Part 2 out of 4
"Anyhow, I shall leave you now."
"Yes? And go--"
"Go somewhere to earn my living, to be a free woman, to live
"My dear girl, do let us be cynical. You haven't money and you
haven't credit. No one would take you in. It's one of two things:
go back to your stepmother, or--trust to me."
"How CAN I?"
"Then you must go back to her." He paused momentarily, to let
this consideration have its proper weight. "Jessie, I did not
mean to say the things I did. Upon my honour, I lost my head when
I spoke so. If you will, forgive me. I am a man. I could not help
myself. Forgive me, and I promise you--"
"How can I trust you?"
"Try me. I can assure you--"
She regarded him distrustfully.
"At any rate, ride on with me now. Surely we have been in the
shadow of this horrible bridge long enough."
"Oh! let me think," she said, half turning from him and pressing
her hand to her brow.
"THINK! Look here, Jessie. It is ten o'clock. Shall we call a
truce until one?"
She hesitated, demanded a definition of the truce, and at last
They mounted, and rode on in silence, through the sunlight and
the heather. Both were extremely uncomfortable and disappointed.
She was pale, divided between fear and anger. She perceived she
was in a scrape, and tried in vain to think of a way of escape.
Only one tangible thing would keep in her mind, try as she would
to ignore it. That was the quite irrelevant fact that his head
was singularly like an albino cocoanut. He, too, felt thwarted.
He felt that this romantic business of seduction was, after all,
unexpectedly tame. But this was only the beginning. At any rate,
every day she spent with him was a day gained. Perhaps things
looked worse than they were; that was some consolation.
OF THE ARTIFICIAL IN MAN, AND OF THE ZEITGEIST
You have seen these two young people--Bechamel, by-the-bye, is
the man's name, and the girl's is Jessie Milton--from the
outside; you have heard them talking; they ride now side by side
(but not too close together, and in an uneasy silence) towards
Haslemere; and this chapter will concern itself with those
curious little council chambers inside their skulls, where their
motives are in session and their acts are considered and passed.
But first a word concerning wigs and false teeth. Some jester,
enlarging upon the increase of bald heads and purblind people,
has deduced a wonderful future for the children of men. Man, he
said, was nowadays a hairless creature by forty or fifty, and for
hair we gave him a wig; shrivelled, and we padded him; toothless,
and lo! false teeth set in gold. Did he lose a limb, and a fine,
new, artificial one was at his disposal; get indigestion, and to
hand was artificial digestive fluid or bile or pancreatine, as
the case might be. Complexions, too, were replaceable, spectacles
superseded an inefficient eye-lens, and imperceptible false
diaphragms were thrust into the failing ear. So he went over our
anatomies, until, at last, he had conjured up a weird thing of
shreds and patches, a simulacrum, an artificial body of a man,
with but a doubtful germ of living flesh lurking somewhere in his
recesses. To that, he held, we were coming.
How far such odd substitution for the body is possible need not
concern us now. But the devil, speaking by the lips of Mr.
Rudyard Kipling, hath it that in the case of one Tomlinson, the
thing, so far as the soul is concerned, has already been
accomplished. Time was when men had simple souls, desires as
natural as their eyes, a little reasonable philanthropy, a little
reasonable philoprogenitiveness, hunger, and a taste for good
living, a decent, personal vanity, a healthy, satisfying
pugnacity, and so forth. But now we are taught and disciplined
for years and years, and thereafter we read and read for all the
time some strenuous, nerve-destroying business permits. Pedagogic
hypnotists, pulpit and platform hypnotists, book-writing
hypnotists, newspaper-writing hypnotists, are at us all. This
sugar you are eating, they tell us, is ink, and forthwith we
reject it with infinite disgust. This black draught of unrequited
toil is True Happiness, and down it goes with every symptom of
pleasure. This Ibsen, they say, is dull past believing, and we
yawn and stretch beyond endurance. Pardon! they interrupt, but
this Ibsen is deep and delightful, and we vie with one another in
an excess of entertainment. And when we open the heads of these
two young people, we find, not a straightforward motive on the
surface anywhere; we find, indeed, not a soul so much as an
oversoul, a zeitgeist, a congestion of acquired ideas, a
highway's feast of fine, confused thinking. The girl is resolute
to Live Her Own Life, a phrase you may have heard before, and the
man has a pretty perverted ambition to be a cynical artistic
person of the very calmest description. He is hoping for the
awakening of Passion in her, among other things. He knows Passion
ought to awaken, from the text-books he has studied. He knows she
admires his genius, but he is unaware that she does not admire
his head. He is quite a distinguished art critic in London, and
he met her at that celebrated lady novelist's, her stepmother,
and here you have them well embarked upon the Adventure. Both are
in the first stage of repentance, which consists, as you have
probably found for yourself, in setting your teeth hard and
saying' "I WILL go on."
Things, you see, have jarred a little, and they ride on their way
together with a certain aloofness of manner that promises ill for
the orthodox development of the Adventure. He perceives he was
too precipitate. But he feels his honour is involved, and
meditates the development of a new attack. And the girl? She is
unawakened. Her motives are bookish, written by a haphazard
syndicate of authors, novelists, and biographers, on her white
inexperience. An artificial oversoul she is, that may presently
break down and reveal a human being beneath it. She is still in
that schoolgirl phase when a talkative old man is more
interesting than a tongue-tied young one, and when to be an
eminent mathematician, say, or to edit a daily paper, seems as
fine an ambition as any girl need aspire to. Bechaniel was to
have helped her to attain that in the most expeditious manner,
and here he is beside her, talking enigmatical phrases about
passion, looking at her with the oddest expression, and once, and
that was his gravest offence, offering to kiss her. At any rate
he has apologised. She still scarcely realises, you see, the
scrape she has got into.
THE ENCOUNTER AT MIDHURST
We left Mr. Hoopdriver at the door of the little tea, toy, and
tobacco shop. You must not think that a strain is put on
coincidence when I tell you that next door to Mrs. Wardor's--that
was the name of the bright-eyed, little old lady with whom Mr.
Hoopdriver had stopped--is the Angel Hotel, and in the Angel
Hotel, on the night that Mr. Hoopdriver reached Midhurst, were
'Mr.' and 'Miss' Beaumont, our Bechamel and Jessie Milton.
Indeed, it was a highly probable thing; for if one goes through
Guildford, the choice of southward roads is limited; you may go
by Petersfield to Portsmouth, or by Midhurst to Chichester, in
addition to which highways there is nothing for it but minor
roadways to Petworth or Pulborough, and cross-cuts Brightonward.
And coming to Midhurst from the north, the Angel's entrance lies
yawning to engulf your highly respectable cyclists, while Mrs.
Wardor's genial teapot is equally attractive to those who weigh
their means in little scales. But to people unfamiliar with the
Sussex roads--and such were the three persons of this story--the
convergence did not appear to be so inevitable.
Bechamel, tightening his chain in the Angel yard after dinner,
was the first to be aware of their reunion. He saw Hoopdriver
walk slowly across the gateway, his head enhaloed in cigarette
smoke, and pass out of sight up the street. Incontinently a mass
of cloudy uneasiness, that had been partly dispelled during the
day, reappeared and concentrated rapidly into definite suspicion.
He put his screw hammer into his pocket and walked through the
archway into the street, to settle the business forthwith, for he
prided himself on his decision. Hoopdriver was merely
promenading, and they met face to face.
At the sight of his adversary, something between disgust and
laughter seized Mr. Hoopdriver and for a moment destroyed his
animosity. "'Ere we are again!" he said, laughing insincerely in
a sudden outbreak at the perversity of chance.
The other man in brown stopped short in Mr. Hoopdriver's way,
staring. Then his face assumed an expression of dangerous
civility. "Is it any information to you," he said, with immense
politeness, "when I remark that you are following us?"
Mr. Hoopdriver, for some occult reason, resisted his
characteristic impulse to apologise. He wanted to annoy.the other
man in brown, and a sentence that had come into his head in a
previous rehearsal cropped up appropriately. "Since when," said
Mr. Hoopdriver, catching his breath, yet bringing the question
out valiantly, nevertheless,--"since when 'ave you purchased the
county of Sussex?"
"May I point out," said the other man in brown, "that I object--
we object not only to your proximity to us. To be frank--you
appear to be following us--with an object."
"You can always," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "turn round if you don't
like it, and go back the way you came."
"Oh-o!" said the other man in brown. "THAT'S it! I thought as
"Did you?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, quite at sea, but rising pluckily
to the unknown occasion. What was the man driving at?
"I see," said the other man. "I see. I half suspected--" His
manner changed abruptly to a quality suspiciously friendly. "Yes-
-a word with you. You will, I hope, give me ten minutes."
Wonderful things were dawning on Mr. Hoopdriver. What did the
other man take him for? Here at last was reality! He hesitated.
Then he thought of an admirable phrase. "You 'ave some
"We'll call it a communication," said the other man.
"I can spare you the ten minutes," said Mr. Hoopdriver, with
"This way, then," said the other man in brown, and they walked
slowly down the North Street towards the Grammar School. There
was, perhaps, thirty seconds' silence. The other man stroked his
moustache nervously. Mr. Hoopdriver's dramatic instincts were now
fully awake. He did not quite understand in what role he was
cast, but it was evidently something dark and mysterious. Doctor
Conan Doyle, Victor Hugo, and Alexander Dumas were well within
Mr. Hoopdriver's range of reading, and he had not read them for
"I will be perfectly frank with you," said the other man in
"Frankness is always the best course," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Well, then--who the devil set you on this business?"
"Set me ON this business?"
"Don't pretend to be stupid. Who's your employer? Who engaged you
for this job?"
"Well," said Mr. Hoopdriver, confused. "No--I can't say."
"Quite sure?" The other man in brown glanced meaningly down at
his hand, and Mr. Hoopdriver, following him mechanically, saw a
yellow milled edge glittering in the twilight. Now your shop
assistant is just above the tip-receiving class, and only just
above it--so that he is acutely sensitive on the point.
