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The Best British Short Stories of 1922 by Edward J. O'Brien and John Cournos, editors

Part 4 out of 8

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breaking heart: "You mean it?"

"I've got to," she explained. She cried easily. "Dearie, you'll leave
peaceably? You won't make a row? Now, for my sake! To oblige me! While
you're out to-day I'll pack your suit-case and give it to the
hall-porter for you to call for. Shall I, Charlie? Kiss me, dear. Don't
take your latch-key. Good-bye. You've been awfully decent to me. We'll
part friends, shall us?"

He kissed her, and went out to work, speaking no more. He had said all
the things in his heart during the hours of that sleepless dawn. She
knew how he loved her ... though possibly she didn't quite believe. He
realised her position acutely, perhaps more acutely than his own. She
had to live. And yet....

He had taken his latch-key the same as usual, and he found himself at
the end of the day, going the same as usual to the tiny flat that was
home if ever there was any place called home. He let himself in
noiselessly. The little hall was dark. He stood in a corner against the
coat cupboard. The flat was silent. He stood there a long while
without moving and a clock chimed seven. He heard her singing--

"I'm for ever blowing bubbles....
Lal-la! la! la!... la! la! la!..."

She would be in her bedroom, sitting before the mirror in her
diaphanous underwear, touching up her face. The pauses in the song made
him see her.... Now she was using the eyebrow pencil.... The song went
on and broke again; now she would be half turning from the mirror,
curved on the gilt chair as he had so often seen her, hand-glass in
hand, looking at the back of her head, and her eyelashes, and her
profile, fining away all hard edges of rouge and lipstick. He felt
quite peaceful as he imaged her.

Peace was shattered at a blast by the ringing of the front door bell.
Then light streamed from the opened bedroom door, was switched off, and
Kitty ran into the darkish hall. She clicked on the light by the front
door, opened the door, and the big man came in.

He kissed her on the mouth.

Then Charlie stepped from beside the coat cupboard, suddenly as though
some strong spring which held him there had been released, and the
strong spring was in his tense body alone. For the first time in his
life he felt all steel and wire and whipcord, and many fires. He threw
himself on the intruder and fought for his woman.

Kitty did not scream. She knew better.

"Oh Charlie!" she panted. "For ---- sake go! Go! I can't have a row
here. Oh, Charlie, be a good boy, do."

"He _shall_ go," said the other man.

He was a big man; and still young and lithe. Kitty opened the front
door, whispering: "Oh, Charlie! Oh! Charlie!" and the man pushed
Charlie out. The lift was not working at the moment, the landing was
quiet, there was not a soul on the stairway beside the liftshaft when
the man flung Charlie headlong down the first flight and broke him on
the unyielding stone.

Charlie heard his own spine crack; but as the other, scared and pale,
reached him, he heard something else also; the voice of Kitty, who
stood above them, looking down, sobbing: "I c-c-can't have a row here.
It'd break me. Oh! Charlie! Oh Charlie! If you love me, go away!"

Charlie loved Kitty very much. "My back's broken," he whispered to the
enemy bending over him. "But if you get me under the armpits, lift me
down the stairs, and put me into the street, and if the hall-porter
sees us go out tell him I'm dead drunk----"

The man lifted him as instructed, an arm round him, just under the
shoulder-blades and armpits. Below he could feel the crumpled weight
sway and sag. He tried to be merciful in his handling. "D-d-do you no
g-g-good," he faltered as he lifted Charlie downstairs, "t-to get me
into a mess. I'm sorry. D-d-didn't mean.... But I've got a wife and
don't want hell raised.... You asked for it.... I'm sorry. I'm
sorry...." When they reached the ground floor the single-handed porter
was just carrying a passenger in the lift to the floor above, so they
got unobserved into the street, a quietish street, a cul-de-sac.

"Take me a f-f-few d-d-doors off, and put me down," said Charlie, and
the sweat of pain ran down his face, but when the man had put him down
against some area railings, and laid him straight, he was comfortable.

The other man simply vanished.

A taxi-driver found Charlie by-and-by, and the police fetched an
ambulance and took him to the hospital, and in a white bed he lay
sleepily, revealing nothing, all that night. But they found, searching
for an address in his pockets, the address of his family, and they sent
a message to his wife.

His wife received it early the next morning, and first she sent Maud
for Uncle Henry and Aunt, who found that all was turning out as they
prophesied, save for the slight deviation of Charlie's accident.

"They don't say exactly how bad he is?" said Uncle Henry. "Ah! but he
was well enough to send for you! He knows which side his bread's
buttered. Yes! we shall have Master Charles creeping back again, very
thankful to be in his home with every comfort, nursed by you; and I
will give him the worse talking to be has ever had in his life!"

"And if he's ill he can't prevent the Vicar visiting him too," said

So Charlie's wife set out to do her duty.

But still earlier that morning, instructed by the tremendous peace
which was stealing over him that time was short, Charlie was making his
first request. Would they please ring up _Shaftesbury_ 84 to ask for
"Kitty" and tell her "Charlie" just wanted to see her very urgently for
a few minutes at once, but not to be frightened, for everything would
be perfectly all right?

Pending her arrival, which in a faltering voice over the phone she
promised as soon as possible, Charlie asked the kindly Sister who was
hovering near to help him die:

"Sister, when a friend of mine comes in, a young lady who isn't used
to--to seeing--things, if I go off suddenly as it were-what I'm afraid
of is, she may be afraid if there's any kind of struggle--I saw a
fellow die once and he gave a sort of rattle--well, will you just pull
the bed-clothes up over me, so that she doesn't see?"

Kitty came in, wearing, perhaps incidentally, perhaps by some grace of
kindness, the woollen frock, and she crept, shaking, round the screen,
and stood beside Charlie, and said, "Oh Charlie! Oh Charlie!" opening
his closing eyes.

"Kitty!" he smiled, "sing 'Bubbles.'"

The look Sister--who had taken her right in--gave her, pried Kitty's
trembling mouth open like a crowbar, and leaning against Charlie's cot
she sang--

"When shadows creep,
When I'm asleep,
To lands of hope I stray,
Then at daybreak, when I awake...."

The Sister drew the bed-clothes shadily round Charlie's face.

"... My blue bird flutters away,
I'm forever blowing bubbles....
Pretty bubbles in the air...."

Just then the good woman was brought into the ward, bearing with her
messages from Maud worthy of Little Eva herself; and full of holy
forgiveness; and at edge of the screen Sister met her.

"His wife?" said Sister. "A moment too late. I am sorry." The good
woman was looking at the bad woman by the bed, so Sister made a vague

"He just wanted a song," she said.



(From _Pears' Annual_ and _The Century Magazine_)


Rupert K. Vaness remains freshly in my mind because he was so fine and
large, and because he summed up in his person and behavior a philosophy
which, budding before the war, hibernated during that distressing
epoch, and is now again in bloom.

He was a New-Yorker addicted to Italy. One often puzzled over the
composition of his blood. From his appearance, it was rich, and his
name fortified the conclusion. What the K. stood for, however, I never
learned; the three possibilities were equally intriguing. Had he a
strain of Highlander with Kenneth or Keith; a drop of German or
Scandinavian with Kurt or Knut; a blend of Syrian or Armenian with
Kahalil or Kassim? The blue in his fine eyes seemed to preclude the
last, but there was an encouraging curve in his nostrils and a raven
gleam in his auburn hair, which, by the way, was beginning to grizzle
and recede when I knew him. The flesh of his face, too, had sometimes a
tired and pouchy appearance, and his tall body looked a trifle
rebellious within his extremely well-cut clothes; but, after all, he
was fifty-five. You felt that Vaness was a philosopher, yet he never
bored you with his views, and was content to let you grasp his moving
principle gradually through watching what he ate, drank, smoked, wore,
and how he encircled himself with the beautiful things and people of
this life. One presumed him rich, for one was never aware of money in
his presence. Life moved round him with a certain noiseless ease or
stood still at a perfect temperature, like the air in a conservatory
round a choice blossom which a draught might shrivel.

This image of a flower in relation to Rupert K. Vaness pleases me,
because of that little incident in Magnolia Gardens, near Charleston,
South Carolina.

Vaness was the sort of a man of whom one could never say with safety
whether he was revolving round a beautiful young woman or whether the
beautiful young woman was revolving round him. His looks, his wealth,
his taste, his reputation, invested him with a certain sun-like
quality; but his age, the recession of his locks, and the advancement
of his waist were beginning to dim his lustre, so that whether he was
moth or candle was becoming a moot point. It was moot to me, watching
him and Miss Sabine Monroy at Charleston throughout the month of March.
The casual observer would have said that she was "playing him up," as a
young poet of my acquaintance puts it; but I was not casual. For me
Vaness had the attraction of a theorem, and I was looking rather deeply
into him and Miss Monroy.

That girl had charm. She came, I think, from Baltimore, with a strain
in her, they said, of old Southern French blood. Tall and what is known
as willowy, with dark chestnut hair, very broad, dark eyebrows, very
soft, quick eyes, and a pretty mouth,--when she did not accentuate it
with lip-salve,--she had more sheer quiet vitality than any girl I ever
saw. It was delightful to watch her dance, ride, play tennis. She
laughed with her eyes; she talked with a savouring vivacity. She never
seemed tired or bored. She was, in one hackneyed word, attractive. And
Vaness, the connoisseur, was quite obviously attracted. Of men who
professionally admire beauty one can never tell offhand whether they
definitely design to add a pretty woman to their collection, or whether
their dalliance is just matter of habit. But he stood and sat about
her, he drove and rode, listened to music, and played cards with her;
he did all but dance with her, and even at times trembled on the brink
of that. And his eyes, those fine, lustrous eyes of his, followed her

How she had remained unmarried to the age of twenty-six was a mystery
till one reflected that with her power of enjoying life she could not
yet have had the time. Her perfect physique was at full stretch for
eighteen hours out of the twenty-four every day. Her sleep must have
been like that of a baby. One figured her sinking into dreamless rest
the moment her head touched the pillow, and never stirring till she
sprang up into her bath.

