Part 5 out of 8
belonged to us; since hadn't we detected the quality of his genius when
the veil was still upon its face? Oh! we knew, bless you; we knew. We'd
the right to sniff and snort, noses in air, at contemporary reputations
because we were snugly awaiting the disclosure of a talent which would
prick them into nothingness like so many bubbles, pop them like so many
inflated paper bags, knock them one and all into the proverbial cocked
Unfortunately youth, with a fine illogic, though having all the time
there is before it, easily waxes impatient. In our eagerness for his
public recognition, his apotheosis, we did, I am afraid, hustle our
great man a little. Instead of being satisfied with his nocturnal
coruscations--they brilliant as ever, let it be noted--we just a
fraction resented the slowness of his progress, began ever so gently to
shove that honoured bulky form behind and pull at it in front. We
wanted the tangible result of those many sacred and secret morning
hours during which his novel was in process of being formed and
fashioned, gloriously built up. Wouldn't he tell us the title,
enlighten us as to the theme, the scheme, thus allaying the hunger
pangs of our pious curiosity by crumbs--ever so small and few--dropped
from his richly furnished table? With exquisite good-humour, he fenced
and feinted. Almost roguishly he would laugh us off and launch the
conversation into other channels, holding us--after the first few
vexatiously outwitted seconds--at once enthralled and delicately
But at last--in the late spring, as far as I remember, of the second
year of our devotion--there came a meeting at which things got pressed
somehow to a head. Contrary to custom feminine influence made itself
And here I pause and blush. For it strikes me as so intimately
characteristic of our whole relation--in that earlier stage, at
least--that I should have written all this on the subject of Heber
Pogson without making one solitary mention of his wife. She existed.
Was permanently in evidences--or wasn't it, rather, in eclipse?--as a
shadowy parasitic entity perambulating the hinterland of his domestic
life. She must have been by some years his junior--a tall, thin,
flat-chested woman, having heavy, yellowish brown hair, a complexion to
match, and pale, nervous eyes. Her clothes hung on her as on a
clothes-peg. She affected vivid greens--as was the mistaken habit of
Victorian ladies possessing the colouring falsely called "auburn"--but
clouded their excessive verdure to neutrality by semi-transparent
over-draperies of black. Harry Lessingham, in a crudely unchivalrous
mood, once described her as "without form and void," adding that she
"had a mouth like a fish." These statements I considered unduly harsh,
yet admitted her almost miraculously negative. She mattered less, when
one was in the room with her, than anything human and feminine which I,
so far, had ever run across. And I was at least normally susceptible,
I'm very sure of that.
As a matter of course, on our arrival at the blest house in Church
Street, we one and all respectfully greeted her, passed, to put it
vulgarly, the time of day with her. But there intercourse ceased. At
some subsequent instant she faded out--whether into space or into some
adjacent connubial chamber, I had no notion. I only realized, when the
act was accomplished, that we now were without her, that she had
vanished, leaving behind her no faintest moral or emotional trace.
But, on the occasion in question, she did not vanish. We fed her at
supper. And still she remained--in the interests of social propriety,
as we imagined, since for once the Pogson symposium included a
stranger, an eminently attractive lady guest.
Harry Lessingham had begged to bring his sister with him. He told me of
this beforehand, and I rejoiced. Lessingham had long been dear to me as
a brother; while that Arabella should only be dear to me as a sister
was, just then, I own, among the things I wished least. I craved,
therefore, to have her share our happy worship. She had a pretty turn
for literature herself. I coveted to see her dazzled, exalted,
impressed--it would be a fascinating spectacle. Before I slept that
night, or rather next morning, I recognized her coming as a disastrous
mistake. For she had received insufficient instruction in ritual, in
the suitable forms of approach to so august a presence as that of our
host. She played round him, flickering, darting, like lightning round a
cathedral tower, metal tipped. Where we, in our young male modesty, had
but gently drawn or furtively shoved, she tickled the soft, sedentary
creature's ribs as with a rapier point. And--to us agitated
watchers--the amazing thing was, that Pogson didn't seem to mind. He
neither rebuked her nor laughed her off; but purred, veritably purred,
under her alternate teasing and petting like some big, sleek cat.
At last, with a cajoling but really alarming audacity, she went for him
"Of course, dear Mr. Pogson, Harry has told me all about your wonderful
novel," she said. "I am so interested, so thrilled--and so grateful to
you for letting me join your audience to-night. But I want quite
frightfully to know more. Speaking not only for myself, but for all who
are present, may I implore a further revelation? Pray don't send us
empty away in respect of the wonderful book. It would be so lovely
while we sit here at your feet."...
She, in fact, sat by his side, her chair placed decidedly close to his.
"If you would read us a chapter.... A chapter is impossible?"...
Her charming, pliant mouth; her charming dancing eyes; her caressing
voice--I won't swear even her caressing hands didn't, for a brief
space, take part--all wooed him to surrender.
"Well, a page then, a paragraph? Ah! don't be obdurate. The merest
sentence? Surely we may claim as much as that? Picture our pride, our
She enclosed us all in a circular and sympathetic glance, which ended,
as it had started, by meeting his mild eyes, lingering appealingly upon
his large, pink countenance.
Pogson succumbed. No, he wouldn't read; but, since she so amiably
"More than anything in all my life!" with the most convincing and
... He thought he might rehearse a passage, which wasn't--as he gladly
believed--altogether devoid of merit. He did rehearse it. And we broke
into applause the more tempestuous because suspicion of a chill queerly
lay upon us. A chill insidious as it was vague, disturbing as it
was--wasn't it? we silently, quite violently, hoped so--ridiculously
"After all, that passage is thundering good, you know," Harry
Lessingham announced, as though arguing with himself, arguing himself
out of that same invidious chill, an hour later.
Arabella had refused a hansom, declaring herself excited, still under
the spell, and so wanting to walk. Leaving the Church Street house, the
three of us crossed into Campden Grove, with a view to turning down
Campden House Road, thus reaching Kensington High Street.
"It was out of sight of the average--packed with epigram; worthy of all
we've ever believed or asked of him. It takes a master of technique, of
style, to write like that."
"Beloved brother, which of us ever said it didn't?" Arabella took him
Slender, light-footed, the train of her evening gown switched over her
arm, beneath her flowing orange and white-flowered satin cloak, she
walked between us.
"Why, it was good to the point of being inevitable. One seemed--I
certainly did--to know every phrase, every word which was coming. None
could have been other, or been placed otherwise than it was--and that's
the highest praise one can give to anybody's prose, isn't it? One
jumped to the perfect rightness of the whole--a rightness so perfect as
to make the sentences sound quite extraordinarily familiar."
This last assertion dropped as a bomb between Lessingham and myself.
"By the way," the girl presently said, as our awkward silence
continued, "has either of you happened to read, or re-read, Meredith's
'Egoist' just lately?"
Lessingham stopped short, and in the light of a neighbouring gas-lamp I
saw his handsome, boyish face look troubled to the point of physical
"What on earth are you driving at? What do you mean, Arabella--that
Pogson is a plagiarist?"
"Don't eat me, Harry dearest, if I incline to use a shorter, commoner
"An unconscious one, no doubt," she threw off quickly, fearful of
explosions, possibly, in her turn. "He may have been betrayed by his
own extraordinary memory."
"But this is horrible, horrible," Lessingham cried. "All the names,
though, were different."
Arabella appeared to have overcome her fear of explosions. Her charming
eyes again danced.
"Exactly," she said. "That was the peculiar part of it, the thing which
riveted my attention. He had--I mean the names of the characters and
places were different--were altered, changed."
Lessingham stood bare-headed in the light of a gas-lamp. He ran the
fingers of his left hand through his crisp fair hair, rumpling it up
into a distracted crest. I could see, could almost hear, the travail of
his honest soul. Loyalty, faith and honour worked at high pressure to
hit on a satisfactory explanation.
Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed.
"Why, of course," he cried, "it's as clear as mud. Pogson wasn't
betrayed by anything. He did it on purpose. Don't you understand, you
dear goose, you very-much-too-clever-by-half dear goose? It was simply
his kindly joke, his good-natured little game. And we, like the pack of
idiots which--compared with him--we are, never scented it. You
pestered--yes, Arabella, most unconscionably pestered him to read an
excerpt from his novel; and to pacify you he quoted a page from
Harry Lessingham tucked his hand under the folds of the orange and
white-flowered cloak, and taking the girl affectionately by the elbow,
trotted her down the sloping pavement towards Kensington High Street.
"All the honours of war rest with Pogson," he joyfully assured her.
"You made an importunate, impertinent demand for bread. He didn't mean
to be drawn; but was too civil, too tender-hearted to put you off with
a stone, so slyly cut you a slice from another man's loaf. Does it
occur to you, my sweet sister, you've been had--very neatly had?"
"If it comes to that, Miss Lessingham by no means stands alone," I
interrupted. "We've all been had, as you so gracefully put it, very
neatly and very extensively had."
For though I trusted Lessingham's view was the correct one--trusted so
most devoutly--I could not but regret the discomfiture of Arabella. Her
approach to our chosen idol may have slightly lacked in reverence; she
may, indeed, in plain English, have cheeked him. But she had done so in
the prettiest, airiest manner. Pogson's punishment of her indiscretion,
if highly ingenious, still struck me as not in the best taste. For was
it not at once rather mean and rather cheap to make so charming a
person the subject, and that before witnesses, of a practical joke?
If, after all, it really was a joke. That insidious, odious chill which
earlier prompted my tempestuous applause, as I woefully registered,
hung about me yet. Unquestionably Arabella Lessingham's visit to Church
Street showed more and more, when I considered it, as a radical
mistake! From it I date the waning of the moon of my delight in respect
of both Pogson and herself. I had bowed in worship, equally sincere,
though diverse in sentiment, before each; and to each had pledged my
allegiance. To have them thus discredit one another represented the
most trying turn of events.
For a full month I cold-shouldered the band, abjured the shrine, and
avoided the lady. Then, while still morose and brooding, my trouble at
its height, a cousin--in the third degree--rich, middle-aged, and
conveniently restless, invited me to be his travelling companion. We
had taken trips together before. This one promised fields of wider
adventure--nothing less than the quartering of southern Europe, along
with nibblings at African and Asiatic Mediterranean coasts. It was the
chance of a life-time. I embraced it. I also called at the house in
Church Street to make my farewells. I could do no less.
