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THE BEST BRITISH SHORT STORIES OF 1922
EDITED BY EDWARD J. O'BRIEN AND JOHN COURNOS
TO STACY AUMONIER
BY WAY OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Grateful acknowledgement for permission to include the stories and
other material in this volume is made to the following authors,
editors, literary agents, and publishers:
To the Editor of _The Saturday Evening Post_, the Editor of _The Dial_,
the Editor of _The Freeman_, the Editor of _The English Review_, the
Editor of _The Century Magazine_, the Editor of _Harpers' Bazar_, the
Editor of _The Ladies' Home Journal_, the Editor of _The Chicago
Tribune_ Syndicate Service, Alfred A. Knopf, The Golden Cockerel Press,
B.W. Huebsch, The Talbot Press, Dodd, Mead and Co., Stacy Aumonier,
J.D. Beresford, Algernon Blackwood, Harold Brighouse, William Caine,
A.E. Coppard, Miss R.C. Lamburn, Walter de la Mare, Miss Dorothy
Easton, Miss May Edginton, John Galsworthy, Alan Graham, Holloway Horn,
Rowland Kenney, Miss Rosamond Langbridge, Mrs. Mary St. Leger Harrison,
Mrs. J. Middleton Murry, Mrs. Elinor Mordaunt, Max Pemberton, Roland
Pertwee, Miss May Sinclair, Sidney Southgate, Mrs. Geoffrey Holdsworth,
Mrs. Basil Hargrave, and Hugh Walpole; to Curtis Brown, Ltd., as agent
for Stacy Aumonier, May Edginton, Elinor Mordaunt, Roland Pertwee, and
May Sinclair; to J.B. Pinker as agent for J.D. Beresford, Walter de la
Mare, John Galsworthy, G.B. Stern, and Hugh Walpole; to A.P. Watt and
Son as agent for Algernon Blackwood and Lucas Malet; to Andrew H.
Dakers as agent for A.E. Coppard; to Cotterill and Cromb as agent for
Alan Graham; and to Christy and Moore, Ltd., as agent for Holloway
Acknowledgements are specially due to _The Boston Evening Transcript_
for permission to reprint the large body of material previously
published in its pages. We ask pardon of any one whose rights we may
have accidentally overlooked.
We shall be grateful to our readers for corrections, and particularly
for suggestions leading to the wider usefulness of this annual volume.
We shall particularly welcome the receipt from authors, editors,
agents, and publishers, of stories printed during the year beginning
July 1, 1922, which have qualities of distinction but yet are not
published in periodicals falling under our regular notice. Such
communications may be addressed to _Edward J. O'Brien, Forest Hill,
WHERE WAS WYCH STREET? By Stacy Aumonier
(From _The Strand Magazine_ and _The Saturday Evening Post_)
THE LOOKING-GLASS. By J.D. Beresford
(From _The Cornhill Magazine_)
THE OLIVE. By Algernon Blackwood
(From _Pearson's Magazine, London_)
ONCE A HERO. By Harold Brighouse
"THE PENSIONER." By William Caine
(From _The Graphic_)
BROADSHEET BALLAD. By A.E. Coppard
(From _The Dial_)
THE CHRISTMAS PRESENT. By Richmal Crompton
SEATON'S AUNT. By Walter de la Mare
(From _The London Mercury_)
THE REAPER. By Dorothy Easton
(From _The English Review_)
THE SONG. By May Edginton
(From _Lloyd's Story Magazine_)
A HEDONIST. By John Galsworthy
(From _Pears' Annual_, 1921 and _The Century Magazine_)
THE BAT AND BELFRY INN. By Alan Graham
(From _The Story-Teller_)
THE LIE. By Holloway Horn
(From _The Blue Magazine_)
A GIRL IN IT. By Rowland Kenney
(From _The New Age_)
THE BACKSTAIRS OF THE MIND. By Rosamond Langbridge
(From _The Manchester Guardian_)
THE BIRTH OF A MASTERPIECE. By Lucas Malet
(From _The Story-Teller_)
"GENIUS." By Elinor Mordaunt
(From _Hutchinson's Magazine_ and _The Century Magazine_)
THE DEVIL TO PAY. By Max Pemberton
(From _The Story-Teller_)
EMPTY ARMS. By Roland Pertwee
(From _The Ladies' Home Journal_)
LENA WRACE. By May Sinclair
(From _The Dial_)
THE DICE THROWER. By Sidney Southgate
THE STRANGER WOMAN. By G.B. Stern
(From _John o'London's Weekly_)
THE WOMAN WHO SAT STILL. By Parry Truscott
MAJOR WILBRAHAM. By Hugh Walpole
(From _The Chicago Tribune_)
THE YEARBOOK OF THE BRITISH AND IRISH SHORT STORY, JULY, 1921, TO JUNE,
Addresses of Periodicals Publishing Short Stories
The Roll of Honour
A List of Other Distinctive Stories
Articles on the Short Story in British Periodicals
Volumes of Short Stories Published in Great Britain and Ireland
When Edward J. O'Brien asked me to cooperate with him in choosing each
year's best English short stories, to be published as a companion
volume to his annual selection of the best American short stories, I
had not realized that at the end of my arduous task, which has involved
the reading of many hundreds of stories in the English magazines of an
entire year, I should find myself asking the simple question: What is a
I do not suppose that a hundred years ago such a question could have
occurred to any one. Then all that a story was and could be was implied
in the simple phrase: "Tell me a story...." We all know what that
means. How many stories published today would stand this simple if
final test of being told by word of mouth? I doubt whether fifty per
cent would. Surely the universality of the printing press and the
linotype machine have done something to alter the character of
literature, just as the train and the telephone have done not a little
to abolish polite correspondence. Most stories of today are to be read,
not told. Hence great importance must be attached to the manner of
writing; in some instances, the whole effect of a modern tale is
dependent on the manner of presentation. Henry James is, possibly, an
extreme example. Has any one ever attempted to tell a tale in the Henry
James manner by word of mouth, even when the manner pretends to be
conversational? I, for one, have yet to experience this pleasure,
though I have listened to a good many able and experienced tale-tellers
in my time.
Now, there is a great connection between the manner or method of a
writer and the matter upon which he works his manner or method. Henry
James was not an accident. Life, as he found it, was full of
trivialities and polite surfaces; and a great deal of manner--style, if
you like--is needful to give life and meaning to trivial things.
And James was, by no means, an isolated phenomenon. In Russia Chekhov
was creating an artistic significance out of the uneventful lives of
the petty bourgeoisie, whose hitherto small numbers had vastly
increased with the advent of machinery and the industrialization of the
country; as the villages became towns, the last vestiges of the
"romantic" and "heroic" elements seemed to have departed from
contemporary Russian literature. As widely divergent as the two writers
were in their choice of materials and methods of expression, they yet
met on common ground in their devotion to form, their painstaking
perfecting of their expressions; and this tense effort alone was often
enough the very life and soul of their adventure. They were like
magicians creating marvels with the flimsiest of materials; they did
not complain of the poverty of life, but as often as not created bricks
without straw. Not for them Herman Melville's dictum, to be found in
_Moby Dick_: "To produce a mighty book you must choose a mighty theme."
Roughly, then, there are two schools of creative literature, and round
them there have grown up two schools of criticism. The one maintains
that form is everything, that not only is perfect form essential, and
interesting material non-essential, but that actually interesting
material is a deterrent to perfect expression, inasmuch as material
from life, inherently imaginative, fantastic or romantic, is likely to
make an author lazy and negligent and cause him to throw his whole
dependence on objective facts rather than on his ingenuity in creating
an individual atmosphere and vibrant patterns of his own making. The
other school maintains with equal emphasis that form is not enough,
that it wants a real and exciting story, that where a man's materials
are rich and "big" the necessity for perfection is obviated; indeed,
"rough edges" are a virtue. As one English novelist tersely put it to
me: "I don't care for the carving of orange pips. All I ask of a writer
is that his stuff should be big." Undoubtedly, some people prefer a
cultivated garden, others nature in all her wildness. Nature, it is
true, may exercise no selection; unfortunately it is too often
forgotten that she is all art in the wealth and minuteness of her
It seems to me that both theories are equally fallacious. I do not see
how either can be wholly satisfying. There is no reason at all why a
story should not contain both form and matter, a form, I should say,
suited to the matter. Among the painters Vermeer is admittedly perfect;
has then Rembrandt no art? Among the writers Turgenev is perfect.
George Moore has compared his perfection to that of the Greeks; is it
then justifiable to call Dostoevsky journalese, as some have called
him? Indeed, it takes a great artist to write about great things,
though, it is true, a great artist is often pardoned for lapses in
style, where a minor artist can afford no such lapses. It was in such a
light, with the true honesty and humility of a fine artist, that
Flaubert, than whom none sought greater perfection, regarded himself
before the towering Shakespeare.
This preamble is no digression, but is quite pertinent to any
consideration of the contemporary short story, for I must admit that
however fallacious is either of the prevalent theories which I have
outlined, in practice both work out with an appalling accuracy. Of the
hundreds of stories which I have had to read the number possessing a
sense of form is relatively small, and of these only a few are rich in
content; strictly speaking, most of them stick to the facts of everyday
life, to the intimate realities of urban and suburban existence. Other
stories, and these are more numerous, possibly as a reaction and in
response to the human craving for the fairy tale, are concerned with
the most impossible adventure and fantastic unreality, Romance with the
capital R. They are often attractive in plot, able in construction,
happy in invention, and their general tendency may be to fall within
the definition of "life's little ironies"; yet, in spite of these
admirable qualifications, the majority of these stories are
unconvincing, lacking in balance, in plausibility, in that virtue which
may be defined as "the writer's imagination," whose lack is something
more than careless writing. How often one puts down a story with the
feeling that it would take little to make it a "rattling good tale,"
but alas, that little is everything. A story-teller's craft depends not
only on a sense of style, that is, form and good writing, but also on
the creation of an atmosphere, shall we say hypnotic in effect, and
capable of persuading the reader that he is a temporary inhabitant of
the world the writer is describing, however remote in time or space
that world may be from the world of the reader's own experience. And
the more enlightened and culturally emotional the reader, the greater
the power of seduction is a writer called upon to exercise. For it is
obvious that all these hundreds of crude Arabian Nights tales and
jungle tales and all sorts of tales of impossible adventure appearing
in the pages of our periodicals would not be written if they were not
in demand by the large public.