As I say, for me Vaness, or rather his philosophy, _erat
demonstrandum_. I was philosophically in some distress just then. The
microbe of fatalism, already present in the brains of artists before
the war, had been considerably enlarged by that depressing occurrence.
Could a civilization, basing itself on the production of material
advantages, do anything but insure the desire for more and more
material advantages? Could it promote progress even of a material
character except in countries whose resources were still much in excess
of their population? The war had seemed to me to show that mankind was
too combative an animal ever to recognize that the good of all was the
good of one. The coarse-fibred, pugnacious, and self-seeking would, I
had become sure, always carry too many guns for the refined and kindly.

The march of science appeared, on the whole, to be carrying us
backward. I deeply suspected that there had been ages when the
populations of this earth, though less numerous and comfortable, had
been proportionately healthier than they were at present. As for
religion, I had never had the least faith in Providence rewarding the
pitiable by giving them a future life of bliss. The theory seemed to me
illogical, for the more pitiable in this life appeared to me the
thick-skinned and successful, and these, as we know, in the saying
about the camel and the needle's eye, our religion consigns wholesale
to hell. Success, power, wealth, those aims of profiteers and premiers,
pedagogues and pandemoniacs, of all, in fact, who could not see God in
a dewdrop, hear Him in distant goat-bells, and scent Him in a
pepper-tree, had always appeared to me akin to dry rot. And yet every
day one saw more distinctly that they were the pea in the thimblerig of
life, the hub of a universe which, to the approbation of the majority
they represented, they were fast making uninhabitable. It did not even
seem of any use to help one's neighbors; all efforts at relief just
gilded the pill and encouraged our stubbornly contentious leaders to
plunge us all into fresh miseries. So I was searching right and left
for something to believe in, willing to accept even Rupert K. Vaness
and his basking philosophy. But could a man bask his life right out?
Could just looking at fine pictures, tasting rare fruits and wines, the
mere listening to good music, the scent of azaleas and the best
tobacco, above all the society of pretty women, keep salt in my bread,
an ideal in my brain? Could they? That's what I wanted to know.

Every one who goes to Charleston in the spring, soon or late, visits
Magnolia Gardens. A painter of flowers and trees, I specialize in
gardens, and freely assert that none in the world is so beautiful as
this. Even before the magnolias come out, it consigns the Boboli at
Florence, the Cinnamon Gardens of Colombo, Concepcion at Malaga,
Versailles, Hampton Court, the Generaliffe at Granada, and La Mortola
to the category of "also ran." Nothing so free and gracious, so lovely
and wistful, nothing so richly coloured, yet so ghostlike, exists,
planted by the sons of men. It is a kind of paradise which has wandered
down, a miraculously enchanted wilderness. Brilliant with azaleas, or
magnolias, it centres round a pool of dreamy water, overhung by tall
trunks wanly festooned with the grey Florida moss. Beyond anything I
have ever seen, it is otherworldly. And I went there day after day,
drawn as one is drawn in youth by visions of the Ionian Sea, of the
East, or the Pacific Isles. I used to sit paralysed by the absurdity of
putting brush to canvas in front of that dream-pool. I wanted to paint
of it a picture like that of the fountain, by Helleu, which hangs in
the Luxembourg. But I knew I never should.

I was sitting there one sunny afternoon, with my back to a clump of
azaleas, watching an old coloured gardener--so old that he had started
life as an "owned" negro, they said, and certainly still retained the
familiar suavity of the old-time darky--I was watching him prune the
shrubs when I heard the voice of Rupert K. Vaness say, quite close:

"There's nothing for me but beauty, Miss Monroy."

The two were evidently just behind my azalea clump, perhaps four yards
away, yet as invisible as if in China.

"Beauty is a wide, wide word. Define it, Mr. Vaness."

"An ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory: it stands before me."

"Come, now, that's just a get-out. Is beauty of the flesh or of the

"What is the spirit, as you call it? I'm a pagan."

"Oh, so am I. But the Greeks were pagans."

"Well, spirit is only the refined side of sensuous appreciations."

"I wonder!"

"I have spent my life in finding that out."

"Then the feeling this garden rouses in me is purely sensuous?"

"Of course. If you were standing there blind and deaf, without the
powers of scent and touch, where would your feeling be?"

"You are very discouraging, Mr. Vaness." "No, madam; I face facts.
When I was a youngster I had plenty of fluffy aspiration towards I
didn't know what; I even used to write poetry."

"Oh! Mr. Vaness, was it good?"

"It was not. I very soon learned that a genuine sensation was worth all
the uplift in the world."

"What is going to happen when your senses strike work?"

"I shall sit in the sun and fade out."

"I certainly do like your frankness."

"You think me a cynic, of course; I am nothing so futile, Miss Sabine.
A cynic is just a posing ass proud of his attitude. I see nothing to be
proud of in my attitude, just as I see nothing to be proud of in the
truths of existence."

"Suppose you had been poor?"

"My senses would be lasting better than they are, and when at last they
failed, I should die quicker, from want of food and warmth, that's

"Have you ever been in love, Mr. Vaness?"

"I am in love now."

"And your love has no element of devotion, no finer side?"

"None. It wants."

"I have never been in love. But, if I were, I think I should want to
lose myself rather than to gain the other."

"Would you? Sabine, _I am in love with you_."

"Oh! Shall we walk on?"

I heard their footsteps, and was alone again, with the old gardener
lopping at his shrubs.

But what a perfect declaration of hedonism! How simple and how solid
was the Vaness theory of existence! Almost Assyrian, worthy of Louis

And just then the old negro came up.

"It's pleasant settin'," he said in his polite and hoarse half-whisper;
"dar ain't no flies yet."

"It's perfect, Richard. This is the most beautiful spot in the world."

"Such," he answered, softly drawling. "In deh war-time de Yanks nearly
burn deh house heah--Sherman's Yanks. Such dey did; po'ful angry wi'
ol' massa dey was, 'cause he hid up deh silver plate afore he went
away. My ol' fader was de factotalum den. De Yanks took 'm, suh; dey
took 'm, and deh major he tell my fader to show 'm whar deh plate was.
My ol' fader he look at 'm an' say: 'Wot yuh take me foh? Yuh take me
foh a sneakin' nigger? No, sub, you kin du wot yuh like wid dis chile;
he ain't goin' to act no Judas. No, suh!' And deh Yankee major he put
'm up ag'in' dat tall live-oak dar, an' he say: 'Yuh darn ungrateful
nigger! I's come all dis way to set yuh free. Now, whar's dat silver
plate, or I shoot yuh up, such!' 'No, suh,' says my fader; 'shoot away.
I's neber goin' t' tell.' So dey begin to shoot, and shot all roun' 'm
to skeer 'm up. I was a li'l boy den, an' I see my ol' fader wid my own
eyes, suh, standin' thar's bold's Peter. No, suh, dey didn't neber git
no word from him. He loved deh folk heah; such he did, suh."

The old man smiled, and in that beatific smile I saw not only his
perennial pleasure in the well-known story, but the fact that he, too,
would have stood there, with the bullets raining round him, sooner than
betray the folk he loved.

"Fine story, Richard; but--very silly, obstinate old man, your father,
wasn't he?"

He looked at me with a sort of startled anger, which slowly broadened
into a grin; then broke into soft, hoarse laughter.

"Oh, yes, suh, sueh; berry silly, obstinacious ol' man. Yes, suh
indeed." And he went off cackling to himself. He had only just gone
when I heard footsteps again behind my azalea clump, and Miss Monroy's

"Your philosophy is that of faun and nymph. Can you play the part?"

"Only let me try." Those words had such a fevered ring that in
imagination I could see Vaness all flushed, his fine eyes shining, his
well-kept hands trembling, his lips a little protruded.

There came a laugh, high, gay, sweet.

"Very well, then; catch me!" I heard a swish of skirts against the
shrubs, the sound of flight, an astonished gasp from Vaness, and the
heavy _thud, thud_ of his feet following on the path through the azalea
maze. I hoped fervently that they would not suddenly come running past
and see me sitting there. My straining ears caught another laugh far
off, a panting sound, a muttered oath, a far-away "_Cooee!_" And then,
staggering, winded, pale with heat and vexation, Vaness appeared,
caught sight of me, and stood a moment. Sweat was running down his
face, his hand was clutching at his side, his stomach heaved--a hunter
beaten and undignified. He muttered, turned abruptly on his heel, and
left me staring at where his fastidious dandyism and all that it stood
for had so abruptly come undone.

I know not how he and Miss Monroy got home to Charleston; not in the
same car, I fancy. As for me, I travelled deep in thought, aware of
having witnessed something rather tragic, not looking forward to my
next encounter with Vaness.

He was not at dinner, but the girl was there, as radiant as ever, and
though I was glad she had not been caught, I was almost angry at the
signal triumph of her youth. She wore a black dress, with a red flower
in her hair, and another at her breast, and had never looked so vital
and so pretty. Instead of dallying with my cigar beside cool waters in
the lounge of the hotel, I strolled out afterward on the Battery, and
sat down beside the statue of a tutelary personage. A lovely evening;
from some tree or shrub close by emerged an adorable faint fragrance,
and in the white electric light the acacia foliage was patterned out
against a thrilling, blue sky. If there were no fireflies abroad, there
should have been. A night for hedonists, indeed!

And suddenly, in fancy, there came before me Vaness's well-dressed
person, panting, pale, perplexed; and beside him, by a freak of vision,
stood the old darky's father, bound to the live-oak, with the bullets
whistling past, and his face transfigured. There they stood
alongside the creed of pleasure, which depended for fulfilment on its
waist measurement; and the creed of love, devoted unto death!

"Aha!" I thought, "which of the two laughs _last_?"

And just then I saw Vaness himself beneath a lamp, cigar in mouth, and
cape flung back so that its silk lining shone. Pale and heavy, in the
cruel white light, his face had a bitter look. And I was sorry--very
sorry, at that moment for Rupert K. Vaness.



(From _The Story-Teller_)


It was the maddest and most picturesque hotel at which we have ever
stopped. Tony and I were touring North Wales. We had left Llandudno
that morning in the twoseater, lunched at Festiniog, and late in the
afternoon were trundling down a charming valley with the reluctant
assistance of a road whose surface, if it ever had possessed such an
asset, had long since vanished. On rounding one of the innumerable
hairpin bends on our road, there burst upon us the most gorgeous
miniature scene that we had ever encountered. I stopped the car almost

"Oh, George, what a charming hotel!" exclaimed Tony. "Let's stop and
have tea."

