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The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton

Part 3 out of 3

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"I think you are wise, and I shall mar my philosophy with no more
murders. If, indeed, I have killed him; for I assure you that beyond
administering the poison to his wretched body I have done nothing.
Perhaps he is not dead. Can you hear his heart beating?"

"I can hear the spoons of my children beating on their empty
platters!"

"Is it like that with you? Poor devil! Oh, poor, poor devil!
Philosophers should have no wives, no children, no homes, and no
hearts."

Bennett turned from the man with unspeakable loathing.

"I hate you and such as you!" he cried weakly. "You justify the
existence of the police. You make me despise myself because I realise
that your crimes are no less mine than yours. I do not ask you to
defend the deadness of that thing lying there. I shall stir no finger
to have you hanged, for the thought of suicide repels me, and I
cannot separate your blood and mine. We are common children of a
noble mother, and for our mother's sake I say farewell."

And without waiting for the man's answer he passed from the house to
the street.

IV

Haggard and with rebellious limbs, Police-constable Bennett staggered
into the superintendent's office in the early morning.

"I have paid careful attention to your advice," he said to the
superintendent, "and I have passed across the city in search of
crime. In its place I have found but folly--such folly as you have,
such folly as I have myself--the common heritage of our blood. It
seems that in some way I have bound myself to bring criminals to
justice. I have passed across the city, and I have found no man
worse than myself. Do what you will with me."

The superintendent cleared his throat.

"There have been too many complaints concerning the conduct of the
police," he said; "it is time that an example was made. You will be
charged with being drunk and disorderly while on duty."

"I have a wife and three little children," said Bennett softly--"and
three pretty little children." And he covered his tired face with his
hands.

The Conjurer

Certainly the audience was restive. In the first place it felt that
it had been defrauded, seeing that Cissie Bradford, whose smiling
face adorned the bills outside, had, failed to appear, and secondly,
it considered that the deputy for that famous lady was more than
inadequate. To the little man who sweated in the glare of the
limelight and juggled desperately with glass balls in a vain effort
to steady his nerve it was apparent that his turn was a failure. And
as he worked he could have cried with disappointment, for his was a
trial performance, and a year's engagement in the Hennings' group of
music-halls would have rewarded success. Yet his tricks, things that
he had done with the utmost ease a thousand times, had been a
succession of blunders, rather mirth-provoking than mystifying to
the audience. Presently one of the glass balls fell crashing on the
stage, and amidst the jeers of the gallery he turned to his wife,
who served as his assistant.

"I've lost my chance," he said, with a sob; "I can't do it!"

"Never mind, dear," she whispered. "There's a nice steak and onions
at home for supper."

"It's no use," he said despairingly. "I'll try the disappearing trick
and then get off. I'm done here." He turned back to the audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said to the mockers in a wavering voice,
"I will now present to you the concluding item of my entertainment. I
will cause this lady to disappear under your very eyes, without the
aid of any mechanical contrivance or artificial device." This was the
merest showman's patter, for, as a matter of fact, it was not a very
wonderful illusion. But as he led his wife forward to present her to
the audience the conjurer was wondering whether the mishaps that had
ruined his chance would meet him even here. If something should go
wrong--he felt his wife's hand tremble in his, and he pressed it
tightly to reassure her. He must make an effort, an effort of will,
and then no mistakes would happen. For a second the lights danced
before his eyes, then he pulled himself together. If an earthquake
should disturb the curtains and show Molly creeping ignominiously
away behind he would still meet his fate like a man. He turned round
to conduct his wife to the little alcove from which she should
vanish. She was not on the stage!

For a minute he did not guess the greatness of the disaster. Then he
realised that the theatre was intensely quiet, and that he would have
to explain that the last item of his programme was even more of a
fiasco than the rest. Owing to a sudden indisposition--his skin
tingled at the thought of the hooting. His tongue rasped upon
cracking lips as he braced himself and bowed to the audience.

Then came the applause. Again and again it broke out from all over
the house, while the curtain rose and fell, and the conjurer stood on
the stage, mute, uncomprehending. What had happened? At first he had
thought they were mocking him, but it was impossible to misjudge the
nature of the applause. Besides, the stage-manager was allowing him
call after call, as if he were a star. When at length the curtain
remained down, and the orchestra struck up the opening bars of the
next song, he staggered off into the wings as if he were drunk. There
he met Mr. James Hennings himself.

"You'll do," said the great man; "that last trick was neat. You ought
to polish up the others though. I suppose you don't want to tell me
how you did it? Well, well, come in the morning and we'll fix up a
contract."

And so, without having said a word, the conjurer found himself
hustled off by the Vaudeville Napoleon. Mr. Hennings had something
more to say to his manager.

"Bit rum," he said. "Did you see it?"

"Queerest thing we've struck."

"How was it done do you think?"

"Can't imagine. There one minute on his arm, gone the next, no trap,
or curtain, or anything."

"Money in it, eh?"

"Biggest hit of the century, I should think."

"I'll go and fix up a contract and get him to sign it tonight. Get
on with it." And Mr. James Hennings fled to his office.

Meanwhile the conjurer was wandering in the wings with the drooping
heart of a lost child. What had happened? Why was he a success, and
why did people stare so oddly, and what had become of his wife? When
he asked them the stage hands laughed, and said they had not seen
her. Why should they laugh? He wanted her to explain things, and hear
their good luck. But she was not in her dressing-room, she was not
anywhere. For a moment he felt like crying.

Then, for the second time that night, he pulled himself together.
After all, there was no reason to be upset. He ought to feel very
pleased about the contract, however it had happened. It seemed that
his wife had left the stage in some queer way without being seen.
Probably to increase the mystery she had gone straight home in her
stage dress, and had succeeded in dodging the stage-door keeper. It
was all very strange; but, of course, there must be some simple
explanation like that. He would take a cab home and find her there
already. There was a steak and onions for supper.

As he drove along in the cab he became convinced that this theory was
right. Molly had always been clever, and this time she had certainly
succeeded in surprising everybody. At the door of his house he gave
the cabman a shilling for himself with a light heart. He could afford
it now. He ran up the steps cheerfully and opened the door. The
passage was quite dark, and he wondered why his wife hadn't lit the
gas.

"Molly!" he cried, "Molly!"

The small, weary-eyed servant came out of the kitchen on a savoury
wind of onions.

"Hasn't missus come home with you, sir?" she said.

The conjurer thrust his hand against the wall to steady himself, and
the pattern of the wall-paper seemed to burn his finger-tips.

"Not here!" he gasped at the frightened girl. "Then where is she?
Where is she?"

"I don't know, sir," she began stuttering; but the conjurer turned
quickly and ran out of the house. Of course, his wife must be at the
theatre. It was absurd ever to have supposed that she could leave the
theatre in her stage dress unnoticed; and now she was probably
worrying because he had not waited for her. How foolish he had been.

It was a quarter of an hour before he found a cab, and the theatre
was dark and empty when he got back to it. He knocked at the stage
door, and the night watchman opened it.

"My wife?" he cried. "There's no one here now, sir," the man answered
respectfully, for he knew that a new star had risen that night.

The conjurer leant against the doorpost faintly.

"Take me up to the dressing-rooms," he said. "I want to see whether
she has been, there while I was away."

The watchman led the way along the dark passages. "I shouldn't worry
if I were you, sir," he said. "She can't have gone far." He did not
know anything about it, but he wanted to be sympathetic.

"God knows," the conjurer muttered, "I can't understand this at all."

In the dressing-room Molly's clothes still lay neatly folded as she
had left them when they went on the stage that night, and when he saw
them his last hope left the conjurer, and a strange thought came into
his mind.