I have used the word "resigned" in describing Pogson. To-day that word
notably covered him. Our friend appeared depressed; yet bland in his
depression, anxious to mollify and placate rather than reproach. His
attitude touched me. I hardly deserved it after my neglect--to which,
by the way, he made no smallest reference. But as I unfolded my plans,
he increasingly threw off his depression and generously entered into
them. Would have me fetch an atlas and trace out my proposed itinerary
upon the map. It included names to conjure with. These set wide the
flood-gates of his speech. He at once enchanted and confounded me by
his knowledge of the literature, art, history, of Syria, Egypt, Italy,
Greece, and the Levant.
For the next three-quarters of an hour I had Pogson at his best. And
oh! how vastly good that same best was! Under the flashing,
multi-coloured light of it, he routed my suspicions; put my annoyance
and distrust to flight. As he leaned back in the roomy library chair,
filled to veritable overflowing by his big, squashy, brown-velvet
jacketted person--Pogson had put on flesh of late; put it on sensibly,
as I remarked, even during the few weeks of my absence--he reconquered
all my admiration and belief.
As I rose to depart:
"Ah! you fortunate youth," he thus genially addressed me; "thrice
fortunate youth, in your freedom, your enterprise, your happy
elasticity of flesh and spirit! What won't you have to tell me of
things actually seen, of lands, cities, civilizations, past and
present, and the storied wonder of them, when you come back!"
"And what won't you have to read to me in return, dear Master," I
echoed, eager to testify to my recovered faith. "By then the book will
be finished on which all our hopes and affections are set. Ten times
more precious, more illuminating than anything I have seen, will be
what I hear from you when I come back!"
But, as I spoke, surely I wasn't mistaken in thinking that for an
agitating minute the pinkness of Pogson's large countenance sickly
ebbed and blanched. And while my attention was still engaged by this
disquieting phenomenon, I became aware that Mrs. Pogson had joined us.
Silently, mysteriously, she faded--the term holds good--into evidence,
as on so many former occasions she had silently, mysteriously faded
Dressed in one of those verdant gowns, so dolorously veiled in
semi-transparent black, she stood behind her husband's chair. Her eyes
met mine. They were no longer nervous or in expression vague; but oddly
aggressive, challenging, defiantly alight.
"Oh, yes," she declared, "by then Heber will have completed his great
novel, without doubt."
When uttering his name, she laid a thin, long-fingered hand upon his
rounded shoulder, and to my--little short of--stupefaction, I saw
Pogson's fat, pink hand move up to seek and clasp it.
On me this action--hers soothing, protective; his appealing,
welcoming--produced the most bewildering effect. I felt embarrassed and
abashed; an indecently impertinent intruder upon the secret places of
two human hearts. That any such intimate and tender correspondence
existed between this so strangely ill-assorted couple I never dreamed.
I uttered what must have sounded wildly incoherent farewells and fled.
Of the ensuing eighteen months of foreign travel it is irrelevant here
to speak. Suffice it that on my return to England and to Chelsea, the
earliest news which greeted me was that Arabella Lessingham had been
now five weeks married and Heber Pogson a fortnight dead. Lessingham,
dear, good fellow, was my informant, and minded acquainting me, so I
fancied, only a degree less with the first item than with the second.
For some considerable time, he told me, Pogson had been ailing. He grew
inordinately stout, unwieldy to the extent of all exertion, all
movement causing him distress. Suffocation threatened if he attempted
to lie down; so that, latterly, he spent not only all day, but all
night sitting in the big library chair we knew so well. If not actually
in pain, he must still have suffered intolerable discomfort. But he
never complained, and to the last his passion for books never failed.
"We took him any new ones we happened to run across, as you'd take a
sick woman flowers. To the end he read."
"And wrote?" I asked.
"That I can't say," Lessingham replied. "There were things I could not
make out. And I couldn't question him. It didn't seem to be my place,
though I had an idea he'd something on his mind to speak of which would
be a relief. It worried me badly. I felt sure he wanted to tell us, but
couldn't bring himself to the point. He talked of you. He cared for you
more than for any of us; yet--I may be all wrong--it seemed to me he
was glad you weren't here. Once or twice, I thought, he felt almost
afraid you might come back before--before it was all over, you know. It
sounds rather horrible, but I had a feeling he longed to slink off
quietly out of sight--for he did not dread death, I'm certain of that.
What he dreaded was that life had some trick up her sleeve which, if he
delayed too long, might give him away; put him to shame somehow at the
"And Mrs. Pogson?"
Lessingham looked at me absently.
"Oh! Mrs. Pogson? She's never interested me. She's too invertebrate;
but I believe she took care of Pogson all right."
Next day I called at the house in Church Street. After some parley I
was admitted into the studio-library. Neither in Mrs. Pogson nor in the
familiar room did I find any alteration, save that the green had
disappeared from her dress. She wore hanging, trailing, unrelieved
black. And that a piece of red woollen cord was tied across, from arm
to arm, of Pogson's large library chair, forbidding occupation of it.
This pleased me. It struck the positive, the, in a way, aggressive
note, which Mrs. Pogson had once before so strangely, unexpectedly,
sounded in my presence.
I said the things common to such occasions as that of our present
meeting; said them with more than merely conventional feeling and
emphasis. I praised her husband's great gifts, his amazing learning,
his eloquence, the magnetic charm by which he captivated and held us.
Finally I dared the question I had come here to ask, which had burned
upon my tongue, indeed, from the moment I heard of Pogson's death.
"What about the novel? Might we hope for speedy, though posthumous,
publication? We were greedy; the world should know how great a literary
genius it had lost. Was it ready for press, as--did she
remember?--she'd assured me it would certainly be by the time I came
Mrs. Pogson did not betray any sign of emotion. Her thin hands remained
perfectly still in her crape-covered lap.
"There is no novel," she calmly told me. "There never has been any
novel. Heber did not finish it because he never began it. He did not
possess the creative faculty. You were not content with what he gave.
You asked of him that which he could not give. At first he played with
you--it amused him. You were so gullible, so absurdly ignorant. Then he
hesitated to undeceive you--in that, I admit, he was weak. But he
suffered for his weakness. It made him unhappy. Oh I how I have
hated--how I still hate you!--for I saved him from poverty, from hard
work. I secured him a peaceful, beautiful life, till you came and
spoilt it.... All the money was mine," she said.
By ELINOR MORDAUNT
(From _Hutchinson's Magazine_ and _The Century Magazine_)
I have written before of Ben Cohen, with his eternal poring and humming
over the scores of great masters; of the timber-yard at Canning Town,
for ever changing and for ever the same, devouring forests with the
eternal wind-like rush of saws, slide of gigantic planes; practical and
chill; wrapped in river-fogs, and yet exotic with the dust of cedar,
In those days Ben Cohen was wont to read music as other boys read their
penny-dreadfuls, avidly, with the imagined sounds like great waves for
ever a-rush through his soul.
In the very beginning it was any music, just music. Then for a while
Wagner held him. Any Wagnerian concert, any mixed entertainment which
included Wagner--it seemed as though he sniffed them upon the
breeze--and he would tramp for miles, wait for hours; biting cold,
sleet, snow, mud, rain, all alike disregarded by that persistence which
the very poor must bring to the pursuit of pleasure, the capture of
Once ensconced, regardless of hard, narrow seats, heights, crowds, his
passion of adoration and excitement took him, shook him, tore him so
that it was wonder his frail body did not split in two, render up the
soul coming forth as Lazarus from the sepulchre. It was indeed, if you
knew little Ben Cohen, him, _himself_, difficult to realise that his
body had anything more to do with him than the yellow-drab water-proof
which is a sort of uniform--a species of charity, covering a multitude
of sins of poverty, shabbiness, thread-bareness--had to do with the
real Jenny Bligh.
And yet, Ben Cohen's body was more completely his than one might have
imagined. Jenny could, and indeed did, slough off her disguise on
Sundays or rare summer days; but Ben and that self which was apart from
music--that wildly-beating heart, pulsing blood, flooding warmth,
grateful as the watchman's fire in the fog-sodden yard, that little
fire over which he used to hang, warming his stiffened hands--were,
after all, amazingly one.
The thing surprised him even more than it surprised any one else; above
all, when it refused to be separated from his holy of holies, crept,
danced, smiled its way through the most portentous scores--a thrilling
sense of Jenny Bligh, all crotchets and quavers, smiles and thrills,
quaint homeliness, sudden dignity.
By the time he first met Jenny he was clear of Wagner, had glanced a
little patronisingly at Beethoven, turned aside and enwrapped himself
in the sombre splendour of Bach, right away from the world; then,
harking back, with a fresh vision, a sudden sense of the inevitable,
had anchored himself in the solemn, wide-stretching harbourage of
It was like a return from a long voyage, tearing round a world full of
beauty and interest, and yet, at the same time, full of pettiness,
fuss, annoyance: a home-coming beyond words. There was a sense of
eternity, a harmony which drew everything to itself, smoothing out the
pattern of life, the present life and the life to come, so crumpled
that, up to this time, he had had no real idea of the meaning of it.
All at once everything was immensely right, with Jenny as an essential
and inevitable part of the rightness. He felt this so strongly that he
never stopped to wonder if other people felt it as plainly as he did.
Apart from all this, he was bound by the inarticulateness of his class.
His Jewish blood lent him a wider and more picturesque vocabulary than
most, and yet it stopped at any discussion of his feelings.
We have an idea that what we call the "common people" are more
communicative on such subjects than we are; but this is not so. They
talk of their physical ailments and sensations, but they are deeply shy
upon the subject of their feelings. Ben's mother would discuss the
state of her inside, the deaths of her relations and friends; his own
birth, down to the smallest detail. But she would never have dreamt of
telling her son that she loved him, desired his love, hungered for his
coming, grieved at his going.
Ben himself put none of his feeling for Beethoven into words, above all
to his mother; she would not have understood him if he had. He said
nothing of Jenny, either, save as a girl he'd met, a girl he was going
to bring home to tea; but she understood that without any words; that
was courting, part of the business of human nature; much like the
preparation of meals.
It was odd, coming to think of it--might have been ridiculous, save
that ridicule was the sort of thing which could find no possible
lodgment with Ben--that his determination to devote his whole musical
life to Beethoven, to interpret him as no Englishman had ever done
before, should have been synonymous with his sacred, heady, and yet
absolute determination to marry Jenny Bligh.
