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The Grim Smile of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett

Part 2 out of 5

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'Will you lend me half-a-sovereign?' Vera repeated, in a glacial
tone. The madness of a desired hat had seized her. She was a
changed Vera. She was not a loving woman, not a duteous young
wife, nor a reasoning creature. She was an embodied instinct for

'It was most distinctly agreed,' Stephen murmured, restraining his

Just then Felix came out of the shop, followed by a procession of
three men bearing cans of petrol. If Stephen was Napoleon and Vera
Wellington, Felix was the Blucher of this deplorable altercation.
Impossible to have a row--yes, a row--with your wife in the
presence of your chauffeur, with his French ideas of chivalry.

'Will you lend me half-a-sovereign?' Vera reiterated, in the same
glacial tone, not caring twopence for the presence of Felix.

And Stephen, by means of an interminable silver chain, drew his
sovereign-case from the profundity of his hip-pocket; it was like
drawing a bucket out of a well. And he gave Vera half-a-
sovereign; and THAT was like knotting the rope for his own

And while Felix and his three men poured gallons and gallons of
petrol into a hole under the cushions of the tonneau, Stephen
swallowed his wrath on the pavement, and Vera remained hidden in
the shop. And the men were paid and went off, and Felix took his
seat ready to start. And then Vera came out of the hat place, and
the new green hat was on her head, and the old one in a bag in her
pretty hands.

'What do you think of my new hat, Felix?' she smiled to the
favoured chauffeur; 'I hope it pleases you.'

Felix said that it did.

In these days, chauffeurs are a great race and a privileged. They
have usurped the position formerly held by military officers.
Women fawn on them, take fancies to them, and spoil them. They can
do no wrong in the eyes of the sex. Vera had taken a fancy to
Felix. Perhaps it was because he had been in a cavalry regiment;
perhaps it was merely the curve of his moustache. Who knows? And
Felix treated her as only a Frenchman can treat a pretty woman,
with a sort of daring humility, with worship--in short, with true
Gallic appreciation. Vera much enjoyed Gallic appreciation. It
ravished her to think that she was the light of poor Felix's
existence, an unattainable star for him. Of course, Stephen didn't
mind. That is to say, he didn't really mind.

The car rushed off in the direction of Exeter, homewards.

That day, by means of Felix's expert illegal driving, they got as
far as Bath; and there were no breakdowns. The domestic atmosphere
in the tonneau was slightly disturbed at the beginning of the run,
but it soon improved. Indeed, after lunch Stephen grew positively
bright and gay. At tea, which they took just outside Bristol, he
actually went so far as to praise the hat. He said that it was a
very becoming hat, and also that it was well worth the money. In a
word, he signified to Vera that their first battle had been fought
and that Vera had won, and that he meant to make the best of it
and accept the situation.

Vera was naturally charmed, and when she was charmed she was
charming. She said to herself that she had always known that she
could manage a man. The recipe for managing a man was firmness
coupled with charm. But there must be no half measures, no
hesitations. She had conquered. She saw her future life stretching
out before her like a beautiful vista. And Stephen was to be her
slave, and she would have nothing to do but to give rein to her
caprices, and charm Stephen when he happened to deserve it.

But the next morning the hat had vanished out of the bedroom of
the exclusive hotel at Bath. Vera could not believe that it had
vanished; but it had. It was not in the hat-box, nor on the couch,
nor under the couch, nor perched on a knob of the bedstead, nor in
any of the spots where it ought to have been. When she realized
that as a fact it had vanished she was cross, and on inquiring
from Stephen what trick he had played with her hat, she succeeded
in conveying to Stephen that she was cross. Stephen was still in
bed, comatose. The tone of his reply startled her.

'Look here, child,' he said, or rather snapped--he had never been
snappish before--'since you took the confounded thing off last
evening I haven't seen it and I haven't touched it, and I don't
know where it is.'

'But you must--'

'I gave in to you about the hat,' Stephen continued to snap,
'though I knew I was a fool to do so, and I consider I behaved
pretty pleasantly over it too. But I don't want any more scenes.
If you've lost it, that's not my fault.'

Such speeches took Vera very much aback. And she, too, in her
turn, now saw the dangers of a quarrel, and in this second
altercation it was Stephen who won. He said he would not even
mention the disappearance of the hat to the hotel manager. He was
sure it must be in one of Vera's trunks. And in the end Vera
performed that day's trip in another hat.

They reached the Five Towns much earlier than they had
anticipated--before lunch on the ninth day, whereas the new
servants in their new house at Bursley were only expecting them
for dinner. So Stephen had the agreeable idea of stopping the car
in front of the new Hotel Metropole at Hanbridge and lunching
there. Precisely opposite this new and luxurious caravanserai (as
they love to call it in the Five Towns) is the imposing garage and
agency where Stephen had hired the Napier car. Felix said he would
lunch hurriedly in order to transact certain business at the
garage before taking them on to Bursley. After lunch, however,
Vera caught him transacting business with a chambermaid in a
corridor. Shocking though the revelation is, it needs to be said
that Felix was kissing the chambermaid. The blow to Mrs
Cheswardine was severe. She had imagined that Felix spent all his
time in gazing up to her as an unattainable star.

She spoke to Stephen about it, in the accents of disillusion.
'What?' cried Stephen. 'Don't you know? They're engaged to be
married. Her name is Mary Callear. She used to be parlourmaid at
Uncle John's at Oldcastle. But hotels pay higher wages.'

Felix engaged to a parlourmaid! Felix, who had always seemed to
Vera a gentleman in disguise! Yes, it was indeed a blow!

But balm awaited Vera at her new home in Bursley. A parcel,
obviously containing a cardboard box, had arrived for Stephen. He
opened it, and the lost hat was inside it. Stephen read a note,
and explained that the hotel people at Bath had found it and
forwarded it. He began to praise the hat anew. He made Vera put it
on instantly, and seemed delighted. So much so that Vera went out
to the porch to say good-bye to Felix in a most forgiving frame of
mind. She forgave Felix for being engaged to the chambermaid.

And there was the chambermaid walking up the drive, quite calmly!
Felix, also quite calmly, asked Vera to excuse him, and told the
chambermaid to get into the car and sit beside him. He then
informed Vera that he had to go with the car immediately to
Oldcastle, and was taking Miss Callear with him for the run, this
being Miss Callear's weekly afternoon off. Miss Callear had come
to Bursley in the electric tram.

Vera shook with swift anger; not at Felix's information, but the
patent fact that Mary Callear was wearing a hat which was the
exact replica of the hat on Vera's own head. And Mary Callear was
seated like a duchess in the car, while Vera stood on the gravel.
And two of Vera's new servants were there to see that Vera was
wearing a hat precisely equivalent to the hat of a chambermaid!

She went abruptly into the house and sought for Stephen--as with a
sword. But Stephen was not discoverable. She ran to her elegant
new bedroom and shut herself in. She understood the plot. She had
plenty of wit. Stephen had concerted it with Felix. In spite of
Stephen's allegations of innocence, the hat had been sent
somewhere--probably to Brunt's at Hanbridge--to be copied at
express speed, and Stephen had presented the copy to Felix, in
order that Felix might present it to Mary Callear the chambermaid,
and the meeting in the front garden had been deliberately arranged
by that odious male, Stephen. Truly, she had not believed Stephen
capable of such duplicity and cruelty.

She removed the hat, gazed at it, and then tore it to pieces and
scattered the pieces on the carpet.

An hour later Stephen crept into the bedroom and beheld the
fragments, and smiled.

'Stephen,' she exclaimed, 'you're a horrid, cruel brute.' 'I know
I am,' said Stephen. 'You ought to have found that out long

'I won't love you any more. It's all over,' she sobbed. But he
just kissed her.



Five days before Christmas, Cheswardine came home to his wife from
a week's sojourn in London on business. Vera, in her quality of
the best-dressed woman in Bursley, met him on the doorstep (or
thereabouts) of their charming but childless home, attired in a
teagown that would have ravished a far less impressionable male
than her husband; while he, in his quality of a prosaic and
flourishing earthenware manufacturer, pretended to take the
teagown as a matter of course, and gave her the sober, solid kiss
of a man who has been married six years and is getting used to it.

Still, the teagown had pleased him, and by certain secret symptoms
Vera knew that it had pleased him. She hoped much from that
teagown. She hoped that he had come home in a more pacific temper
than he had shown when he left her, and that she would carry her
point after all.

Now, naturally, when a husband in easy circumstances, the
possessor of a pretty and pampered wife, spends a week in London
and returns five days before Christmas, certain things are rightly
and properly to be expected from him. It would need an astounding
courage, an amazing lack of a sense of the amenity of conjugal
existence in such a husband to enable him to disappoint such
reasonable expectations. And Cheswardine, though capable of
pulling the curb very tight on the caprices of his wife, was a
highly decent fellow. He had no intention to disappoint; he knew
his duty.

So that during afternoon tea with the teagown in a cosy corner of
the great Chippendale drawing-room he began to unfasten a small
wooden case which he had brought into the house in his own hand,
opened it with considerable precaution, making a fine mess of
packing-stuff on the carpet, and gradually drew to light a pair of
vases of Venetian glass. He put them on the mantlepiece.

'There!' he said, proudly, and with a virtuous air.

They were obviously costly antique vases, exquisite in form,
exquisite in the graduated tints of their pale blue and rose.

'Seventeenth century!' he said.

'They're very nice,' Vera agreed, with a show of enthusiasm. What
are they for?'

'Your Christmas present,' Cheswardine explained, and added 'my

'Oh, Stephen!' she murmured.

A kiss on these occasions is only just, and Cheswardine had one.

'Duveens told me they were quite unique,' he said, modestly; 'and
I believe 'em.'