"I should like to go down on the stage," he said, "and see if there
is anything to tell me of her."

The night watchman looked at the conjurer as if he thought he was
mad, but he followed him down to the stage in silence. When he was
there the conjurer leaned forward suddenly, and his face was filled
with a wistful eagerness.

"Molly!" he called, "Molly!"

But the empty theatre gave him nothing but echoes in reply.

The Poet's Allegory

I

The boy came into the town at six o'clock in the morning, but the
baker at the corner of the first street was up, as is the way of
bakers, and when he saw the boy passing, he hailed him with a jolly
shout.

"Hullo, boy! What are you after?"

"I'm going about my business," the boy said pertly.

"And what might that be, young fellow?"

"I might be a good tinker, and worship god Pan, or I might grind
scissors as sharp as the noses of bakers. But, as a matter of fact,
I'm a piper, not a rat-catcher, you understand, but just a simple
singer of sad songs, and a mad singer of merry ones."

"Oh," said the baker dully, for he had hoped the boy was in search of
work. "Then I suppose you have a message."

"I sing songs," the boy said emphatically. "I don't run errands
for anyone save it be for the fairies."

"Well, then, you have come to tell us that we are bad, that our lives
are corrupt and our homes sordid. Nowadays there's money in that if
you can do it well."

"Your wit gets up too early in the morning for me, baker," said the
boy. "I tell you I sing songs."

"Aye, I know, but there's something in them, I hope. Perhaps you
bring news. They're not so popular as the other sort, but still, as
long as it's bad news--"

"Is it the flour that has changed his brains to dough, or the heat of
the oven that has made them like dead grass?"

"But you must have some news----?"

"News! It's a fine morning of summer, and I saw a kingfisher across
the watermeadows coming along. Oh, and there's a cuckoo back in the
fir plantation, singing with a May voice. It must have been asleep
all these months."

"But, my dear boy, these things happen every day. Are there no
battles or earthquakes or famines in the world? Has no man
murdered his wife or robbed his neighbour? Is no one oppressed by
tyrants or lied to by their officers."

The boy shrugged his shoulders.

"I hope not," he said. "But if it were so, and I knew, I should not
tell you. I don't want to make you unhappy."

"But of what use are you then, if it be not to rouse in us the
discontent that is alone divine? Would you have me go fat and happy,
listening to your babble of kingfishers and cuckoos, while my
brothers and sisters in the world are starving?"

The boy was silent for a moment.

"I give my songs to the poor for nothing," he said slowly. "Certainly
they are not much use to empty bellies, but they are all I have to
give. And I take it, since you speak so feelingly, that you, too, do
your best. And these others, these people who must be reminded hourly
to throw their crusts out of window for the poor--would you have me
sing to them? They must be told that life is evil, and I find it
good; that men and women are wretched, and I find them happy; that
food and cleanliness, order and knowledge are the essence of
content while I only ask for love. Would you have me lie to cheat
mean folk out of their scraps?"

The baker scratched his head in astonishment.

"Certainly you are very mad," he said. "But you won't get much money
in this town with that sort of talk. You had better come in and have
breakfast with me."

"But why do you ask me?" said the boy, in surprise.

"Well, you have a decent, honest sort of face, although your tongue
is disordered."

"I had rather it had been because you liked my songs," said the boy,
and he went in to breakfast with the baker.

II

Over his breakfast the boy talked wisely on art, as is the wont of
young singers, and afterwards he went on his way down the street.

"It's a great pity," said the baker; "he seems a decent young chap."

"He has nice eyes," said the baker's wife.

As the boy passed down the street he frowned a little.

"What is the matter with them?" he wondered. "They're pleasant people
enough, and yet they did not want to hear my songs."

Presently he came to the tailor's shop, and as the tailor had sharper
eyes than the baker, he saw the pipe in the boy's pocket.

"Hullo, piper!" he called. "My legs are stiff. Come and sing us a
song!"

The boy looked up and saw the tailor sitting cross-legged in the open
window of his shop.

"What sort of song would you like?" he asked.

"Oh! the latest," replied the tailor. "We don't want any old songs
here." So the boy sung his new song of the kingfisher in the
water-meadow and the cuckoo who had overslept itself.

"And what do you call that?" asked the tailor angrily, when the boy
had finished.

"It's my new song, but I don't think it's one of my best." But in his
heart the boy believed it was, because he had only just made it.

"I should hope it's your worst," the tailor said rudely. "What sort
of stuff is that to make a man happy?"

"To make a man happy!" echoed the boy, his heart sinking within him.

"If you have no news to give me, why should I pay for your songs! I
want to hear about my neighbours, about their lives, and their wives
and their sins. There's the fat baker up the street--they say he
cheats the poor with light bread. Make me a song of that, and I'll
give you some breakfast. Or there's the magistrate at the top of the
hill who made the girl drown herself last week. That's a poetic
subject."

"What's all this!" said the boy disdainfully. "Can't you make dirt
enough for yourself!"

"You with your stuff about birds," shouted the tailor; "you're a rank
impostor! That's what you are!"

"They say that you are the ninth part of a man, but I find that they
have grossly exaggerated," cried the boy, in retort; but he had
a heavy heart as he made off along the street.

By noon he had interviewed the butcher, the cobbler, the milkman, and
the maker of candlesticks, but they treated him no better than the
tailor had done, and as he was feeling tired he went and sat down
under a tree.

"I begin to think that the baker is the best of the lot of them," he
said to himself ruefully, as he rolled his empty wallet between his
fingers.

Then, as the folly of singers provides them in some measure with a
philosophy, he fell asleep.

III

When he woke it was late in the afternoon, and the children, fresh
from school, had come out to play in the dusk. Far and near, across
the town-square, the boy could hear their merry voices, but he felt
sad, for his stomach had forgotten the baker's breakfast, and he did
not see where he was likely to get any supper. So he pulled out his
pipe, and made a mournful song to himself of the dancing gnats
and the bitter odour of the bonfires in the townsfolk's gardens. And
the children drew near to hear him sing, for they thought his song
was pretty, until their fathers drove them home, saying, "That stuff
has no educational value."

"Why haven't you a message?" they asked the boy.

"I come to tell you that the grass is green beneath your feet and
that the sky is blue over your heads."

"Oh I but we know all that," they answered.

"Do you! Do you!" screamed the boy. "Do you think you could stop
over your absurd labours if you knew how blue the sky is? You would
be out singing on the hills with me!"

"Then who would do our work?" they said, mocking him.

"Then who would want it done?" he retorted; but it's ill arguing on
an empty stomach.

But when they had tired of telling him what a fool he was, and gone
away, the tailor's little daughter crept out of the shadows and
patted him on the shoulder.

"I say, boy!" she whispered. "I've brought you some supper. Father
doesn't know." The boy blessed her and ate his supper while she
watched him like his mother and when he had done she kissed him on
the lips.

"There, boy!" she said.

"You have nice golden hair," the boy said.

"See! it shines in the dusk. It strikes me it's the only gold I shall
get in this town."

"Still it's nice, don't you think?" the girl whispered in his ear.
She had her arms round his neck.

"I love it," the boy said joyfully; "and you like my songs, don't
you?"

"Oh, yes, I like them very much, but I like you better."

The boy put her off roughly.

"You're as bad as the rest of them," he said indignantly. "I tell you
my songs are everything, I am nothing."

"But it was you who ate my supper, boy," said the girl.

The boy kissed her remorsefully. "But I wish you had liked me for my
songs," he sighed. "You are better than any silly old songs!"

"As bad as the rest of them," the boy said lazily, "but somehow
pleasant."