Jenny worked in the jam-factory, and there was something of the aroma
of ripe fruit about her: ripe strawberries, raspberries, plums,
damsons. She was plumpish and fresh: very red lips and very bright
eyes, reddish-brown, the colour of blackberry leaves in autumn, with
hair to match. Her little figure was neat; her small hands, with their
square-tipped fingers, deft and quick in their movements; there was
something at once rounded and clear-cut about everything she did.
A sea-faring admirer used to say that she was "a bit short in the beam,
but a daisy fur carryin' sail"; and that was the idea she gave: so
well-balanced, so trim, going off to work in her wide white apron on
those rare mornings when she shook off the yellow mackintosh.
Ben saw her like that for the first time crossing the Lee just below
the timber-yard with its cranes like black notes zigzagging out over
the river, which had for once discarded its fog. It was a day of bright
blue sky, immense, rounded, silvery clouds, fresh and clean; with a
wind which caught up the white apron and billowed it out for the sheer
fun of the thing: showing trim ankles, the turn of a plump calf, such
as Ben Cohen had never even thought of before, the realisation of which
was like wine: freshly tasted, red, fruity, running through his veins,
mounting to his head. He had known that women had legs; his mother, the
laundress, suffered from hers--complainingly, devoted woman as she
was--swollen with much standing, and "them there dratted veins": stocky
legs, with loose folds of stocking.
As to thinking any more of a woman's legs than of the legs of a table,
the idea had never even occurred to him. But there you are! It is the
unexpected that happens: the sort of thing which we could never have
imagined ourselves as doing, thinking, feeling. The temptations we have
recognised, struggled against, are nothing; but there comes a sort of
wild, whistling wind from nowhere--much the same as that wind about
jenny's skirts, white apron--and our life is like a kaleidoscope,
suddenly shaken up and showing a completely fresh pattern.
Who could have thought it--who?--that Ben Cohen, dreamer, idealist,
passionate, pure, the devotee of art, would have fallen in love with
Jenny Bligh's legs--or, rather, a pair of ankles, and a little more at
that side where the wind caught her skirt--before he had so much as a
glimpse of her face?
Just over the bridge she stopped to speak with another girl who worked
in his own counting-house. As Ben hurried up to pass them before they
separated, really see her, this other girl recognised him, flung him a
friendly "Hullo!" and was answered in the same fashion.
As he moved on he heard her--was meant to hear, knew that he was meant
to hear, from the pitch of the voice--"Clever ain't no word fur it!
There ain't no tune as----"
The end of the sentence was lost; but he knew the sort of thing, knew
it by heart, had spent his time running away from it. Now, however, he
was grateful: more grateful still when he met Miss Ankles again, and
she herself, regarding Florry Hines' eulogy as a sort of introduction,
smiled, moved on a step, and herself tossed a "Hullo" over one
Ben's thin olive-tinted face was flushed as he drew forward to her side
with his odd stoop, his way of ducking his head and raising his eyes,
dark and glowing. He took jenny's dinner-basket, and she noticed his
hands, large and well-shaped, with long fingers, widened at the tips.
Florry had said that he was a "Sheeny," but there was nothing of the
Jew about him apart from his colouring, his brilliant dark eyes; unless
it were a sort of inner glow, an ardour, curbed by his almost childlike
shyness, lack of self-confidence in everything apart from his music:
that something, at once finer and more cruelly persistent, vital, than
is to be found in the purely Anglo-Saxon race.
Though Jenny liked what she called "a pretty tune," she knew nothing
whatever of music, understood less. And yet, almost from that first
moment, she understood Ben Cohen, realising him as lover and child:
understood him better, maybe, then than she did later on: losing her
sureness for a while, shaken and bewildered; everything blurred by her
own immensity of love, longing; of fearing that she did not
understand--feeling out of it.
But that was not for sometime to come: in the meanwhile she was like a
dear little bantam hen with one chick; while Ben himself was content to
shelter under her wing, until it grew upon him that, loving her as he
did, loving his mother--realising what it meant to be a mother, in
thinking of jenny herself with a child--his child--in her arms--it was
"up to" him to prove himself for their sakes, to make them proud of him
and his music, without the faintest idea of how proud they were
already, lift the whole weight of care from their shoulders.
The worst of it was, he told them nothing whatever about it. The better
sort of men are given to these crablike ways of appearing to move away
from what they intend to move towards. It simply seemed as though he
were forgetting them a little--then, more and more; elbowing them aside
to clear the way for his beloved music.
He was no longer deprecating, appealing, leaning upon them: each woman
thought of him as "her child," and when his love made a man of him,
they realised the hurt, nothing more.
He overdid it, too, as genius does overdo things; was brusque, entirely
immersed in his great scheme. Sometimes he even laughed to himself over
this. "They don't know what I'm up to!" he would declare to himself,
with a sense of triumph.
He had never even thought of his music in the money sense before, but
as his love and ambition for the two women grew upon him, he was like a
child with a new toy. He would not only make a great name, he would
make an immense fortune: his mind blinked, dazzled at the very thought.
He moved with a new pride, and also--alas!--a new remoteness.
His health had broken when he was about seventeen--his bent shoulders
still showed that old drag upon the chest--and he was away in a
sanatorium for a year. When he came back he was cured. It was young
Saere, the junior partner in the timber business, who had sent him
away; and it was he who, when Ben returned, paid for lessons for him,
so that he learnt to play as well as read music.
From that time onward he had always stuck to the firm, working in the
tally sheds; paid, out of his earnings, for the use of a room and a
piano for practising upon so many hours each week, completely happy and
He had never even thought of leaving the business until he realised his
immense love for Jenny, and, through her, for his mother; the necessity
for doing something big. What did sacrifice matter? What did it matter
being poor, hungry, shabby?--What did anything matter just for a while?
There was so little he wanted; meals were a nuisance; his eyes were so
dazzled by the brilliance of the future, set upon a far horizon, that
he forgot the path of the present, still beneath his feet.
If his mother had not set food before him he would scarcely have
thought of it. But, all the same, he ate it, and money had to be earned
by some one or other.
His mother had never let him know the actual pinch of poverty; she wore
that shoe upon her own foot. He had no more idea than a child of the
cost of mere daily necessities; and during the last few years, between
his work and hers, they had been comfortable enough.
"We can hang on for a bit," he said, when he spoke of leaving the
wood-yard; and she answered, almost with triumph, that she had "hung
on" well enough before he'd earned "aught but a licking."
At first she was proud of reshouldering the entire burden; it made him
more entirely hers. He could not do without her; even with Jenny he
could not do without her. But she had not been a young woman when Ben
was born; she was old now, and tired, with that sort of tiredness which
accumulates, heaps up, and which no single night's rest can ever cure;
the tiredness which is ready, more than ready, for a narrower
"--Hold on until after the concert?"
"Sorry fur meself if I couldn't."
The concert! That was the goal. There was a public hall at Clapton
where Ben had chanced on some really good music--just one night of it,
and quite by chance--and this, to his mind, ennobled the Claptonites;
there was the place in which to start the revolutionising of the
musical world. Besides--and here he thought himself very canny, by no
means a Jew for nothing--there were fine old houses at Clapton, and
where there were such houses there must be rich people.
When the date was actually arranged, he practised for the best part of
the day. While he was at home he read music; he lived in a maze of
music. He never thought of advertising, collecting his public; he even
avoided his old friends, his patrons at the timber-yard, overcome by
agonies of shyness at the very thought of so much as mentioning his
concert. Quite simply, in a way he did not even attempt to explain to
himself, he felt that the world of London would scent it from afar off.
As to paid _claques_, presentation-tickets, patrons, advance agents,
all the booming and flattery, the jam of the powder for an English
audience, he had no idea of the existence of such things. Beethoven was
wonderful, and he had found out wonderful things about him: that was
When the Angel Gabriel blew the last trump, there would be no need to
invite the dead to rise. Neither was there any need to invite the
really elect to his concert. Not to hear him, Ben Cohen, but to hear
Beethoven as he ought to be heard; that's how he felt.
During those weeks of preparation for the concert, his mother worked
desperately hard to keep their home together without his earnings,
while Jenny helped. At first that had been enough for her, too: to
help. But later--
Throughout those long evenings when, already tired from her work in the
factory, she had stood sorting, sprinkling, folding, ironing, the two
women got to a state where they scarcely dared to look at each other:
just a passing glance, a hardish stare, but no _looking into_.
If he had but once said, "I can't bear you to work so hard for me,"
everything would have been different, the fatigue wiped out. But he
didn't; he didn't even know they were working for him, working beyond
the limit of an ordinary working-woman's working-day, hard enough, in
"Men can't not be expected to notice things the way we do." That's what
they told themselves--they did not say even this much to each other.
But far, far away, out of sight, out of all actual knowledge, was the
fear which neither of them would have dared to realise, a vague horror,
a sort of ghost....
"He don't care--he's changed."
And, indeed, this is how it appeared. All through that time he wore an
odd look of excitement, triumph, pleasure, which lifted him away from
himself. There was a sort of lilt in his very step; his eyes shone, his
cheeks were flushed. When he cleared a pile of freshly-ironed, starched
things from the end of a table, so as to spread out a score upon it,
laid them on the floor where the cat padded them over with dirty feet,
and his mother railed at him, as she still did rail--on any subject
apart from this of not caring--he glanced up at her with bright, amused
eyes, his finger still following the black-and-white tangle of notes,
looked at Jenny, and laughed--actually laughed.
"You great oaf!" cried Mrs. Cohen, and could have killed him. Up at
four o'clock next morning, rewashing, starching, ironing, she retched
with sick fatigue and something more--that sense of giddiness, of being
hit on the head which had oppressed her of late. It was as though that
laugh of Ben's had stuck like a bone in her chest, so sharp that she
could scarcely draw breath; driven all the blood to her head.
And yet it had been full of nothing but triumph, a sort of tender
triumph, almost childish delight. He was going to do wonders--
wonders!--open a new world to them! He was so dazzled by his
own work, dreams, by all he had in store for them, that he did not even
see them, themselves, worn with toil, realise the meaning of it, the
reason for it. In any case he would have laughed, because they had no
idea how near it was to an end.
That concert! It would be like nothing so much as opening a door into a
new world, where they need never so much as soil a finger: floating
around, dressed in silk, feeding from off the finest china, sleeping
Man-like, his eyes were fixed upon the future. No two women had ever
been loved as they were loved. All this work, this washing and ironing,
it resembled nothing more than the opening scene in an opera: a sort of
prelude, for the sake of contrast. They would see--O-o-oh, yes, they
It was like that old childish "Shut your eyes and open your mouth."