You might imagine that a pair of Venetian vases of the seventeenth
century, stated by Duveens to be unique, would have satisfied a
woman who had a generous dress allowance and lacked absolutely
nothing that was essential. But Vera was not satisfied. She was,
on the contrary, profoundly disappointed. For the presence of
those vases proved that she had not carried her point. They
deprived her of hope. The unpleasantness before Cheswardine went
to London had been more or less a propos of a Christmas present.
Vera had seen in Bostock's vast emporium in the neighbouring town
of Hanbridge, a music-stool in the style known as art nouveau,
which had enslaved her fancy. She had taken her husband to see it,
and it had not enslaved her husband's fancy in the slightest
degree. It was made in light woods, and the woods were curved and
twisted as though they had recently spent seven years in a
purgatory for sinful trees. Here and there in the design onyx-
stones had been set in the wood. The seat itself was beautifully
soft. What captured Vera was chiefly the fact that it did not open
at the top, as most elaborate music-stools do, but at either side.
You pressed a button (onyx) and the panel fell down displaying
your music in little compartments ready to hand; and the eastern
moiety of the music-stool was for piano pieces, and the western
moiety for songs. In short, it was the last word of music-stools;
nothing could possibly be newer.

But Cheswardine did not like it, and did not conceal his opinion.
He argued that it would not 'go' with the Chippendale furniture,
and Vera said that all beautiful things 'went' together, and
Cheswardine admitted that they did, rather dryly. You see, they
took the matter seriously because the house was their hobby; they
were always changing its interior, which was more than they could
have done for a child, even if they had had one; and Cheswardine's
finer and soberer taste was always fighting against Vera's
predilection for the novel and the bizarre. Apart from clothes,
Vera had not much more than the taste of a mouse.

They did not quarrel in Bostock's. Indeed, they did not quarrel
anywhere; but after Vera had suggested that he might at any rate
humour her by giving her the music-stool for a Christmas present
(she seemed to think this would somehow help it to 'go' with the
Chippendale), and Cheswardine had politely but firmly declined,
there had been a certain coolness and quite six tears. Vera had
caused it to be understood that even if Cheswardine was NOT
interested in music, even if he did hate music and did call the
Broadwood ebony grand ugly, that was no reason why she should be
deprived of a pretty and original music-stool that would keep her
music tidy and that would be HERS. As for it not going with the
Chippendale, that was simply an excuse ... etc.

Hence it is not surprising that the Venetian vases of the
seventeenth century left Vera cold, and that the domestic
prospects for Christmas were a little cold.

However, Vera, with wifely and submissive tact made the best of
things; and that evening she began to decorate the hall, dining-
room, and drawing-room with holly and mistletoe. Before the pair
retired to rest, the true Christmas feeling, slightly tinged with
a tender melancholy, permeated the house, and the servants were
growing excited in advance. The servants weren't going to have a
dinner-party, with crackers and port and a table-centre unmatched
in the Five Towns; the servants weren't going to invite their
friends to an evening's jollity. The servants were merely going to
work somewhat harder and have somewhat less sleep; but such is the
magical effect of holly and mistletoe twined round picture-cords
and hung under chandeliers that the excitement of the servants was
entirely pleasurable.

And as Vera shut the bedroom door, she said, with a delightful,
forgiving smile---

'I saw a lovely cigar-cabinet at Bostock's yesterday.'

'Oh!' said Cheswardine, touched. He had no cigar-cabinet, and he
wanted one, and Vera knew that he wanted one.

And Vera slept in the sweet consciousness of her thoughtful

The next morning, at breakfast, Cheswardine demanded--

'Getting pretty hard up, aren't you, Maria?'

He called her Maria when he wished to be arch.

Well,' she said, 'as a matter of fact, I am. What with the--'

And he gave her a five-pound note.

It happened so every year. He provided her with the money to buy
him a Christmas present. But it is, I hope, unnecessary to say
that the connection between her present to him and the money he
furnished was never crudely mentioned.

She made an opportunity, before he left for the works, to praise
the Venetian vases, and she insisted that he should wrap up well,
because he was showing signs of one of his bad colds.


In the early afternoon she went to Bostock's emporium, at
Hanbridge, to buy the cigar-cabinet and a few domestic trifles.
Bostock's is a good shop. I do not say that it has the classic and
serene dignity of Brunt's, over the way, where one orders one's
dining-room suites and one's frocks for the January dances. But it
is a good shop, and one of the chief glories of the Paris of the
Five Towns. It has frontages in three streets, and it might be
called the shop of the hundred windows. You can buy pretty nearly
anything at Bostock's, from an art nouveau music-stool up to the
highest cheese--for there is a provision department. (You can't
get cheese at Brunt's.)

Vera made her uninteresting purchases first, in the basement, and
then she went up-stairs to the special Christmas department, which
certainly was wonderful: a blaze and splendour of electric light;
a glitter of gilded iridescent toys and knick-knacks; a smiling,
excited, pushing multitude of faces, young and old; and the
cashiers in their cages gathering in money as fast as they could
lay their tired hands on it! A joyous, brilliant scene, calculated
to bring soft tears of satisfaction to the board of directors that
presided over Bostock's. It was a record Christmas for Bostock's.
The electric cars were thundering over the frozen streets of all
the Five Towns to bring customers to Bostock's. Children dreamt of
Bostock's. Fathers went to scoff and remained to pay. Brunt's was
not exactly alarmed, for nothing could alarm Brunt's; but there
was just a sort of suspicion of something in the air at Brunt's
that did not make for odious self-conceit. People seemed to become
intoxicated when they went into Bostock's, to close their heads in
a frenzy of buying.

And there the art nouveau music-stool stood in the corner, where
Vera had originally seen it! She approached it, not thinking of
the terrible danger. The compartments for music lay invitingly

'Four pounds, nine and six, Mrs Cheswardine,' said a shop-walker,
who knew her.

She stopped to finger it.

Well, of course everybody is acquainted with that peculiar ecstasy
that undoubtedly does overtake you in good shops, sometimes,
especially at Christmas. I prefer to call it ecstasy rather than
intoxication, but I have heard it called even drunkenness. It is a
magnificent and overwhelming experience, like a good wine. A blind
instinct seizes your reason and throws her out of the window of
your soul, and then assumes entire control of the volitional
machinery. You listen to no arguments, you care for no
consequences. You want a thing; you must have it; you do have it.

Vera was caught unawares by this magnificent and overwhelming
experience, just as she stooped to finger the music-stool. A fig
for the cigar-cabinet! A fig for her husband's objections! After
all she was a grown-up woman (twenty-nine or thirty), and entitled
to a certain freedom. She was not and would not be a slave. It
would look perfect in the drawing-room.

'I'll take it,' she said.

'Yes, Mrs Cheswardine. A unique thing, quite unique. Penkethman!'

And Vera followed Penkethman to a cash desk and received half-a-
guinea out of a five-pound note.

'I want it carefully packed,' said Vera.

'Yes, ma'am. It will be delivered in the morning.'

She was just beginning to realize that she had been under the
sinister influence of the ecstasy, and that she had not bought the
cigar-cabinet, and that she had practically no more money, and
that Stephen's rule against credit was the strictest of all his
rules, when she caught sight of Mr Charles Woodruff buying toys,
doubtless for his nephews and nieces.

Mr Woodruff was the bachelor friend of the family. He had loved
Vera before Stephen loved her, and he was still attached to her.
Stephen and he were chums of the most advanced kind. Why! Stephen
and Vera thought nothing of bickering in front of Mr Woodruff, who
rated them both and sided with neither.

'Hello!' said Woodruff, flushing, and moving his long, clumsy
limbs when she touched him on the shoulder. 'I'm just buying a few

She helped him to buy toys, and then he asked her to go and have
tea with him at the newly-opened Sub Rosa Tea Rooms, in Machin
Street. She agreed, and, in passing the music-stool, gave a small
parcel which she was carrying to Penkethman, and told him he might
as well put it in the music-stool. She was glad to have tea with
Charlie Woodruff. It would distract her, prevent her from
thinking. The ecstasy had almost died out, and she had a violent
desire not to think.


A terrible blow fell upon her the next morning. Stephen had one of
his bad colds, one of his worst. The mere cold she could have
supported with fortitude, but he was forced to remain indoors, and
his presence in the house she could not support with fortitude.
The music-stool would be sure to arrive before lunch, and he would
be there to see it arrive. The ecstasy had fully expired now, and
she had more leisure to think than she wanted. She could not
imagine what mad instinct had compelled her to buy the music-
stool. (Once out of the shop these instincts always are difficult
to imagine.) She knew that Stephen would be angry. He might
perhaps go to the length of returning the music-stool whence it
came. For, though she was a pretty and pampered woman, Stephen had
a way, in the last resort, of being master of his own house. And
she could not even placate him with the gift of a cigar-cabinet.
She could not buy a five-guinea cigar-cabinet with ten and six.
She had no other money in the world. She never had money, yet
money was always running through her fingers. Stephen treated her
generously, gave her an ample allowance, but he would under no
circumstances permit credit, nor would he pay her allowance in
advance. She had nothing to expect till the New Year.

She attended to his cold, and telephoned to the works for a clerk
to come up, and she refrained from telling Stephen that he must
have been very careless while in London, to catch a cold like
that. Her self-denial in this respect surprised Stephen, but he
put it down to the beneficent influence of Christmas and the
Venetian vases.

Bostock's pair-horse van arrived before the garden gate earlier
than her worse fears had anticipated, and Bostock's men were
evidently in a tremendous hurry that morning. In quite an
abnormally small number of seconds the wooden case containing the
fragile music-stool was lying in the inner hall, waiting to be
unpacked. Having signed the delivery-book Vera stood staring at
the accusatory package. Stephen was lounging over the dining-room
fire, perhaps dozing. She would have the thing swiftly transported
up-stairs and hidden in an attic for a time.