The shadows flocked to their evening meeting in the square, and
overhead the stars shone out in a sky that was certainly exceedingly
blue.

IV

Next morning they arrested the boy as a rogue and a vagabond, and in
the afternoon they brought him before the magistrate.

"And what have you to say for yourself!" said the magistrate to the
boy, after the second policeman, like a faithful echo, had finished
reading his notes.

"Well," said the boy, "I may be a rogue and a vagabond. Indeed, I
think that I probably am; but I would claim the license that has
always been allowed to singers."

"Oh!" said the magistrate. "So you are one of those, are you! And
what is your message!"

"I think if I could sing you a song or two I could explain myself
better," said the boy.

"Well," replied the magistrate doubtfully, "you can try if you like,
but I warn you that I wrote songs myself when I was a boy, so that I
know something about it."

"Oh, I'm glad of that," said the boy, and he sang his famous song of
the grass that is so green, and when he had finished the magistrate
frowned.

"I knew that before," he said.

So then the boy sang his wonderful song of the sky that is so blue.
And when he had finished the magistrate scowled. "And what are we to
learn from that!" he said.

So then the boy lost his temper and sang some naughty doggerel he
had made up in his cell that morning. He abused the town and
townsmen, but especially the townsmen. He damned their morals, their
customs, and their institutions. He said that they had ugly faces,
raucous voices, and that their bodies were unclean. He said they
were thieves and liars and murderers, that they had no ear for music
and no sense of humour. Oh, he was bitter!

"Good God!" said the magistrate, "that's what I call real improving
poetry. Why didn't you sing that first? There might have been a
miscarriage of justice."

Then the baker, the tailor, the butcher, the cobbler, the milkman,
and the maker of candlesticks rose in court and said--

"Ah, but we all knew there was something in him."

So the magistrate gave the boy a certificate that showed that he was
a real singer, and the tradesmen gave him a purse of gold, but the
tailor's little daughter gave him one of her golden ringlets. "You
won't forget, boy, will you?" she said.

"Oh, no," said the boy; "but I wish you had liked my songs."

Presently, when he had come a little way out of the town, he put his
hand in his wallet and drew out the magistrate's certificate and tore
it in two; and then he took out the gold pieces and threw them into
the ditch, and they were not half as bright as the buttercups. But
when he came to the ringlet he smiled at it and put it back.

"Yet she was as bad as the rest of them," he thought with a sigh.

And he went across the world with his songs.

And Who Shall Say----?

It was a dull November day, and the windows were heavily
curtained, so that the room was very dark. In front of the fire was a
large arm-chair, which shut whatever light there might be from the
two children, a boy of eleven and a girl about two years younger, who
sat on the floor at the back of the room. The boy was the better
looking, but the girl had the better face. They were both gazing at
the arm-chair with the utmost excitement.

"It's all right. He's asleep," said the boy.

"Oh, do be careful! you'll wake him," whispered the girl.

"Are you afraid?"

"No, why should I be afraid of my father, stupid?"

"I tell you he's not father any more. He's a murderer," the boy said
hotly. "He told me, I tell you. He said, `I have killed your
mother, Ray,' and I went and looked, and mother was all red. I simply
shouted, and she wouldn't answer. That means she's dead. His hand was
all red, too."

"Was it paint?"

"No, of course it wasn't paint. It was blood. And then he came down
here and went to sleep."

"Poor father, so tired."

"He's not poor father, he's not father at all; he's a murderer, and
it is very wicked of you to call him father," said the boy.

"Father," muttered the girl rebelliously.

"You know the sixth commandment says `Thou shalt do no murder,' and
he has done murder; so he'll go to hell. And you'll go to hell too if
you call him father. It's all in the Bible."

The boy ended vaguely, but the little girl was quite overcome by the
thought of her badness.

"Oh, I am wicked!" she cried. "And I do so want to go to heaven."

She had a stout and materialistic belief in it as a place of sheeted
angels and harps, where it was easy to be good.

"You must do as I tell you, then," he said. "Because I know. I've
learnt all about it at school."

"And you never told me," said she reproachfully.

"Ah, there's lots of things I know," he replied, nodding his head.

"What must we do?" said the girl meekly. "Shall I go and ask
mother?"

The boy was sick at her obstinacy.

"Mother's dead, I tell you; that means she can't hear anything. It's
no use talking to her; but I know. You must stop here, and if father
wakes you run out of the house and call `Police!' and I will go now
and tell a policeman now."

"And what happens then?" she asked, with round eyes at her brother's
wisdom.

"Oh, they come and take him away to prison. And then they put a rope
round his neck and hang him like Haman, and he goes to hell."

"Wha-at! Do they kill him?"

"Because he's a murderer. They always do."

"Oh, don't let's tell them! Don't let's tell them!" she
screamed.

"Shut up!" said the boy, "or he'll wake up. We must tell them, or we
go to hell--both of us."

But his sister did not collapse at this awful threat, as he expected,
though the tears were rolling down her face. "Don't let's tell them,"
she sobbed.

"You're a horrid girl, and you'll go to hell," said the boy, in
disgust. But the silence was only broken by her sobbing. "I tell you
he killed mother dead. You didn't cry a bit for mother; I did."

"Oh, let's ask mother! Let's ask mother! I know she won't want father
to go to hell. Let's ask mother!"

"Mother's dead, and can't hear, you stupid," said the boy. "I keep on
telling you. Come up and look."

They were both a little awed in mother's room. It was so quiet, and
mother looked so funny. And first the girl shouted, and then the boy,
and then they shouted both together, but nothing happened. The echoes
made them frightened.

"Perhaps she's asleep," the girl said; so her brother pinched one of
mother's hands--the white one, not the red one--but nothing
happened, so mother was dead.

"Has she gone to hell?" whispered the girl.

"No! she's gone to heaven, because she's good. Only wicked people go
to hell. And now I must go and tell the policeman. Don't you tell
father where I've gone if he wakes up, or he'll run away before the
policeman comes."

"Why?"

"So as not to go to hell," said the boy, with certainty; and they
went downstairs together, the little mind of the girl being much
perturbed because she was so wicked. What would mother say tomorrow
if she had done wrong?

The boy put on his sailor hat in the hall. "You must go in there and
watch," he said, nodding in the direction of the sitting-room. "I
shall run all the way."

The door banged, and she heard his steps down the path, and then
everything was quiet.

She tiptoed into the room, and sat down on the floor, and looked at
the back of the chair in utter distress. She could see her father's
elbow projecting on one side, but nothing more. For an instant
she hoped that he wasn't there--hoped that he had gone--but then,
terrified, she knew that this was a piece of extreme wickedness.

So she lay on the rough carpet, sobbing hopelessly, and seeing real
and vicious devils of her brother's imagining in all the corners of
the room.

Presently, in her misery, she remembered a packet of acid-drops that
lay in her pocket, and drew them forth in a sticky mass, which parted
from its paper with regret. So she choked and sucked her sweets at
the same time, and found them salt and tasteless.

Ray was gone a long time, and she was a wicked girl who would go to
hell if she didn't do what he told her. Those were her prevailing
ideas.

And presently there came a third. Ray had said that if her father
woke up he would run away, and not go to hell at all. Now if she woke
him up--.

She knew this was dreadfully naughty; but her mind clung to the idea
obstinately. You see, father had always been so fond of mother, and
he would not like to be in a different place. Mother wouldn't
like it either. She was always so sorry when father did not come home
or anything. And hell is a dreadful place, full of things. She half
convinced herself, and started up, but then there came an awful
thought.

If she did this she would go to hell for ever and ever, and all the
others would be in heaven.