But they--they were bound in the close-meshed strait-waistcoat of
endless toil, petty anxiety. The days and hours heaped in front of them
obliterated all possible view of the future.
In the beginning they had been as excited as he was over the thought of
the concert. He must wear a rosette--no, a flower in his button-hole;
and white kid gloves; as he moved forward upon the platform, he must
bow right and left, and draw them off as he bowed.
This was Jenny's idea. It was Jenny who made him practise his bows, and
it was Jenny who borrowed a dress-suit from a waiter-friend; while it
was his mother who "got up" the borrowed shirt to go with it, stiff and
shining; who polished his best boots until they looked "near as near
All this had been done close upon a fortnight before. Jenny was a good
girl, but if she was not there to see to things, Jenny might fail with
a bubble on the shirt-front. No amount of meaning well was of any use
in getting up a stiff shirt as it ought to be got up.
"Better 'ave it all ready, 'a-case o' anything happening." That was
what Mrs. Cohen said to herself, with a dull dread at the back of her
mind: a feeling as though every next day were a Friday.
Her face had been oddly flushed of late, with a rather fixed and glassy
look about the eyes. Jenny thought of this, on her way to the concert;
alone, for by some ill fate, his nearer vision blurred in that golden
maze of the future, Ben had fixed his concert for a Friday.
This Friday! Always a bad day, bad in itself, bad for every one, like
an east wind; worst of all for a laundress: not so depressing as a
Monday, but so hurried, so overcrowded, with all the ironing and
folding, the packing of the lots, all small, into their separate
newspaper parcels; the accumulated fatigue of a whole week. Some demon
seemed to possess her clients that week: they had come in with a collar
here, a shirt there, an odd pillow-slip, tablecloth, right over
Thursday. She was working until after twelve o'clock that night--so was
Jenny--up before dawn next morning, though no one save herself knew of
"Whatever they do, they shan't not keep me from my Ben's concert!" That
was what she said, with a vision of motors blocking the road in front
of the little hall. But she had been a laundress best part of a
lifetime--before she discovered herself as the mother of a genius--and
it had bit into her bone: she could not get finished, and she could not
leave the work undone.
"Some one's got to earn a living!"--that was what she said, embittered
by fatigue, the sweat pouring down her face, beaten to every
sensibility, apart from her swollen feet, by the time that Jenny called
in for her, soon after six. She had longed to go, had never even
thought of not going; but by now, apart from her physical pain and
weariness, she was alive to but one point, her whole being drawn out to
a sort of cone with an eye at the end of it; and far, far away at the
back of her brain, struggling with impenetrable mists, but one
thought--if she scorched anything, she would have to replace it.
When Jenny found that it was impossible to move her, she made her own
way up to Clapton alone. For Ben had to be at the hall early; there
were certain matters to arrange, and he would try over the piano.
Her efforts with Mrs. Cohen had delayed her; she was driven desperate
by that cruel malice of inanimate things: every 'bus and tram was
against her, whisking out of sight just as she wanted them, or blocked
by slow crawling carts and lorries. There was a tight, hard pain in her
heart, like toothache, round which her whole body gathered, pressing,
impaled upon it; a sense of desperation, and yet at the heart of this,
like a nerve, the wonder if anything really mattered.
Ben had promised to reserve seats for his mother and herself; but had
he?--Had he? Would she find the place blocked by swells with their hard
stare, duchesses and such-like, glistening in diamonds? In her mind's
eye she saw billows of silk, slabs of black cloth and shining white
shirt-fronts--hundreds and hundreds of them. And Ben bowing, bowing to
them as she had taught him to do.
For some time past he had been so far away, so detached that she was
haunted by the fear that if she put out a finger to touch him it might
go through him, as though he were a ghost. At times she had caught him,
held him to her in a passion of love and longing. But even then, with
his head against her heart, his lips, or some pulse or nerve, had moved
in a wordless tune, the beat of time.
If only he had still seemed to need her, nothing, nothing would have
mattered. But he didn't: he needed no one--no one. He seemed so frail,
she had made sure that he wanted looking after; but he didn't. A
drunkard might have fallen down in the street, needed fetching,
supporting, exhorting; a bully come home with a broken head. But it
seemed as though Ben were, in reality, for all his air of appeal,
sufficient to himself, moving like a steady light through the darkness;
unstirred by so much as a breath of wind.
Overcome by anxiety, she got out of the tram too soon. It had begun to
rain, a dull, dark night, and there was a blur of misty light flooding
the pavement a little way ahead. That must be the hall. She was afraid
of over-shooting the mark. Those trams had such a way of getting going
just as one wanted to be out of them!
But the light was nothing more than a cinema, and she she had a good
quarter of a mile to walk in the wet. The cruel wet!--just like it to
be wet on this night of all nights! Even her optimism was gone. She
kept on thinking of Mrs. Cohen, her flushed face and oddly-glazed eyes;
the queer stiff way in which she moved, held her head. For once she was
angry with Ben.
"'Im and his crowds,' 'Im an' 'is fine lydies! 'Im an' 'is
After all, she did overshoot her mark; on inquiry for the hall, she was
told that she had passed it, and was obliged to retrace her steps.
No wonder she had passed it; with all she had expected at the back of
her mind! The strip of pavement outside was dark, with not so much as a
single taxi in sight; the door half-shut, the dreary vestibule
badly-lighted, empty, smelling of damp. The sodden-looking sketch of a
man in the pay-box seemed half asleep; stretched, yawned when she
spoke, pushing a strip of pink paper towards her as she gave her name.
"For two." He poked out a long neck and peered round the edge of the
box, like a tortoise from its shell.
"The other lydy wasn't not able ter come ter-night," answered Jenny
with dignity, and the beast grinned, displaying a wreckage of broken
"Ain't not what you might call a crowd, anyway," he remarked.
She could have killed him for that! She realised the white face of a
clock, but she would not look at it. She was early, that was it. Look
how she had hurried. No wonder that she was early. And great ladies
were always late: she had learnt that from the _Daily Mail_ stories.
"Two an' two make four--them too late an' me too early!" she said to
herself, with a gallant effort after her own brisk way of taking
things, a surer tap of heels on the stone floor as she turned towards a
swing-door to her left; pushed it open, and was hit in the face by what
seemed like a thick black curtain.
A dim white-gloved hand was thrust through it and took her ticket.
"Mind you don't fall--no good wasting the lights until they come--if
ever they does come," exhorted and explained a voice out of the
darkness; for, after all, it was not a curtain, but just darkness.
At first Jenny could see nothing. Then, little by little, it seemed as
though different objects crept forward, one by one, like wild animals
from their lair.
Those white patches, the hands of two white-gloved men, holding sheaves
of programmes--she realised one between her own fingers--whispering
There was the platform, the great piano sprawling over it; and in front
of this, rows and rows and rows--and rows upon rows--of empty seats.
She looked behind her--they had argued long over the question of places
for herself and his mother. "The very best," that's what Ben had said;
but they fought against this, fought and conquered, for the best seats
meant money. "What's a seat more or less, I'd like to know?"
"Money, all money." Old Mrs. Cohen had been firm upon this point.
Still, there were a great many seats yet further back--and all empty: a
little raised, seeming to push themselves forward with the staring
vacuity of an idiot: more seats overhead in a curving balcony, rising
above each other as though proud of their emptiness. It would have been
impossible to believe that mere vacant places could wear so sinister,
as well as foolish, an aspect. An idiot, but a cruel idiot, too: the
whole thing one cruel idiot, of the sort that likes to pull legs from
There was a clock there, also. For a long while Jenny would not allow
herself to look at it. But something drew her, until it became an
unbearable effort to keep her eyes away from it, to look anywhere else;
and at last she turned her head, stared, sharply, defiantly, as though
It was five-and-twenty minutes to nine. Five-and-twenty minutes to
nine, and the concert was to have begun at eight!--Five-and-twenty
minutes to nine, and there was no one there--no one whatever!
The clock hands dragged themselves on for another five-minutes; then
one of the men disappeared behind the scene; came back, speaking
excitedly, gesticulating with white hands:
"We're to turn on the light. 'E swears as 'e won't give it up--'e's
goin' ter play."
"Goin' ter play? Well, I'll be blowed!--Goin' ter play! An' with
nothing 'ere but _That_"
Jenny saw how he jerked his head in her direction. So she was
"That"--she, Jenny Bligh!--and so far gone that she did not even care.
As the lights went up the hall seemed to swim in a sort of mist: the
terra-cotta walls, the heavy curtains at either side of the platform,
those awful empty seats!
Jenny spread her skirt wide, catching at the chair to either side of
her, stretching out her arms along the backs of them. She had a wild
feeling as though it were up to her to spread herself sufficiently to
cover them all. She half rose. Perhaps she could hide more of that
emptiness if she moved nearer to the front: that was her thought.
But no; she mustn't do that: this was the place Ben had chosen for her;
she must stay where she was. He might look there, miss her, and imagine
that there was nobody, nobody at all; that even she had failed him.
If only she could spread herself--spread herself indefinitely--multiply
herself: anything, anything to cover those beastly chairs: sticking out
there, grinning, shaming her man!
Then she had a sudden idea of running into the street, entreating the
people to come in; was upon her feet for the second time, when Ben
walked on to the platform.
For once he was not ducking or moving sideways; he came straight
forward, bowed to the front of him, right and left; drew off his gloves
and bowed again. Mingling with her agony of pity, a thrill, ran through
Jenny Bligh at this. He remembered her teaching; he was
hers--hers--hers--after all, hers--more than ever hers!
The borrowed coat, far too big for him, rose in a sort of hood at the
back of his neck; as he bowed something happened to the centre stud of
his shirt, and it disappeared into an aperture shaped like a dark gourd
in the whiteness.
But, for all that, Jenny felt herself overawed by his dignity, as any
one would have been: there was something in the man so much greater
than his clothes, greater than his conscious, half-childish self.
Jenny's hands were raised to clap; but they dropped into her lap, lay
there, as, with a face set like marble, Ben turned and seated himself
at the piano. There was a moment's pause, while he stared straight in
front of him--such a pause that a feeling of goose-flesh ran down the
back of her arms--then he began to play.
Jenny had not even glanced at her programme; she would have understood
nothing of it if she had; but it gave the Sonata, Op. III, as the
Ben, however, took no notice of this; but, for some reason he could not
have explained, flung himself straight-way into the third item, the
The sounds flooded the hall; swept through it as if it were not there,
obliterating time and space. It was as though the Heavenly Host had
descended upon the earth, sweet, wonderful, and yet terrible, with a
sweep of pinions, deep-drawn breath--Tubal Cain and his kind, deified
and yet human in their immense masculinity and strength.