Tony, I should mention, is my wife. She is intensely practical.

I had not noticed the hotel, for before us the valley opened out into a
perfect stage setting. From the road the land fell sharply a hundred
feet to a rocky mountain stream, the rustle of whose water came up to
us faintly like the music heard in a sea-shell. Beyond rose hills--hill
upon hill lit patchily by the sun, so that their contours were a
mingling of brilliant purple heather, red-brown bracken, and indigo
shadow. Far down the valley the stream glinted, mirror-like, through a
veil of trees.

And Tony spoke of tea!

I dragged my eyes from the magnet of the view and found that I had
stopped the car within a few yards of a little hotel that must have
been planted there originally by someone with a soul. It lay by the
open roadside five miles from anywhere. It was built of the rough
grey-green stone of the district, but it was rescued from the
commonplace by its leaded windows, the big old beams that angled across
its white plastered gables, and by the clematis and late tea roses that
clung about its porch.

I could hardly blame Tony for her materialism. The hotel blended
admirably with its surroundings. There was nothing about it of the
beerhouse-on-the-mountain-top so dear to the German mind. It looked
quiet, refined and restful, and one felt instinctively that it would be
managed in a fashion in keeping with all about it.

"By Jove, Tony!" I said, as I drew up to the clematis-covered porch,
"we might do worse than stop here for a day or two."

"We'll have tea anyhow, and see what we think of it." I clattered over
the red-tiled floor, and when my eyes had grown accustomed to the dim
light that contrasted so well with the sunshine without, found myself
in a small sunshiny room, with a low ceiling, oak-rafted, some
comfortable chairs, an old eight-day clock stopped at ten-thirty-five,
and a man.

He was a long thin man, clean-shaven, wearing an old shooting coat and
a pair of shabby grey flannel trousers. He smoked a pipe and read in a
book. At my entrance he did not look up, and I set him down as a guest
in the hotel.

One side of the room was built of obscured glass panes, with an open
square in the middle and a ledge upon which rested several suggestive
empty glasses, so I crossed to this hospitable-looking gap, and tapped
upon the ledge. Several repetitions bringing no response, I turned to
the only living creature who appeared to be available.

"Can you tell me, sir, if we can have tea in the hotel," I asked.

The long man started, looked up, closed his book, and jumped to his
feet as if galvanized to life.

"Of course, of course, of course," he cried hastily, and added, as by
an afterthought, "of course."

I may have shown a natural surprise at this almost choral response, for
he pulled himself together and became something more explicit.

"I'll see to it at once," he said hurriedly. "I'm--I'm the proprietor,
you know. You won't mind if we're--if we're a little upset. You see,
I--I've just moved in. Left me by an uncle, you know, an uncle in
Australia. I'll see to it at once. Anything you would like--specially
fancy? Bread and butter now, or cake perhaps? Will you take a seat--two
seats." (Tony had followed me in). "And look at yesterday's paper. Oh
yes, you can have tea--of course, of course, of course. Of----"

His words petered out, as he clattered off down a like-flagged passage.
I looked at Tony and raised my eyebrows.

"Seems a trifle mad," I said.

"How delightfully cool," said she, looking round the old-fashioned room
appraisingly, "and so clean! I think we'll stop."

"Let's have tea before we decide," I suggested. "The proprietor is
distinctly eccentric, to say the least of it."

"He looked quite a superior man. I thought," said Tony. "Not the least
like a Welshman."

Tony herself comes from far north of the Tweed.

The hotel was small, and the kitchen, apparently, not far away, for we
could not avoid hearing sounds of what appeared to be a heated argument
coming from the direction in which mine host had vanished. We were used
to heated arguments in the hotels at which we had put up, but they had
invariably taken place in Welsh, whereas this one was undoubtedly in
English. Snatches of it reached our ears.

"... haven't the pluck of a rabbit, Bill."

"... all very well, but----"

"I'm not afraid, I'll----"

Then our host returned.

"It's coming, it's coming, it's coming," he said, his hands thrust deep
in his trousers pockets, jingling loose change in a manner that
suggested agitation.

He stood looking down at us as though we were something he didn't quite
know what to do with, and then an idea seemed to strike him, and be
vanished for a moment to reappear almost immediately in the square gap
of the bar window.

"Have a drink while you're waiting?" he asked, much more naturally.

I looked at my watch. It was half-past four. Very free-and-easy with
the licensing laws, I thought.

"I thought six o'clock was opening time?" I said.

The thin man was overcome with confusion. His face flushed red, he shut
the window down with a bang, and a moment after came round to us again.

"Awfully sorry," he stammered apologetically. "Might get the house a
bad name. Deuced inconsiderate of--of my uncle not to leave me a book
of the rules. Very bad break, that--what?"

Evidently Tony was not so much impressed by the eccentricities of our
host as was I. She approved of the hotel and its situation, and had
made up her mind to stop. I could tell it by her face as she addressed
the proprietor.

"Have you accommodation if we should make up our minds to stay here for
a few days?" she asked.

"Stay here? You want to stay?" he repeated, consternation written large
all over his face. "Good G---- I mean certainly, of course, of course."

He bolted down the passage like a rabbit, and we heard hoarse
whispering from the direction in which he had gone.

"Dotty?" I suggested.

"Not a bit of it," retorted Tony. "Nervous because he is new to his
job, but very anxious to be obliging. We shall do splendidly here."

I shrugged my shoulders and said no more, because I know Tony. I have
been married to her for years and years.

Light steps upon the tiles heralded something new--different, but
equally surprising.

"Tea is served, madam, if you will step this way."

She was the apotheosis of all waitresses. Her frock was black, but it
was of silk and finely cut. Her apron, of coarse white cotton, was
grotesque against it. She had neat little feet encased in high-heeled
shoes, and her stockings were of silk. Her common cap that she wore sat
coquettishly on her dark curls, and her face was charming, though
petrified in that unnatural expression of distance which, as a rule,
only the very best menials can attain.

There were no other guests in the coffee-room, and this marvel of maids
devoted the whole of her attention to us, standing over us like a
column of ice which thawed only to attend upon our wants. There was no
getting past her veil of reticence. Tony tried her with questions, but
"Yes, madam," "No, madam," and "Certainly, madam," appeared the sum of
her vocabulary. Yet when we sent her to the kitchen for more hot water,
we were conscious of a whispering and giggling which assured us that
off the stage she could thaw.

"We must stay a day or two," said Tony. "I'm dying to paidle in that

"My dear, how often have you promised me that you would never subject
me to Scotch after we were married!" I protested.

"When I see a burn I e'en must juist paidle in it," retorted Tony,
deliberately forswearing herself. "So we'll book that room."

At that moment the celestial waitress returned with the hot water, and
Tony made known her determination. I drive the car, but Tony supplies
the driving-power.

"Certainly, madam. I shall speak to Mr. Gunthorpe." Quickly she

"Number ten is vacant. The boots and chambermaid are both away at a
sheep-trial, but we expect them back any moment. I shall show you the
room, madam, and if you will leave the car, sir, until the boots

"That will be all right. No hurry, no hurry."

While we were examining our bedroom and finding it all that could be
desired, I heard a car draw up before the hotel, and the sound of
voices in conversation. A few minutes later, on going downstairs, I
made the acquaintance of the boots. He was obviously awaiting me by my
car, and touched his forelock in a manner rarely seen off the stage. He
wore khaki cord breeches with leather leggings, a striped shirt open at
the neck, and chewed a straw desperately. In no other respect did he
resemble the boots of an out-of-the-way hotel.

"Garage round this way, sir," he said, guiding me to my destination,
which, I found, already contained a two-seater of the same make as my

"Ripping little car, eh?" said the boots, chewing vigorously at his
straw as he stood, his hands deep in what are graphically known as
"go-to-hell" pockets and his legs well straddled. "Hop over anything,
what? Topping weather we're having--been like this for weeks. If you
don't mind, old chap, you might wiggle her over this way a bit.
Something else might blow in, eh?"

I looked at this latest manifestation with undisguised astonishment,
but he was imperturbable, and merely chewed his straw with renewed

"That's the stuff, old lad," he said, as I laid the car in position.
"What now? Shall I give you a hand up with the trunk, or will you hump
it yourself? Don't mind me a bit. I'm ready for anything."

He looked genial, but I found him familiar, so with a curt:

"Take it to number ten," I strode off to overtake Tony, whom I saw
half-way down a rough path that led to her beloved "burn."

"I've seen the chambermaid," she said, when I overtook her. "Such a
pretty girl, but very shy and unsophisticated. Quite a girl, but wears
a wedding-ring."

I watched Tony "paidling" for some time, but as the amusement consisted
mainly of getting her under-apparel wet, I grew tired of it, and
climbed back to the hotel.

The bar-window was open once more in the little lounge, and Mr.
Gunthorpe was behind, his arms resting upon the ledge.

"Have a drink?" he said, as I entered. "It's all right now. The
balloon's gone up."

I looked at my watch. It was after six o'clock.

"I'll have a small Scotch and soda," I decided.

"This is on the house," said the eccentric landlord.

He produced two glasses and filled them, and I noticed that he took
money from his pocket and placed it in the till.

"Well, success to the new management!" I said, raising my glass to his.

"Cheerio, and thank you," said he, smiling genially upon me.

He seemed to me more self-possessed and less eccentric than he had
appeared upon our arrival. I determined to draw him out.

"It's funny that an Australian should have owned an hotel away up in
the Welsh hills," I hazarded. "Did he die recently?"

"Australia? You must have misunderstood me," said Mr. Gunthorpe with a
hunted look in his eyes. "Very likely--very likely I said Ostend."

"Ostend? Well, possibly I did," I agreed, feeling certain that I had
made no mistake. "Had he a hotel there as well?"

"Yes, yes. Of course, of course, of course," agreed the landlord,
largely redundant.

"And are you running that as well?"

"Heaven forbid!" he exclaimed, with a shudder. "You see ... this--this
is just a small legacy. It'll be all right by and by. All right, all
right. Let's have another drink."

"With me," I insisted.

"Not at all, not at all. On the house. All for the good of the house.
Come along, Bob, have a drink!"

It was the boots who had now entered, and he strolled up to the bar
with all the self-possession of a welcome guest.

