Part 1 out of 7
E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell, Danny Wool, Lorna Hanrahan, Mary Musser,
Charles Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE FAR HORIZON
(MRS. MARY ST. LEGER HARRISON)
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
_The Wages of Sin_
_A Counsel of Perfection_
_Colonel Enderby's Wife_
_The Gateless Barrier_
_The History of Sir Richard Calmady_
"Ask for the Old Paths, where is the Good Way, and walk therein, and ye
shall find rest."--JEREMIAS.
"The good man is the bad man's teacher; the bad man is the material upon
which the good man works. If the one does not value his teacher, if the
other does not love his material, then despite their sagacity they must
go far astray. This is a mystery of great import."--FROM THE SAYINGS OF
..."Cherchons a voir les choses comme elles sont, et ne voulons pas avoir
plus d'esprit que le bon Dieu! Autrefois on croyait que la canne a sucre
seule donnait le sucre, on en tire a peu pres de tout maintenant. Il est
de meme de la poesie. Extrayons-la de n'importe quoi, car elle git en
tout et partout. Pas un atome de matiere qui ne contienne pas la poesie.
Et habituons-nous a considerer le monde comme un oeuvre d'art, dont il
faut reproduire les procedees dans nos oeuvres."--GUSTAVE FLAUBERT.
Dominic Iglesias stood watching while the lingering June twilight
darkened into night. He was tired in body, but his mind was eminently,
consciously awake, to the point of restlessness, and this was unusual
with him. He had raised the lower sash of each of the three tall, narrow
windows to its extreme height, since the first-floor sitting-room, though
of fair proportions, appeared close. His thought refused the limits of
it, and ranged outward over the expanse of Trimmer's Green, the roadway
and houses bordering it, to the far northwest, that region of hurried
storm, of fierce, equinoctial passion and conflict, now paved with
plaques of flat, dingy, violet cloud opening on smoky rose-red wastes of
London sunset. All day thunder had threatened, but had not broken. And,
even yet, the face of heaven seemed less peaceful than remonstrant, a
sullenness holding it as of troops in retreat denied satisfaction of
Otherwise the outlook was wholly pacific, one of middle-class suburban
security. The Green aforesaid is bottle-shaped, the neck of it debouching
into a crowded westward-wending thoroughfare; while Cedar Lodge, from the
first-floor windows of which Mr. Iglesias contemplated the oncoming of
night, being situate in the left shoulder, so to speak, of the bottle,
commanded, diagonally, an uninterrupted view of the whole extent of it.
Who Trimmer was, how he came by a Green, and why, or what he trimmed on
it, it is idle at this time of day to attempt to determine. Whether,
animated by a desire for the public welfare, he bequeathed it in high
charitable sort; or whether, fame taking a less enviable turn with him,
he just simply was hanged there, has afforded matter of heated
controversy to the curious in questions of suburban nomenclature and
topography. But in this case, as in so many other and more august ones,
the origins defy discovery. Suffice it, therefore, that the name remains,
as does the open space--the latter forming one of those minor "lungs of
London" which offer such amiable oases in the great city's less
aristocratic residential districts. Formerly the Green boasted a row of
fine elms, and was looked on by discreetly handsome eighteenth-century
mansions and villas, set in spacious gardens. But of these, the great
majority--Cedar Lodge being a happy exception--has vanished under the
hand of the early Victorian speculative builder; who, in their stead, has
erected full complement of the architectural platitudes common to his age
and taste. Dignity has very sensibly given place to gentility.
Nevertheless the timid red, or sickly yellow-grey, brick of the existing
houses is pleasingly veiled by ivy and Virginia creeper, while no shop
front obtrudes derogatory suggestion of retail trade. The local
authorities, moreover, some ten years back girdled the Green with healthy
young balsam-poplar and plane trees and enclosed the grass with iron
hurdles--to rescue it from trampling into unsightly pathways--thus doing
a well-intentioned, if somewhat unimaginative, best to safeguard the
theatre of long ago Trimmer's beneficence or infamy from greater
Hence it follows that, certain inherent limitations admitted, the scene
upon which Dominic Iglesias' eyes rested was not without elements of
attraction. And of this fact, being a person of an excellent temperance
of expectation, he was gratefully aware. His surroundings, indeed,
constituted, so it appeared to him, the maximum of comfort and advantage
which could be expected by a middle-aged gentleman, of moderate fortune,
in the capacity of a "paying guest." Not only in word but in thought--for
in acknowledgment of obligation he was scrupulously courteous. He
frequently tendered thanks to his neighbour and old school-fellow, Mr.
George Lovegrove, first for calling his attention to Mrs. Porcher's
advertisement, and subsequently for reassuring him as to its import. For,
though incapable of forming so much as a thought to her concrete
disparagement, Mr. Iglesias was not without a quiet sense of humour, or
of that instinct of self-protection common to even the most chivalrous of
mankind. He was, therefore, perfectly sensible that "the widow of a
military officer," who describes herself in print as "bright, musical and
thoroughly domesticated," while offering "a cheerful and refined home at
the West End, within three minutes of Tube and omnibus"--"noble dining
and recreation rooms, bath h. and c." thrown in--to unmarried members of
the stronger sex, must of necessity be a lady whose close acquaintance it
would be foolhardy to make without a trifle of preliminary scouting.
Happily not only George Lovegrove, but his estimable wife was at hand.
The latter hastened to prosecute inquiries, beginning with a visit to the
Anglican vicar of the parish, the Rev. Giles Nevington. He reported Mrs.
Porcher an evening communicant at the greater festivals, and a not
ungenerous donor to parochial charities; adding that a former curate had
resided under her roof with perfect impunity. Mrs. Lovegrove terminated
her researches by an interview with the fishmonger, who assured her that
"Cedar Lodge always took the best cuts," sternly refused fish or poultry
which had suffered cold storage, and paid its housebooks without fail
before noon on Thursday. She ascertained, further, from a source socially
intermediate between clergyman and tradesman, that Mrs. Porcher's
husband, some time veterinary surgeon of a crack regiment, had died in
the odour of alcohol rather than in that of sanctity, leaving his widow--in
addition to his numerous and heavy debts--but a fraction of the
comfortable fortune to procure the enjoyment of which he had so
considerately married her. The solid Georgian mansion was her freehold;
and it was to secure sufficient means for continued residence in it that
the poor lady started a boarding-house, or in the politer language of the
present day, had decided to receive paying guests.
Encouraged by the satisfactory nature of the above information, Mr.
Iglesias--shortly after his mother's death, now nearly eight years ago--
had become a member of Mrs. Porcher's household. He had never, so far,
had reason to regret that step. And it was with a consciousness of
well-being and repose that he returned daily--after hours of strenuous
work in the well-known city banking house of Messrs. Barking Brothers &
Barking--to this square first-floor sitting-room, to its dimly white
panelled and painted walls, its nice details of carved work in chimney-
piece and ceiling, and the outlook from its tall, narrow windows. A
touch of old-world stateliness in its aspect satisfied his latent pride
of race. To certain natures not obscurity or slender means, but the
pretentious vulgarity which, in English-speaking countries, too often
goes along with these constitutes the burden and the offence.
To-night, however, things were different. Material objects remained the
same; but the conditions of existence had taken on a strange appearance,
and with that appearance Iglesias was bound to reckon, being uncertain as
yet whether it was destined to prove that of a friend or of an enemy. In
furtherance of such reckoning, he had declined dining at the public
table, in company with his hostess, Miss Eliza Hart, her devoted friend
and companion, and the three gentlemen--Mr. de Courcy Smyth, Mr. Farge,
and Mr. Worthington--who shared with him the hospitalities of Cedar
Lodge. He had dined here, upstairs, solitary; and Frederick, the German-
Swiss valet, had just finished clearing the table and departed. Usually
under such circumstances Iglesias would have taken a favourite book from
the carved Spanish mahogany bookcase containing his small library; and,
reading again that which he had often read before, would have found
therein the satisfaction of friendship, along with the soothing
influences of familiarity. But to-night neither Gibbon's _Rome_--a
handsome early edition in many volumes--_The Travels of Anacharsis_,
Evelyn's _Diary_, Napier's _Peninsular War_, John Stuart Mill's _Logic_,
Byron's _Poems_, nor those of Calderon, nor of that so-called "prodigy of
nature," Lope de Vega, not even the dear and immortal _Don Quixote_
himself, served to attract him. His own thoughts, his own life, filled
his whole horizon, leaving no space for the thoughts or lives of others.
He found himself a prey to a certain mental incoherence, a bewildering
activity of vision. More than once before in the course of his laborious,
monotonous, and, as men go, very virtuous life had this same thing
happened to him--the tides of the obvious and accustomed suddenly
receding and leaving him stranded, as on some barren sand-bank, uncertain
whether the ship of his individual fate would lie there wind-swept and
sun-bleached till rusty rivets fell out and planks parted, disclosing the
ribs of her in unsightly nakedness, or whether the kindly tide, rising,
would float her off into blue water and she would sail hopefully once
It was inevitable that this present experience should recall these other
happenings, evoking memories poignant enough. The first time the ship of
his fate thus stranded was when, as a lad of seventeen, he left school.
Living alone with his mother in a quaint little house in Holland Street,
Kensington, eagerly ambitious to make his way in the world and to obtain,
it had dawned on him that there was something strange, unhappy, and not
as it was wont to be with that, to him, most beautiful and beloved of
women. The mere suspicion was as a blasphemy against which his young
loyalty revolted. For Dominic, with the inherent pieties of his Latin and
Celtic blood, had none of that contemptuous superiority in regard of his
near relations so common to male creatures of the Protestant persuasion
and Anglo-Saxon race. He took his parents quite seriously; it never
having occurred to him that fathers and mothers are given us merely for
purposes of discipline, or as helot-like examples of what to avoid. He
was simple-minded enough indeed to regard them as sacred, altogether
beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism--and this, as destiny would
have it, with intimate and life-long results.
Vaguely, through the mists of infancy, he could remember a hurried
exodus--after sound of cannon and sight of blood--from Spain, the fierce
and pious country of his birth. Since then, while his mother lived--
namely, till he was a man of over forty--always and only the house in the
Kensington side street, with its crooked creaking stairways, its high
wainscots--behind which mice squeaked and scampered--its clinging odour
of ancient woodwork, its low ceilings, and uneven floors. At the back of
it was a narrow strip of garden, glorious for one brief week in early
summer, with the gold of a big laburnum; and fragrant later thanks to
faithful effort on the part of the white jasmine clothing its enclosing
walls. In fair weather the morning sun lay warm there; while the sky
showed all the bluer overhead for the dark lines of the adjacent
housetops, and upstanding deformities in the matter of zinc cowls and
chimney-pots. Frequented by cats, boasting in the centre a rockery of gas
clinkers and chalk flints surmounted by a stumpy fluted column bearing a
stone basin--in which, after rain, sparrows disported themselves with
much conversation and fluttering of sooty wings--the garden was, to
little Dominic, a place of wonder and delight. He peopled it with beings
of his own fancy, lovely or terrific, according to his passing humour.
Granted a measure of imagination, the solitary child is often the
happiest child, since the social element, with its inevitable
materialism, is absent, and the dear spirit of romance is unquenched by
His father, grave and preoccupied, whose arrivals after long periods of
absence had in them an effect of secrecy and haste, was to the small boy
a being, august, but remote. During his brief sojourns at home the quiet
house awoke to greater fulness of life, with much coming and going of
other grave personages, strange of dress, and with a certain effect of
hardly restrained violence in their aspect. A spirit of fear seemed to
enter with them, demanding an unnatural darkening of windows and closing
of doors. Before Dominic they were of few words; but became eloquent
enough, in sonorous foreign speech, as his ears testified when he was
banished from their rather electric presence to the solitude of the
nursery above. And so it came about that a sense of mystery, of large
issues, of things at once strong and hidden, impenetrable to his
understanding and concerning which no questions might be asked, encircled
Dominic's childhood and passed into the very fabric of his thought. While
through it all his mother moved, to him tender and wholly exquisite, but
with the reticence of some deep-seated enthusiasm silently cherished,
some far-reaching alarm silently endured, always upon her. And this
resulted in an atmosphere of seriousness and responsibility which
inevitably reacted on the boy, making him sober beyond his years,
tempering his natural vivacity with watchfulness, and pitching even his
laughter in a minor key.