But just then Stephen popped out of the dining-room. Stephen's
masculine curiosity had been aroused by the advent of Bostock's
van. He had observed the incoming of the package from the window,
and he had ventured to the hall to inspect it. The event had
roused him wonderfully from the heavy torpor which a cold induces.
He wore a dressing-gown, the pockets of which bulged with

'You oughtn't to be out here, Stephen,' said his wife.

'Nonsense!' he said. 'Why, upon my soul, this steam heat is warmer
than the dining-room fire.' Vera, silenced by the voice of truth,
could not reply.

Stephen bent his great height to inspect the package. It was an
appetizing Christmas package; straw escaped from between its ribs,
and it had an air of being filled with something at once large and

'Oh!' observed Stephen, humorously. 'Ah! So this is it, is it? Ah!
Oh! Very good!'

And he walked round it.

How on earth had he learnt that she had bought it? She had not
mentioned the purchase to Mr Woodruff.

'Yes, Stephen,' she said timidly. 'That's it, and I hope--'

'It ought to hold a tidy few cigars, that ought,' remarked Stephen

He took it for the cigar-cabinet!

She paused, struck. She had to make up her mind in an instant.

'Oh yes,' she murmured.

'A thousand?'

'Yes, a thousand,' she said.

'I thought so,' murmured Stephen. 'I mustn't kiss you, because
I've got a cold,' said he. 'But, all the same I'm awfully obliged,
Vera. Suppose we have it opened now, eh? Then we could decide
where it is to go, and I could put my cigars in it.'

'Oh no,' she protested. 'Oh no, Stephen! That's not fair! It
mustn't be opened before Christmas morning.'

'But I gave you my vases yesterday.'

'That's different,' she said. 'Christmas is Christmas.' 'Oh, very
well,' he yielded. 'That's all right, my dear.'

Then he began to sniff.

'There's a deuced odd smell from it,' he said.

'Perhaps it's the wood!' she faltered.

'I hope it isn't,' he said. 'I expect it's the straw. A deuced odd
smell. We'll have the thing put in the side hall, next to the
clock. It will be out of the way there. And I can come and gaze at
it when I feel depressed. Eh, Maria?' He was undoubtedly charmed
at the prospect of owning so large and precious a cigar-cabinet.

Considering that the parcel which she had given to Penkethman to
put in the music-stool comprised a half-a-pound of Bostock's very
ripest Gorgonzola cheese, bought at the cook's special request,
the smell which proceeded from the mysterious inwards of the
packing-case did not surprise Vera at all. But it disconcerted her
none the less. And she wondered how she could get the cheese out.

For thirty hours the smell from the unopened packing-case waxed in
vigour and strength. Stephen's cold grew worse and prevented him
from appreciating its full beauty, but he savoured enough of it to
induce him to compare it facetiously to the effluvium of a dead
rat, and he said several times that Bostock's really ought to use
better straw. He was frequently to be seen in the hall, gloating
over his cigar-cabinet. Once he urged Vera to have it opened and
so get rid of the straw, but she refused, and found the nerve to
tell him that he was exaggerating the odour.

She was at a loss what to do. She could not get up in the middle
of the night and unpack the package and hide its guilty secret.
Indeed, to unpack the package would bring about her ruin
instantly; for, the package unpacked, Stephen would naturally
expect to see the cigar-cabinet. And so the hours crept on to
Christmas and Vera's undoing. She gave herself a headache.

It was just thirty hours after the arrival of the package when Mr
Woodruff dropped in for tea. Stephen was asleep in the dining-
room, which apartment he particularly affected during his colds.
Woodruff was shown into the drawing-room, where Vera was having
her headache. Vera brightened. In fact, she suddenly grew very
bright. And she gave Woodruff tea, and took some herself, and
Woodruff passed an enjoyable twenty minutes.

The two Venetian vases were on the mantelpiece. Vera rose into
ecstasies about them, and called upon Charlie Woodruff to rise
too. He got up from his chair to examine the vases, which Vera had
placed close together side by side at the corner of the
mantelpiece nearest to him. Vera and Woodruff also stood close
together side by side. And just as Woodruff was about to handle
the vases, Vera knocked his arm; his arm collided with one vase;
that vase collided with the next, and both fell to earth--to the
hard, unfeeling, unyielding tiles of the hearth.


They were smashed to atoms.

Vera screamed. She screamed twice, and ran out of the room.

'Stephen, Stephen!' she cried hysterically. 'Charlie has broken my
vases, both of them. It IS too bad of him. He's really too

There was a terrific pother. Stephen wakened violently, and in a
moment all three were staring ineffectually at the thousand
crystal fragments on the hearth.

'But--' began Charlie Woodruff.

And that was all he did say.

He and Vera and Stephen had been friends since infancy, so she had
the right not to conceal her feelings before him; Stephen had the
same right. They both exercised it.

'But--' began Charlie again.

'Oh, never mind,' Stephen stopped him curtly. 'Accidents can't be

'I shall get another pair,' said Woodruff.

'No, you won't,' replied Stephen. 'You can't. There isn't another
pair in the world. See?'

The two men simultaneously perceived that Vera was weeping. She
was very pretty in tears, but that did not prevent the masculine
world from feeling awkward and self-conscious. Charlie had notions
about going out and burying himself.

'Come, Vera, come,' her husband enjoined, blowing his nose with
unnecessary energy, bad as his cold was.

'I--I liked those vases more than anything you've--you've ever
given me,' Vera blubbered, charmingly, patting her eyes.

Stephen glanced at Woodruff, as who should say: 'Well, my boy, you
uncorked those tears, I'll leave you to deal with 'em. You see,
I'm an invalid in a dressing-gown. I leave you.'

And went.

'No-but-look-here-I-say,' Charlie Woodruff expostulated to Vera
when he was alone with her--he often started an expostulation with
that singular phrase. 'I'm awfully sorry. I don't know how it
happened. You must let me give you something else.'

Vera shook her head.

'No,' she said. 'I wanted Stephen awfully to give me that music-
stool that I told you about a fortnight ago. But he gave me the
vases instead, and I liked them ever so much better.'

'I shall give you the music-stool. If you wanted it a fortnight
ago, you want it now. It won't make up for the vases, of course,

'No, no,' said Vera, positively.

'Why not?'

'I do not wish you to give me anything. It wouldn't be quite
nice,' Vera insisted.

'But I give you something every Christmas.'

'Do you?' asked Vera, innocently.

'Yes, and you and Stephen give me something.'

'Besides, Stephen doesn't quite like the music-stool.'

'What's that got to do with it? You like it. I'm giving it to you,
not to him. I shall go over to Bostock's tomorrow morning and get

'I forbid you to.'

'I shall.'

Woodruff departed.

Within five minutes the Cheswardine coachman was driving off in
the dogcart to Hanbridge, with the packing-case in the back of the
cart, and a note. He brought back the cigar-cabinet. Stephen had
not stirred from the dining-room, afraid to encounter a tearful
wife. Presently his wife came into the dining-room bearing the
vast load of the cigar-cabinet in her delicate arms.

'I thought it might amuse you to fill it with your cigars--just to
pass the time,' she said.

Stephen's thought was: 'Well, women take the cake.' It was a
thought that occurs frequently to the husbands of Veras.

There was ripe Gorgonzola at dinner. Stephen met it as one meets a
person whom one fancies one has met somewhere but cannot remember

The next afternoon the music-stool came, for the second time, into
the house. Charlie brought it in HIS dogcart. It was unpacked
ostentatiously by the radiant Vera. What could Stephen say in
depreciation of this gift from their oldest and best friend? As a
fact he could and did say a great deal. But he said it when he
happened to be all alone in the drawing-room, and had observed the
appalling way in which the music-stool did not 'go' with the

'Look at the d--thing!' he exclaimed to himself. 'Look at it!'

However, the Christmas dinner-party was a brilliant success, and
after it Vera sat on the art nouveau music-stool and twittered
songs, and what with her being so attractive and birdlike, and
what with the Christmas feeling in the air... well, Stephen
resigned himself to the music-stool.



'What's that you're saying about murder?' asked Mrs Cheswardine as
she came into the large drawing-room, carrying the supper-tray.

'Put it down here,' said her husband, referring to the supper-
tray, and pointing to a little table which stood two legs off and
two legs on the hearth-rug.

'That apron suits you immensely,' murmured Woodruff, the friend of
the family, as he stretched his long limbs into the fender towards
the fire, farther even than the long limbs of Cheswardine. Each
man occupied an easy-chair on either side of the hearth; each was
very tall, and each was forty.

Mrs Cheswardine, with a whisk infinitely graceful, set the tray on
the table, took a seat behind it on a chair that looked like a
toddling grand-nephew of the arm-chairs, and nervously smoothed
out the apron.

As a matter of fact, the apron did suit her immensely. It is
astounding, delicious, adorable, the effect of a natty little
domestic apron suddenly put on over an elaborate and costly frock,
especially when you can hear the rustle of a silk petticoat
beneath, and more especially when the apron is smoothed out by
jewelled fingers. Every man knows this. Every woman knows it. Mrs
Cheswardine knew it. In such matters Mrs Cheswardine knew exactly
what she was about. She delighted, when her husband brought
Woodruff in late of a night, as he frequently did after a turn at
the club, to prepare with her own hands--the servants being in
bed--a little snack of supper for them. Tomato sandwiches, for
instance, miraculously thin, together with champagne or Bass. The
men preferred Bass, naturally, but if Mrs Cheswardine had a fancy
for a sip of champagne out of her husband's tumbler, Bass was not

Tonight it was champagne.

Woodruff opened it, as he always did, and involuntarily poured out
a libation on the hearth, as he almost always did. Good-natured,
ungainly, long-suffering men seldom achieve the art of opening

Mrs Cheswardine tapped her pink-slippered foot impatiently.