She hung there in suspense, sucking her sweet and puzzling it over
with knit brows.

How can one be good?

She swung round and looked in the dark corner by the piano; but the
Devil was not there.

And then she ran across the room to her father, and shaking his arm,
shouted, tremulously--

"Wake up, father! Wake up! The police are coming!"

And when the police came ten minutes later, accompanied by a very
proud and virtuous little boy, they heard a small shrill voice
crying, despairingly--

"The police, father! The police!"

But father would not wake.

The Biography Of A Superman

"O limed soul that struggling to be free
Art more engaged!"

Charles Stephen Dale, the subject of my study, was a dramatist
and, indeed, something of a celebrity in the early years of the
twentieth century. That he should be already completely forgotten is
by no means astonishing in an age that elects its great men with a
charming indecision of touch. The general prejudice against the
granting of freeholds has spread to the desired lands of fame; and
where our profligate ancestors were willing to call a man great in
perpetuity, we, with more shrewdness, prefer to name him a genius for
seven years. We know that before that period may have expired fate
will have granted us a sea-serpent with yet more coils, with a
yet more bewildering arrangement of marine and sunset tints, and the
conclusion of previous leases will enable us to grant him undisputed
possession of Parnassus. If our ancestors were more generous they
were certainly less discriminate; and it cannot be doubted that many
of them went to their graves under the impression that it is possible
for there to be more than one great man at a time! We have altered
all that.

For two years Dale was a great man, or rather the great man, and it
is probable that if he had not died he would have held his position
for a longer period. When his death was announced, although the
notices of his life and work were of a flattering length, the
leaderwriters were not unnaturally aggrieved that he should have
resigned his post before the popular interest in his personality was
exhausted. The Censor might do his best by prohibiting the
performance of all the plays that the dead man had left behind him;
but, as the author neglected to express his views in their columns,
and the common sense of their readers forbade the publication of
interviews with him, the journals could draw but a poor
satisfaction from condemning or upholding the official action. Dale's
regrettable absence reduced what might have been an agreeable clash
of personalities to an arid discussion on art. The consequence was
obvious. The end of the week saw the elevation of James Macintosh,
the great Scotch comedian, to the vacant post, and Dale was
completely forgotten. That this oblivion is merited in terms of his
work I am not prepared to admit; that it is merited in terms of his
personality I indignantly wish to deny. Whatever Dale may have been
as an artist, he was, perhaps in spite of himself, a man, and a man,
moreover, possessed of many striking and unusual traits of character.
It is to the man Dale that I offer this tribute.

Sprung from an old Yorkshire family, Charles Stephen Dale was yet
sufficient of a Cockney to justify both his friends and his enemies
in crediting him with the Celtic temperament. Nevertheless, he was
essentially a modern, insomuch that his contempt for the writings of
dead men surpassed his dislike of living authors. To these two
central influences we may trace most of the peculiarities that
rendered him notorious and ultimately great. Thus, while his Celtic
aestheticism permitted him to eat nothing but raw meat, because he
mistrusted alike "the reeking products of the manure-heap and the
barbaric fingers of cooks," it was surely his modernity that made him
an agnostic, because bishops sat in the House of Lords. Smaller men
might dislike vegetables and bishops without allowing it to affect
their conduct; but Dale was careful to observe that every slightest
conviction should have its place in the formation of his character.
Conversely, he was nothing without a reason.

These may seem small things to which to trace the motive forces of a
man's life; but if we add to them a third, found where the truth
about a man not infrequently lies, in the rag-bag of his enemies, our
materials will be nearly complete. "Dale hates his
fellow-human- beings," wrote some anonymous scribbler, and, even
expressed thus baldly, the statement is not wholly false. But he
hated them because of their imperfections, and it would be truer to
say that his love of humanity amounted to a positive hatred of
individuals, and, _pace_ the critics, the love was no less sincere
than the hatred. He had drawn from the mental confusion of the darker
German philosophers an image of the perfect man--an image differing
only in inessentials from the idol worshipped by the Imperialists as
"efficiency." He did not find--it was hardly likely that he would
find--that his contemporaries fulfilled this perfect conception, and
he therefore felt it necessary to condemn them for the possession of
those weaknesses, or as some would prefer to say, qualities, of which
the sum is human nature.

I now approach a quality, or rather the lack of a quality, that is in
itself of so debatable a character, that were it not of the utmost
importance in considering the life of Charles Stephen Dale I should
prefer not to mention it. I refer to his complete lack of a sense of
humour, the consciousness of which deficiency went so far to detract
from his importance as an artist and a man. The difficulty which I
mentioned above lies in the fact that, while every one has a clear
conception of what they mean by the phrase, no one has yet
succeeded in defining it satisfactorily. Here I would venture to
suggest that it is a kind of magnificent sense of proportion, a
sense that relates the infinite greatness of the universe to the
finite smallness of man, and draws the inevitable conclusion as to
the importance of our joys and sorrows and labours. I am aware that
this definition errs on the side of vagueness; but possibly it may be
found to include the truth. Obviously, the natures of those who
possess this sense will tend to be static rather than dynamic, and it
is therefore against the limits imposed by this sense that
intellectual anarchists, among whom I would number Dale, and poets,
primarily rebel. But--and it is this rather than his undoubted
intellectual gifts or his dogmatic definitions of good and evil that
definitely separated Dale from the normal men--there can be no doubt
that he felt his lack of a sense of humour bitterly. In every word he
ever said, in every line he ever wrote, I detect a painful striving
after this mysterious sense, that enabled his neighbours, fools as he
undoubtedly thought them, to laugh and weep and follow the faith of
their hearts without conscious realisation of their own
existence and the problems it induced. By dint of study and strenuous
observation he achieved, as any man may achieve, a considerable
degree of wit, though to the last his ignorance of the audience whom
he served and despised, prevented him from judging the effect of his
sallies without experiment. But try as he might the finer jewel lay
far beyond his reach. Strong men fight themselves when they can find
no fitter adversary; but in all the history of literature there is no
stranger spectacle than this lifelong contest between Dale, the
intellectual anarch and pioneer of supermen, and Dale, the poor
lonely devil who wondered what made people happy.

I have said that the struggle was lifelong, but it must be added that
it was always unequal. The knowledge that in his secret heart he
desired this quality, the imperfection of imperfections, only served
to make Dale's attack on the complacency of his contemporaries more
bitter. He ridiculed their achievements, their ambitions, and their
love with a fury that awakened in them a mild curiosity, but by no
means affected their comfort. Moreover, the very vehemence with
which he demanded their contempt deprived him of much of his force as
a critic, for they justly wondered why a man should waste his
lifetime in attacking them if they were indeed so worthless.
Actually, they felt, Dale was a great deal more engaged with his
audience than many of the imaginative writers whom he affected to
despise for their sycophancy. And, especially towards the end of his
life when his powers perhaps were weakening, the devices which he
used to arouse the irritation of his contemporaries became more and
more childishly artificial, less and less effective. He was like one
of those actors who feel that they cannot hold the attention of their
audience unless they are always doing something, though nothing is
more monotonous than mannered vivacity.