Only many years later, when after his mother's death it became his duty
to read letters exchanged between his parents during this period, did
Dominic Iglesias touch the key to the riddle, and fully measure the
public danger, the private strain and stress which had surrounded his
childhood and early youth. For his father, a man of far from ignoble
nature, but of narrow outlook and undying hatreds, was deeply involved in
revolutionary intrigue of the most advanced type--a victim of that false
passion of humanity which takes its rise not in honest desire for the
welfare of mankind, but in blind rebellion against all forms of
authority. His self-confidence was colossal; all rule being abominable to
him--save his own--all rulers hideous, save himself. The anarchist,
rightly understood, is merely the autocrat, the tyrant, turned inside
out. And this man, as Dominic gathered from the perusal of those old
letters, to whom the end so justified the means that red-handed crime
took on the fair colours of virtue, his mother had loved, even while she
feared him, with all the faithfulness and pure passion of her Irish
blood. Pathetic combination, the patience and resignation of the one ever
striving to temper the flaming zeal of the other, as though the spindrift
of the Atlantic, sweeping inland from the dim sadness of far western
coasts, should strive with relentless fierceness of sunglare outpoured on
some high-lying walled city of arid central Spain! Mist is but a weak
thing as against rock and fire; and what his mother must have suffered in
moral and spiritual conflict, let alone all question of active dread, was
to her son almost too cruel to contemplate, although it explained and
In 1860, when Dominic was a schoolboy of fourteen, his father left home
on one of those sudden journeys the object and objective of which were
alike concealed. For about a year letters arrived at irregular intervals,
hailing from Paris, Naples, Prague, and finally Petersburg. Then followed
silence, broken only by rumours furtively conveyed by a former associate,
one Pascal Pelletier--an angel-faced, long-haired, hysteric creature,
inspired by an impassioned enthusiasm for infernal machines and wholesale
slaughter in theory, and, in practice, by a gentle doglike devotion to
Mrs. Iglesias and young Dominic. He would arrive depressed and shadowy in
the shadowy twilights. But, once in the presence of the beings whom he
loved, he became effervescent. His belief was unlimited in the Head
Centre, the Chief, in his demonic power and fertility of resource. That
any evil should befall him!--Pascal snapped his thin fingers; while, with
the inalienable optimism of the born fanatic, he proceeded to state
hopeful conjecture as established fact, thereby doing homage to the
spirit of delusion which so conspicuously ruled him even to his inmost
thought. But a spell of cold weather in the winter of 1862 struck a
little too shrewdly through Pascal's seedy overcoat, causing that tender-
hearted subverter of society to cough his life out, with all possible
despatch, in the third-floor back of a filthy lodging-house off Tottenham
This was the end as far as information went, whether authentic or
apocryphal. But Dominic, his horizon still bounded by the world of
school, greedy of distinction both in learning and in games, away all day
and eagerly, if somewhat sleepily, busy over the preparation of lessons
at night, was very far from realising that. Poor voluble kind-eyed Pascal
he mourned with all his heart; yet the months of his father's absence
accumulated into years almost unnoticed. The same thing had so often
happened before; and then, at an unlooked-for moment, the wanderer had
returned. Moreover, the old habit of obedience was still strong in him.
It was understood that concerning his father's occupations and movements
no comment might be made, no questions might be asked.
Meanwhile, the small house in Holland Street was ever more still, more
unfrequented. As he grew older Dominic became increasingly sensible of
this--sensible of a sort of hush falling on him as he crossed the
threshold, so that instinctively he left much of his wholesome young
animality outside, while his voice took on softer tones in speech, and
his quick light footsteps became more scrupulously noiseless as he ran up
the little crooked stairs.
"When your father comes home we must decide what profession you shall
follow, my Dominic," it had been his mother's habit to declare. But, even
before the time for such decision arrived the boy had begun to understand
he must see to all that unaided. For his mother was ill, how deeply and
in what manner he could not tell. He shrank, indeed, from all clear
thought, let alone speech, on the subject, as from something indelicate,
in a way irreverent. Her beauty remained to her, notwithstanding a
gradual wasting as of fever. A peculiar, very individual grace of dress
and of bearing remained to her likewise. But she was uncertain in mood,
the victim of strange fancies, a being almost alarmingly far removed from
the interests of ordinary life. Long ago, in submission to her husband's
anti-clerical prejudices, she had ceased to practise her religion, so
that the services of the Church no longer called her forth in beneficent
routine of sacred obligation. Now she never left the house, living, since
poor Pascal Pelletier's death, in complete seclusion. Little wonder then
that a hush fell on Dominic crossing the threshold, since so doing he
passed from the world of healthy action to that of acquiescent sickness,
from vigorous hoarse-voiced realities to the intangible sadness of
unrelated dreams! The effect was one of rather haunting melancholy; and
it was characteristic of the lad that he did not resent it, though
rejoicing in the reputation at school of being high-spirited enough,
impatient of restraint or of any frustration of purpose. His mother had
always been sacred. She remained so, even though her sympathies had
become imperfect, and she moved in regions which his sane young
imagination failed to penetrate. One thing was perfectly plain to him,
though it cut at the root of ambition--namely, that he could not leave
her. So, in that matter of a profession, he must find work which would
permit of his continuing to live at home; and, since her income was
narrow, the work in question must make no heavy demand in respect of
Here was a problem more easy of statement than of solution, in face of
Dominic's pride, inexperience, and the singular isolation of his
position! There followed dreary months wherein his evenings were spent
in studying and answerings advertisements; and his days, till late
afternoon, in walking the town from end to end for the interviewing of
possible employers and the keeping of fruitless appointments. He would
set forth full of hope and courage in the morning, only to return full of
the dejection of failure at night. And it was then London began to reveal
herself to him in her solidarity, under the cloud of dun-blue coal smoke
--it was wintertime--which, at once hanging over and penetrating her
immensity, adds the majesty of mystery to the majesty of mere size. He
noted how, in the chill twilights, London grew strangely and feverishly
alive. Lamps sprang into clearness along the pavements. A dazzling
glitter of shop windows marked the great thoroughfares, while often the
angry glare of a fire pulsed along the sky-line. When night comes in the
country, so Dominic told himself, the land sinks into peaceful repose.
But in cities it is otherwise. There the light leaves heaven for earth;
and walks the streets, with much else far from celestial, until the
small hours move towards the dawn and usher in the decencies of day.
Never before had he seen London thus and understood it in all its
enormous variety, yet as a unit, a whole. How much he actually beheld
with his bodily eyes, how much through the working of a rather exalted
condition of imagination induced by loneliness and bodily fatigue, he
could never subsequently determine. But the great city presented herself
to him in the guise of some prodigious living creature, breathing,
feeding, suffering, triumphing, above all mating and breeding, terrible
in her power and vitality, age old, yet still unspent. Presented herself
to him as horribly prolific, ever outpassing her own unwieldy limits,
sending forth her children, year after year, all the wide world over by
shipping or by rail; receiving some tithe of them back, proud with
accomplished fortune to enhance her glory, or, disgraced and broken,
slinking homeward to the cover of her fog and darkness merely to swell
the numbers of the nameless who rot and die. He thought of those others,
too--and this touched his young ardour with a quick shudder of personal
fear--whom she never sends forth at all; but holds close in bondage all
their lives long, enslaved to her countless and tyrant activities by
their own poverty, or by their fellow-creatures' misfortune, cruelties,
and sins. Was it thus she was going to deal with him, Dominic Iglesias?
Was he to be among the great city's bondmen through the coming years,
better acquainted with the very earthly light which walks her streets by
night, than with the heavenly light which gladdens the sweet face of day
in the open country and upon the open sea? And for a moment the boy's
heart rebelled, hungry for pleasure, hungry for wide experience, hungry
even for knowledge of those revolutionary intrigues which, as he was
beginning to understand, had surrounded his childhood, and, as he was
beginning to fear, had cost his mother her reason and his father both
liberty and life. Thus did the ship of poor Dominic's fate appear to be
stranded or ever it had fairly set sail at all.
Meanwhile, if London claimed him, she did so in very cynical fashion,
mocking his willingness to labour, refusing to feed him even while she
refused to let him go. Everything, he feared, was against him--his youth,
his foreign name, his limited acquaintance, the impossibility of giving
definite information regarding his father's past occupations or present
whereabouts. Moreover, his spare young figure, his thin shapely hands and
feet, his blue-black Irish eyes and black hair, his energetic colourless
face, his ready yet reticent speech--all these marked him as unusual and
exotic. And for the unusual and exotic the British employer of labour--of
whatever sort--has, it must be conceded, but little use. He is half
afraid, half contemptuous of it, instinctively disliking anything more
alert and alive than his own most stolid self. But while men, distrusting
the distinctness of his personality and his good looks, refused to give
Dominic work, women, relishing them, were only too ready to give him
enjoyment--of a kind. The boy, in those solitary wanderings, ran the
gauntlet of many temptations; and was presented--did he care to accept
it--with the freedom of the city on very liberal lines. Happily, inherent
cleanliness of nature saved him from much; and reverent shame at the
thought of entering the hushed and silent house where his mother lived--
spotless, amid pathetic memories and delicate dreams--with the soil of
licence upon him, saved him from more. Crime might have come close to him
in his childhood, but vice never; and the influences of vice are far more
insidious, and consequently more damaging, than those of crime.
Still, one way and another, the boy came very near touching the confines
of despair. Then the tide rose and the stranded ship of his fate began to
lift a little. By means of a series of accidents--the illness of his
former school-fellow, the already mentioned George Lovegrove, whose post
he offered temporarily to fill--he drifted into connection with the
banking house of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking. There his knowledge
of modern languages, his industry, and a certain discreet aloofness
commended him to his superiors. A minor clerkship fell vacant; it was
offered to him. And from thenceforth, for Dominic Iglesias, the monotony
of fixed routine and steady labour, until the day when, as a man of past
fifty, restless and somewhat distrustful both of the present and the
future, he watched the dying of the sullen sunset over Trimmer's Green
from the windows of the first-floor sitting-room of Cedar Lodge.
That which had in point of fact happened was not, as Iglesias felt,
without a pretty sharp edge of irony. For to-day, London, so long his
task-mistress and gaoler, had assumed a new attitude towards him.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, she had cast him off, given him his freedom. It
was amazing, a thing to take your breath away for the moment. And
agitated and hurt--for his pride unquestionably had suffered in the
process--Iglesias asked himself what in the world he should do with this
gift of freedom, what he should do, indeed, with that which remained to
him of life?
It had come about thus. Seeking an interview that morning with Sir Abel
Barking, in the latter's private room at the bank, he had made certain
statements regarding his own health in justification of a request for
some weeks' rest and holiday now, rather than later, in September, when
his yearly vacation would fall due.
"So you find yourself unequal to dealing satisfactorily with the
increasing intricacy of our financial operations, become confused by the
multiplicity of detail, suffer from pains in the head?" Sir Abel had
commented, with a certain largeness of manner. "I own, my good friend, I
was not wholly unprepared for this announcement."
"My work has not so far, I believe, suffered in any respect," Iglesias
put in quietly. "Directly I had reason to fear it might suffer I----"
"Of course, of course. I make no complaint--none. I go further. I admit
that the area of our undertakings is enlarged, enormously enlarged,
thanks to the remarkable personal energy and strenuous transatlantic
business methods introduced by my nephew Reginald. I grant you all
Sir Abel cleared his throat. Seduced by the charms of his own eloquence,
he was ready to mount the platform at the shortest possible notice, even
in private life. He loved exposition. He loved periods. His critics--for
what public man is without these, their strictures naturally inspired by
envy?--had been known to add that he also loved platitudes. Be this as it
may, certain it is that he loved an audience--even of one. He had been
considerably ruffled this morning by communications made to him by his
good-looking and somewhat scapegrace youngest son. Those who fail to rule
their own households often find solace in attempting to rule the
households of others. Speech and patronage consequently tended to the
restoration of self-complacency.