Jenny Bligh was neither imaginative nor susceptible to sound, but it
drew her out of herself. It was like bathing in a sea whose waves
overpower one so that, try as one may to cling to the earth, it slips
off from beneath one's feet--shamed, beaten. She had a feeling that if
it did not stop soon she would die; and would yet die when it did stop.
Her heart beat thickly and heavily, her eyes were dim; she was
bewildered, lost, and yet exhilarated. It was worse than an air raid,
she thought--more exciting, more wonderful.
The end left her almost as much exhausted as Ben himself. The sweat was
running down his face as he got up from his seat, came forward to the
front of the platform, and bowed right and left. Jenny had not
clapped--she would as soon have thought of clapping God with His last
trump--but Ben bowed as though a whole multitude had applauded him.
By some chance, the only direction in which he did not turn his eyes
was the gallery: even then, he might not have seen a single figure
seated a little to one side--a man with a dark overcoat buttoned up to
his chin, who clapped his two thumbs noiselessly together, drawing in
his breath with a sort of whistle.
"That's the stuff!" he said. "That's the stuff to give 'em!"
After a moment's pause, Ben turned again to the piano. This time he
played the Sonata Pathetique in C Minor, Op. XIII; then the Sonata
Walstein in C Major. Between each, he got up, moved forward to the edge
of the platform, and bowed.
At the end of the Sonata, Op. III--by rights the first on the
programme--during the short interval which followed it he straightened
his shoulders with a sort of swagger, utterly unlike himself, swung
round to the piano again, and slammed out "God Save the King."
He played it through to the very end, then rose, bowed from where he
stood, stared round at the empty hall--a dreadful, strained, defiant
smile stiffening upon his face--and sinking back upon his stool, laid
his arms across the keyboard with a crash of notes, burying his head
In a moment Jenny was out of her seat. There were chairs in her way,
and she kicked them aside; raked one forward with her foot, and
scrambled on to the platform; then, catching a sideways glimpse of the
empty seats, bent forward and shook her fist at them.
"Beasts! Pigs! A-a-a-ah!--You!"
The attendants had disappeared, the stranger was lost in shadows. There
was nobody there but themselves: it would not have mattered if there
had been: all the lords and ladies, all the swells in the world, would
not have mattered. The great empty hall, suddenly friendly, closed,
curving, around them.
Jenny dropped upon her knees at Ben's side, and flung her arms about
him, with little moans of love and pity; slid one hand beneath his
cheek, with a muffled roll of notes, raised his head and pressed it
against her heart.
"There, my dear! There, my love--there--there--there!"
She laid her lips to his thick dark hair, in a passion of adoration,
loving every lock of it; and then, woman-like, picked a white thread
from off his black coat; clasped him afresh, with joy and sorrow like
runnels of living water pouring through and through her.
"There, there, there, there!"
He was too much of a child to fight against her: all his pride was
gone. "Oh, Jenny, Jenny, Jenny!" he cried; then, in an extremity of
innocent anguish, amazement--
"They didn't come! They don't care--they don't want it! Jenny, they
don't want it!"
"Don't you worry about them there blighters, my darling. Selfish pigs!
they ain't not worth a thought. Don't you worry about them."
"Don't you worry about Beethoven, neifer--ain't no better nor he
oughter be, taeke my word fur it. Lettin' you in like this 'ere!
There--there--there, my dear!"
They clung together, weeping, rocking to and fro. "Well," said the man
in the gallery, "I'm jiggered!" and crept out very softly, stumbling a
little because of the damp air which seemed to have got into his eyes
and made them smart.
As the lovers came out into the little vestibule, clinging to each
other, they did not so much as see the stranger, who stood talking to
the man in the box-office, but went straight on out into the rain, with
their umbrellas unopened in their hands.
"A good thing as the 'all people insists upon payment in advance,"
remarked the man in the box-office.
The other gave him a curious, half-contemptuous glance. "I'd like to
hear you say that in a year's time."
"Because that chap will be able to buy and sell a place like this a
hundred times over by then--Queen's Hall--Albert Hall--I know. It's my
business to know. There's something about his playing. That _something
different_ they're all out for."
It took a long time to get back to Canning Town. Even Jenny had lost
her certainty: her grasp of the ways of 'buses and such things. She
felt oddly clear and empty: like a room swept and garnished, with the
sense of a ghost in some dim corner of it; physically sapped out.
Ben clung to her. He said very little, but he clung to her, with an
odd, lost air: the look of a child who has been slapped in the face,
and cannot understand why.
She was so much smaller than he, like a diminutive, sturdy steam-tug;
and yet if she could have carried him, she would have done so.
As it was, she threw her whole heart and soul into guiding, comforting;
thinking of a hundred things at once, her soft mouth folded tight with
anxiety.--How to prevent him from feeling shamed before his mother: how
to keep the trouble away from her: though at the back of her own mind
was a feeling--and she had an idea that it would be at the back of old
Mrs. Cohen's also--of immense relief, of some load gone: almost as
though her child had been through a bad attack of scarlet-fever, or
something which one does not take twice.
With all this, there was the thought of what she would step out and buy
for their supper, if the fried-fish shop were still open; all she would
do and say to cheer them.
As for Ben, the "Hammerclavier" was surging through his brain, carrying
the empty hall with it, those rows upon rows of empty seats--swinging
them to and fro so that he felt physically sick, as though he were at
Quite suddenly, as they got out of the last tram, the rain ceased. At
the worst it had been a mild night of velvety darkness and soft airs,
the reflection from the lamps swimming in a haze of gold across the wet
pavement; but now, just as they reached the end of his own street, the
black sky opened upon a wide sea of pinkish-amber and a full moon
sailed into sight. At the same moment, Ben's sense of anguished
bewilderment cleared away, leaving in its place a feeling of
To be back in his own home again--that was all he asked. "You'll stay
the night at our place, Jenny?" "Yes; I promised your mother." Her brow
knitted, and then cleared again. Ah, well; that was all over: Ben would
go back to his regular job again; they would get married; then there
would be her money, too: no need for old Mrs. Cohen to do another
hand's turn. Plenty of time for her to rest now: all her life for
"Your mother." As she spoke Ben remembered, for the first time,
actively remembered, for of course it was his mother that he meant when
he thought of home.
"She wasn't there, Jenny! She wasn't there!"
"She was very busy, 'adn't not finished 'er work." Something beyond
Jenny's will stiffened within her. So he had only just realised it! She
tried not to remember, but she could not help it--the flushed face, the
glassy eyes: the whole look of a woman beaten, with her back against a
wall; condemning Ben by her very silence, desperate courage.
"Yes, work." Jenny snapped it: hating herself for it, drawing him
closer, and yet unable to help it. "Why----" began Ben, and then
stopped--horrified. At last he realised it: perhaps it ran to him
through Jenny's arm; perhaps it was just that he was down on earth
again, humble, ductile, seeing other people's lives as they were, not
as he meant to make them.
"All night; one the saeme as another."
"But why----" he began again; stopped dead, loosed his own arm and
caught hers. "All this while workin' like that! She works too hard.
Jenny, look here: she works too hard. And I--this damned music! Look
here, Jenny, it's got to stop! I'll never play a note again; she shall
never do a hard stroke of work again; never, never--not so long as I'm
here to work for her. All my life--ever since I can remember--washing
and ironing, like--like--the very devil!"
He pulled the girl along with him. "That was what I was thinking all
the time: to make a fortune so that you'd both have everything you
wanted, a big house, servants, motors, silk dresses----And all the time
letting you both work yourselves to death! But this is the end; no more
of that. To be happy--that's all that matters--sort of everyday
"No more of that beastly washing, ironing--it's the end of that,
anyhow. When I'm back at the timber-yard----"
He was like a child again, planning; they almost ran down the street.
"No more o' that damned washin' and ironin'--no more work----"
True! How true! The street door opened straight into the little
kitchen. She was not in bed, for the light was still burning; they
could see it at either side of the blind, shrunk crooked with steam.
There was one step down into the kitchen; but for all that, the door
would not open when they raised the latch and pushed it, stuck against
"Some of those beastly old clothes!" Ben shoved it, hailing his mother.
"Mother! Mother, you've got something stuck against the door." Odd that
she did not come to his help, quick as she always was.
After all, it gave way too suddenly for him to altogether realise the
oddness; and he stumbled forward right across the kitchen, seeing
nothing until he turned and faced Jenny still standing upon the step,
staring downward, with an ashy-white face, wide eyes fixed upon old
Mrs. Cohen, who lay there at her feet, resting--incomprehensibly
They need not have been so emphatic about it all--"No more beastly
washing, no more work"--for the whole thing was out of their hands once
and for all.
She had fallen across the doorway, a flat-iron still in her hand--the
weapon with which she had fought the world, kept the wolf from that
same door--all the strain gone out of her face, a little twisted to the
left side, and oddly smiling. One child's pinafore was still unironed;
the rest were folded, finished.
They raised her between them, laid her upon her bed. It was Jenny who
washed her, wrapped her in clean linen--no one else should touch her;
Ben who sat by her, with hardly a break, until the day that she was
buried, wiped out with self-reproach, grief; desolate as any child,
sodden with tears.
He collected all his music into a pile, the day before the funeral,
gave it to Jenny to put under the copper--a burnt-offering.
"If it hadn't been for that, she might be here now. I don't want ever
to see it again--ever to hear a note of it!" That was what he said.
Jenny went back to the house with him after the funeral: she was going
to give him his tea, and then return to her own room. In a week they
were to be married, and she would be with him for good, looking after
him. That evening, before she left, she would set his breakfast, cut
his lunch ready for the morrow. By Saturday week they would be settled
down to their regular life together. She would not think about his
music; pushed it away at the back of her mind--over and done
with--would not even allow herself the disloyalty of being glad. And
yet was glad, deeply glad, relieved, despite her pride in it, in him:
as though it were something unknown, alien, dangerous, like things
Two men were waiting at the door of the narrow slip of a house: the
tall, thin one with his overcoat still buttoned up to his chin, and
another fat and shining, with a top-hat, black frock-coat, and white
"About that concert----" said the first man.
