placards--'Smoking permitted,' 'Emergency exit,'
'Ices,' and 'Fancy Dress Balls'--were fixed for ever on the retina of
her eye. At the end of the second movement there was more applause, and
the conductor tapped appreciation with his stick against the pillar of
his desk; the leader of the listless orchestra also tapped with his
fiddle-bow and nodded. It seemed to her now that she more and more
dominated the piano, and that she rendered the great finale with
masterful and fierce assurance....

She was pleased with herself as she banged the last massive chord. And
the applause, the clapping, the hammering of sticks, astounded her,
staggered her. She might have died of happiness while she bowed and
bowed again. She ran off the stage triumphant, and the applause seemed
to assail her little figure from all quarters and overwhelm it. As she
stood waiting, concealed behind a group of palms, it suddenly occurred
to her that, after all, she had underestimated herself. She saw her rosy
future as the spoiled darling of continental capitals. The hail of
clapping persisted, and the apparition of Otto violently waved her to
return to the stage. She returned, bowed her passionate exultation with
burning face and trembling knees, and retired. The clapping continued.
Yes, she would be compelled to grant an encore--to _grant_ one. She
would grant it like a honeyed but imperious queen.

Suddenly she heard the warning tap of the conductor's baton; the
applause was hushed as though by a charm, and the orchestra broke into
the overture to 'Zampa.' She could not understand, she could not think.
As she tripped tragically to the artists'-room in her new yellow dress
she said to herself that the conductor must have made some mistake, and
that----

'Very nice, my dear,' said the Lopez kindly to her. 'You got quite a
call--quite a call.'

She waited for Otto to come and talk to her.

At length the Lopez was summoned, and Clarice followed to listen to her.
And when the Lopez had soared with strong practised flight through the
brilliant intricacy of the Shadow Song, Clarice became aware what real
applause sounded like from the stage. It shook the stage as the old
favourite of two generations, wearing her set smile, waddled back to the
debutante. Scores of voices hoarsely shouted 'Encore!' and 'Last Rose
of Summer,' and with a proud sigh the Lopez went on again, bowing.

Clarice saw nothing more of Otto, who doubtless had other birds to
snare. The next day only three daily papers mentioned the concert at
all. In fact, Otto expected press notices but once a week. All three
papers praised the matchless Lopez in her Shadow Song. One referred to
Clarice as talented; another called her well-intentioned; the third
merely said that she had played. The short dream of artistic ascendancy
lay in fragments around her. She was a sensible girl, and stamped those
iridescent fragments into dust.

III

The _Staffordshire Signal_ contained the following advertisement: 'Miss
Clara Toft, solo pianist, of the Otto Autumn Concerts, London, will
resume lessons on the 1st proximo at Liszt House, Turnhill. Terms on
application.' At thirty Clarice married James Sillitoe, the pianoforte
dealer in Market Square, Turnhill, and captious old Mrs. Toft formed
part of the new household. At thirty-four Clarice possessed a little
girl and two little boys, twins. Sillitoe was a money-maker, and she no
longer gave lessons.

Happy? Perhaps not unhappy.

* * * * *

A LETTER HOME[2]

[2] Written in 1893.

I

Rain was falling--it had fallen steadily through the night--but the sky
showed promise of fairer weather. As the first streaks of dawn appeared,
the wind died away, and the young leaves on the trees were almost
silent. The birds were insistently clamorous, vociferating times without
number that it was a healthy spring morning and good to be alive.

A little, bedraggled crowd stood before the park gates, awaiting the
hour named on the notice board when they would be admitted to such
lodging and shelter as iron seats and overspreading branches might
afford. A weary, patient-eyed, dogged crowd--a dozen men, a boy of
thirteen, and a couple of women, both past middle age--which had been
gathering slowly since five o'clock. The boy appeared to be the least
uncomfortable. His feet were bare, but he had slept well in an area in
Grosvenor Place, and was not very damp yet. The women had nodded on many
doorsteps, and were soaked. They stood apart from the men, who seemed
unconscious of their existence. The men were exactly such as one would
have expected to find there--beery and restless as to the eyes, quaintly
shod, and with nondescript greenish clothes which for the most part bore
traces of the yoke of the sandwich board. Only one amongst them was
different.

He was young, and his cap, and manner of wearing it, gave sign of the
sea. His face showed the rough outlines of his history. Yet it was a
transparently honest face, very pale, but still boyish and fresh enough
to make one wonder by what rapid descent he had reached his present
level. Perhaps the receding chin, the heavy, pouting lower lip, and the
ceaselessly twitching mouth offered a key to the problem.

'Say, Darkey!' he said.

'Well?'

'How much longer?'

'Can't ye see the clock? It's staring ye in the face.'

'No. Something queer's come over my eyes.'

Darkey was a short, sturdy man, who kept his head down and his hands
deep in his pockets. The raindrops clinging to the rim of an ancient hat
fell every now and then into his gray beard, which presented a drowned
appearance. He was a person of long and varied experiences; he knew that
queer feeling in the eyes, and his heart softened.

'Come, lean against the pillar,' he said, 'if you don't want to tumble.
Three of brandy's what you want. There's four minutes to wait yet.'

With body flattened to the masonry, legs apart, and head thrown back,
Darkey's companion felt more secure, and his mercurial spirits began to
revive. He took off his cap, and brushing back his light brown curly
hair with the hand which held it, he looked down at Darkey through
half-closed eyes, the play of his features divided between a smile and a
yawn.

He had a lively sense of humour, and the irony of his situation was not
lost on him. He took a grim, ferocious delight in calling up the
might-have-beens and the 'fatuous ineffectual yesterdays' of life. There
is a certain sardonic satisfaction to be gleaned from a frank
recognition of the fact that you are the architect of your own
misfortune. He felt that satisfaction, and laughed at Darkey, who was
one of those who moan about 'ill-luck' and 'victims of circumstance.'

'No doubt,' he would say, 'you're a very deserving fellow, Darkey, who's
been treated badly. I'm not.'

To have attained such wisdom at twenty-five is not to have lived
altogether in vain.

A park-keeper presently arrived to unlock the gates, and the band of
outcasts straggled indolently towards the nearest sheltered seats. Some
went to sleep at once, in a sitting posture. Darkey produced a clay
pipe, and, charging it with a few shreds of tobacco laboriously gathered
from his waistcoat pocket, began to smoke. He was accustomed to this
sort of thing, and with a pipe in his mouth could contrive to be
moderately philosophical upon occasion. He looked curiously at his
companion, who lay stretched at full length on another bench.

'I say, pal,' he remarked, 'I've known ye two days; ye've never told me
yer name, and I don't ask ye to. But I see ye've not slep' in a park
before.'

'You hit it, Darkey; but how?'

'Well, if the keeper catches ye lying down, he'll be on to ye. Lying

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