"Just a spot of Scotch, old thing!" he said brightly. "It's a hard
life. Shaking down good and comfy, laddie?"--this last to me. "Ask for
anything you fancy. It doesn't follow you'll get it, but if we have it,
it's yours. Tinkle, tinkle; crash, crash!" With this unusual toast he
raised his glass and drained it.

"Have another," he said. "Three Scotches, Boniface."

I protested. This was too hot and fast for me altogether. Besides, I
did not fancy being indebted to this somewhat overwhelming boots. My
protest was of no avail. The glasses were filled while yet the words
were upon my lips. I thought of Tony, and trembled. Common decency
would force me to stand still another round before I could cry a halt.

"All well in the buttery?" asked the boots, in a confidential tone of
the landlord.

"The banquet is in preparation," replied the latter. "Everything is in

"Heaven grant that it comes out of train reasonably, laddie," said
boots fervently. "But you know Molly. I wouldn't trust an ostrich to
her cooking. Here's hoping for the best."

He drained his glass again, and this time I managed to get a show.
"Three more whiskies, please landlord," and Tony in clear view cut up
into nice squares by the little leaded panes. I got mine absorbed just
in time, and was on the doorstep to meet her, draggle-skirted and
untidy, but enthusiastic about her "burn." She broke her vows three
times on the way up to number ten, and excused her lapses on the ground
that the "burn" was the perfect image of one near a place she called

When she rang for hot water to wash away the traces of her ablutions in
the burn, I had my first view of the chambermaid. I found her even more
ravishing than the waitress downstairs, and with the additional
advantage that she was not stand-offish--indeed, she was a giggler. She
giggled at my slightest word, and Tony altered her first impression and
dubbed her a forward hussy. Personally, I liked the girl, though she
broke all precedent by attending upon us in a silk blouse and a
tailor-made tweed skirt.

When I wandered downstairs before dinner I came upon her again, this
time unmistakably in the arms of the ubiquitous boots. I had walked
innocently into a small sitting-room where a lamp already shone, and I
came upon the romantic picture unexpectedly. With a murmured word of
inarticulate apology I made to retire.

"It's all right, old fruit, don't hurry away," said boots affably.
"Awfully sorry, and all that. Quite forgot it was a public room, don't
you know."

The chambermaid giggled once more and bolted, straightening her cap as
she went.

"You don't mind, do you?" continued boots, making a clumsy show of
trimming the lamp. "Warm is the greeting when seas have rolled between
us. Perhaps not quite that, but you see the idea, eh?"

He would doubtless have said more, being evidently of a cheery nature,
had not the waitress of the afternoon appeared in the doorway, her face
as frozen as a mask of ice.

"Bob--kennel!" she said sharply, and held the door wide.

The cheeriness vanished and the boots followed it through the open

"I trust you will excuse him, sir," said the waitress deferentially.
"He is just a little deranged, but quite harmless. We employ him out of
charity, sir."

I may have been mistaken, but a sound uncommonly like the chambermaid's
giggle came to me from the passage without.

The sound of a car stopping outside the hotel drew me to the window as
the waitress left me, and I was in time to see an old gentleman with a
long white beard step from the interior of a Daimler landaulette, the
door of which was held open by a dignified chauffeur, whose attire
seemed to consist mainly of brass buttons.

A consultation evidently took place in the smoking-room or bar between
this patriarch and the proprietor, and then I heard agitated voices in
the passage without.

"It's a blinking invasion," said Mr. Gunthorpe. "I tell you we can't do
it. Good heavens, they threaten to stop a month if they are

"Don't worry then, old bean. They won't stop long." This in the voice
of boots.

"And they want special diet. Old girl can't eat meat. Suffers from a
duodenal ulcer. I tell you, we got quick intimate! We can't do it,

"Fathead, of course we can. I'll concoct her something the like of
which her what-you-may-call-it has never before tackled. Run along,
Bill, and be affable."

"Shall I stand them a drink?"--Mr. Gunthorpe again.

"Do, old bean. I'll come and have one, too," said boots.

"You won't, Bob. You'll see to the chauffeur and the car, _and_ the

"Hang the luggage! I'll stand the chauffeur a drink."

Then the female voice spoke warningly.

"You've had enough drinks already, both of you," it said. "You ought to
bear in mind that you're not running the hotel just for your two

"It's all right, old girl. There's plenty for everybody. Cellar's full
of it."

The voices died away, and I strolled out into the bar once more. Mr.
Gunthorpe was being affable, according to instructions, to the old
gentleman, while an old lady in a bonnet looked on piercingly.

"Quite all right about the diet," the landlord was saying as I entered.
"We make a specialty of special diets. In fact, our ordinary diet is a
special diet. Certainly, of course. We've got mulligatawny soup,
sardines, roast beef, trifle and gorgonzola cheese. Perhaps you'll have
a drink while you wait?"

"Certainly not, sir," replied the old gentleman testily. "You seem to
be unable to comprehend. My wife has a duodenal ulcer, sir. Had it for
fourteen years in September, and you talk to me of mulligatawny soup."

"I quite understand, of course, of course," replied Mr. Gunthorpe
urbanely. "Everything of a--an irritating character will be left out of

"Then it won't be mulligatawny soup, you fool!" exploded the old lady,
whose pressure I had seen rising for some time.

"Certainly not, madam. Of course, indubitably. We'll call it beef-tea,
and it will never know."

"What will never know?" asked the old gentleman, with an air of

"Madam's duodenal ulcer, sir," replied the landlord, with a deferential
bow, dedicated, doubtless, to that organ.

Each separate hair in the old gentleman's beard began to curl and coil
with the electricity of exasperation, and at every moment I expected to
see sparks fly out from it. The old lady folded her hands across her
treasure, and looked daggers at the landlord.

"How far is it to the nearest hotel, John?" she demanded acidly.

"Too far to go to-night, Mary. I'm afraid we must put up with
this--this sanatorium," replied her husband.

As a diversion I demanded an appetizer--a gin and bitters.

Mr. Gunthorpe's face lit up and he bolted behind the bar.

"Certainly, of course. Have it with me!" he exclaimed eagerly, his eyes
full of gratitude for the diversion.

I had the greatest difficulty in paying for our two drinks, for of
course Mr. Gunthorpe would not let me drink alone, and I was equally
insistent that the house had done enough for me.

"Then we must have another," he declared, as the only way out of the

Fortunately for me, Tony appeared on the scene, clothed and in her
right mind, speaking once more the English language, and I contrived to
avoid further stimulation. Mr. Gunthorpe looked at me reproachfully as
I moved off with my wife. I could see that he dreaded further
interrogation on the subject of diets.

Nothing further of moment occurred before dinner. Tony and I went out
and admired the wonderful view in the dim half-light, and just as the
midges got the better of us--even my foul old pipe did not give us the
victory--the gong sounded for dinner and covered our retreat.

It was the maddest dinner in which I have ever participated. Three
tables were laid in the little coffee-room, and, as Tony and I were the
first to put in an appearance, I had the curiosity to look at the bill
of fare at the first table I came to.

"This way, sir, if you please," said the chilling voice of our
exemplary waitress.

Already I had deciphered "beef-tea" and "steamed sole" on the card, and
concluded that the table was reserved for the duodenal ulcer. At the
table to which we were conducted I found "mulligatawny soup" figuring
on the menu, and I wondered.

The old lady and gentleman were ushered to their seats by the boots,
now smartly dressed in striped trousers and black coat and waistcoat. I
say "smartly," because the clothes were of good material, and the
wearer looked easily the best-clad man in the hotel.

The two places laid at the third table were taken by a boy and girl of
such youthful appearance that both Tony and I were astonished to find
them living alone in an hotel. The boy might have been fifteen and the
girl twelve at the most; but that they were overwhelmingly at home in
their surroundings was quickly manifest, as was the fact that they were
brother and sister. This latter fact was evidenced by the manner in
which the boy bullied the girl, and contradicted her at every

There was something of a strained wait when all of us had taken our
places. I saw the old gentleman, eye-glasses on the tip of his nose,
studying the bill of fare intently. Then he turned to his wife.

"Minced chicken and rice--peptonized," he said suspiciously. "Did you
ever hear of such a dish, Mary?"

"Never. But nothing would surprise me in this place," replied his wife,
looking round the room with a censorious eye that even included the
innocent Tony and myself.

The two children chuckled. They wore an air of expectancy such as I
have noticed in my nephews and nieces when I have been inveigled into
taking them to Maskelyne's show. They seemed on very intimate terms
with the waitress, and the mere sight of the boots sent them into fits
of suppressed chuckling. He, standing by the sideboard, napkin over
arm, added to their hilarity by winking violently at regular intervals.
Catching my eye upon him, he crossed to our table.

"Everything all right, eh?" he said, glancing over the lay-out of our

"Everything--except that so far we have had no food," I replied.

"It's the soup," he said, leaning confidentially to my ear. "The cat
fell into it, and they're combing it out of her fur. Have a drink while
you wait? No! All right, old thing. I dare say you know best when
you've had enough. Shut up, you kids! Don't you see you're irritating
the old boy."

This in a hoarse aside to the children at the next table. It made them
giggle the more.

"Surely they are very young to be stopping here alone!" said Tony, with
a touch of her national inquisitiveness.

"Very sad case, madam," replied the boots. "We found them here when we
came. You know--wrapped in a blanket on the doorstep. Not quite,
perhaps, but you see the idea. Sort of wards of the hotel."

He was interrupted by the entrance of the waitress with soup. She gave
him a frozen glance and a jerk of the head, and he vanished to the
kitchen, to return with more soup, and at last we got a start on our
meal. The soup was good notwithstanding the story of the cat. It really
was mulligatawny. There was no doubt about that.

The old couple were not so well satisfied. They sipped a little, had a
whispered consultation, and beckoned the boots.

"Waiter, why do you call this beef-tea?" demanded the old gentleman.

"You can't have me there, my lad," retorted boots cheerily. "From the
Latin beef, beef and tea, tea--beef-tea. Take a spoonful of tea and a
lump of beef, shake well together, simmer gently till ready, and serve
with a ham-frill."