Dale, then, was a man who was very anxious to be modern, but at the
same time had not wholly succeeded in conquering his aeesthetic sense.
He had constituted himself high priest of the most puritanical and
remote of all creeds, yet there was that in his blood that rebelled
ceaselessly against the intellectual limits he had voluntarily
accepted. The result in terms of art was chaos. Possessed of an
intellect of great analytic and destructive force, he was almost
entirely lacking in imagination, and he was therefore unable to raise
his work to a plane in which the mutually combative elements of his
nature might have been reconciled. His light moments of envy, anger,
and vanity passed into the crucible to come forth unchanged. He
lacked the magic wand, and his work never took wings above his
conception. It is in vain to seek in any of his plays or novels,
tracts or prefaces, for the product of inspiration, the divine gift
that enables one man to write with the common pen of humanity. He
could only employ his curiously perfect technique in reproducing the
wayward flashes of a mind incapable of consecutive thought. He never
attempted--and this is a hard saying--to produce any work beautiful
in itself; while the confusion of his mind, and the vanity that never
allowed him to ignore the effect his work might produce on his
audience, prevented him from giving clear expression to his creed.
His work will appeal rather to the student of men than to the
student of art, and, wantonly incoherent though it often is, must be
held to constitute a remarkable human document.

It is strange to reflect that among his contemporary admirers Dale
was credited with an intellect of unusual clarity, for the
examination of any of his plays impresses one with the number and
mutual destructiveness of his motives for artistic expression. A
noted debater, he made frequent use of the device of attacking the
weakness of the other man's speech, rather than the weakness of
the other man's argument. His prose was good, though at its best
so impersonal that it recalled the manner of an exceptionally
well-written leading article. At its worst it was marred by
numerous vulgarities and errors of taste, not always, it is to be
feared, intentional. His attitude on this point was typical of his
strange blindness to the necessity of a pure artistic ideal. He
committed these extravagances, he would say, in order to irritate
his audience into a condition of mental alertness. As a matter of
fact, he generally made his readers more sorry than angry, and he
did not realise that even if he had been successful it was but a
poor reward for the wanton spoiling of much good work. He
proclaimed himself to be above criticism, but he was only too
often beneath it. Revolting against the dignity, not infrequently
pompous, of his fellow-men of letters, he played the part of clown
with more enthusiasm than skill. It is intellectual arrogance in a
clever man to believe that he can play the fool with success
merely because he wishes it.

There is no need for me to enter into detail with regard to Dale's
personal appearance; the caricaturists did him rather more than
justice, the photographers rather less. In his younger days he
suggested a gingerbread man that had been left too long in the sun;
towards the end he affected a cultured and elaborate ruggedness that
made him look like a duke or a market gardener. Like most clever men,
he had good eyes.

Nor is it my purpose to add more than a word to the published
accounts of his death. There is something strangely pitiful in that
last desperate effort to achieve humour. We have all read the account
of his own death that he dictated from the sick-bed--cold,
epigrammatic, and, alas! characteristically lacking in taste. And
once more it was his fate to make us rather sorry than angry.

In the third scene of the second act of "Henry V.," a play written
by an author whom Dale pretended to despise, Dame Quickly describes
the death of Falstaff in words that are too well known to need
quotation. It was thus and no otherwise that Dale died. It is thus
that every man dies.

Blue Blood

He sat in the middle of the great cafe with his head supported
on his hands, miserable even to bitterness. Inwardly he cursed the
ancestors who had left him little but a great name and a small and
ridiculous body. He thought of his father, whose expensive
eccentricities had amused his fellow-countrymen at the cost of his
fortune; his mother, for whom death had been a blessing; his
grandparents and his uncles, in whom no man had found any good. But
most of all he cursed himself, for whose follies even heredity might
not wholly account. He recalled the school where he had made no
friends, the University where he had taken no degree. Since he had
left Oxford, his aimless, hopeless life, profligate, but
dishonourable, perhaps, only by accident, had deprived even his title
of any social value, and one by one his very acquaintances had
left him to the society of broken men and the women who are anything
but light. And these, and here perhaps the root of his bitterness
lay, even these recognised him only as a victim for their mockery, a
thing more poor than themselves, whereon they could satisfy the anger
of their tortured souls. And his last misery lay in this: that he
himself could find no day in his life to admire, no one past dream to
cherish, no inmost corner of his heart to love. The lowest tramp, the
least-heeded waif of the night, might have some ultimate pride, but
he himself had nothing, nothing whatever. He was a dream-pauper, an
emotional bankrupt.

With a choked sob he drained his brandy and told the waiter to bring
him another. There had been a period in his life when he had been
able to find some measure of sentimental satisfaction in the stupor
of drunkenness. In those days, through the veil of illusion which
alcohol had flung across his brain, he had been able to regard the
contempt of the men as the intimacy of friendship, the scorn of the
women as the laughter of light love. But now drink gave him
nothing but the mordant insight of morbidity, which cut through his
rotten soul like cheese. Yet night after night he came to this place,
to be tortured afresh by the ridicule of the sordid frequenters, and
by the careless music of the orchestra which told him of a flowerless
spring and of a morning which held for him no hope. For his last
emotion rested in this self-inflicted pain; he could only breathe
freely under the lash of his own contempt.

Idly he let his dull eyes stray about the room, from table to table,
from face to face. Many there he knew by sight, from none could he
hope for sympathy or even companionship. In his bitterness he envied
the courage of the cowards who were brave enough to seek oblivion or
punishment in death. Dropping his eyes to his soft, unlovely hands,
he marvelled that anything so useless should throb with life, and yet
he realised that he was afraid of physical pain, terrified at the
thought of death. There were dim ancestors of his whose valour had
thrilled the songs of minstrels and made his name lovely in the
glowing folly of battles. But now he knew that he was a coward, and
even in the knowledge he could find no comfort. It is not given to
every man to hate himself gladly.

The music and the laughter beat on his sullen brain with a mocking
insistence, and he trembled with impotent anger at the apparent
happiness of humanity. Why should these people be merry when he was
miserable, what right had the orchestra to play a chorus of triumph
over the stinging emblems of his defeat? He drank brandy after
brandy, vainly seeking to dull the nausea of disgust which had
stricken his worn nerves; but the adulterated spirit merely maddened
his brain with the vision of new depths of horror, while his body
lay below, a mean, detestable thing. Had he known how to pray he
would have begged that something might snap. But no man may win to
faith by means of hatred alone, and his heart was cold as the marble
table against which he leant. There was no more hope in the
world. . . .

When he came out of the cafe, the air of the night was so pure
and cool on his face, and the lights of the square were so tender to
his eyes, that for a moment his harsh mood was softened. And in that
moment he seemed to see among the crowd that flocked by a beautiful
face, a face touched with pearls, and the inner leaves of pink
rosebuds. He leant forward eagerly. "Christine!" he cried,
"Christine!"

Then the illusion passed, and, smitten by the anger of the pitiless
stars, he saw that he was looking upon a mere woman, a woman of the
earth. He fled from her smile with a shudder.

As he went it seemed to him that the swaying houses buffeted him
about as a child might play with a ball. Sometimes they threw him
against men, who cursed him and bruised his soft body with their
fists. Sometimes they tripped him up and hurled him upon the stones
of the pavement. Still he held on, till the Embankment broke before
him with the sudden peace of space, and he leant against the
parapet, panting and sick with pain, but free from the tyranny of
the houses.

Beneath him the river rolled towards the sea, reticent but
more alive, it seemed, than the deeply painful thing which fate had
attached to his brain. He pictured himself tangled in the dark
perplexity of its waters, he fancied them falling upon his face like
a girl's hair, till they darkened his eyes and choked the mouth
which, even now, could not breathe fast enough to satisfy him. The
thought displeased him, and he turned away from the place that held
peace for other men but not for him. From the shadow of one of the
seats a woman's voice reached him, begging peevishly for money.

"I have none," he said automatically. Then he remembered and flung
coins, all the money he had, into her lap. "I give it to you because
I hate you!" he shrieked, and hurried on lest her thanks should spoil
his spite.

