Part 1 out of 5
THE SLAVE OF THE LAMP
HENRY SETON MERRIMAN
Henry Seton Merriman published his first novel, "Young Mistley," in
1888, when he was twenty-six years old. Messrs. Bentley's reader, in his
critique on the book, spoke of its "powerful situations" and
unconventionality of treatment: and, while dwelling at much greater
length on its failings, declared, in effect, its faults to be the right
faults, and added that, if "Young Mistley" was not in itself a good
novel, its author was one who might hereafter certainly write good
"Young Mistley" was followed in quick succession by "The Phantom
Future," "Suspense," and "Prisoners and Captives." Some years later,
considering them crude and immature works, the author, at some
difficulty and with no little pecuniary loss, withdrew all these four
first books from circulation in England. Their republication in America
he was powerless to prevent. He therefore revised and abbreviated them,
"conscious," as he said himself in a preface, "of a hundred defects
which the most careful revision cannot eliminate." He was perhaps then,
as he was ever, too severe a critic of his own works. But though these
four early books have, added to youthful failings, the youthful merits
of freshness, vigour and imagination, their author was undoubtedly right
to suppress them. By writing them he learnt, it is true, the technique
of his art: but no author wishes--or no author should wish--to give his
copy-books to the world. It is as well then--it is certainly as he
himself desired--that these four books do not form part of the present
edition. It may, however, be noted that both "Young Mistley" and
"Prisoners and Captives" dealt, as did "The Sowers" hereafter, with
Russian subjects: "Suspense" is the story of a war-correspondent in the
Russo-Turkish War of 1877: and "The Phantom Future" is the only novel of
Merriman's in which the scene is laid entirely in his own country.
In 1892 he produced "The Slave of the Lamp," which had run serially
through the _Cornhill Magazine_, then under the editorship of Mr.
To Mr. Payn, Merriman always felt that he owed a debt of gratitude for
much shrewd and kindly advice and encouragement. But one item of that
advice he neglected with, as Mr. Payn always generously owned, great
advantage. Mr. Payn believed that the insular nature of the ordinary
Briton made it, as a general rule, highly undesirable that the scene of
any novel should be laid outside the British Isles.
After 1892 all Merriman's books, with the single exception of "Flotsam,"
which appeared serially in _Longman's Magazine_, and was, at first,
produced in book form by Messrs. Longman, were published by the firm of
Messrs. Smith, Elder, & Co.
His long and serene connection with the great and honourable house which
had produced the works of such masters of literature as Thackeray,
Charlotte Bronte, and Robert Browning, was always a source of sincere
pleasure to him. He often expressed the opinion that, from the moment
when, as an inexperienced and perfectly unknown author, he sent "Young
Mistley" to Messrs. Bentley, until the time when, as a very successful
one, he was publishing his later novels with Messrs. Smith, Elder, he
had invariably received from his publishers an entirely just and upright
Also in 1892 he produced "From One Generation to Another": and, two
years later, the first of his really successful novels, "With Edged
Tools." It is the only one of his books of which he never visited the
_mise-en-scene_--West Africa: but he had so completely imbued
himself with the scenery and the spirit of the country that few, if any,
of his critics detected that he did not write of it from personal
experience. Many of his readers were firmly convinced of the reality of
the precious plant, Simiacine, on whose discovery the action of the plot
turns. More than one correspondent wrote to express a wish to take
shares in the Simiacine Company!
"With Edged Tools" was closely followed by "The Grey Lady." Some
practical experience of a seafaring life, a strong love of it, and a
great fellow-feeling for all those whose business is in great waters,
helped the reality of the characters of the sailor brothers and of the
sea-scenes generally. The author was for some years, and at the time
"The Grey Lady" was written, an underwriter at Lloyd's, so that on the
subject of ship insurance--a subject on which it will be remembered
part of the plot hinges--he was _en pays de connaissance_. For the
purpose of this story, he travelled in the Balearic Islands, having,
earlier, made the first of many visits to Spain.
One of the strongest characteristics in his nature, as it is certainly
one of the strongest characteristics in his books, was his sympathy
with, and, in consequence, his understanding of, the mind of the
foreigner. For him, indeed, there were no alien countries. He learnt the
character of the stranger as quickly as he learnt his language. His
greatest delight was to merge himself completely in the life and
interests of the country he was visiting--to stay at the mean
_venta_, or the _auberge_ where the tourist was never seen--to
sit in the local cafes of an evening and listen to local politics and
gossip; to read for the time nothing but the native newspapers, and no
literature but the literature, past and present, of the land where he
was sojourning; to follow the native customs, and to see Spain, Poland
or Russia with the eyes and from the point of view of the Spaniard, the
Pole or the Russian.
The difficulties--sometimes there were even serious difficulties--of
visiting places where there was neither provision nor protection made
for the stranger, always acted upon him not as deterrent but incentive:
he liked something to overcome, and found the safe, comfortable,
convenient resting-places as uncongenial to his nature as they were
unproductive for the purposes of his work.
In 1896 "The Sowers" was published. Merriman's travels in Russia had
taken place some years before--before, in fact, the publication of
"Young Mistley"--but time had not at all weakened the strong and sombre
impression which that great country and its unhappy people had left upon
him. The most popular of all his books with his English public, Merriman
himself did not consider it his best. It early received the compliment
of being banned by the Russian censor: very recently, a Russian woman
told the present writers that "The Sowers" is still the first book the
travelling Russian buys in the Tauchnitz edition, as soon as he is out
of his own country--"we like to hear the truth about ourselves."
In the same year as "The Sowers," Merriman produced "Flotsam." It is
not, strictly speaking, a romance: some of its main incidents were taken
from the life of a young officer of the 44th Regiment in Early Victorian
days. The character of Harry Wylam is, as a whole, faithful to its
prototype; and the last scene in the book, recording Harry's death in
the Orange Free State, as he was being taken in a waggon to the
missionary station by the Bishop of the State, is literally accurate.
Merriman had visited India as a boy; so here, too, the scenery is from
the brush of an eye-witness.
His next novel, "In Kedar's Tents," was his first Spanish novel--pure
and simple: the action of "The Grey Lady" taking place chiefly in
All the country mentioned in "In Kedar's Tents" Merriman visited
personally--riding, as did Frederick Conyngham and Concepcion Vara, from
Algeciras to Ronda, then a difficult ride through a wild, beautiful and
not too safe district, the accommodation at Algeciras and Ronda being at
that time of an entirely primitive description. Spain had for Merriman
ever a peculiar attraction: the character of the Spanish
gentleman--proud, courteous, dignified--particularly appealed to him.
The next country in which he sought inspiration was Holland. "Roden's
Corner," published in 1898, broke new ground: its plot, it will be
remembered, turns on a commercial enterprise. The title and the main
idea of the story were taken from Merriman's earliest literary venture,
the beginning of a novel--there were only a few chapters of it--which
he had written before "Young Mistley," and which he had discarded,
The novel "Dross" was produced in America in 1899, having appeared
serially in this country in a well-known newspaper. Written during a
period of ill-health, Merriman thought it beneath his best work, and,
true to that principle which ruled his life as an author, to give to the
public so far as he could of that best, and of that best only, he
declined (of course to his own monetary disadvantage) to permit its
publication in England in book form.
Its _mise-en-scene_ is France and Suffolk; its period the Second
Empire--the period of "The Last Hope." Napoleon III., a character by
whom Merriman was always peculiarly attracted, shadows it: in it appears
John Turner, the English banker of Paris, of "The Last Hope"; an
admirable and amusing sketch of a young Frenchman; and an excellent
description of the magnificent scenery about Saint Martin Lantosque, in
the Maritime Alps.
For the benefit of "The Isle of Unrest," his next book, Merriman had
travelled through Corsica--not the Corsica of fashionable hotels and
health-resorts, but the wild and unknown parts of that lawless and
magnificent island. For "The Velvet Glove" he visited Pampeluna,
Saragossa, and Lerida. The country of "The Vultures"--Warsaw and its
neighbourhood--he saw in company with his friend, Mr. Stanley Weyman.
The pleasure of another trip, the one he took in western
France--Angouleme, Cognac, and the country of the Charente--for the
scenery of "The Last Hope," was also doubled by Mr. Weyman's presence.
In Dantzig--the Dantzig of "Barlasch of the Guard"--Merriman made a stay
in a bitter mid-winter, visiting also Vilna and Koenigsberg; part of the
route of the Great Retreat from Moscow he traced himself. He was
inclined to consider--and if an author is not quite the worst judge of
his own work he is generally quite the best--that in "Barlasch" he
reached his high-water mark. The short stories, comprised in the volume
entitled "Tomaso's Fortune," were published after his death. In every
case, the _locale_ they describe was known to Merriman personally.
At the Monastery of Montserrat--whence the monk in "A Small World" saw
the accident to the diligencia--the author had made a stay of some days.
The Farlingford of "The Last Hope" is Orford in Suffolk: the French
scenes, as has been said, Merriman had visited with Mr. Weyman, whose
"Abbess of Vlaye" they also suggested. The curious may still find the
original of the Hotel Gemosac in Paris--not far from the Palais d'Orsay
Hotel--"between the Rue de Lille and the Boulevard St. Germain."
"The Last Hope" was not, in a sense, Merriman's last novel. He left at
his death about a dozen completed chapters, and the whole plot carefully
mapped out, of yet another Spanish book, which dealt with the Spain of
the Peninsular War of 1808-14. These chapters, which were destroyed by
the author's desire, were of excellent promise, and written with great
vigour and spirit. His last trip was taken, in connection with this
book, to the country of Sir Arthur Wellesley's exploits. The plot of the
story was concerned with a case of mistaken identity; the sketch of a
Guerilla leader, Pedro--bearing some affinity to the Concepcion Vara of
"In Kedar's Tents"--was especially happy.
It has been seen that Merriman was not the class of author who "sits in
Fleet Street and writes news from the front." He strongly believed in
the value of personal impressions, and scarcely less in the value of
first impressions. In his own case, the correctness of his first
impressions--what he himself called laughingly his _"coup
d'oeil"_--is in a measure proved by a note-book, now lying before the
writers, in which he recorded his views of Bastia and the Corsicans
after a very brief acquaintance--that view requiring scarcely any
modification when first impressions had been exchanged for real
knowledge and experience.