'You're all nerves tonight,' Woodruff laughed, 'and you've made me
nervous,' And at length he got some of the champagne into a

'No, I'm not,' Mrs Cheswardine contradicted him.

'Yes, you are, Vera,' Woodruff insisted calmly.

She smiled. The use of that elegant Christian name, with its faint
suggestion of Russian archduchesses, had a strange effect on her,
particularly from the lips of Woodruff. She was proud of it, and
of her surname too--one of the oldest surnames in the Five Towns.
The syllables of 'Vera' invariably soothed her, like a charm.
Woodruff, and Cheswardine also, had called her Vera during the
whole of her life; and she was thirty. They had all three lived in
different houses at the top end of Trafalgar Road, Bursley.
Woodruff fell in love with her first, when she was eighteen, but
with no practical result. He was a brown-haired man, personable
despite his ungainliness, but he failed to perceive that to
worship from afar off is not the best way to capture a young woman
with large eyes and an emotional disposition. Cheswardine, who had
a black beard, simply came along and married the little thing. She
fluttered down on to his shoulders like a pigeon. She adored him,
feared him, cooed to him, worried him, and knew that there were
depths of his mind which she would never plumb. Woodruff, after
being best man, went on loving, meekly and yet philosophically,
and found his chief joy in just these suppers. The arrangement
suited Vera; and as for the husband and the hopeless admirer, they
had always been fast friends.

'I asked you what you were saying about murder,' said Vera
sharply, 'but it seems--'

'Oh! did you?' Woodruff apologized. 'I was saying that murder
isn't such an impossible thing as it appears. Anyone might commit
a murder.'

'Then you want to defend, Harrisford? Do you hear what he says,

The notorious and terrible Harrisford murders were agitating the
Five Towns that November. People read, talked, and dreamt murder;
for several weeks they took murder to all their meals.

'He doesn't want to defend Harrisford at all,' said Cheswardine,
with a superior masculine air, 'and of course anyone might commit
a murder. I might.'

'Stephen! How horrid you are!' 'You might, even!' said Woodruff,
gazing at Vera.

'Charlie! Why, the blood alone--'

'There isn't always blood,' said the oracular husband.

'Listen here,' proceeded Woodruff, who read variously and enjoyed
philosophical speculation. 'Supposing that by just taking thought,
by just wishing it, an Englishman could kill a mandarin in China
and make himself rich for life, without anybody knowing anything
about it! How many mandarins do you suppose there would be left in
China at the end of a week!'

'At the end of twenty-four hours, rather,' said Cheswardine

'Not one,' said Woodruff.

'But that's absurd,' Vera objected, disturbed. When these two men
began their philosophical discussions they always succeeded in
disturbing her. She hated to see life in a queer light. She hated
to think.

'It isn't absurd,' Woodruff replied. 'It simply shows that what
prevents wholesale murder is not the wickedness of it, but the
fear of being found out, and the general mess, and seeing the
corpse, and so on.'

Vera shuddered.

'And I'm not sure,' Woodruff proceeded, 'that murder is so very
much more wicked than lots of other things.'

'Usury, for instance,' Cheswardine put in.

'Or bigamy,' said Woodruff.

'But an Englishman COULDN'T kill a mandarin in China by just
wishing it,' said Vera, looking up.

'How do we know?' said Woodruff, in his patient voice. 'How do we
know? You remember what I was telling you about thought-
transference last week. It was in Borderland.'

Vera felt as if there was no more solid ground to stand on, and it
angered her to be plunging about in a bog.

'I think it's simply silly,' she remarked. 'No, thanks.'

She said 'No, thanks' to her husband, when he tendered his glass.

He moved the glass still closer to her lips.

'I said "No, thanks,"' she repeated dryly.

'Just a mouthful,' he urged.

'I'm not thirsty.'

'Then you'd better go to bed,' said he.

He had a habit of sending her to bed abruptly. She did not dislike
it. But she had various ways of going. Tonight it was the way of
an archduchess.


Woodruff, in stating that Vera was all nerves that evening, was
quite right. She was. And neither her husband nor Woodruff knew
the reason.

The reason had to do most intimately with frocks.

Vera had been married ten years. But no one would have guessed it,
to watch her girlish figure and her birdlike ways. You see, she
was the only child in the house. She often bitterly regretted the
absence of offspring to the name and honour of Cheswardine. She
envied other wives their babies. She doted on babies. She said
continually that in her deliberate opinion the proper mission of
women was babies. She was the sort of woman that regards a
cathedral as a place built especially to sit in and dream soft
domestic dreams; the sort of woman that adores music simply
because it makes her dream. And Vera's brown studies, which were
frequent, consisted chiefly of babies. But as babies amused
themselves by coming down the chimneys of all the other houses in
Bursley, and avoiding her house, she sought comfort in frocks. She
made the best of herself. And it was a good best. Her figure was
as near perfect as a woman's can be, and then there were those
fine emotional eyes, and that flutteringness of the pigeon, and an
ever-changing charm of gesture. Vera had become the best-dressed
woman in Bursley. And that is saying something. Her husband was
wealthy, with an increasing income, though, of course, as an
earthenware manufacturer, and the son and grandson of an
earthenware manufacturer, he joined heartily in the general Five
Towns lamentation that there was no longer any money to be made
out of 'pots'. He liked to have a well-dressed woman about the
house, and he allowed her an incredible allowance, the amount of
which was breathed with awe among Vera's friends; a hundred a
year, in fact. He paid it to her quarterly, by cheque. Such was
his method.

Now a ball was to be given by the members of the Ladies' Hockey
Club (or such of them as had not been maimed for life in the
pursuit of this noble pastime) on the very night after the
conversation about murder. Vera belonged to the Hockey Club (in a
purely ornamental sense), and she had procured a frock for the
ball which was calculated to crown her reputation as a mirror of
elegance. The skirt had--but no (see the columns of the
Staffordshire Signal for the 9th November, 1901). The mischief was
that the gown lacked, for its final perfection, one particular
thing, and that particular thing was separated from Vera by the
glass front of Brunt's celebrated shop at Hanbridge. Vera could
have managed without it. The gown would still have been brilliant
without it. But Vera had seen it, and she WANTED it.

Its cost was a guinea. Well, you will say, what is a guinea to a
dainty creature with a hundred a year? Let her go and buy the
article. The point is that she couldn't, because she had only six
and sevenpence left in the wide world. (And six weeks to
Christmas!) She had squandered--oh, soul above money!--twenty-five
pounds, and more than twenty-five pounds, since the 29th of
September. Well, you will say, credit, in other words, tick? No,
no, no! The giant Stephen absolutely and utterly forbade her to
procure anything whatever on credit. She was afraid of him. She
knew just how far she could go with Stephen. He was great and
terrible. Well, you will say, why couldn't she blandish and cajole
Stephen for a sovereign or so? Impossible! She had a hundred a
year on the clear understanding that it was never exceeded nor
anticipated. Well, you will discreetly hint, there are certain
devices known to housewives.... Hush! Vera had already employed
them. Six and sevenpence was not merely all that remained to her
of her dress allowance; it was all that remained to her of her
household allowance till the next Monday.

Hence her nerves.

There that poor unfortunate woman lay, with her unconscious tyrant
of a husband snoring beside her, desolately wakeful under the
night-light in the large, luxurious bedroom--three servants
sleeping overhead, champagne in the cellar, furs in the wardrobe,
valuable lace round her neck at that very instant, grand piano in
the drawing-room, horses in the stable, stuffed bear in the hall--
and her life was made a blank for want of fourteen and fivepence!
And she had nobody to confide in. How true it is that the human
soul is solitary, that content is the only true riches, and that
to be happy we must be good!

It was at that juncture of despair that she thought of mandarins.
Or rather--I may as well be frank--she had been thinking of
mandarins all the time since retiring to rest. There MIGHT be
something in Charlie's mandarin theory.... According to Charlie,
so many queer, inexplicable things happened in the world. Occult--
subliminal--astral--thoughtwaves. These expressions and many more
occurred to her as she recollected Charlie's disconcerting
conversations. There MIGHT.... One never knew.

Suddenly she thought of her husband's pockets, bulging with
silver, with gold, and with bank-notes. Tantalizing vision! No!
She could not steal. Besides, he might wake up.

And she returned to mandarins. She got herself into a very morbid
and two-o'clock-in-the-morning state of mind. Suppose it was a
dodge that DID work. (Of course, she was extremely superstitious;
we all are.) She began to reflect seriously upon China. She
remembered having heard that Chinese mandarins were very corrupt;
that they ground the faces of the poor, and put innocent victims
to the torture; in short, that they were sinful and horrid
persons, scoundrels unfit for mercy. Then she pondered upon the
remotest parts of China, regions where Europeans never could
penetrate. No doubt there was some unimportant mandarin, somewhere
in these regions, to whose district his death would be a decided
blessing, to kill whom would indeed be an act of humanity.
Probably a mandarin without wife or family; a bachelor mandarin
whom no relative would regret; or, in the alternative, a mandarin
with many wives, whose disgusting polygamy merited severe
punishment! An old mandarin already pretty nearly dead; or, in the
alternative, a young one just commencing a career of infamy!

'I'm awfully silly,' she whispered to herself. 'But still, if
there SHOULD be anything in it. And I must, I must, I must have
that thing for my dress!'

She looked again at the dim forms of her husband's clothes,
pitched anyhow on an ottoman. No! She could not stoop to theft!

So she murdered a mandarin; lying in bed there; not any particular
mandarin, a vague mandarin, the mandarin most convenient and
suitable under all the circumstances. She deliberately wished him
dead, on the off-chance of acquiring riches, or, more accurately,
because she was short of fourteen and fivepence in order to look
perfectly splendid at a ball.