The old gentleman's face showed deep purple against his white whiskers,
and the waitress left our table hurriedly, hustled the boots from the
room, and crossed to the old couple. I could not hear all she said, but
I understood that the boots was liable to slight delusions, but quite
harmless. The beef-tea was the best that could be prepared on such
short notice, and so on.

It was the main course of the meal that brought the climax. It was
roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, excellently cooked, and, so far as we
were concerned, efficiently served. The irrepressible boots had,
however, by this time drifted back to duty. I saw him bear plates to
the old people's table containing a pale mess which I rightly concluded
was the "minced chicken and rice--peptonized," already referred to by
the old gentleman. The couple eyed it suspiciously while their
attendant hovered near, apparently awaiting the congratulations which
were bound to follow the consumption of the dish.

"John, it's beef!" screamed the old lady, starting to her feet and

"Damme, so it is!" confirmed her husband, after a bare mouthful. "Hi,
you--scoundrel, poisoner, assassin--send the manager here at once."

He waved his napkin in fury, and boots cocked an eye at him curiously.

"Won't you have another try?" he urged. "Be sporty about it. Hang it,
it looks like chopped chicken, and it is chopped. I chopped it myself.
Have another try. You'll believe it in time if you persevere. It's the
first step that counts, you know. I used to be able to say that in
French, but--"

He only got so far because the old gentleman had been inarticulate with

"Fetch the manager, and don't dare utter another word, confound you!"
he shouted.

A few moments later our friend Mr. Gunthorpe entered. His eyes were
bright, and a satisfied smile rested on his lips.

"Good evening, sir," he began affably. "I believe you sent for me. I
hope everything is to your taste?"

"Everything is nothing of the sort, sir!" retorted the old gentleman.
"You have attempted a gross fraud upon us, sir. I find on the menu,
chicken, and it is nothing more nor less than chopped beef. And
'peptonized'--peptonized be hanged, sir! It's no more peptonized than
my hat!"

"Well, sir, as for your hat I can say nothing, but--"

"None of your insolence, sir. I insist on having this--filth taken away
and something suitable put before us. My wife has possessed a duodenal
ulcer for fourteen years come September, and--"

"Be hanged to your duodenal ulcer! As this isn't its birthday, why
should it have a blinking banquet. Let it take pot-luck with the rest
of us."

A sudden burst of uncontrollable laughter made me turn sharply, to find
that the reserve had fallen from our chilly waitress, who was vainly
endeavouring to smother her laughter in her professional napkin.

"Oh, Bill!" she cried, "you've done it now. The game's up."

The old lady and gentleman arose in outraged dignity and started to
leave the room, when a diversion was caused by the entrance of a
pleasant-faced lady in hat and cloak. I had been semi-conscious for
some moments of a motor-engine running at the hotel door.

"Oh, Mr. Gunthorpe, what luck!" cried the newcomer. "I've collected a
full staff, and brought them all up from Dolgelly with me, look you."

"Thank heaven!" exclaimed the proprietor. "As soon as your barmaid is
on her job we'll drink all their healths. I hope you won't be annoyed,
Miss Jones, but I fear, I very greatly fear, you will lose a couple of
likely customers at dawn or soon after. Here they are. Perhaps you can
still pacify them. I can't."

Miss Jones turned to the old couple, who were waiting for the doorway
to clear, with a disarming and conciliatory smile.

"I hope you will make allowances," she said, with a musical Welsh
intonation. "I am the manageress, and everything is at sixes and
sevens, look you. This morning I had trouble with the staff, and just
to annoy me they all cleared off together. I had to leave the hotel to
see what I could find in Dolgelly. Mr. Gunthorpe and the other guests
in the hotel very kindly offered to see to things while I was away, and
I'm sure they have done their best, indeed."

"Done their best to poison us, certainly," growled the old gentleman.
"My wife has a duo--"

"That's all right, old chap," interrupted Mr. Gunthorpe. "Miss Jones is
an expert in those things. She'll feed it the proper tack, believe me.
Give her a chance, and don't blame her for our shortcomings."

By this time the whole mock staff had taken the stage--waitress, boots,
chambermaid, and a pleasant-faced lady of matronly appearance who, I
learnt, was Mrs. Gunthorpe and the mother of the two children of whom
we had been told such a harrowing history.

"And just think, dear," said Tony, smiling at me across the table. "The
boots and the chambermaid are on their honeymoon. He is a journalist."

"How do you know all this?" I demanded suspiciously.

"I wormed the whole thing out of the chambermaid at the very
beginning," said Tony. "I didn't tell you because I thought it would be
more fun."

Miss Jones succeeded in pacifying the old couple somehow--mainly, I
think, by promises of a new regime--and we left them in the coffee-room
looking almost cheerful.

Tony and I went out to talk in the moonlight, while I smoked an
after-dinner cigar. We were gone for some time, and on our return
decided to go straight upstairs to bed. I noticed that lights still
burned in the coffee-room, and heard the sound of voices from that
direction. Thinking that some late guests had arrived during our
absence, I had the curiosity to glance round the door. The whole of our
late staff sat round a table, on which were arrayed much food and
several gilt-topped bottles.

"Come along. Do join us!" cried Mr. Gunthorpe, sighting us at once.

"Come and celebrate the end of this bat in the belfry sort of
management," added boots, holding high a sparkling glass.

It ended in _Tony_ and I being dragged into the celebration, and _that_
ended in quite a late sitting.

Tony and I lingered on for over a week at the Bat and Belfry Inn, as we
all called it, and so, strange to say, did the duodenal couple, whom,
indeed, we left there, special-dieting to their hearts' content.



(From _The Blue Magazine_ and _Harper's Bazar_)


The hours had passed with the miraculous rapidity which tinctures time
when one is on the river, and now overhead the moon was a gorgeous
yellow lantern in a greyish purple sky.

The punt was moored at the lower end of Glover's Island on the
Middlesex side, and rose and fell gently on the ebbing tide.

A girl was lying back amidst the cushions, her hands behind her head,
looking up through the vague tracery of leaves to the soft moonlight.
Even in the garish day she was pretty, but in that enchanting dimness
she was wildly beautiful. The hint of strength around her mouth was not
quite so evident perhaps. Her hair was the colour of oaten straw in
autumn and her deep blue eyes were dark in the gathering night.

But despite her beauty, the man's face was averted from her. He was
gazing out across the smoothly-flowing water, troubled and thoughtful.
A good-looking face, but not so strong as the girl's in spite of her
prettiness, and enormously less vital.

Ten minutes before he had proposed to her and had been rejected.

It was not the first time, but he had been very much more hopeful than
on the other occasions.

The air was softly, embracingly warm that evening. Together they had
watched the lengthening shadows creep out across the old river. And it
was spring still, which makes a difference. There is something in the
year's youth--the sap is rising in the plants--something there is,
anyway, beyond the sentimentality of the poets. And overhead was the
great yellow lantern gleaming at them through the branches with ironic

But, in spite of everything, she had shaken her head and all he
received was the maddening assurance that she "liked" him.

"I shall never marry," she had concluded. "Never. You know why."

"Yes, I know," the man said miserably. "Carruthers."

And so he was looking out moodily, almost savagely, across the water
when the temptation came to him.

He would not have minded quite so much if Carruthers had been alive,
but he was dead and slept in the now silent Salient where a little
cross marked his bed. Alive one could have striven against him, striven
desperately, although Carruthers had always been rather a proposition.
But now it seemed hopeless--a man cannot strive with a memory. It was
not fair--so the man's thoughts were running. He had shared Carruthers'
risks, although he had come back. This persistent and exclusive
devotion to a man who would never return to her was morbid. Suddenly,
his mind was made up.

"Olive," he said.

"Yes," she replied quietly.

"What I am going to tell you I do for both our sakes. You will probably
think I'm a cad, but I'm taking the risk." He was sitting up but did
not meet her eyes.

"What on earth are you talking about?" she demanded.

"You know that--apart from you--Carruthers and I were pals?"

"Yes," she said wondering. And suddenly she burst out petulantly. "What
is it you want to say?"

"He was no better than other men," he replied bluntly. "It is wrong
that you should sacrifice your life to a memory, wrong that you should
worship an idol with feet of clay."

"I loath parables," she said coldly. "Will you tell me exactly what you
mean about feet of clay?" The note in her voice was not lost on the man
by her side.

"I don't like telling you--under other conditions I wouldn't. But I do
it for both our sakes."

"Then, for goodness sake, do it!"

"I came across it accidentally at the Gordon Hotel at Brighton. He
stayed there, whilst he was engaged to you, with a lady whom he
described as Mrs. Carruthers. It was on his last leave."

"Why do you tell me this?" she asked after a silence; her voice was low
and a little husky.

"Surely, my dear, you must see. He was no better than other men. The
ideal you have conjured up is no ideal. He was a brave soldier, a
darned brave soldier, and--until we both fell in love with you--my pal.
But it is not fair that his memory should absorb you. It's--it's

"I suppose you think I should be indignant?" There was no emotion of
any kind in her voice.

"I simply want you to see that your idol has feet of clay," he said,
with the stubbornness of a man who feels he is losing.

"What has that to do with it? You know I loved him."

"Other girls have loved----" he said bitterly.

"And forgotten? Yes, I know," she interrupted him. "But I do not
forget, that is all."

"But after what I have told you. Surely----"

"You see I knew," she said, even more quietly than before.


"Yes. It was I who was with him. It was his last leave," she added

And only the faint noise of the water and the wistful wind in the trees
overhead broke the silence.



(From _The New Age_)


I was just cooking a couple of two-eyed steaks when Black Mick walked
in, and, noting the look in his eyes and being for some reason in an
expansive mood, I offered him a sit down. After comparing notes on the
various possibilities of the district with regard to job-getting, we
turned on to a discussion of the relative moralities of begging and
stealing. But in this, I found, Mick was not vitally interested--both
were too deeply immoral for him to touch. For Mick was a worker. He
liked work. Vagrancy to him made no appeal. To "settle down" was his
one definite desire. But jobs refused to hold him, and the road gripped
him in spite of himself. So the problem presented itself to him in an
abstract way only; to me there was a real--but let that go.

Mick's respectability was uncanny. He could speculate on these things
as if they were matters affecting none of us there. In that fourpenny
doss-house he remained as aloof as a god, and in some vague way the
calmness of the man in face of this infringing realism for a time
repelled me.