Mr. Hoopdriver flushed hotly, and his eyes were angry as he met
those of the other man in brown. "Stow it!" said Mr. Hoopdriver,
stopping and facing the tempter.
"What!" said the other man in brown, surprised. "Eigh?" And so
saying he stowed it in his breeches pocket.
"D'yer think I'm to be bribed?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, whose
imagination was rapidly expanding the situation. "By Gosh! I'd
follow you now--"
"My dear sir," said the other man in brown, "I beg your pardon. I
misunderstood you. I really beg your pardon. Let us walk on. In
"What have you got to say against my profession?"
"Well, really, you know. There are detectives of an inferior
description--watchers. The whole class. Private Inquiry--I did
not realise--I really trust you will overlook what was, after
all--you must admit--a natural indiscretion. Men of honour are
not so common in the world--in any profession."
It was lucky for Mr. Hoopdriver that in Midhurst they do not
light the lamps in the summer time, or the one they were passing
had betrayed him. As it was, he had to snatch suddenly at his
moustache and tug fiercely at it, to conceal the furious tumult
of exultation, the passion of laughter, that came boiling up.
Detective! Even in the shadow Bechamel saw that a laugh was
stifled, but he put it down to the fact that the phrase "men of
honour" amused his interlocutor. "He'll come round yet," said
Bechamel to himself. "He's simply holding out for a fiver." He
"I don't see that it hurts you to tell me who your employer is."
"Don't you? I do."
"Prompt," said Bechamel, appreciatively. "Now here's the thing I
want to put to you--the kernel of the whole business. You need
not answer if you don't want to. There's no harm done in my
telling you what I want to know. Are you employed to watch me--or
"I'm not the leaky sort," said Mr. Hoopdriver, keeping the secret
he did not know with immense enjoyment. Miss Milton! That was her
name. Perhaps he'd tell some more. "It's no good pumping. Is that
all you're after?" said Mr. Hoopdriver.
Bechamel respected himself for his diplomatic gifts. He tried to
catch a remark by throwing out a confidence. "I take it there are
two people concerned in watching this affair."
"Who's the other?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, calmly, but controlling
with enormous internal tension his selfappreciation. "Who's the
other?" was really brilliant, he thought.
"There's my wife and HER stepmother."
"And you want to know which it is?"
"Yes," said Bechamel.
"Well--arst 'em!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, his exultation getting the
better of him, and with a pretty consciousness of repartee. "Arst
Bechamel turned impatiently. Then he made a last effort. "I'd
give a five-pound note to know just the precise state of
affairs," he said.
"I told you to stow that," said Mr. Hoopdriver, in a threatening
tone. And added with perfect truth and a magnificent mystery,
"You don't quite understand who you're dealing with. But you
will!" He spoke with such conviction that he half believed that
that defective office of his in London--Baker Street, in fact--
With that the interview terminated. Bechamel went back to the
Angel, perturbed. "Hang detectives!" It wasn't the kind of thing
he had anticipated at all. Hoopdriver, with round eyes and a
wondering smile, walked down to where the mill waters glittered
in the moonlight, and after meditating over the parapet of the
bridge for a space, with occasional murmurs of, "Private Inquiry"
and the like, returned, with mystery even in his paces, towards
That glee which finds expression in raised eyebrows and long, low
whistling noises was upon Mr. Hoopdriver. For a space he forgot
the tears of the Young Lady in Grey. Here was a new game!--and a
real one. Mr. Hoopdriver as a Private Inquiry Agent, a Sherlock
Holmes in fact, keeping these two people 'under observation.' He
walked slowly back from the bridge until he was opposite the
Angel, and stood for ten minutes, perhaps, contemplating that
establishment and enjoying all the strange sensations of being
this wonderful, this mysterious and terrible thing. Everything
fell into place in his scheme. He had, of course, by a kind of
instinct, assumed the disguise of a cyclist, picked up the first
old crock he came across as a means of pursuit. 'No expense was
to be spared.'
Then he tried to understand what it was in particular that he was
observing. "My wife"--"HER stepmother!" Then he remembered her
swimming eyes. Abruptly came a wave of anger that surprised him,
washed away the detective superstructure, and left him plain Mr.
Hoopdriver. This man in brown, with his confident manner, and his
proffered half sovereign (damn him!) was up to no good, else why
should he object to being watched? He was married! She was not
his sister. He began to understand. A horrible suspicion of the
state of affairs came into Mr. Hoopdriver's head. Surely it had
not come to THAT. He was a detective!--he would find out. How was
it to be done? He began to submit sketches on approval to
himself. It required an effort before he could walk into the
Angel bar. "A lemonade and bitter, please," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
He cleared his throat. "Are Mr. and Mrs. Bowlong stopping here?"
"What, a gentleman and a young lady--on bicycles?"
"Fairly young--a married couple."
"No," said the barmaid, a talkative person of ample dimensions.
"There's no married couples stopping here. But there's a Mr. and
Miss BEAUMONT." She spelt it for precision. "Sure you've got the
name right, young man?"
"Quite," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Beaumont there is, but no one of the name of-- What was the name
"Bowlong," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"No, there ain't no Bowlong," said the barmaid, taking up a
glasscloth and a drying tumbler and beginning to polish the
latter. "First off, I thought you might be asking for Beaumont--
the names being similar. Were you expecting them on bicycles?"
"Yes--they said they MIGHT be in Midhurst tonight."
"P'raps they'll come presently. Beaumont's here, but no Bowlong.
Sure that Beaumont ain't the name?"
"Certain," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"It's curious the names being so alike. I thought p'raps--"
And so they conversed at some length, Mr. Hoopdriver delighted to
find his horrible suspicion disposed of. The barmaid having
listened awhile at the staircase volunteered some particulars of
the young couple upstairs. Her modesty was much impressed by the
young lady's costume, so she intimated, and Mr. Hoopdriver
whispered the badinage natural to the occasion, at which she was
coquettishly shocked. "There'll be no knowing which is which, in
a year or two," said the barmaid. "And her manner too! She got
off her machine and give it 'im to stick up against the kerb, and
in she marched. 'I and my brother,' says she, 'want to stop here
to-night. My brother doesn't mind what kind of room 'e 'as, but I
want a room with a good view, if there's one to be got,' says
she. He comes hurrying in after and looks at her. 'I've settled
the rooms,' she says, and 'e says 'damn!' just like that. I can
fancy my brother letting me boss the show like that."
"I dessay you do," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "if the truth was known."
The barmaid looked down, smiled and shook her head, put down the
tumbler, polished, and took up another that had been draining,
and shook the drops of water into her little zinc sink.
"She'll be a nice little lot to marry," said the barmaid. "She'll
be wearing the--well, b-dashes, as the sayin' is. I can't think
what girls is comin' to."
This depreciation of the Young Lady in Grey was hardly to
"Fashion," said he, taking up his change. "Fashion is all the go
with you ladies--and always was. You'll be wearing 'em yourself
before a couple of years is out."
"Nice they'd look on my figger," said the barmaid, with a titter.
"No--I ain't one of your fashionable sort. Gracious no! I
shouldn't feel as if I'd anything on me, not more than if I'd
forgot-- Well, there! I'm talking." She put down the glass
abruptly. "I dessay I'm old fashioned," she said, and walked
humming down the bar.
"Not you," said Mr. Hoopdriver. He waited until he caught her
eye, then with his native courtesy smiled, raised his cap, and
wished her good evening.
Then Mr. Hoopdriver returned to the little room with the
lead-framed windows where he had dined, and where the bed was now
comfortably made, sat down on the box under the window, stared at
the moon rising on the shining vicarage roof, and tried to
collect his thoughts. How they whirled at first! It was past ten,
and most of Midhurst was tucked away in bed, some one up the
street was learning the violin, at rare intervals a belated
inhabitant hurried home and woke the echoes, and a corncrake kept
up a busy churning in the vicarage garden. The sky was deep blue,
with a still luminous afterglow along the hlack edge of the hill,
and the white moon overhead, save for a couple of yellow stars,
had the sky to herself.
At first his thoughts were kinetic, of deeds and not
relationships. There was this malefactor, and his victim, and it
had fallen on Mr. Hoopdriver to take a hand in the game. HE was
married. Did she know he was married? Never for a moment did a
thought of evil concerning her cross Hoopdriver's mind. Simple-
minded people see questions of morals so much better than
superior persons--who have read and thought themselves complex to
impotence. He had heard her voice, seen the frank light in her
eyes, and she had been weeping--that sufficed. The rights of the
case he hadn't properly grasped. But he would. And that smirking-
-well, swine was the mildest for him. He recalled the exceedingly
unpleasant incident of the railway bridge. "Thin we won't detain
yer, thenks," said Mr. Hoopdriver, aloud, in a strange,
unnatural, contemptible voice, supposed to represent that of
Bechamel. "Oh, the BEGGAR! I'll be level with him yet. He's
afraid of us detectives--that I'll SWEAR." (If Mrs. Wardor should
chance to be on the other side of the door within earshot, well
For a space he meditated chastisements and revenges, physical
impossibilities for the most part,--Bechamel staggering headlong
from the impact of Mr. Hoopdriver's large, but, to tell the
truth, ill supported fist, Bechamel's five feet nine of height
lifted from the ground and quivering under a vigorously applied
horsewhip. So pleasant was such dreaming, that Mr. Hoopdriver's
peaked face under the moonlight was transfigured. One might have
paired him with that well-known and universally admired triumph,
'The Soul's Awakening,' so sweet was his ecstasy. And presently
with his thirst for revenge glutted by six or seven violent
assaults, a duel and two vigorous murders, his mind came round to
the Young Lady in Grey again.
She was a plucky one too. He went over the incident the barmaid
at the Angel had described to him. His thoughts ceased to be a
torrent, smoothed down to a mirror in which she was reflected
with infinite clearness and detail. He'd never met anything like
her before. Fancy that bolster of a barmaid being dressed in that
way! He whuffed a contemptuous laugh. He compared her colour, her
vigour, her voice, with the Young Ladies in Business with whom
his lot had been cast. Even in tears she was beautiful, more
beautiful indeed to him, for it made her seem softer and weaker,
more accessible. And such weeping as he had seen before had been
so much a matter of damp white faces, red noses, and hair coming
out of curl. Your draper's assistant becomes something of a judge
of weeping, because weeping is the custom of all Young Ladies in
Business, when for any reason their services are dispensed with.