"We were thinking that if we could persuade you to play----" put in the
"There was no one there," interrupted Ben roughly. His shoulders were
bent, his head dropped forward on his chest, poking sideways, his eyes
sullen as a child's.
"I was there," put in the first man, "and I must say, impressed----"
"Very deeply impressed," added the other; but once again Ben brushed
"You were there--at my concert!" Jenny, standing a little back--for
they were all three crowded upon the tiny door-step--saw him glance up
at the speaker with something luminous shining through the darkness of
his face. "At my concert----! And you liked it? You liked it?"
"'Like' is scarcely the word."
"We feel that if you could be persuaded to give another concert," put
in the stout man, blandly, "and would allow----"
"I shall never play again--never--never!" cried Ben, harshly; but this
time the other went on imperturbably: "--allow us to make all
arrangements, take all responsibility: boom you; see to the advertising
and all that--we thought if we were to let practically all the seats
for the first concert go in complimentary tickets; get a few good names
on the committee--perhaps a princess or something of that sort as a
patroness--a strong claque"
"Of course, playing Beethoven--playing him as you played him the other
night. Grand-magnificent!" put in the first man realising the
weariness, the drop to blank indifference in the musician's face. "The
'Hammerclavier' for instance----"
It was magical.--"Oh, yes, yes--that--that!" Ben's eyes widened, his
face glowed. He hummed a bar or so. "Was there ever anything like it?
My God! was there ever anything like it!"
Jenny, who had the key, squeezed past them at this, and ran through the
kitchen to the scullery, where she filled the kettle and put it upon
the gas-ring to boil; looked round her for a moment, with quick,
darting eyes--like a small wild animal at bay in a strange place--then
drew a bucketful of water, turned up her sleeves, the skirt of her new
black frock, tied on an old hessian apron of Mrs. Cohen's, with a
savage jerk of the strings, and dropping upon her knees, started to
scrub the floor, the rough stone floor.
"Men!--trapsin' in an' out, muckin' up a place!"
She could hear the murmur of men's voices in the kitchen, and through
it that "trapsin'" of other men struggling with a long coffin on the
steep narrow stairs.
On and on it went--the agonised remembrance of all that banging,
trampling; the swish of her own scrubbing-brush; the voices round the
table where old Mrs. Cohen had stood ironing for hours and hours upon
Then the door into the scullery was opened. For a moment or so she kept
her head obstinately lowered, determined that she _would_ not look up.
Then, feeling her own unkindness, she raised it and smiled upon Ben,
who stood there, flushed, glowing, and yet too shame-faced to
speak--smiled involuntarily, as one must smile at a child.
"That--that--music stuff--I suppose it's burnt?" he began, fidgeting
from one foot to another, his head bent, ducking sideways, his shoulder
to his ear.
Her glance enwrapped him--smiling, loving, bitter-sweet. Things were
not going to be as she had thought; none of that going out regularly to
work, coming home to tea like other men; none of that safe sameness of
life. At the back of her calm was a fierce battle; then she rose to her
feet, wiped her hands upon her apron, stooped to the lowest shelf of
the cupboard, and drew out a pile of music.
"There you are, my dear. I didn't not burn it, a'cause Well, I suppose
as I sorter knowed all the time as you'd be wantin' it."
Children! Well, one knew where one was with children--real children.
But men, that was a different pair of shoes altogether--something you
could never be sure of--unless you remembered, always remembered, to
treat them as though they were grown-up, think of them as children.
"Now you taeke that an' get along back to yer friends an' yer playin',
and let me get on with my work. It'll be dark an' tea-time on us afore
ever I've time ter so much as turn round."
"That woman," said the fat, shining man, as they moved away down the
street, greasy with river-mist.--"Hang it all! where in the world are
we to get a taxi?--Common-place little thing; a bit of a drag on him, I
"Don't you believe it, my friend--that's the sort to give 'em--some'un
who will sort of dry-nurse 'em--feed em--mind 'em. That's the wife for
a genius. The only sort of wife--mark my word for it."
THE DEVIL TO PAY
By MAX PEMBERTON
(From _The Story-Teller_)
To say that the usually amiable Ambrose Cleaver was in the devil of a
temper would be merely to echo the words of his confidential clerk,
John, who, looking through the glass partition between their offices,
confessed to James, the office boy, that he had not seen such goings on
since old Ambrose, the founder of the firm, was gathered to his
"There won't be a bit of furniture in the place presently," said he,
"and I wouldn't give twopence for the cat when he's finished kicking
her. This comes of the women, my boy. Never have nothing to say to a
woman until you've finished your dinner and lighted your cigar. Many a
good business have I seen go into the Bankruptcy Court because of a
petticoat before lunch. You keep away from 'em if you want to be Lord
Mayor of London, same as Dick Whittington was."
James did not desire particularly to become Lord Mayor of London, but
he was greatly amused by his employer's temper.
"Never heard such language," said he--"and him about to marry her. Why,
he almost threw them jewels at her 'ead; and when she told him he must
have let the devil in by accident, he says as he was always glad to see
her friends. They'll make a happy couple, surely."
John shook his old dense head, and would express no opinion upon the
"Misfortunes never come singly," said he. "Here's that Count Florian
waiting for him in the ante-room. Now that's a man I can't abide. If
anybody told me he was the devil, I'd believe him soon enough. A bad
'un, James, or I don't know the breed. An evil man who seems to pollute
the very air you breathe."
James was not so sure of it.
"He give me half a crown for fetching of a cab yesterday, and told me
to go to the music-hall with it. He must have a lot of money, for he
never smokes his cigars more than half-way through, and he wears a
different scarf-pin every day. That's wot comes of observation, Mr.
John. I could tell you all the different pairs of trousers he's worn
for the last three weeks, and so I'm going to make my fortune as the
Mr. John would not argue about that. The bell of the inner office now
tinkled, and that was an intimation that the Count Nicholas Florian was
to be admitted to the Holy of Holies. So the old man hurried away and,
opening the sacred door with circumspection, narrowly escaped being
knocked down by an enraged and hasty cat--glad to escape that inferno
at any cost.
"You rang, sir?"
Ambrose Cleaver, thirty-three years of age, square-jawed, fair-haired,
a florid complexion and with a wonderful pair of clear blue eyes,
admitted that he did ring.
"And don't be so d----d slow next time," he snapped. "I'll see the
Count Florian at once."
The old man withdrew timidly, while his master mopped up the ink from
the pot he had broken in his anger.
"Enough to try the devil himself," was the sop that argument offered to
his heated imagination. "She knows I hate Deauville like poison, and of
course it's to Deauville she must go for the honeymoon. And she looks
so confoundedly pretty when she's in a temper--what wonderful eyes
she's got! And when she's angry the curls get all round her ears, and
it's as much as a man can do not to kiss her on the spot. Of course, I
didn't really want her to have opals if she thinks they're unlucky, but
she needn't have insisted that I knew about it and bought them on
purpose to annoy her. Good God! I wish there were no women in the world
sometimes. What a splendid place it would be to live in, and what a
fine time the men would have--for, of course, they are all the
daughters of the devil really, and that's why they make life too hot
Mr. John entered at this moment showing in the Count, and so a very
cheerful argument was thus cut short. Ambrose pulled himself together
and suppressing, as best he could, any appearance of aversion from the
caller who now presented himself, he sat back in his chair and prepared
to hear "the tale."
Count Florian was at that time some fifty-nine years of age, dark as an
Italian and not without trace of an Eastern origin. Though it was early
in the month of May, he still wore a light Inverness cape of an ancient
fashion, while his patent-leather boots and his silk hat shone with the
polish of a well-kept mirror. When he laughed, however, he showed
ferocious teeth, some capped with gold, and in his eyes was a fiery
light not always pleasant to behold.
"A chilly morning," he began. "You have no fire, I see."
"You find it so?" queried Ambrose. "Well, I thought it quite warm."
"Ah," said the count, "you were born, of course, in this detestable
country. Do not forget that where I live there are people who call the
climate hell," and he laughed sardonically, with a laugh quite
unpleasant to hear.
Ambrose did not like such talk, and showed his displeasure plainly.
"The climate is good enough for me," he said. "Personally, I don't want
to live in the particular locality you name. Have a cigar and tell me
why you called--the old business, I suppose? Well, you know my opinion
about that. I want none of it. I don't believe it is honest business,
and I think that if we did it, we might all end in the dock. So you
know my mind before we begin."
The Count heard him patiently, but did not seem in any way disturbed.
"There is very little business that is honest," he said; "practically
none at all. Look at politics, the Church, art, the sciences--those who
flourish are the imposters, while your honest men are foolish enough to
starve in garrets. If a man will undertake nothing that is open to the
suspicion of self-interest, he should abandon all his affairs at once
and retire to a monastery, where possibly he will discover that the
prior is cheating the abbot and the cellarer cheating them both. You
have a great business opportunity, and if anybody suffers it is only
the Government, which you must admit is a pure abstraction--suggesting
chiefly a company of undiscovered rascals. The deal which I have to
propose to you concerns a sum of half a million sterling, and that is
not to be passed by lightly. I suggest, therefore, that at least you
read the documents I have brought with me, and that we leave the matter
of honesty to be discussed by the lawyers."
He laid upon the table a bundle of papers as he spoke, and lighted a
cigarette by lightly rubbing a match against the tip of the fourth
finger of his left hand. Ambrose felt strangely uneasy. A most uncanny
suspicion had come upon him while the man was speaking. He felt that no
ordinary human being faced him, and that he might in very truth be
talking with the devil. Nor would this idea quit him despite its
"You must have great influence, Count," he remarked presently--"great
influence to get such a valuable commission as this!"
The Count was flattered.
"I have servants in every country," he said; "the rich are always my
friends--the poor often come to me because they are not rich. Few who
know me can do without me; indeed, I may say that but for such men as I
am the world would not go on. I am the mainspring of its endeavour."
"And yet when I met you it was on the links above La Turbie."
The count laughed, showing his glittering teeth as any carnivorous
animal might have done.
"Ah, I remember. You met me when I was playing golf with a very saintly
lady. Latterly, I hear, she has ceased to go to church and taken to
bobbed hair. Women are strange creatures, Mr. Cleaver, but difficult,
very difficult sometimes. I have had many disappointments with women."
"You find men easier?"
"Indeed, there are few men who are not willing to go to the devil if
the consideration be large enough. A woman, on the other hand, is too
often the victim of her emotions. She will suffer eternal torment for
the man she loves, and she will cheat for him. But for the rest of
us--nothing, positively nothing at all; she is neither honest nor
dishonest, she merely passes us by."