The question arises: Why is it that authors who deal with the intimate
realities of our dull, everyday life are, on the whole, so much better
as writers than those who attempt to portray the more glamorous
existence of the East, of the jungle, of, so to speak, other worlds? I
have a theory of my own to offer in explanation, and it is this:
_A_, let us say, is a writer who has stayed at home. Let us suppose
that his experience has been largely limited to London, or still more
precisely, to the East End of London. He has either lived or spent a
great deal of time here, and without having actively participated in
the lives of the natives and denizens of the district has observed them
to good purpose and saturated himself with their atmosphere. He has, in
an intimate sense, secured not only his scene, but also, either
actually or potentially, his characters. English--of a sort--is the
language of his community; and the temper of this community, except in
petty externals, is, after all, but little different from his own. He
has lost no time in either travelling or in learning another's
language, he has had a great deal of time for developing his technique.
He has, indeed, spent the greater part of his time in working out his
form. He is, as you may guess, anything but a superlative genius;
certainly, we may venture to assume that he is, at all events, a fine
talent, a careful observer, a painstaking worker, possessed of
inventive powers within limitations. He knows his genre and his milieu,
and he knows his job. He observes his people with an artistic sympathy.
He is an etcher, loving his line, rather than a photographer. Vast
mural decorations are beyond him.
Then there is _B_. _B_ is a traveller, something of an adventurer too.
His _wanderlust_, or possibly his occupation as a minor government
official, journalist, or representative for some commercial firm, has
taken him East. He has spent some time in Shanghai or Hong Kong, in
Calcutta or Rangoon, in Tokyo or Nagasaki. He has lived chiefly in the
foreign quarter and occasionally sallied out to seek adventure in the
native habitat. He has secured a smattering of the native tongue, and
has even taken unto himself a temporary native wife. A bold man, he
has, in his way, lived dangerously and intensely. He has besides heard
men of his own race living in the quarter tell weird tales of romantic
nature, perhaps of a white girl who came out East, or of a native girl
who had won the heart of an Englishman to his undoing. At last _B_ has
had enough of it, and has come home to the old country, his England,
and sits down to his new job, the exploitation of his knowledge and
experience of the East. Possibly a few friends who had listened to his
tales urged him to set them down on paper, and _B_, who had not thought
of it before, thinks it is not such a bad idea, and getting a supply of
paper and a typewriter launches forth on a career as a writer. He is
intent on turning out a good tale, and does remarkably well for a
novice, but his inexperience as a writer, his lack of form and
technique and deliberateness will hinder his progress, though now and
then he will turn out a tolerable tale by sheer accident. The really
great man will, of course, break through the double barrier, and then
you have a Conrad: that is to say, you have a man who has lived
abundantly and has been able to apply an abundance of art to his
abundance of material. But that is, indeed, rare nowadays, and the
whole moral of the little parable of _A_ and _B_ is that in our own
time it is given but to few men to do both. The one has specialized in
writing, the other in living. And the comparison may be applied, of
course, to the two writers who have stayed at home, even in the same
district. _A_ hasn't much to say, but what he says he says well,
because writing means to him something as a thing in itself; he finds
compensation in the quality of his writings for his lack of rich
material; the whole content of his art is in his form, and that, if not
wholly satisfying, is surely no mean achievement. _B_, on the other
hand, may have a great deal to say, and says it badly. He thinks his
material will carry him through. He does not understand that the
function of art is to crystallize; synthesize the materials at hand, to
distil the essences of life, to formalize natural shapes. There should
be no confusing of nature and art. A mountain is nature, a pyramid is
art. We have no man in the short story today who has synthesized his
age, who has thrown a light on the peculiar many-sided adventure of
modernity, who has achieved a sense of universality. Maupassant came
near to it in his own time. Never before have men had such
opportunities for knowing the world, never before has it been so easy
to cover space, our means of communication have never been so rapid;
yet there is an almost maddening contradiction in the fact that every
man who writes is content in describing but a single facet of the great
adventure of life. Our age is an age of specialization, and many a man
spends a life in trying to visualize for us a fragment of existence in
multitudinous variations. An Empire may be said to stand for a
universalizing tendency, yet the extraordinary fact about the mass of
English stories today is that, far from being expressive of any
tendency to unity, they are mostly concerned with presenting the
specialized atmospheres of so many individual localities and vocations.
We have writers who do not go beyond Dartmoor, or Park Lane, or the
East End of London; we have writers of sea stories, jungle stories,
detective stories, lost jewel stories, slum stories, and we have
writers who seldom stray from the cricket field or the prize ring, or
Yet, in putting on record these individual tendencies of the short
story, I should be overdrawing the picture if I did not call attention
to what general tendencies are in the ascendent. The supernatural
element is prominent among these. Stories of ghosts, spiritualism and
reincarnation are becoming increasingly popular with authors,
especially with the type I have described as _A_. This is interesting,
since it evinces a healthy desire to get away from the banal facts of
one's standardized atmosphere, the atmosphere of suburbia. It may be
both a reaction and an escape, and may express a desire for a more
spiritual life than is vouchsafed us. The love of adventure and the
love of love will, of course, remain with us as long as men live and
love a tale, and nine tenths of the stories still deal with the favored
hero and the inevitable girl.
This book is to be an annual venture and its object is the same as that
of Mr. O'Brien's annual selection of American stories. It is to gather
and save from obscurity every year those tales by English authors which
are published in English and American periodicals and are worth
preserving in permanent form. It is well known that short-story writers
in Anglo-Saxon countries have not the same chance of publishing their
wares in book form as their more fortunate colleagues, the novelists.
This prejudice against the publication of short stories in book form is
not to be justified, and it does not exist on the Continent. Most of
the fine fiction, for example, published in Russia since Chekhov made
the form popular, took precisely the form of the short story. It is a
good form and should be encouraged. It is also the object of this
volume to call attention to new writers who show promise and to help to
create a demand for their work by publishing their efforts side by side
with those already accepted and established.
It has been the custom to dedicate Mr. O'Brien's annual selection of
American stories to some author who has distinguished himself in the
particular year by his valuable contribution to the art of the short
story. We propose to adopt it with regard to our English selections. We
are glad of the opportunity to associate this year's collection with
the name of Stacy Aumonier. As for the stories selected for this
volume, that is to some degree a matter of personal judgement; it is
quite possible that other editors would, in some instances, have made a
An additional word may be added on the principles which have governed
our choice. We have set ourselves the task of disengaging the essential
human qualities in our contemporary fiction which, when chronicled
conscientiously by our literary artists, may fairly be called a
criticism of life. We are not at all interested in formulae, and
organised criticism at its best would be nothing more than dead
criticism, as all dogmatic interpretation of life is always dead. What
has interested us, to the exclusion of other things, is the fresh
living current which flows through the best British and Irish work, and
the psychological and imaginative reality which writers have conferred
No substance is of importance in fiction, unless it is organic
substance, that is to say, substance in which the pulse of life is
beating. Inorganic fiction has been our curse in the past, and bids
fair to remain so, unless we exercise much greater artistic
discrimination than we display at present.
The present record covers the period from July, 1921, to June, 1922,
inclusive. During this period we have sought to select from the stories
published in British and American periodicals those stories by British
and Irish authors which have rendered life imaginatively in organic
substance and artistic form. Substance is something achieved by the
artist in every act of creation, rather than something already present,
and accordingly a fact or a group of facts in a story only attain
substantial embodiment when the artist's power of compelling
imaginative persuasion transforms them into a living truth. The first
test of a short story, therefore, in any qualitative analysis is to
report upon how vitally compelling the writer makes his selected facts
or incidents. This test may be conveniently called the test of
But a second test is necessary if the story is to take rank above other
stories. The true artist will seek to shape this living substance into
the most beautiful and satisfying form, by skillful selection and
arrangement of his materials, and by the most direct and appealing
presentation of it in portrayal and characterization.
The short stories which we have examined in this study have fallen
naturally into three groups. The first consists of those stories which
fail, in our opinion, to survive both the test of substance and the
test of form. These we have not chronicled.
The second group includes such narratives as may lay convincing claim
to further consideration, because each of them has survived in a
measure both tests, the test of substance and the test of form. Stories
included in this group are chronicled in the list which immediately
follows the "Roll of Honour."
Finally we have recorded the names of a smaller group of stories which
possess, we believe, the distinction of uniting genuine substance and
artistic form in a closely woven pattern with such sincerity that they
are worthy of being reprinted. If all of these stories were
republished, they would not occupy more space than six or seven novels
of average length. Our selection of them does not imply the critical
belief that they are great stories. A year which produced one great
story would be an exceptional one. It is simply to be taken as meaning
that we have found the equivalent of six or seven volumes worthy of
republication among all the stories published during the period under
consideration. These stories are listed in the special "Roll of
Honour." In compiling these lists we have permitted no personal
preference or prejudice to consciously influence our judgement. The
general and particular results of our study will be found explained and
carefully detailed in the supplementary part of the volume. Mr. Cournos
has read the English periodicals, and I have read the American
periodicals. We have then compared our judgements.
EDWARD J. O'BRIEN.
THE BEST BRITISH SHORT STORIES OF 1922
NOTE--The order in which the stories in this volume are printed is not
intended as an indication of their comparative excellence; the
arrangement is alphabetical by authors.
WHERE WAS WYCH STREET?
By STACY AUMONIER
(From _The Strand Magazine_ and _The Saturday Evening Post_)
In the public bar of the Wagtail, in Wapping, four men and a woman were
drinking beer and discussing diseases. It was not a pretty subject, and
the company was certainly not a handsome one. It was a dark November
evening, and the dingy lighting of the bar seemed but to emphasize the
bleak exterior. Drifts of fog and damp from without mingled with the
smoke of shag. The sanded floor was kicked into a muddy morass not
unlike the surface of the pavement. An old lady down the street had
died from pneumonia the previous evening, and the event supplied a
fruitful topic of conversation. The things that one could get!
Everywhere were germs eager to destroy one. At any minute the symptoms
might break out. And so--one foregathered in a cheerful spot amidst
friends, and drank forgetfulness.