In the morning when she woke up--her husband had already departed
to the works--she thought how foolish she had been in the night.
She did not feel sorry for having desired the death of a fellow-
creature. Not at all. She felt sorry because she was convinced, in
the cold light of day, that the charm would not work. Charlie's
notions were really too ridiculous, too preposterous. No! She must
reconcile herself to wearing a ball dress which was less than
perfection, and all for the want of fourteen and fivepence. And
she had more nerves than ever!

She had nerves to such an extent that when she went to unlock the
drawer of her own private toilet-table, in which her prudent and
fussy husband forced her to lock up her rings and brooches every
night, she attacked the wrong drawer--an empty unfastened drawer
that she never used. And lo! the empty drawer was not empty. There
was a sovereign lying in it!

This gave her a start, connecting the discovery, as naturally at
the first blush she did, with the mandarin.

Surely it couldn't be, after all.

Then she came to her senses. What absurdity! A coincidence, of
course, nothing else? Besides, a mere sovereign! It wasn't enough.
Charlie had said 'rich for life'. The sovereign must have lain
there for months and months, forgotten.

However, it was none the less a sovereign. She picked it up,
thanked Providence, ordered the dog-cart, and drove straight to
Brunt's. The particular thing that she acquired was an exceedingly
thin, slim, and fetching silver belt--a marvel for the money, and
the ideal waist decoration for her wonderful white muslin gown.
She bought it, and left the shop.

And as she came out of the shop, she saw a street urchin holding
out the poster of the early edition of the Signal. And she read on
the poster, in large letters: 'DEATH OF LI HUNG CHANG.' It is no
exaggeration to say that she nearly fainted. Only by the exercise
of that hard self-control, of which women alone are capable, did
she refrain from tumbling against the blue-clad breast of Adams,
the Cheswardine coachman.

She purchased the Signal with well-feigned calm, opened it and
read: 'Stop-press news. Pekin. Li Hung Chang, the celebrated
Chinese statesman, died at two o'clock this morning.--Reuter.'


Vera reclined on the sofa that afternoon, and the sofa was drawn
round in front of the drawing-room fire. And she wore her
fluffiest and languidest peignoir. And there was a perfume of eau
de Cologne in the apartment. Vera was having a headache; she was
having it in her grand, her official manner. Stephen had had to
lunch alone. He had been told that in all probability his
suffering wife would not be well enough to go to the ball.
Whereupon he had grunted. As a fact, Vera's headache was extremely
real, and she was very upset indeed.

The death of Li Hung Chang was heavy on her soul. Occultism was
justified of itself. The affair lay beyond coincidence. She had
always KNOWN that there was something in occultism,
supernaturalism, so-called superstitions, what not. But she had
never expected to prove the faith that was in her by such a
homicidal act on her own part. It was detestable of Charlie to
have mentioned the thing at all. He had no right to play with
fire. And as for her husband, words could give but the merest
rough outline of her resentment against Stephen. A pretty state of
things that a woman with a position such as she had to keep up
should be reduced to six and sevenpence! Stephen, no doubt,
expected her to visit the pawnshop. It would serve him right if
she did so--and he met her coming out under the three brass balls!
Did she not dress solely and wholly to please him? Not in the
least to please herself! Personally she had a mind set on higher
things, impossible aspirations. But he liked fine clothes. And it
was her duty to satisfy him. She strove to satisfy him in all
matters. She lived for him. She sacrificed herself to him
completely. And what did she get in return? Nothing! Nothing!
Nothing! All men were selfish. And women were their victims....
Stephen, with his silly bullying rules against credit and so
forth.... The worst of men was that they had no sense.

She put a new dose of eau de Cologne on her forehead, and leaned
on one elbow. On the mantelpiece lay the tissue parcel containing
the slim silver belt, the price of Li's death. She wanted to stick
it in the fire. And only the fact that it would not burn prevented
her savagely doing so. There was something wrong, too, with the
occultism. To receive a paltry sovereign for murdering the
greatest statesman of the Eastern hemisphere was simply grotesque.
Moreover, she had most distinctly not wanted to deprive China of a
distinguished man. She had expressly stipulated for an inferior
and insignificant mandarin, one that could be spared and that was
unknown to Reuter. She supposed she ought to have looked up China
at the Wedgwood Institution and selected a definite mandarin with
a definite place of residence. But could she be expected to go
about a murder deliberately like that?

With regard to the gross inadequacy of the fiscal return for her
deed, perhaps that was her own fault. She had not wished for more.
Her brain had been so occupied by the belt that she had wished
only for the belt. But, perhaps, on the other hand, vast wealth
was to come. Perhaps something might occur that very night. That
would be better. Yet would it be better? However rich she might
become, Stephen would coolly take charge of her riches, and dole
them out to her, and make rules for her concerning them. And
besides, Charlie would suspect her guilt. Charlie understood her,
and perused her thoughts far better than Stephen did. She would
never be able to conceal the truth from Charlie. The conversation,
the death of Li within two hours, and then a sudden fortune
accruing to her--Charlie would inevitably put two and two together
and divine her shameful secret.

The outlook was thoroughly black anyway.

She then fell asleep.

When she awoke, some considerable time afterwards, Stephen was
calling to her. It was his voice, indeed, that had aroused her.
The room was dark.

'I say, Vera,' he demanded, in a low, slightly inimical tone,
'have you taken a sovereign out of the empty drawer in your

'No,' she said quickly, without thinking.

'Ah!' he observed reflectively, 'I knew I was right.' He paused,
and added, coldly, 'If you aren't better you ought to go to bed.'

Then he left her, shutting the door with a noise that showed a
certain lack of sympathy with her headache.

She sprang up. Her first feeling was one of thankfulness that that
brief interview had occurred in darkness. So Stephen was aware of
the existence of the sovereign! The sovereign was not occult.
Possibly he had put it there. And what did he know he was 'right'

She lighted the gas, and gazed at herself in the glass, realizing
that she no longer had a headache, and endeavouring to arrange her

'What's this?' said another voice at the door. She glanced round
hastily, guiltily. It was Charlie.

'Steve telephoned me you were too ill to go to the dance,'
explained Charlie, 'so I thought I'd come and make inquiries. I
quite expected to find you in bed with a nurse and a doctor or two
at least. What is it?' He smiled.

'Nothing,' she replied. 'Only a headache. It's gone now.'

She stood against the mantelpiece, so that he should not see the
white parcel.

'That's good,' said Charlie.

There was a pause.

'Strange, Li Hung Chang dying last night, just after we had been
talking about killing mandarins,' she said. She could not keep off
the subject. It attracted her like a snake, and she approached it
in spite of the fact that she fervently wished not to approach it.

'Yes,' said Charlie. 'But Li wasn't a mandarin, you know. And he
didn't die after we had been talking about mandarins. He died

'Oh! I thought it said in the paper he died at two o'clock this

'Two a.m. in Pekin,' Charlie answered. 'You must remember that
Pekin time is many hours earlier than our time. It lies so far

'Oh!' she said again.

Stephen hurried in, with a worried air.

'Ah! It's you, Charlie!'

'She isn't absolutely dying, I find,' said Charlie, turning to
Vera: 'You are going to the dance after all--aren't you?'

'I say, Vera,' Stephen interrupted, 'either you or I must have a
scene with Martha. I've always suspected that confounded
housemaid. So I put a marked sovereign in a drawer this morning,
and it was gone at lunch-time. She'd better hook it instantly. Of
course I shan't prosecute.'

'Martha!' cried Vera. 'Stephen, what on earth are you thinking of?
I wish you would leave the servants to me. If you think you can
manage this house in your spare time from the works, you are
welcome to try. But don't blame me for the consequences.' Glances
of triumph flashed in her eyes.

'But I tell you--'

'Nonsense,' said Vera. 'I took the sovereign. I saw it there and I
took it, and just to punish you, I've spent it. It's not at all
nice to lay traps for servants like that.'

'Then why did you tell me just now you hadn't taken it?' Stephen
demanded crossly.

'I didn't feel well enough to argue with you then,' Vera replied.

'You've recovered precious quick,' retorted Stephen with grimness.

'Of course, if you want to make a scene before strangers,' Vera
whimpered (poor Charlie a stranger!), 'I'll go to bed.'

Stephen knew when he was beaten.

She went to the Hockey dance, though. She and Stephen and Charlie
and his young sister, aged seventeen, all descended together to
the Town Hall in a brougham. The young girl admired Vera's belt
excessively, and looked forward to the moment when she too should
be a bewitching and captivating wife like Vera, in short, a woman
of the world, worshipped by grave, bearded men. And both the men
were under the spell of Vera's incurable charm, capricious,
surprising, exasperating, indefinable, indispensable to their

'Stupid superstitions!' reflected Vera. 'But of course I never
believed it really.'

And she cast down her eyes to gloat over the belt.


Curious and strange things had a way of happening to Vera--
perhaps because she was an extremely feminine woman. But of all
the curious and strange things that ever did happen to Vera, this
was certainly the strangest and the most curious. It makes a
somewhat exasperating narrative, because the affair ended--or,
rather, Vera caused it to end--on a note of interrogation. The
reader may, however, draw consolation from the fact that, if he is
tormented by an unanswerable query, Vera herself was much more
tormented by precisely the same query.

Two days before Christmas, at about three o'clock in the
afternoon, just when it was getting dusk and the distant smokepall
of the Five Towns was merging in the general greyness of the
northern sky, Vera was sitting in the bow-window of the drawing-
room of Stephen Cheswardine's newly-acquired house at Sneyd; Sneyd
being the fashionable suburb of the Five Towns, graced by the near
presence of a countess. And as the slim, thirty-year-old Vera sat
there, moody (for reasons which will soon appear), in her charming
teagown, her husband drove up to the door in the dogcart, and he
was not alone. He had with him a man of vigorous and dashing
appearance, fair, far from ugly, and with a masterful face, keen
eyes, and most magnificent furs round about him. At sight of the
visitor Vera's heart did not exactly jump, but it nearly jumped.