"Ah," exclaimed Ambrose, a little wearily, "I wish I could think that
about my _fiancee_. She's just been up--that's why you find me upset. I
bought her opals, and, of course, she wants diamonds. You see, I forgot
she wasn't born in October."
The Count nodded his head in sympathy.
"I must have a little talk to her. I am sure we shall be good friends.
Miss Kitty Palmer, is it not? Forgive me, I read it in the newspapers--a
charming face but a little temper, I think. Well, well, there is no
harm in that. What a dull place the world would be but for a little
temper! You have much to be thankful for, Mr. Cleaver--very, very much.
And now this concession, by which you will make two hundred thousand
pounds at a very moderate estimate. There will be very little temper
when you take home that news. No woman is angry with a man who makes
money, but she has a great contempt for him who does not."
"Even if he made it dishonestly?"
"She does not care a snap of the fingers how he makes it, believe me."
"And afterwards, when he goes to prison----"
"Pshaw--only fools go to prison. If your foolish principles were made
the test, there would hardly be a free man in Mincing Lane. We should
have to lock up the whole City. Come, let me have your signature, and I
will do the rest. To refuse is madness. You are offered the chance of a
Ambrose did not reply to him immediately. It had come to him suddenly
that this was the hour of a great temptation, and he sat very still,
conscious that his heart beat fast because of the evil that was near
him. The Count watched him, meanwhile, as a wild beast may watch its
prey. The man's eyes appeared to have turned to coals of fire; his
fingers twitched; his teeth were on edge--he had even ceased to smoke.
"Well?" he said at last, unable to suffer the silence any longer.
Ambrose rose from his chair and went over slowly to the great safe,
which stood in the corner of his office; he unlocked it and took some
documents from a shelf upon the right-hand side. The Count stood at his
elbow while he did so, and he could feel the man's breath warm upon his
Suddenly a violent impulse overcame him. He swung round and seized the
fellow by the collar, and in an instant, endowed as it were with
superhuman strength, he hurled the man into the safe and turned the key
"By heaven!" he cried, "but I have locked up the devil."
Ambrose dismissed John, the man, and James, the boy, and told them he
would have no need of their services for some days.
"I am going away for a little holiday," he said. "The letters can await
my return. You may both go down to Brighton for a week, and I will pay
your expenses. It is right that you should have a little change of air
more than once a year, so away with you both, and don't let me hear of
you until Monday next."
James looked at John and John looked at James. Was their excellent
employer demented, then, or had they understood him incorrectly?
"Not," said John, when they were alone together, "that I particularly
wished to go to Brighton just now, but there you are. Half the pleasure
in life, my boy, is wanting to do things, and when you have to do them
without wanting it, even though they are pleasant things, somehow all
the savour has gone out of the salt, so to speak. But, of course, we
shall have to go, seeing that we couldn't tell Mr. Cleaver a lie."
James was a little astonished at that, for he had told thousands of
lies in his brief life, though now he really had no desire to tell one
"I shall be glad to get away from here for a few days, any'ow," he
said; "it's so 'ot and close, and when you go near the safe in the
other horfice it's just as though you stood by a roaring fire. Good
thing, Mr. John, that the thing is fire-proof, or we might have the
whole show burned down, as Mr. Ambrose hisself was saying. 'Very 'ot
for the time of year, James,' says he, and 'burnin, 'ot,' says I. We'll
find it cooler at Brighton, Mr. John, and perhaps we can go to the
pictures, though I'm fed up with all them rotten stories about crooks
and such like, and so are you, I'm sure."
Mr. John said that he was, though he was surprised at such an opinion
emanating from James. When they locked up the inner office--their
master being gone home--they discovered in the fire-grate the ashes of
what had been a formidable-looking document, and it really did seem as
though the concrete upon which the great safe stood had become quite
hot, but there was no visible sign of fire, and so they went off,
wondering and contented, but by no means in a mood of exhilaration, as
properly they should have been.
Ambrose had taken a cab at his own door, and his first visit was to the
Bond Street jeweller who had sold him the opals.
He was quite sure that he had shut up the devil in his office safe, and
as he drove it seemed to him that he became conscious of a new world
round about him, though just how it was new he could not have told you.
Everybody wore a look of great content--there was subdued laughter but
no real merriment--nor did any hasten as though he had real business to
do; while the very taxi-cabs drove with circumspection, and actually
waited for old ladies to cross the street before them. When his own cab
stopped he gave the man half a crown as usual; but the driver called
him back and pointed out his error.
"Excuse me, sir, eighteenpence is the fare with threepence for my
gratuity, that makes one and ninepence. So I have to give you ninepence
back, although I thank you all the same."
Ambrose pocketed the money, quite insensible of anything but the man's
civility, and entered immediately into the sanctum of the great
jeweller. He found that worthy a little distrait and far from any
desire to do big business. In fact, his first words told of his coming
retirement from an occupation which had enriched him during a good
forty years of profit and rarely of loss.
"The fact is, Mr. Cleaver, that I foresee the day coming when women
will wear no jewellery. Already the spirit of competition has passed,
and it is by competition and the pride of competition that this trade
has flourished. A woman buys a rope of pearls because another woman
wears one. Lady A cannot allow Lady B to have more valuable diamonds
than she possesses. Very few really admire the gems for their own sake,
and when you think of the crimes that have been committed because of
them, the envious passions they arouse, and the swindles to which they
give birth, then, indeed, we may wish that every precious stone lay
deep at the bottom of the sea."
"But, my dear sir, are you not thus banishing much beauty from the
world--did not the Almighty create precious stones for pretty women to
The jeweller shrugged his shoulders, sweeping aside carelessly some
priceless pearls that lay on the table before him.
"The Almighty created them to lie securely in their shells, or deep in
the caverns of the earth; for the rivers to wash them with sweet waters
or the lurid fire to shape them in the bowls of the mountains. The
beauties given us to enjoy are those upon which our eyes may light in
the woodlands or from the heights--the glory of the sunset, the
stillness of the sea, the thousand hues of a garden of flowers, or the
cascade as it falls from the mountain top. These things are common to
all, but the precious stone is too often for the neck or the fingers of
the harlot and the adventuress. No, sir, I shall retire from this
business and seek out some quiet spot where I can await with composure
the solemn moment of dissolution we all must face."
Ambrose was almost too astonished to speak.
"I admire your philosophy," he said at length, "but the fact is, that I
want a diamond ring and a rope of pearls and if----"
"Ah," said the old man interrupting him, "it is odd that you should
speak of pearls, for I have just been telling my partner here that
whatever he may do in the future, he will find pearls of little profit
to him. What with imitations and the 'cultured' article, women are
coming already to despise them. But even if you take your _fiancee_ a
diamond ring, will she not merely say to herself: 'an excellent
beginning, now what is the next thing I can get out of him?' Be wise
and cultivate no such spirit of cupidity, foreign to a good woman's
nature but encouraged by the men, who, for vanity's sake, heap presents
upon her. Take rather this little cross, set with pure amethysts, the
emblem of faith and so discover, my dear sir, whether she loves the man
or the jewel, for indeed but few women love both, as all their story
Ambrose took the cross and thanked the old man for his words of wisdom.
Another cab carried him on his way to Upper Gloucester Place where
Kitty Palmer then lived with her saintly mother--and as he went, he
reflected upon the jeweller's words.
"I'll put her to the proof," he said to himself, "if she likes this
twopenny halfpenny cross, she is a miracle among women. But, of course,
she won't like it and there'll be another scene. What a devil of a
temper she was in this morning and how she made the fur fly! If she's
like that now, I shall just take her into my arms and kiss her until
she's done fighting. After all, I wouldn't give sixpence for a woman
who had no spirit. It's their moods that make them so fascinating
--little devils that they are at their best!"
The arrival at the house cut short his ruminations and he hastened into
the well-known drawing-room and there waited impatiently while the maid
summoned Kitty from her bedroom. She came down immediately to his great
surprise--for usually she kept him waiting at least half an hour--and
her mood was strangely changed, he thought. A pretty, flaxen-haired,
blue-eyed, cream and white English type she was, but her chin spoke
also of determination and the eyes which could "look love to eyes that
looked again," upon occasion could also speak of anger which resented
all control. This afternoon, however, Kitty was as meek as a lamb. She
had become so utterly changed in an hour that Ambrose hardly knew her.
"My dear girl," he began, "I am so sorry that I lost my temper this
"Oh, no--not you, Ambrose dear. It was I--of course it was awfully
silly and we won't go to Deauville if you don't want to. Let it be
Fontainebleau by all means--though really, it does not seem important
whether we do get married or don't while you love me. Love after all is
what matters, isn't it, Ambrose dearest?"
He had to say that it was, though he did not like her argument. When,
with some hesitation and not a little fear he showed her the little
gold cross, she admitted to his astonishment that it was one of the
prettiest things she had ever seen.
"Somehow," she said, "I do not seem to care much for jewellery now. It
has become so vulgar--the commoner the people, the more diamonds they
wear. I shall treasure this, darling--I'll wear it now at lunch. Of
course you are going to take me to lunch, aren't you? Suppose we go to
the Ritz grill-room, the restaurants are so noisy, and I know that you
like grill-rooms, don't you, dear?"
Ambrose said "yes" and they started off. Somehow he felt rather
depressed and he had to confess that Kitty--usually so smart--looked
quite shabby. She wore one of her oldest dresses and obviously had
neither powder on her face nor the lightest touch of the rouge which
became her so well. Moreover, she was listless beyond experience, and
when he asked her if she would go to the Savoy and dance that night,
she answered that she thought she would give up dancing altogether. It
quite took his breath away.
"Give up dancing--but, Kitty, you're mad about it!"
"No, dear, I was mad to be mad about it: but what good does it do to
anybody, just going up and down and round and round with a man you may
never see again. Surely we were not sent into the world to do that! Ask
the vicar of the parish what he thinks, or Doctor Lanfry, who is doing
such splendid work at the hospitals. I think we have to make good in
life, and dancing, surely, will not help us. So I mean to give it up,
and smoking and all horrid things. I'm sure you'll like me better for
that, dear; you know how jealous my dancing used to make you, but now
you'll never have any cause to be jealous again."