Prominent in this little group was Baldwin Meadows, a sallow-faced
villain with battered features and prominent cheek-bones, his face cut
and scarred by a hundred fights. Ex-seaman, ex-boxer, ex-fish-porter
--indeed, to every one's knowledge, ex-everything. No one
knew how he lived. By his side lurched an enormous coloured man who
went by the name of Harry Jones. Grinning above a tankard sat a
pimply-faced young man who was known as The Agent. Silver rings adorned
his fingers. He had no other name, and most emphatically no address,
but he "arranged things" for people, and appeared to thrive upon it in
a scrambling, fugitive manner. The other two people were Mr. and Mrs.
Dawes. Mr. Dawes was an entirely negative person, but Mrs. Dawes shone
by virtue of a high, whining, insistent voice, keyed to within half a
note of hysteria.
Then, at one point, the conversation suddenly took a peculiar turn. It
came about through Mrs. Dawes mentioning that her aunt, who died from
eating tinned lobster, used to work in a corset shop in Wych Street.
When she said that, The Agent, whose right eye appeared to survey the
ceiling, whilst his left eye looked over the other side of his tankard,
"Where was Wych Street, ma?"
"Lord!" exclaimed Mrs. Dawes. "Don't you know, dearie? You must be a
young 'un, you must. Why, when I was a gal every one knew Wych Street.
It was just down there where they built the Kingsway, like."
Baldwin Meadows cleared his throat, and said:
"Wych Street used to be a turnin' runnin' from Long Acre into
"Oh, no, old boy," chipped in Mr. Dawes, who always treated the ex-man
with great deference. "If you'll excuse me, Wych Street was a narrow
lane at the back of the old Globe Theatre, that used to pass by the
"I know what I'm talkin' about," growled Meadows. Mrs. Dawes's high
nasal whine broke in:
"Hi, Mr. Booth, you used ter know yer wye abaht. Where was Wych
Mr. Booth, the proprietor, was polishing a tap. He looked up.
"Wych Street? Yus, of course I knoo Wych Street. Used to go there with
some of the boys--when I was Covent Garden way. It was at right angles
to the Strand, just east of Wellington Street."
"No, it warn't. It were alongside the Strand, before yer come to
The coloured man took no part in the discussion, one street and one
city being alike to him, provided he could obtain the material comforts
dear to his heart; but the others carried it on with a certain amount
Before any agreement had been arrived at three other men entered the
bar. The quick eye of Meadows recognized them at once as three of what
was known at that time as "The Gallows Ring." Every member of "The
Gallows Ring" had done time, but they still carried on a lucrative
industry devoted to blackmail, intimidation, shoplifting, and some of
the clumsier recreations. Their leader, Ben Orming, had served seven
years for bashing a Chinaman down at Rotherhithe.
"The Gallows Ring" was not popular in Wapping, for the reason that many
of their depredations had been inflicted upon their own class. When
Meadows and Harry Jones took it into their heads to do a little wild
prancing they took the trouble to go up into the West-end. They
considered "The Gallows Ring" an ungentlemanly set; nevertheless, they
always treated them with a certain external deference--an unpleasant
crowd to quarrel with.
Ben Orming ordered beer for the three of them, and they leant against
the bar and whispered in sullen accents. Something had evidently
miscarried with the Ring. Mrs. Dawes continued to whine above the
general drone of the bar. Suddenly she said:
"Ben, you're a hot old devil, you are. We was just 'aving a discussion
like. Where was Wych Street?"
Ben scowled at her, and she continued:
"Some sez it was one place, some sez it was another. I _know_ where it
was, 'cors my aunt what died from blood p'ison, after eatin' tinned
lobster, used to work at a corset shop----"
"Yus," barked Ben, emphatically. "I know where Wych Street was--it was
just sarth of the river, afore yer come to Waterloo Station."
It was then that the coloured man, who up to that point had taken no
part in the discussion, thought fit to intervene.
"Nope. You's all wrong, cap'n. Wych Street were alongside de church,
way over where the Strand takes a side-line up west."
Ben turned on him fiercely.
"What the blazes does a blanketty nigger know abaht it? I've told yer
where Wych Street was."
"Yus, and I know where it was," interposed Meadows.
"Yer both wrong. Wych Street was a turning running from Long Acre into
"I didn't ask yer what _you_ thought," growled Ben.
"Well, I suppose I've a right to an opinion?"
"You always think you know everything, you do."
"You can just keep yer mouth shut."
"It 'ud take more'n you to shut it."
Mr. Booth thought it advisable at this juncture to bawl across the bar:
"Now, gentlemen, no quarrelling--please."
The affair might have been subsided at that point, but for Mrs. Dawes.
Her emotions over the death of the old lady in the street had been so
stirred that she had been, almost unconsciously, drinking too much gin.
She suddenly screamed out:
"Don't you take no lip from 'im, Mr. Medders. The dirty, thieving
devil, 'e always thinks 'e's goin' to come it over every one."
She stood up threateningly, and one of Ben's supporters gave her a
gentle push backwards. In three minutes the bar was in a complete state
of pandemonium. The three members of "The Gallows Ring" fought two men
and a woman, for Mr. Dawes merely stood in a corner and screamed out:
Mrs. Dawes stabbed the man who had pushed her through the wrist with a
hatpin. Meadows and Ben Orming closed on each other and fought savagely
with the naked fists. A lucky blow early in the encounter sent Meadows
reeling against the wall, with blood streaming down his temple. Then
the coloured man hurled a pewter tankard straight at Ben and it hit him
on the knuckles. The pain maddened him to a frenzy. His other supporter
had immediately got to grips with Harry Jones, and picked up one of the
high stools and, seizing an opportunity, brought it down crash on to
the coloured man's skull.
The whole affair was a matter of minutes. Mr. Booth was bawling out in
the street. A whistle sounded. People were running in all directions.
"Beat it! Beat it for God's sake!" called the man who had been stabbed
through the wrist. His face was very white, and he was obviously about
Ben and the other man, whose name was Toller, dashed to the door. On
the pavement there was a confused scramble. Blows were struck
indiscriminately. Two policemen appeared. One was laid _hors de combat_
by a kick on the knee-cap from Toller. The two men fled into the
darkness, followed by a hue-and-cry. Born and bred in the locality,
they took every advantage of their knowledge. They tacked through
alleys and raced down dark mews, and clambered over walls. Fortunately
for them, the people they passed, who might have tripped them up or
aided in the pursuit, merely fled indoors. The people in Wapping are
not always on the side of the pursuer. But the police held on. At last
Ben and Toller slipped through the door of an empty house in Aztec
Street barely ten yards ahead of their nearest pursuer. Blows rained on
the door, but they slipped the bolts, and then fell panting to the
floor. When Ben could speak, he said:
"If they cop us, it means swinging."
"Was the nigger done in?"
"I think so. But even if 'e wasn't, there was that other affair the
night before last. The game's up."
The ground-floor rooms were shuttered and bolted, but they knew that
the police would probably force the front door. At the back there was
no escape, only a narrow stable yard, where lanterns were already
flashing. The roof only extended thirty yards either way and the police
would probably take possession of it. They made a round of the house,
which was sketchily furnished. There was a loaf, a small piece of
mutton, and a bottle of pickles, and--the most precious
possession--three bottles of whisky. Each man drank half a glass of
neat whisky; then Ben said: "We'll be able to keep 'em quiet for a bit,
anyway," and he went and fetched an old twelve-bore gun and a case of
cartridges. Toller was opposed to this last desperate resort, but Ben
continued to murmur, "It means swinging, anyway."
And thus began the notorious siege of Aztec Street. It lasted three
days and four nights. You may remember that, on forcing a panel of the
front door, Sub-Inspector Wraithe, of the V Division, was shot through
the chest. The police then tried other methods. A hose was brought into
play without effect. Two policemen were killed and four wounded. The
military was requisitioned. The street was picketed. Snipers occupied
windows of the houses opposite. A distinguished member of the Cabinet
drove down in a motor-car, and directed operations in a top-hat. It was
the introduction of poison-gas which was the ultimate cause of the
downfall of the citadel. The body of Ben Orming was never found, but
that of Toller was discovered near the front door with a bullet through
his heart. The medical officer to the Court pronounced that the man had
been dead three days, but whether killed by a chance bullet from a
sniper or whether killed deliberately by his fellow-criminal was never
revealed. For when the end came Orming had apparently planned a final
act of venom. It was known that in the basement a considerable quantity
of petrol had been stored. The contents had probably been carefully
distributed over the most inflammable materials in the top rooms. The
fire broke out, as one witness described it, "almost like an
explosion." Orming must have perished in this. The roof blazed up, and
the sparks carried across the yard and started a stack of light timber
in the annexe of Messrs. Morrel's piano-factory. The factory and two
blocks of tenement buildings were burnt to the ground. The estimated
cost of the destruction was one hundred and eighty thousand pounds. The
casualties amounted to seven killed and fifteen wounded.
At the inquiry held under Chief Justice Pengammon various odd
interesting facts were revealed. Mr. Lowes-Parlby, the brilliant young
K.C., distinguished himself by his searching cross-examination of many
witnesses. At one point a certain Mrs. Dawes was put in the box.
"Now," said Mr. Lowes-Parlby, "I understand that on the evening in
question, Mrs. Dawes, you, and the victims, and these other people who
have been mentioned, were all seated in the public bar of the Wagtail,
enjoying its no doubt excellent hospitality and indulging in a friendly
discussion. Is that so?"
"Now, will you tell his lordship what you were discussing?"
"Diseases! And did the argument become acrimonious?"
"Was there a serious dispute about diseases?"
"Well, what was the subject of the dispute?"
"We was arguin' as to where Wych Street was, sir."
"What's that?" said his lordship.
"The witness states, my lord, that they were arguing as to where Wych
"Wych Street? Do you mean W-Y-C-H?"
"You mean the narrow old street that used to run across the site of
what is now the Gaiety Theatre?"
Mr. Lowes-Parlby smiled in his most charming manner.
"Yes, my lord, I believe the witness refers to the same street you
mention, though, if I may be allowed to qualify your lordship's
description of the locality, may I suggest that it was a little further
east--at the side of the old Globe Theatre, which was adjacent to St.
Martin's in the Strand? That is the street you were all arguing about,
isn't it, Mrs. Dawes?"
"Well, sir, my aunt who died from eating tinned lobster used to work at
a corset-shop. I ought to know."