Presently, Stephen brought his acquaintance into the drawing-

"My wife," said Stephen, rubbing his hands. "Vera, this is Mr
Bittenger, of New York. He will give us the pleasure of spending
the night here."

And now Vera's little heart really did jump.

She behaved with the delicious wayward grace which she could
always command when she chose to command it. No one would have
guessed that she had not spoken to Stephen for a week.

'I'm most happy--most happy,' said Mr Bittenger, with a marked
accent and a fine complimentary air. And obviously he was most
happy. Vera had impressed him. There was nothing surprising in
that. She was in the fullness of her powers in that direction.

It is at this point--at the point of the first jumping of Vera's
heart--that the tale begins to be uncanny and disturbing. Thus
runs the explanation.

During the year Stephen had gradually grown more and more
preoccupied with the subject of his own health. The earthenware
business was very good, although, of course, manufacturers were
complaining just as usual. Trade, indeed, flourished to such an
extent that Stephen had pronounced himself to be suffering from
nervous strain and overwork. The symptoms of his malady were
chiefly connected with the assimilation of food; to be brief, it
was dyspepsia. And as Stephen had previously been one of those
favoured people who can eat anything at any hour, and arise in the
best of health the next day, Stephen was troubled. At last--about
August, when he was obliged to give up wine--he had suddenly
decided that the grimy air of the Five Towns was bad for him, and
that the household should be removed to Sneyd. And removed to
Sneyd it accordingly was. The new house was larger and more
splendid even than the Cheswardine abode at Bursley. But Vera did
not like the change. Vera preferred the town. Nevertheless, she
could not openly demur, since Stephen's health was supposed to be
at stake.

During the autumn she was tremendously bored at Sneyd. She had
practically no audience for her pretty dresses, and her friends
would not flock over from Bursley because of the difficulty of
getting home at night. Then it was that Vera had the beautiful
idea of spending Christmas in Switzerland. Someone had told her
about a certain hotel called The Bear, where, on Christmas Day,
never less than a hundred well-dressed and wealthy English people
sat down to an orthodox Christmas dinner. The notion enchanted
her. She decided, definitely, that she and Stephen should do their
Christmassing at The Bear, wherever the Bear was. And as she was
fully aware of the power of her capricious charm over Stephen, she
regarded the excursion as arranged before she had broached it to

Stephen refused. He remarked bitterly that the very thought of a
mince-tart made him ill; and that he hated 'abroad'.

Vera took her defeat badly.

She pouted. She sulked. She announced that, if she was not to be
allowed to do her Christmassing at The Bear, she would not do it
anywhere. She indicated that she meant to perish miserably of
ennui in the besotted dullness of Sneyd, and that no Christmas-
party of any kind should occur in HER house. She ceased to show
interest in Stephen's health. She would not speak. In fact, she
went too far. One day, in reply to her rude silence, Stephen said:
'Very well, child, if that's your game, I'll play it with you.
Except when other people are present, not a word do I speak to you
until you have first spoken to me.'

She knew he would abide by that. He was a monster. She hated him.
She loathed him (so she said to herself).

That night, in the agony of her distress, she had dreamed a dream.
She dreamed that a stranger came to the house. The details were
vague, but the stranger had travelled many miles over water. She
could not see him distinctly, but she knew that he was quite bald.
In spite of his baldness he inspired her with sympathy. He
understood her, praised her costumes, and treated a woman as a
woman ought to be treated. Then, somehow or other, he was making
love to her, the monster Stephen being absent. She was shocked by
his making love to her, and she moved a little farther off him on
the sofa (he had sat down by her on a vague sort of sofa in a
vague sort of room); but still she was thrilled, and she could not
feel as wicked as she felt she ought to feel. Then the dream
became hazy; it became hazy at the interesting point of her answer
to the love-making. A later stage was very clear. Something was
afoot between the monster Stephen and the stranger in the dining-
room, and she was locked out of the dining-room. It was Christmas
night. She knocked frantically at the door, and at last forced it
open, and Stephen was lying in the middle of the floor; the table
had been pushed into a corner. 'I killed him quite by accident,'
said the stranger affably. And then he seized her by the hand and
ruthlessly dragged her away, away, away; and they travelled in
trains and ships and trains, and they came to a very noisy,
clanging sort of city--and Vera woke up. It had been a highly
realistic dream, and it made a deep impression on Vera.

Can one wonder that Vera's heart, being a superstitious little
heart, like all our hearts, should leap when the very next day
Stephen turned up with a completely unexpected stranger from New
York? Of course, dreams are nonsense! Of course! Still--

She did not know whether to rejoice or mourn over the fact that Mr
Bittenger was not bald. He was decidedly unbald; he had a glorious
shock of chestnut hair. That hair of his naturally destroyed any
possible connection with the dream. None the less the coincidence
was bizarre.


That evening, before dinner, Vera, busy in her chamber beautifying
her charms for the ravishment of men from New York, waited with
secret anxiety for the arrival of Stephen in his dressing-room.
And whereas she usually closed the door between the bedroom and
the dressing-room, on this occasion she carefully left it wide
open. Stephen came at last. And she waited, listening to his
movements in the dressing-room. Not a word! She made brusque
movements in the bedroom to attract his attention; she even
dropped a brush on the floor. Not a word! After a few moments, she
actually ventured into the dressing-room. Stephen was wiping his
face, and he glanced at her momentarily over the towel, which hid
his nose and mouth. Not a word! And how hard was the monster's
glance! She felt that Stephen was one of your absurd literal
persons. He had said that he would not speak to her until she had
first spoken to him--that was to say in private--public
performances did not count. And he would stick to his text, no
matter how deliciously she behaved.

She left the dressing-room in haste. Very well! Very well! If
Stephen wished for war, he should have it. Her grievance against
him grew into something immense. Before, it had been nothing but a
kind of two-roomed cottage. She now erected it into a town hall,
with imposing portals, and many windows and rich statuary, and
suite after suite of enormous rooms, and marble staircases, and
lifts that went up and down. She wished she had never married him.
She wished that Mr Bittenger HAD been bald.

At dinner everything went with admirable smoothness. Mr Bittenger
sat betwixt them. And utmost politeness reigned. In their quality
of well-bred hosts, they both endeavoured to keep Mr Bittenger at
his ease despite their desolating quarrel; and they entirely
succeeded. As the champagne disappeared (and it was not Stephen
that drank it), Mr Bittenger became more than at his ease. He was
buyer for an important firm of earthenware dealers in New York
(Vera had suspected as much--these hospitalities to American
buyers are an essential part of business in the Five Towns), and
he related very drolly the series of chances or mischances that
had left him stranded in England at that season so unseasonable
for buying. Vera reflected upon the series of chances or
mischances, and upon her dream of the man from over the long miles
of water. Of course, dreams are nonsense.... But still--

The conversation passed to the topic of Stephen's health, as
conversations in Stephen's house had a habit of doing. Mr
Bittenger listened with grave interest.

'I know, I know!' said Mr Bittenger. 'I used to be exactly the
same. I guess I understand how you feel--SOME! Don't I?'

'And you are cured?' Stephen demanded, eagerly, as he nibbled at
dry toast.

'You bet I'm cured!' said Mr Bittenger.

'You must tell me about that,' said Stephen, and added, 'some time
tonight.' He did not care to discuss the bewildering internal
economy of the human frame at his dinner-table. There were
details...and Mr Bittenger was in a mood that it was no
exaggeration to describe as gay.

Shortly afterwards, there arose a discussion as to their
respective ages. They coquetted for a few moments, as men
invariably will, each diffident about giving away the secret, each
asserting that the other was younger than himself.

'Well,' said Mr Bittenger to Vera, at length, 'what age should you
give me?'

'I--I should give you five years less than Stephen,' Vera replied.

'And may I ask just how old you are?' Mr Bittenger put the
question at close range to Stephen, and hit him full in the face
with it.

'I'm forty,' said Stephen.

'So am I!' said Mr Bittenger.

'Well, you don't look it,' said Stephen.

'Sure!' Mr Bittenger admitted, pleased.

'My husband's hair is turning grey,' said Vera, 'while yours--'

'Turning grey!' exclaimed Mr Bittender. 'I wish mine was. I'd give
five thousand dollars today if mine was.'

'But why--?' Vera smiled.

'Look here, my dear lady,' said Mr Bittenger, in a peculiar voice,
putting down his glass.

And with a swift movement he lifted a wig of glorious chestnut
hair from his head--just lifted it for an instant, and dropped it.
The man was utterly and completely bald.


Vera did nothing foolish. She neither cried, screamed, turned
deadly pale, clenched her fragile hands, bit her lips till the
blood came, smashed a wine-glass, nor fell with a dull thud
senseless to the floor. Nevertheless, she was extremely perturbed
by this astounding revelation of Mr Bittenger's. Of course, dreams
are nonsense. But still--The truth is, one tries to believe that
dreams are nonsense, and up to a certain point one may succeed in
believing. But it seemed to Vera that circumstances had passed
that point. She could not but admit, also, that if the dream went
on being fulfilled, within forty-eight hours Mr Bittenger would
have made love to her, and would have killed her husband.