We cleaned up my packet to the last shred and crumb, and I found a
couple of fag ends in my pocket. We smoked silently. Mick's manner
gradually affected me. We became somehow mentally detached from the
place in which we sat. We were in a corner of the room, at the end of
the longest table, and so incurious about the rest of the company that
neither of us knew whether there were two or twenty men there. For a
while Mick was absorbed in his smoke, and then I saw him slowly turn
his head to the door. It was a languid movement. His dark eyes were
half veiled as he watched for the entrance of someone who fumbled at
the latch. Then, in an instant, as the face of the newcomer thrust
forward, Black Mick's whole personality seemed to change. His eyelids
lifted, showing great, glowing eyes staring from a cold set face. His
back squared, and the table, clamped to the floor, creaked protestingly
as his sprawled legs were drawn up and the knees pressed against the
under part. A second only he stared, then slung himself full forward.

The newcomer was a live man, quicker than Mick. The recognition between
the two was apparently mutual; for as Mick vaulted the table the other
rushed forward, grabbed the poker from the grate, and got home on
Mick's head with it. Before I could get near enough to grip, the door
again banged and our visitor had disappeared.

"There was a girl in it," said Mick to me when we took the road
together a fortnight later, and that was as far as he got in
explanation. It was enough. I could read men a little. To Mick
women--all women--were sacred creatures. In the scheme of nature woman
was good and man was evil. Passion was a male attribute, an evil fire
that scorched and burned and rendered impotent the protesting innocence
of hapless femininity....

So we tramped. One public works after the other we made, always with
the same result--no chance of a take-on. Often we got a lift in food,
ale, or even cash from some gang where one of us was known, but that
was all. Everywhere the reply to our request for a job was the same:
Full Up. And then we made Liverpool.

My favourite kip in Liverpool was Bevington House in the Scotland Road
district, but on this occasion I had news that Twinetoes, an old mate
of mine, had taken in that night at a private doss-house, and the
probability was that he would not only give us a lift but would be able
to tell us pretty accurately what was the state of the labour market.

It was a rotten kip. Four men were squabbling over the frying pan when
we entered, and over against the far wall sat an old crone, crooning an
Irish song. The men were of the ordinary dock rat type, scraggily
built, unshaven, with cunning, shifty eyes. The woman had an old
browned-green kerchief round her head, and a ragged shawl drawn tightly
round her breasts. One side of her face had evidently been burned some
time, and the eye on that side ran continually.

"Got any money, dearie?" she said to Mick.

"No, mother," Mick replied, gently taking her hand. "Is there a fellow
here called Twinetoes?"

"No blurry use t'me if no money," and she went on with her damnable
singing, like a lost soul wailing for its natural hell.

The Boss came in from the kitchen. "Twinetoes? Damned funny moniker!
Never 'eerd it," he said. "But there's a bloke asleep upstairs as calls
'isself Brum. Mebbe it's 'im."

It was. Twinetoes lay in his navvy clobber on a dirty bed, drunk, dead
to the world. We could not rouse him.

"What a kennel!" said Mick. "There's a smell about it I don't like."
There was a smell; not the common musty smell of cheap doss-houses,
something much worse than that....

"You pay your fourpence and takes your choice," I said, with an
intended grandiloquent sweep of my hand towards the dozen derelict
beds. We selected two that lay in an alcove at the end of the room
farthest from the door, and turned in. In a few minutes we were both

Suddenly I awoke. A clock outside struck one. There was no sound in the
room but the now subdued snoring of Twinetoes. I was at once wide
awake, but I lay quite still, breathing as naturally as possible,
keeping my eyes more than half closed, for I felt some sinister
presence in the room. A new pollution affected the atmosphere. Bending
over me was the old crone. Downstairs she had seemed aimless,
shapeless, almost helpless, an object of disgusting pitifulness. Now,
dark as it was, and unexpected as was the visit, I could at once see
that she was as active and alert as a monkey.

On going to bed I had put my boots under my pillow, and thrown my coat
over me, keeping the cuff of one sleeve in my hand. A practised claw
slipped under my head and deftly fingered the insides of my boots:
Blank. The coat pockets were next examined: Blank. Still I dog-slept.
The wrinkled lips were now working angrily, churning up two specks of
foam that shone white in the corners of the mouth. The running eye
rained tears of rage down her left cheek; and the other one glowed and
dulled, a winking red spark in the gloom, as she looked quickly up and
down the bed. Her left hand hung down by her side, the arm tense. Then,
as she slipped her right hand under the clothes in an effort to go over
the rest of me, I gave a half turn and a low sleep moan to warn her
off. At once the left hand shot up over my head, the lean fingers
clutching a foot of lead pipe. Again I tried to appear sound asleep.
With eyes tight shut I lay still. I dared not move. One glimpse of that
tortured face had shown me that I could hope for nothing; the utter
folly of mercy or half measures was fully understood. Yet, effort was
impossible. I was simply and completely afraid.

The lead pipe did not, however, meet my skull. Hearing a slight
scuffle, I peeped out to find that there were now two figures in the
gloom. The Boss had crept up, seized the hag's left arm, and was
pointing to the door. She held back, and in silent pantomime showed
that Mick had not been gone over yet. With her free hand she gathered
her one skirt over her dirty, skinny knees and danced with rage by the
side of my bed. She looked like the parody of some carrion creature
seen in the nightmare of a starving man. The most terrible thing about
her was her amazing silence; the mad dance of her stockinged feet on
the bare boards made no sound.

The Boss loosened his hold on her wrist, but took away the lead pipe
from her, and she slipped over to Mick. Again those skinny claws went
through their evolutions with uncanny silence and effect, whilst I lay,
every muscle taut, ready to spring up if occasion required. My nerve
had returned, and now that the piece of lead pipe was in the hands of
the less fiendish partner of this strange concern, I was ready to wade
in. But she found nothing, and Mick slept on. We were too poor to rob;
but this only enraged her the more. Her fingers twisted themselves into
the shawl at her breast, and she silently but vehemently spat at Mick's
head as she moved away.

For half an hour I tried in vain to sleep, and then the Boss again
appeared. This time he bore a huge bulk of patched and soiled canvas,
part of an old sail, which he hung from the ceiling across the middle
of the room, thus shutting off Twinetoes, Mick and myself from that
part where was the door on to the stairs. He was not noisy, but he made
no attempt to keep the previous death stillness of the house.

As the Boss descended the stairs, a surprising thing happened--and Mick
awoke. Girlish laughter rippled up the stairs! "God Almighty," said
Mick, "what's that?"

Again it came, and with it the gurgling of the old woman. It was
impossible and incredible, that mingling in the fetid air of those two
sounds, as if the babble of clear spring water had suddenly broken into
and merged with the turgid roll of a city sewer. Mick sat up. "But this
is bloody!" he said.

"Wait," was all I replied.

We waited. Mick slipped out of bed, carefully opened his knife and made
a few judicious slits in the veiling canvas. My senses had become
abnormally acute. I seemed to hear every shade of sound within and
without the house. I could sense, I imagined, the very positions in
which sat the persons in the kitchen below. Even Twinetoes was affected
by the tense atmosphere. He murmured in his sleep and seemed somewhat
sobered, for his limbs took more natural positions on the bed. The
darkness was no longer a bar to vision. By now I could see quite
clearly; and so, I believe, could Mick.

The old woman was mumbling to the girl. "'S aw ri', mi dear. 'Av' a
drink o' this. W'll fix y'up aw ri'."

She had again dropped into the low uncertain voice of aimless senility.
The girl remained silent. Glasses clinked. The Boss, I could hear,
walked up and down the kitchen, busy with some final work of the night.
A confused murmur came from another corner; but I could not distinguish
the words: The dock rats were apparently discussing something.

Again that ripple of sound ascended the stairs, but this time there was
an added note of apprehension. It broke very faintly but pitifully,
before dying away to the sound of light footsteps. Half a dozen stairs
were pressed, then came a stumble and a girlish "A-ah." She recovered
herself as the hateful voice from behind said, "Aw ri', m'dear," and
older, surer feet felt the stairs and pushed on behind the girl.
Through the veiling canvas and the old walls I seemed to see the pair
ascending. A few seconds more, and a slight farm rounded the jamb of
the door. The girl's eyes blinked in the walled twilight of the room.
She hesitated on the threshold, but only for a second. The touch of a
following frame impelled her forward. Her uncertain foot caught against
a bed leg and a white hand gripped the steadying rail. Long-nailed
claws laced themselves in the fingers of her other hand and the old
woman half drew, half twisted her into sitting down on the edge of the
bed. They began to talk quietly. I examined them more closely....

The old crone still played the part of ancient childhood, mumbling
words of little import and obscenely fingering the girl's arms, head,
and waist. Some instinct led her to veil her eyes from the girl, for
from those differing orbs gleamed all the wickedness of her mangled and
distorted soul. Fountains rained from her left eye, whilst the right
again held that sinister glow. The girl was half drunk, and, I fancied,
drugged. She swayed slightly where she sat.

She wore a small hat of a dark velvety material; a white, loose blouse,
and what seemed a dark blue skirt. Round her neck hung an old-fashioned
link of coral beads. Her brow was low but broad, and her hair, brushed
back from the forehead, was bunched large behind, but not below, the
head. Her roving eyes, gradually overcoming the clinging gloom of the
place, were dark brown and unnaturally bright. Half open in an empty
smile, her lips disclosed white but somewhat irregular teeth. Seen
plainly in such surroundings, she was--to me--a pitiable and
undesirable creature. I did not like the looks of her now. The mental
image formed on the sound of her laughter was infinitely preferable to
the sight of her. She was, I fancied, some servant girl of a romantic
nature. I was right. "I don't care," she was saying, "I'll never go
back. Trust me. Had enough. Slavey for four bob a week. 'Taint good
enough. They said if I couldn't be in by arf past nine I'd find the
door locked. And I did! They c'n keep it locked."

"'S aw 'ri'. You go t'sleep 'ere wi' me. W'll put yo' t' ri's. Y'll
'av' a luvly dress t'morro', an' a go' time. Wait t'l y'see the young
man we'll find y' t'morro'. Now go t'bed." Those twining fingers ceased
toying with the girl's hair and deftly slipped a protecting hook from
an all-too-easy eye in the back of the girl's blouse.