As to his methods of writing, in the case of all his novels, except the
four early suppressed ones, he invariably followed the plan of drawing
out the whole plot and a complete synopsis of every chapter before he
began to write the book at all.
Partly as a result of this plan perhaps, but more as a result of great
natural facility in writing, his manuscripts were often without a single
erasure for many pages; and a typewriter was really a superfluity.
It is certainly true to say that no author ever had more pleasure in his
art than Merriman. The fever and the worry which accompany many literary
productions he never knew.
Among the professional critics he had neither personal friends nor
personal foes; and accepted their criticisms--hostile or
favourable--with perfect serenity and open-mindedness. He was, perhaps,
if anything, only too ready to alter his work in accordance with their
advice: he always said that he owed them much; and admired their
perspicuity in detecting a promise in his earliest books, which he
denied finding there himself. His invincible modesty made him ready to
accept not only professional criticism but--a harder thing--the advice
of critics on the hearth. It was out of compliance with such a domestic
criticism that the _denouement_ in "The Sowers" was re-written as
it now stands, the scene of the attack on the Castle being at first
The jealousy and bitterness which are supposed to be inseparable from
the literary life certainly never affected Merriman's. He had no trace
of such feelings in his nature. Of one who is known to the public
exclusively through his writings, it may seem strange--but it is not the
less true--to say that his natural bent was not to the life of a
literary man, but to a life of action, and that it was fate, rather than
inclination, which made him express himself in words instead of deeds. A
writer's books are generally his best biography: the "strong, quiet
man," whose forte was to do much and say nothing; who, like Marcos
Sarrion, loved the free and plain life of the field and the open, was a
natural hero for Merriman, "as finding there unconsciously some image of
To any other biography he was strongly opposed. His dislike of the
advertisement and the self-advertisement of the interview and the
personal paragraph deepened with time. He held strongly and
consistently, as he held all his opinions, that a writer should be known
to the public by his books, and by his books only. One of his last
expressed wishes was that there should be no record of his private life.
It is respect for that wish which here stays the present writers' pen.
I. IN THE RUE ST. GINGOLPHE
III. WITHOUT REST
V. A REUNION
VI. BROKEN THREADS
VIII. FALSE METAL
IX. A CLUE
X. ON THE SCENT
XI. BURY BLUFF
XII. A WARNING WORD
XIII. A NIGHT WATCH
XVII. A RETREAT
XVIII. AN EMPTY NEST
XIX. FOUL PLAY
XXI. TRUE TO HIS CLOTH
XXII. GREEK AND GREEK
XXIII. STRICKEN DOWN
XXIV. BACK TO LIFE
XXV. BACK TO WORK
XXVI. SIGNOR BRUNO
XXVII. IN THE RUE ST GINGOLPHE AGAIN
XXVIII. THE MAKING OF CHRISTIAN VELLACOTT
IN THE RUE ST. GINGOLPHE
It was, not so many years ago, called the Rue de l'Empire, but
republics are proverbially sensitive. Once they are established they
become morbidly desirous of obliterating a past wherein no republic
flourished. The street is therefore dedicated to St. Gingolphe to-day.
To-morrow? Who can tell?
It is presumably safe to take it for granted that you are located in the
neighbourhood of the Louvre, on the north side of the river which is so
unimportant a factor to Paris. For all good Englishmen have been, or
hope in the near future to be, located near this spot. All good
Americans, we are told, relegate the sojourn to a more distant future.
The bridge to cross is that of the Holy Fathers. So called to-day. Once
upon a time--but no matter. Bridges are peculiarly liable to change in
troubled times. The Rue St. Gingolphe is situated between the Boulevard
St. Germain and Quai Voltaire. One hears with equal facility the
low-toned boom of the steamers' whistle upon the river, and the crack of
whips in the boulevard. Once across the bridge, turn to the right, and
go along the Quay, between the lime-trees and the bookstalls. You will
probably go slowly because of the bookstalls. No one worth talking to
could help doing so. Then turn to the left, and after a few paces you
will find upon your right hand the Rue St. Gingolphe. It is noted in the
Directory "Botot" that this street is one hundred and forty-five metres
long; and who would care to contradict "Botot," or even to throw the
faintest shadow of a doubt upon his statement? He has probably measured.
If your fair and economical spouse should think of repairing to the
Bon-Marche to secure some of those wonderful linen pillow-cases (at one
franc forty) with your august initial embroidered on the centre with a
view of impressing the sleeper's cheek, she will pass the end of the Rue
St. Gingolphe on her way--provided the cabman be honest. There! You
cannot help finding it now.
The street itself is a typical Parisian street of one hundred and
forty-five metres. There is room for a baker's, a cafe, a bootmaker's,
and a tobacconist who sells very few stamps. The Parisians do not write
many letters. They say they have not time. But the tobacconist makes up
for the meanness of his contribution to the inland revenue of one
department by a generous aid to the other. He sells a vast number of
cigarettes and cigars of the very worst quality. And it is upon the
worst quality that the Government makes the largest profit. It is in
every sense of the word a weed which grows as lustily as any of its
compeers in and around Oran, Algiers, and Bonah.
The Rue St. Gingolphe is within a stone's-throw of the Ecole des
Beaux-Arts, and in the very centre of a remarkably cheap and yet
respectable quarter. Thus there are many young men occupying apartments
in close proximity--and young men do not mind much what they smoke,
especially provincial young men living in Paris. They feel it incumbent
upon them to be constantly smoking something--just to show that they are
Parisians, true sons of the pavement, knowing how to live. And their
brightest hopes are in all truth realised, because theirs is certainly a
reckless life, flavoured as it is with "number one" tobacco, and those
"little corporal" cigarettes which are enveloped in the blue paper.
The tobacconist's shop is singularly convenient. It has, namely, an
entrance at the back, as well as that giving on to the street of St.
Gingolphe. This entrance is through a little courtyard, in which is the
stable and coach-house combined, where Madame Perinere, a lady who
paints the magic word "Modes" beneath her name on the door-post of
number seventeen, keeps the dapper little cart and pony which carry her
bonnets to the farthest corner of Paris.
The tobacconist is a large man, much given to perspiration. In fact, one
may safely make the statement that he perspires annually from the middle
of April to the second or even third week in October. In consequence of
this habit he wears no collar, and a man without a collar does not start
fairly on the social race. It is always best to make inquiries before
condemning a man who wears no collar. There is probably a very good
reason, as in the case of Mr. Jacquetot, but it is to be feared that few
pause to seek it. One need not seek the reason with much assiduity in
this instance, because the tobacconist of the Rue St. Gingolphe is
always prepared to explain it at length. French people are thus. They
talk of things, and take pleasure in so doing, which we, on this side of
the Channel, treat with a larger discretion.
Mr. Jacquetot does not even wear a collar on Sunday, for the simple
reason that Sunday is to him as other days. He attends no place of
worship, because he acknowledges but one god--the god of most
Frenchmen--his inner man. His pleasures are gastronomical, his sorrows
stomachic. The little shop is open early and late, Sundays, week-days,
and holidays. Moreover, the tobacconist--Mr. Jacquetot himself--is
always at his post, on the high chair behind the counter, near the
window, where he can see into the street. This constant attention to
business is almost phenomenal, because Frenchmen who worship the god of
Mr. Jacquetot love to pay tribute on fete-days at one of the little
restaurants on the Place at Versailles, at Duval's, or even in the
Palais Royal. Mr. Jacquetot would have loved nothing better than a
pilgrimage to any one of these shrines, but he was tied to the little
tobacco store. Not by the chains of commerce. Oh, no! When rallied by
his neighbours for such an unenterprising love of his own hearth, he
merely shrugged his heavy shoulders.
"What will you?" he would say; "one has one's affairs."
Now the affairs of Mr. Jacquetot were, in the days with which we have to
do, like many things on this earth, inasmuch as they were not what they
It would be inexpedient, for reasons closely connected with the
tobacconist of the Rue St. Gingolphe, as well as with other gentlemen
still happily with us in the flesh, to be too exact as to dates. Suffice
it, therefore, to say that it was only a few years ago that Mr.
Jacquetot sat one evening as usual in his little shop. It happened to be
a Tuesday evening, which is fortunate, because it was on Tuesdays and
Saturdays that the little barber from round the corner called and shaved
the vast cheeks of the tobacconist. Mr. Jacquetot was therefore quite
presentable--doubly so, indeed, because it was yet March, and he had not
yet entered upon his summer season.
The little street was very quiet. There was no through traffic, and
folks living in this quarter of Paris usually carry their own parcels.
It was thus quite easy to note the approach of any passenger, when such
had once turned the corner. Some one was approaching now, and Mr.
Jacquetot threw away the stump of a cheap cigar. One would almost have
said that he recognised the step at a considerable distance. Young
people are in the habit of considering that when one gets old and stout
one loses in intelligence; but this is not always the case. One is apt
to expect little from a fat man; but that is often a mistake. Mr.
Jacquetot weighed seventeen stone, but he was eminently intelligent. He
had recognised the footstep while it was yet seventy metres away.
In a few moments a gentleman of middle height paused in front of the
shop, noted that it was a tobacconist's, and entered, carrying an
unstamped letter with some ostentation. It must, by the way, be
remembered that in France postage-stamps are to be bought at all
The new-comer's actions were characterised by a certain carelessness, as
if he were going through a formula--perfunctorily--without admitting its
He nodded to Mr. Jacquetot, and rather a pleasant smile flickered for a
moment across his face. He was a singularly well-made man, of medium
height, with straight, square shoulders and small limbs. He wore
spectacles, and as he looked at one straight in the face there was a
singular contraction of the eyes which hardly amounted to a
cast--moreover, it was momentary. It was precisely the look of a hawk
when its hood is suddenly removed in full daylight. This resemblance was
furthered by the fact that the man's profile was birdlike. He was
clean-shaven, and there was in his sleek head and determined little face
that smooth, compact self-complacency which is to be noted in the head
of a hawk.