"No doubt this expansion, these modern methods, constitute a tax upon
your capacity, my good friend, you having acquired your training under a
less exacting system. I am not surprised. I confess"--he leaned back in
his chair, with an indulgent smile, as one who should say, "the gods
themselves do not wholly escape"--"I confess," he repeated, "it is
something of a tax upon the capacity of a veteran financier such as
myself. But then strain in some form or other, as I frequently remind
myself, is the very master-note of our modern existence. We all
experience it in our degree. And there are those men, such as myself, for
instance, who from their position, their vast interests and heavy
responsibilities, from the almost incalculable issues dependent on their
judgment and their action, are called upon to endure this strain in its
most exhausting manifestations, who are compelled to subordinate personal
case, even health itself, to public obligation. In the end they pay,
incontestable they pay, for their self-abnegation, for their unswerving
obedience to the trumpet-call of public duty."
He paused and mused a while, his head raised, his right hand resting--it
was noticeably podgy and squat--on the highly polished surface of the
extensive writing-table, his left hand dropped, with a rather awkward
negligence, over the arm of his chair. Meanwhile he gazed, as pensively
as his caste of countenance permitted, at a portrait of himself, in the
self-same attitude, which adorned the opposite wall. It had been
presented to him by the electors of his late constituency. It was life-
size and full-length. It had been painted by a well-known artist whose
appreciation of the outward as a revelation of the inward man is slightly
diabolic in its completeness. The portrait was very clever; it was also
very like. Looking upon it no sane observer could stand in doubt of Sir
Abel's eminent respectability or eminent wealth. His appearance exuded
both. Unluckily nature had been niggardly in the bestowal of those more
delicate marks of breeding which, both in man and beast, denote
distinction of personality and antiquity of race. Pursy, prolific,
Protestant, a commonness pervaded the worthy gentleman's aspect, causing
him, as compared with his head clerk, Dominic Iglesias--standing there
patiently awaiting his further utterance--to be as is a cheap oleograph
to a fine sketch in pen and ink. It may be taken as an axiom that, in
body and soul alike, to be deficient in outline is a sad mistake. But of
all these little facts and the result of them, Sir Abel was, needless to
relate, sublimely ignorant.
"With you, my good friend, it is otherwise," he remarked presently,
reluctantly removing his gaze from the portrait of himself. "A beneficent
Providence has devised the law of compensation. And we may remark the
workings of it everywhere with instruction and encouragement. Hence
social obscurity has its compensating advantages. You, for example, are
affected by none of those considerations of public obligation binding
upon myself. You are so situated that you can avoid the more trying
consequences of this universal overstrain. If the demands of the position
you now fill are too much for you, you can retire. I congratulate you,
Iglesias. For some of us it is impossible, it is forbidden to retire."
The speaker paused, as when in addressing a political or charitable
meeting he paused for well-merited applause, secure of having made a
telling point. Dominic Iglesias, however, had not applauded. To tell the
truth, his back was stiffening a little. He had a very just appreciation
of the relative social positions of himself and his employer; still it
did not occur to him, somehow, that applause was necessarily in the part.
"You have the redress in your own hands," Sir Abel went on, not without a
hint of annoyance. "If you need amusement, leisure, rest, they are all
within your reach."
Still Iglesias did not speak.
"See now, my good friend, consider. To be practical"--Sir Abel raised his
finger and wagged it, with a heavy attempt at _bonhomie_. "You have no
family to provide for?"
"No," said Mr. Iglesias.
"You are, in short, not married?"
"No, Sir Abel," he said again.
"Well, then, no obstacle presents itself. But let us pause a moment, for
I must guard myself against misconception. In the interests of both
public and private morality I am a staunch advocate of marriage." Again
he cleared his throat. The platform was conspicuous by its presence--in
idea. "I hold matrimony to be among the primary duties, nay, to be the
primary duty of the Christian and the citizen. We owe it to the race, we
owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the opposite sex. Let us be quite clear
on this point. Yet, since I deprecate all bigotry, I admit that there may
be exceptional cases in which absence of the marital relation, though
arguing some emotional callousness, may prove advantageous to the
A queer light had come into Dominic Iglesias' eyes. The corners of his
mouth worked a little. He stood quite still and rather noticeably erect.
"I do not deny this," Sir Abel continued. "I repeat, I do not deny it.
And yours, my good friend, may be, I am prepared to acknowledge, a case
in point. I take for granted, by the way, that you have saved, since your
salary has been a liberal one?"
Iglesias inclined his head.
"Clearly we need discuss this matter no further then." The speaker became
impressive, admonitory. "Indeed, it appears to me that your lot is a most
favoured one. You are free of all encumbrances. You can retire in
comfort--retire, moreover, with the assurance that your departure will
cause no inconvenience to myself and my colleagues, since you make room
for men younger and more in touch with modern methods than yourself."
Mr. Iglesias permitted himself to smile.
"Ah, yes!" he said. "Possibly I had not taken that fact sufficiently into
"Yet, clearly, it should augment your satisfaction," Sir Abel Barking
observed, with a touch of severity. "And, by the by, you can draw your
pension. You were entitled, strictly speaking, to do so some years ago--
four, I believe, to be accurate. This was pointed out to you at the time
by my nephew Reginald. He was not at all unwilling that you should retire
then; but you preferred to remain. I had some conversation, at the time,
with my nephew on the subject. I insisted upon the fact that your service
had been exemplary. I finally succeeded in overruling his objection to
your retaining your post."
"I am evidently under a heavy obligation to you, Sir Abel," said
"Don't mention it--don't mention it," the great man answered nobly.
"Those in power should try to exercise it to the benefit of their
subordinates. It has always been my effort not only to be just, but to be
considerate of the interests and feelings of persons in my employment."
And with that he again fixed his eyes upon the ironical portrait adorning
the opposite wall, wholly blind to the fact that it at once revealed his
weaknesses and mocked at them, conscious only of an agreeable conviction
that he had treated his head clerk with generosity and spoken to him with
the utmost good-feeling and tact.
With the proud it is ever a question whether to spoil the Egyptians, or
to fling back even the best-earned wages, payable by Egyptians, full in
the said Egyptians' face. For the firm of Barking Brothers & Barking, in
the abstract, Iglesias had the loyalty of long-established habit. It had
been as the rising tide, setting the ship of his fate and fortune
honourably afloat in the dismal days of that early stranding. Its service
had eaten up the best years of his life, it is true. But, even in so
doing, by mere force of constant association, the interests of the great
banking house had come to be his own, its schemes and secrets his
excitement, its successes his satisfaction. Fortunately the human mind is
so constituted that it is possible to have an esteem, amounting to
enthusiasm, for a body corporate, while entertaining but scanty
admiration for the individuals of whom that body is composed--fortunately
indeed, since otherwise what government, secular or sacred, would long
continue to subsist? Hence, to Iglesias, this matter of the pension was
decidedly difficult. Pride said, "This man, Abel Barking has been
offensive; both he and his nephew have been ungrateful; reject it with
contempt." Justice said, "You have no quarrel with the firm as a whole;
accept it." Common sense, pricked up by anger, said, "Claim your own,
take every brass farthing of it." While personal dignity, winding up the
case, admonished, "By no means give yourself away. Make no impetuous
demonstration. Go home and think it quietly over." And with the advice of
personal dignity Mr. Iglesias fell in.
Yet he was still very sore, the heat of anger past, but the smart of it
remaining, when he journeyed back from the city later in the day. And not
only that after-smart, but a perplexity held him. For two strange faces
had looked into his during the last few hours--those of Loneliness and
Freedom. He had taken for granted, in a general sort of way, that such
personages existed and exercised a certain jurisdiction in human affairs.
But in all the course of his laborious life they had never before come
close, personally claiming him. He had had no time for them. But they are
patient, they only wait. They had time for him--plenty of it. Suddenly he
understood that; and it perplexed him, for his estimate of his own
importance was modest. He even felt apologetic towards them, as one at
whose door distinguished guests alight for whose entertainment he has
made no adequate provision. He was embarrassed, his sense of hospitality
It so happened that, on this same return journey, he occupied the seat on
the right, immediately behind that of the driver. The sky was covered,
the atmosphere close. The horses, grey ones, showed a thick yellowish
lather where the collar rubbed their necks and the traces their flanks.
They were slack and heavy, and the omnibus hugged the curb. Within it was
empty, and on the top boasted but three passengers besides Iglesias
himself. It followed that, carrying insufficiency of ballast, the great
red-painted vehicle lumbered, and jerked, and swayed uneasily; while the
lighter traffic swept past it in a glittering stream, the dominant note
of which was black as against the dirty drab of the recently watered
wood-pavement. And the character of that traffic was new to Dominic
Iglesias, though he had travelled the Hammersmith Road, Kensington High
Street and Kensington Gore, Knightsbridge and Piccadilly, back and forth
daily, these many years. For the exigencies of business demanding that
the hours of his journeying should be early and late, always the same, it
came about that the aspect of these actually so-familiar thoroughfares
was novel, as beheld in the height of the season at three o'clock in the
At first Iglesias saw without seeing, busy with his own uncheerful
thoughts. But after a while he began to speculate idly on the scene
around him, turning to the outward and material for distraction, if not
for actual comfort. And so the stream of carriages and hansoms, and the
conspicuously well-favoured human beings occupying them, began to
intrigue his attention. He questioned whom they might be and whither
wending, decked forth in such brave array. They seemed to suggest
something divorced from, yet native to, his experience; something he had
never touched in fact, yet the right to which was resident in his blood.
And with this he ceased, in instinct, to be merely the highly respected
and respectable head clerk of Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking--now
superannuated and laid on the shelf. A gayer, fiercer, simpler life,
quick with violences of vivacious sound and vivid colour, the excitement
of it heightened by clear shining southern sunshine and blue-black
shadow--a life undreamed of by conventional, slow-moving, rather vulgar
middle-class London--to which, on the face of it, he appeared as
emphatically to belong--awoke and cried in Dominic Iglesias.
It was a surprising little experience, causing him to straighten up his
lean yet shapely figure; while the burden of his years, and the long
monotony of them, seemed strangely lifted off him. Then, with the air of
courtly reserve--at once the joke and envy of the younger clerks, which
had earned him the nickname of "the old Hidalgo"--he leaned forward and
addressed the omnibus driver. The latter upraised a broad, moist and
"Polo at Ranelagh," he answered, in a voice thickened by dust and the
laying of that dust by strong waters. "Club team plays 'Undred and First
The words had been to the inquirer pretty much as phrases from the
liturgy of an unknown cult. But it was Iglesias' praiseworthy disposition
not to be angry with that which he did not happen to understand, so much
as angry with himself for not understanding it.
"Only an additional proof, were it needed, of the prodigious extent of my
ignorance!" he reflected in stoically humorous self-contempt. His eyes
dwelt, somewhat wistfully, on the glittering stream of traffic, once
again those two unbidden guests, Loneliness and Freedom--for whose
entertainment he had made inadequate provision--sitting, as it seemed,
very close on either side of him. Then that happened which altered all
the values. Dominic Iglesias suddenly saw a person whom he knew.
He had seen that same person about three hours previously in the bank in
Threadneedle Street, while waiting for admittance to Sir Abel's private
room. Rumour accredited this handsome young gentleman--Sir Abel's
youngest son--with tastes expensive rather than profitable, liberal
socially, rather than estimable ethically, declaring him to be distinctly
of the nature of the proverbial thorn in the banker's otherwise very
prosperous side. He had, so said rumour, the fortune or misfortune, as
you chose to take it, of being at once a considerably bad boy and a
distinctly charming one. Be all that as it might, the young man had
certainly presented a grimly anxious countenance when, without so much as
a nod of recognition, he had stalked past Mr. Iglesias in the dim light
of the glass and mahogany-walled corridor. But now, as the latter noted,
his expression had changed, and that very much for the better. The young
man's face was flushed and eager, and his teeth showed white and even
under his reddish brown moustache. If anxieties still pursued him they
were in subjection to one main anxiety, the anxiety to please, which of
all anxieties is the most engaging and grace-begetting.