She could weep--and (by Gosh!) she could smile. HE knew that, and
reverting to acting abruptly, he smiled confidentially at the
puckered pallor of the moon.
It is difficult to say how long Mr. Hoopdriver's pensiveness
lasted. It seemed a long time before his thoughts of action
returned. Then he remembered he was a 'watcher'; that to-morrow
he must be busy. It would be in character to make notes, and he
pulled out his little note-book. With that in hand he fell
a-thinking again. Would that chap tell her the 'tecks were after
them? If so, would she be as anxious to get away as HE was? He
must be on the alert. If possible he must speak to her. Just a
significant word, "Your friend--trust me!"--It occurred to him
that to-morrow these fugitives might rise early to escape. At
that he thought of the time and found it was half-past eleven.
"Lord!" said he, "I must see that I wake." He yawned and rose.
The blind was up, and he pulled back the little chintz curtains
to let the sunlight strike across to the bed, hung his watch
within good view of his pillow, on a nail that supported a
kettle-holder, and sat down on his bed to undress. He lay awake
for a little while thinking of the wonderful possibilities of the
morrow, and thence he passed gloriously into the wonderland of
And now to tell of Mr. Hoopdriver, rising with the sun, vigilant,
active, wonderful, the practicable half of the lead-framed window
stuck open, ears alert, an eye flickering incessantly in the
corner panes, in oblique glances at the Angel front. Mrs. Wardor
wanted him to have his breakfast downstairs in her kitchen, but
that would have meant abandoning the watch, and he held out
strongly. The bicycle, cap-a-pie, occupied, under protest, a
strategic position in the shop. He was expectant by six in the
morning. By nine horrible fears oppressed him that his quest had
escaped him, and he had to reconnoitre the Angel yard in order to
satisfy himself. There he found the ostler (How are the mighty
fallen in these decadent days!) brushing down the bicycles of the
chase, and he returned relieved to Mrs. Wardor's premises. And
about ten they emerged, and rode quietly up the North Street. He
watched them until they turned the corner of the post office, and
then out into the road and up after them in fine style! They went
by the engine-house where the old stocks and the whipping posts
are, and on to the Chichester road, and he followed gallantly. So
this great chase began.
They did not look round, and he kept them just within sight,
getting down if he chanced to draw closely upon them round a
corner. By riding vigorously he kept quite conveniently near
them, for they made but little hurry. He grew hot indeed, and his
knees were a little stiff to begin with, but that was all. There
was little danger of losing them, for a thin chalky dust lay upon
the road, and the track of her tire was milled like a shilling,
and his was a chequered ribbon along the way. So they rode by
Cobden's monument and through the prettiest of villages, until at
last the downs rose steeply ahead. There they stopped awhile at
the only inn in the place, and Mr. Hoopdriver took up a position
which commanded the inn door, and mopped his face and thirsted
and smoked a Red Herring cigarette. They remained in the inn for
some time. A number of chubby innocents returning home from
school, stopped and formed a line in front of him, and watched
him quietly but firmly for the space of ten minutes or so. "Go
away," said he, and they only seemed quietly interested. He asked
them all their names then, and they answered indistinct murmurs.
He gave it up at last and became passive on his gate, and so at
length they tired of him.
The couple under observation occupied the inn so long that Mr.
Hoopdriver at the thought of their possible employment hungered
as well as thirsted. Clearly, they were lunching. It was a
cloudless day, and the sun at the meridian beat down upon the top
of Mr. Hoopdriver's head, a shower bath of sunshine, a huge jet
of hot light. It made his head swim. At last they emerged, and
the other man in brown looked back and saw him. They rode on to
the foot of the down, and dismounting began to push tediously up
that long nearly vertical ascent of blinding white road, Mr.
Hoopdriver hesitated. It might take them twenty minutes to mount
that. Beyond was empty downland perhaps for miles. He decided to
return to the inn and snatch a hasty meal.
At the inn they gave him biscuits and cheese and a misleading
pewter measure of sturdy ale, pleasant under the palate, cool in
the throat, but leaden in the legs, of a hot afternoon. He felt a
man of substance as he emerged in the blinding sunshine, but even
by the foot of the down the sun was insisting again that his
skull was too small for his brains. The hill had gone steeper,
the chalky road blazed like a magnesium light, and his front
wheel began an apparently incurable squeaking. He felt as a man
from Mars would feel if he were suddenly transferred to this
planet, about three times as heavy as he was wont to feel. The
two little black figures had vanished over the forehead of the
hill. "The tracks'll be all right," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
That was a comforting reflection. It not only justified a slow
progress up the hill, but at the crest a sprawl on the turf
beside the road, to contemplate the Weald from the south. In a
matter of two days he had crossed that spacious valley, with its
frozen surge of green hills, its little villages and townships
here and there, its copses and cornfields, its ponds and streams
like jewelery of diamonds and silver glittering in the sun. The
North Downs were hidden, far away beyond the Wealden Heights.
Down below was the little village of Cocking, and half-way up the
hill, a mile perhaps to the right, hung a flock of sheep grazing
together. Overhead an anxious peewit circled against the blue,
and every now and then emitted its feeble cry. Up here the heat
was tempered by a pleasant breeze. Mr. Hoopdriver was possessed
by unreasonable contentment; he lit himself a cigarette and
lounged more comfortably. Surely the Sussex ale is made of the
waters of Lethe, of poppies and pleasant dreams. Drowsiness
coiled insidiously about him.
He awoke with a guilty start, to find himself sprawling prone on
the turf with his cap over one eye. He sat up, rubbed his eyes,
and realised that he had slept. His head was still a trifle
heavy. And the chase? He jumped to his feet and stooped to pick.
up his overturned machine. He whipped out his watch and saw that
it was past two o'clock. "Lord love us, fancy that!--But the
tracks'll be all right," said Mr. Hoopdriver, wheeling his
machine back to the chalky road. "I must scorch till I overtake
He mounted and rode as rapidly as the heat and a lingering
lassitude permitted. Now and then he had to dismount to examine
the surface where the road forked. He enjoyed that rather.
"Trackin'," he said aloud, and decided in the privacy of his own
mind that he had a wonderful instinct for 'spoor.' So he came
past Goodwood station and Lavant, and approached Chichester
towards four o'clock. And then came a terrible thing. In places
the road became hard, in places were the crowded indentations of
a recent flock of sheep, and at last in the throat of the town
cobbles and the stony streets branching east, west, north, and
south, at a stone cross under the shadow of the cathedral the
tracks vanished. "O Cricky!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, dismounting in
dismay and standing agape. "Dropped anything?" said an inhabitant
at the kerb. "Yes," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "I've lost the spoor,"
and walked upon his way, leaving the inhabitant marvelling what
part of a bicycle a spoor might be. Mr. Hoopdriver, abandoning
tracking, began asking people if they had seen a Young Lady in
Grey on a bicycle. Six casual people hadn't, and he began to feel
the inquiry was conspicuous, and desisted. But what was to be
Hoopdriver was hot, tired, and hungry, and full of the first
gnawings of a monstrous remorse. He decided to get himself some
tea and meat, and in the Royal George he meditated over the
business in a melancholy frame enough. They had passed out of his
world--vanished, and all his wonderful dreams of some vague,
crucial interference collapsed like a castle of cards. What a
fool he had been not to stick to them like a leech! He might have
thought! But there!--what WAS the good of that sort of thing now?
He thought of her tears, of her helplessness, of the bearing of
the other man in brown, and his wrath and disappointment surged
higher. "What CAN I do?" said Mr. Hoopdriver aloud, bringing his
fist down beside the teapot.
What would Sherlock Holmes have done? Perhaps, after all, there
might be such things as clues in the world, albeit the age of
miracles was past. But to look for a clue in this intricate
network of cobbled streets, to examine every muddy interstice!
There was a chance by looking about and inquiry at the various
inns. Upon that he began. But of course they might have ridden
straight through and scarcely a soul have marked them. And then
came a positivelybrilliant idea. "'Ow many ways are there out of
Chichester?" said Mr. Hoopdriver. It was really equal to Sherlock
Holmes--that." If they've made tracks, I shall find those tracks.
If not--they're in the town." He was then in East Street, and he
started at once to make the circuit of the place, discovering
incidentally that Chichester is a walled city. In passing, he
made inquiries at the Black Swan, the Crown, and the Red Lion
Hotel. At six o'clock in the evening, he was walking downcast,
intent, as one who had dropped money, along the road towards
Bognor, kicking up the dust with his shoes and fretting with
disappointed pugnacity. A thwarted, crestfallen Hoopdriver it
was, as you may well imagine. And then suddenly there jumped upon
his attention--a broad line ribbed like a shilling, and close
beside it one chequered, that ever and again split into two.
"Found!" said Mr. Hoopdriver and swung round on his heel at once,
and back to the Royal George, helter skelter, for the bicycle
they were minding for him. The ostler thought he was confoundedly
imperious, considering his machine.
That seductive gentleman, Bechamel, had been working up to a
crisis. He had started upon this elopement in a vein of fine
romance, immensely proud of his wickedness, and really as much in
love as an artificial oversoul can be, with Jessie. But either
she was the profoundest of coquettes or she had not the slightest
element of Passion (with a large P) in her composition. It warred
with all his ideas of himself and the feminine mind to think that
under their flattering circumstances she really could be so
vitally deficient. He found her persistent coolness, her more or
less evident contempt for himself, exasperating in the highest
degree. He put it to himself that she was enough to provoke a
saint, and tried to think that was piquant and enjoyable, but the
blisters on his vanity asserted themselves. The fact is, he was,
under this standing irritation, getting down to the natural man
in himself for once, and the natural man in himself, in spite of
Oxford and the junior Reviewers' Club, was a Palaeolithic
creature of simple tastes and violent methods. "I'll be level
with you yet," ran like a plough through the soil of his
Then there was this infernal detective. Bechamel had told his
wife he was going to Davos to see Carter. To that he had fancied
she was reconciled, but how she would take this exploit was
entirely problematical. She was a woman of peculiar moral views,
and she measured marital infidelity largely by its proximity to
herself. Out of her sight, and more particularly out of the sight
of the other women of her set, vice of the recognised description
was, perhaps, permissible to those contemptible weaklings, men,
but this was Evil on the High Roads. She was bound to make a
fuss, and these fusses invariably took the final form of a
tightness of money for Bechamel. Albeit, and he felt it was
heroic of him to resolve so, it was worth doing if it was to be
done. His imagination worked on a kind of matronly Valkyrie, and
the noise of pursuit and vengeance was in the air. The idyll
still had the front of the stage. That accursed detective, it
seemed, had been thrown off the scent, and that, at any rate,
gave a night's respite. But things must be brought to an issue
By eight o'clock in the evening, in a little dining-room in the
Vicuna Hotel, Bognor, the crisis had come, and Jessie, flushed
and angry in the face and with her heart sinking, faced him again
for her last st,ruggle with him. He had tricked her this time,
effectually, and luck had been on his side. She was booked as
Mrs. Beaumont. Save for her refusal to enter their room, and her
eccentricity of eating with unwashed hands, she had so far kept
up the appearances of things before the waiter. But the dinner
was grim enough. Now in turn she appealed to his better nature
and made extravagant statements of her plans to fool him.
He was white and vicious by this time, and his anger quivered
through his pose of brilliant wickedness.
"I will go to the station," she said. "I will go back--"
"The last train for anywhere leaves at 7.42."
"I will appeal to the police--"
"You don't know them."
"I will tell these hotel people."
"They will turn you out of doors. You're in such a thoroughly
false position now. They don't understand unconventionality, down
She stamped her foot. "If I wander about the streets all night--"
"You who have never been out alone after dusk? Do you know what
the streets of a charming little holiday resort are like--"
"I don't care," she said. "I can go to the clergyman here."
"He's a charming man. Unmarried. And men are really more alike
than you think. And anyhow--"
"How CAN you explain the last two nights to anyone now? The
mischief is done, Jessie."
"You CUR," she said, and suddenly put her hand to her breast. He
thought she meant to faint, but she stood, with the colour gone
from her face.
"No," he said. "I love you."
"Love!" said she.
"There are ways yet," she said, after a pause.
"Not for you. You are too full of life and hope yet for, what is
it?--not the dark arch nor the black flowing river. Don't you
think of it. You'll only shirk it when the moment comes, and turn
it all into comedy."
She turned round abruptly from him and stood looking out across
the parade at the shining sea over which the afterglow of day
fled before the rising moon. He maintained his attitude. The
blinds were still up, for she had told the waiter not to draw
them. There was silence for some moments.
At last he spoke in as persuasive a voice as he could summon.
"Take it sensibly, Jessie. Why should we, who have so much in
common, quarrel into melodrama? I swear I love you. You are all
that is bright and desirable to me. I am stronger than you,
older; man to your woman. To find YOU too--conventional!"
She looked at him over her shoulder, and he noticed with a twinge
of delight how her little chin came out beneath the curve of her
"MAN!" she said. "Man to MY woman! Do MEN lie? Would a MAN use
his five and thirty years' experience to outwit a girl of
seventeen? Man to my woman indeed! That surely is the last
"Your repartee is admirable, Jessie. I should say they do,
though--all that and more also when their hearts were set on such
a girl as yourself. For God's sake drop this shrewishness! Why
should you be so--difficult to me? Here am I with MY reputation,
MY career, at your feet. Look here, Jessie--on my honour, I will
"God forbid," she said, so promptly that she never learnt he had
a wife, even then. It occurred to him then for the first time, in
the flash of her retort, that she did not know he was married.
"'Tis only a pre-nuptial settlement," he said, following that
"You must be sensible. The thing's your own doing. Come out on
the beach now the beach here is splendid, and the moon will soon
"_I_ WON'T" she said, stamping her foot.
"Oh! leave me alone. Let me think--"
"Think," he said, "if you want to. It's your cry always. But you
can't save yourself by thinking, my dear girl. You can't save
yourself in any way now. If saving it is--this parsimony--"
"Very well. I will go. I will go and smoke a cigar. And think of
you, dear. . . . But do you think I should do all this if I did
"Go," she whispered, without glancing round. She continued to
stare out of the window. He stood looking at her for a moment,
with a strange light in his eyes. He made a step towards her. "I
HAVE you,", he said. "You are mine. Netted--caught. But mine." He
would have gone up to her and laid his hand upon her, but he did
not dare to do that yet. "I have you in my hand," he said, "in my
power. Do you hear--POWER!"
She remained impassive. He stared at her for half a minute, and
then, with a superb gesture that was lost upon her, went to the
door. Surely the instinctive abasement of her sex before Strength
was upon his side. He told himself that his battle was won. She
heard the handle move and the catch click as the door closed
And now without in the twilight behold Mr. Hoopdriver, his cheeks
hot, his eye bright! His brain is in a tumult. The nervous,
obsequious Hoopdriver, to whom I introduced you some days since,
has undergone a wonderful change. Ever since he lost that 'spoor'
in Chichester, he has been tormented by the most horrible visions
of the shameful insults that may be happening. The strangeness of
new surroundings has been working to strip off the habitual
servile from him. Here was moonlight rising over the memory of a
red sunset, dark shadows and glowing orange lamps, beauty
somewhere mysteriously rapt away from him, tangible wrong in a
brown suit and an unpleasant face, flouting him. Mr. Hoopdriver
for the time, was in the world of Romance and Knight-errantry,
divinely forgetful of his social position or hers; forgetting,
too, for the time any of the wretched timidities that had tied
him long since behind the counter in his proper place. He was
angry and adventurous. It was all about him, this vivid drama he
had fallen into, and it was eluding him. He was far too grimly in
earnest to pick up that lost thread and make a play of it now.
The man was living. He did not pose when he alighted at the cof
ee tavern even, nor when he made his hasty meal.
As Bechamel crossed from the Vicuna towards the esplanade,
Hoopdriver, disappointed and exasperated, came hurrying round the
corner from the Temperance Hotel. At the sight of Bechamel, his
heart jumped, and the tension of his angry suspense exploded
into, rather than gave place to, an excited activity of mind.
They were at the Vicuna, and she was there now alone. It was the
occasion he sought. But he would give Chance no chance against
him. He went back round the corner, sat down on the seat, and
watched Bechamel recede into the dimness up the esplanade, before
he got up and walked into the hotel entrance. "A lady cyclist in
grey," he asked for, and followed boldly on the waiter's heels.
The door of the dining-room was opening before he felt a qualm.
And then suddenly he was nearly minded to turn and run for it,
and his features seemed to him to be convulsed.
She turned with a start, and looked at him with something between
terror and hope in her eyes.
"Can I--have a few words--with you, alone?" said Mr. Hoopdriver,
controlling his breath with difficulty. She hesitated, and then
motioned the waiter to withdraw.
Mr. Hoopdriver watched the door shut. He had intended to step out
into the middle of the room, fold his arms and say, "You are in
trouble. I am a Friend. Trust me." Instead of which he stood
panting and then spoke with sudden familiarity, hastily,
guiltily: "Look here. I don't know what the juice is up, but I
think there's something wrong. Excuse my intruding--if it isn't
so. I'll do anything you like to help you out of the scrape--if
you're in one. That's my meaning, I believe. What can I do? I
would do anything to help you."
Her brow puckered, as she watched him make, with infinite
emotion, this remarkable speech. "YOU!" she said. She was
tumultuously weighing possibilities in her mind, and he had
scarcely ceased when she had made her resolve.
She stepped a pace forward. "You are a gentleman," she said.
"Yes," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"Can I trust you?"
She did not wait for his assurance. "I must leave this hotel at
once. Come here."
She took his arm and led him to the window.
"You can just see the gate. It is still open. Through that are
our bicycles. Go down, get them out, and I will come down to you.
"Get your bicycle out in the road?"
"Both. Mine alone is no good. At once. Dare you?"
"Go out by the front door and round. I will follow in one
"Right!" said Mr. Hoopdriver, and went.
He had to get those bicycles. Had he been told to go out and kill
Bechamel he would have done it. His head was a MaeIstrom now. He
walked out of the hotel, along the front, and into the big,
blackshadowed coach yard. He looked round. There were no bicycles
visible. Then a man emerged from the dark, a short man in a
short, black, shiny jacket. Hoopdriver was caught. He made no
attempt to turn and run for it. "I've been giving your machines a
wipe over, sir," said the man, recognising the suit, and touching
his cap. Hoopdriver's intelligence now was a soaring eagle; he
swooped on the situation at once. "That's right," he said, and
added, before the pause became marked, "Where is mine? I want to
look at the chain."
The man led him into an open shed, and went fumbling for a
lantern. Hoopdriver moved the lady's machine out of his way to
the door, and then laid hands on the man's machine and wheeled it
out of the shed into the yard. The gate stood open and beyond was
the pale road and a clump of trees black in the twilight. He
stooped and examined the chain with trembling fingers. How was it
to be done? Something behind the gate seemed to flutter. The man
must be got rid of anyhow.
"I say," said Hoopdriver, with an inspiration, "can you get me a
The man simply walked across the shed, opened and shut a box, and
came up to the kneeling Hoopdriver with a screwdriver in his
hand. Hoopdriver felt himself a lost man. He took the screwdriver
with a tepid "Thanks," and incontinently had another inspiration.
"I say," he said again.
"This is miles too big."
The man lit the lantern, brought it up to Hoopdriver and put it
down on the ground. "Want a smaller screwdriver?" he said.
Hoopdriver had his handkerchief out and sneezed a prompt ATICHEW.
It is the orthodox thing when you wish to avoid recognition. "As
small as you have," he said, out of his pocket handkerchief.
"I ain't got none smaller than that," said the ostler.
"Won't do, really," said Hoopdriver, still wallowing in his
"I'll see wot they got in the 'ouse, if you like, sir," said the
man. "If you would," said Hoopdriver. And as the man's heavily
nailed boots went clattering down the yard, Hoopdriver stood up,
took a noiseless step to the lady's machine, laid trembling hands
on its handle and saddle, and prepared for a rush.
The scullery door opened momentarily and sent a beam of warm,
yellow light up the road, shut again behind the man, and
forthwith Hoopdriver rushed the machines towards the gate. A dark
grey form came fluttering to meet him. "Give me this," she said,
"and bring yours."
He passed the thing to her, touched her hand in the darkness, ran
back, seized Bechamel's machine, and followed.
The yellow light of the scullery door suddenly flashed upon the
cobbles again. It was too late now to do anything but escape. He
heard the ostler shout behind him, and came into the road. She
was up and dim already. He got into the saddle without a blunder.
In a moment the ostler was in the gateway with a full-throated
"HI! sir! That ain't allowed;" and Hoopdriver was overtaking the
Young Lady in Grey. For some moments the earth seemed alive with
shouts of, "Stop 'em!" and the shadows with ambuscades of police.
The road swept round, and they were riding out of sight of the
hotel, and behind dark hedges, side by side.
She was weeping with excitement as he overtook her. "Brave," she
said, "brave!" and he ceased to feel like a hunted thief. He
looked over his shoulder and about him, and saw that they were
already out of Bognor--for the Vicuna stands at the very
westernmost extremity of the sea front--and riding on a fair wide
The ostler (being a fool) rushed violently down the road
vociferating after them. Then he returned panting to the Vicuna
Hotel, and finding a group of men outside the entrance, who
wanted to know what was UP, stopped to give them the cream of the
adventure. That gave the fugitives five minutes. Then pushing
breathlessly into the bar, he had to make it clear to the barmaid
what the matter was, and the 'gov'nor' being out , they spent
some more precious time wondering 'what--EVER' was to be done! in
which the two customers returning from outside joined with
animation. There were also moral remarks and other irrelevant
contributions. There were conflicting ideas of telling the police
and pursuing the flying couple on a horse. That made ten minutes.
Then Stephen, the waiter, who had shown Hoopdriver up, came down
and lit wonderful lights and started quite a fresh discussion by
the simple question "WHICH?" That turned ten minutes into a
quarter of an hour. And in the midst of this discussion, making a
sudden and awestricken silence, appeared Bechamel in the hall
beyond the bar, walked with a resolute air to the foot of the
staircase, and passed out of sight. You conceive the backward
pitch of that exceptionally shaped cranium? Incredulous eyes
stared into one another's in the bar, as his paces, muffled by
the stair carpet, went up to the landing, turned, reached the
passage and walked into the dining-room overhead.
"It wasn't that one at all, miss," said the ostler,"I'd SWEAR"
"Well, that's Mr. Beaumont," said the barmaid, "--anyhow."
Their conversation hung comatose in the air, switched up by
Bechamel. They listened together. His feet stopped. Turned. Went
out of the diningroom. Down the passage to the bedroom. Stopped
"Poor chap!" said the barmaid. "She's a wicked woman!"
"Sssh!" said Stephen.
After a pause Bechamel went back to the dining-room. They heard a
chair creak under him. Interlude of conversational eyebrows.
"I'm going up," said Stephen, "to break the melancholy news to
Bechamel looked up from a week-old newspaper as, without
knocking, Stephen entered. Bechamel's face suggested a different
expectation. "Beg pardon, sir," said Stephen, with a diplomatic
"Well?" said Bechamel, wondering suddenly if Jessie had kept some
of her threats. If so, he was in for an explanation. But he had
it ready. She was a monomaniac. "Leave me alone with her," he
would say; "I know how to calm her."
"Mrs. Beaumont," said Stephen.
He rose with a fine surprise. "Gone!" he said with a half laugh.
"Gone, sir. On her bicycle."
"On her bicycle! Why?"
"She went, sir, with Another Gentleman."
This time Bechamel was really startled. "An--other Gentlemen!
"Another gentleman in brown, sir. Went into the yard, sir, got
out the two bicycles, sir, and went off, sir--about twenty
Bechamel stood with his eyes round and his knuckle on his hips.
Stephen, watching him with immense enjoyment, speculated whether
this abandoned husband would weep or curse, or rush off at once
in furious pursuit. But as yet he seemed merely stunned.
"Brown clothes?" he said. "And fairish?"
"A little like yourself, sir--in the dark. The ostler, sir, Jim
Bechamel laughed awry. Then, with infinite fervour, he said--But
let us put in blank cartridge--he said, "--- ---!"
"I might have thought!"
He flung himself into the armchair.
"Damn her," said Bechamel, for all the world like a common man.
"I'll chuck this infernal business! They've gone, eigh?"
Well, let 'em GO," said Bechamel, making a memorable saying. "Let
'em GO. Who cares? And I wish him luck. And bring me some Bourbon
as fast as you can, there's a good chap. I'll take that, and then
I'll have another look round Bognor before I turn in."
Stephen was too surprised to say anything but "Bourbon, sir?"
"Go on," said Bechamel. "Damn you!"
Stephen's sympathies changed at once. "Yessir," he murmured,
fumbling for the door handle, and left the room, marvelling.
Bechamel, having in this way satisfied his sense of appearances,
and comported himself as a Pagan should, so soon as the waiter's
footsteps had passed, vented the cream of his feelings in a
stream of blasphemous indecency. Whether his wife or HER
stepmother had sent the detective, SHE had evidently gone off
with him, and that little business was over. And he was here,
stranded and sold, an ass, and as it were, the son of many
generations of asses. And his only ray of hope was that it seemed
more probable, after all, that the girl had escaped through her
stepmother. In which case the business might be hushed up yet,
and the evil hour of explanation with his wife indefinitely
postponed. Then abruptly the image of that lithe figure in grey
knickerbockers went frisking across his mind again, and he
reverted to his blasphemies. He started up in a gusty frenzy with
a vague idea of pursuit, and incontinently sat down again with a
concussion that stirred the bar below to its depths. He banged
the arms of the chair with his fist, and swore again. "Of all the
accursed fools that were ever spawned," he was chanting, "I,
Bechamel--" when with an abrupt tap and prompt opening of the
door, Stephen entered with the Bourbon.
THE MOONLIGHT RIDE
And so the twenty minutes' law passed into an infinity. We leave
the wicked Bechamel clothing himself with cursing as with a
garment,--the wretched creature has already sufficiently sullied
our modest but truthful pages,--we leave the eager little group
in the bar of the Vicuna Hotel, we leave all Bognor as we have
left all Chichester and Midhurst and Haslemere and Guildford and
Ripley and Putney, and follow this dear fool of a Hoopdriver of
ours and his Young Lady in Grey out upon the moonlight road. How
they rode! How their hearts beat together and their breath came
fast, and how every shadow was anticipation and every noise
pursuit! For all that flight Mr. Hoopdriver was in the world of
Romance. Had a policeman intervened because their lamps were not
lit, Hoopdriver had cut him down and ridden on, after the fashion
of a hero born. Had Bechamel arisen in the way with rapiers for a
duel, Hoopdriver had fought as one to whom Agincourt was a
reality and drapery a dream. It was Rescue, Elopement, Glory! And
she by the side of him! He had seen her face in shadow, with the
morning sunlight tangled in her hair, he had seen her sympathetic
with that warm light in her face, he had seen her troubled and
her eyes bright with tears. But what light is there lighting a
face like hers, to compare with the soft glamour of the midsummer
The road turned northward, going round through the outskirts of
Bognor, in one place dark and heavy under a thick growth of
trees, then amidst villas again, some warm and lamplit, some
white and sleeping in the moonlight; then between hedges, over
which they saw broad wan meadows shrouded in a low-lying mist.
They scarcely heeded whither they rode at first, being only
anxious to get away, turning once westward when the spire of
Chichester cathedral rose suddenly near them out of the dewy
night, pale and intricate and high. They rode, speaking little,
just a rare word now and then, at a turning, at a footfall, at a
roughness in the road.
She seemed to be too intent upon escape to give much thought to
him, but after the first tumult of the adventure, as flight
passed into mere steady ridin@@ his mind became an enormous
appreciation of the position. The night was a warm white silence
save for the subtile running of their chains. He looked sideways
at her as she sat beside him with her ankles gracefully ruling
the treadles. Now the road turned westward, and she was a dark
grey outline against the shimmer of the moon; and now they faced
northwards, and the soft cold light passed caressingly over her
hair and touched her brow and cheek.
There is a magic quality in moonshine; it touches all that is
sweet and beautiful, and the rest of the night is hidden. It has
created the fairies, whom the sunlight kills, and fairyland rises
again in our hearts at the sight of it, the voices of the filmy
route, and their faint, soul-piercing melodies. By the moonlight
every man, dull clod though he be by day, tastes something of
Endymion, takes something of the youth and strength of Enidymion,
and sees the dear white goddess shining at him from his Lady's
eyes. The firm substantial daylight things become ghostly and
elusive, the hills beyond are a sea of unsubstantial texture, the
world a visible spirit, the spiritual within us rises out of its
darkness, loses something of its weight and body, and swims up
towards heaven. This road that was a mere rutted white dust, hot
underfoot, blinding to the eye, is now a soft grey silence, with
the glitter of a crystal grain set starlike in its silver here
and there. Overhead, riding serenely through the spacious blue,
is the mother of the silence, she who has spiritualised the
world, alone save for two attendant steady shining stars. And in
silence under her benign influence, under the benediction of her
light, rode our two wanderers side by side through the
transfigured and transfiguring night.
Nowhere was the moon shining quite so brightly as in Mr.
Hoopdriver's skull. At the turnings of the road he made his
decisions with an air of profound promptitude (and quite
haphazard). "The Right," he would say. Or again "The Left," as
one who knew. So it was that in the space of an hour they came
abruptly down a little lane, full tilt upon the sea. Grey beach
to the right of them and to the left, and a little white cottage
fast asleep inland of a sleeping fishing-boat. "Hullo!" said Mr.
Hoopdriver, sotto voce. They dismounted abruptly. Stunted oaks
and thorns rose out of the haze of moonlight that was tangled in
the hedge on either side.
"You are safe," said Mr. Hoopdriver, sweeping off his cap with an
air and bowing courtly.
"Where are we?"
"Chichester Harbour." He waved his arm seaward as though it was a
"Do you think they will follow us?"
"We have turned and turned again."
It seemed to Hoopdriver that he heard her sob. She stood dimly
there, holding her machine, and he, holding his, could go no
nearer to her to see if she sobbed for weeping or for want of
breath. "What are we to do now?" her voice asked.
"Are you tired?" he asked.
"I will do what has to be done."
The two black figures in the broken light were silent for a
space. "Do you know," she said, "I am not afraid of you. I am
sure you are honest to me. And I do not even know your name!"
He was taken with a sudden shame of his homely patronymic. "It's
an ugly name," he said. "But you are right in trusting me. I
would--I would do anything for you. . . . This is nothing."
She caught at her breath. She did not care to ask why. But
compared with Bechamel!--"We take each other on trust," she said.
"Do you want to know--how things are with me?"
"That man," she went on, after the assent of his listening
silence, "promised to help and protect me. I was unhappy at
home--never mind why. A stepmother--Idle, unoccupied, hindered,
cramped, that is enough, perhaps. Then he came into my life, and
talked to me of art and literature, and set my brain on fire. I
wanted to come out into the world, to be a human being--not a
thing in a hutch. And he--"
"I know," said Hoopdriver.
"And now here I am--"
"I will do anything," said Hoopdriver.
She thought. "You cannot imagine my stepmother. No! I could not
"I am entirely at your service. I will help you with all my
"I have lost an Illusion and found a Knight-errant." She spoke of
Bechamel as the Illusion.
Mr. Hoopdriver felt flattered. But he had no adequate answer.
"I'm thinking," he said, full of a rapture of protective
responsibility, " what we had best be doing. You are tired, you
know. And we can't wander all night--after the day we've had."
"That was Chichester we were near?" she asked.
"If," he meditated, with a tremble in his voice, "you would make
ME your brother, MISS BEAUMONT."
"We could stop there together--"
She took a minute to answer. "I am going to light these lamps,"
said Hoopdriver. He bent down to his own, and struck a match on
his shoe. She looked at his face in its light, grave and intent.
How could she ever have thought him common or absurd?
"But you must tell me your name--brother," she said,
"Er--Carrington," said Mr. Hoopdriver, after a momentary pause.
Who would be Hoopdriver on a night like this?
"But the Christian name?"
"Christian name? MY Christian name. Well--Chris." He snapped his
lamp and stood up. "If you will hold my machine, I will light
yours," he said.
She came round obediently and took his machine, and for a moment
they stood face to face. "My name, brother Chris," she said, "is
He looked into her eyes, and his excitement seemed arrested.
"JESSIE," he repeated slowly. The mute emotion of his face
affected her strangely. She had to speak. "It's not such a very
wonderful name, is it?" she said, with a laugh to break the
He opened his mouth and shut it again, and, with a sudden wincing
of his features, abruptly turned and bent down to open the
lantern in front of her machine. She looked down at him, almost
kneeling in front of her, with an unreasonable approbation in her
eyes. It was, as I have indicated, the hour and season of the
Mr. Hoopdriver conducted the rest of that night's journey with
the same confident dignity as before, and it was chiefly by good
luck and the fact that most roads about a town converge
thereupon, that Chichester was at last attained. It seemed at
first as though everyone had gone to bed, but the Red Hotel still
glowed yellow and warm. It was the first time Hoopdriver bad
dared the mysteries of a 'first-class' hotel.' But that night he
was in the mood to dare anything.
"So you found your Young Lady at last," said the ostler of the
Red Hotel; for it chanced he was one of those of whom Hoopdriver
had made inquiries in the afternoon.
"Quite a misunderstanding," said Hoopdriver, with splendid
readiness. "My sister had gone to Bognor But I brought her back
here. I've took a fancy to this place. And the moonlight's simply
"We've had supper, thenks, and we're tired," said Mr. Hoopdriver.
"I suppose you won't take anything,--Jessie?"
The glory of having her, even as a sister! and to call her Jessie
like that! But he carried it off splendidly, as he felt himself
bound to admit. "Good-night, Sis," he said, "and pleasant dreams.
I'll just 'ave a look at this paper before I turn in." But this
was living indeed! he told himself.
So gallantly did Mr. Hoopdriver comport himself up to the very
edge of the Most Wonderful Day of all. It had begun early, you
will remember, with a vigil in a little sweetstuff shop next door
to the Angel at Midhurst. But to think of all the things that had
happened since then! He caught himself in the middle of a yawn,
pulled out his watch, saw the time was halfpast eleven, and
marched off, with a fine sense of heroism, bedward.
THE SURBITON INTERLUDE
And here, thanks to the glorious institution of sleep, comes a
break in the narrative again. These absurd young people are
safely tucked away now, their heads full of glowing nonsense,
indeed, but the course of events at any rate is safe from any
fresh developments through their activities for the next eight
hours or more. They are both sleeping healthily you will perhaps
be astonished to hear. Here is the girl--what girls are coming to
nowadays only Mrs. Lynn Linton can tell!--in company with an
absolute stranger, of low extraction and uncertain accent,
unchaperoned and unabashed; indeed, now she fancies she is safe,
she is, if anything, a little proud of her own share in these
transactions. Then this Mr. Hoopdriver of yours, roseate idiot
that he is! is in illegal possession of a stolen bicycle, a
stolen young lady, and two stolen names, established with them in
an hotel that is quite beyond his means, and immensely proud of
himself in a somnolent way for these incomparable follies. There
are occasions when a moralising novelist can merely wring his
hands and leave matters to take their course. For all Hoopdriver
knows or cares he may be locked up the very first thing to-morrow
morning for the rape of the cycle. Then in Bognor, let alone that
melancholy vestige, Bechamel (with whom our dealings are, thank
Goodness! over), there is a Coffee Tavern with a steak Mr.
Hoopdriver ordered, done to a cinder long ago, his American-cloth
parcel in a bedroom, and his own proper bicycle, by way of
guarantee, carefully locked up in the hayloft. To-morrow he will
be a Mystery, and they will be looking for his body along the sea
front. And so far we have never given a glance at the desolate
home in Surbiton, familiar to you no doubt through the medium of
illustrated interviews, where the unhappy stepmother--
That stepmother, it must be explained, is quite well known to
you. That is a little surprise I have prepared for you. She is
'Thomas Plantagenet,' the gifted authoress of that witty and
daring book, "A Soul Untrammelled," and quite an excellent woman
in her way,--only it is such a crooked way. Her real name is
Milton. She is a widow and a charming one, only ten years older
than Jessie, and she is always careful to dedicate her more
daring works to the 'sacred memory of my husband' to show that
there's nothing personal, you know, in the matter. Considering
her literary reputation (she was always speaking of herself as
one I martyred for truth,' because the critics advertised her
written indecorums in column long 'slates'),--considering her
literary reputation, I say, she was one of the most respectable
women it is possible to imagine. She furnished correctly, dressed
correctly, had severe notions of whom she might meet, went to
church, and even at times took the sacrament in some esoteric
spirit. And Jessie she brought up so carefully that she never
even let her read "A Soul Untrammelled." Which, therefore,
naturally enough, Jessie did, and went on from that to a feast of
advanced literature. Mrs. Milton not only brought up Jessie
carefully, but very slowly, so that at seventeen she was still a
clever schoolgirl (as you have seen her) and quite in the
background of the little literary circle of unimportant
celebrities which 'Thomas Plantagenet' adorned. Mrs. Milton knew
Bechamel's reputation of being a dangerous man; but then bad men
are not bad women, and she let him come to her house to show she
was not afraid--she took no account of Jessie. When the elopement
came, therefore, it was a double disappointment to her, for she
perceived his hand by a kind of instinct. She did the correct
thing. The correct thing, as you know, is to take hansom cabs,
regardless of expense, and weep and say you do not know WHAT to
do, round the circle of your confidential friends. She could not
have ridden nor wept more had Jessie been her own daughter--she
showed the properest spirit. And she not only showed it, but felt
Mrs. Milton, as a successful little authoress and still more
successful widow of thirty-two,--"Thomas Plantagenet is a
charming woman," her reviewers used to write invariably, even if
they spoke ill of her,--found the steady growth of Jessie into
womanhood an unmitigated nuisance and had been willing enough to
keep her in the background. And Jessie--who had started this
intercourse at fourteen with abstract objections to
stepmothers--had been active enough in resenting this. Increasing
rivalry and antagonism had sprung up between them, until they
could engender quite a vivid hatred from a dropped hairpin or the
cutting of a book with a sharpened knife. There is very little
deliberate wickedness in the world. The stupidity of our
selfishness gives much the same results indeed, but in the
ethical laboratory it shows a different nature. And when the
disaster came, Mrs. Milton's remorse for their gradual loss of
sympathy and her share in the losing of it, was genuine enough.
You may imagine the comfort she got from her friends, and how
West Kensington and Notting Hill and Hampstead, the literary
suburbs, those decent penitentiaries of a once Bohemian calling,
hummed with the business, Her 'Men'--as a charming literary lady
she had, of course, an organised corps--were immensely excited,
and were sympathetic; helpfully energetic, suggestive, alert, as
their ideals of their various dispositions required them to be.
"Any news of Jessie?" was the pathetic opening of a dozen
melancholy but interesting conversations. To her Men she was not
perhaps so damp as she was to her women friends, but in a quiet
way she was even more touching. For three days, Wednesday that
is, Thursday, and Friday, nothing was heard of the fugitives. It
was known that Jessie, wearing a patent costume with buttonup
skirts, and mounted on a diamond frame safety with Dunlops, and a
loofah covered saddle, had ridden forth early in the morning,
taking with her about two pounds seven shillings in money, and a
grey touring case packed, and there, save for a brief note to her
stepmother,--a declaration of independence, it was said, an
assertion of her Ego containing extensive and very annoying
quotations from "A Soul Untrammelled," and giving no definite
intimation of her plans--knowledge ceased. That note was shown to
few, and then only in the strictest confidence.
But on Friday evening late came a breathless Man Friend, Widgery,
a correspondent of hers, who had heard of her trouble among the
first. He had been touring in Sussex,--his knapsack was still on
his back,--and he testified hurriedly that at a place called
Midhurst, in the bar of an hotel called the Angel, he had heard
from a barmaid a vivid account of a Young Lady in Grey.
Descriptions tallied. But who was the man in brown?"The poor,
misguided girl! I must go to her at once," she said, choking, and
rising with her hand to her heart.
"It's impossible to-night. There are no more trains. I looked on
"A mother's love," she said. "I bear her THAT."
"I know you do." He spoke with feeling, for no one admired his
photographs of scenery more than Mrs. Milton. "it's more than she
"Oh, don't speak unkindly of her! She has been misled."
It was really very friendly of him. He declared he was only sorry
his news ended there. Should he follow them, and bring her back?
He had come to her because he knew of her anxiety. "It is GOOD of
you," she said, and quite instinctively took and pressed his
hand. "And to think of that poor girl--tonight! It's dreadful."
She looked into the fire that she had lit when he came in, the
warm light fell upon her dark purple dress, and left her features
in a warm shadow. She looked such a slight, frail thing to be
troubled so. "We must follow her." Her resolution seemed
magnificent. "I have no one to go with me."
"He must marry her," said the man.
"She has no friends. We have no one. After all--Two women.--So
And this fair-haired little figure was the woman that people who
knew her only from her books, called bold, prurient even! Simply
because she was great-hearted--intellectual. He was overcome by
the unspeakable pathos of her position.
"Mrs. Milton," he said. "Hetty!"
She glanced at him. The overflow was imminent. "Not now," she
said, "not now. I must find her first."
"Yes," he said with intense emotion. (He was one of those big,
fat men who feel deeply.) "But let me help you. At least let me
"But can you spare time?" she said. "For ME."
"But what can I do? what can WE do?"
"Go to Midhurst. Follow her on. Trace her. She was there on
Thursday night, last night. She cycled out of the town. Courage!"
he said. "We will save her yet!"
She put out her hand and pressed his again.
"Courage!" he repeated, finding it so well received.
There were alarms and excursions without. She turned her back to
the fire, and he sat down suddenly in the big armchair, which
suited his dimensions admirably. Then the door opened, and the
girl showed in Dangle, who looked curiously from one to the
other. There was emotion here, he had heard the armchair
creaking, and Mrs. Milton, whose face was flushed, displayed a
suspicious alacrity to explain. "You, too," she said, "are one of
my good friends. And we have news of her at last."
It was decidedly an advantage to Widgery, but Dangle determined
to show himself a man of resource. In the end he, too, was
accepted for the Midhurst Expedition, to the intense disgust of
Widgery; and young Phipps, a callow youth of few words, faultless
collars, and fervent devotion, was also enrolled before the
evening was out. They would scour the country, all three of them.
She appeared to brighten up a little, but it was evident she was
profoundly touched. She did not know what she had done to merit
such friends. Her voice broke a little, she moved towards the
door, and young Phipps, who was a youth of action rather than of
words, sprang and opened it--proud to be first.
"She is sorely troubled," said Dangle to Widgery. "We must do
what we can for her."
"She is a wonderful woman," said Dangle. "So subtle, so
intricate, so many faceted. She feels this deeply."
Young Phipps said nothing, but he felt the more.
And yet they say the age of chivalry is dead!
But this is only an Interlude, introduced to give our wanderers
time to refresh themselves by good, honest sleeping. For the
present, therefore, we will not concern ourselves with the
starting of the Rescue Party, nor with Mrs. Milton's simple but
becoming grey dress, with the healthy Widgery's Norfolk jacket
and thick boots, with the slender Dangle's energetic bearing, nor
with the wonderful chequerings that set off the legs of the
golf-suited Phipps. They are after us. In a little while they
will be upon us. You must imagine as you best can the competitive
raidings at Midhurst of Widgery, Dangle, and Phipps. How Widgery
was great at questions, and Dangle good at inference, and Phipps
so conspicuously inferior in everything that he felt it, and
sulked with Mrs. Milton most of the day, after the manner of your
callow youth the whole world over. Mrs. Milton stopped at the
Angel and was very sad and charming and intelligent, and Widgery
paid the bill. in the afternoon of Saturday, Chichester was
attained. But by that time our fugitives--As you shall
THE AWAKENING OF MR. HOOPDRIVER
Mr. Hoopdriver stirred on his pillow, opened his eyes, and,
staring unmeaningly, yawned. The bedclothes were soft and
pleasant. He turned the peaked nose that overrides the
insufficient moustache, up to the ceiling, a pinkish projection
over the billow of white. You might see it wrinkle as he yawned
again, and then became quiet. So matters remained for a space.
Very slowly recollection returned to him. Then a shock of
indeterminate brown hair appeared, and first one watery grey eye
a-wondering, and then two ; the bed upheaved, and you had him,
his thin neck projecting abruptly from the clothes he held about
him, his face staring about the room. He held the clothes about
him, I hope I may explain, because his night-shirt was at Bognor
in an American-cloth packet, derelict. He yawned a third time,
rubbed his eyes, smacked his lips. He was recalling almost
everything now. The pursuit, the hotel, the tremulous daring of
his entry, the swift adventure of the inn yard, the
moonlight--Abruptly he threw the clothes back and rose into a
sitting position on the edge of the bed. Without was the noise of
shutters being unfastened and doors unlocked, and the passing of
hoofs and wheels in the street. He looked at his watch. Half-past
six. He surveyed the sumptuous room again.
"Lord!" said Mr. Hoopdriver. "It wasn't a dream, after all."
"I wonder what they charge for these Juiced rooms!" said Mr.
Hoopdriver, nursing one rosy foot.
He became meditative, tugging at his insufficient moustache.
Suddenly he gave vent to a noiseless laugh. "What a rush it was!
Rushed in and off with his girl right under his nose. Planned it
well too. Talk of highway robbery! Talk of brigands Up and off!
How juiced SOLD he must be feeling It was a shave too--in the
Suddenly he became silent. Abruptly his eyebrows rose and his jaw
fell. "I sa-a-ay!" said Mr. Hoopdriver.
He had never thought of it before. Perhaps you will understand
the whirl he had been in overnight. But one sees things clearer
in the daylight. "I'm hanged if I haven't been and stolen a
"Who cares?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, presently, and his face
supplied the answer.
Then he thought of the Young Lady in Grey again, and tried to put
a more heroic complexion on the business. But of an early
morning, on an empty stomach (as with characteristic coarseness,
medical men put it) heroics are of a more difficult growth than
by moonlight. Everything had seemed exceptionally fine and
brilliant, but quite natural, the evening before.
Mr. Hoopdriver reached out his hand, took his Norfolk jacket,
laid it over his knees, and took out the money from the little
ticket pocket. " Fourteen and six-half," he said, holding the
coins in his left hand and stroking his chin with his right. He
verified, by patting, the presence of a pocketbook in the breast
pocket. "Five, fourteen, six-half," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "Left."
With the Norfolk jacket still on his knees, he plunged into
another silent meditation. "That wouldn't matter," he said. "It's
the bike's the bother.
"No good going back to Bognor.
"Might send it back by carrier, of course. Thanking him for the
loan. Having no further use--" Mr. Hoopdriver chuckled and lapsed
into the silent concoction of a delightfully impudent letter.
"Mr. J. Hoopdriver presents his compliments." But the grave note
"Might trundle back there in an hour, of course, and exchange
them. MY old crock's so blessed shabby. He's sure to be spiteful
too. Have me run in, perhaps. Then she'd be in just the same old
fix, only worse. You see, I'm her Knight-errant. It complicates
His eye, wandering loosely, rested on the sponge bath. "What the
juice do they want with cream pans in a bedroom?" said Mr.
Hoopdriver, en passant.
"Best thing we can do is to set out of here as soon as possible,
anyhow. I suppose she'll go home to her friends. That bicycle is
a juicy nuisance, anyhow. Juicy nuisance!"
He jumped to his feet with a sudden awakening of energy, to
proceed with his toilet. Then with a certain horror he remembered
that the simple necessaries of that process were at
Bognor!"Lord!" he remarked, and whistled silently for a space.
"Rummy go! profit and loss; profit, one sister with bicycle
complete, wot offers?--cheap for tooth and 'air brush, vests,
night-shirt, stockings, and sundries.
"Make the best of it," and presently, when it came to
hair-brushing, he had to smooth his troubled locks with his
hands. It was a poor result. "Sneak out and get a shave, I
suppose, and buy a brush and so on. Chink again! Beard don't show
He ran his hand over his chin, looked at himself steadfastly for
some time, and curled his insufficient moustache up with some
care. Then he fell a-meditating on his beauty. He considered
himself, three-quarter face, left and right. An expression of
distaste crept over his features. "Looking won't alter it,
Hoopdriver," he remarked. "You're a weedy customer, my man.
Shoulders narrow. Skimpy, anyhow."
He put his knuckles on the toilet table and regarded himself with
his chin lifted in the air. "Good Lord!" he said. "WHAT a neck!
Wonder why I got such a thundering lump there."
He sat down on the bed, his eye still on the glass. "If I'd been
exercised properly, if I'd been fed reasonable, if I hadn't been
shoved out of a silly school into a silly shop--But there! the
old folks didn't know no better. The schoolmaster ought to have.
But he didn't, poor old fool!--Still, when it comes to meeting a
girl like this--It's 'ARD.
"I wonder what Adam'd think of me--as a specimen. Civilisation,
eigh? Heir of the ages! I'm nothing. I know nothing. I can't do
anything--sketch a bit. Why wasn't I made an artist?
"Beastly cheap, after all, this suit does look, in the sunshine."
"No good, Hoopdriver. Anyhow, you don't tell yourself any lies
about it. Lovers ain't your game,--anyway. But there's other
things yet. You can help the young lady, and you will--I suppose
she'll be going home--And that business of the bicycle's to see
to, too, my man. FORWARD, Hoopdriver! If you ain't a beauty,
that's no reason why you should stop and be copped, is it?"
And having got back in this way to a gloomy kind of
self-satisfaction, he had another attempt at his hair preparatory
to leaving his room and hurrying on breakfast, for an early
departure. While breakfast was preparing he wandered out into
South Street and refurnished himself with the elements of luggage
again. "No expense to be spared," he murmured, disgorging the
THE DEPARTURE FROM CHICHESTER
He caused his 'sister' to be called repeatedly, and when she came
down, explained with a humorous smile his legal relationship to
the bicycle in the yard. "Might be disagreeable, y' know." His
anxiety was obvious enough. "Very well," she said (quite
friendly); "hurry breakfast, and we'll ride out. I want to talk
things over with you." The girl seemed more beautiful than ever
after the night's sleep; her hair in comely dark waves from her
forehead, her ungauntleted finger-tips pink and cool. And how
decided she was! Breakfast was a nervous ceremony, conversation
fraternal but thin; the waiter overawed him, and he was cowed by
a multiplicity of forks. But she called him "Chris." They
discussed their route over his sixpenny county map for the sake
of talking, but avoided a decision in the presence of the
attendant. The five-pound note was changed for the bill, and
through Hoopdriver's determination to be quite the gentleman, the
waiter and chambermaid got half a crown each and the ostler a
florin. "'Olidays," said the ostler to himself, without
gratitude. The public mounting of the bicycles in the street was
a moment of trepidation. A policeman actually stopped and watched
them from the opposite kerb. Suppose him to come across and ask:
"Is that your bicycle, sir?" Fight? Or drop it and run? It was a
time of bewildering apprehension, too, going through the streets
of the town, so that a milk cart barely escaped destruction under
Mr. Hoopdriver's chancy wheel. That recalled him to a sense of
erratic steering, and he pulled himself together. In the lanes he
breathed freer, and a less formal conversation presently began.
"You've ridden out of Chichester in a great hurry," said Jessie.
"Well, the fact of it is, I'm worried, just a little bit. About
"Of course," she said. "I had forgotten that. But where are we
"Jest a turning or two more, if you don't mind," said Hoopdriver.
"Jest a mile or so. I have to think of you, you know. I should
feel more easy. If we was locked up, you know--Not that I should
mind on my own account--"
They rode with a streaky, grey sea coming and going on their left
hand. Every mile they put between themselves and Chichester Mr.
Hoopdriver felt a little less conscience-stricken, and a little
more of the gallant desperado. Here he was riding on a splendid
machine with a Slap-up girl beside him. What would they think of
it in the Emporium if any of them were to see him? He imagined in
detail the astonishment of Miss Isaacs and of Miss Howe. "Why!
It's Mr. Hoopdriver," Miss Isaacs would say. "Never!"
emphatically from Miss Howe. Then he played with Briggs, and then
tried the 'G.V.' in a shay. "Fancy introducing 'em to her--My
sister pro tem." He was her brother Chris--Chris what?--Confound
it! Harringon, Hartington--something like that. Have to keep off
that topic until he could remember. Wish he'd told her the truth
now--almost. He glanced at her. She was riding with her eyes
straight ahead of her. Thinking. A little perplexed, perhaps, she
seemed. He noticed how well she rode and that she rode with her
lips closed--a thing he could never manage.
Mr. Hoopdriver's mind came round to the future. What was she
going to do? What were they both going to do? His thoughts took a
graver colour. He had rescued her. This was fine, manly rescue
work he was engaged upon. She ought to go home, in spite of that
stepmother. He must insist gravely but firmly upon that. She was
the spirited sort, of course, but still--Wonder if she had any
money? Wonder what the second-class fare from Havant to London
is? Of course he would have to pay that--it was the regular
thing, he being a gentleman. Then should he take her home? He
began to rough in a moving sketch of the return. The stepmother,
repentant of her indescribable cruelties, would be present,--even
these rich people have their troubles,--probably an uncle or two.
The footman would announce, Mr.--(bother that name!) and Miss
Milton. Then two women weeping together, and a knightly figure in
the background dressed in a handsome Norfolk jacket, still
conspicuously new. He would conceal his feeling until the very
end. Then, leaving, he would pause in the doorway in such an
attitude as Mr. George Alexander might assume, and say, slowly
and dwindlingly: "Be kind to her--BE kind to her," and so depart,
heartbroken to the meanest intelligence. But that was a matter
for the future. He would have to begin discussing the return
soon. There was no traffic along the road, and he came up beside
her (he had fallen behind in his musing). She began to talk. "Mr.
Denison," she began, and then, doubtfully, "That is your name?
I'm very stupid--"
"It is," said Mr. Hoopdriver. (Denison, was it? Denison, Denison,
Denison. What was she saying?)
"I wonder how far you are willing to help me?" Confoundedly hard
to answer a question like that on the spur of the moment, without
steering wildly. "You may rely--" said Mr. Hoopdriver, recovering
from a violent wabble. "I can assure you-- I want to help you
very much. Don't consider me at all. Leastways, consider me
entirely at your service." (Nuisance not to be able to say this
kind of thing right.)
"You see, I am so awkwardly situated."
"If I can only help you--you will make me very happy--" There was
a pause. Round a bend in the road they came upon a grassy space
between hedge and road, set with yarrow and meadowsweet, where a
felled tree lay among the green. There she dismounted, and
propping her machine against a stone, sat down. "Here, we can
talk," she said.
"Yes," said Mr. Hoopdriver, expectant.
She answered after a little while, sitting, elbow on knee, with
her chin in her hand, and looking straight in front of her. "I
don't know--I am resolved to Live my Own Life."
"Of course," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "Naturally."
"I want to Live, and I want to see what life means. I want to
learn. Everyone is hurrying me, everything is hurrying me; I want
time to think."
Mr. Hoopdriver was puzzled, but admiring. It was wonderful how
clear and ready her words were. But then one might speak well
with a throat and lips like that. He knew he was inadequate, but
he tried to meet the occasion. "If you let them rush you into
anything you might repent of, of course you'd be very silly."
"Don't YOU want to learn?" she asked.
"I was wondering only this morning," he began, and stopped.
She was too intent upon her own thoughts to notice this
insufficiency. "I find myself in life, and it terrifies me. I
seem to be like a little speck, whirling on a wheel, suddenly
caught up. 'What am I here for?' I ask. Simply to be here at a
time--I asked it a week ago, I asked it yesterday, and I ask it
to-day. And little things happen and the days pass. My stepmother
takes me shopping, people come to tea, there is a new play to
pass the time, or a concert, or a novel. The wheels of the world
go on turning, turning. It is horrible. I want to do a miracle
like Joshua and stop the whirl until I have fought it out. At
Mr. Hoopdriver stroked his moustache. "It IS so," he said in a
meditative tone. "Things WILL go on," he said. The faint breath
of summer stirred the trees, and a bunch of dandelion puff lifted
among the meadowsweet and struck and broke into a dozen separate
threads against his knee. They flew on apart, and sank, as the
breeze fell, among the grass: some to germinate, some to perish.
His eye followed them until they had vanished.
"I can't go back to Surbiton," said the Young Lady in Grey.
"EIGH?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, catching at his moustache. This was
an unexpected development.
"I want to write, you see," said the Young Lady in Grey, "to
write Books and alter things. To do Good. I want to lead a Free
Life and Own myself. I can't go back. I want to obtain a position
as a journalist. I have been told--But I know no one to help me
at once. No one that I could go to. There is one person--She was
a mistress at my school. If I could write to her--But then, how
could I get her answer?"
"H'mp," said Mr. Hoopdriver, very grave.
"I can't trouble you much more. You have come--you have risked
"That don't count," said Mr. Hoopdriver. "It's double pay to let
me do it, so to speak."
"It is good of you to say that. Surbiton is so Conventional. I am
resolved to be Unconventional--at any cost. But we are so
hampered. If I could only burgeon out of all that hinders me! I
want to struggle, to take my place in the world. I want to be my
own mistress, to shape my own career. But my stepmother objects
so. She does as she likes herself, and is strict with me to ease
her conscience. And if I go back now, go back owning myself
beaten--" She left the rest to his imagination.
"I see that," agreed Mr. Hoopdriver. He MUST help her. Within his
skull he was doing some intricate arithmetic with five pounds six
and twopence. In some vague way he inferred from all this that
Jessie was trying to escape from an undesirable marriage, but was
saying these things out of modesty. His circle of ideas was so
"You know, Mr.--I've forgotten your name again."
Mr. Hoopdriver seemed lost in abstraction. "You can't go back of
course, quite like that," he said thoughtfully. His ears waxed
suddenly red and his cheeks flushed.
"But what IS your name?"
"Name!" said Mr. Hoopdriver. "Why!--Benson, of course."
"Mr. Benson--yes it's really very stupid of me. But I can never
remember names. I must make a note on my cuff." She clicked a
little silver pencil and wrote the name down. "If I could write
to my friend. I believe she would be able to help me to an
independent life. I could write to her--or telegraph. Write, I
think. I could scarcely explain in a telegram. I know she would
Clearly there was only one course open to a gentleman under the
circumstances. "In that case," said Mr. Hoopdriver, "if you don't
mind trusting yourself to a stranger, we might continue as we are
perhaps. For a day or so. Until you heard." (Suppose thirty
shillings a day, that gives four days, say four thirties is hun'
and twenty, six quid,--well, three days, say; four ten.)
"You are very good to me."
His expression was eloquent.
"Very well, then, and thank you. It's wonderful--it's more than I
deserve that you--" She dropped the theme abruptly. "What was our
bill at Chichester?"
"Eigh?" said Mr. Hoopdriver, feigning a certain stupidity. There
was a brief discussion. Secretly he was delighted at her