The face was small, like that of a Greek bust, but in expression it
suggested a yet older people. There was that mystic depth of expression
which comes from ancient Egypt. No one feature was obtrusive--all were
chiselled with equal delicacy; and yet there was only one point of real
beauty in the entire countenance. The mouth was perfect. But the man
with a perfect mouth is usually one whom it will be found expedient to
avoid. Without a certain allowance of sensuality no man is
genial--without a little weakness there is no kind heart. This
Frenchman's mouth was not, however, obtrusively faultless. It was
perfect in its design, but, somehow, many people failed to take note of
the fact. It is so with the "many," one finds. The human world is so
blind that at times it would be almost excusable to harbour the
suspicion that animals see more. There may be something in that instinct
by which dogs, horses, and cats distinguish between friends and foes,
detect sympathy, discover antipathy. It is possible that they see things
in the human face to which our eyes are blinded--intentionally and
mercifully blinded. If some of us were a little more observant, a few of
the human combinations which we bring about might perhaps be less
It was probably the form of the lips that lent pleasantness to the smile
with which Mr. Jacquetot was greeted, rather than the expression of the
velvety eyes, which had in reality no power of smiling at all. They were
sad eyes, like those of the women one sees on the banks of the Upper
Nile, which never alter in expression--eyes that do not seem to be busy
with this life at all, but fully occupied with something else: something
beyond to-morrow or behind yesterday.
"Not yet arrived?" inquired the new-comer in a voice of some
distinction. It was a full, rich voice, and the French it spoke was not
the French of Mr. Jacquetot, nor, indeed, of the Rue St. Gingolphe. It
was the language one sometimes hears in an old _chateau_ lost in
the depths of the country--the vast unexplored rural districts of
France--where the bearers of dangerously historical names live out their
lives with a singular suppression and patience. They are either biding
their time or else they are content with the past and the part played by
their ancestors therein. For there is an old French and a new. In Paris
the new is spoken--the very newest. Were it anything but French it would
be intolerably vulgar; as it is, it is merely neat and intensely
"Not yet arrived, sir," said the tobacconist, and then he seemed to
recollect himself, for he repeated:
"Not yet arrived," without the respectful addition which had slipped out
The new arrival took out his watch--a small one of beautiful
workmanship, the watch of a lady--and consulted it. His movements were
compact and rapid. He would have made a splendid light-weight boxer.
"That," he said shortly, "is the way they fail. They do not understand
the necessity of exactitude. The people--see you, Mr. Jacquetot, they
fail because they have no exactitude."
"But I am of the people," moving ponderously on his chair.
"Essentially so. I know it, my friend. But I have taught you something."
The tobacconist laughed.
"I suppose so. But is it safe to stand there in the full day? Will you
not pass in? The room is ready; the lamp is lighted. There is an agent
of the police always at the end of the street now."
"Ah, bah!" and he shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. "I am not
afraid of them. There is only one thing to be feared, Citizen
Jacquetot--the press. The press and the people, _bien entendu_."
"If you despise the people why do you use them?" asked Jacquetot
"In default of better, my friend. If one has not steam one uses the
river to turn the mill-wheel. The river is slow; sometimes it is too
weak, sometimes too strong. One never has full control over it, but it
turns the wheel--it turns the wheel, brother Jacquetot."
"And eventually sweeps away the miller," suggested the tobacconist
lightly. It must be remembered that though stout he was intelligent. Had
he not been so it is probable that this conversation would never have
taken place. The dark-eyed man did not look like one who would have the
patience to deal with stupid people.
Again the pleasant smile flickered like the light of a fire in a dark
"That," was the reply, "is the affair of the miller."
"But," conceded Jacquetot, meditatively selecting a new cigar from a box
which he had reached without moving from his chair, "but the
people--they are fools, hein!"
"Ah!" with a protesting shrug, as if deprecating the enunciation of such
Then he passed through into a little room behind the shop--a little room
where no daylight penetrated, because there was no window to it. It
depended for daylight upon the shop, with which it communicated by a
door of which the upper half was glass. But this glass was thickly
curtained with the material called Turkey-red, threefold.
And the tobacconist was left alone in his shop, smoking gravely. There
are some people like oysters, inasmuch as they leave an after-taste
behind them. The man who had just gone into the little room at the rear
of the tobacconist's shop of the Rue St. Gingolphe in Paris was one of
these. And the taste he left behind him was rather disquieting. One was
apt to feel that there was a mistake somewhere in the ordering of human
affairs, and that this man was one of its victims.
In a few minutes two men passed hastily through the shop into the little
room, with scarcely so much as a nod for Mr. Jacquetot.
The first man to enter the room was clad in a blouse of coarse grey
cloth which reached down to his knees. On his head he wore a black silk
cap, very much pressed down and exceedingly greasy on the right side.
This was to be accounted for by the fact that he used his right shoulder
more than the left in that state of life in which he had been placed. It
was not what we, who do not kill, would consider a pleasant state. He
was, in fact, a slayer of beasts--a foreman at the slaughter-house.
It is, perhaps, fortunate that Antoine Lerac is of no great prominence
in this record, and of none in his official capacity at the
slaughter-house. But the man is worthy of some small attention, because
he was so essentially of the nineteenth century--so distinctly a product
of the latter end of what is, for us at least, the most important cycle
of years the world has passed through. He was a man wearing the blouse
with ostentation, and glorying in the greasy cap: professing his
unwillingness to exchange the one for an ermine robe or the other for a
crown. As a matter of fact, he invariably purchased the largest and
roughest blouse to be found, and his cap was unnecessarily soaked with
suet. He was a knight of industry of the very worst description--a
braggart, a talker, a windbag. He preached, or rather he shrieked, the
doctrine of equality, but the equality he sought was that which would
place him on a par with his superiors, while in no way benefiting those
At one time, when he had first come into contact with the dark-eyed man
who now sat at the table watching him curiously, there had been a
struggle for mastery.
"I am," he had said with considerable heat, "as good as you. That is all
I wish to demonstrate."
"No," replied the other with that calm and assured air of superiority
which the people once tried in vain to stamp out with the guillotine.
"No, it is not. You want to demonstrate that you are superior, and you
cannot do it. You say that you have as much right to walk on the
pavement as I. I admit it. In your heart you want to prove that you have
_more_, and you cannot do it. I could wear your blouse with
comfort, but you could not put on my hat or my gloves without making
yourself ridiculous. But--that is not the question. Let us get to
And in time the butcher succumbed, as he was bound to do, to the man
whom he shrewdly suspected of being an aristocrat.
He who entered the room immediately afterwards was of a very different
type. His mode of entry was of another description. Whereas the man of
blood swaggered in with an air of nervous truculence, as if he were
afraid that some one was desirous of disputing his equality, the next
comer crept in softly, and closed the door with accuracy. He was the
incarnation of benevolence--in the best sense of the word, a sweet old
man--looking out upon the world through large tinted spectacles with a
beam which could not be otherwise than blind to all motes. In earlier
years his face might, perhaps, have been a trifle hard in its contour;
but Time, the lubricator, had eased some of the corners, and it was now
the seat of kindness and love. He bowed ceremoniously to the first
comer, and his manner seemed rather to breathe of fraternity than
equality. As he bowed he mentioned the gentleman's name in such loving
tones that no greeting could have been heartier.
"Citizen Morot," he said.
The butcher, with more haste than dignity, assumed the chair which stood
at the opposite end of the table to that occupied by the Citizen Morot.
He had evidently hurried in first in order to secure that seat. From his
pocket he produced a somewhat soiled paper, which he threw with
exaggerated carelessness across the table. His manner was not entirely
free from a suggestion of patronage.
"What have we here?" inquired the first comer, who had not hitherto
opened his lips, with a deep interest which might possibly have been
ironical. He was just the sort of man to indulge in irony for his own
satisfaction. He unfolded the paper, raised his eyebrows, and read.
"Ah!" he said, "a receipt for five hundred rifles with bayonets and
shoulder-straps complete. 'Received of the Citizen Morot five hundred
rifles with bayonets and shoulder-straps complete.--Antoine Lerac.'"
He folded the paper again and carefully tore it into very small pieces.
"Thank you," he said gravely.
Then he turned in his chair and threw the papers into the ash-tray of
the little iron stove behind him.
"I judged it best to be strictly business-like," said the butcher, with
moderately well-simulated carelessness.
"But yes, Monsieur Lerac," with a shrug. "We of the Republic distrust
each other so completely."
The old gentleman looked from one to the other with a soothing smile.
"The brave Lerac," he said, "is a man of business."
Citizen Morot ignored this observation.
"And," he said, turning to Lerac, "you have them stored in a safe place?
There is absolutely no doubt of that?"
"They are under my own eye."
"Very good. It is not for a short time only, but for some months. One
cannot hurry the people. Besides, we are not ready. The rifles we
bought, the ammunition we must steal."
"They are good rifles--they are English," said the butcher.
"Yes; the English Government is full of chivalry. They are always ready
to place it within the power of their enemies to be as well armed as
The old gentleman laughed--a pleasant, cooing laugh. He invariably
encouraged humour, this genial philanthropist.
"At last Friday's meeting," Lerac said shortly, "we enrolled forty new
members. We now number four hundred and two in our _arrondissement_
"Good," muttered the Citizen Morot, without enthusiasm.
"And four hundred hardy companions they are."
"So I should imagine" (very gravely).
"Four hundred strong men," broke in the old gentleman rather hastily.
"Ah, but that is already a power."
"It is," opined Lerac sententiously, "the strong man who is the power.
Riches are nothing; birth is nothing. This is the day of force. Force is
"Everything," acquiesced Morot fervently. He was consulting a small
note-book, wherein he jotted down some figures.
"Four hundred and two," he muttered as he wrote, "up to Friday night, in
the _arrondissement_ of the citizen--the good citizen--Antoine
The butcher looked up with a doubtful expression upon his coarse face.
His great brutal lips twitched, and he was on the point of speaking when
the Citizen Morot's velvety eyes met his gaze with a quiet smile in
which arrogance and innocence were mingled.
"And now," said the last-mentioned, turning affably to the old
gentleman, "let us have the report of the reverend Father."
"Ah," laughed Lerac, without attempting to conceal the contempt that was
in his soul, "the Church."
The old gentleman spread out his hands in mild deprecation.
"Yes," he admitted, "we are under a shadow. I do not even dare to wear
"You are in a valley of shadow, my reverend friend," said the butcher,
with visible exultation, "to which the sun will never penetrate now."
The Citizen Morot laughed at this pleasantry, while the old man against
whom it was directed bowed his head patiently.
"And yet," said the laugher, with a certain air of patronage, "the
Church is of some use still. She paid for those rifles, and she will pay
for the ammunition--is it not so, my father?"