His lordship ignored the witness. He turned to the counsel rather
"Mr. Lowes-Parlby, when I was your age I used to pass through Wych
Street every day of my life. I did so for nearly twelve years. I think
it hardly necessary for you to contradict me."
The counsel bowed. It was not his place to dispute with a chief
justice, although that chief justice be a hopeless old fool; but
another eminent K.C., an elderly man with a tawny beard, rose in the
body of the court, and said:
"If I may be allowed to interpose, your lordship, I also spent a great
deal of my youth passing through Wych Street. I have gone into the
matter, comparing past and present ordnance survey maps. If I am not
mistaken, the street the witness was referring to began near the
hoarding at the entrance to Kingsway and ended at the back of what is
now the Aldwych Theatre."
"Oh, no, Mr. Backer!" exclaimed Lowes-Parlby.
His lordship removed his glasses and snapped out:
"The matter is entirely irrelevant to the case."
It certainly was, but the brief passage-of-arms left an unpleasant tang
of bitterness behind. It was observed that Mr. Lowes-Parlby never again
quite got the prehensile grip upon his cross-examination that he had
shown in his treatment of the earlier witnesses. The coloured man,
Harry Jones, had died in hospital, but Mr. Booth, the proprietor of the
Wagtail, Baldwin Meadows, Mr. Dawes, and the man who was stabbed in the
wrist, all gave evidence of a rather nugatory character. Lowes-Parlby
could do nothing with it. The findings of this Special Inquiry do not
concern us. It is sufficient to say that the witnesses already
mentioned all returned to Wapping. The man who had received the thrust
of a hatpin through his wrist did not think it advisable to take any
action against Mrs. Dawes. He was pleasantly relieved to find that he
was only required as a witness of an abortive discussion.
* * * * *
In a few weeks' time the great Aztec Street siege remained only a
romantic memory to the majority of Londoners. To Lowes-Parlby the
little dispute with Chief Justice Pengammon rankled unreasonably. It is
annoying to be publicly snubbed for making a statement which you know
to be absolutely true, and which you have even taken pains to verify.
And Lowes-Parlby was a young man accustomed to score. He made a point
of looking everything up, of being prepared for an adversary
thoroughly. He liked to give the appearance of knowing everything. The
brilliant career just ahead of him at times dazzled him. He was one of
the darlings of the gods. Everything came to Lowes-Parlby. His father
had distinguished himself at the bar before him, and had amassed a
modest fortune. He was an only son. At Oxford he had carried off every
possible degree. He was already being spoken of for very high political
honours. But the most sparkling jewel in the crown of his successes was
Lady Adela Charters, the daughter of Lord Vermeer, the Minister for
Foreign Affairs. She was his _fiancee_, and it was considered the most
brilliant match of the season. She was young and almost pretty, and
Lord Vermeer was immensely wealthy and one of the most influential men
in Great Britain. Such a combination was irresistible. There seemed to
be nothing missing in the life of Francis Lowes-Parlby, K.C.
One of the most regular and absorbed spectators at the Aztec Street
inquiry was old Stephen Garrit. Stephen Garrit held a unique but quite
inconspicuous position in the legal world at that time. He was a friend
of judges, a specialist at various abstruse legal rulings, a man of
remarkable memory, and yet--an amateur. He had never taken sick, never
eaten the requisite dinners, never passed an examination in his life;
but the law of evidence was meat and drink to him. He passed his life
in the Temple, where he had chambers. Some of the most eminent counsel
in the world would take his opinion, or come to him for advice. He was
very old, very silent, and very absorbed. He attended every meeting of
the Aztec Street inquiry, but from beginning to end he never
volunteered an opinion.
After the inquiry was over he went and visited an old friend at the
London Survey Office. He spent two mornings examining maps. After that
he spent two mornings pottering about the Strand, Kingsway, and
Aldwych; then he worked out some careful calculations on a ruled chart.
He entered the particulars in a little book which he kept for purposes
of that kind, and then retired to his chambers to study other matters.
But before doing so, he entered a little apophthegm in another book. It
was apparently a book in which he intended to compile a summary of his
legal experiences. The sentence ran:
"The basic trouble is that people make statements without sufficient
Old Stephen need not have appeared in this story at all, except for the
fact that he was present at the dinner at Lord Vermeer's, where a
rather deplorable incident occurred. And you must acknowledge that in
the circumstances it is useful to have such a valuable and efficient
Lord Vermeer was a competent, forceful man, a little quick-tempered and
autocratic. He came from Lancashire, and before entering politics had
made an enormous fortune out of borax, artificial manure, and starch.
It was a small dinner-party, with a motive behind it. His principal
guest was Mr. Sandeman, the London agent of the Ameer of Bakkan. Lord
Vermeer was very anxious to impress Mr. Sandeman and to be very
friendly with him: the reasons will appear later. Mr. Sandeman was a
self-confessed cosmopolitan. He spoke seven languages and professed to
be equally at home in any capital in Europe. London had been his
headquarters for over twenty years. Lord Vermeer also invited Mr.
Arthur Toombs, a colleague in the Cabinet, his prospective son-in-law,
Lowes-Parlby, K.C., James Trolley, a very tame Socialist M.P., and Sir
Henry and Lady Breyd, the two latter being invited, not because Sir
Henry was of any use, but because Lady Breyd was a pretty and brilliant
woman who might amuse his principal guest. The sixth guest was Stephen
The dinner was a great success. When the succession of courses
eventually came to a stop, and the ladies had retired, Lord Vermeer
conducted his male guests into another room for a ten minutes' smoke
before rejoining them. It was then that the unfortunate incident
occurred. There was no love lost between Lowes-Parlby and Mr. Sandeman.
It is difficult to ascribe the real reason of their mutual animosity,
but on the several occasions when they had met there had invariably
passed a certain sardonic by-play. They were both clever, both
comparatively young, each a little suspect and jealous of the other;
moreover, it was said in some quarters that Mr. Sandeman had had
intentions himself with regard to Lord Vermeer's daughter, that he had
been on the point of a proposal when Lowes-Parlby had butted in and
forestalled him. Mr. Sandeman had dined well, and he was in the mood to
dazzle with a display of his varied knowledge and experiences. The
conversation drifted from a discussion of the rival claims of great
cities to the slow, inevitable removal of old landmarks. There had been
a slightly acrimonious disagreement between Lowes-Parlby and Mr.
Sandeman as to the claims of Budapest and Lisbon, and Mr. Sandeman had
scored because he extracted from his rival a confession that, though he
had spent two months in Budapest, he had only spent two days in Lisbon.
Mr. Sandeman had lived for four years in either city. Lowes-Parlby
changed the subject abruptly.
"Talking of landmarks," he said, "we had a queer point arise in that
Aztec Street inquiry. The original dispute arose owing to a discussion
between a crowd of people in a pub as to where Wych Street was."
"I remember," said Lord Vermeer. "A perfectly absurd discussion. Why, I
should have thought that any man over forty would remember exactly
where it was."
"Where would you say it was, sir?" asked Lowes-Parlby.
"Why to be sure, it ran from the corner of Chancery Lane and ended at
the second turning after the Law Courts, going west."
Lowes-Parlby was about to reply, when Mr. Sandeman cleared his throat
and said, in his supercilious, oily voice:
"Excuse me, my lord. I know my Paris, and Vienna, and Lisbon, every
brick and stone, but I look upon London as my home. I know my London
even better. I have a perfectly clear recollection of Wych Street. When
I was a student I used to visit there to buy books. It ran parallel to
New Oxford Street on the south side, just between it and Lincoln's Inn
There was something about this assertion that infuriated Lowes-Parlby.
In the first place, it was so hopelessly wrong and so insufferably
asserted. In the second place, he was already smarting under the
indignity of being shown up about Lisbon. And then there suddenly
flashed through his mind the wretched incident when he had been
publicly snubbed by Justice Pengammon about the very same point; and he
knew that he was right each time. Damn Wych Street! He turned on Mr.
"Oh, nonsense! You may know something about these--eastern cities; you
certainly know nothing about London if you make a statement like that.
Wych Street was a little further east of what is now the Gaiety
Theatre. It used to run by the side of the old Globe Theatre, parallel
to the Strand."
The dark moustache of Mr. Sandeman shot upwards, revealing a narrow
line of yellow teeth. He uttered a sound that was a mingling of
contempt and derision; then he drawled out:
"Really? How wonderful--to have such comprehensive knowledge!"
He laughed, and his small eyes fixed his rival. Lowes-Parlby flushed a
deep red. He gulped down half a glass of port and muttered just above a
whisper: "Damned impudence!" Then, in the rudest manner he could
display, he turned his back deliberately on Sandeman and walked out of
* * * * *
In the company of Adela he tried to forget the little contretemps. The
whole thing was so absurd--so utterly undignified. As though _he_
didn't know! It was the little accumulation of pin-pricks all arising
out of that one argument. The result had suddenly goaded him to--well,
being rude, to say the least of it. It wasn't that Sandeman mattered.
To the devil with Sandeman! But what would his future father-in-law
think? He had never before given way to any show of ill-temper before
him. He forced himself into a mood of rather fatuous jocularity. Adela
was at her best in those moods. They would have lots of fun together in
the days to come. Her almost pretty, not too clever face was dimpled
with kittenish glee. Life was a tremendous rag to her. They were
expecting Toccata, the famous opera-singer. She had been engaged at a
very high fee to come on from Covent Garden. Mr. Sandeman was very fond
of music. Adela was laughing, and discussing which was the most
honourable position for the great Sandeman to occupy. There came to
Lowes-Parlby a sudden abrupt misgiving. What sort of wife would this be
to him when they were not just fooling? He immediately dismissed the
curious, furtive little stab of doubt. The splendid proportions of the
room calmed his senses. A huge bowl of dark red roses quickened his
perceptions. His career.... The door opened. But it was not La Toccata.
It was one of the household flunkies. Lowes-Parlby turned again to his
"Excuse me, sir. His lordship says will you kindly go and see him in
Lowes-Parlby regarded the messenger, and his heart beat quickly. An
uncontrollable presage of evil racked his nerve-centres. Something had
gone wrong; and yet the whole thing was so absurd, trivial. In a
crisis--well, he could always apologize. He smiled confidently at
Adela, and said:
"Why, of course; with pleasure. Please excuse me, dear." He followed
the impressive servant out of the room. His foot had barely touched the
carpet of the library when he realized that his worst apprehensions
were to be plumbed to the depths. For a moment he thought Lord Vermeer
was alone, then he observed old Stephen Garrit, lying in an easy-chair
in the corner like a piece of crumpled parchment. Lord Vermeer did not
beat about the bush. When the door was closed, he bawled out, savagely:
"What the devil have you done?"