She was so incensed against Stephen that she really could not
decide whether she wanted the dream to be fulfilled or not. No one
would have imagined that that soft breast could conceal a
homicidal thought. Yet so it was. That pretty and delightful
woman, wandering about in the edifice of her terrific grievance
against Stephen, could not say positively to herself that she
would not care to have Stephen killed as a punishment for his

After dinner, she found an excuse for retiring. She must think the
puzzle out in solitude. Matters were really going too far. She
allowed it to be understood that she was indisposed. Mr Bittenger
was full of sorrow and sympathy. But did Stephen show the
slightest concern? Stephen did not. She went upstairs, and she
meditated, stretched on the sofa at the foot of the bed, a rug
over her knees and the fire glinting on her face. Yes, it was her
duty as a Christian, if not as an outraged wife, to warn Stephen
that the shadow of death was creeping up behind him. He ought at
least to be warned. But how could she warn him? Clearly she could
not warn him in the presence of Mr Bittenger, the prospective
murderer. She would, therefore, have to warn him when they were
alone. And that meant that she would have to give way in the great
conjugal sulking match. No, never! It was impossible that she
should give way there! She frowned desperately at the leaping
flames, and did ultimately decide that Stephen's death was
preferable to her defeat in that contest. Of such is human nature.

After all, dreams were nonsense.

Surely Stephen would come upstairs to inquire about her health,
her indisposition? But no! He came not. And, as he continued not
to come, she went downstairs again and proclaimed that she was

And then she learned that she had been worrying herself to no
purpose whatever. Mr Bittenger was leaving on the morrow, the
morrow being Christmas Eve. Stephen would drive him to Bursley in
the morning. He would go to the Five Towns Hotel to get his
baggage, and catch the Liverpool express at noon. He had booked a
passage on the Saxonia, which sailed at threethirty o'clock. Thus
he would spend his Christmas at sea; and, spending his Christmas
at sea, he could not possibly kill Stephen in the village of Sneyd
on Christmas night.

Relief! And yet a certain vague regret in the superstitious little
heart! The little heart went to bed again. And Stephen and the
stranger stayed up talking very late--doubtless about the famous

The leave-taking the next morning increased the vague regret. Mr
Bittenger was the possessor of an attractive individuality, and
Vera pondered upon its attractiveness far into the afternoon. How
nicely Mr Bittenger had thanked her for her gracious hospitality--
with what meaning he had charged the expression of his deep regret
at leaving her!

After all, dreams WERE nonsense.

She was sitting in the bow-window of the drawing-room, precisely
as she had been sitting twenty-four hours previously, when whom
should she see, striding masculinely along the drive towards the
house, but Mr Bittenger?

This time she was much more perturbed even than she had been by
the revelation of Mr Bittenger's baldness.

After all--

She uprose, the blood having rushed to her head, and retreated she
knew not whither, blindly, without a purpose. And found herself in
a little morning-room which was scarcely ever used, at the end of
the hall. She had not shut the door. And Mr Bittenger, having been
admitted by a servant, caught sight of her, and breezily entered
her retreat, clad in his magnificent furs.

And as he doffed the furs, he gaily told her what had happened.
Owing to difficulties with the Cheswardine mare on the frosty,
undulating road between Sneyd and Bursley, and owing to delays
with his baggage at the Five Towns Hotel, he had just missed the
Liverpool express, and, therefore, the steamer also. He had
returned to Stephen's manufactory. Stephen had insisted that he
should spend his Christmas with them. And, in brief, there he was.
He had walked from Bursley. Stephen, kept by business, was coming
later, and so was some of the baggage.

Mr Bittenger's face radiated joy. The loss of his twenty-guinea
passage on the Saxonia did not appear to cause him the least

And he sat down by the side of Vera.

And Vera suddenly noticed that they were on a sofa--the sofa of
her dream--and she fancied she recognized the room.

'You know, my dear lady,' said Mr Bittenger, looking her straight
in the eyes, 'I'm just GLAD I missed my steamer. It gives me a
chance to spend a Christmas in England, and in your delightful
society--your delightful society--' He gazed at her, without
adding to the sentence.

If this was not love-making on a sofa, what could be?

Mr Bittenger had certainly missed the Liverpool express on
purpose. Of that Vera was convinced. Or, if he had not missed it
on purpose, he had missed it under the dictates of the mysterious
power of the dream. Those people who chose to believe that dreams
are nonsense were at liberty to do so.


So that in spite of Vera's definite proclamation that there should
be no Christmassing in her house that year, Christmassing there
emphatically was. Impossible to deny anything to Mr Bittenger! Mr
Bittenger wanted holly, the gardener supplied it. Mr Bittenger
wanted mistletoe, a bunch of it was brought home by Stephen in the
dogcart. Mr Bittenger could not conceive an English Christmas
without turkey, mince-pies, plum-pudding, and all the usual
indigestiveness. Vera, speaking in a voice which seemed somehow
not to be hers, stated that these necessaries of Christmas life
would be produced, and Stephen did not say that the very thought
of a mince-tart made him ill. Even the English weather, which, it
is notorious, has of late shown a sad disposition to imitate, and
even to surpass, in mildness the weather of the Riviera at
Christmas, decided to oblige Mr Bittenger. At nightfall on
Christmas Eve it began to snow gently, but steadily--fine, frozen
snow. And the waits, consisting of boys and girls from the
Countess of Chell's celebrated institute close by, came and sang
in the garden in the falling snow, by the light of a lantern. And
Mr Bittenger's heart was as full as it could hold of English

As for Vera's heart, it was full of she knew not what. Mr
Bittenger's attitude towards her grew more and more chivalrous. He
contrived to indicate that he regarded all the years he had spent
before making the acquaintance of Vera as so many years absolutely
wasted. And Stephen did not seem to care.

They retired to rest that evening up a staircase whose banisters
the industrious hands of Mr Bittenger had entwined with holly and
paper festoons, and bade each other a merry Christmas with immense
fervour; but in the conjugal chamber Stephen maintained his policy
of implacable silence. And, naturally, Vera maintained hers. Could
it be expected of her that she should yield? The fault was all
Stephen's. He ought to have taken her to The Bear, Switzerland.
Then there would have been no dream, no Mr Bittenger, and no
danger. But as things were, within twenty-four hours he would be a
dead man.

And throughout Christmas Day Vera, beneath the gaiety with which
she met the vivacious sallies of Mr Bittenger, waited in horrible
suspense for the dream to fulfil itself. Stephen alone observed
her agitated condition. Stephen said to himself: 'The quarrel is
getting on her nerves. She'll yield before she's a day older. It
will do her good. Then I'll make it up to her handsomely. But she
must yield first.'

He little knew he was standing on the edge of the precipice of

The Christmas dinner succeeded admirably; and Stephen, in whom
courage was seldom lacking, ate half a mince-pie. The day was
almost over. No premature decease had so far occurred. And when
both the men said that, if Vera permitted, they would come with
her at once to the drawing-room and smoke there, Vera decided that
after all dreams were nonsense. She entered the drawing-room
first, and Mr Bittenger followed her, with Stephen behind; but
just as Stephen was crossing the mat the gardener, holding a
parcel in his hands and looking rather strange there in the hall,
spoke to him. And Stephen stopped and called to Mr Bittenger. And
the drawing-room door was closed upon Vera.

She waited, solitary, for an incredible space of time, and then,
having heard unaccustomed and violent sounds in the distance, she
could contain herself no longer, and she rang the bell.

'Louisa,' she demanded of the parlourmaid, 'where is your master?'

'Oh, ma'am,' replied Louisa, giggling--a little licence was surely
permissible to the girl on Christmas night--'Oh, ma'am, there's
such a to-do! Tinsley has just brought some boxing-gloves, and
master and Mr Bittenger have got their coats off in the dining-
room. And they've had the table pushed up by the door, and you
never saw such a set-out in all your life ma'am.'

Vera dismissed Louisa.

There it was--the dream! They were going to box. Mr Bittenger was
doubtless an expert, and she knew that Stephen was not. A chance
blow by Mr Bittenger in some vital part, and Stephen would be
lying stretched in eternal stillness in the middle of the dining-
room floor where the table ought to be! The life of the monster
was at stake! The life of the brute was in her hands! The dream
was fulfilling itself to the point of tragedy!

She jumped up and rushed to the dining-room door. It would not
open. Again, the dream!

'You can't come in,' cried Stephen, laughing. 'Wait a bit.'

She pushed against the door, working the handle.

She was about to insist upon the door being opened, when the idea
of the danger of such a proceeding occurred to her. In the dream,
when she got the door opened, her husband's death had already

Frantically she ran to the kitchen.

'Louisa,' she ordered. 'Go into the garden and tap at the dining-
room window, and tell your master that I must speak to him at once
in the drawing-room.'

And in a pitiable state of excitation, she returned to the

After another interminable period of suspense, her ear caught the
sound of the opening of doors, and then Stephen came into the
drawing-room. A singular apparition! He was coatless, as Louisa
had said, and the extremities of his long arms were bulged out
with cream-coloured boxing-gloves.

She sprang at him and kissed him.

'Steve,' she said, 'are we friends?'

'I should think we were!' he replied, returning her kiss heartily.
He had won.

'What are you doing?' she asked him.

'Bittenger and I are just going to have a real round with the
gloves. It's part of his cure for my indigestion, you know. He
says there's nothing like it. I've only just been able to get
gloves. Tinsley brought them up just now. And so we sort of
thought we'd like to have a go at once.'

'Why wouldn't you let me into the dining-room?'

'My child, the table was up against the door. And I fancied,
perhaps, you wouldn't be exactly charmed, so I--'

'Stephen,' she said, in her most persuasive voice, 'will you do
something to please me?'

'What is it?'

'Will you?'

A pause.

'Yes, certainly.'

'Don't box tonight.'

'Oh--well! What will Bittenger think?'

Another pause.

'Never mind! You don't want me to box, really?'

'I don't want you to box--not tonight.' 'Agreed, my chuck!' And he
kissed her again. He could well afford to be magnanimous.

Mr Bittenger ploughed the seas alone to New York.

But supposing that Vera had not interfered, what would have
happened? That is the unanswerable query which torments the
superstitious little brain of Vera.



Lady Dain said: 'Jee, if that portrait stays there much longer,
you'll just have to take me off to Pirehill one of these fine

Pirehill is the seat of the great local hospital; but it is also
the seat of the great local lunatic asylum; and when the
inhabitants of the Five Towns say merely 'Pirehill', they mean the

'I do declare I can't fancy my food now-a-days,' said Lady Dain,
'and it's all that portrait!' She stared plaintively up at the
immense oil-painting which faced her as she sat at the breakfast-
table in her spacious and opulent dining-room.

Sir Jehoshaphat made no remark.

Despite Lady Dain's animadversions upon it, despite the undoubted
fact that it was generally disliked in the Five Towns, the
portrait had cost a thousand pounds (some said guineas), and
though not yet two years old it was probably worth at least
fifteen hundred in the picture market. For it was a Cressage; and
not only was it a Cressage--it was one of the finest Cressages in

It marked the summit of Sir Jehoshaphat's career. Sir
Jehoshaphat's career was, perhaps, the most successful and
brilliant in the entire social history of the Five Towns. This
famous man was the principal partner in Dain Brothers. His brother
was dead, but two of Sir Jee's sons were in the firm. Dain
Brothers were the largest manufacturers of cheap earthenware in
the district, catering chiefly for the American and Colonial
buyer. They had an extremely bad reputation for cutting prices.
They were hated by every other firm in the Five Towns, and, to
hear rival manufacturers talk, one would gather the impression
that Sir Jee had acquired a tremendous fortune by systematically
selling goods under cost. They were also hated by between eighteen
and nineteen hundred employees. But such hatred, however virulent,
had not marred the progress of Sir Jee's career.

He had meant to make a name and he had made it. The Five Towns
might laugh at his vulgar snobbishness. The Five Towns might sneer
at his calculated philanthropy. But he was, nevertheless, the
best-known man in the Five Towns, and it was precisely his
snobbishness and his philanthropy which had carried him to the
top. Moreover, he had been the first public man in the Five Towns
to gain a knighthood. The Five Towns could not deny that it was
very proud indeed of this knighthood. The means by which he had
won this distinction were neither here nor there--he had won it.
And was he not the father of his native borough? Had he not been
three times mayor of his native borough? Was not the whole
northern half of the county dotted and spangled by his
benefactions, his institutions, his endowments?

And it could not be denied that he sometimes tickled the Five
Towns as the Five Towns likes being tickled. There was, for
example, the notorious Sneyd incident. Sneyd Hall, belonging to
the Earl of Chell, lies a few miles south of the Five Towns, and
from it the pretty Countess of Chell exercises that condescending
meddlesomeness which so frequently exasperates the Five Towns. Sir
Jee had got his title by the aid of the Countess-'Interfering
Iris', as she is locally dubbed. Shortly afterwards he had
contrived to quarrel with the Countess; and the quarrel was
conducted by Sir Jee as a quarrel between equals, which delighted
the district. Sir Jee's final word in it had been to buy a sizable
tract of land near Sneyd village, just off the Sneyd estate, and
to erect thereon a mansion quite as imposing as Sneyd Hall, and
far more up to date, and to call the mansion Sneyd Castle. A
mighty stroke! Iris was furious; the Earl speechless with fury.
But they could do nothing. Naturally the Five Towns was tickled.

It was apropos of the house-warming of Sneyd Castle, also of the
completion of his third mayoralty, and of the inauguration of the
Dain Technical Institute, that the movement had been started
(primarily by a few toadies) for tendering to Sir Jee a popular
gift worthy to express the profound esteem in which he was
officially held in the Five Towns. It having been generally felt
that the gift should take the form of a portrait, a local
dilettante had suggested Cressage, and when the Five Towns had
inquired into Cressage and discovered that that genius from the
United States was celebrated throughout the civilized world, and
regarded as the equal of Velazquez (whoever Velazquez might be),
and that he had painted half the aristocracy, and that his income
was regal, the suggestion was accepted and Cressage was

Cressage haughtily consented to paint Sir Jee's portrait on his
usual conditions; namely, that the sitter should go to the little
village in Bedfordshire where Cressage had his principal studio,
and that the painting should be exhibited at the Royal Academy
before being shown anywhere else. (Cressage was an R.A., but no
one thought of putting R.A. after his name. He was so big, that
instead of the Royal Academy conferring distinction on him, he
conferred distinction on the Royal Academy.)

Sir Jee went to Bedfordshire and was rapidly painted, and he came
back gloomy. The presentation committee went to Bedfordshire later
to inspect the portrait, and they, too, came back gloomy.

Then the Academy Exhibition opened, and the portrait, showing Sir
Jee in his robe and chain and in a chair, was instantly hailed as
possibly the most glorious masterpiece of modern times. All the
critics were of one accord. The committee and Sir Jee were
reassured, but only partially, and Sir Jee rather less so than the
committee. For there was something in the enthusiastic criticism
which gravely disturbed him. An enlightened generation, thoroughly
familiar with the dazzling yearly succession of Cressage's
portraits, need not be told what this something was. One critic
wrote that Cressage displayed even more than his 'customary
astounding insight into character....' Another critic wrote that
Cressage's observation was, as usual, 'calmly and coldly hostile'.
Another referred to the 'typical provincial mayor, immortalized
for the diversion of future ages.'

Inhabitants of the Five Towns went to London to see the work for
which they had subscribed, and they saw a mean, little, old man,
with thin lips and a straggling grey beard, and shifty eyes, and
pushful snob written all over him; ridiculous in his gewgaws of
office. When you looked at the picture close to, it was a
meaningless mass of coloured smudges, but when you stood fifteen
feet away from it the portrait was absolutely lifelike, amazing,
miraculous. It was so wondrously lifelike that some of the
inhabitants of the Five Towns burst out laughing. Many people felt
sorry--not for Sir Jee--but for Lady Dain. Lady Dain was beloved
and genuinely respected. She was a simple, homely, sincere woman,
her one weakness being that she had never been able to see through
Sir Jee.

Of course, at the presentation ceremony the portrait had been
ecstatically referred to as a possession precious for ever, and
the recipient and his wife pretended to be overflowing with pure
joy in the ownership of it.

It had been hanging in the dining-room of Sneyd Castle about
sixteen months, when Lady Dain told her husband that it would
ultimately drive her into the lunatic asylum.

'Don't be silly, wife,' said Sir Jee. 'I wouldn't part with that
portrait for ten times what it cost.'

This was, to speak bluntly, a downright lie. Sir Jee secretly
hated the portrait more than anyone hated it. He would have been
almost ready to burn down Sneyd Castle in order to get rid of the
thing. But it happened that on the previous evening, in the
conversation with the magistrates' clerk, his receptive brain had
been visited by a less expensive scheme than burning down the

Lady Dain sighed.

'Are you going to town early?' she inquired.

'Yes,' he replied. 'I'm on the rota today.'

He was chairman of the borough Bench of magistrates. As he drove
into town he revolved his scheme and thought it wild and
dangerous, but still feasible.


On the Bench that morning Sir Jee shocked Mr Sherratt, the
magistrates' clerk, and he utterly disgusted Mr Bourne,
superintendent of the borough police. (I do not intend to name the
name of the borough--whether Bursley, Hanbridge, Knype, Longshaw,
or Turnhill. The inhabitants of the Five Towns will know without
being told; the rest of the world has no right to know.) There had
recently occurred a somewhat thrilling series of burglaries in the
district, and the burglars (a gang of them was presumed) had
escaped the solicitous attentions of the police. But on the
previous afternoon an underling of Mr Bourne's had caught a man
who was generally believed to be wholly or partly responsible for
the burglaries. The Five Towns breathed with relief and
congratulated Mr Bourne; and Mr Bourne was well pleased with
himself. The Staffordshire Signal headed the item of news, 'Smart
Capture of a Supposed Burglar'. The supposed burglar gave his name
as William Smith, and otherwise behaved in an extremely suspicious

Now, Sir Jee, sitting as chief magistrate in the police-court,
actually dismissed the charge against the man! Overruling his sole
colleague on the Bench that morning, Alderman Easton, he dismissed
the charge against William Smith, holding that the evidence for
the prosecution was insufficient to justify even a remand. No
wonder that Mr Bourne was discouraged, not to say angry. No wonder
that that pillar of the law, Mr Sherratt, was pained and shocked.
At the conclusion of the case Sir Jehoshaphat said that he would
be glad to speak with William Smith afterwards in the magistrates'
room, indicating that he sympathized with William Smith, and
wished to exercise upon William Smith his renowned philanthropy.

And so, at about noon, when the Court majestically rose, Sir Jee
retired to the magistrates' room, where the humble Alderman Easton
was discreet enough not to follow him, and awaited William Smith.
And William Smith came, guided thither by a policeman, to whom, in
parting from him, he made a rude, surreptitious gesture.

Sir Jee, seated in the arm-chair which dominates the other chairs
round the elm table in the magistrates' room, emitted a
preliminary cough.

'Smith,' he said sternly, leaning his elbows on the table, 'you
were very fortunate this morning, you know.'

And he gazed at Smith.

Smith stood near the door, cap in hand. He did not resemble a
burglar, who surely ought to be big, muscular, and masterful. He
resembled an undersized clerk who has been out of work for a long
time, but who has nevertheless found the means to eat and drink
rather plenteously. He was clothed in a very shabby navy-blue
suit, frayed at the wrists and ankles, and greasy in front. His
linen collar was brown with dirt, his fingers were dirty, his hair
was unkempt and long, and a young and lusty black beard was
sprouting on his chin. His boots were not at all pleasant.

'Yes, governor,' Smith replied, lightly, with a Manchester accent.

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