Just then the traffic was held up, thus enabling Iglesias from his perch
on the 'bustop to receive a more than fleeting impression. Two ladies
were seated opposite the young man in the carriage. In them Iglesias
recognised persons of very secure social standing. The elder he supposed
to be Lady Sokeington--Alaric Barking's half-sister--to whom, on the
occasion of her marriage, twelve or thirteen years ago, he had had the
expensive honour of presenting, in his own name and that of his
colleagues, a costly gift of plate. The other lady, so it appeared to
him, was eminently sweet to look upon. She was very young. She leaned a
little forward, and in the pose of her delicate figure and the carriage
of her pretty head--under its burden of pale pink and grey feathers,
flowers, and lace--he detected further example of that engaging anxiety
to please. They made a delightful young couple, the fair seeming of this
life and riches of it very much on their side. Mr. Iglesias' chivalrous
heart went out to them in silent sympathy and benediction; while, the
block being over, his gaze continued to follow them as long as the young
girl's slender white-clad back and the young man's flushed and eager face
remained distinguishable. Then he started, for he was aware that his
unbidden companions had received unexpected reinforcement. A third guest
had arrived, and looked hard and critically at him. It's name was Old
Age, and he found something sardonic in its glance. With all his
gentleness of soul, all his innate self-restraint, there remained
fighting blood in Dominic Iglesias. Therefore, for the moment,
recognising with whom he had to deal, a light anything but mild visited
his eyes, and a rigidity the straight lines of his chin and lips. Old Age
is a sinister visitant even to those who are moderate in demand and clean
of life. For it gives to drink of the cup not of pleasure, but merely of
patience, of physical loss and intellectual humiliation; and, once it has
laid its spell upon you, you are past all remedy save the supreme remedy
of death. And so, at first sight, Iglesias rebelled--as do all men--
turning defiant. Then, being very sane, he gave in to the relentless
logic of fact. Silently, yet with all courtesy, he acknowledged the
newcomer, and bade it be seated along with the rest. While, after brief
pause to rally his pride, and that courage which is the noblest attribute
of pride, he turned to things concrete and material once more, finally
addressing himself to the omnibus driver:
"Pardon me; polo, as I understand, is a species of game?"
The broad moist countenance was again uplifted, a hint of patronage now
tempering its good-natured apathy.
"Sort'er 'ockey on 'orseback."
"That must be sufficiently dangerous," Mr. Iglesias remarked.
"Bless you, yes. Players breaks their backs pretty frequent, and cuts the
ponies about most cruel--"
He ceased speaking abruptly, jammed the brake down with his heel in
response to the conductor's bell, and drew the sweating horses up short
to permit the ingress of fresh passengers. This accomplished, the omnibus
lumbered onwards while Dominic Iglesias fell into further meditation.
The explanation vouchsafed him was still far from explicit; yet this much
of illumination he gained from it, namely, the assurance that all these
goodly personages, Alaric Barking and his sweet companion among them,
were on pleasure bent. One and all they fared forth, on this heavy summer
afternoon, in search of amusement--in search of that intangible yet very
powerful factor in human affairs to which it is given to lift the too
great weight of seriousness from mortal life, cheating perception of
relentless actualities, helping to restore the balance, helping men to
hope, to laugh, and to forget. Perceiving all which, conscious moreover
of the near neighbourhood of Loneliness on the right hand and Old Age on
the left, Iglesias began to bestow on these votaries of pleasure a more
earnest attention, recognising in them the possessors of a secret which
it greatly behoved him to enter into possession of likewise. In what, he
asked himself, did it actually consist, this to him practically unknown
quantity, amusement? How was the spirit of it cultivated, the enjoyment
of it consciously attained? How far did it reside in inward attitude, how
far in outward circumstance? In a word, how did they all do it? It was
very incumbent upon him to learn, and he admitted a ridiculous ignorance.
Thus had the chapter of labour ended, and that of leisure opened. And it
was with the sadness of things terminated very strongly upon him that, as
Frederick, the German-Swiss valet, finished clearing the dinner-table and
departed, Mr. Iglesias looked forth over the neatly protected verdure of
Trimmer's Green in the evening quiet. The smugly pacific aspect of the
place irritated him. He was aware of a great emptiness. And very
certainly the scene before him offered no solution of the problem of the
filling of that emptiness. And somehow or other it had to be filled--
Iglesias knew that, knew it through every fibre of him--or life would be
simply insupportable. Meanwhile from the public drawing-room below came
sounds of revelry, innocent enough yet hardly calculated to soothe over-
strained nerves. Little Mr. Farge--whose thin and reedy tenor carried as
does a penny whistle--gave forth the refrain of a song just then popular
in metropolitan music-halls.
"They're keeping latish hours at the Convalescent Home," piped Mr. Farge;
while his friend and devout admirer, Albert Edward Worthington, tore at
the banjo strings and the ladies tittered.
Iglesias listened in a somewhat grim spirit of endurance. On the far side
of the Green he could see the gaslights in the Lovegroves' dining-room.
These appeared to watch him rather uncomfortably, as with three
supplicating and reproachful eyes. He debated whether he would not take
his hat, step across, and tell his old friend what had happened--it would
at least relieve him of the sound of little Farge's serenading. But his
pride recoiled somehow. Good souls, man and wife, they would be full of
solicitude and kindness; but they would say the wrong thing. They would
not understand. How, indeed, should they, being wholly at one with their
surroundings--unimaginative, domestic, British middle-class, with its
virtues and limitations aggressively in evidence? George Lovegrove would
suggest some minor municipal office, or membership of the local borough
council, as a crown of consolation. His wife would skirt round the
subject of matrimony. She had done so before now; and Iglesias, while
presenting a dignified front to the enemy, had inwardly shuddered. She
was an excellent, estimable woman; but when ponderously arch, when
extensively sly! Oh, dear no! It didn't do. Her gambols were too sadly
suggestive of those of a skittish hippopotamus. Dominic Iglesias was
conscious that he had a skin too little to-night; he could not witness
them with philosophy. The kindliest intention, the best-meant words,
might cause him extravagant annoyance.
He turned away from the window and took a turn the length of the room--a
tall, distinct, and even stately figure in the thickening dusk. He felt
rather horribly desolate. He was fairly frightened by the greatness of
the emptiness, within and about him, engendered by absence of employment.
He had little to reproach himself with. His record was cleaner than most
men's--he could not but know that. He had sacrificed personal ambition,
personal happiness, to the service of one supremely dear to him. Not for
a moment did he regret it. Had it to be done all over again, without
hesitation he would do it. Still there was no blinking facts. Here was
the nemesis, not of ill living, but of good--namely, emptiness,
loneliness, homelessness, Old Age here at his elbow, Death waiting there
"The routine has gone on too long," he said to himself bitterly. "I have
lost my pliability, lost my humanity. I am a machine now, not a man. To
the machine, work is life. Work over, life is over; and the machine is
just so much lumber--better broken up and sent to the rag and bottle
shop, where it may fetch the worth of its weight as scrap-iron."
He turned, came back to the open window again and stood there, rather
carefully avoiding the three reproachful eyes of the Lovegroves' dining-
room gaselier, and fixing his gaze on that sullen fierceness of sunset
still hanging in the extreme northwest.
"Unluckily there is no rag and bottle shop where superannuated bank
clerks of five-and-fifty have even the very modest market value of scrap-
iron!" he went on. "Of all kinds of uselessness, that of we godlike human
beings is the most utterly obvious when our working day is past. Mental
decay and bodily corruption as the ultimate. And, this side of it, a few
years of increasing degradation, a mere senseless killing of time until
the very unpleasing goal is reached--along with a growing selfishness,
and narrowness of outlook; along, possibly, with some development of
senile sensuality, the more detestable because it lacks the provocations
of hot blood. Oh! Dominic Iglesias, Dominic Iglesias, is that the ugly
road you are doomed to travel--a toothless greed for filling your belly
with fly-blown dainties off the refuse-heap?"
And through the open window, in sinister accompaniment to little Mr.
Farge's sophisticated and unpastoral pipings, came the voice of the great
city herself in answer--low, multitudinous, raucous, without emphasis but
without briefest relief of interval or of pause. And this laid hold
strongly of Iglesias' imagination, reminding him of all the intimate
wretchedness of that first stranding of the ship of his fate. Reminding
him of his long and fruitless trampings in search of employment--good
looks, energy, youth itself, seeming but an added handicap--when London
revealed herself to him in her solidarity, revealed herself as a
prodigious living creature, awful in her mysterious vigour, ever big with
impending birth, merciless with impending death. As she showed herself to
him then, with life all untried before him, so she showed herself still
when, in the blackness of his present humour, all life worth the name
appeared over and passed. He had changed, so he believed, to the point of
nullity and final ineptitude. She remained strong, active, relentless as
ever. As long ago, so now, she struck him as monstrous. Yet now, though
all the conditions were changed, he had, as long ago, an instinct that
from her there was no escape.
"I have served you honestly enough all these years," he said--since she
had voice to speak, she had also ears to hear, mayhap--"and you have
taken much and given little. To-day you have turned me off, told me to
quit. But where, I ask you, can I go? I am too stiffened by work,
unskilled in travel, too unadaptable to begin again elsewhere. Moreover,
you hold the record of my experience, all my glad and sorrowful memories.
I might try to leave you, but it's no use. I am planted and rooted in
you, monstrous mother that you are. If I know myself, I should go only to
For the moment the calm of long self-control was broken up within him.
Dominic Iglesias dwelt, consciously and sensibly, in the horror of the
Outer Darkness--which horror is known only to that small and somewhat
suspect minority of human beings who are also capable, by the operation
of the divine mercy, of dwelling in the glory of the Uncreated Light. The
swing of the pendulum is equal to right as to left. He was staggered by
the misery of his own isolation--a stranger, as he suddenly realised, by
temperament and ideals, as well as by race! Then resolutely he turned his
back on this, with an instinct of self-preservation directing his thought
to things practical and average.
For example, that question of the pension--concerning which he now found,
to his slight surprise, he was no longer the least in doubt. This money
was his by right. The hard strain in his nature was dominant--to the full
he would claim his rights. And since in moments of despair the human mind
invariably requires a human victim, be it merely a simulacrum, a waxen
image of a man to melt in the fires of its humiliation and revolt,
Iglesias remembered, with much contemptuous satisfaction, the ironical
portrait of Sir Abel Barking adorning the wall of the latter's private
room at the bank. He hailed the diabolic talent of the artist who had
laid bare with such subtle skill the flatulence of his sitter. It was a
pretty revenge, very assuaging just now to Iglesias. For the real man, as
he reflected, was not the man who sat heavily self-complacent in a
library chair, exuding platitudes and pride of patronage; but the man who
hung upon the wall forever ridiculous while paint and canvas should last.
Thus would he go down to posterity! And to Dominic Iglesias, just now, it
seemed very excellent that posterity should know him for the wind-bag
hypocrite he essentially was. Securely entrenched behind his own large
prosperity, uxoriousness, paternity, had he not counted his, Iglesias',
blessings to him; counselling amusement, rest, congratulating him on just
all that which made for his present distress--namely, his obscure
position, his enforced idleness, his absence of human ties, the general
meagreness of his state in life? The more he thought of the incident, the
more it filled him with indignation and disgust. Therefore, very
certainly he would claim his pension; claim an infinitesimal but actual
fraction of this man's great wealth; would live long so as to claim it as
long as possible, till the paying of it, indeed, should become a
weariness to the payer. And he would spend it, too, unquestionably he
would. Mr. Iglesias' rare and gracious smile had an almost cruel edge to
"The machine shall become a man again," he said. "And the man shall amuse
himself. How, I don't yet know, but I will find out. Work has made me
dull and inept."
He straightened himself up, tired, yet unbroken, defiant, aware--though
the horror of the Outer Darkness was yet upon him--of purpose still
militant and unspent.
"Play may make me the reverse of dull and inept. I have always been
diligent and methodical. I will continue to be so. This enterprise admits
of no delay. I will begin at once, begin to-morrow, to amuse myself."
It is characteristic of the Latin to see things written in fire and
blood, which the slower-brained Anglo-Saxon only sees written in red
paint--if, indeed, he ever arrives at seeing them written at all. To-
night the Latin held absolute sway in Dominic Iglesias. With freedom had
come a curious reversion to type. His humour, like his smile, was a
trifle cruel. He observed, criticised, judged, condemned unsparingly, all
mental courtesies in abeyance. When, therefore, at this juncture the
three eyes of the Lovegroves' dining-room gaselier winked slowly, and
closed their lids--so to speak--ceasing to watch and to supplicate, he
suffered no self-reproach. The good, simple couple were shutting up house
and going to bed, he supposed. They sought repose betimes; and, unless
supper had been more aggressively cold and heavy than usual, slept, till
broad day, a dreamless sleep. Decidedly it was well he had not taken his
hat and stepped across to visit them, for, beyond all question, they
would not have understood! The voice of London, for instance, meant
nothing to them. They had no notion London had a voice. Still less had
they any notion she was a prodigious living creature. London was the
place where they resided--that was all, and, since the streets are
admittedly noisy and dusty, they had taken a house in this genteel and
convenient suburb. Of the tremendous life and force of things, miscalled
man-made and inanimate, they had no faintest conception. Small wonder
they went to bed betimes and slept a dreamless sleep! Thinking of which--
notwithstanding their kindness and affection--they became, just now, to
Iglesias as truly astonishing phenomena in their line as Sir Abel Barking
in his. He saw in them merely specimens, though good ones, of the great
majority of the British public, a public so overlaid and permeated by
convention, so parochial in outlook, so hidebound by social tradition and
insular prejudice, that it is really less in touch with everlasting fact
than the animals it pets, demoralises, and eats. These at least have
instinct, and so are at one with universal nature. In perception, in
spontaneity of action, good Mrs. Lovegrove was as an infant compared to
her parrot or her pug. So was little Mr. Farge with his sophisticated
warblings--so, for that matter, were all the other persons among whom
his, Iglesias', lot was cast. His sense of isolation deepened. If
amusement was his object, most certainly the society of Trimmer's Green
would not supply it. He must look further afield for all that.
In the far northwest the last of the sunset had faded; only the cloud
remained. Yet the horizon, above the broken line of the house-roofs and
chimney-pots, pulsed with light--the very earthly light which, in great
cities, flares out when the light of heaven dies, to walk the streets,
with much else of doubtful loveliness, till it is shamed by the cold
chastity of dawn. And along with that outflaring, a certain meretricious
element introduced itself into the aspect of Trimmer's Green. Across the
roadway, the gaslamps showed cones of vivid yet sickly brightness,
bringing at regular intervals the sharply indented leaves of the plane
trees and the shivering silver of the balsam-poplars into an arresting
and artificial distinctness. Between were spaces of vacancy and gloom.
And from out such a space, immediately opposite, slowly emerged a
shambling and ungainly figure, in which Dominic Iglesias recognised the
third of his fellow-lodgers, Mr. de Courcy Smyth. His acquaintance with
the said lodger was of the slightest, since the latter had but recently
entered into residence and rarely appeared at meals. Mrs. Porcher
habitually referred to him with a pitying respect as "a gentleman very
influential in literary and professional circles, but unfortunate in his
married life"; ending with a sigh and upward glance of her still fine
eyes, as one who could sympathise, having herself been through that gate.
Influential or not, it occurred to Iglesias that the man presented a
sorry spectacle enough. For a minute or so he stood aimlessly in the full
glare of a gaslamp. His thin, creasy Inverness cape was thrown back,
displaying evening dress. He carried a soft grey felt hat in one hand.
His whole aspect was seedy, disappointed, dejected; his face pale and
puffy, his sparse reddish hair and beard but indifferently trimmed. It
was borne in upon Iglesias, moreover, that the man was hungry, that he
had not--and that for some time--had enough to eat. Voluntary poverty is
among the most beautiful, involuntary poverty among the ugliest, sights
upon earth; and to which order of poverty that of de Courcy Smyth
belonged, Mr. Iglesias was in no doubt. This was a sordid sight, a sight
of discouragement, adding the last touch to the melancholy which
oppressed him. The seedy figure crossed the road, fumbled for a minute
with a latchkey. Then nerveless footsteps ascended the stairs, passed the
door, and took their joyless way up and onward to the bed-sitting-room
Down below the music had ceased, while sounds arose suggestive of a
little playfulness on the part of the two young men in bidding their
hostess and Miss Eliza Hart good-night. Very soon the house became
silent. But Dominic Iglesias, though tired, was in no humour for sleep.
He drew forward a leather-covered armchair and sat near the open window,
in at which came a breathing of night wind. This was soothing, touching
his forehead as with delicate pressure of a cool and sympathetic hand; so
that, without any sense of surprising transition, he found himself in the
garden of the little house in Holland Street, Kensington, once again. The
laburnum was in full blossom, and the breeze uplifted the light drooping
branches of it, making all their golden glory dance in the sunshine.
There must have been rain in the night, too, for the stone basin was full
of water, in which the sparrows were busy washing, sending up tiny
iridescent jets and fountains from their swiftly fluttering wings. It was
delicious to Dominic. He felt very safe, very gay. Only a heavy ill-
favoured tabby cat came from nowhere. It had designs upon the sparrows.
Twice it climbed stealthily up the broken bricks and gas clinkers. Twice
the little boy drove it away. It was not a nice cat. It had a broad white
face, deceitful little eyes, and grey whiskers. It declared it only
caught sparrows for their good and for the good of the community. It
assured Dominic he was guilty of a grave error of judgment in attempting
to interfere. It said a great deal about moral responsibility and the
heavy obligations persons of wealth and position owe to themselves.
Just then Pascal Pelletier, carrying a square Huntley Palmer's biscuit
tin, containing an infernal machine, under his arm, his angelic
countenance radiant in the sunshine, came down the steps from the dining-
room window. And, while Dominic ran to greet him, the cat crept back
again--its face was the face of Sir Abel Barking, and it made a spring at
the sparrows. But the pillar broke and the basin toppled over, pinning
it, across the loins, down on to the clinkers under the edge of the stone
"Oh! you've spoilt my garden, you've spoilt my garden!" Dominic cried.
"The basin has fallen. The sparrows will never wash in it any more."
But Pascal Pelletier patted him on the head tenderly.
"Do not weep over the fallen basin, very dear one," he said. "Rather sing
aloud Te Deum in praise of the glorious goddess of Social Revolution who
has delivered the enemy of the people into our hands. This is no affair
of cat and bird, but of the capitalist and the proletariat on which he
battens. So for a little space let the unholy creature lie there
writhing. Let it understand what it is to have a back broken by the
weight of an impossible burden. Let it try vainly to drag its limbs from
beneath an immovable load. Observe it, let it suffer. Very soon we will
finish with it, and explode the iniquitous system it represents. See, in
the name of humanity, of labour, of the unknown and unnumbered millions
of the martyred poor, I set a match to this good little fuse, and, with
the rapidity of thought, blow blasphemous tyrant Capital into a thousand
fragments of reeking flesh and splintered bone!"
But to the little boy, words and spectacle alike had become unendurably
"No, no, Pascal, you cannot cure everything that way. It is not just," he
cried. And running forward with all his strength he lifted the stone
basin off the wounded creature--cat, man, beast of prey, modern
financier, be it what it might. He stopped to gather it up in his arms,
and, repulsive though it was, to comfort and protect it. But just then
came a thunderous rattle and crash knocking him senseless.
Mr. Iglesias sat bolt upright in his chair, uncertain of his identity and
surroundings, shaken and bewildered.
Upstairs, de Courcy Smyth--spent and stupefied by the writing of a would-
be smart critique on the first-night performance of a screaming farce,
for one of to-morrow's evening papers--had stumbled, upsetting the fire-
irons, as he slouched across his room to bed. Iglesias heard the creak of
the wire-wove mattress as the man flung himself down; and that familiar
sound restored his sense of actualities. Yet all his mood was changed and
softened. The return to childhood had made a strange impression upon him,
filling him with a great nostalgia for things apparently lost, but
exquisite; and which, having once been, might, though he knew not by what
conceivable alchemy of time or chance, once again be. Meanwhile, he must
have slept long, for the wind had grown chill. The voice of London, the
monstrous mother, had grown weak and intermittent. And the earthly light,
pulsing along the horizon, had grown faint, humbled and chastened by the
whiteness of approaching dawn.
A quarter-mile range of high unpainted oak paling, well seasoned, well
carpentered, innocent of chink or shrinkage, impervious to the human eye.
Visible above it the domed heads of enormous elm trees steeped in
sunshine, rising towards the ample curve of the summer sky. At intervals,
with tumultuous rush and scurry, the thud of the hoofs of unseen horses,
galloping for all they are worth over grass. The suck and rub of breeches
against saddle-flaps, the rattle of a curb chain or the rings of a bit.
A call, a challenge, smothered exclamations. The long-drawn swish of the
polo stick through the air, and the whack of the wooden head of it
against ball, or ground, or something unluckily softer and more sentient.
A pause, broken only by distant voices, and the sound, or rather sense,
of men and horses in quiet and friendly movement; followed by the
tumultuous rush and scurry, and all the moving incidents of the heard,
yet unwitnessed, drama over again.
For here it was that gallant and costly game beloved of Oriental
princes--rather baldly described to Mr. Iglesias yesterday by the driver of
the Hammersmith 'bus as a "kind of hockey on horseback"--in very full swing
no doubt. Only unfortunately Iglesias found himself on the wrong side of
the palings. And, since he had learned, indirectly, from the observations
of the monumental police-sergeant--directing the stream of carriages at
the entrance gates--to other would-be spectators, that to the polo
ground, as to so much else obviously desirable in this world, there is
"no admission except by ticket," on the wrong side of these same palings
he recognised he was fated to stay. It was a disappointment, not to say
an annoyance. For he had come forth, in accordance with his
determination, to make observations and inquiries regarding that same
matter of amusement. And, since the influence of that which is to be acts
upon us almost, if not quite, as strongly as the influence of that which
has been, the handsome, eager countenance of young Alaric Barking and the
graceful figure of his fair companion, as seen from the 'bustop, occurred
very forcibly in this connection to Dominic Iglesias' mind. He would go
forth and behold that which they had gone forth to behold. He would
witness the sports of the well-born and rich. From these he elected,
somewhat proudly, to take his first lessons in the fine art of amusement.
So here he was; and here, too--very much here--were the palings,
spelling failure and frustration of purpose.
Fortunately unwonted exercise and the pure invigorating atmosphere tended
to generate placidity, and agreeable harmony of the mental and physical
being. It followed that active annoyance was short-lived. For a minute or
two Mr. Iglesias loitered, listening to the moving music of the unseen
game. Then, walking onward to the end of the enclosure, where the palings
turn away sharply at the left, he crossed the road and made for a wooden
bench just there amiably presenting itself. It was pleasant to rest. The
walk had been a long one; but it now appeared to him that the labour of
it had not been wholly in vain. For around him stretched a breezy common,
broken by straggling bramble and furze brakes, and dotted with hawthorn
bushes, upon the topmost branches of which the crowded pinkish-white
blossoms still lingered. From one to another small birds flitted with a
pretty dipping flight, uttering quick detached notes as in merry question
and answer. Through the rough turf the bracken pushed upward, uncurling
sturdy croziers of brownish green. Away to the right, beyond the railway
line, rose the densely wooded slopes of Roehampton and Sheen; while,
against the purple-green gloom of them, the home signals of Barnes
Station--hard white lines and angles tipped with scarlet and black--stood
out in high relief like the gigantic characters of some strange alphabet.
Down the wide road motors ground and snorted; and carriages moved slowly,
two abreast, the menservants sitting at ease, talking and smoking while
waiting to take up at the police-guarded gate, back there towards the
heat and smoke of London, when the polo match should be played out.
But immediately London, the heat, and smoke, and raucous voice of it,
seemed far enough away, the wholesome charm of the country very present.
For a while Dominic Iglesias yielded himself up to it. Receptive,
quiescent, contented, he basked in the sunshine, his mind vacant of
definite thought. But for a while only. For as physical fatigue wore off,
definite thought returned; and with it the sense of his own loneliness,
the oppression of a future empty of work, the bitterness of this enhanced
by the little disappointment he had lately suffered. He leaned forward,
his hands clasped between his knees, looking at the bracken croziers
pushing bravely upward through the rough turf to air and light. Even
these blind and speechless things worked, in a sense, fulfilling the law
of their existence. He went back on the dream of last night, on his own
childhood, the happiness, yet haunting unspoken anxiety of it, his
father's fanaticism, fierce revolutionary propaganda, and mysteriously
"And to think that was the pit out of which I, of all men, was digged!"
he said to himself. "Have I done something to restore the family balance
in respect of right reason, or is the shame of incapacity upon me? Have I
sacrificed myself, or cowardly have I merely shirked living? Heaven
knows--I don't, only----"
But here his uncheerful meditations were broken in on by a voice,
imperative in tone, yet perceptibly shaken by laughter.
"Cappadocia!" it called. "Cappadocia! Do you hear? Come here, you little
Then Dominic Iglesias perceived that he had ceased to be sole occupant of
the bench. A dog, a tiny toy spaniel, sat beside him. It sidled very
close, gazing at him with foolishly prominent eyes. Its ears, black edged
with tan, soft and lustrous as floss silk, hung down in long lappets on
either side its minute and melancholy face. The tip of its red tongue
just showed. It was abnormally self-conscious and solemn. It planted one
fringed paw upon Iglesias' arm and it snored.
"Cappadocia!--well, of all the cheeky young beggars----"
This time the voice broke in unmistakable merriment, wholly spontaneous,
as of relief, even of mischievous triumph; and Mr. Iglesias, looking up,
found himself confronted by a young woman. She advanced slowly, her
trailing string-coloured lace skirts gathered up lazily in one hand.
About her shoulders she wore a long blue-purple silk scarf, embroidered
with dragons of peacock, and scarlet, and gold. These rather violent
colours found repetition in the nasturtium leaves and flowers that
crowned her lace hat, the wide brim of which was tied down with narrow
strings of purple velvet, gipsy fashion, beneath her chin. Under her arm
she carried another tiny spaniel, the creature's black morsel of a head
peeping out quaintly from among the forms of the embroidered dragons,
which last appeared to writhe, as in the heat of deadly conflict, as
their wearer moved. Her face was in shadow owing to the breadth of the
brim of her hat. Otherwise the sunshine embraced her whole figure,
conferring on it a glittering yet singularly unsubstantial effect, as
though a column of pale windswept dust were overlaid, here and there,
with splendour of rich enamel.
And it was just this effect of something unsubstantial, in a way
fictitious and out of relation to sober fact, which struck Dominic
Iglesias, robbing him for the moment of his dignified courtesy. Frankly
he stared at this appearance, so strangely at variance with the realities
of his own melancholy thought. Meanwhile the little dog snuggled up yet
closer against him.
"Yes--pray don't disturb yourself," the young lady went on volubly "It's
too bad, I know, to intrude on you like this. But as Cappadocia refuses
to come to me, it is clear I have to come after Cappadocia. It's simply
disgraceful the way she carries on when one takes her out, making
acquaintances like this, casually, all over the place. The maids flatly
refuse to air her, even on a string. They say it becomes a little too
compromising. But, as I explain to them, she's not a bit the modern
woman. She belongs to a stage of social development when pretty people
infinitely preferred being compromised to being squelched." The speaker
laughed again quietly. "I'm not altogether sure they weren't right. When
you are squelched, finished, done for, it matters precious little whether
you've been compromised first or not. Don't you agree? Any way,
Cappadocia's not going to be squelched if she can help it. She's horribly
scared, or pretends to be, at motors. Let one toot and she forgets all
her fine-lady manners, and just skips to anybody for protection. She'll
take refuge in the most unconventional places to escape."
The part of wisdom, in face of this very forthcoming young person, would
have been no doubt to arise and withdraw. But to Dominic Iglesias, just
then, dogs, woman, conversation, were alike so remote and unreal, part
merely of the scene which he had been contemplating, that he failed to
take them seriously. Divorced from routine, he was divorced, in a way,
from habitual modes of mind and conduct. He neither consented nor
refused, but just let things happen, attaching little or no meaning to
them. If this feminine being chose to prattle--well, let her do so.
Really he did not care.
"I am not very modern myself," he said, with a shade of weariness. "So
perhaps your small dog had some intuition of a kindred spirit when taking
refuge with me."
"All the same, you hardly date from the social era of Charles II., I
fancy," the young lady answered quickly.
As she spoke she raised her chin with a slightly impudent movement, thus
bringing her countenance into the sunlight. For the first time Iglesias
clearly saw her face. It was small, the features insignificant, the skin
smooth and fine in texture, but sallow. Her hair, black and very massive,
was puffed out and dressed low, hiding her ears. Her lips were rather
positively red, and the tinge of colour on either cheek, though slight,
was not wholly convincing in tone. Even to a person of Mr. Iglesias'
praiseworthy limitation of experience in such matters, her face was
vaguely suggestive of the footlights--would have been distinctly so but
for her eyes. These were curiously at variance with the rest of her
appearance. They belonged to a quite other order of woman, so to speak--a
woman of finer physique, of higher intelligence, possibly of nobler
purposes. They were arrestingly large in size, thereby helping to dwarf
the proportions of her face. In colour they were a rather light warm
hazel, with a slight film over both iris and pupil, and a noticeably
bluish shade in the whites of them. In these last particulars they were
like a baby's eyes; but very unlike in the reflective intensity of their
observation as she fixed them upon Dominic Iglesias.
"Cappadocia may be a fool about motors," she remarked, "but she's
uncommonly shrewd in reading character. She seems to like you, to have
taken you on, don't you know; and she's generally right. So I'll sit
down, please. Oh! no, no, come along now"--this as Mr. Iglesias rose and
made a movement to depart--"why, dear man, the very point of the whole
show is that you should sit down, too."
And so it came about that the Lady of the Windswept Dust sat at one end
of the flat bench and Dominic Iglesias at the other, with the two absurd
and exquisite little dogs in between. And the lady chattered. Her voice
was sweet and full, with plaintive tones and turns of laughter in it;
and, though the vowel sounds were not wholly impeccable, having the tang
in them common to the speech of the cockney bred, the aspirates happily
remained inviolate. And Iglesias listened, still with a curious
indifference, as, sitting in the body of the house, he might have
listened to patter from the other side of the footlights. It passed the
time. Presently he would get up, taking the whole of his rather sorrowful
personality along with him, and go out by the main entrance, while she
left by the stage door--and so vanished, little dogs and all.
"It's my habit to play fair," she announced. "If I'm going to ask
personal questions at the finish, I always lead up to them by supplying
personal information at the start. It's mean to induce other people to
give themselves away unless you give yourself away first--also, I observe
it is usually quite unsuccessful. Well, then, to begin with, his name"--
she gently poked the tiny spaniel beside her, causing it to wriggle
uneasily all the length of its satiny back--"is Onions. Graceful and
distinguished, isn't it? But I give you my word I couldn't help myself.
Cappadocia's so duchessy that I had to knock the conceit out of her
somehow, or it would not have been possible to live with her. She was
altogether too smart for me--used to look at me as if I was a cockroach.
So I consulted a friend of mine about it; for it's a little too much to
be made to feel like a black-beetle in your own house, and by a thing of
that size, too! And he--my friend--said there is nothing to compare with
a _mesalliance_ for taking the stuffing out of anyone. I own I was not
exactly off my head about that speech of his. In a way it was rather a
facer; but when I got cool I saw he was right. After all, he knew, and I
knew--and he knew that I knew----"
The lady paused. Her voice had taken on a plaintive inflection. She
looked away at the domed heads of the enormous elm trees above the range
of oak palings.
"For the life of me I can't imagine why you're here," she exclaimed,
"instead of inside there with all the rest of them! However, we haven't
got as far as that yet. I was telling you about my King Charleses. So my
friend brought me this one"--again she poked the little dog gently. "His
pedigree's pretty fair, but of course it's not a patch on Cappadocia's.
Her prizes and the puppies--you don't mind my alluding quite briefly to
the puppies--are a serious source of income to me. But I believe she
would have ignored the defective pedigree. He is rather nice-looking, you
see, and Cappadocia is rather superficial. It is the name that worries
her--Onions, Willie Onions, that's where the real trouble comes in. Not
like it? I believe you. She's capable of saving up all her pocket-money
to buy him a foreign title, as a rich, ugly woman I once knew did who
married a man called Spittles. He was a bad lot when she married him, and
he stayed so. But as the Comte d'Oppitale it didn't matter. Vices became
merely quaint little eccentricities. If he beat her it was with an
umbrella with a coronet on the handle, and that made all the difference.
Everything for the shop window, you see, with a nature like hers or
Cappadocia's. But I don't rub it in, I assure you I don't. I only remind
Cappadocia of the fact by calling her Mrs. W. O. when she's a pest and a
terror. And that's better than smacking her, anyhow, isn't it?"
To this proposition Mr. Iglesias gravely assented. The lady drew her
blue-purple scarf a little closer about her shoulders, causing the
embroidered dragons to writhe as in the heat of conflict, while the
sunlight glinted on the gold thread of their crests and claws, and
glittered in their jewelled eyes. She gazed at the elm trees again.
"It's quite nice to hear you speak, you know," she remarked
parenthetically. "The conversation has been a little one-sided so far. I
was beginning to be afraid you might be bored. But now it's all right. I
flourish on encouragement! So, to go on, my name is Poppy--Poppy St.
John--Mrs. St. John. Rather good, isn't it?"
"Distinctly so," said Mr. Iglesias. Her unblushing effrontery began to
entertain him somewhat. And then he had sallied forth in search of
amusement. This was not the form of amusement he would have selected;
but--since it presented itself?
"I'm glad you like it," she returned. "I've always thought it rather
telling myself--an improvement on Mrs. Willie Onions, anyhow. Oh! yes, a
vast improvement," she repeated. "My friend was quite right. I tell you
it's an awful handicap to have a name which gives you away socially. The
man, the husband, I mean, may be the best of the good. Still, it's
difficult to forgive him for labelling you with some stupidity like that.
There's no getting away from it. You feel like a bottle of pickles, or
boot-polish, or a tin of insecticide whenever a servant announces you.
Everybody knows where you do--and don't--come in. But, to go on, I am
barely three--only I fancy you are the sort of person who is rather rough
on lying, aren't you? Well, in that case, quite between ourselves--I am
just turned nine-and-twenty."
She faced round on Dominic Iglesias, fixing on him those curiously
arresting eyes, which at once emphasised and redeemed the commonness of
her face, as the sweetness of her voice emphasised and redeemed the
commonness of her accent, and the quietude of her manner and movements
mitigated the impertinence of her words and vulgarity of her diction.
"And really that's about all it is necessary for you to know at present,"
she asserted. "We shall see later, if we keep it up--if Cappadocia keeps
it up, I mean, of course. She is fearfully gone on you now, that's clear;
and she may be capable of a serious attachment. I can't tell. An
unfortunate marriage has been known to turn that way before now. Anyhow,
we'll give her the benefit of the doubt."
Poppy laughed softly, leaning forward and still looking at Mr. Iglesias
from under the shadow of her wide-brimmed hat.
"Now," she said, "come along. I've shown you I play fair all round, even
to a stuck-up little monkey of a thing like Cappadocia. It's your turn to
stand and deliver. I had been watching you and speculating for ever so
long before our introduction. Tell me, who on earth are you?"
Iglesias' figure stiffened a little; but it was impossible to be annoyed
with her. To begin with, she was too unreal, too unsubstantial a being.
And, to go on with, invincible good-temper is so very disarming.
"Who am I? Nobody," he answered gravely.
"Bless us, here's a find!" Poppy cried, apparently addressing the little
dogs. "Hasn't he so much of a name even as Willie Onions? Where's it gone
to? It must be nearly as awkward for him as it was for the man who had no
shadow. Come, though," she added in tones of remonstrance, "you must play
fair. Cards on the table and no humbugging. To put it another way, what
do you do?"
"Since yesterday, nothing," he answered.
The young lady regarded him with increasing interest.
"But, my gentle lunatic," she said, "you didn't exactly begin your
acquaintance with this planetary sphere yesterday--couldn't, you know,
though you are very beautiful to look at. So, if you don't very
particularly much mind, we'll hark back to before yesterday."
Dominic Iglesias' gravity gave way slightly. He smiled in spite of his
natural pride and reticence.
"For over thirty-five years I was a clerk in a city bank."
"Pshaw!" Poppy cried hotly. "And pray what variety of congenital idiot do
you take me for? If you are going to decline upon fiction, please let it
be of a higher order than that. I tell you it's unworthy of you!"
She pursed up her lips and moved her head slowly from side to side in
"Don't be childish," she said. "Don't be transparently silly. If you want
to gas, do put a little more intelligence into it. You--you--out of sight
the most distinguished-looking man I've ever met except Lord--well, we
won't name names, it sounds showy--you a clerk in a city bank! There,
excuse me, but simply--" Poppy snapped her fingers like a pair of
castanets, making the little dogs start and whimper. "Fiddle!" she cried;
"tell it to a bed-ridden spinster in a blind asylum!--Fiddle-de-dee!"
And for the life of him Dominic Iglesias could not help laughing. It was
a new sensation. It occurred to him that he had not laughed for years--
hardly since the days of poor Pascal Pelletier and the little garden in
Holland Street, Kensington.
Poppy watched him, her eyes dancing. Her expression was very charming,
wholly unselfconscious, in a way maternal, just then. But Iglesias was
hardly sensible of it.
"That's good," she said. "Now you'll feel a lot better. I saw there was
something wrong with you from the start which needed breaking up. Now,
suppose you quit inadequate inventions and just tell the truth."
"Unfortunately, I have done so already," Mr. Iglesias said.
The lady paused a moment, her face full of inquiry and doubt.
The term was not familiar to her hearer, but he judged it to be of the
nature of an asseveration, and assented.
"And do you mean to tell me that for all those years you went through
that drudgery every day?"
"I had my Sundays," Iglesias answered; "and, since their invention, my
bank holidays. Latterly I got three weeks' holiday in the summer,
formerly a fortnight."
Laughter had speedily evaporated; and, his harsher mood returning upon
him, Iglesias found a certain bitter enjoyment in setting forth the
extreme meagreness of his life before this light-hearted, unsubstantial
piece of womanhood. Again he classed her with the absurd and exquisite
little dogs as something superfluous, out of relation to sad and sober
"And yet you manage to look as you do! It beats me," Poppy declared. "I
tell you it knocks me out of time completely. For, if you'll excuse my
being personal, there is an air about you not usually generated by an
office stool--at least, in my experience. Where do you get it from? You
can't be English?"
"I am a Spaniard by extraction," Mr. Iglesias said, with a slight lift of
"There now, my dear man, don't you go and freeze up again. We were just
beginning to get along so nicely," Poppy put in quickly. "I am having a
capital good time, and you're not having an altogether bad one, are you?
But, tell me, how long ago were you extracted?"
"Very long ago. I was brought to England as a baby child."
"Oh! I didn't mean it that way," she returned. "I was not touching on the
unpardonable subject of age; not that it would matter much in your case,
for you are one of the lucky sort with whom age does not count. I only
meant are you an all-round foreigner?"
"Practically--my mother was partly Irish."
Dominic Iglesias looked away to those densely wooded slopes of Sheen and
Roehampton, against the purple-green gloom of which the home signals of
Barnes Station--hard white lines and angles tipped with scarlet and
black--stood out like the gigantic characters of some strange alphabet.
The air was sweet with the scent of new-mown hay. The birds flirted up
and down the hawthorn bushes and furze brakes. It was all very charming;
yet that same emptiness and distrust of the future were very present to
Iglesias. He forgot all about his companion, aware only that those two
unbidden guests, Old Age and Loneliness, stood close beside him, claiming
harbourage and entertainment.
"Ah! your mother," Poppy said slowly, with the slightest perceptible
inflection of mockery. "And she is alive still?"
Dominic Iglesias turned upon the poor Lady of the Windswept Dust
fiercely. She had come too close, come from her proper place--were not
her lips painted?--behind the footlights, and laid her hands upon that
which was holy. He was filled with unreasoning anger towards her--anger
towards himself, too, that he should have departed from his habitual
silence and reticence, submitted to be cross-questioned, and listened to
her feather-headed patter so long. He rose to his feet, for the moment
young, alert, full of a pride at once militant and protective.
"God forbid!" he said sternly. "Dear saint and martyr, she is safe from
all misreading at last. She is dead."
He stood a moment trying to choke down his anger before addressing her
"It is time I should go," he said presently. "I think we have talked
But Poppy St. John presented a singular appearance. All the audacity had
departed from her. She sat huddled together, looking very small and
desolate; her eyes--the one noble feature of her face--swimming with
"No, no; don't go," she cried in tones of childlike entreaty. "Why should
you go? I like you, and I meant no harm. I've had the beastliest day, and
meeting you was a let-up. You did me good somehow. Cappadocia was quite
right in taking to you. I only wanted to know about you because--well,
you are different. Pshaw, don't tell me. I know what I am talking about.
You're straight. You're good right through."
The words were poured forth so rapidly that Iglesias hardly gathered the
exact purport of them. But one thing was clear to him--namely, that this
frivolous and meretricious being must be human after all, since she could
"Don't go," she repeated. "I'm miserable. I'll explain. I'll tell you.
Just sit down again. It would be awfully kind. You see, I've been
expecting a friend. It was all-important I should see him to-day, because
there were things to be said. I've been awake half the night screwing up
my courage to saying them. And then he never turned up. I got nerves
waiting hour after hour--anybody would, waiting like that. And I began to
imagine every kind of pestilent disaster."
Poppy swallowed a little and dabbed her pocket-handkerchief against her
"I shall be all right in a minute," she went on. "Do sit down, please.
You say you're nobody and have nothing to do, so you can't very well be
in a hurry. I am like this sometimes. It's awfully silly, but I can't
help it. Some rotten trifle sets me off, and then I can't stop myself. I
begin to go over all my worst luck.--Doesn't it occur to you there's no
earthly good in standing? It obliges me to talk loud, and it's stupid to
take all Barnes Common into our confidence. Thanks; that's very nice of
you.--Well, you see when I'm like his, the flood-gates of memory are
opened--which sounds pretty enough, but the prettiness is strictly
limited to the sound for most of us, at least as far as my experience
goes. The water is generally a bit dirty, and there are too many dead
things floating about in it; and, when they reel by, as the current takes
them, they turn and seem to struggle and come half alive."
She paused, hitching the embroidered dragons up about her shoulders.
"That is why I put on this scarf to-day. It was given me by a man who was
awfully fond of me before--I married. He bought it in the bazaar at
Peshawur, and sent it home to me just as he was starting on one of those
little frontier wars the accounts of which they keep out of the English
papers. And he was killed, poor dear old boy, in some footy little
skirmish. And this is all I've got left of him."
Poppy spread out the ends of the scarf for Mr. Iglesias' inspection.
"It must have cost a lot of money. The stones are real, you see; and that
gold thread is tremendously heavy. Just feel the weight. It was all his
people's doing. They didn't consider me smart enough for him--or rather
for themselves. They weren't anybody in particular, but they were
climbing. The society microbe had bitten them badly. So they bundled him
off to India. What another pair of shoes it would have been for me if
he'd lived! At least it seems so to me when I'm down on my luck, as I am
to-day. But after all, I don't know." Poppy began to be impudent, to
laugh again, though somewhat brokenly. "Sometimes I don't believe one can
count on any of you men till you are well dead, and then you're not much
use, you know, faithful or unfaithful."
She dabbed her eyes once more and looked at Mr. Iglesias, smiling
"Life's a pretty rotten business, at times, all round, isn't it?" she
said. "You must have found it so with that thirty years' drudgery in a
city bank. By the way, what bank was it?"
And Dominic Iglesias, touched by that very human story, attracted, in
spite of himself, by the frankness of his companion, a little shaken by
the novelty of the whole situation, answered mechanically:
"The bank? Oh, yes! Messrs. Barking Brothers & Barking of Threadneedle
For a moment Poppy sat silent, her mouth round as an O. Then she drew her
open hand down sharply behind poor Willie Onions, and shot the small dog,
in a sitting position, off the bench on to the rough grass. His fringed
legs stuck out stiff as sticks, while his enormous lappets of ears flew
up and back, giving him the most wildly demented appearance during this
brief inglorious flight through space.
"Catch birds!" she cried, "catch birds, I tell you! Think of your figure.
My good child, take exercise or you'll be as round as a tub!"
She clapped her hands encouragingly, but the little animal, half-scared,
half-offended, came closer, fawning upon her trailing string-coloured
skirts. Poppy leaned down, resting her elbows upon her knees, and napped
at the unhappy Onions with her handkerchief.
"Go away, you silly billy. Have a little decent pride, can't you? Don't
bestow attentions when they're unwelcome." Then she addressed herself to
Mr. Iglesias, but without looking up. "I beg your pardon, all this must
seem rather abrupt. But sometimes one's duty to one's family takes one on
the jump, as you may say; and one repairs neglect right away also on the
jump. But--but--there's one thing I should like to know--when I told you
my name just now--Poppy St. John, Mrs. St. John--you remember?"
"I remember," he said.
"Well, didn't it convey--didn't it mean anything special to you?"
"I am afraid not," Iglesias answered. "You must pardon my ignorance,
since I have lived very much out of the world. I know nothing of
"So much the better. The world is a vastly overrated place, and society
is about the biggest fraud going." She left off teasing the little dog,
sat bolt upright, and looked full at Dominic Iglesias, her eyes serious,
redeeming all the insignificance of her features and those little
doubtful details of the general effect of her. "Don't make any mistake
about either of them," she said. "Let the world and society alone as you
value your peace of mind and independence. They're dead sea fruit to all
outsiders such as--well--you and me. I hate them; only they've got me,
and will have me in some form or other till the end, I suppose. But you
are different, and I warn you"--Poppy's voice took on an odd inflection
of mingled bitterness and tenderness--"they are not a bit adapted for a
beautiful, innocent, uncrowned king like you."
She got up as she spoke, gathering her trailing skirts about her, and
called sharply to the little dogs.
"The dew is rising," she said, "and Cappadocia's a regular cry-baby if
she gets her feet wet. I must take her home. There's my card. You see the
address? You can come when you like, only let me know the day beforehand,
because I should be sorry to have people with me or to be out. Cappadocia
'll want you. So shall I. You do me good. I'll play quite fair, I promise
The sun stood in a triumph of crimson and gold, which passed into the
fine blue of a belt of earth mist. Eastward the sky blushed, too, but
with brazen blushes, tarnished by the breath of the great city--the pure
blue of the earth mist exchanged for the murk of coal smoke and the
thousand and one exhalations of steaming streets, public-houses and
restaurants. Poppy St. John walked slowly along the footpath, her figure
dyed by the effulgence of the skies to the crimson and gold of her name.
About her shoulders the embroidered dragons glittered as she moved, while
the two tiny spaniels trotted humbly at her heels. For a brief space she
showed absolutely resplendent. Then suddenly an interposing terrace of
smart much-be-balconied and beflowered little houses shut off the sunset;
and in their rather vulgar shadow Dominic Iglesias, watching, beheld her
transformed into the unsubstantial, in a way fictitious, Lady of the
Windswept Dust and of the footlights once again.
That weekly ceremony--well known to Trimmer's Green--Mrs. Lovegrove's
afternoon at-home, was in progress. She wore her black satin gown, and
her white Maltese lace fichu, just to give it a touch of summer
lightness. It must be added that she was warm and uncomfortable, having
conscientiously superintended preparations in respect of commissariat in
the overheated atmosphere of the basement; hurried upstairs--the imagined
tinkle of the front-door bell perpetually in her ears--to pull her stays
in at the waist and project herself into the aforementioned official
garments--a very trying process on a June day to a person of ample
contours and what may be described as the fluidic temperament. Later she
had cooled off, or tried so to cool--for on such occasions there is
invariably some window-blind, ornament, or piece of furniture actively in
need of straightening--sitting in her somewhat fog-stained and sun-faded
drawing-room during that evil period of waiting in which the intending
hostess first suffers acute mortification because she is "quite sure
nobody will come," and then gets hot all over from the equally agitating
certainty that everybody she has ever known will appear simultaneously,
and that there will be neither cakes nor conversation enough to go round.
But this disquieting and oft-repeated preface to the afternoon's
festivity was now happily over. And the good lady, oblivious of
discomfort and a slightly disorganised complexion, sat purring with
satisfaction upon her best Chesterfield sofa, Dr. Giles Nevington beside
her. "Pleasure, not business, to-day, Mrs. Lovegrove. For once I am going
to make no demands on my faithful and able coadjutor. This call is a
purely friendly one--no subscription lists of any sort or description in
my pocket," the clergyman had said in his resonant bass when clasping her
hand.--A large, dark, clean-shaven man of forty, a studied effect of
geniality and benevolence about him, slightly tempered, perhaps, by cold
and watchful blue-grey eyes, fixed--so said his detractors--with
unswerving determination upon the shovel-hat, apron, and gaiters of the
Rhoda Lovegrove, however, was very far from being among the detractors.
She relished this gracious speech enormously. She also approved the
attitude of her husband at this juncture; since, with praiseworthy tact,
he engaged the attention of her two other guests, a Mrs. Ballard and her
daughter. These ladies were rich, the younger had pretensions both to
beauty and fashion; but their present was, alas! stained by
Noncomformity, their past contaminated by association with retail trade.
At the entrance of the vicar, remembering these sad defects, George
Lovegrove rose to the occasion. Gently, but firmly, he pranced round them
heading them towards the doorway.
"Who are those?" Dr. Nevington inquired, with some interest. "Not
parishioners, I fancy."
"Not in any true sense," Mrs. Lovegrove replied. "Dissenters, and I am
sorry to say rather spiteful against the Church."
The clergyman leaned back and crossed his legs comfortably.
"Ah! well, poor human nature! A touch of jealousy perhaps," he remarked.
Mrs. Lovegrove beamed.
"Very likely--still I should be just as well pleased not to continue
their acquaintance. I don't like to hear things that are disrespectful. I
should have ceased to call, but relatives of theirs are old friends of
Mr. Lovegrove's mother's family."
"Quite so, quite so," the other returned. Even when silent the sound of
him seemed to encompass him, as the roll of a drum seems to salute you
when merely beholding that instrument. His speech filled all the room,
flowing forth into every corner, sweeping upward in waves to the very
cornice. The feminine members of his congregation found this most
beautiful; having, indeed, been known to declare that did he preach in
Chinese, they would still receive edification and spiritual benefit.--
"Quite so," he repeated, "the breaking of old family ties is certainly to
be avoided. And then, moreover, we should always guard against any
appearance of harshness or illiberality in dealing with Christians from
whom we have reason to differ in minor questions of doctrine or practice.
We must never forget that the Nonconformists, though they went out from
us, do remain the brethren of all right-minded Churchmen in a very
special sense, since they have the great lessons of the Reformation at
heart. I could wish that certain parties within the Church were animated
by the same manly and intelligent intolerance of idolatry and
superstition as the majority of the dissenters whom I meet. Personally I
should welcome greater freedom of intercourse, and a frequent interchange
"We know who'd be the gainers," Mrs. Lovegrove put in gracefully.
"Ah! well, I am prepared to believe that the gain might not be
exclusively on one side."
Mrs. Lovegrove folded her fat hands, purring almost audibly. He seemed to
her so very wise and good.
"That's so like you, Dr. Nevington," she said. "As I always tell Mr.
Lovegrove, we have a great responsibility in having you for our pastor
and friend. You are a standing rebuke to many of us, being so wide-minded
"Hardly that, hardly that," he answered with becoming modesty. "In my
humble way I do strive towards unity, that is all. Even towards the
Church of Rome I would extend a friendly and helpful hand. We cannot, of
course, go to her, yet she should never be discouraged from coming to
us.--But here is your good husband back again--ceased to be unevenly
yoked with the unbeliever, eh, Lovegrove?"
"I was glad you took them away, Georgie," Mrs. Lovegrove put in. "Still
I'm sorry for you, for the vicar's been talking so nobly. You've missed
such a lot."
"Ah, hardly that. I have merely been giving your dear good wife a little
lecture on Christian charity. How is Mrs. Nevington? Thank you,
wonderfull well, earnest and energetic as ever. I do not know how I could
meet the demands of this large parish without her."
"A true helpmeet," purred Mrs. Lovegrove.
"Truly so--and specially in all questions of organisation. She is
altogether my superior in administrative capacity. Indeed, it is an
understood thing between us that I relieve her of what may be called the
bad third of her marriage vow. If she will love and honour, I assure her
I am ready to obey. A capital working rule for husbands--eh, Lovegrove?--
always supposing they have found the right woman, as you and I have."
In the midst of this delicious badinage the hostess had to rise to
receive further guests. Conflicting emotions struggled within her ample
bosom--namely, regret at leaving that thrice happy sofa, and
satisfaction that others should behold the glory thereon so visibly
"How d'ye do, Mrs. Porcher? How d'ye do, Miss Hart?" she said. "Very kind
of you to come and call. Only a few friends as yet, but perhaps that's
just as pleasant this warm afternoon. Dr. Nevington, as you see, and at
his very best"--she lowered her voice discreetly. "So at home, so full
of great thoughts, and yet so comical--quite a privilege for all to hear
Encouraged by recent commendation, George Lovegrove again rose with
praiseworthy tact to the occasion. It may be stated in passing that, in
person, he was below the middle height, a thick oblong man, his figure,
indeed, not unsuggestive of a large carapace, from the four corners of
which sprouted short arms and legs. His face was round, fresh-coloured,
and clean to the point of polish. His yellowish grey hair, well flattened
and shining, grew far back on his forehead. And this, combined with small
blue eyes, clear as a child's, a slight inward squint to them, produced
an effect of permanent and innocent surprise not devoid of pathos. In
character he was guileless and humble-minded. The spectacle of cruelty or
injustice would, however, rouse him to the belligerent attitude of the
proverbial _brebis enrage_. He believed himself to be very happy--an
added touch of pathos perhaps--and was pained and surprised if it was
brought home to him that others found life a less comfortable and kindly
invention than he himself did. Hence reports of suicides worried him
sadly. He would always have returned a verdict of temporary insanity,
this being to him the only explanation conceivable of a voluntary exit
from our so excellent present form of existence. Yet George Lovegrove was
not without his little secret sorrow--who indeed is? A deep-seated regret
for nonexistent small Lovegroves possessed him, the instinct of paternity
being strong in him. He loved children, and, when alone, often lingered
beside perambulators in Kensington Gardens fondly observing their
contents. Yet not for ten thousand pounds sterling would he have admitted
this weakness, lest in doing so he should hurt "the wife's feelings." And
it was in obedience to consideration for the said feelings that he now
threw himself gallantly into the breach. For, after acting as
appreciative chorus to an interlude of sonorous trifling on the part of
the clergyman with the newcomers, he adroitly--under promise of showing
her recent additions to his collection of picture postcards--detached
Miss Eliza Hart from the neighbourhood of the sofa and conveyed her to
the farther side of the room. Mrs. Porcher, neat, pensive, and
sentimental, could be trusted to play the part of attentive listener; but
the great Eliza, as he knew by experience, was liable to develop
dangerous energy, to get a little above herself, shake her leonine mane
of upstanding sandy hair, and become altogether too talkative, not to say
loud, for such distinguished company. Personally he had a soft spot in
his heart for Eliza. But, if she put herself forward, he feared for "the
wife's feelings," therefore did he skilfully detach her.
And he had reason to congratulate himself on this manoeuvre, for Eliza
undoubtedly was in a frolicsome humour.
"Yes," she remarked, contemplating the portrait of a celebrated actress.
"That is very taking and stylish; and it is just what I should like to
have done with my Peachie." This graceful _sobriquet_ was generally
understood to bear testimony to the excellence of Mrs. Porcher's
complexion. "Now, if we wanted a gentleman guest or two more at any time,
a picture postcard of her like this, just slightly tinted, in answer to
Miss Hart, her head on one side, looked playfully at Mr. Lovegrove.
"What about a subsequent summons for over-crowding?" he chuckled. The
whole breadth of the room, well understood, was between him and the
wife's feelings, not to mention the august presence beside her upon the
"No doubt that has to be thought of!" Eliza nodded sagely. "But is she
not looking sweeter than ever to-day? Do not pretend you have not noticed
it, Mr. Lovegrove. There's no deceiving me! I know you."
Like all mild and moral men, Lovegrove flushed with delight at any
suggestion that he was a gay dog, a dashing blade. His good, honest face
took on a higher polish than ever.
"You are too clever by half, Miss Hart."
"Well, somebody has to keep their wits about them, with such a love as
Peachie to care for. I dressed her myself to-day. 'The pearl-grey gown if
you like,' I said, 'but not a scrap of black with it. Just a touch of
colour at the throat, please.' 'No, dear Liz,' she said, 'it would call
for remark, since I have never done so since I lost Major Porcher.' But
there, Mr. Lovegrove, I insisted. For why she should go on wearing
complimentary mourning all her life for a wretch that nearly broke her
heart and ruined her, passes me. 'Forget the serpent,' I said, 'and put
on a little turquoise tulle pompom.' Now just look at her!"
"Rather dangerous for some people, is it not?" Lovegrove inquired quite
"Hard on our gentlemen, you mean? Well, perhaps it is. But then they
always have the sight of me to put up with.--No compliments, thank you. I
have my eyesight and my toilet-glass, and they have let me know I was no
Venus ever since I can remember. It would not do to depress our gentlemen
too much. They might leave, and then wherever would Cedar Lodge be?"
Miss Hart became suddenly serious and confidential. "And that reminds me,"
she went on. "I wanted to have a private word with you to-day about a
"Who may be?" the good George inquired.
"You can guess, can't you? Your own candidate."
The lady nodded.
"Peachie must be spared anxiety, therefore I speak, Mr. Lovegrove.
Something is going on, and she is getting worried. You cannot approach
the person to whom we are alluding as you can either of our others.
Rather stand-offish, even now after nearly eight years that he has been
with us. Between you and me and the bedpost, Mr. Lovegrove, I am just a
wee bit nervous of that person. So if you could hint, quite in
confidence, what his plans may be for the future it would' be really
"Dear me, dear me! Plans? I do not quite follow you, Miss Hart. Nothing
wrong with him, I trust?"
"That is just what we cannot find out. No spying, of course, Mr.
Lovegrove. Neither Peachie nor I would descend to such meanness. Our
gentlemen have perfect liberty. We would scorn to put questions. But it
is close on a week now since the person we are alluding to has been to
"Bless me! You surprise me. He cannot have left Barking Brothers &
The great Eliza shook her leonine mane.
"I believe that is just exactly what he has done."
"You do surprise me. I can hardly credit it. Nearly a week, and he as
punctual and regular as clockwork! I must run over this evening and catch
him. Something must be wrong. And yet why has he not been here? Dear me.
Miss Hart, you----"
But the end of the sentence was lost in the bass notes issuing from the
presence upon the sofa.
"Truly, the prosperity of the nation," Dr. Nevington was saying, "of this