"Excuse me, sir. I'm afraid I don't understand. Is it Sandeman--?"
"Sandeman has gone."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Sorry! By God, I should think you might be sorry! You insulted him. My
prospective son-in-law insulted him in my own house!"
"I'm awfully sorry. I didn't realize--"
"Realize! Sit down, and don't assume for one moment that you continue
to be my prospective son-in-law. Your insult was a most intolerable
piece of effrontery, not only to him, but to me."
"Listen to me. Do you know that the government were on the verge of
concluding a most far-reaching treaty with that man? Do you know that
the position was just touch-and-go? The concessions we were prepared to
make would have cost the State thirty million pounds, and it would have
been cheap. Do you hear that? It would have been cheap! Bakkan is one
of the most vulnerable outposts of the Empire. It is a terrible
danger-zone. If certain powers can usurp our authority--and, mark you,
the whole blamed place is already riddled with this new pernicious
doctrine--you know what I mean--before we know where we are the whole
East will be in a blaze. India! My God! This contract we were
negotiating would have countered this outward thrust. And you, you
blockhead, you come here and insult the man upon whose word the whole
"I really can't see, sir, how I should know all this."
"You can't see it! But, you fool, you seemed to go out of your way. You
insulted him about the merest quibble--in my house!"
"He said he knew where Wych Street was. He was quite wrong. I corrected
"Wych Street! Wych Street be damned! If he said Wych Street was in the
moon, you should have agreed with him. There was no call to act in the
way you did. And you--you think of going into politics!"
The somewhat cynical inference of this remark went unnoticed.
Lowes-Parlby was too unnerved. He mumbled:
"I'm very sorry."
"I don't want your sorrow. I want something more practical."
"What's that, sir?"
"You will drive straight to Mr. Sandeman's, find him, and apologize.
Tell him you find that he was right about Wych Street after all. If you
can't find him to-night, you must find him to-morrow morning. I give
you till midday to-morrow. If by that time you have not offered a
handsome apology to Mr. Sandeman, you do not enter this house again,
you do not see my daughter again. Moreover, all the power I possess
will be devoted to hounding you out of that profession you have
dishonoured. Now you can go."
Dazed and shaken, Lowes-Parlby drove back to his flat at Knightsbridge.
Before acting he must have time to think. Lord Vermeer had given him
till to-morrow midday. Any apologizing that was done should be done
after a night's reflection. The fundamental purposes of his being were
to be tested. He knew that. He was at a great crossing. Some deep
instinct within him was grossly outraged. Is it that a point comes when
success demands that a man shall sell his soul? It was all so absurdly
trivial--a mere argument about the position of a street that had ceased
to exist. As Lord Vermeer said, what did it matter about Wych Street?
Of course he should apologize. It would hurt horribly to do so, but
would a man sacrifice everything on account of some footling argument
about a street?
In his own rooms, Lowes-Parlby put on a dressing-gown, and, lighting a
pipe, he sat before the fire. He would have given anything for
companionship at such a moment--the right companionship. How lovely it
would be to have--a woman, just the right woman, to talk this all over
with; some one who understood and sympathized. A sudden vision came to
him of Adela's face grinning about the prospective visit of La Toccata,
and again the low voice of misgiving whispered in his ears. Would Adela
be--just the right woman? In very truth, did he really love Adela? Or
was it all--a rag? Was life a rag--a game played by lawyers,
politicians, and people?
The fire burned low, but still he continued to sit thinking, his mind
principally occupied with the dazzling visions of the future. It was
past midnight when he suddenly muttered a low "Damn!" and walked to the
bureau. He took up a pen and wrote:
"_Dear Mr. Sandeman_,--I must apologize for acting so rudely to you
last night. It was quite unpardonable of me, especially as I since
find, on going into the matter, that you were quite right about the
position of Wych Street. I can't think how I made the mistake. Please
Having written this, he sighed and went to bed. One might have imagined
at that point that the matter was finished. But there are certain
little greedy demons of conscience that require a lot of stilling, and
they kept Lowes-Parlby awake more than half the night. He kept on
repeating to himself, "It's all positively absurd!" But the little
greedy demons pranced around the bed, and they began to group things
into two definite issues. On the one side, the great appearances; on
the other, something at the back of it all, something deep,
fundamental, something that could only be expressed by one word--truth.
If he had _really_ loved Adela--if he weren't so absolutely certain
that Sandeman was wrong and he was right--why should he have to say
that Wych Street was where it wasn't? "Isn't there, after all," said
one of the little demons, "something which makes for greater happiness
than success? Confess this, and we'll let you sleep."
Perhaps that is one of the most potent weapons the little demons
possess. However full our lives may be, we ever long for moments of
tranquillity. And conscience holds before our eyes some mirror of an
ultimate tranquillity. Lowes-Parlby was certainly not himself. The gay,
debonair, and brilliant egoist was tortured, and tortured almost beyond
control; and it had all apparently risen through the ridiculous
discussion about a street. At a quarter past three in the morning he
arose from his bed with a groan, and, going into the other room, he
tore the letter to Mr. Sandeman to pieces.
Three weeks later old Stephen Garrit was lunching with the Lord Chief
Justice. They were old friends, and they never found it incumbent to be
very conversational. The lunch was an excellent, but frugal, meal. They
both ate slowly and thoughtfully, and their drink was water. It was not
till they reached the dessert stage that his lordship indulged in any
very informative comment, and then he recounted to Stephen the details
of a recent case in which he considered that the presiding judge had,
by an unprecedented paralogy, misinterpreted the law of evidence.
Stephen listened with absorbed attention. He took two cob-nuts from the
silver dish, and turned them over meditatively, without cracking them.
When his lordship had completely stated his opinion and peeled a pear,
"I have been impressed, very impressed indeed. Even in my own field
of--limited observation--the opinion of an outsider, you may say--so
often it happens--the trouble caused by an affirmation without
sufficiently established data. I have seen lives lost, ruin brought
about, endless suffering. Only last week, a young man--a brilliant
career--almost shattered. People make statements without--"
He put the nuts back on the dish, and then, in an apparently irrelevant
manner, he said abruptly:
"Do you remember Wych Street, my lord?"
The Lord Chief justice grunted.
"Wych Street! Of course I do."
"Where would you say it was, my lord?"
"Why, here, of course."
His lordship took a pencil from his pocket and sketched a plan on the
"It used to run from there to here."
Stephen adjusted his glasses and carefully examined the plan. He took a
long time to do this, and when he had finished his hand instinctively
went towards a breast pocket where he kept a note-book with little
squared pages. Then he stopped and sighed. After all, why argue with
the law? The law was like that--an excellent thing, not infallible, of
course (even the plan of the Lord Chief justice was a quarter of a mile
out), but still an excellent, a wonderful thing. He examined the bony
knuckles of his hands and yawned slightly.
"Do you remember it?" said the Lord Chief justice.
Stephen nodded sagely, and his voice seemed to come from a long way
"Yes, I remember it, my lord. It was a melancholy little street."
THE LOOKING GLASS
By J.D. BERESFORD
(From _The Cornhill Magazine_)
This was the first communication that had come from her aunt in
"I think your aunt has forgiven me, at last," her father said as he
passed the letter across the table.
Rachel looked first at the signature. It seemed strange to see her own
name there. It was as if her individuality, her very identity, was
impugned by the fact that there should be two Rachel Deanes. Moreover
there was a likeness between her aunt's autograph and her own, a
characteristic turn in the looping of the letters, a hint of the same
decisiveness and precision. If Rachel had been educated fifty years
earlier, she might have written her name in just that manner.
"You're very like her in some ways," her father said, as she still
stared at the signature.
Rachel's eyelids drooped and her expression indicated a faint,
suppressed intolerance of her father's remark. He said the same things
so often, and in so precisely the same tone, that she had formed a
habit of automatically rejecting the truth of certain of his
statements. He had always appeared to her as senile. He had been over
fifty when she was born, and ever since she could remember she had
doubted the correctness of his information. She was, she had often told
herself, "a born sceptic; an ultra-modern." She had a certain
veneration for the more distant past, but none for her father's period.
"Victorianism" was to her a term of abuse. She had long since condemned
alike the ethic and the aesthetic of the nineteenth century as
represented by her father's opinions; so, that, even now, when his
familiar comment coincided so queerly with her own thought, she
instinctively disbelieved him. Yet, as always, she was gentle in her
answer. She condescended from the heights of her youth and vigour to
"I should think you must almost have forgotten what Aunt Rachel was
like, dear," she said. "How many years is it since you've seen her?"
"More than forty; more than forty," her father said, ruminating
profoundly. "We disagreed, we invariably disagreed. Rachel always
prided herself on being so modern. She read Huxley and Darwin and
things like that. Altogether beyond me, I admit. Still, it seems to me
that the old truths have endured, and will--in spite of all--in spite
Rachel straightened her shoulders and lifted her head; there was
disdain in her face, but none in her voice as she replied:
"And so it seems that she wants to see me."
She was excited at the thought of meeting this traditional, this almost
mythical aunt whom she had so often heard about. Sometimes she had
wondered if the personality of this remarkable relative had not been a
figment of her father's imagination, long pondered, and reconstructed
out of half-forgotten material. But this letter of hers that now lay on
the breakfast table was admirable in character. There was something of
condescension and intolerance expressed in the very restraint of its
tone. She had written a kindly letter, but the kindliness had an air of
pity. It was all consistent enough with what her father had told her.
Mr. Deane came out of his reminiscences with a sigh.
"Yes, yes; she wants to see you, my dear," he said. "I think you had
better accept this invitation to stay with her. She--she is rich,
almost wealthy; and I, as you know, have practically nothing to leave
you--practically nothing. If she took a fancy to you...."
He sighed again, and Rachel knew that for the hundredth time he was
regretting his own past weakness. He had been so foolish in money
matters, frittering away his once considerable capital in aimless
speculations. He and his sister had shared equally under their father's
will, but while he had been at last compelled to sink the greater part
of what was left to him in an annuity, she had probably increased her
"I'll certainly go, if you can spare me for a whole fortnight," Rachel
said. "I'm all curiosity to see this remarkable aunt. By the way, how
old is she?"