Then the black houses and the warped streets had him in their grip
once more, and sported with him till his consciousness waxed to one
white-hot point of pain. Overhead the stars were laughing quietly in
the fields of space, and sometimes a policeman or a chance passer-by
looked curiously at his lurching figure, but he only knew that
life was hurting him beyond endurance, and that he yet endured. Up
and down the ice-cold corridors of his brain, thought, formless and
timeless, passed like a rodent flame. Now he was the universe, a vast
thing loathsome with agony, now he was a speck of dust, an atom whose
infinite torment was imperceptible even to God. Always there was
something--something conscious of the intolerable evil called life,
something that cried bitterly to be uncreated. Always, while his soul
beat against the bars, his body staggered along the streets, a thing
helpless, unguided.

There is an hour before dawn when tired men and women die, and with
the coming of this hour his spirit found a strange release from
pain. Once more he realised that he was a man, and, bruised and
weary as he was, he tried to collect the lost threads of reason,
which the night had torn from him. Facing him he saw a vast building
dimly outlined against the darkness, and in some way it served to
touch a faint memory in his dying brain. For a while he wandered
amongst the shadows, and then he knew that it was the keep of
a castle, his castle, and that high up where a window shone upon the
night a girl was waiting for him, a girl with a face of pearls and
roses. Presently she came to the window and looked out, dressed all
in white for her love's sake. He stood up in his armour and flashed
his sword towards the envying stars.

"It is I, my love!" he cried. "I am here."

And there, before the dawn had made the shadows of the Law Courts
grey, they found him; bruised and muddy and daubed with blood,
without the sword and spurs of his honour, lacking the scented token
of his love. A thing in no way tragic, for here was no misfortune,
but merely the conclusion of Nature's remorseless logic. For century
after century those of his name had lived, sheltered by the prowess
of their ancestors from the trivial hardships and afflictions that
make us men. And now he lay on the pavement, stiff and cold, a babe
that had cried itself to sleep because it could not understand,
silent until the morning.

Fate And The Artist

The workmen's dwellings stood in the northwest of London, in
quaint rivalry with the comfortable ugliness of the Maida Vale blocks
of flats. They were fairly new and very well built, with wide stone
staircases that echoed all day to the impatient footsteps of children,
and with a flat roof that served at once as a playground for them and
a drying-ground for their mothers' washing. In hot weather it was
pleasant enough to play hide-and-seek or follow-my-leader up and down
the long alleys of cool white linen, and if a sudden gust of wind or
some unexpected turn of the game set the wet sheets flapping in the
children's faces, their senses were rather tickled than annoyed.

To George, mooning in a corner of the railings that seemed to keep all
London in a cage, these games were hardly more important than the
shoutings and whistlings that rose from the street below. It seemed to
him that all his life--he had lived eleven years--he had been standing
in a corner watching other people engaging in meaningless ploys and
antics. The sun was hot, and yet the children ran about and made
themselves hotter, and he wondered, as when he had been in bed with
one of his frequent illnesses he had wondered at the grown-up folk who
came and went, moving their arms and legs and speaking with their
mouths, when it was possible to lie still and quiet and feel the
moments ticking themselves off in one's forehead. As he rested in his
corner, he was conscious of the sharp edge of the narrow stone ledge
on which he was sitting and the thin iron railings that pressed into
his back; he smelt the evil smell of hot London, and the soapy odour
of the washing; he saw the glitter of the dust, and the noises of the
place beat harshly upon his ears, but he could find no meaning in it
all. Life spoke to him with a hundred tongues, and all the while he
was longing for silence. To the older inhabitants of the tenements he
seemed a morbid little boy, unhappily too delicate for sense to
be safely knocked into him; his fellow-children would have ignored him
completely if he had not had strange fancies that made interesting
stories and sometimes inspired games. On the whole, George was lonely
without knowing what loneliness meant.

All day long the voice of London throbbed up beyond the bars, and
George would regard the chimneys and the housetops and the section of
lively street that fell within his range with his small, keen eyes,
and wonder why the world did not forthwith crumble into silent,
peaceful dust, instead of groaning and quivering in continual unrest.
But when twilight fell and the children were tired of playing, they
would gather round him in his corner by the tank and ask him to tell
them stories. This tank was large and open and held rain water for the
use of the tenants, and originally it had been cut off from the rest
of the roof by some special railings of its own; but two of the
railings had been broken, and now the children could creep through and
sit round the tank at dusk, like Eastern villagers round the village
well.

And George would tell them stories--queer stories with twisted
faces and broken backs, that danced and capered merrily enough as a
rule, but sometimes stood quite still and made horrible grimaces. The
children liked the cheerful moral stories better, such as Arthur's
Boots.

"Once upon a time," George would begin, "there was a boy called
Arthur, who lived in a house like this, and always tied his
bootlaces with knots instead of bows. One night he stood on the
roof and wished he had wings like a sparrow, so that he could
fly away over the houses. And a great wind began, so that everybody
said there was a storm, and suddenly Arthur found he had a little
pair of wings, and he flew away with the wind over the houses. And
presently he got beyond the storm to a quiet place in the sky, and
Arthur looked up and saw all the stars tied to heaven with little
bits of string, and all the strings were tied in bows. And this
was done so that God could pull the string quite easily when He
wanted to, and let the stars fall. On fine nights you can see them
dropping. Arthur thought that the angels must have very neat
fingers to tie so many bows, but suddenly, while he was looking,
his feet began to feel heavy, and he stooped down to take off his
boots; but he could not untie the knots quick enough, and soon he
started falling very fast. And while he was falling, he heard the
wind in the telegraph wires, and the shouts of the boys who sell
papers in the street, and then he fell on the top of a house. And
they took him to the hospital, and cut off his legs, and gave him
wooden ones instead. But he could not fly any more because they
were too heavy."

For days afterwards all the children would tie their bootlaces in
bows.

Sometimes they would all look into the dark tank, and George would
tell them about the splendid fish that lived in its depths. If the
tank was only half full, he would whisper to the fish, and the
children would hear its indistinct reply. But when the tank was full
to the brim, he said that the fish was too happy to talk, and he would
describe the beauty of its appearance so vividly that all the children
would lean over the tank and strain their eyes in a desperate effort
to see the wonderful fish. But no one ever saw it clearly except
George, though most of the children thought they had seen its tail
disappearing in the shadows at one time or another.

It was doubtful how far the children believed his stories; probably,
not having acquired the habit of examining evidence, they were
content to accept ideas that threw a pleasant glamour on life. But the
coming of Jimmy Simpson altered this agreeable condition of mind.
Jimmy was one of those masterful stupid boys who excel at games and
physical contests, and triumph over intellectual problems by sheer
braggart ignorance. From the first he regarded George with contempt,
and when he heard him telling his stories he did not conceal his
disbelief.

"It's a lie," he said; "there ain't no fish in the tank."

"I have seen it, I tell you," said George.

Jimmy spat on the asphalt rudely.

"I bet no one else has," he said.

George looked round his audience, but their eyes did not meet his.
They felt that they might have been mistaken in believing that
they had seen the tail of the fish. And Jimmy was a very good man with
his fists. "Liar!" said Jimmy at last triumphantly, and walked away.
Being masterful, he led the others with him, and George brooded by the
tank for the rest of the evening in solitude.

Next day George went up to Jimmy confidently. "I was right about the
fish," he said. "I dreamed about it last night."

"Rot!" said Jimmy; "dreams are only made-up things; they don't mean
anything."

George crept away sadly. How could he convince such a man? All day
long he worried over the problem, and he woke up in the middle of the
night with it throbbing in his brain. And suddenly, as he lay in his
bed, doubt came to him. Supposing he had been wrong, supposing he had
never seen the fish at all? This was not to be borne. He crept quietly
out of the flat, and tiptoed upstairs to the roof. The stone was very
cold to his feet.