"Three years I've been a slavey for those stuck-up pigs," said the girl
in a subdued mutter, and then she went on to recount, quaintly and in a
half incoherent jumble, the salient facts of her life. I glanced at
Mick. He was leaning forward, peering through another slit. His face
had its old set look; stern, condemnatory. Twice I had had to reach out
and grip his wrist. He wanted to interfere; I was waiting--I knew not
for what.

As the muttering proceeded, the busy fingers of the old woman loosened
the clothes of the indifferent girl, who soon stood swaying by the side
of the bed in her chemise. Deftly the dirty quilt was slipped back and
the girlish form rolled into the creaking bed. The muttering went on
for a few minutes whilst the old woman sat watching the flushed face
and the tumbled hair on the pillow. The girl's right arm was thrown
carelessly abroad over the quilt, the shoulder gleaming white in the
deeper shadow thrown by the old woman who sat with her back to us,
looking down intently at this waiting morsel of humanity. If we had not
seen her before, we could have imagined her to be praying.

Mick, for the first time since their entry into the room, suddenly
looked over at me. The same thoughts must have flashed through both our
brains. What was wrong? Was anything wrong? Surely the affair was quite
simple; and the canvas screen, violated by Mick's knife, had expressed
the needed attempt at decency.

The muttering died down and the room was hushed to strained silence--to
be broken soon by a furtive pad on the stairs. Mick and I were again
alert, staring through the canvas slits. The Boss now appeared,
followed by one of the dock rats. They glanced at the bed and then
looked enquiringly at the old woman.

"Ol' Soloman sh'd fork out a termer for this," she said in low but
clear tones. "But it's got to be a proper job." Then, to the Boss, and
pointing to the screen, indicating the position of our beds: "You
lamming idiot! Didn't I tell yo'? Yo' sh'd a took their bits an' outed

The dock rat was tip-toeing about the bed, like a starved rodent
outside a wire-screened piece of food. His glance shifted from that
gleaming shoulder hunched up over the slim neck to the heavy face of
the Boss and then to the old woman, returning quickly to the form on
the bed.

"Oo's goin' t'do it?" asked the old crone of the Boss. "You or Bill?"
and she drew down the clothes, exposing the limp sprawled limbs of the
sleeping girl. The Boss did not reply. He simply took a half-stride
back, away from the bed. The dock rat's eyes gleamed: he had noted the
movement. He ceased his tip-toeing about and looked at the Boss.
"What's my share?"

"Blimy! Your share?" returned the Boss in a hoarse whisper. Then,
pointing to the waiting, half-naked form: "That!"

In their contemplation of their victim they were so absorbed that they
apparently forgot entirely the three of us bedded on the other side of
the hanging sail. Mick and I were staggered. We looked at each other,
realising at the self-same instant the whole purpose of this curious
conference. By some subtle and secret processes of the mind again there
seemed to be a change in the atmosphere of the room. Its sordid
dinginess was no longer present to our consciousness. There was new
life, heart, and vigour and, in some curious way, our mentalities
seemed merged together. No longer puzzled, we were vibrant with a
common purpose. I was angry and disgusted; Mick was moved to the inmost
sanctuary of his Celtic being. He manifested the last degree of outrage
and insult, of agonised anger. For the moment we were cleansed of all
the pettiness and grossness common to manhood, inspired only with a
new-born worship of the inviolable right of the individual to the
disposal of its own tokens of affection and life.

And this new spirit of ours pervaded the room. The girl moaned in her
drunken sleep. Twinetoes turned restlessly in bed, and the lines of his
face sharpened and deepened. Something was killing the poison in both.
Even the trio about the girl were momentarily moved by some new

Mick's accustomed recklessness of action was gone, he was cool and
prepared to be calculating. We slipped on our boots and I moved over to
Twinetoes' bed. I touched his arm. Mumbling curses he opened his eyes.
"It's Mac," I whispered, leaning over and looking steadyingly into his

"Wot the 'ell...." he began, but I managed to silence him. Once
accustomed to the gloom, his eyes took in the strangeness of the
situation and, painfully swallowing the foul nausea of his drunk, he
calmly and quietly pulled on his boots.

The old woman had again covered up the still sleeping girl and engaged
the Boss in a wrangle about money. "You'll bloody well swing yet," said
the Boss irrelevantly.

"Mebbe; but that don't alter it. I wants my full share 'n I means to
'av' it."

Dispassionately, the dock rat eyed them both and hoped for the best for
himself. We had ceased to exist for them. "Goin'?" asked the dock rat
as the others moved towards the stairs. They looked at him, but did not
reply. So far as we were aware, though we had forgotten the entire
world outside that room, there had been complete silence downstairs;
but now we could hear movement. The other dock rats were evidently
awake and waiting. As the foot of the Boss fell on the top stair, the
spell seemed to fall from Mick. He glared fixedly at the dock rat who
stood by the girl's bed. "I'll tear his guts out," said Mick with
appalling certainty of tone.

The old woman heard it. The lead pipe again in her fist, like a
cornered rat she whipped round. Mick did not wait; full at the canvas
he sprang. His Irish impulsiveness overcame caution, and in a moment he
was wrapped in the hanging sail, the old woman battering the bellying
folds. The dock rat's head was knocking at the wall, Twinetoes cursing
rhythmically and shutting off his breath with fingers of steel. My left
eye was half closed and the Boss's knuckles were bleeding. The girl,
awake and utterly confounded, blinked foolishly and silently, weakly
trying to fix her eyes on some definite point in the tangled thread of
palpitating life that surged about her.

"Look out! Drop him!" I shouted to Twinetoes as I swung in, furious but
with some care, to the face of the Boss. Twinetoes did not heed; he
staggered across the room under a blow from one of the new arrivals;
but he did not loose his hold. He was a hefty man, entirely reliable,
indeed almost happy in such an affair. As number two dock rat tried to
follow up his blow, Twinetoes swung number one round in his way; then,
changing his hold, taking both the man's shoulders in his hands, he
drew back his head as a snake does and butted his man clean over one of
the beds.... His face a pitiful pulp, number one was definitely out of

Ordinarily, the Boss would have been much too much for me; but now fate
favoured me. He was considerably perturbed about the possible outcome
of the row and its effect on his business; I was intent only on the
fight. With a clean left-hand cut I drove him over, tore a quilt from a
bed and flung it over his dazed head, then swung round to where the
lead pipe was still flailing. I was concerned for Mick. Seizing the old
woman's shoulders I flung her back from Mick and the sail. He would
have cleared himself, but his legs were somehow mixed up with the foot
of the bed, and she occupied his attention too much. The hag raised the
lead and rushed, and for the only time in my life I hit a woman.
Without hesitancy or compunction, only revolted at the thought of such
contact with such matter, I smashed her down. The Boss and Mick freed
themselves together and embraced each other willingly. Twinetoes was
playing skittles with the remaining dock rats. There was surprisingly
little noise. No one shouted. There was no howling hounding on of each
other. All but the girl were absorbed in the immediate business of
giving or warding off of blows.

"Dress, quick!" I said to the girl.

The fight had shifted to the centre, and her bed had remained unmoved,
herself unmolested. In wondering silence she obeyed. "Quicker!
Quicker!" I enjoined, with a new brutal note in my voice. The reaction
had set in. I could cheerfully have shoved her down the stairs and
flung her garments after her.

The kip was hidden away in a dark alley, the history and reputation of
which were shudderingly doubtful, but there were police within
dangerous hailing distance. The girl's lips began to quiver. Supposing
she broke down and raised the court by hysterical howling! "Don't
breathe a sound, or we'll leave you to it," I threatened. She shrank
back, gave a low moan, and clutched my coat. I tore her hand loose and
turned away in time to floor the Boss by an easy blow on his left ear.
The fight was finished.

We wasted no time but descended the stairs and passed out through the
court into the street. There were signs of life in the gloomy court,
though no one spoke or molested us; the street was dead silent. Mick's
arms and shoulders were a mass of bruises from the lead pipe, but his
face was clear. Twinetoes was all right, he said, but craving for a
wet. I alone showed evidence of the struggle; my eye was unsightly and
painful, and my left wrist was slightly sprained. The girl sobbed
quietly. "Oh! Oh!" she cried repeatedly, "whatever's to become of me!"

She irritated me. "Shut up!" I said at last, "_You_'ll be all right."
She snuffled unceasingly. I looked across at Mick--she walked between
us, Twinetoes on my right--and at once I saw the outcome of it all.
"Stop it, blast you!" I shook her shoulder. "My pal is the best,
biggest fool that ever raised a fist. He's silly enough for anything
decent," and then, with the voice of conviction born of absolute
certainty of mind: "He'll never chuck you over. He'll marry you
sometime, you fool!"

And he did.



(From _The Manchester Guardian_)


Patrick Deasey described himself as a "philosopher, psychologist, and
humorist." It was partly because Patrick delighted in long words, and
partly to excuse himself for being full of the sour cream of an inhuman
curiosity. His curiosity, however, did not extend itself to science and
_belles lettres_; it concerned itself wholly with the affairs of other
people. At first, when Deasey retired from the police force with a
pension and an heiress with three hundred pounds, and time hung heavy
on his hands, he would try to satisfy this craving through the medium
of a host of small flirtations with everybody's maid. In this way he
could inform himself exactly how many loaves were taken by the Sweeneys
for a week's consumption, as compared with those which were devoured by
all the Cassidys; for whom the bottles at the Presbytery went in by the
back door; and what was the real cause of the quarrel between the twin
Miss McInerneys.

But these were but blackbird-scratchings, as it were, upon the deep
soil of the human heart. What Deasey cared about was what he called
"the secrets of the soul."

"Never met a man," he was wont to say, "with no backstairs to his mind!
And the quieter, decenter, respectabler, innocenter a man looked--like
enough!--the darker those backstairs!"

It was up these stairs he craved to go. To ring at the front door of
ordinary intercourse was not enough for him. When Deasey invested his
wife's money in a public-house he developed a better plan. It was the
plan which made him ultimately describe himself as a humorist. He would
wait until the bar was deserted by all but the one lingering victim
whom his trained eye had picked out. Then, rolling that same eye about
him, as though to make quite sure no other living creature was in
sight, he would gently close the door of the bar-parlour, pick up a
tumbler, breathe on it, polish the breath, lean one elbow on the bar,
look round him once again, and, setting the whisky-bottle betwixt his
customer and himself, with a nod which said "Help yourself," he would
lean forward, with the soft indulgent grin of the human
man-of-the-world, and begin:

"Now, don't distress yourself, me dear man, but as between frien's,
certain delicate little--facts--in your past life have come
inadvertently to me hearing."

Sometimes he would allude to a "certain document," or "incriminating
facts," or "certain letters"--he would ring the changes on these three,
according to the sex and temperament with which he had to deal. But
always, whatever the words, whatever the nature or sex, the shot would
tell. First came the little start, the straightened figure, the pallor
or flush, the shamed and suddenly-lit eyes, and then--

"Who told you, Mr. Deasey, sir?" Or "Where did you get the letter?"

"Ah, now, that would be telling!" Deasey would make reply. "But 'twas
from a _certain person_ whom, perhaps, we need not name!" Then the
whiskey-bottle would move forward, like a pawn in chess, and the next
soothing words would be, "Help yourself now--don't be shy, me dear man!
And--your secret is safe with me!"

Forthwith the little skeleton in that man's cupboard would lean forward
and press upon the door, until at last the door flew open and a bone or
two, and sometimes the whole skeleton, would rattle out upon the floor.

He had played this game so often, that, almost at first sight he could
classify his dupes under the three heads into which he had divided
them: Those who demanded with violent threats--(which melted like snow
before the sunshine of John Jamieson) the letter, or the name of the
informant; those who asked, after a gentle sip or two how the letter
had come into his hands, and those who asked immediately if the letter
hadn't been destroyed. As a rule, from the type that demanded the
letter back, he only caught sight of the tip of the secret's ears. From
those--they were nearly always the women--who swiftly asked if he
hadn't destroyed the letters, he caught shame-faced gleams of the

But those who asked between pensive sips, how the facts or the letter
had come his way, these were the ones who yielded Deasey the richest
harvest of rattling skeleton bones.

Indeed, it was curiously instructive how John Jamieson laid down a
causeway of gleaming stepping-stones, so that Deasey might cross
lightly over the turgid waters of his victims' souls. At the words,
accompanied by John Jamieson--"A certain dark page of your past
history--help yourself, me boy!--has been inadvertently revealed to me,
but is for ever sacred in me breast!"--it was strange to see how, from
the underworld of the man's mind, there would trip out the company of
misshapen hobgoblins and gnomes which had been locked away in darkness,
maybe, this many a year.

"Well--how would I get the time to clane the childer and to wash their
heads, and I working all the day at curing stinkin' hides! 'Twas
Herself should have got it, and Herself alone!"...


"No, I never done it, for all me own mother sworn I did. I only give
the man a little push--that way!--and he fell over on the side, and
busted all his veins!"


"Well, an' wouldn't you draw two pinsions yourself, Mr. Deasey, if
you'd a wife with two han's like a sieve for yellow gold!"

But there were some confessions, haltingly patchy and inadequate, but
hauntingly suggestive, which Deasey could neither piece out on the
spot, nor yet unravel in the small hours of the night. There was one of
this nature which troubled his rest long:

"Well, the way of it was, you see, he put it up the chimbley, but when
the chimbley-sweepers come he transferred it in his weskit to my place,
and I dropped it down the well. They found it when they let the bucket
down, but I wasn't his accomplice at all, 'twas only connivance with

When he had spoken of the chimney and the well Deasey concluded at once
it was a foully murdered corpse. But then, again, you could not well
conceal a corpse in someone's waistcoat; and gold coins would melt or
be mislaid amongst the loose bricks of a sooty chimney. Deasey had
craved for corpses, but nothing so grim as that had risen to his
whisky-bait until he tried the same old game on Mrs. Geraghty. What
subtle instinct was it that had prompted him to add to the first
unvarying words: "But all that is now past and over, and safe beneath
the mouldering clay!"

At these last words, the Widow Geraghty knew well, the barrier was down
that fences off one human soul from another; all the same, she shook
her trembling head when Deasey drew the cork. At her refusal Deasey was
struck with the most respectful compassion; until that hour he had
never known one single lacerated soul decline this consolation.

"And to look at me!" she wept forthwith, "would you think I could shed
a drop of ruddy gore?"

"No, ma'am," returned Deasey. "To look at you, ye'd think ma'am ye
could never kill a fly!"

And respectfully he passed the peppermints.

"Sometimes," the widow muttered, "I hears it, and it bawling in me
dreams o' night. And the two bright eyes of it, and the little clay
cold feet!" Deasey knew what was coming now, and he twitched in every
vein. And she so white-haired and so regular at church: and the black
bonnet on the head of her, an' all! "It was the only little one she
had," went on the widow, bowed almost to the bar by shame, "and it
always perched up on her knee, and taking food from her mouth, and she
nursing it agin her face. But I had bad teeth in me head, and I
couldn't get my rest, with the jaws aching, and all the whiles it
screeching with the croup. 'Twould madden you!"

"All the same," Deasey whispered, "maybe it wasn't your fault: 'twas
maybe your man egged you on to do the shameful deed----"

"It was so," said the widow. "'Let you get up and cut its throat,' says
he, 'and then we will be shut of the domned screechin' thing.'" "Then
you got the knife, ma'am," prompted Deasey. "It was the bread-knife,"
she answered, "with the ugly notches in the blade,--and I stole in the
back way to her place in the dead hours of the night--and I had me
apron handy for to quench the cries; and when I c'ot it be the throat
didn't it look up at me with the two bright, innocent eyes!"

"And what'd you do with the body?" he asked.

"I dug a grave in the shine of the moon," she answered. "And I put it
in by the two little cold grey feet----"

This touch of the grey feet laid a spell on Deasey's hankering

"_What turned the feet grey_?" he whispered.

"Nature, I s'pose!" replied the white-haired widow. She drew her shawl
about her shrinking form before she turned away.

"'Twas never found out, from that hour to this, who done it!" muttered
the Widow Geraghty, "but, may the Divvle skelp me if I touch one drop
of chucken-tea again!"



(From The _Story-Teller_)


Looking back on it from this distance of time--it began in the early
and ended in the middle eighties--I see the charm of ingenuous youth
stamped on the episode, the touching glamour of limitless faith and
expectation. We were, the whole little band of us, so deliciously
self-sufficient, so magnificently critical of established reputations
in contemporary letters and art. We sniffed and snorted, noses in air,
at popular idols, while ourselves weighted down with a cargo of
guileless enthusiasm only asking opportunity to dump itself at an
idol's feet. We ached to burn incense before the altar of some
divinity; but it must be a divinity of our own discovering, our own
choosing. We scorned to acclaim ready-made, second-hand goods. Then we
encountered Pogson--Heber Pogson. Our fate, and even more, perhaps, his
fate, was henceforth sealed.

He was a large, sleek, pink creature, slow and rare of movement, from
much sitting bulky, not to say squashy, in figure, mild-eyed, slyly
jovial and--for no other word, to my mind, so closely fits his
attitude--resigned. A positive glutton of books, he read as
instinctively, almost as unconsciously, as other men breathe. But he
not only absorbed. He gave forth and that copiously, with taste, with
discrimination, now and again with startlingly eloquent flights and
witty sallies. His memory was prodigious. The variety and vivacity of
his conversation, the immense range of subjects he brilliantly
laboured, when in the vein, remain with me as simply marvellous. With
us he mostly was in the vein. And, vanity apart, we must have composed
a delightful audience, generously censer-swinging. No man of even
average feeling but would be moved by such fresh, such spontaneous
admiration! Thus, if our divinity melodiously piped, we did very
radiantly dance to his piping.

Oh! Heber Pogson enjoyed it. Never tell me he didn't revel in those
highly articulate evenings of monologue, gasconade, heated yet
brotherly argument, lasting on to midnight and after, every bit as much
as we did! Anyhow at first. Later he may have had twinges, been
sensible of strain; though never, I still believe, a very severe one.
In any case, Nature showed herself his friend--his saviour, if also, in
some sort, his executioner. When the strain tended to become
distressing, for him personally, very simply and cleverly, she found a
way out.

A background of dark legend only brought the steady glow of his--and
our--present felicity into richer relief. We gathered hints of, caught
in passing smiling allusion to, straitened and impecunious early years.
He had endured a harsh enough apprenticeship to the profession of
letters in its least satisfactory, because most ephemeral, form--namely
journalism, and provincial journalism at that. This must have painfully
cribbed and confined his free-ranging spirit. We were filled by
reverent sympathy for the trials and deprivations of his past. But at
the period when the members--numbering a dozen, more or less--of our
devoted band trooped up from Chelsea and down from the Hampstead
heights to worship in the studio-library of the Church Street,
Kensington, house, Pogson was lapped in a material well-being
altogether sufficient. He treated us, his youthful friends and
disciples, to very excellent food and drink; partaking of these
himself, moreover, with evident readiness and relish. Those little
"help-yourselves," stand-up suppers in the big, quiet, comfortably
warmed and shaded room revealed in him no ascetic tendency, though, I
hasten to add, no tendency to unbecoming excess. Such hospitality
testified to the soundness of Pogson's existing financial position; as
did his repeated assertions that now, at last--praise heaven--he had
leisure to do worthy and abiding work, work through which he could
freely express his personality, express in terms of art his judgments
upon, and appreciations of, the human scene.

We listened breathless, nodding exuberant approval. For weren't we
ourselves, each and all of us, mightily in love with art and with the
human scene? And hadn't we, listening thus breathlessly to our amazing
master, the enchanting assurance that we were on the track of a
masterpiece? Not impossibly a whole gallery of masterpieces, since
Heber Pogson had barely touched middle age as yet. For him there still
was time. Fiction, we gathered to be the selected medium. He not only
meant to write, but was actually now engaged in writing, a novel during
those withdrawn and sacred morning hours when we were denied admittance
to his presence. We previsaged something tremendous, poetic yet
fearlessly modern, fixed on the bedrock of realism, a drama and a
vision wide, high, deep, spectacular yet subtle as life itself. Let his
confreres, French and Russian--not to mention those merely British
born--look to their laurels, when Heber Pogson blossomed into print!
And--preciously inspiring thought--he was our Pogson. He inalienably

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