"There were only fifteen months between us," Mr. Deane said, "so she
must be,--dear me, yes;--she must be seventy-three. Dear, dear. Fancy
Rachel being seventy-three! I always think of her as being about your
age. It seems so absurd to think of her as _old_...."
He continued his reflections, but Rachel was not listening. He was
asking for the understanding of the young; quite unaware of his
senility, reaching out over half a century to try to touch the
comprehension and sympathy of his daughter. But she was already bent on
her own adventure, looking forward eagerly to a visit to London that
promised delights other than the inspection of the mysterious,
traditional aunt whom she had so long known by report.
For this invitation had come very aptly. Rachel pondered that, later in
the morning, with a glow of ecstatic resignation to her charming fate.
She found the guiding hand of a romantic inevitability in the fact that
she and Adrian Flemming were to meet so soon. It had seemed so unlikely
that they would see each other again for many months. They had only met
three times; but they _knew_, although their friendship had been too
green for either of them to admit the knowledge before he had gone back
to town. He had, indeed, hinted far more in his two letters than he had
ever dared to say. He was sensitive, he lacked self-confidence; but
Rachel adored him for just those failings she criticised so hardly in
her father. She took out her letters and re-read them, thrilling with
the realisation that in her answer she would have such a perfectly
amazing surprise for him. She would refer to it quite casually,
somewhere near the end. She would write: "By the way, it's just
possible that we may meet again before long as I am going to stay with
my aunt, Miss Deane, in Tavistock Square." He would understand all that
lay behind such an apparently careless reference, for she had told him
that she "never went to London," had only once in her life ever been
She was in her own room, and she stood, now, before the cheval glass
and studied herself; raising her chin and slightly pursing her lips,
staring superciliously at her own image under half-lowered eyelids.
Candidly, she admired herself; but she could not help that assumption
of a disdainful criticism. It seemed to give her confidence in her own
integrity; hiding that annoying shadow of doubt which sometimes fell
upon her when she caught sight of her reflection by chance and
But no thought of doubt flawed her satisfaction this morning. A sense
of power came to her, a tranquil realisation that she could charm
Adrian as she would. With a graceful, habitual gesture she put up her
hand and lightly touched her cheek with a soft, caressing movement of
The elderly parlour-maid showed Rachel straight to her bedroom when she
arrived at Tavistock Square, indicating on the way the extensive-looking
first-floor drawing-room, in which tea and her first sight of the
wonderful aunt would await Rachel in half an hour. She had been
eager and excited. The air and promise of London had thrilled her,
but she found some influence in the atmosphere of the big house that
was vaguely repellent, almost sinister.
Her bedroom was expensively furnished and beautifully kept; some of the
pieces were, she supposed, genuine antiques, perhaps immensely
valuable. But how could she ever feel at home there? She was hampered
by the necessity for moving circumspectly among this aged delicate
stuff; so wonderfully preserved and yet surely fragile and decrepit at
the heart. That spindling escritoire, for instance, and that mincing
Louis Quinze settee, ought to be taking their well-earned leisure in
some museum. It would be indecent to write at the one or sit on the
other. They were relics of the past, foolishly pretending an ability
for service when their life had been sapped by dry-rot and their
original functions outlived.
"Well, if ever I have a house of my own," Rachel thought regarding
these ancient splendours, "I'll furnish it with something I shan't be
With a gesture of dismissal she turned and looked out of the window.
From the square came the sounds of a motor drawing up at a neighbouring
house; she heard the throbbing of the engine, the slam of the door, and
then the strong, sonorous tones of a man's voice. That was her proper
_milieu_, she reflected, among the strong vital things. Even after
twenty minutes in that bedroom she had begun to feel enervated, as if
she herself were also beginning to suffer from dry-rot....
She was anxious and uneasy as she went slowly downstairs to the
drawing-room. Her anticipations of this meeting with her intimidating,
wealthy aunt had changed within the last half-hour. Her first idea of
Miss Deane had been of a robust, stout woman, frank in her speech and
inclined to be very critical of the newly found niece whom she had
chosen to inspect. Now, she was prepared rather to expect a fragile,
rather querulous old lady, older even than her years; an aunt to be
talked to in a lowered voice and treated with the same delicate care
that must be extended to her furniture.
Rachel paused with her hand on the drawing-room door, and sighed at the
thought of all the repressions and nervous strains that this visit
might have in store for her.
She entered the room almost on tiptoe, and then stood stock-still,
suddenly shocked and bewildered with surprise. Whatever she had
expected, it was not this. For a moment she was unable to believe that
the sprightly, painted and bedizened figure before her could possibly
be that of her aunt. Her head was crowned with an exuberant brown wig,
her heavy eyebrows were grotesquely blackened, her hollow cheeks stiff
with powder, her lips brightened to a fantastic scarlet. And she was
posed there, standing before the tea-table with her head a little back,
looking at her niece with a tolerant condescension, with the air of a
superb young beauty, self-conscious and proud of her charms.
"Hm! So you're my semi-mythical niece," she said, putting up her
lorgnette. "I'm glad at any rate to find that you're not, after all, a
fabulous creature." She spoke in a high, rather thin voice that
produced an effect of effort, as if she were playing on the top octave
of a flute.
Rachel had never in her life felt so gauche and awkward.
"Yes--I--you know, aunt, I had begun to wonder if you were not
fabulous, too," she tried, desperately anxious to seem at ease. She was
afraid to look at that, to her, grotesque figure, afraid to show by
some unconscious reflex her dislike for its ugliness. As she took the
bony, ring-bedecked hand that was held out to her, she kept her eyes
away from her aunt's face.
Miss Deane, however, would not permit that evasion.
"Hold your head up, my dear, I want to look at you," she said, and when
Rachel reluctantly obeyed, continued, "Yes, you're more like my father
than your own, which means that you're like me, for I took after him,
too, so every one said."
Rachel drew in her breath with a little gasp. Was it possible that her
aunt could imagine for one instant that there was any likeness between
"Our--our names are the same," she said nervously.
Miss Deane nodded. "There's more in it than that," she said with a
touch of complacence; "and there's no reason why there shouldn't be.
It's good Mendelism that you should take after an aunt rather than
either of your parents."
"And you really think that we are alike?" Rachel asked feebly, looking
in vain for any sign of a quizzical humour in her aunt's face.
Miss Deane looked down under her half-lowered eyelids with a proud air
of tolerance. "Ah, well, a little without doubt," she said, as though
the advantages of the difference were on her own side. "Now sit down
and have your tea, my dear."
Rachel obeyed with a vague wonder in her mind as to why that look of
tolerance should be so familiar. It seemed to her as if it was
something she had felt rather than seen; and as tea progressed she
found herself half furtively studying the raddled ugliness of her
aunt's face in the search for possible relics of a beautiful youth.
"Ah, I think you're beginning to see it, too," Miss Deane said, marking
her niece's scrutiny. "It grows on one, doesn't it?"
Rachel shivered slightly. "Yes, it does," she said experimentally,
watching her aunt's face for some indication of a malicious teasing
humour. It seemed to her so incredible that this hideous parody of her
own youth could honestly believe that any physical likeness _still_
Miss Deane, however, was faintly simpering. "I have been told that I've
changed very little," she said; and Rachel suppressed a sigh of
impatience at the reflection that she was expected to play up to this
"Of course, I can't judge of that," she said, "as we met for the first
time five minutes ago."
"No, no, you can't judge of _that_," her aunt replied, with the
half-bashful emphasis of one who awaits a compliment.
Rachel decided to plunge. "But you do look extraordinarily young for
your age still," she lied desperately.
Miss Deane straightened her back and toyed with a teaspoon. "I have
always taken great care of myself," she said.
Unquestionably she believed it, Rachel decided. This was no pose, but a
horrible piece of self-deception. This raddled, repulsive creature had
actually persuaded herself into the delusion that she still had the
appearance of a young girl. Heaven help her if that delusion were ever
Yet outside this one obsession Miss Deane, as Rachel soon discovered,
had a clear and well-balanced mind. For, now that she had received her
desired assurance from this new quarter, she began to talk of other
things. Her boasted "modernism," it is true, had a smack of the stiff,
broadcloth savour of the eighties, but she had a point of view that
coincided far more nearly with Rachel's own than did that of her
father. Her aunt, at least, had outlived the worst superstitions and
inanities of the mid-Victorians.
Indeed, by the time tea was finished Rachel's spirits were beginning to
revive. She would have to be very careful in her treatment of her aunt,
but on the whole it would not perhaps be so bad; and presently she
would see Adrian again. She would almost certainly get a letter from
him by the last post, making some appointment to meet her, and after
that she would introduce him to Miss Deane. She had a feeling that Miss
Deane would not raise any objection; that she might even welcome the
visit of a young man to her house.
The time was passing so easily that Rachel was surprised when she heard
the gong sound.
"Does that mean it's time to dress already?" she asked.
Miss Deane nodded. "You've an hour before dinner," she said, "but I'll
go up now. I like to be leisurely over my toilet."
She rose as she spoke, but as she crossed the room, she paused with
what seemed to be a little jerk of surprise as she caught sight of her
own reflection in a tall mirror above one of the gilt-legged console
tables against the wall. Then she deliberately stopped, turned and
surveyed herself, half contemptuously, under lowered eyelids, with a
set of her head and back that belied plainly enough the pout of her
critical lips. And having admired that haggard image, she lifted her
wasted hand and delicately touched her whitened, hollow cheeks with the
tips of her heavily jewelled fingers.
Rachel stared in horror. It seemed to her just then as if the
reflection of her aunt in the mirror was indeed that of herself grown
instantly and mysteriously old. For now, whether because the reversal
of the image by the mirror or because of that perfect duplication of
her own characteristic pose and gesture, the likeness had flashed out
clear and unmistakable. She saw that her father had been right. Once,
incalculable ages ago, this repulsive old woman might have been very
She slipped quickly out of the room and ran upstairs. She felt that she
must instantly put that question to the test; search herself for the
signs of coming age as she had so recently searched her aunt's face for
the indications of her former youth.
But when, with an effect of challenge, she scrutinised her reflection
in the tall cheval glass, the likeness appeared to have vanished. She
saw her head thrust a little forward, her arms stiff, and in her whole
pose an air of vigorous defiance. She was prepared to admit that she
was ugly at that moment, if the ugliness was of another kind than that
she had seen downstairs. No! She drew herself up, more than a little
relieved by the result of her test. The likeness was all a fancy, the
result of suggestions, first by her father and then by Miss Deane
herself. And she need at least have no fear that she was ugly. Why....
She paused suddenly, and the light died out of her face. Her image was
looking back at her stiffly, superciliously, with, so it seemed to her,
the contemptible simper of one who still fatuously admires the thing
that has long since lost its charm. She caught her breath and clenched
her hands, drawing down her rather heavy eyebrows in an expression of
angry scorn. "Oh! never, never, never again, will I look at myself like
that," Rachel vowed fiercely.
She was to find, however, before this first evening was over, that the
mere avoidance of that one pose before the mirror would not suffice to
lay the ghost of the suspicion that was beginning to haunt her.
At the very outset a new version of the likeness was presented to her
when, during the first course of dinner, Miss Deane, with a lowering
frown of her blackened eyebrows, found occasion to reprimand the
elderly parlour-maid. For a moment Rachel was again puzzled by the
intriguing sense of the familiar, before she remembered her own scowl
at the looking-glass an hour before. "Do I really frown like that?" she
thought. And on the instant found herself _feeling_ like her aunt.
That, indeed, was the horror that, despite every effort of resistance,
deepened steadily as the evening wore on. Miss Deane had, without
question, lost every trace of her beauty; but her character, her spirit
was unchanged, and it was, so Rachel increasingly believed, the very
spit and replica of her own.
They had the same characteristic gestures and expressions; the look of
kindly tolerance with which her aunt regarded Rachel was precisely the
same as that with which Rachel regarded her father. When her aunt's
voice dropped in speaking from the rather shrill, strained tone that
was obviously not natural to her, Rachel heard the inflexions of her
own voice. And as her knowledge of Miss Deane grew, so, also, did that
haunting unpleasant feeling of looking and speaking in precisely the
same manner. It seemed to her as if she were being invaded by an alien
personality; as if the character she had known and cherished all her
life were no longer her own, but merely a casual inheritance from some
unknown ancestor. Her very integrity was threatened by her
consciousness of that likeness, her pride of individuality. She was
not, after all, a unique personality, but merely another version--if
she were even that?--of a Miss Rachel Deane born in the middle of the
Moreover, with that growing recognition of likeness in character, there
came the thought that she in time might look even as her aunt looked at
this present moment. She also would lose her beauty, until no facial
resemblance could be traced between the hag she was and the beauty she
had once been. For, through all her torment, Rachel proudly clung to
the certainty that, physically at least, there was no sort of likeness
between her aunt and herself.
Miss Deane's belief in that matter, however, was soon proved to be
otherwise; for when they were alone together in the drawing-room after
dinner, and the topic so inevitably present to both their minds came to
the surface of conversation, she unexpectedly said: "But we're
evidently the poles apart in character and manner, my dear."
"Oh! do you think so?" Rachel exclaimed. "I--it's a queer thing to say
perhaps--but I curiously feel like you, aunt; when you speak sometimes
and--and when I watch the way you do things."
Miss Deane shook her head. "I admit the physical resemblance," she
said; "otherwise, my dear, we are utterly different."
Did she too, Rachel wondered, resent the aspersion of her integrity?
By the last post Rachel received her expected letter from Adrian
Flemming. Her aunt separated it from the others brought in by her maid
and passed it across to her niece with a slight hint of displeasure in
her face. "Miss Rachel Deane, _junior_," she said. "Really, it hadn't
occurred to me how difficult it will be to distinguish our letters. I
hope my friends won't take to addressing me as Miss Deane, _senior_.
Properly, of course, I am Miss Deane, and you Miss Rachel, but I'll
admit there's sure to be some confusion. Now, my dear, I expect you're
tired. You'd better run up to bed."
Rachel was willing enough to go. She was glad to have an opportunity to
read her letter in solitude; she was even more glad to get away from
the company of this living echo of herself. "I believe I should go mad
if I had to live with her," she reflected. "I should get into the way
of copying her. I should begin to grow old before my time."
When she reached her bedroom, she put down her letter unopened on the
toilet-table and once more stared searchingly at her own reflection in
the mirror. Was there any least trace of a physical likeness, she asked
herself; and began in imagination to follow the possible stages of the
change that time would inevitably work upon her. She shrugged her
shoulders. If there were indeed any sort of facial resemblance between
herself and her aunt, no one would ever see it except in Miss Deane,
and she was obsessed with a senile vanity. Yet was it, after all,
Rachel began to wonder, an unnatural obsession? Might she not in time
suffer from it herself? The change would be so slow, so infinitely
gradual; and always one would be cherishing the old, loved image of
youth and beauty, falling in love with it, like a deluded Hyacinth, and
coming to be deceived by the fantasy of an unchanging appearance of
youth. Looking always for the desired thing, she would suffer from the
hallucination that the thing existed in fact, and imagine that the only
artifice needed to perfect the illusion was a touch of paint and
powder. No doubt her aunt--perhaps searching her own image in the
mirror at this moment--saw not herself but a picture of her niece. She
was hypnotised by the suggestion of a pose and the desire of her own
mind. In time, Rachel herself might also become the victim of a similar
Oh! it was horrible! With a shudder, she picked up her letter and
turned away from the looking-glass. She would forget that ghastly
warning in the thought of the joys proper to her youth. She would think
of Adrian and of her next meeting with him. She opened her letter to
find that he had, rather timorously, suggested that she should meet him
the next afternoon--at the Marble Arch at three o'clock, if he heard
nothing from her in the meantime.
For a few minutes she lost herself in delighted anticipation, and then
slowly, insidiously, a new speculation crept into her mind. What would
be the effect upon Adrian if he saw her and her aunt together? Would he
recognise the likeness and, anticipating the movement of more than half
a century, see her in one amazing moment as she would presently become?
And, in any case, what a terrible train of suggestion might not be
started in his mind by the impression left upon him by the old woman?
Once he had seen Miss Deane, Rachel's every gesture would serve to
remind him of that repulsive image of raddled, deluded age. It might
well be that, in time, he would come to see Rachel as she would
presently be rather than as she was. It would be a hideous reversal of
the old romance; instead of seeing the girl in the old woman, he would
foresee the harridan in the girl!
That picture presented itself to Rachel with a quite appalling effect
of conviction. She suddenly remembered a case she had known that had
remarkable points of resemblance--the case of a rather pretty girl with
an unpleasant younger brother who, so she had heard it said, "put men
off his sister" because of the facial likeness between them. She was
pretty and he was ugly, but they were unmistakably brother and sister.
Oh! it would be nothing less than folly to let Adrian and her aunt
meet, Rachel decided. In imagination, she could follow the process of
his growing dismay; she could see his puzzled stare as he watched Miss
Deane, and struggled to fix that tantalising suggestion of likeness to
some one he knew; his flash of illumination as he solved the puzzle and
turned with that gentle, winning smile of his to herself; and then the
progress of his disillusionment as, day by day, he realised more
plainly the intriguing similarities of expression and gesture, until he
felt that he was making love to the spirit of an aged spinster
temporarily disguised behind the appearance of beauty.
Rachel had believed on the first night of her arrival in Tavistock
Square that, so far as her love affair was concerned, she would be able
to avoid all danger by keeping her lover and her aunt unknown to each
other. She very soon found, however, that the spell Miss Deane seemed
to have put upon her was not to be laid by any effect of mere distance.
She and Adrian met rather shyly at their first appointment. Both of
them were a little conscious of having been overbold, one for having
suggested, and the other for having agreed to so significant an
assignation. And for the first few minutes their talk was nothing but a
quick, nervous reminiscence of their earlier meetings. They had to
recover the lost ground on which they had parted before they could go
on to any more intimate knowledge of each other. But for some reason
she had not yet realised, Rachel found it very difficult to recover
that lost ground. She knew that she was being unnecessarily distant and
cold, and though she inwardly accused herself of "putting on absurd
airs," her manner, as she was uncomfortably aware, remained at once
stilted and detached.
"I suppose it's because I'm self-conscious before all these people,"
she thought, and, indeed, Hyde Park was very full that afternoon.
And it was Adrian who first, a little desperately, tried to reach
across the barrier that was dividing them.
"You're different, rather, in town," he began shyly. "Is it the effect
of your aunt's grandeurs?"
"Am I different? I feel exactly the same," Rachel replied mechanically.
"You didn't think it was rather impudent of me to ask you to meet me
here, did you?" he went on anxiously.
She shook her head emphatically. "Oh! no, it wasn't that," she said.
"But then you admit that it was--something?" he pleaded.
"The people, perhaps," she admitted. "I--I feel so exposed to the
"We might walk across the Park if you preferred it," he suggested; "and
have tea at that place in Kensington Gardens? It would be quieter
She agreed to that willingly. She wanted to be alone with him. The
crowd made her nervous and self-conscious this afternoon. Always
before, she had delighted in moving among a crowd, appreciating and
enjoying the casual glances of admiration she received. Today she was
afraid of being noticed. She had a queer feeling that these smart,
clever people in the Park might see through her, if they stared too
closely. Just what they would discover she did not know; but she
suffered a disquieting qualm of uneasiness whenever she saw any one
observing her with attention.
They cut across the grass and, leaving the Serpentine on their left,
found two chairs in a quiet spot under the trees. Here, at least, they
were quite unwatched, but still Rachel found it impossible to regain
the relations that had existed between her and Adrian when they had
parted a month earlier. And Adrian, too, it seemed, was staring at her
with a new, inquisitive scrutiny.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she broke out at last. "Do you
notice any difference in me, or what? You--you've been staring so!"
"Difference!" he repeated. "Well, I told you just now, didn't I, that
you were different this afternoon?"
"Yes, but in what way?" she asked. "Do I--do I look different?"
He paused a little judiciously over his answer. "N--no," he hesitated.
"There's something, though. Don't be offended, will you, if I say that
you don't seem to be quite yourself to-day; not quite natural. I miss a
rather characteristic expression of yours. You've never once looked at
me with that rather tolerating air you used to put on."
"It was a horrid air," she said sharply. "I've made up my mind to cure
myself of it."
"Oh! no, don't," he protested. "It wasn't at all horrid. It was--don't
think I'm trying to pay you a compliment--it was, well, charming. I've
missed it dreadfully."
She turned and looked at him, determined to try an experiment. "This
sort of air, do you mean?" she asked, and with a sickening sensation of
presenting the very gestures and appearance of her aunt, she regarded
him under lowered eyelids with an expression of faintly supercilious
His smile at once thanked and answered her.
"But it's an abominable look," she exclaimed. "The look of an old, old,
painted woman, vain, ridiculous."
He stared at her in amazement. "How absurd!" he protested. "Why, it's
_you_; and you're certainly not old or painted nor unduly vain, and no
one could say you were ridiculous."
"And you want me to look like that?" she asked.
"It's--it's so _you_," he said shyly.
"But, just suppose," she cried, "that I went on looking like that after
I'd grown old and ugly. Think how hateful it would be to see a hideous
old woman posturing and pretending and making eyes. And, you see, if
one gets a habit, it's so hard to get rid of it. Think of me at
seventy, all painted and powdered, trying to seem as if I hadn't
altered and really believing that I hadn't."
He laughed that pleasant, kind laugh of his which had been one of the
first things in him that had so attracted her.
"Oh! I'll chance the future," he said. "Besides if--if it could ever
happen that--that your growing old came to me gradually, that I should
be seeing you every day, I mean, I shouldn't notice it. I should be old
too; and _I_ should think you hadn't altered either." He was afraid, as
yet, to be too plain spoken, but his tone made it quite clear that he
asked for no greater happiness than that of seeing her grow old beside
She did not pretend to misunderstand him. "Would you? Perhaps you
would," she said. "But, all the same, I don't think you need insist on
He passed that by, too eager at the moment to claim the concession she
had offered him. "Is there any hope that I may be allowed to--to watch
you growing old?" he asked.
"Perhaps--if you'll let me do it in my own way," Rachel said.
Adrian shyly took her hand. "You mean that you will--that you don't
mind?" He put the question as if he had no doubt of its
"When did you begin to know?" he asked, awed by the wonder of this
stupendous thing that had happened to him.
"From the beginning, I think," Rachel murmured.
"So did I, from the very beginning--" he agreed, and from that they
dropped into sacred reminiscences and comparisons concerning the
innumerable things they had adoringly seen in each other and had had as
yet no opportunity to glory in.
And in the midst of all these new and bewildering, embarrassing,
delightful revelations and discoveries, Rachel completely forgot the
shadow that was haunting her, forgot how she looked or felt or acted,
forgot that there was or had ever been a terrible old woman who lived
in Tavistock Square and whose hold on life was maintained by her
horrible mimicry of youth. And then, in a moment, she was lifted out of
her dream and cruelly set down on the hard, unsympathetic earth by the
sound of her lover's voice.
"I suppose I'll have to meet your aunt?" he was saying. "Shall we go
back there now, and tell her?"
Rachel flushed, as if he had suggested some startling invasion of her
secret life. "Oh! no," she ejaculated impulsively.
Adrian looked his surprise. "But why not?" he asked. "I'm--I'm a
perfectly respectable, eligible party."
"I wasn't thinking of that," Rachel said.
"Is she a terrible dragon?" he inquired with a smile.
Rachel shook her head, rejecting the excuse offered in favour of a more
probable modification. "She's odd rather. She might prefer my giving
her some kind of notice," she said.
He accepted that without hesitation. "Will you warn her then?" he
replied. "And I'll come and do my duty to-morrow. I understand she's a
lady to be propitiated."
"Not to-morrow," Rachel said.
The irk and disgust of it all had returned to her with renewed force at
the first mention of her aunt's name. The thought of Miss Deane had
revived the repulsive sense of acting, speaking, looking like that aged
caricature of herself. Yet she wanted strangely enough, to get back to
Tavistock Square; for only there, it seemed to her, was she safe from
the examination of an inquisitive stare that might at any moment
penetrate her secret and reveal her as a posturing hag masquerading in
the alluring freshness of a young girl.
"I ought to be going back to her now," she said.
"But you promised that we should have tea together," Adrian
"Yes, I know; but please don't pester me. I'll see you again
to-morrow," Rachel returned with a touch of elderly hauteur. And,
despite all his entreaties, she would not be persuaded to change her
mind. Already he was looking at her with a touch of suspicion, she
thought; and as she checked his remonstrances, she was aware of doing
it with the air, the tone, the very look that were her inheritance from
endless generations of precisely similar ancestors.
If she could but have lived a double life, Rachel thought, her present
position might have been endurable, and then, in a few months or even
weeks, the problem would be solved for ever by her marriage with Adrian
and the final obliteration of Miss Deane from her memory. But she could
not live a double life. Day by day, as her intimacy with her aunt
increased, Rachel found it more difficult to forget her when she was
away from Tavistock Square. In the deepest and most beautiful moments
of her intercourse with Adrian, she was aware now of practising upon
him a subtle deception, of pretending that she was other than she was
in reality--an awareness that was constantly pricked and stimulated by
the continually growing consciousness of her likeness to Miss Deane.
Miss Deane on her part evidently took a great pleasure in her niece's
society. The fortnight of her original invitation had already been
exceeded, but she would not hear of Rachel's return to Devonshire.
"Why should you go back?" she demanded scornfully. "Your father doesn't
want you--Richard is one of those slip-shod people who prefer to live
alone. I used to try to stir him up, and he ran away from me. He'll run
away from you, my dear, in a few years' time. He hasn't the courage to
stand up to women like us."
Miss Deane unquestionably wanted her niece to stay with her. She was
even beginning to hint at the desirability of making the present
arrangement a permanent one.
Rachel, however, was not flattered by this display of pleasure in her
society. She knew that it was due to no individual charm of her own,
but to the fact that she had become her aunt's mirror. For Miss Deane
no longer, in Rachel's presence at least, gazed at herself in the
looking-glass; she gazed at her niece instead. And as Rachel endured
the posings and simperings, the alternate adoration and fond contempt
with which her aunt regarded her, she was unable to resist the impulse
to reflect them. Every day she fell a little lower in that weakness,
and however slight the likeness had once been, she knew that now it
must be patent to every observer. She copied her aunt, mimicked,
duplicated her. It was easier to do that than fight the resemblance,
against her aunt's determination; and so, by unnoticed degrees, she had
permitted herself to become a lay figure upon which was dressed the
image of Miss Deane's youth. She had even come to desire the look of
almost sensual gratification on her aunt's face when she saw her niece
so perfectly reflecting her own well-remembered airs.
And Rachel, too, had come to avoid the looking-glass, dreading to see
there the poses and gesticulations of the old, repulsive woman whose
every feature and expression had become so sickeningly familiar.
And, in all that time, Adrian had not once been to the house in
Tavistock Square. Rachel had kept him away by what she felt had become
all too transparent excuses. That terror, at least, she felt must be
kept at bay. For she could not conceive it possible that, once he had
seen her and her aunt together, he could retain one spark of his
admiration. He would, he must, see her then as she was, see that her
contemptible vanity was the essential enduring thing, all that would
remain when time had stripped her of youth's allurement.
Nevertheless, the day came when Rachel could no longer endure to
deceive him. He had challenged her, at last, with hiding something from
him. Inevitably, he had become increasingly curious about her strange
reticences concerning the Miss Deane whom he, in turn, had grown to
regard as almost mythical; and all his suppressed suspicions had
suddenly found expression in a question.
"What are you hiding? Do you really live with your aunt in Tavistock
Square?" he had asked that day, with all the fierce intensity of a
Rachel had been stirred to a quick response. "Oh, if you don't believe
me, you'd better come and see for yourself," she had said. "Come this
afternoon--to tea." And afterwards, even when Adrian had humbly sought
to make amends for his unwarrantable jealousy, she had stuck to that
invitation. The moment that she had issued it, she had had a sense of
relief, a sense of having gratefully confessed her weakness. Adrian's
visit would consummate that confession, and thereafter she would have
no further secrets from him. And if he found that he could no longer
love her after he had seen her as she was, well, it would be better in
the end than that he should marry a simulacrum and make the discovery
by slow degrees.
"Yes, come this afternoon. We'll expect you about four" had been her
last words to him. And, now, she had to tell her aunt, who was still
unaware that such a person as Adrian Flemming existed. Rachel postponed
the telling until after lunch. Her knowledge of Miss Deane, though in
some respects it equalled her knowledge of her own mind, did not tell
her how her aunt would take this particular piece of news. She might
possibly, Rachel thought, be annoyed, fearful lest her beloved
looking-glass should be stolen from her. But she could wait no longer.
In half an hour Miss Deane would go upstairs to rest, and Adrian
himself would be in the house before she appeared again.
"I've something to tell you, aunt," Rachel began abruptly.
Miss Deane put up her lorgnette and surveyed her lovely portrait with
an interested air.
"Aunt--I've never told you and I know I ought to have," Rachel blurted
out. "But I'm--I'm engaged to a Mr. Adrian Flemming, and he's coming
here to call on you--to call on us, this afternoon at four o'clock."
Miss Deane closed her eyes and gave a little sigh.
"You might have given me _rather_ longer notice, dear," she said.
"It isn't two yet," Rachel replied. "There are more than two hours to
get ready for him."
Miss Deane bridled slightly. "I must have my rest before he comes," she
said, and added: "I suppose you've told him about us, dear?"
"About _you_?" Rachel asked.
Miss Deane nodded, complacently.
"Well, not very much," Rachel admitted.
Miss Dean's look, as she playfully threatened Rachel with her
long-handled lorgnette, was distinctly sly.
"Then he doesn't know yet that there are two of us?" she simpered.
"Won't it be just a little bit of a shock to him, my dear?"
Rachel drew a long breath and leaned back in her chair. "Yes," she said
curtly, "I expect it will."
Never before had the realisation of that strange likeness seemed so
intolerable as at that moment. Even now her aunt was looking at her
with the very air and gesture which had once charmed her in her own
reflection, and that she knew still charmed and fascinated her lover.
It was an air and gesture of which she could never break herself. It
was natural to her, a true expression of something ineradicable in her
being. Indeed, one of the worst penalties imposed upon her during the
past month had been the omission of those pleasant ceremonies before
the mirror. She had somehow missed herself, lost the sweetest and most
adorable of companions!