Ambrose did not know what to say. This seemed to him quite the flattest
lunch he had ever sat out with her, while, as for the people round
about, he thought he had never seen a duller lot. Perhaps, after all,
he had been a little hasty in shutting up the devil so unceremoniously,
but it made him laugh to think that the fellow would get no lunch
anyway and that his stock of cigars would hardly last him through the
day. "And at any rate," he argued, "the rascal will do no mischief
He drove Kitty to the King's New Hospital when the stupid meal was
over--she was visiting some old people there--and while he waited for
her, he met Dr. Lanfry himself and had a little chat with that
benevolent old gentleman. Naturally their talk concerned the hospital
and he was not a little surprised to find the worthy doctor altogether
in an optimistic mood.
"Yes," he said, "we shall have no need of these costly places. Disease
is disappearing rapidly from our midst. I see the day coming when men
and women will go untroubled by any ailment from the cradle to the
grave. In some ways, I confess the world will be poorer. Think of all
the human sympathy which human suffering awakens--the profound love of
the mother for the ailing child, the sacrifice of those who wait and
watch by the beds of the sick, the agony of parting leading to the
eternal hope in the justice of God. All these things, the world will
miss when we conquer disease, and the spirit will be the poorer for
them. Indeed, I foresee the day when men will forget the existence of
God just because they have no need to pray for those who suffer; the
devil will have no work to do in that day; but, who knows, humanity may
be worse and not better because of his idleness."
Ambrose agreed with him, though he would never have expressed such
sentiments to Kitty. He found her a little sad when she came out of the
ward, and it seemed that all the patients were so very much better that
they cared but little for her kindly attentions, and when she tried to
read to them, most of them fell asleep. So she went back to Ambrose and
asked him to drive to the vicarage where she hoped to see Canon Kenny,
her good pastor, and find out if he could tell her of some work of
mercy to be done.
"I feel," she said, "that I must find out the sorrow in the world, I
must help it."
"But suppose, my dear, that there isn't any sorrow----"
"Oh, then the world would not be worth living in, I should go out to
the islands of the Pacific and become a missionary. Do you know,
Ambrose dear, I've often thought of putting on boys' clothes and going
to live in the wilderness. A boy seems so much more active than a girl,
and what does it matter since sex no longer counts?"
He looked at her aghast.
"Sex no longer counts!"
"No," she said in the simplest way, "people will become too spiritual
for that. You will have to love me as though I were your sister,
Ambrose gulped down a "d----n" and was quite relieved to find himself
presently in the study of the venerable canon, who was just leaving
England for a Continental holiday. He said that he was not tired, but
really there was very little work to do--and he added, with a laugh:
"It would almost appear, my children, as though some one had locked up
the devil and there was no more work left for us parsons."
"But that surely would be a great, good thing," exclaimed Ambrose,
"In a way, yes," the canon rejoined, "but consider, all life depends
upon that impulse which comes of strife--strife of the body, strife of
the soul. I worship God believing He has called upon me to take my
share in fighting the evil which is in the world. Remove that evil, and
what is my inspiration? Beyond the grave, yes, there may be that sphere
of holiness to which the human condition contributes nothing--a sphere
in which all happiness, all goodness centres about the presence of the
Eternal--but here we know that man must strive or perish, must fight or
be conquered--must school his immortal soul in the fire of temptation
and of suffering. So, I say, it may even be a bad day for the world
could the devil be chained in bonds which even he could not burst. It
might even be the loss of the knowledge of the God by whom evil is
permitted to live that good may come."
This and much more he said, always in the tone of one who bared his
head to destiny and had a faith unconquerable. When they left him,
Kitty appeared to have made up her mind, and she spoke so earnestly
that even her lover could not argue with her.
"Ambrose, dear," she said, "I must see you no more, I shall devote my
life to good works. To-night I shall enter the Convent of the Little
Sisters at Kensington. It is a long, long good-bye, my dearest."
He did not answer her, but calling a taxi, he ordered the man to drive
to Throgmorton Street like the deuce.
He had told James and John to go home, but to his annoyance he found
them still in the office and busy as though nothing extraordinary had
happened. Brushing by them, he dashed into the inner room and turned
the key in the lock of his safe.
"Come out!" he cried, but nobody answered him.
It was odd, but when he looked inside that massive room of steel,
nobody was to be discerned there. At the same instant, however, he
heard the Count's voice immediately behind him, and turning he
discovered the man at his elbow.
"Well?" asked the fellow.
So there he stood, exactly in the same attitude as Ambrose had left him
when he crossed the room to find the document. Indeed, the very same
cigarette was held by his evil-looking fingers, and it was clear that
he waited for the word which would signify acceptance of his contract.
"Good heavens," thought Ambrose, "I must have imagined it all."
He returned to his chair and tossed the paper across the table.
"I refuse to sign it," he said curtly, "you had better call on Alderman
Karlbard; he's a church-warden, a justice of the peace and a
philanthropist. He's your man and he's pretty sure to end in prison
"Thank you for your introduction," said the Count quietly, and, bowing,
he withdrew with the same nonchalant air as he had entered. Trust the
devil to know when he is beaten.
Ambrose watched him go and then calling John, he asked what time it
"A quarter to one, sir," said that worthy.
"Just in time to lunch with Kitty," Ambrose thought. And then jumping
up as a man who comes by a joyous idea, he cried: "By Gad, what a row I
mean to have with her--the darling!"
By ROLAND PERTWEE
(From _The Ladies' Home Journal_)
There was a maroon wall paper in the dining-room, abundantly decorated
with sweeping curves unlike any known kind of vegetation. There were
amber silk sashes to the Nottingham lace curtains at the huge bow
window and an amber winding sheet was wrapped about the terra cotta pot
in which a tired aspidistra bore forth a yearly leaf. Upon the Brussels
carpet was a massive mahogany dining table, and facing the window a
Georgian chiffonier, brass railed and surmounted by a convex mirror.
The mantlepiece was draped in red serge, ball fringed. There were
bronzes upon it and a marble clock, while above was an overmantel,
columned and bemirrored, upon the shelves of which reposed sorrowful
examples of Doulton ware and a pair of wrought-iron candlesticks. It
was a room divorced from all sense of youth and live beings, sunless,
grave, unlovely; an arid room that bore to the nostrils the taint and
humour of the tomb.
From somewhere near the Edgware Road came the clot-clot of a late
four-wheeler and the shake and rumble of an underground train. The
curtains had been discreetly drawn, the gas turned off at the metre and
an hour had passed since the creaking of the old lady's shoes and the
jingle of the plate basket ascending the stairs had died away. A dim
light from the street lamp outside percolated through the blinds and
faintly illuminated the frame and canvas of a large picture hanging
opposite the mantlepiece.
It was a beautiful picture, a piece of perfect painting--three figures
in a simple curve of rocks, lit as it were by an afterglow of sunset.
In the centre was a little Madonna draped in blue and gold. Her elbows
were tight to her sides and her upturned palms with their tender
curving fingers were empty. It seemed almost as though they cradled
some one who was not there. Her mouth was pulled down at the corners,
as is a child's at the edge of tears, and in her eyes was a questing
and bewildered look. To her right, leaning upon a slender staff, was
the figure of St. John the Baptist, and upon his face also perplexity
was written. A trick brushwork had given to his eyes a changing
direction whereby at a certain angle you would say he was looking at
the Madonna, and again that he was following the direction of her gaze
out into unknown places. His lips were shaped to the utterance of such
a word as "why" or "where." It seemed as though the two were in a
partnership of sorrow or of search.
The third figure was of Saint Anne, standing a little behind and
looking upward. A strange composition, oddly incomplete, giving an
impression of sadness, of unrest and of loss irredeemable.
A clock was chiming the parts of an hour when the little Madonna
stepped from the frame and tiptoed across the room. To her own
reflection in the mirror opposite she shook her head in a sorrowful
negative. She peeped into a cupboard and behind the draperies of the
mantlepiece, but there was nothing there. She paused before an
engraving of Raphael's Holy Family, murmured "Happy Lady" and passed
On a small davenport table next to one of the two inexorable armchairs
she found the old lady's workbasket. That was a great piece of good
fortune, since nightly it was locked away with the tea, the stamps and
other temptations that might persuade a soul to steal should
In the many years of her dwelling in the house, but three times only
had she found it unguarded. There are glorious possibilities in a
workbasket. Once she had found wool there, not carded, but a hank of
it, soft, white and most delicate to touch. To handle it had given her
the queerest sensation. She had shut her eyes, and it had seemed to
weave itself into the daintiest garments--very small, you understand,
and with sleeves no longer than a middle finger. But it was a silly
imagining, for not many days afterward, looking down from the canvas,
she had seen the old lady, with her clicking ivory needles, knit the
wool into an ugly pair of bed socks.
Quite a while she played in the basket that night. She liked the little
pearl buttons in the pill box, and the safety pins were nice too. Kind
and trustworthy pins they were to hide their points beneath smooth
round shields. She felt it would be good to take some of them back in
one of her empty hands and hide them in that little crevice of rock
under the juniper tree.
It was the banging of a front door opposite and the sound of running
footsteps that moved her to the window. She drew back the curtain and
peeped out across the way. There were lights in an upstairs window and
a shadow kept crossing and recrossing the blind. It was a nice shadow
and wore a head-dress like her own except that it was more sticky out.
The hall, too, showed a light, and, looking up the street, she saw a
maidservant, running very fast, disappear round the corner. After that
there was silence for a long time. In the street no one moved; it was
deserted, empty as the little Madonna's arms, and dark. A fine rain was
falling, and there were no stars. The sound of distant traffic had died
away. The last underground train had drilled its way through sulphurous
tunnels to the sheds where engines sleep.
She could not tell what kept her waiting at the window; perhaps it was
the moving shadow on the blind, perhaps a prescience, a sense of
happenings near at hand, wonderful yet frightening. A thousand other
times she had looked across the street in the dead of night, only to
shake her head and steal back sorrowfully to her canvas. But to-night
it was different; there was a feeling of promise, as though the
question that she ever asked with her eyes might at last be given an
The front door opened a second time, and a man came out and, though he
was quite young, he looked older than the world. He was shaking and
very white; his hair was disordered and straggled across his brow. He
wore no collar, but held the lapels of his coat across his throat with
trembling fingers. Fearfully he looked up the street where the maid had
gone, then stamped his foot on the paving stones and with his free hand
rubbed his forehead and beat it with his knuckles.
"Oh, will he never come!" she heard him cry, and the words echoed
through her as though they had been her own. If it was a prayer he had
uttered it was swiftly answered; for at the moment the maid and a
bearded man came round the corner at a fast walk. The bearded man had a
kind face and broad shoulders.