"Without doubt--without doubt."
"Not to mention," continued the other, "many contributions towards our
general fund. The force that is supplied by the strong right arm of the
people is, one finds, a force constantly in need of substantial
"But," exclaimed the butcher, emphatically banging his fist down upon
the table, "why does she do it? That is what I want to know!"
The old priest glanced furtively towards Morot, and then his face
assumed an air of childish bewilderment.
"Ah!" he said guilelessly, "who can tell?"
"Who, indeed!" chimed in Morot.
The butcher was pleased with himself. He sat upright, and, banging the
table a second time, he looked round defiantly.
"But," said Morot, in an indifferent way which was frequently
characteristic, "I do not see that it matters much. The money is good.
It buys rifles, and it places them in the hands of the Citizen Lerac and
his hardy companions. And when all is said and done, when the cartridges
are burnt and a New Commune is raised, what does it matter whose money
bought the rifles, and with what object the money was supplied?"
The old gentleman looked relieved. He was evidently of a timid and
conciliatory nature, and would, with slight encouragement, have turned
upon that Church of which he was the humble representative, merely for
the sake of peace.
The butcher cleared his throat after the manner of the streets--causing
Morot to wince visibly--and acquiesced.
"But," he added cunningly, "the Church, see you--Ach! it is deep--it is
treacherous. Never trust the Church!"
The Citizen Morot, to whom these remarks were addressed, smiled in a
singular way and made no reply. Then he turned gravely to the old man
"Have you nothing to report to us--my father?"
"Nothing of great importance," replied he humbly. "All is going on well.
We are in treaty for two hundred rifles with the Montenegrin Government,
and shall no doubt carry the contract through. I go to England next week
in order to carry out the--the--what shall I say?--the loan of the
"Ha, ha!" laughed the butcher.
Morot smiled also, as he made an entry in the little note-book.
"Next week?" he said interrogatively.
The butcher here rose and ostentatiously dragged out a watch from the
depths of his blouse.
"I must go," he said. "I have committee at seven o'clock. And I shall
"Yes," said Morot gravely. "Dine first. Take good care of yourself,
"I do," was the reply, delivered with a little nod in answer to Lerac's
curt farewell bow.
The butcher walked noisily through the shop--heavy with
responsibility--weighted with the sense of his own importance to the
world in general and to France in particular. Had he walked less noisily
he might have overheard the soft laugh of the old priest.
Citizen Morot did not laugh. He was not a laughing man. But a fine,
disdainful smile passed over his face, scarce lighting it up at all.
"What an utter fool the man is!" he said impatiently.
"Yes--sir," replied the old man, "but if he were less so it would be
difficult to manage him."
"I am not sure. I always prefer to deal with knaves than with fools."
"That is because your Highness knows how to outwit them."
"No titles--my father," said the Citizen Morot quietly. "No titles here,
if you please. Tell me, are you quite sure of this scum--this Lerac?"
"As sure as one can be of anything that comes from the streets. He is an
excitable, bumptious, quarrelsome man; but he has a certain influence
with those beneath him, although it seems hard to realise that there are
"Ha! you are right! But a republic is a social manure-heap--that which
is on the top is not pleasant, and the stuff below--ugh!"
The manner of the two men had quite changed. He who was called Morot
leant back in his seat and stretched his arms out wearily. There is no
disguise like animation; when that is laid aside we see the real man or
the real woman. In repose this Frenchman was not cheerful to look upon.
He was not sanguine, and a French pessimist is the worst thing of the
kind that is to be found.
When the door had closed behind the departing Lerac, the old priest
seemed to throw off suddenly quite a number of years. His voice, when
next he spoke, was less senile, his movements were brisker. He was, in a
word, less harmless.
Mr. Jacquetot had finished his dinner, brought in from a neighbouring
restaurant all hot, and was slumberously enjoying a very strong-smelling
cigar, when the door of the little room opened at length, and the two
men went out together into the dimly-lighted street.
Half-way down Fleet Street, on the left-hand side, stands the church of
St. Dunstan-in-the-West. Around its grimy foundations there seethes a
struggling, toiling race of men--not only from morning till night, but
throughout the twenty-four hours. Within sound of this church bell a
hundred printing-presses throb out their odorous broadsheets to be
despatched to every part of the world. Day and night, week in week out,
the human writing-machines, and those other machines which are almost
human (and better than human in some points) hurry through their
allotted tasks, and ignore the saintly shadow cast upon them by the
spire of St. Dunstan. This is indeed the centre of the world: the hub
from whence spring the spokes of the vast wheel of life. For to this
point all things over the world converge by a vast web of wire,
railroad, coach road, and steamer track. Upon wings that boast of
greater speed than the wind can compass come to this point the voices of
our kin in farthest lands. News--news--news. News from the East of
events occurring in the afternoon--scan it over and flash it westward,
where it will be read on the morning of the same day! News in every
tongue to be translated and brought into shape--while the solemn church
clock tells his tale in deep voice, audible above the din and scurry.
From hurried scribbler to pale compositor, and behold, the news is
bawled all over London! Such work as this goes on for ever around the
church of St. Dunstan. Scribblers come and scribblers go; compositors
come to their work young and hopeful, they leave it bent and poisoned,
yet the work goes on. Each day the pace grows quicker, each day some new
means of rapid propagation is discovered, and each day life becomes
harder to live. One morning, perhaps, a scribbler is absent from his
post--"Brain-fever, complete rest; a wreck." For years his writings have
been read by thousands daily. A new man takes the vacant chair--he has
been waiting more or less impatiently for this--and the thousands are
none the wiser. One night the head compositor presses his black hand to
his sunken chest, and staggers home. "And time too--he's had his turn,"
mutters the second compositor as he thinks of the extra five shillings a
week. No doubt he is right. Every dog his day.
Nearly opposite to the church stands a tall narrow house of dirty red
brick, and it is with this house that we have to do.
At seven o'clock, one evening some years ago--when heads now grey were
brown, when eyes now dim were bright--the Strand was in its usual state
of turmoil. Carriage followed carriage. Seedy clerks hustled past portly
merchants--not their own masters, _bien entendu_, but those of
other seedy clerks. Carriages and foot-passengers were alike going
westward. All were leaving behind them the day and the busy city--some
after a few hours devoted to the perusal of _Times_ and
_Gazette_; others fagged and weary from a long day of dusty books.
Ah! those were prosperous days in the City. Days when men of but a few
years' standing rolled out to Clapham or Highgate behind a pair of
horses. Days when books were often represented by a bank-book and a
roughly-kept day-book. What need to keep mighty ledgers when profits are
great and returns quick in their returning?
As the pedestrians made their way along the narrow pavement some of them
glanced at the door of the tall red-brick house and read the inscription
on a brass plate screwed thereon. This consisted of two mystic words:
_The Beacon_. There was, however, in reality, no mystery about it.
The _Beacon_ was a newspaper, published weekly, and the clock of
St. Dunstan's striking seven told the end of another week. The
publishing day was past; another week with its work and pleasure was to
From early morning until six o'clock in the evening this narrow doorway
and passage had been crowded by a heaving, swearing, laughing mass of
more or less dilapidated humanity interested in the retail sale of
newspapers. At six o'clock Ephraim Bander, a retired constable, now on
the staff of the _Beacon_, had taken his station at the door, in
order to greet would-be purchasers with the laconic and discouraging
words: "Sold hout!"
During the last two years ex-constable Bander had announced the selling
"hout" of the _Beacon_ every Tuesday evening.
At seven o'clock Mrs. Bander emerged from her den on the fourth floor,
like a portly good-natured spider, and with a broom proceeded to attack
the dust shaken from the boots of the journalistic fraternity, with
noisy energy. After that she polished the door-plate; and peace reigned
within the narrow house.
On the second floor there was a small room with windows looking out into
a narrow lane behind the house. It was a singularly quiet room; the door
opened and shut without sound or vibration; double windows insured
immunity from the harrowing cries of such enterprising merchants as
exercised their lungs and callings in the narrow lane beneath. A certain
sense of ease and comfort imperceptibly crept over the senses of persons
entering this tiny apartment. It must have been in the atmosphere; for
some rooms more luxuriously furnished are without it. It certainly does
not lie in the furniture--this imperceptible sense of companionship; it
does not lurk in the curtains. Some mansions know it, and many cottages.
It is even to be met with in the tiny cabin of a coasting vessel.
This diminutive room, despite its lack of sunlight, was such as one
might wish to sit in. A broad low table stood in the middle of the
floor, and on it lay the mellow light of a shaded lamp. At this table
two men were seated opposite to each other. One was writing, slowly and
easily, the other was idling with the calm restfulness of a man who has
never worked very hard. He was rolling his pencil up to the top of his
blotting-pad, and allowing it to come down again in accordance with the
rules of gravity.
This was Mr. Bodery's habit when thoughtful; and after all, there was no
great harm in it. Mr. Bodery was editor and proprietor of the
_Beacon_. The amusing and somewhat satirical article which appeared
weekly under the heading of "Light" was penned by the chubby hand at
that moment engaged with the pencil.
Mr. Morgan, sub-editor, was even stouter than his chief. Laughter was
his most prominent characteristic. He laughed over "Light" when in its
embryo state, he laughed when the _Beacon_ sold out at six o'clock
on Tuesday evenings. He laughed when the printing-machine went wrong on
Monday afternoon, and--most wonderful of all--he laughed at his own
jokes, in which exercise he was usually alone. His jokes were not of the
first force. Mr. Morgan was the author of the slightly laboured and
weighty Parliamentary articles on the first page. He never joked on
paper, which is a gift apart.
These two gentlemen were in no way of brilliant intellect. They had
their share of sound, practical common-sense, which is in itself a
splendid substitute. Fortune had come to them (as it comes to most men
when it comes at all) without any apparent reason. Mr. Bodery had
supplied the capital, and Mr. Morgan's share of the undertaking was
added in the form of a bustling, hollow energy. The _Beacon_ was
lighted, so to speak. It burnt in a dull and somewhat flickering manner
for some years; then a new hand fed the flame, and its light spread
It was from pure good nature that Mr. Bodery held out a helping hand to
the son of his old friend, Walter Vellacott, when that youth appeared
one day at the office of the _Beacon_, and in an off-hand manner
announced that he was seeking employment. Like many actions performed
from a similar motive, Mr. Bodery's kindness of heart met with its
reward. Young Christian Vellacott developed a remarkable talent for
journalistic literature--in fact, he was fortunate enough to have found,
at the age of twenty-two, his avocation in life.