There were so many things in the tank that at first, George could not
see the fish, but at last he saw it gleaming below the moon and the
stars, larger and even more beautiful than he had said. "I knew I
was right," he whispered, as he crept back to bed. In the morning he
was very ill.

Meanwhile blue day succeeded blue day, and while the water grew lower
in the tank, the children, with Jimmy for leader, had almost forgotten
the boy who had told them stories. Now and again one or other of them
would say that George was very, very ill, and then they would go on
with their game. No one looked in the tank now that they knew there
was nothing in it, till it occurred one day to Jimmy that the dry
weather should have brought final confirmation of his scepticism.
Leaving his comrades at the long jump, he went to George's neglected
corner and peeped into the tank. Sure enough it was almost dry, and,
he nearly shouted with surprise, in the shallow pool of sooty water
there lay a large fish, dead, but still gleaming with rainbow colours.

Jimmy was strong and stupid, but not ill-natured, and, recalling
George's illness, it occurred to him that it would be a decent thing
to go and tell him he was right. He ran downstairs and knocked on the
door of the flat where George lived. George's big sister opened
it, but the boy was too excited to see that her eyes were wet. "Oh,
miss," he said breathlessly, "tell George he was right about the fish.
I've seen it myself!"

"Georgy's dead," said the girl.

The Great Man

To the people who do not write it must seem odd that men and women
should be willing to sacrifice their lives in the endeavour to
find new arrangements and combinations of words with which to
express old thoughts and older emotions, yet that is not an unfair
statement of the task of the literary artist. Words--symbols that
represent the noises that human beings make with their tongues and
lips and teeth--lie within our grasp like the fragments of a
jig-saw puzzle, and we fit them into faulty pictures until our hands
grow weary and our eyes can no longer pretend to see the truth. In
order to illustrate an infinitesimal fraction of our lives by
means of this preposterous game we are willing to sacrifice all
the rest. While ordinary efficient men and women are enjoying the
promise of the morning, the fulfilment of the afternoon, the
tranquillity of evening, we are still trying to discover a fitting
epithet for the dew of dawn. For us Spring paves the woods with
beautiful words rather than flowers, and when we look into the
eyes of our mistress we see nothing but adjectives. Love is an
occasion for songs; Death but the overburdened father of all our
saddest phrases. We are of those who are born crying into the
world because they cannot speak, and we end, like Stevenson, by
looking forward to our death because we have written a good
epitaph. Sometimes in the course of our frequent descents from
heaven to the waste-paper basket we feel that we lose too much to
accomplish so little. Does a handful of love-songs really outweigh
the smile of a pretty girl, or a hardly-written romance compensate
the author for months of lost adventure? We have only one life to
live, and we spend the greater part of it writing the history of
dead hours. Our lives lack balance because we find it hard to
discover a mean between the triolet we wrote last I night and the
big book we are going to start tomorrow, and also because living
only with our heads we tend to become top-heavy. We justify our
present discomfort with the promise of a bright future of flowers
and sunshine and gladdest life, though we know that in the garden
of art there are many chrysalides and few butterflies. Few of us
are fortunate enough to accomplish anything that was in the least
worth doing, so we fall back on the arid philosophy that it is
effort alone that counts.

Luckily--or suicide would be the rule rather than the exception
for artists--the long process of disillusionment is broken by
hours when even the most self-critical feel nobly and indubitably
great; and this is the only reward that most artists ever have for
their labours, if we set a higher price on art than money. On the
whole, I am inclined to think that the artist is fully rewarded,
for the common man can have no conception of the Joy that is to be
found in belonging, though but momentarily and illusively, to the
aristocracy of genius. To find the just word for all our emotions,
to realise that our most trivial thought is illimitably creative,
to feel that it is our lot to keep life's gladdest promises, to
see the great souls of men and women, steadfast in existence as
stars in a windless pool--these, indeed, are no ordinary
pleasures. Moreover, these hours of our illusory greatness endow
us in their passing with a melancholy that is not tainted with
bitteress. We have nothing to regret; we are in truth the richer
for our rare adventure. We have been permitted to explore the
ultimate possibilities of our nature, and if we might not keep
this newly-discovered territory, at least we did not return from
our travels with empty hands. Something of the glamour lingers,
something perhaps of the wisdom, and it is with a heightened
passion, a fiercer enthusiasm, that we set ourselves once more to
our life-long task of chalking pink salmon and pinker sunsets on
the pavements of the world.

I once met an Englishman in the forest that starts outside Brussels
and stretches for a long day's journey across the hills. We found a
little cafe under the trees, and sat in the sun talking about modern
English literature all the afternoon. In this way we discovered that
we had a common standpoint from which we judged works of art, though
our judgments differed pleasantly and provided us with materials
for agreeable discussion. By the time we had divided three bottles of
Gueze Lambic, the noble beer of Belgium, we had already sketched out a
scheme for the ideal literary newspaper. In other words, we had
achieved friendship.

When the afternoon grew suddenly cold, the Englishman led me off to
tea at his house, which was half-way up the hill out of Woluwe. It
was one of those modern country cottages that Belgian architects
steal openly and without shame from their English confreres. We were
met at the garden gate by his daughter, a dark-haired girl of
fifteen or sixteen, so unreasonably beautiful that she made a
disillusioned scribbler feel like a sad line out of one of the
saddest poems of Francis Thompson. In my mind I christened her
Monica, because I did not like her real name. The house, with its
old furniture, its library, where the choice of books was clearly
dictated by individual prejudices and affections, and its
unambitious parade of domestic happiness, heightened my melancholy.
While tea was being prepared Monica showed me the garden. Only
a few daffodils and crocuses were in bloom, but she led me to the
rose garden, and told me that in the summer she could pick a great
basket of roses every day. I pictured Monica to myself, gathering
her roses on a breathless summer afternoon, and returned to the
house feeling like a battened version of the Reverend Laurence
Sterne. I knew that I had gathered all my roses, and I thought
regretfully of the chill loneliness of the world that lay beyond the
limits of this paradise.

This mood lingered with me during tea, and it was not till that
meal was over that the miracle happened. I do not know whether it
was the Englishman or his wife that wrought the magic: or perhaps
it was Monica, nibbling "speculations" with her sharp white teeth;
but at all events I was led with delicate diplomacy to talk about
myself, and I presently realised that I was performing the
grateful labour really well. My words were warmed into life by an
eloquence that is not ordinarily mine, my adjectives were neither
commonplace nor far-fetched, my adverbs fell into their sockets
with a sob of joy. I spoke of myself with a noble sympathy, a
compassion so intense that it seemed divinely altruistic. And
gradually, as the spirit of creation woke in my blood, I revealed,
trembling between a natural sensitiveness and a generous
abandonment of restraint, the inner life of a man of genius.

I passed lightly by his misunderstood childhood to concentrate my
sympathies on the literary struggles of his youth. I spoke of the
ignoble environment, the material hardships, the masterpieces written
at night to be condemned in the morning, the songs of his heart that
were too great for his immature voice to sing; and all the while I
bade them watch the fire of his faith burning with a constant and
quenchless flame. I traced the development of his powers, and
instanced some of his poems, my poems, which I recited so well that
they sounded to me, and I swear to them also, like staves from an
angelic hymn-book. I asked their compassion for the man who, having
such things in his heart, was compelled to waste his hours in sordid
journalistic labours.