Gradually, as the years wore on, the influence of the young fellow's
superior intellect made itself felt. Prom the position of a mere
supernumerary, he worked his way upwards, taking on to his shoulders one
duty after another--bearing the weight, quietly and confidently, of one
responsibility after another. This exactly suited Mr. Bodery and his
sub-editor. There was very little of the slave in the composition of
either. They delighted in an easy, luxurious life, with just enough work
to impart a pleasant feeling of self-satisfaction. It suited Christian
Vellacott also. In a few weeks he found his level--in a few months he
began rising to higher levels.
He was an only son; the only child of a brilliant father whose name was
known in every court in Europe as that of a harum-scarum diplomatist,
who could have done great things in his short life if he had wished to.
It is from only sons that Fortune selects her favourites. Men who have
no brothers to share their amusements turn to serious matters early in
life. Christian Vellacott soon discovered that a head was required at
the office of the _Beacon_ to develop the elements of success
undoubtedly lying within the journal, and that the owner of such a head
could in time dictate his own terms to the easy-going proprietor.
Unsparingly he devoted the whole of his exceptional energies to the work
before him. He lived in and for it. Each night he went home fagged and
weary; but each morning saw him return to it with undaunted spirit.
Human nature, however, is exhaustible. The influence of a strong mind
over a strong body is great, but it is nevertheless limited. The
_Beacon_ had reached a large circulation, but its slave was worn
out. Two years without a holiday--two years of hurried, hard brain-work
had left their mark. It is often so when a man finds his avocation too
early. He is too hurried, works too hard, and collapses; or he becomes
self-satisfied, over-confident, and unbearable. Fortunately for
Christian Vellacott he was devoid of conceit, which is like the
scaffolding round a church-spire, reaching higher and falling first.
There was also a "home" influence at work. When Christian passed out of
the narrow doorway, and turned his face westward, his day's work was by
no means over, as will be shown hereafter.
As Mr. Bodery rolled his pencil up and down his blotting-pad, he was
slowly realising the fact that something must be done. Presently he
looked up, and his pleasant eyes rested on the bent head of his
"Morgan," he said, "I have been thinking--Seems to me Vellacott wants a
rest! He's played out!"
Mr. Morgan wiped his pen vigorously upon his coat, just beneath the
shoulder, and sat back in his chair.
"Yes," he replied; "he has not been up to the mark for some time. But
you will find difficulty in making him take a holiday. He is a devil for
This "ha, ha!" did not mean very much. There was no mirth in it. It was
a species of punctuation, and implied that Mr. Morgan had finished his
"I will ring for him now and see what he says about it."
Mr. Bodery extended his chubby white hand and touched a small gong.
Almost instantaneously the silent door opened and a voice from without
said, "Yess'r." A small boy with a mobile, wicked mouth stood at
attention in the doorway.
"Has Mr. Vellacott gone?"
"No--sir!" In a tone which seemed to ask: "Now _is_ it likely?"
"Where is he?"
"In the shop, sir."
"Ask him to come here, please."
The small boy closed the door. Once outside he placed his hand upon his
heart and made a low bow to the handle, retreating backwards to the head
of the stairs. Then he proceeded to slide down the banister, to the
trifling detriment of his waistcoat. As he reached the end of his
perilous journey a door opened at the foot of the stairs, and a man's
form became discernible in the dim light.
"Is that the way you generally come downstairs, Wilson?" asked a voice.
"It is the quickest way, sir!"
"Not quite; there is one quicker, which you will discover some day if
you overbalance at the top!"
"Mr. Bodery wishes to see you, please sir!" The small boy's manner was
very different from what it had been outside the door upstairs.
"All right," replied Vellacott, putting on the coat he had been carrying
over his arm. A peculiar smooth rapidity characterised all his
movements. At school he had been considered a very "clean" fielder. The
cleanness was there still.
The preternaturally sharp boy--sharp as only London boys are--watched
the lithe form vanish up the stairs; then he wagged his head very wisely
and said to himself in a patronising way:
"He's the right sort, he is--no chalk there!"
Subsequently he balanced his diminutive person full length upon the
balustrade, and proceeded to haul himself laboriously, hand over hand,
to the top.
In the meantime Christian Vellacott had passed into the editor's room.
The light of the lamp was driven downwards upon the table, but the
reflection of it rose and illuminated his face. It was a fairly handsome
face, with eyes just large enough to be keen and quick without being
dreamy. The slight fair moustache was not enough to hide the mouth,
which was refined, and singularly immobile. He glanced at Mr. Bodery, as
he entered, quickly and comprehensively, and then turned his eyes
towards Mr. Morgan. His face was very still and unemotional, but it was
pale, and his eyes were deeply sunken. A keen observer would have
noticed, in comparing the three men, that there was something about the
youngest which was lacking in his elders. It lay in the direct gaze of
his eyes, in the carriage of his head, in the small, motionless mouth.
It was what is vaguely called "power."
"Sit down, Vellacott," said Mr. Brodery. "We want to have a
consultation." After a short pause he continued: "You know, of course,
that it is a dull season just now. People do not seem to read the papers
in August. Now, we want you to take a holiday. Morgan has been away; I
shall go when you come back. Say three weeks or a month. You've been
over-working yourself a bit--burning the candle at both ends, eh?"
"Hardly at both ends," corrected Vellacott, with a ready smile which
entirely transformed his face. "Hardly at both ends--at one end in a
"Ha, ha! Very good," chimed in Mr. Morgan the irrepressible. "At one end
in a draught--that is like me, only the draught has got inside my cheeks
and blown them out instead of in like yours, eh? Ha, ha!" And he patted
his cheeks affectionately.
"I don't think I care for a holiday just now, thanks," he said slowly,
without remembering to call up a smile for Mr. Morgan's benefit.
Unconsciously he put his hand to his forehead, which was damp with the
heat of the printing-office which he had just left.
"My dear fellow," said Mr. Bodery gravely, emphasising his remarks with
the pencil, "you have one thing in life to learn yet--no doubt you have
many, but this one in particular you must learn. Work is not the only
thing we are created for--not the only thing worth living for. It is a
necessary evil, that is all. When you have reached my age you will come
to look upon it as such. A little enjoyment is good for every one. There
are many things to form a brighter side to life. Nature--travelling--
"And love," suggested the sub-editor, placing his hand dramatically on
the right side of his broad waistcoat instead of the left. He could
afford to joke on the subject now that the grass grew high in the little
country churchyard where he had laid his young wife fifteen years
before. In those days he was a grave, self-contained man, but that
sorrow had entirely changed his nature. The true William Morgan only
came out on paper now.
Mr. Bodery was right. Christian had yet to learn a great lesson, and
unconsciously he was even now beginning to grasp its meaning. His whole
mind was full of his work, and out of those earnest grey eyes his soul
was looking at the man who was perhaps saving his life.
"We can easily manage it," said the editor, continuing his advantage. "I
will take over the foreign policy article. The reviewing you can do
yourself, as we can always send you the books, and there is no pressing
hurry about them. The general work we will manage somehow--won't we,
"Of course we will; as well as and perhaps better than he could do it
himself, eh? Ha, ha!"
"But seriously, Vellacott," continued Mr. Bodery, "things will go on
just as well for a time. When I was young I used to make that mistake
too. I thought that no one could manage things like myself, but in time
I realised (as you will do some day) that things went on as smoothly
when I was away. Depend upon it, my boy, when a man is put on the shelf,
worn out and useless, another soon fills his place. You are too young to
go on the shelf yet. To please me, Vellacott, go away for three weeks."
"You are very kind, sir--" began the young fellow, but Mr. Bodery
"Well, then, that is settled. Shall we say this day week? That will give
you time to make your plans."
With a few words of thanks Christian left the room. Vaguely and
mechanically he wandered upstairs to his own particular den. It was a
disappointing little chamber. The chaos one expects to find on the desk
of a literary man was lacking here. No papers lay on the table in
artistic disorder. The presiding genius of the room was
method--clear-headed, practical method. The walls were hidden by shelves
of books, from the last half-hysterical production of some vain woman to
the single-volume work of a man's lifetime. Many of the former were
uncut, the latter bore signs of having been read and studied. The
companionship of these silent friends brought peace and contentment to
the young man's spirit. He sat wearily down, and, leaning his chin upon
his folded arms, he thought. Gradually there came into his mind pictures
of the fair open country, of rolling hills and quiet valleys, of quiet
lanes and running waters. A sudden yearning to breathe God's pure air
took possession of his faculties. Mr. Bodery had gained the day. In the
room below Mr. Morgan wrote on in his easy, comfortable manner. The
editor was still thoughtfully playing with his pencil. The sharp little
boy was standing on his head in the passage. At last Mr. Bodery rose
from his chair and began his preparations for leaving. As he brushed his
hat he looked towards his companion and said:
"That young fellow is worth you and me rolled into one."
"I recognised that fact some years ago," replied the sub-editor, wiping
his pen on his coat. "It is humiliating, but true. Ha, ha!"
Christian Vellacott soon descended the dingy stairs and joined the
westward-wending throng in the Strand. In the midst of the crowd he was
alone, as townsmen soon learn to be. The passing faces, the roar of
traffic, and the thousand human possibilities of interest around him in
no way disturbed his thoughts. In his busy brain the traffic of thought,
passing and repassing, crossing and recrossing, went on unaffected by
outward things. A modern poet has confessed that his muse loves the
pavement--a bold confession, but most certainly true. Why does talent
gravitate to cities? Because there it works its best--because friction
necessarily produces brilliancy. Nature is a great deceiver; she draws
us on to admire her insinuating charms, and in the contemplation of them
we lose our energy.
Christian had been born and bred in cities. The din and roar of life was
to him what the voice of the sea is to the sailor. In the midst of
crowded humanity he was in his element, and as he walked rapidly along
he made his way dexterously through the narrow places without thinking
of it. While meditating deeply he was by no means absorbed. In his
active life there had been no time for thoughts beyond the present, no
leisure for dreaming. He could not afford to be absent-minded. Numbers
of men are so situated. Their minds are required at all moments, in full
working order, clear and rapid--ready, shoes on feet and staff in hand,
to go whithersoever they may be called.
Although he was going to the saddest home that ever hung like a
mill-stone round a young neck, Christian wasted no time. The glory of
the western sky lay ruddily over the river as he emerged from the small
streets behind Chelsea and faced the broad placid stream. Presently he
stopped opposite the door of a small red-brick house, which formed the
corner of a little terrace facing the river and a quiet street running
inland from it.
With a latch-key he admitted himself noiselessly--almost
surreptitiously. Once inside he closed the door without unnecessary
sound and stood for some moments in the dark little entrance-hall,
Presently a voice broke the silence of the house. A querulous,
high-pitched voice, quavering with the palsy of extreme age. The sound
of it was no new thing for Christian Vellacott. To-night his lips gave a
little twist of pain as he heard it. The door of the room on the ground
floor was open, and he could hear the words distinctly enough.
"You know, Mrs. Strawd, we have a nephew, but he is always gadding
about, I am sure; he has been a terrible affliction to us. A frothy,
good-for-nothing boy--that is what he is. We have not set eyes on him
for a month or more. Why, I almost forget his name!"
"Christian, that is his name--a most inappropriate one, I am sure,"
chimed in another voice, almost identical in tone. "Why Walter should
have given him such a name I cannot tell. Ah! sister Judith, things are
different from what they used to be when we were younger!"
The frothy one outside the door seemed in no great degree impressed by
these impartial views upon himself, though the pained look was still
upon his lips as he turned to hang up his hat.
"He's coming home to-night, though, Miss Judith," said another voice, in
a coaxing, wheedling tone, such as one uses towards petulant children.
"He's coming home to-night, sure enough!" It was a pleasant voice, with
a strong, capable ring about it. One instinctively felt that the
possessor of it was a woman to be relied upon at a crisis.
"Is he now--is he now?" said the first speaker reflectively. "Well, I am
sure it is time he did. We will just give him a lesson, eh, sister
Hester?--we will give him a lesson, shall we not?"
At this moment the door opened, and a little woman, quiet though
somewhat anxious looking, came out. She evinced no surprise at the sight
of the good-for-nothing nephew in the dimly-lighted passage, greeting
him in a low voice.
"How have they been to-day, nurse?" he asked.
"Oh, they have been well enough, Master Christian," was the reply, in a
"Aunt Judith has 'most got rid of her cold. But they've been very
trying, sir--just like children, as wilful as could be--the same
question over and over again till I was fit to cry. They are quieter
now, but--but it's you they're abusing now, Master Chris!"
The young fellow looked down into the little woman's face. His eyes were
sympathetic enough, but he said nothing. With a little nod and a
suppressed sigh he turned away from her. He laid his hand upon the door
and then stopped.
"As soon as you have brought up tea," he said, looking back, "I will
take them for the evening, and you can have your rest as usual."
From the room came, at intervals, the ring of silver, as if some one
were moving the spoons and forks from the table. Christian waited until
these sounds had ceased before he entered.
"Good evening, Aunt Judith. Good evening, Aunt Hester," he said
They were exactly alike, these two old ladies; the same marvellously
wrinkled features and silver hair; voluminous caps and white woollen
shawls identical. With exaggerated marks of respect he kissed each by
turn on her withered cheek.
"May I sit down, Aunt Judith?" he asked, and without waiting for an
answer drew a chair towards the fireplace, where a small fire burnt
though it was the month of August.
"Yes, Nephew Vellacott, you may take a seat," replied Aunt Judith with
chill severity, "and you may also tell us where you have been during the
last four weeks."
Poor old human wreck! Only ten hours earlier her nephew had bid her
farewell for the day. Christian began an explanation in a weary,
mechanical way, like an actor tired of the part assigned to him, but the
old ladies would not listen. Aunt Hester interrupted him promptly.
"Your shallow excuses are wasted on us, Nephew Vellacott. You have
doubtless been away, enjoying yourself and leaving us--us who support
you and deprive ourselves in order to keep a decent coat upon your
back--leaving us to the mercy of all the thieves in London. And tell us,
pray--what are we to do for spoons and forks to-night?"
"What?" exclaimed Christian with perfunctory interest, "have the spoons
gone--?" he almost said "again," but checked himself in time. He turned
to look at the table, which had been carefully denuded of every piece of
"There, you see!" quavered Aunt Judith triumphantly; and the two old
ladies rubbed their hands, nodded their palsied old heads at each other,
and chuckled in utter delight at their nephew's discomfiture, until Aunt
Judith was attacked by a violent fit of coughing, which seemed to be
tearing her to pieces. Christian watched her with the ready keenness of
"How did it occur?" he asked, when the old lady had recovered.
"There, you see," remarked Aunt Hester, with the precise intonation of
"I _am_ sure!" panted Aunt Judith triumphantly.
"I _am_ sure!" echoed Aunt Hester.
They allowed their nephew's remorse full scope, and then proceeded
laboriously to extract the missing articles from the side of Aunt
Judith's arm-chair. This farce was rehearsed every night, nearly word
for word. A pleasant recreation for an intellectual man, assuredly. The
only relief to the monotony was the occasional loss of a spoon in the
crevice between the arm and the seat of Aunt Judith's chair. Then
followed such a fumbling and a "dear me-ing" until the worthless nephew
was perforce called to the rescue, to fish and probe with a paper-knife
till the lost treasure was recovered.
"We only wished, Nephew Vellacott, to show you what might have happened
during your unconscionable absence. Servants are only too ready to talk
to the first comer of their mistresses' wealth and position. They have
no discrimination." said Aunt Judith in a reproving tone. The old ladies
were very fond of boasting of their wealth and position, whereas, in
reality, their nephew was the only barrier between them and the
"Well, Aunt Judith," replied Christian patiently, "I will try and stay
at home more in future. But you know it is time I was doing something to
earn my own livelihood now. I cannot exist on your kindness all my
He had learnt to humour these two silly old women. During the two years
which had just passed he had gradually recognised the utter futility of
endeavouring to make them realise the true state of their affairs. They
spoke grandiloquently of the family solicitor: a man who had been in his
grave for nearly a quarter of a century. It was simply impossible to
instil into their minds any fact whatever, and such facts as had
established themselves there were permanent. They belonged to another
generation, and their mode of thought was a remnant of a forgotten and
unsatisfactory period. To them Napoleon the First was a living man,
Queen Victoria unheard of. The decay of their minds had been slow, and
it had been Christian Vellacott's painful task to watch its steady
progress. Day by day he had followed the gradual failing of each sense
There is something pathetic about the decay of a mind which has been
driven to death by constant work, but there is a compensating thought to
alleviate the sadness. It may rattle and grow loose, like some worn-out
engine, where the friction presses; but it will work till it collapses
totally, and some of the work achieved is good and permanent. It is
bound to be so. Infinitely sadder is the sight of a mind which is
falling to pieces by reason of the rust that has eaten into its very
core. For rust must needs mean idleness--and no human intellect
_need_ be idle. So it had been with these two old ladies. Born in a
wofully unintellectual age, they had never left a certain groove in
life. When their brother married Christian Vellacott's grandmother, they
had left his house in Honiton to go and live in Bodmin upon a limited
but sufficient income. These "sufficient incomes" are a curse; they do
not allow of charity and make no call for labour.
When Christian Vellacott arrived in England, an orphan with no great
wealth, he made it his first duty to visit the only living relations he
possessed. He was just in time to save them, literally, from starvation.
It was obvious that he could not make a literary livelihood in Bodmin,
so he made a home for the two old wrecks of humanity in London. Their
means, like their minds, were simply exhausted. Aunt Judith was
ninety-three; Aunt Hester ninety-one. During that vast blank (for blank
it was, so far as their lives were concerned) stretching away back into
a perspective of time which few around them could gauge--they had never
been separated for one day. Like two apples they had grown side by side,
until their very contact had engendered disease--a slow, deadly,
creeping rot, finding its source at the point of contact, reaching its
goal at the heart of each. They had _existed_ thus with terrible
longevity--lived a mere animal life of sleeping and eating, such as
hundreds of women are living around us now.
"Of course, you must learn to make your daily bread, Nephew Vellacott!"
answered Aunt Hester. "The desire does you credit; but you should be
careful into what society you go without us. Girls are very designing,
and many a one would like to marry a nephew of mine--eh, Judith?"
"Yes, that they would," replied the old lady. "The minxes know that they
might do worse than catch the nephew of Judith and Hester Vellacott!"
"Look at us," continued Aunt Hester, drawing up her shrunken old form
with a touch of pride. "Look at us? We have always avoided marriage, and
we are very nice and happy, I am sure!"
She waited for a confirmation of this bold statement, but Christian was
not listening. He was leaning forward with his hands clasped between his
knees, gazing into the fire. He was recalling the conversation which had
passed in the little room in the Strand. Could he leave these two
helpless old creatures. Could he get away from it all for a little
time--away from the maddening prattle of unguided tongues, from the
dread monotony of hopeless watching? He knew that he was wasting his
manhood, neglecting his intellectual opportunities, and endangering his
career; but his course of duty was marked out with terrible
distinctness. He never saw the pathos of it, as a woman would have seen
it, gathering perhaps some slight alleviation from the sight. It never
entered his thoughts to complain, and he never conceived the idea of
drawing comparisons between his position and that of other young men
who, instead of being slaves to their relatives, made very good use of
them. He merely went on doing his obvious duty and striving not to look
forward too eagerly to a release at some future period.
Fortunately, Mrs. Strawd was not long in bringing in the simple evening
meal; and the attention of the old ladies was at once turned to the
mystery hidden beneath the dish-cover. What was it, and would there be
enough for Nephew Vellacott?
Deftly, Christian poured out the tea. Two cups very weak and one
stronger. Then two thin slices of crustless bread had to be buttered.
This operation required great judgment and impartiality.
"Excuse me, Nephew Vellacott!" said Aunt Judith, with dangerous
severity. "Is that first slice intended for Aunt Hester? It appears to
me that the butter is very thick--much thicker than on the second, which
is doubtless intended for me!"
"Do you think so, Aunt Judith?" asked Christian in a voice purposely
loud in order to drown Aunt Hester's remonstrance. "Then I will take a
little off!" He passed the knife harmlessly over the faulty slice, and
laid the two side by side upon a plate. Then the old ladies promptly
held a survey on them--that declared to be more heavily buttered being
awarded to Aunt Judith in recognition of her seniority.
With similar fruitful topics of conversation the meal was pleasantly
despatched. The turn of Dick and Mick followed thereon. Dick, the
property of Aunt Judith, was a canary of thoughtful temperament. The
part he played in the domestic economy of the small household was a
contemplative rather than an active one. Mick, Aunt Hester's bird, was
of a more lively nature. He had, as a rule, something to say upon all
subjects--and said it.
Now Aunt Hester, in her inmost heart, loved a silent bird, and secretly
coveted Dick, but as Mick was her property, and Dick the silent was
owned by Aunt Judith, she never lost an opportunity of enlarging upon
the stupidity and uselessness of silent birds. Aunt Judith, on the other
hand, admired a lively and talkative canary; consequently she was
weighed down with the conviction that her sister's bird was the superior
article. Altogether, birds as a topic of conversation were best avoided.
Dick and Mick were housed in cages of similar build--indeed, most things
were strictly in duplicate in the whole household. Every evening
Christian brought the cages, and Aunt Judith and Aunt Hester carefully
placed within the wires a small piece of bread-and-butter, which Nurse
Strawd as carefully removed, untouched, the next morning.
When the birds' wants had been attended to, it was Christian's duty to
settle the old ladies comfortably in their respective arm-chairs. This
he did tenderly and cleverly as a woman, but it was not a pleasant sight
to look upon. The man, with his lean, strong face, long jaw, and
prominent chin, was so obviously out of place. These peaceful duties
were never meant for such as he. His somewhat closely-set eyes were not
such as wax tender over drowning flies, for even in repose they were
somewhat direct and stern in their gaze. In fact, Christian Vellacott
was so visibly created for strife and the forefront of life's battle,
that it was almost painful to see him fulfilling a more peaceful
As a rule he devoted himself to the amusement of his aged relatives for
an hour or so; but this evening he sat down to the piano at once, with
the deliberate intention of playing them off to sleep. Ten o'clock was
their hour for retiring, and before that they would not move, although
they dozed in their chairs.
He was no mean musician, this big West-countryman, with a true ear and a
touch peculiarly light and tender for a man. He played gently and
drowsily for some time, half forgetting that he was not alone in the
room. Presently he turned round, letting his fingers rest on the keys.
Aunt Judith was asleep, and Aunt Hester made a sign for him to go on
playing. Five minutes more, gradually toned down till the very sounds
seemed to fall asleep, and Aunt Hester was peacefully slumbering.
Silently the player rose, and crossing the room, he resumed his seat at
the table from which the white cloth had not yet been removed. Pen, ink,
and paper were within reach, and in a few minutes he had written the
"DEAR SIDNEY,--May I retract the letter I wrote yesterday and accept
your invitation? I have been requested to take a holiday, and, rather
than offend the powers that be, have given in. I can think of no happier
way of spending it than in seeing you all again and recalling the jolly
old Prague days. With kind regards, yours ever,
He folded the note and slipped it into an envelope, which he addressed
to "Sidney Carew, Esq., St. Mary Western, Dorset." Then he slipped
noiselessly out of the room and upstairs to where Mrs. Strawd had a
small sitting-room of her own. The little woman heard his footstep on
the old creaking stairs, and opened the door of her room before he
"If I went away for three weeks," he said, "could you do without me?"
"Of course I could," replied the little woman readily. "Just you go away
and take a holiday, Master Christian. You need it sorely, that I know.
You do indeed. We shall get on splendidly without you. I'll just have my
sister to come and stay, same as I did when you had to go to the Paris
House of Parliament."
"I have not had much of a holiday, you see, for two years now!"
"Of course you haven't, and you want it. It's only human nature--and you
a young man that ought to be in the open air all day. For an old woman
like me it's different. We're made differently by the good God on
purpose, I think;"
"Well, then, if your sister comes it must be understood, nurse, that I
make the same arrangement with her as exists with you. She must simply
be a duplicate of you--you understand?"
The little woman laughed, lightly enough.
"Oh, yes, Master Christian, that is all right. But you need not have
troubled about that. She never would have thought of such a thing as
wages, I'm sure!"
"No," replied he gravely, "I know she would not, but it will be better,
I think, to have it understood beforehand. Gratitude is a very nice
thing to work for, but some work is worth more than gratitude. If you
are going out for your walk, perhaps you will post this letter."
Before Christian went to bed that night he held a candle close to the
mirror and looked long and hard at his own reflection. There were dark
streaks under his eyes, his small mouth was drawn and dry, his lips
colourless. At each temple the bone stood out rather prominently, and
the skin was brilliant in its whiteness and reflected the light of the
candle. He felt his own pulse. It was beating, at one moment fast and
irregular, at the next it was hardly perceptible.
"Yes!" he muttered, with a professional nod--in his training as a
journalist he had learnt a little of many sciences--"yes, old Bodery was
The gentle August night had cooled and soothed the dusty atmosphere. All
things looked fair, even in London. The placid Thames glided stealthily
down to the sea, as if wishing to speed on unseen, to cast at last his
reeking waters into the cool ocean. The bright brown sails, low hulls,
and gaily painted spars of the barges dropping down with the stream
added to the beauty of the scene.
Such was the morning that greeted Christian Vellacott, as he opened the
door of his little Chelsea home and stepped forth a free man. When once
he had made up his mind to go, every obstacle was thrown aside, and his
determination was now as great as had been his previous reluctance. He
had no presentiment that he was taking an important step in life--one of
those steps which we hardly notice at the time, but upon which we look
back in after years and note how clear and definite it was, losing
ourselves in vague conjecture as to what might have been had we held
Christian being practical in all things, knew how to travel comfortably,
dispensing with rugs and bags and such small packages as are understood
to be dear to the elderly single female heart.
The smoky suburbs were soon left behind, and the smiling land gave forth
such gentle, pastoral odours as only long confinement in cities can
teach us to detect. Christian lowered the window, and the warm air
played round him as it had not done for two long years. The whizz of the
wind past his face brought back the memory of the long, idle, happy days
spent with his father in the Mediterranean, when they had been half
sailors and wholly Bohemians, gliding from port to port, village to
city, in their yacht, as free and careless as the wind. The warm breeze
almost seemed to be coming to him from some parched Italian plain
instead of pastoral Buckinghamshire.
Then his thoughts travelled still further back to his school-days in
Prague, when his father and Mr. Carew were colleagues in a brilliant but
unfortunate embassy. Five years had passed since then. The two fathers
were now dead, and the children had dropped apart as men and women do
when their own personal interests begin to engross them. Now again, in
this late summer time, they were to meet. All, that is, who were left.
The _debris_, as it were. Three voices there were whose tones would
never more be heard in the round of merry jest. Mr. Carew, Walter
Vellacott (Uncle Walter, the young ones called him), and little Charlie
Carew, the bright-eyed sailor of the family, had all three travelled on.
The two former, whose age and work achieved had softened their
departure, were often spoken of with gently lowered voice, but little
Charlie's name was never mentioned. It was a fatal mistake--this
silence--if you will; but it was one of those mistakes which are often
made in wisdom. In splendid, solitary grandeur he lay awaiting the end
of all things--the call of his Creator--in the grey ice-fields of the
North. The darling of his ship, he had died with a smile in his blue
eyes and a sad little jest upon his lips to cheer the rough fur-clad
giants kneeling at his side. Time, the merciful, had healed, as best he
could (which is by no means perfectly), the wound in the younger hearts.
It is only the old that are quite beyond his powers; he cannot touch
them. Mrs. Carew, a woman with a patient face and a ready smile, was the
only representative of the vanishing generation. Her daughters--ay! and
perhaps her sons as well (though boys are not credited with so much
tender divination)--knew the meaning of the little droop at the side of
their mother's smiling lips. They detected the insincerity of her kindly
Shortly after leaving Exeter, Christian's station was reached. This was
an old-fashioned seaport town, whose good fortune it was to lie too far
west for a London watering-place, and too far east for Plymouth or
Bristol. Sidney Carew was on the platform--a sturdy, typical Englishman,
with a certain sure slowness of movement handed down to him by seafaring
ancestors. The two friends had not met for many years, but with men
absence has little effect upon affection. During the space of many years
they may never meet and seldom write, but at the end that gulf of time
is bridged over by a simple "Halloa, old fellow!" and a warm grip.
Slowly, piece by piece, the history of the past years comes out. Both
are probably changed in thought and nature, but the old individuality
remains, the old bond of friendship survives.
"How are you?"
Simultaneously--and that was all. The changes were there in both, and
noted by both, but not commented upon.
"Molly is outside with the dog-cart," said Sidney; "is your luggage
"Yes, that is it being pitched out now."
It was with womanly foresight that Miss Molly Carew had elected to wait
outside with the dog-cart while her brother met Christian on the
platform. She feared a little natural embarrassment at meeting the old
playfellow of the family, and concluded that the first moments would be
more easily tided over here than at the train. Her fears were, as it
turned out, unnecessary, but she did not know what Christian might be
like after the lapse of years. Of herself she was sure enough, being one
of those happy people who have no self-consciousness whatever.
On seeing her, Christian came forward at once, raising his hat and
shaking hands as if they had parted the day before.
She saw at once that it was all right. This was Christian Vellacott as
she had remembered him. She looked down at him as he stood with one hand
resting on the splashboard, and he, looking up to her, smiled in return.
"Christian," she said, "do you know I should scarcely have recognised
you. You are so big, and--and you look positively ghastly!" She finished
her remark with a little laugh which took away from the spoken meaning
"Ghastly?" he replied. "Thanks: I do not feel like it--only hungry.
Hungry, and desperately glad to see a face that does not look
She gave a little sarcastic nod, and pursed up a pair of very red lips.
"Nevertheless I am the only person in the house who does any work at
all. Hilda, for instance--"
At this moment Sidney came up and interrupted them.
"Jump up in front, Chris," he said; "Molly will drive, while I sit
behind. Your luggage will follow in the cart."
The drive of six miles passed away very pleasantly. Molly's strong
little hands were quite accustomed to the reins, and the men were free
to talk, which, however, she found time to do as well. The two young
people on the front seat stole occasional sidelong glances at each
other. The clever, mischievous little girl of Christian's recollection
was transformed by the kindly hand of time into a fascinating and
capable young lady. The uncertain profile had grown clear and regular.
The truant hair was somewhat more under control, which, however, was all
that could be said upon that subject. Only her eyes were unchanged, the
laughing, fearless eyes of old. Fearless they had been in the times of
childish mischief and adventure; fearless they remained in the face of
life's graver mischances now.
Christian had been a shy and commonplace-enough boy as she recollected
him. Now she found a self-possessed man of the world. Tall and strong of
body she saw he was, and she felt that he possessed another strength--a
strength of mind and will which, reaching out, can grasp and hold
anything or everything.
With practised skill, Molly turned into the narrow gateway at a swinging
trot, and then only was the house visible--a low, rambling building of
brick and stone uncouthly mixed. Its chief outward characteristic was a
promise of inward comfort. The sturdy manner in which its windows faced
the scantily-wooded tableland that stretched away unbroken by wall or
hedgerow to the sea, implied a certain thickness of wall and woodwork.
The doorway which looked inland was singularly broad, and bore signs
about its stonework of having once been even broader. The house had
originally been a hollow square, with a roofless courtyard in the
centre, into which the sheep and cattle were in olden times driven for
safety at night against French marauders. This had later on been roofed
in, and transformed into a roomy and comfortable hall, such as might be
used as a sitting-room. All around the house, except, indeed, upon the
sea-ward side, stood gnarled and twisted trees; Scotch firs in
abundance, here and there a Weymouth pine, and occasionally a knotted
dwarf oak with a tendency to run inland. The garden was, however, rich
enough in shrubs and undergrowth, and to the landward side was a gleam
of still water, being all that remained of a broad, deep moat.
Mrs. Carew welcomed Christian at the open door. She said very little,
but her manner was sufficiently warm and friendly to dispense with
"Where is Hilda?" asked Molly, as she leapt lightly to the ground.
"I do not know, dear. She is out, somewhere; in the garden, I expect.
You are before your time a little. The train must have been punctual,
for a wonder. Had Hilda known, she would have been here to welcome you,
I know, Christian."
"I expect she is at the moat," said Molly. "Come along, Christian; we
will go and look for her. This way."
In the meantime Sidney had driven the dog-cart round to the stables,
kneeling awkwardly upon the back seat.
As Christian followed his fair guide down the little path leading to the
moat, he began to feel that it was not so difficult after all to throw
off the dull weight of anxiety that lay upon his mind. The thoughts
about the _Beacon_ were after all not so very absorbing. The
anxiety regarding the welfare of the two old ladies was already
alleviated by distance. The strong sea air, the change to pleasant and
kindly society, were already beginning their work.
Suddenly Molly stopped, and Christian saw that she was standing at the
edge of a long, still sheet of water bounded by solid stonework, which,
however, was crumbling away in parts, while everywhere the green moss
grew in velvety profusion.
"Oh, Christian," said Molly lightly, "I suppose Sidney told you a little
of our news. Men's letters are not discursive as a rule I know, but no
doubt he told you--something."
He was standing beside her at the edge of the moat, looking down into
the deep, clear water.
"Yes," he replied slowly, "yes, Molly; he told me a little in a scrappy,
A pained expression came into her eyes for a moment, and then she spoke,
rather more quickly than was habitual with her, but without raising her
"He told you--nothing about Hilda?" she said interrogatively.
He turned and looked down at her.
Then he followed the direction of her eyes, and saw approaching them a
young man and a maiden whose footsteps had been inaudible upon the
moss-grown path. The man was of medium height, with an honest brown
face. He was dressed for riding, and walked with a slight swagger, which
arose less from conceit than from excessive riding on horseback. The
maiden was tall and stately, and in her walk there was an old-fashioned
grace of movement which harmonised perfectly with the old-world
surroundings. She was looking down, and Christian could not see her
face; but as she wore no hat, he saw and recognised her hair. This was
of gold--not red, not auburn, not flaxen, but pure and living gold. The
sun glinting through the trees shone upon it and gleamed, but in reality
the hair gleamed without the aid of sunlight.
They came forward, and suddenly the girl raised her face. She made a
little hesitating movement of non-recognition, and then suddenly her
face was transformed by a very pleasant smile. There was something
peculiar in Hilda Carew's smile, which came from the fact that her
eyelashes were golden, while her eyes were dark blue. The effect
suggested a fascinating kitten. In repose her face was almost severe in
its refined beauty, and the set of her lips indicated a certain
self-reliance which with years might become more prominent if trouble
"Christian!" she exclaimed, "I am sorry I did not know you." They shook
hands, and Molly hastened to introduce her sister's companion.
"Mr. Farrar," she said; "Mr. Vellacott."
The two men shook hands, and Christian was disappointed. The grip of
Farrar's fingers was limp and almost nerveless, in striking
contradiction to the promise of his honest face and well-set person.
"Tea is ready," said Molly somewhat hastily; "let us go in."
Hilda and her companion passed on in front while Molly and Christian
followed them. The latter purposely lagged behind, and his companion
found herself compelled to wait for him.
"Look at the effect of the sunlight through the trees upon that water,"
said he in a conversational way; "it is quite green, and almost
"Yes," replied Molly, moving away tentatively, "we see most peculiar
effects over the moat. The water is so very still and deep."
He raised his quiet eyes to her face, upon which the ready smile still
lingered. As she met his gaze she raised her hand and pushed back a few
truant wisps of hair which, curling forward like tendrils, tickled her
cheek. It was a movement he soon learned to know.
"Yes," he said absently. He was wondering in an analytical way whether
the action was habitual with her, or significant of embarrassment. At
length he turned to follow her, but Molly had failed in her object; the
others had passed out of earshot.
"Tell me," said Christian in a lowered voice, "who is he?"
"He is the squire of St. Mary Eastern, six miles from here," she
replied; "very well off; very good to his mother, and in every way
Christian tore off a small branch which would have touched his forehead
had he walked on without stooping. He broke it into small pieces, and
continued throwing up at intervals into the air a tiny stick, hitting it
with his hand as they walked on.
"And," he said suggestively, "and--"
"Yes, Christian," she replied decisively, "they are engaged. Come, let
us hurry; I always pour out the tea. I told you before, if you remember,
that I was the only person in the house who did any work."
When Christian opened his eyes the following morning, the soft hum of
insects fell on his ear instead of the roar of London traffic. Through
the open window the southern air blew upon his face. Above the sound of
busy wings the distant sea sang its low dirge. It was a living
perspective of sound. The least rustle near at hand overpowered it, and
yet it was always there--an unceasing throb to be felt as much as heard.
Some acoustic formation of the land carried the noise, for the sea was
eight miles away. It was very peaceful; for utter stillness is not
peace. A room wherein an old clock ticks is infinitely more soothing
than a noiseless chamber.
Nevertheless the feeling that forced itself into Christian Vellacott's
waking thoughts was not peaceful. It was a sense of discomfort.
Town-people expect too much from the country--that is the truth of it.
They quite overlook the fact that where human beings are there can be no
This sudden sense of restlessness annoyed him. He knew it so well. It
had hovered over his waking head almost daily during the last two years,
and here, in the depths of the country, he had expected to be without
it. Moreover, he was conscious that he had not brought the cause with
him. He had found it, waiting.
There were many things--indeed there was almost everything--to make his
life happy and pleasant at St. Mary Western. But in his mind, as he woke
up on this first morning, none of these things found place. He came to
his senses thinking of the one little item which could be described as
untoward--thinking of Hilda, and Hilda engaged to be married to Fred
Farrar. It was not that he was in love with Hilda Carew himself. He had
scarcely remembered her existence during the last two years. But this
engagement jarred, and Farrar jarred. It was something more than the
very natural shock which comes with the news that a companion of our
youth is about to be married--shock which seems to shake the memory of
that youth; to confuse the background of our life. It is by means of
such shocks as these that Fate endeavours vainly to make us realise that
the past is irrevocable--that we are passing on, and that that which has
been can never be again. And at the same time we learn something else:
namely, that the past is not by any means unchangeable. So potential is
To-day that it not only holds To-morrow in the hollow of its hand, but
it can alter Yesterday.
Christian Vellacott lay upon his bed in unwonted idleness, gazing
vaguely at the flying clouds. The window was open, and the song of the
distant sea rose and fell with a rhythm full of peace. But in this man's
mind there was no peace. In all probability there never would be
complete peace there, because Ambition had set its hold upon him. He
wanted to do more than there was time for. Like many of us, he began by
thinking that Life is longer than it is. Its whole length is in those
"long, long thoughts" of Youth. When those are left behind, we settle
down to work, and the rest of the story is nothing but labour. Vellacott
resented this engagement because he felt that Hilda Carew had stepped
out of that picture which formed what was probably destined to be the
happiest time of his life--his Youth. For the unhappiness of Youth is
preferable to the resignation of Age. He felt that she had willingly
resigned something which he would on no account have given up. Above
all, he felt that it was a mistake. This was, of course, at the bottom
of it. He probably felt that it was a pity. We usually feel so on
hearing that a pretty and charming girl is engaged to be married. We
think that she might have done so much better for herself, and we grow
pensive or possibly sentimental over her lost opportunity when
contemplating him in the mirror as he shaves. Like all so-called happy
events, an engagement is not usually a matter of universal rejoicing.
Some one is, in all probability, left to think twice about it. But
Christian Vellacott was not prepared to admit that he was in that
He was naturally of an observant habit--his father had been
one of the keenest-sighted men of his day--and he had graduated at the
subtlest school in the world. He unwittingly fell to studying his
fellow-men whenever the opportunity presented itself, and the result of
this habit was a certain classification of detail. He picked up little
scraps of evidence here and there, and these were methodically
pigeon-holed away, as a lawyer stores up the correspondence of his
With regard to Frederick Farrar, Vellacott had only made one note. The
squire of St. Mary Eastern was apparently very similar to his fellows.
He was an ordinary young British squire with a knowledge of horses and a
highly-developed fancy for smart riding-breeches and long boots. He had
probably received a fair education, but this had ceased when he closed
his last school-book. The seeds of knowledge had been sown, but they
lacked moisture and had failed to grow. He was good-natured, plucky in a
hard-headed British way, and gentlemanly. In all this there was nothing