So by degrees I brought them to the present time, when, fatigued by
a world that would not acknowledge the truth of his message,
the man of genius was preparing to retire from life, in order to
devote himself to the composition of five or six masterpieces. I
described these masterpieces to them in outline, with a suggestive
detail dashed in here and there to show how they would be finished.
Nothing is easier than to describe unwritten literary masterpieces
in outline; but by that time I had thoroughly convinced my audience
and myself, and we looked upon these things as completed books. The
atmosphere was charged with the spirit of high endeavour, of
wonderful accomplishment. I heard the Englishman breathing deeply,
and through the dusk I was aware of the eyes of Monica, the wide,
vague eyes of a young girl in which youth can find exactly what it
pleases.

It is a good thing to be great once or twice in our lives, and that
night I was wise enough to depart before the inevitable anti-climax.
At the gate the Englishman pressed me warmly by the hand and begged
me to honour his house with my presence again. His wife echoed the
wish, and Monica looked at me with those vacant eyes, that but a few
years ago I would have charged with the wine of my song. As I stood
in the tram on my way back to Brussels I felt like a man recovering
from a terrible debauch, and I knew that the brief hour of my pride
was over, to return, perhaps, no more. Work was impossible to a man
who had expressed considerably more than he had to express, so I went
into a cafe where there was a string band to play sentimental music
over the corpse of my genius. Chance took me to a table presided over
by a waiter I singularly detested, and the last embers of my
greatness enabled me to order my drink in a voice so passionate that
he looked at me aghast and fled. By the time he returned with my hock
the tale was finished, and I tried to buy his toleration with an
enormous _pourboire_.

No; I will return to that house on the hill above Woluwe no more, not
even to see Monica standing on tiptoe to pick her roses. For I have
left a giant's robe hanging on a peg in the hall, and I would not
have those amiable people see how utterly incapable I am of filling
it under normal conditions. I feel, besides, a kind of sentimental
tenderness for this illusion fated to have so short a life. I am no
Herod to slaughter babies, and it pleases me to think that it lingers
yet in that delightful house with the books and the old furniture and
Monica, even though I myself shall probably never see it again, even
though the Englishman watches the publishers' announcements for the
masterpieces that will never appear.

A Wet Day

As we grow older it becomes more and more apparent that our moments
are the ghosts of old moments, our days but pale repetitions of days
that we have known in the past. It might almost be said that after a
certain age we never meet a stranger or win to a new place. The
palace of our soul, grown larger let us hope with the years, is
haunted by little memories that creep out of corners to peep at us
wistfully when we are most sure that we are alone. Sometimes we
cannot hear the voice of the present for the whisperings of the past;
sometimes the room is so full of ghosts that we can hardly breathe.
And yet it is often difficult to find the significance of these dead
days, restored to us to disturb our sense of passing time. Why have
our minds kept secret these trivial records so many years to give
them to us at last when they have no apparent consequence? Perhaps it
is only that we are not clever enough to read the riddle; perhaps
these trifles that we have remembered unconsciously year after year
are in truth the tremendous forces that have made our lives what they
are.

Standing at the window this morning and watching the rain, I suddenly
became conscious of a wet morning long ago when I stood as I stood
now and saw the drops sliding one after another down the steamy
panes. I was a boy of eight years old, dressed in a sailor suit, and
with my hair clipped quite short like a French boy's, and my right
knee was stiff with a half-healed cut where I had fallen on the
gravel path under the schoolroom window, it was a really wet, grey
day. I could hear the rain dripping from the fir-trees on to the
scullery roof, and every now and then a gust of wind drove the rain
down on the soaked lawn with a noise like breaking surf. I could hear
the water gurgling in the pipe that was hidden by the ivy, and I saw
with interest that one of the paths was flooded, so that a canal ran
between the standard rose bushes and recalled pictures of Venice. I
thought it would be nice if it rained truly hard and flooded the
house, so that we should all have to starve for three weeks, and then
be rescued excitingly in boats; but I had not really any hope. Behind
me in the schoolroom my two brothers were playing chess, but had not
yet started quarrelling, and in a corner my little sister was
patiently beating a doll. There was a fire in the grate, but it was
one of those sombre, smoky fires in which it is impossible to take
any interest. The clock on the mantelpiece ticked very slowly, and I
realised that an eternity of these long seconds separated me from
dinner-time. I thought I would like to go out.

The enterprise presented certain difficulties and dangers, but none
that could not be surpassed. I would have to steal down to the hall
and get my boots and waterproof on unobserved. I would have to open
the front door without making too much noise, for the other doors
were well guarded by underlings, and I would have to run down the
front drive under the eyes of many windows. Once beyond the gate I
would be safe, for the wetness of the day would secure me from
dangerous encounters. Walking in the rain would be pleasant than
staying in the dull schoolroom, where life remained unchanged for a
quarter of an hour at a time; and I remembered that there was a
little wood near our house in which I had never been when it was
raining hard. Perhaps I would meet the magician for whom I had looked
so often in vain on sunny days, for it was quite likely that he
preferred walking in bad weather when no one else was about. It would
be nice to hear the drops of rain falling on the roof of the trees,
and to be quite warm and dry underneath. Perhaps the magician would
give me a magic wand, and I would do things like the conjurer last
Christmas.

Certainly I would be punished when I got home, for even if I were not
missed they would see that my boots were muddy and that my waterproof
was wet. I would have no pudding for dinner and be sent to bed in the
afternoon: but these things had happened to me before, and though I
had not liked them at the time, they did not seem very terrible in
retrospect. And life was so dull in the schoolroom that wet morning
when I was eight years old!

And yet I did not go out, but stood hesitating at the window, while
with every gust earth seemed to fling back its curls of rain from its
shining forehead. To stand on the brink of adventure is interesting
in itself, and now that I could think over the details of my
expedition was no longer bored. So I stayed dreaming till the golden
moment for action was passed, and a violent exclamation from one of
the chess-players called me back to a prosaic world. In a second the
board was overturned and the players were locked in battle. My little
sister, who had already the feminine craving for tidiness, crept out
of her corner and meekly gathered the chessmen from under the feet of
the combatants. I had seen it all before, and while I led my forces
to the aid of the brother with whom at the moment I had some sort of
alliance, I reflected that I would have done better to dare the
adventure and set forth into the rainy world.

And this morning when I stood at my window, and my memory a little
cruelly restored to this vision of a day long dead, I was still of
the same opinion. Oh! I should have put on my boots and my waterproof
and gone down to the little wood to meet the enchanter! He would have
given me the cap of invisibility, the purse of Fortunatus, and a pair
of seven-league boots. He would have taught me to conquer worlds, and
to leave the easy triumphs of dreamers to madmen, philosophers, and
poets, He would have made me a man of action, a statesman, a soldier,
a founder of cities or a digger of graves. For there are two kinds of
men in the world when we have put aside the minor distinctions of
shape and colour. There are the men who do things and the men who
dream about them. No man can be both a dreamer and a man of action,
and we are called upon to determine what role we shall play in life
when we are too young to know what to do.

I do not believe that it was a mere wantonness of memory that
preserved the image of that hour with such affectionate detail, where
so many brighter and more eventful hours have disappeared for ever.
It seems to me likely enough that that moment of hesitation before
the schoolroom window determined a habit of mind that has kept me
dreaming ever since. For all my life I have preferred thought to
action; I have never run to the little wood; I have never met the
enchanter. And so this morning, when Fate played me this trick and my
dream was chilled for an instant by the icy breath of the past, I did
not rush out into the streets of life and lay about me with a flaming
sword. No; I picked up my pen and wrote some words on a piece of
paper and lulled my shocked senses with the tranquillity of the
idlest dream of all.

Book of the day: