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  • 1902
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I had no notion what I was not to tell, but our compact demanded that I should agree.

“Say ‘I swear.'”

“I swear.”

The heroes of my favourite fiction bound themselves by such like secret oaths. Here evidently was a comrade after my own heart.

“Good-bye, cockey.”

But he turned again, and taking from his pocket an old knife, thrust it into my hand. Then with that extraordinary hopping movement of his ran off across the mud.

I stood watching him, wondering where he could be going. He stumbled a little further, where the mud began to get softer and deeper, but struggling up again, went hopping on towards the river.

I shouted to him, but he never looked back. At every few yards he would sink down almost to his knees in the black mud, but wrenching himself free would flounder forward. Then, still some distance from the river, he fell upon his face, and did not rise again. I saw his arms beating feebler and feebler as he sank till at last the oily slime closed over him, and I could detect nothing but a faint heaving underneath the mud. And after a time even that ceased.

It was late before I reached home, and fortunately my father and mother were still out. I did not tell any one what I had seen, having sworn not to; and as time went on the incident haunted me less and less until it became subservient to my will. But of my fancy for those silent, lifeless streets it cured me for the time. From behind their still walls I would hear that long cry; down their narrow vistas see that writhing figure, like some animated ginger-bread, hopping, springing, falling.

Yet in the more crowded streets another trouble awaited me, one more tangible.

Have you ever noticed a pack of sparrows round some crumbs perchance that you have thrown out from your window? Suddenly the rest of the flock will set upon one. There is a tremendous Lilliputian hubbub, a tossing of tiny wings and heads, a babel of shrill chirps. It is comical.

“Spiteful little imps they are,” you say to yourself, much amused.

So I have heard good-tempered men and women calling out to one another with a laugh.

“There go those young devils chivvying that poor little beggar again; ought to be ashamed of theirselves.”

But, oh! the anguish of the poor little beggar! Can any one who has not been through it imagine it! Reduced to its actualities, what was it? Gibes and jeers that, after all, break no bones. A few pinches, kicks and slaps; at worst a few hard knocks. But the dreading of it beforehand! Terror lived in every street, hid, waiting for me, round each corner. The half-dozen wrangling over their marbles–had they seen me? The boy whistling as he stood staring into the print shop, would I get past him without his noticing me; or would he, swinging round upon his heel, raise the shrill whoop that brought them from every doorway to hunt me?

The shame, when caught at last and cornered: the grinning face that would stop to watch; the careless jokes of passers-by, regarding the whole thing but as a sparrows’ squabble: worst of all, perhaps, the rare pity! The after humiliation when, finally released, I would dart away, followed by shouted taunts and laughter; every eye turned to watch me, shrinking by; my whole small carcass shaking with dry sobs of bitterness and rage!

If only I could have turned and faced them! So far as the mere bearing of pain was concerned, I knew myself brave. The physical suffering resulting from any number of stand-up fights would have been trivial compared with the mental agony I endured. That I, the comrade of a hundred heroes–I, who nightly rode with Richard Coeur de Lion, who against Sir Lancelot himself had couched a lance, and that not altogether unsuccessful, I to whom all damsels in distress were wont to look for succour–that I should run from varlets such as these!

My friend, my bosom friend, good Robin Hood! how would he have behaved under similar circumstances? how Ivanhoe, my chosen companion in all quests of knightly enterprise? how–to come to modern times–Jack Harkaway, mere schoolboy though he might be? Would not one and all have welcomed such incident with a joyous shout, and in a trice have scattered to the winds the worthless herd?

But, alas! upon my pale lips the joyous shout sank into an unheard whisper, and the thing that became scattered to the wind was myself, the first opening that occurred.

Sometimes, the blood boiling in my veins, I would turn, thinking to go back and at all risk defying my tormentors, prove to myself I was no coward. But before I had retraced my steps a dozen paces, I would see in imagination the whole scene again before me: the laughing crowd, the halting passers-by, the spiteful, mocking little faces every way I turned; and so instead would creep on home, and climbing stealthily up into my own room, cry my heart out in the dark upon my bed.

Until one blessed day, when a blessed Fairy, in the form of a small kitten, lifted the spell that bound me, and set free my limbs.

I have always had a passionate affection for the dumb world, if it be dumb. My first playmate, I remember, was a water rat. A stream ran at the bottom of our garden; and sometimes, escaping the vigilant eye of Mrs. Fursey, I would steal out with my supper and join him on the banks. There, hidden behind the osiers, we would play at banquets, he, it is true, doing most of the banqueting, and I the make-believe. But it was a good game; added to which it was the only game I could ever get him to play, though I tried. He was a one-ideaed rat.

Later I came into the possession of a white specimen all my own. He lived chiefly in the outside breast pocket of my jacket, in company with my handkerchief, so that glancing down I could generally see his little pink eyes gleaming up at me, except on very cold days, when it would be only his tail that I could see; and when I felt miserable, somehow he would know it, and, swarming up, push his little cold snout against my ear. He died just so, clinging round my neck; and from many of my fellow-men and women have I parted with less pain. It sounds callous to say so; but, after all, our feelings are not under our own control; and I have never been able to understand the use of pretending to emotions one has not. All this, however, comes later. Let me return now to my fairy kitten.

I heard its cry of pain from afar, and instinctively hastened my steps. Three or four times I heard it again, and at each call I ran faster, till, breathless, I arrived upon the scene, the opening of a narrow court, leading out of a by-street. At first I saw nothing but the backs of a small mob of urchins. Then from the centre of them came another wailing appeal for help, and without waiting for any invitation, I pushed my way into the group.

What I saw was Hecuba to me–gave me the motive and the cue for passion, transformed me from the dull and muddy-mettled little John-a-dreams I had been into a small, blind Fury. Pale Thought, that mental emetic, banished from my system, I became the healthy, unreasoning animal, and acted as such.

From my methods, I frankly admit, science was absent. In simple, primitive fashion that would have charmed a Darwinian disciple to observe, I “went for” the whole crowd. To employ the expressive idiom of the neighbourhood, I was “all over it and inside.” Something clung about my feet. By kicking myself free and then standing on it I gained the advantage of quite an extra foot in height; I don’t know what it was and didn’t care. I fought with my arms and I fought with my legs; where I could get in with my head I did. I fought whatever came to hand in a spirit of simple thankfulness, grateful for what I could reach and indifferent to what was beyond me.

That the “show”–if again I may be permitted the local idiom–was not entirely mine I was well aware. That not alone my person but my property also was being damaged in the rear became dimly conveyed to me through the sensation of draught. Already the world to the left of me was mere picturesque perspective, while the growing importance of my nose was threatening the absorption of all my other features. These things did not trouble me. I merely noted them as phenomena and continued to punch steadily.

Until I found that I was punching something soft and yet unyielding. I looked up to see what this foreign matter that thus mysteriously had entered into the mixture might be, and discovered it to be a policeman. Still I did not care. The felon’s dock! the prison cell! a fig for such mere bogies. An impudent word, an insulting look, and I would have gone for the Law itself. Pale Thought–it must have been a livid green by this time–still trembled at respectful distance from me.

Fortunately for all of us, he was not impertinent, and though he spoke the language of his order, his tone disarmed offence.

“Now, then. Now, then. What is all this about?”

There was no need for me to answer. A dozen voluble tongues were ready to explain to him; and to explain wholly in my favour. This time the crowd was with me. Let a man school himself to bear dispraise, for thereby alone shall he call his soul his own. But let no man lie, saying he is indifferent to popular opinion. That was my first taste of public applause. The public was not select, and the applause might, by the sticklers for English pure and undefiled, have been deemed ill-worded, but to me it was the sweetest music I had ever heard, or have heard since. I was called a “plucky little devil,” a “fair ‘ot ‘un,” not only a “good ‘un,” but a “good ‘un” preceded by the adjective that in the East bestows upon its principal every admirable quality that can possibly apply. Under the circumstances it likewise fitted me literally; but I knew it was intended rather in its complimentary sense.

Kind, if dirty, hands wiped my face. A neighbouring butcher presented me with a choice morsel of steak, not to eat but to wear; and I found it, if I may so express myself without infringing copyright, “grateful and comforting.” My enemies had long since scooted, some of them, I had rejoiced to notice, with lame and halting steps. The mutilated kitten had been restored to its owner, a lady of ample bosom, who, carried beyond judgment by emotion, publicly offered to adopt me on the spot. The Law suggested, not for the first time, that everybody should now move on; and slowly, followed by feminine commendation mingled with masculine advice as to improved methods for the future, I was allowed to drift away.

My bones ached, my flesh stung me, yet I walked as upon air. Gradually I became conscious that I was not alone. A light, pattering step was trying to keep pace with me. Graciously I slacked my speed, and the pattering step settled down beside me. Every now and again she would run ahead and then turn round to look up into my face, much as your small dog does when he happens not to be misbehaving himself and desires you to note the fact. Evidently she approved of me. I was not at my best, as far as appearance was concerned, but women are kittle cattle, and I think she preferred me so. Thus we walked for quite a long distance without speaking, I drinking in the tribute of her worship and enjoying it. Then gaining confidence, she shyly put her hand into mine, and finding I did not repel her, promptly assumed possession of me, according to woman’s way.

For her age and station she must have been a person of means, for having tried in vain various methods to make me more acceptable to followers and such as having passed would turn their heads, she said:

“I know, gelatines;” and disappearing into a sweetstuff shop, returned with quite a quantity. With these, first sucked till glutinous, we joined my many tatters. I still attracted attention, but felt warmer.

She informed me that her name was Cissy, and that her father’s shop was in Three Colt Street. I informed her that my name was Paul, and that my father was a lawyer. I also pointed out to her that a lawyer is much superior in social position to a shopkeeper, which she acknowledged cheerfully. We parted at the corner of the Stainsby Road, and I let her kiss me once. It was understood that in the Stainsby Road we might meet again.

I left Eliza gaping after me, the front door in her hand, and ran straight up into my own room. Robinson Crusoe, King Arthur, The Last of the Barons, Rob Roy! I looked them all in the face and was not ashamed. I also was a gentleman.

My mother was much troubled when she saw me, but my father, hearing the story, approved.

“But he looks so awful,” said my mother. “In this world,” said my father, “one must occasionally be aggressive–if necessary, brutal.”

My father would at times be quite savage in his sentiments.

CHAPTER IV.

PAUL, FALLING IN WITH A GOODLY COMPANY OF PILGRIMS, LEARNS OF THEM THE ROAD THAT HE MUST TRAVEL. AND MEETS THE PRINCESS OF THE GOLDEN LOCKS.

The East India Dock Road is nowadays a busy, crowded thoroughfare. The jingle of the tram-bell and the rattle of the omnibus and cart mingle continuously with the rain of many feet, beating ceaselessly upon its pavements. But at the time of which I write it was an empty, voiceless way, bounded on the one side by the long, echoing wall of the docks and on the other by occasional small houses isolated amid market gardens, drying grounds and rubbish heaps. Only one thing remains–or did remain last time I passed along it, connecting it with its former self–and that is the one-storeyed brick cottage at the commencement of the bridge, and which was formerly the toll-house. I remember this toll-house so well because it was there that my childhood fell from me, and sad and frightened I saw the world beyond.

I cannot explain it better. I had been that afternoon to Plaistow on a visit to the family dentist. It was an out-of-the-way place in which to keep him, but there existed advantages of a counterbalancing nature.

“Have the half-crown in your hand,” my mother would direct me, while making herself sure that the purse containing it was safe at the bottom of my knickerbocker pocket; “but of course if he won’t take it, why, you must bring it home again.”

I am not sure, but I think he was some distant connection of ours; at all events, I know he was a kind friend. I, seated in the velvet chair of state, he would unroll his case of instruments before me, and ask me to choose, recommending with affectionate eulogisms the most murderous looking.

But on my opening my mouth to discuss the fearful topic, lo! a pair would shoot from under his coat-sleeve, and almost before I knew what had happened, the trouble would be over. After that we would have tea together. He was an old bachelor, and his house stood in a great garden–for Plaistow in those days was a picturesque village–and out of the plentiful fruit thereof his housekeeper made the most wonderful of jams and jellies. Oh, they were good, those teas! Generally our conversation was of my mother who, it appeared, was once a little girl: not at all the sort of little girl I should have imagined her; on the contrary, a prankish, wilful little girl, though good company, I should say, if all the tales he told of her were true. And I am inclined to think they were, in spite of the fact that my mother, when I repeated them to her, would laugh, saying she was sure she had no recollection of anything of the kind, adding severely that it was a pity he and I could not find something better to gossip about. Yet her next question would be:

“And what else did he say, if you please?” explaining impatiently when my answer was not of the kind expected: “No, no, I mean about me.”

The tea things cleared away, he would bring out his great microscope. To me it was a peep-hole into a fairy world where dwelt strange dragons, mighty monsters, so that I came to regard him as a sort of harmless magician. It was his pet study, and looking back, I cannot help associating his enthusiasm for all things microscopical with the fact that he was an exceptionally little man himself, but one of the biggest hearted that ever breathed.

On leaving I would formally hand him my half-crown, “with mamma’s compliments,” and he would formally accept it. But on putting my hand into my jacket pocket when outside the gate I would invariably find it there. The first time I took it back to him, but unblushingly he repudiated all knowledge.

“Must be another half-crown,” he suggested; “such things do happen. One puts change into a pocket and overlooks it. Slippery things, half-crowns.”

Returning home on this particular day of days, I paused upon the bridge, and watched for awhile the lazy barges manoeuvring their way between the piers. It was one of those hushed summer evenings when the air even of grim cities is full of whispering voices; and as, turning away from the river, I passed through the white toll-gate, I had a sense of leaving myself behind me on the bridge. So vivid was the impression, that I looked back, half expecting to see myself still leaning over the iron parapet, looking down into the sunlit water.

It sounds foolish, but I leave it standing, wondering if to others a like experience has ever come. The little chap never came back to me. He passed away from me as a man’s body may possibly pass away from him, leaving him only remembrance and regret. For a time I tried to play his games, to dream his dreams, but the substance was wanting. I was only a thin ghost, making believe.

It troubled me for quite a spell of time, even to the point of tears, this feeling that my childhood lay behind me, this sudden realisation that I was travelling swiftly the strange road called growing up. I did not want to grow up; could nothing be done to stop it? Rather would I be always as I had been, playing, dreaming. The dark way frightened me. Must I go forward?

Then gradually, but very slowly, with the long months and years, came to me the consciousness of a new being, new pulsations, sensories, throbbings, rooted in but differing widely from the old; and little Paul, the Paul of whom I have hitherto spoken, faded from my life.

So likewise must I let him fade with sorrow from this book. But before I part with him entirely, let me recall what else I can remember of him. Thus we shall be quit of him, and he will interfere with us no more.

Chief among the pictures that I see is that of my aunt Fan, crouching over the kitchen fire; her skirt and crinoline rolled up round her waist, leaving as sacrifice to custom only her petticoat. Up and down her body sways in rhythmic motion, her hands stroking affectionately her own knees; the while I, with paper knife for sword, or horse of broomstick, stand opposite her, flourishing and declaiming. Sometimes I am a knight and she a wicked ogre. She is slain, growling and swearing, and at once becomes the beautiful princess that I secure and bear away with me upon the prancing broomstick. So long as the princess is merely holding sweet converse with me from her high-barred window, the scene is realistic, at least, to sufficiency; but the bearing away has to be make-believe; for my aunt cannot be persuaded to leave her chair before the fire, and the everlasting rubbing of her knees.

At other times, with the assistance of the meat chopper, I am an Indian brave, and then she is Laughing Water or Singing Sunshine, and we go out scalping together; or in less bloodthirsty moods I am the Fairy Prince and she the Sleeping Beauty. But in such parts she is not at her best. Better, when seated in the centre of the up-turned table, I am Captain Cook, and she the Cannibal Chief.

“I shall skin him and hang him in the larder till Sunday week,” says my aunt, smacking her lips, “then he’ll be just in right condition; not too tough and not too high.” She was always strong in detail, was my aunt Fan.

I do not wish to deprive my aunt of any credit due to her, but the more I exercise my memory for evidence, the more I am convinced that her compliance on these occasions was not conceived entirely in the spirit of self-sacrifice. Often would she suggest the game and even the theme; in such case, casting herself invariably for what, in old theatrical parlance, would have been termed the heavy lead, the dragons and the wicked uncles, the fussy necromancers and the uninvited fairies. As authoress of a new cookery book for use in giant-land, my aunt, I am sure, would have been successful. Most recipes that one reads are so monotonously meagre: “Boil him,” “Put her on the spit and roast her for supper,” “Cook ’em in a pie–with plenty of gravy;” but my aunt into the domestic economy of Ogredom introduced variety and daintiness.

“I think, my dear,” my aunt would direct, “we’ll have him stuffed with chestnuts and served on toast. And don’t forget the giblets. They make such excellent sauce.”

With regard to the diet of imprisoned maidens she would advise:

“Not too much fish–it spoils the flesh for roasting.”

The things that she would turn people into–king’s sons, rightful princesses, such sort of people–people who after a time, one would think, must have quite forgotten what they started as. To let her have her way was a lesson to me in natural history both present and pre-historic. The most beautiful damsel that ever lived she would without a moment’s hesitation turn into a Glyptodon or a Hippocrepian. Afterwards, when I could guess at the spelling, I would look these creatures up in the illustrated dictionary, and feel that under no circumstances could I have loved the lady ever again. Warriors and kings she would delight in transforming into plaice or prawns, and haughty queens into Brussels sprouts.

With gusto would she plan a complicated slaughter, paying heed to every detail: the sharpening of the knives, the having ready of mops and pails of water for purposes of after cleaning up. As a writer she would have followed the realistic school.

Her death, with which we invariably wound up the afternoon, was another conscientious effort. Indeed, her groans and writhings would sometimes frighten me. I always welcomed the last gurgle. That finished, but not a moment before, my aunt would let down her skirt–in this way suggesting the fall of the curtain upon our play–and set to work to get the tea.

Another frequently recurring picture that I see is of myself in glazed-peaked cap explaining many things the while we walk through dingy streets to yet a smaller figure curly haired and open eyed. Still every now and then she runs ahead to turn and look admiringly into my face as on the day she first became captive to the praise and fame of me.

I was glad of her company for more reasons than she knew of. For one, she protected me against my baser self. With her beside me I should not have dared to flee from sudden foes. Indeed, together we courted adventure; for once you get used to it this standing hazard of attack adds a charm to outdoor exercise that older folk in districts better policed enjoy not. So possibly my dog feels when together we take the air. To me it is a simple walk, maybe a little tiresome, suggested rather by contemplation of my waistband than by desire for walking for mere walking’s sake; to him an expedition full of danger and surprises: “The gentleman asleep with one eye open on The Chequer’s doorstep! will he greet me with a friendly sniff or try to bite my head off? This cross-eyed, lop-eared loafer, lurching against the lamp-post! shall we pass with a careless wag and a ‘how-do,’ or become locked in a life and death struggle? Impossible to say. This coming corner, now, ‘Ware! Is anybody waiting round there to kill me, or not?”

But the trusting face beside me nerved me. As reward in lonely places I would let her hold my hand.

A second advantage I derived from her company was that of being less trampled on, less walked over, less swept aside into doorway or gutter than when alone. A pretty, winsome face had this little maid, if Memory plays me not kindly false; but also she had a vocabulary; and when the blind idiot, male or female, instead of passing us by walking round us, would, after the custom of the blind idiot, seek to gain the other side of us by walking through us, she would use it.

“Now, then, where yer coming to, old glass-eye? We ain’t sperrits. Can’t yer see us?”

And if they attempted reply, her child’s treble, so strangely at variance with her dainty appearance, would only rise more shrill.

“Garn! They’d run out of ‘eads when they was making you. That’s only a turnip wot you’ve got stuck on top of yer!” I offer but specimens.

Nor was it of the slightest use attempting personal chastisement, as sometimes an irate lady or gentleman would be foolish enough to do. As well might an hippopotamus attempt to reprove a terrier. The only result was to provide comedy for the entire street.

On these occasions our positions were reversed, I being the admiring spectator of her prowess. Yet to me she was ever meek, almost irritatingly submissive. She found out where I lived and would often come and wait for me for hours, her little face pressed tight against the iron railings, until either I came out or shook my head at her from my bedroom window, when she would run off, the dying away into silence of her pattering feet leaving me a little sad.

I think I cared for her in a way, yet she never entered into my day-dreams, which means that she existed for me only in the outer world of shadows that lay round about me and was not of my real life.

Also, I think she was unwise, introducing me to the shop, for children and dogs–one seems unconsciously to bracket them in one’s thoughts–are snobbish little wretches. If only her father had been a dealer in firewood I could have soothed myself by imagining mistakes. It was a common occurrence, as I well knew, for children of quite the best families to be brought up by wood choppers. Fairies, the best intentioned in the world, but born muddlers, were generally responsible for these mishaps, which, however, always became righted in time for the wedding. Or even had he been a pork butcher, and there were many in the neighbourhood, I could have thought of him as a swineherd, and so found precedent for hope.

But a fishmonger–from six in the evening a fried fishmonger! I searched history in vain. Fried fishmongers were without the pale.

So gradually our meetings became less frequent, though I knew that every afternoon she waited in the quiet Stainsby Road, where dwelt in semi-detached, six-roomed villas the aristocracy of Poplar, and that after awhile, for arriving late at times I have been witness to the sad fact, tears would trace pathetic patterns upon her dust-besprinkled cheeks; and with the advent of the world-illuminating Barbara, to which event I am drawing near, they ceased altogether.

So began and ended my first romance. One of these days–some quiet summer’s afternoon, when even the air of Pigott Street vibrates with tenderness beneath the whispered sighs of Memory, I shall walk into the little grocer’s shop and boldly ask to see her. So far have I already gone as to trace her, and often have I tried to catch sight of her through the glass door, but hitherto in vain. I know she is the more or less troubled mother of a numerous progeny. I am told she has grown stout, and probable enough it is that her tongue has gained rather than lost in sharpness. Yet under all the unrealities the clumsy-handed world has built about her, I shall see, I know, the lithesome little maid with fond, admiring eyes. What help they were to me I never knew till I had lost them. How hard to gain such eyes I have learned since. Were we to write the truth in our confession books, should we not admit the quality we most admire in others is admiration of ourselves? And is it not a wise selection? If you would have me admirable, my friend, admire me, and speak your commendation without stint that in the sunshine of your praises I may wax. For indifference maketh an indifferent man, and contempt a contemptible man. Come, is it not true? Does not all that is worthy in us grow best by honour?

Chief among the remaining figures on my childhood’s stage were the many servants of our house, the “generals,” as they were termed. So rapid, as a rule, was their transit through our kitchen that only one or two, conspicuous by reason of their lingering, remain upon my view. It was a neighbourhood in which domestic servants were not much required. Those intending to take up the calling seriously went westward. The local ranks were recruited mainly from the discontented or the disappointed, from those who, unappreciated at home, hoped from the stranger more discernment; or from the love-lorn, the jilted and the jealous, who took the cap and apron as in an earlier age their like would have taken the veil. Maybe, to the comparative seclusion of our basement, as contrasted with the alternative frivolity of shop or factory, they felt in such mood more attuned. With the advent of the new or the recovery of the old young man they would plunge again into the vain world, leaving my poor mother to search afresh amid the legions of the cursed.

With these I made such comradeship as I could, for I had no child friends. Kind creatures were most of them, at least so I found them. They were poor at “making believe,” but would always squeeze ten minutes from their work to romp with me, and that, perhaps, was healthier for me. What, perhaps, was not so good for me was that, staggered at the amount of “book-learning” implied by my conversation (for the journalistic instinct, I am inclined to think, was early displayed in me), they would listen open-mouthed to all my information, regarding me as a precocious oracle. Sometimes they would obtain permission to take me home with them to tea, generously eager that their friends should also profit by me. Then, encouraged by admiring, grinning faces, I would “hold forth,” keenly enjoying the sound of my own proud piping.

“As good as a book, ain’t he?” was the tribute most often paid to me.

“As good as a play,” one enthusiastic listener, an old greengrocer, went so far as to say.

Already I regarded myself as among the Immortals.

One girl, a dear, wholesome creature named Janet, stayed with us for months and might have stayed years, but for her addiction to strong language. The only and well-beloved child of the captain of the barge “Nancy Jane,” trading between Purfleet and Ponder’s End, her conversation was at once my terror and delight.

“Janet,” my mother would exclaim in agony, her hands going up instinctively to guard her ears, “how can you use such words?”

“What words, mum?”

“The things you have just called the gas man.”

“Him! Well, did you see what he did, mum? Walked straight into my clean kitchen, without even wiping his boots, the–” And before my mother could stop her, Janet had relieved her feelings by calling him it–or rather them–again, without any idea that she had done aught else than express in fitting phraseology a natural human emotion.

We were good friends, Janet and I, and therefore it was that I personally undertook her reformation. It was not an occasion for mincing one’s words. The stake at issue was, I felt, too important. I told her bluntly that if she persisted in using such language she would inevitably go to hell.

“Then where’s my father going?” demanded Janet.

“Does he use language?”

I gathered from Janet that no one who had enjoyed the privilege of hearing her father could ever again take interest in the feeble efforts of herself.

“I am afraid, Janet,” I explained, “that if he doesn’t give it up–“

“But it’s the only way he can talk,” interrupted Janet. “He don’t mean anything by it.”

I sighed, yet set my face against weakness. “You see, Janet, people who swear do go there.”

But Janet would not believe.

“God send my dear, kind father to hell just because he can’t talk like the gentlefolks! Don’t you believe it of Him, Master Paul. He’s got more sense.”

I hope I pain no one by quoting Janet’s common sense. For that I should be sorry. I remember her words because so often, when sinking in sloughs of childish despond, they afforded me firm foothold. More often than I can tell, when compelled to listen to the sententious voice of immeasurable Folly glibly explaining the eternal mysteries, has it comforted me to whisper to myself: “I don’t believe it of Him. He’s got more sense.”

And about that period I had need of all the comfort I could get. As we descend the road of life, the journey, demanding so much of our attention, becomes of more importance than the journey’s end; but to the child, standing at the valley’s gate, the terminating hills are clearly visible. What lies beyond them is his constant wonder. I never questioned my parents directly on the subject, shrinking as so strangely we all do, both young and old, from discussion of the very matters of most moment to us; and they, on their part, not guessing my need, contented themselves with the vague generalities with which we seek to hide even from ourselves the poverty of our beliefs. But there were foolish voices about me less reticent; while the literature, illustrated and otherwise, provided in those days for serious-minded youth, answered all questionings with blunt brutality. If you did wrong you burnt in a fiery furnace for ever and ever. Were your imagination weak you could turn to the accompanying illustration, and see at a glance how you yourself would writhe and shrink and scream, while cheerful devils, well organised, were busy stoking. I had been burnt once, rather badly, in consequence of live coals, in course of transit on a shovel, being let fall upon me. I imagined these burning coals, not confined to a mere part of my body, but pressing upon me everywhere, not snatched swiftly off by loving hands, the pain assuaged by applications of soft soap and the blue bag, but left there, eating into my flesh and veins. And this continued for eternity. You suffered for an hour, a day, a thousand years, and were no nearer to the end; ten thousand, a million years, and yet, as at the very first, it was for ever, and for ever still it would always be for ever! I suffered also from insomnia about this period.

“Then be good,” replied the foolish voices round me; “never do wrong, and so avoid this endless agony.”

But it was so easy to do wrong. There were so many wrong things to do, and the doing of them was so natural.

“Then repent,” said the voices, always ready.

But how did one repent? What was repentance? Did I “hate my sin,” as I was instructed I must, or merely hate the idea of going to hell for it? Because the latter, even my child’s sense told me, was no true repentance. Yet how could one know the difference?

Above all else there haunted me the fear of the “Unforgivable Sin.” What this was I was never able to discover. I dreaded to enquire too closely, lest I should find I had committed it. Day and night the terror of it clung to me.

“Believe,” said the voices; “so only shall you be saved.” How believe? How know you did believe? Hours would I kneel in the dark, repeating in a whispered scream:

“I believe, I believe. Oh, I do believe!” and then rise with white knuckles, wondering if I really did believe.

Another question rose to trouble me. In the course of my meanderings I had made the acquaintance of an old sailor, one of the most disreputable specimens possible to find; and had learned to love him. Our first meeting had been outside a confectioner’s window, in the Commercial Road, where he had discovered me standing, my nose against the glass, a mere palpitating Appetite on legs. He had seized me by the collar, and hauled me into the shop. There, dropping me upon a stool, he bade me eat. Pride of race prompted me politely to decline, but his language became so awful that in fear and trembling I obeyed. So soon as I was finished–it cost him two and fourpence, I remember–we walked down to the docks together, and he told me stories of the sea and land that made my blood run cold. Altogether, in the course of three weeks or a month, we met about half a dozen times, when much the same programme was gone through. I think I was a fairly frank child, but I said nothing about him at home, feeling instinctively that if I did there would be an end of our comradeship, which was dear to me: not merely by reason of the pastry, though I admit that was a consideration, but also for his wondrous tales. I believed them all implicitly, and so came to regard him as one of the most interesting criminals as yet unhanged: and what was sad about the case, as I felt myself, was that his recital of his many iniquities, instead of repelling, attracted me to him. If ever there existed a sinner, here was one. He chewed tobacco–one of the hundred or so deadly sins, according to my theological library–and was generally more or less drunk. Not that a stranger would have noticed this; the only difference being that when sober he appeared constrained–was less his natural, genial self. In a burst of confidence he once admitted to me that he was the biggest blackguard in the merchant service. Unacquainted with the merchant service, as at the time I was, I saw no reason to doubt him.

One night in a state of intoxication he walked over a gangway and was drowned. Our mutual friend, the confectioner, seeing me pass the window, came out to tell me so; and having heard, I walked on, heavy of heart, and pondering.

About his eternal destination there could be no question. The known facts precluded the least ray of hope. How could I be happy in heaven, supposing I eventually did succeed in slipping in, knowing that he, the lovable old scamp, was burning for ever in hell?

How could Janet, taking it that she reformed and thus escaped damnation, be contented, knowing the father she loved doomed to torment? The heavenly hosts, so I argued, could be composed only of the callous and indifferent.

I wondered how people could go about their business, eat, drink and be merry, with tremendous fate hanging thus ever suspended over their heads. When for a little space I myself forgot it, always it fell back upon me with increased weight.

Nor was the contemplation of heaven itself particularly attractive to me, for it was a foolish paradise these foolish voices had fashioned out of their folly. You stood about and sang hymns–for ever! I was assured that my fear of finding the programme monotonous was due only to my state of original sin, that when I got there I should discover I liked it. But I would have given much for the hope of avoiding both their heaven and their hell.

Fortunately for my sanity I was not left long to brood unoccupied upon such themes. Our worldly affairs, under the sunshine of old Hasluck’s round red face, prospered–for awhile; and one afternoon my father, who had been away from home since breakfast time, calling me into his office where also sat my mother, informed me that the long-talked-of school was become at last a concrete thing.

“The term commences next week,” explained my father. “It is not exactly what I had intended, but it will do–for the present. Later, of course, you will go to one of the big public schools; your mother and I have not yet quite decided which.”

“You will meet other boys there, good and bad,” said my mother, who sat clasping and unclasping her hands. “Be very careful, dear, how you choose your companions.”

“You will learn to take your own part,” said my father. “School is an epitome of the world. One must assert oneself, or one is sat upon.”

I knew not what to reply, the vista thus opened out to me was so unexpected. My blood rejoiced, but my heart sank.

“Take one of your long walks,” said my father, smiling, “and think it over.”

“And if you are in any doubt, you know where to go for guidance, don’t you?” whispered my mother, who was very grave.

Yet I went to bed, dreaming of quite other things that night: of Queens of Beauty bending down to crown my brows with laurel: of wronged Princesses for whose cause I rode to death or victory. For on my return home, being called into the drawing-room by my father, I stood transfixed, my cap in hand, staring with all my eyes at the vision that I saw.

No such wonder had I ever seen before, at all events, not to my remembrance. The maidens that one meets in Poplar streets may be fair enough in their way, but their millinery displays them not to advantage; and the few lady visitors that came to us were of a staid and matronly appearance. Only out of pictures hitherto had such witchery looked upon me; and from these the spell faded as one gazed.

I heard old Hasluck’s smoky voice saying, “My little gell, Barbara,” and I went nearer to her, moving unconsciously.

“You can kiss ‘er,” said the smoky voice again; “she won’t bite.” But I did not kiss her. Nor ever felt I wanted to, upon the mouth.

I suppose she must have been about fourteen, and I a little over ten, though tall for my age. Later I came to know she had that rare gold hair that holds the light, so that upon her face, which seemed of dainty porcelain, there ever fell a softened radiance as from some shining aureole; those blue eyes where dwell mysteries, shadow veiled. At the time I knew nothing, but that it seemed to me as though the fairy-tales had all come true.

She smiled, understanding and well pleased with my confusion. Child though I was–little more than child though she was, it flattered her vanity.

Fair and sweet, you had but that one fault. Would it had been another, less cruel to you yourself.

CHAPTER V.

IN WHICH THERE COMES BY ONE BENT UPON PURSUING HIS OWN WAY.

“Correct” is, I think, the adjective by which I can best describe Doctor Florret and all his attributes. He was a large man, but not too large–just the size one would select for the head-master of an important middle-class school; stout, not fat, suggesting comfort, not grossness. His hands were white and well shaped. On the left he wore a fine diamond ring, but it shone rather than sparkled. He spoke of commonplace things in a voice that lent dignity even to the weather. His face, which was clean-shaven, radiated benignity tempered by discretion.

So likewise all about him: his wife, the feminine counterpart of himself. Seeing them side by side one felt tempted to believe that for his special benefit original methods had been reverted to, and she fashioned, as his particular helpmeet, out of one of his own ribs. His furniture was solid, meant for use, not decoration. His pictures, following the rule laid down for dress, graced without drawing attention to his walls. He ever said the correct thing at the correct time in the correct manner. Doubtful of the correct thing to do, one could always learn it by waiting till he did it; when one at once felt that nothing else could possibly have been correct. He held on all matters the correct views. To differ from him was to discover oneself a revolutionary.

In practice, as I learned at the cost of four more or less wasted years, he of course followed the methods considered correct by English schoolmen from the days of Edward VI. onwards.

Heaven knows I worked hard. I wanted to learn. Ambition–the all containing ambition of a boy that “has its centre everywhere nor cares to fix itself to form” stirred within me. Did I pass a speaker at some corner, hatless, perspiring, pointing Utopias in the air to restless hungry eyes, at once I saw myself, a Demosthenes swaying multitudes, a statesman holding the House of Commons spellbound, the Prime Minister of England, worshipped by the entire country. Even the Opposition papers, had I known of them, I should have imagined forced to reluctant admiration. Did the echo of a distant drum fall upon my ear, then before me rose picturesque fields of carnage, one figure ever conspicuous: Myself, well to the front, isolated. Promotion in the British army of my dream being a matter purely of merit, I returned Commander-in-Chief. Vast crowds thronged every flag-decked street. I saw white waving hands from every roof and window. I heard the dull, deep roar of welcome, as with superb seat upon my snow-white charger–or should it be coal-black? The point cost me much consideration, so anxious was I that the day should be without a flaw–I slowly paced at the head of my victorious troops, between wild waves of upturned faces: walked into a lamp-post or on to the toes of some irascible old gentleman, and awoke. A drunken sailor stormed from between swing doors and tacked tumultuously down the street: the factory chimney belching smoke became a swaying mast. The costers round about me shouted “Ay, ay, sir. ‘Ready, ay, ready.” I was Christopher Columbus, Drake, Nelson, rolled into one. Spurning the presumption of modern geographers, I discovered new continents. I defeated the French–those useful French! I died in the moment of victory. A nation mourned me and I was buried in Westminster Abbey. Also I lived and was created a Duke. Either alternative had its charm: personally I was indifferent. Boys who on November the ninth, as explained by letters from their mothers, read by Doctor Florret with a snort, were suffering from a severe toothache, told me on November the tenth of the glories of Lord Mayor’s Shows. I heard their chatter fainter and fainter as from an ever-increasing distance. The bells of Bow were ringing in my ears. I saw myself a merchant prince, though still young. Nobles crowded my counting house. I lent them millions and married their daughters. I listened, unobserved in a corner, to discussion on some new book. Immediately I was a famous author. All men praised me: for of reviewers and their density I, in those days, knew nothing. Poetry, fiction, history, I wrote them all; and all men read, and wondered. Only here was a crumpled rose leaf in the pillow on which I laid my swelling head: penmanship was vexation to me, and spelling puzzled me, so that I wrote with sorrow and many blots and scratchings out. Almost I put aside the idea of becoming an author.

But along whichever road I might fight my way to the Elysian Fields of fame, education, I dimly but most certainly comprehended, was a necessary weapon to my hand. And so, with aching heart and aching head, I pored over my many books. I see myself now in my small bedroom, my elbows planted on the shaky, one-legged table, startled every now and again by the frizzling of my hair coming in contact with the solitary candle. On cold nights I wear my overcoat, turned up about the neck, a blanket round my legs, and often I must sit with my fingers in my ears, the better to shut out the sounds of life, rising importunately from below. “A song, Of a song, To a song, A song, 0! song!” “I love, Thou lovest, He she or it loves. I should or would love” over and over again, till my own voice seems some strange buzzing thing about me, while my head grows smaller and smaller till I put my hands up frightened, wondering if it still be entire upon my shoulders.

Was I more stupid than the average, or is a boy’s brain physically incapable of the work our educational system demands of it?

“Latin and Greek” I hear repeating the suave tones of Doctor Florret, echoing as ever the solemn croak of Correctness, “are useful as mental gymnastics.” My dear Doctor Florret and Co., cannot you, out of the vast storehouse of really necessary knowledge, select apparatus better fitted to strengthen and not overstrain the mental muscles of ten-to-fourteen? You, gentle reader, with brain fully grown, trained by years of practice to its subtlest uses, take me from your bookshelf, say, your Browning or even your Shakespeare. Come, you know this language well. You have not merely learned: it is your mother tongue. Construe for me this short passage, these few verses: parse, analyse, resolve into component parts! And now, will you maintain that it is good for Tommy, tear-stained, ink-bespattered little brat, to be given AEsop’s Fables, Ovid’s Metamorphoses to treat in like manner? Would it not be just as sensible to insist upon his practising his skinny little arms with hundred pounds dumb-bells?

We were the sons of City men, of not well-to-do professional men, of minor officials, clerks, shopkeepers, our roads leading through the workaday world. Yet quite half our time was taken up in studies utterly useless to us. How I hated them, these youth-tormenting Shades. Homer! how I wished the fishermen had asked him that absurd riddle earlier. Horace! why could not that shipwreck have succeeded: it would have in the case of any one but a classic.

Until one blessed day there fell into my hands a wondrous talisman.

Hearken unto me, ye heavy burdened little brethren of mine. Waste not your substance upon tops and marbles, nor yet upon tuck (Do ye still call it “tuck”?), but scrape and save. For in the neighbourhood of Paternoster Row there dwells a good magician who for silver will provide you with a “Key” that shall open wide for you the gates of Hades.

By its aid, the Frogs of Aristophanes became my merry friends. With Ulysses I wandered eagerly through Wonderland. Doctor Florret was charmed with my progress, which was real, for now, at last, I was studying according to the laws of common sense, understanding first, explaining afterwards. Let Youth, that the folly of Age would imprison in ignorance, provide itself with “Keys.”

But let me not seem to claim credit due to another. Dan it was–Dan of the strong arm and the soft smile, Dan the wise hater of all useless labour, sharp-witted, easy-going Dan, who made this grand discovery.

Dan followed me a term later into the Lower Fourth, but before he had been there a week was handling Latin verse with an ease and dexterity suggestive of unholy dealings with the Devil. In a lonely corner of Regent’s Park, first making sure no one was within earshot, he revealed to me his magic.

“Don’t tell the others,” he commanded; “or it will get out, and then nobody will be any the better.”

“But is it right?” I asked.

“Look here, young ‘un,” said Dan; “what are you here for–what’s your father paying school fees for (it was the appeal to our conscientiousness most often employed by Dr. Florret himself), for you to play a silly game, or to learn something?

“Because if it’s only a game–we boys against the masters,” continued Dan, “then let’s play according to rule. If we’re here to learn–well, you’ve been in the class four months and I’ve just come, and I bet I know more Ovid than you do already.” Which was true.

So I thanked Dan and shared with him his key; and all the Latin I remember, for whatever good it may be to me, I take it I owe to him.

And knowledge of yet greater value do I owe to the good fortune that his sound mother wit was ever at my disposal to correct my dreamy unfeasibility; for from first to last he was my friend; and to have been the chosen friend of Dan, shrewd judge of man and boy, I deem no unimportant feather in my cap. He “took to” me, he said, because I was so jolly green”–“such a rummy little mug.” No other reason would he ever give me, save only a sweet smile and a tumbling of my hair with his great hand; but I think I understood. And I loved him because he was big and strong and handsome and kind; no one but a little boy knows how brutal or how kind a big boy can be. I was still somewhat of an effeminate little chap, nervous and shy, with a pink and white face, and hair that no amount of wetting would make straight. I was growing too fast, which took what strength I had, and my journey every day, added to school work and home work, maybe was too much for my years. Every morning I had to be up at six, leaving the house before seven to catch the seven fifteen from Poplar station; and from Chalk Farm I had to walk yet another couple of miles. But that I did not mind, for at Chalk Farm station Dan was always waiting for me. In the afternoon we walked back together also; and when I was tired and my back ached–just as if some one had cut a piece out of it, I felt–he would put his arm round me, for he always knew, and oh, how strong and restful it was to lean against, so that one walked as in an easy-chair.

It seems to me, remembering how I would walk thus by his side, looking up shyly into his face, thinking how strong and good he was, feeling so glad he liked me, I can understand a little how a woman loves. He was so solid. With his arm round me, it was good to feel weak.

At first we were in the same class, the Lower Third. He had no business there. He was head and shoulders taller than any of us and years older. It was a disgrace to him that he was not in the Upper Fourth. The Doctor would tell him so before us all twenty times a week. Old Waterhouse (I call him “Old Waterhouse” because “Mister Waterhouse, M.A.,” would convey no meaning to me, and I should not know about whom I was speaking) who cordially liked him, was honestly grieved. We, his friends, though it was pleasant to have him among us, suffered in our pride of him. The only person quite contented was Dan himself. It was his way in all things. Others had their opinion of what was good for him. He had his own, and his own was the only opinion that ever influenced him. The Lower Third suited him. For him personally the Upper Fourth had no attraction.

And even in the Lower Third he was always at the bottom. He preferred it. He selected the seat and kept it, in spite of all allurements, in spite of all reproaches. It was nearest to the door. It enabled him to be first out and last in. Also it afforded a certain sense of retirement. Its occupant, to an extent screened from observation, became in the course of time almost forgotten. To Dan’s philosophical temperament its practical advantages outweighed all sentimental objection.

Only on one occasion do I remember his losing it. As a rule, tiresome questions, concerning past participles, square roots, or meridians never reached him, being snapped up in transit by arm-waving lovers of such trifles. The few that by chance trickled so far he took no notice of. They possessed no interest for him, and he never pretended that they did. But one day, taken off his guard, he gave voice quite unconsciously to a correct reply, with the immediate result of finding himself in an exposed position on the front bench. I had never seen Dan out of temper before, but that moment had any of us ventured upon a whispered congratulation we would have had our head punched, I feel confident.

Old Waterhouse thought that here at last was reformation. “Come, Brian,” he cried, rubbing his long thin hands together with delight, “after all, you’re not such a fool as you pretend.”

“Never said I was,” muttered Dan to himself, with a backward glance of regret towards his lost seclusion; and before the day was out he had worked his way back to it again.

As we were going out together, old Waterhouse passed us on the stairs: “Haven’t you any sense of shame, my boy?” he asked sorrowfully, laying his hand kindly on Dan’s shoulder.

“Yes, sir,” answered Dan, with his frank smile; “plenty. It isn’t yours, that’s all.”

He was an excellent fighter. In the whole school of over two hundred boys, not half a dozen, and those only Upper Sixth boys–fellows who came in top hats with umbrellas, and who wouldn’t out of regard to their own dignity–could have challenged him with any chance of success. Yet he fought very seldom, and then always in a bored, lazy fashion, as though he were doing it purely to oblige the other fellow.

One afternoon, just as we were about to enter Regent’s Park by the wicket opposite Hanover Gate, a biggish boy, an errand boy carrying an empty basket, and supported by two smaller boys, barred our way.

“Can’t come in here,” said the boy with the basket.

“Why not?” inquired Dan.

“‘Cos if you do I shall kick you,” was the simple explanation.

Without a word Dan turned away, prepared to walk on to the next opening. The boy with the basket, evidently encouraged, followed us: “Now, I’m going to give you your coward’s blow,” he said, stepping in front of us; “will you take it quietly?” It is a lonely way, the Outer Circle, on a winter’s afternoon.

“I’ll tell you afterwards,” said Dan, stopping short.

The boy gave him a slight slap on the cheek. It could not have hurt, but the indignity, of course, was great. No boy of honour, according to our code, could have accepted it without retaliating.

“Is that all?” asked Dan.

“That’s all–for the present,” replied the boy with the basket.

“Good-bye,” said Dan, and walked on.

“Glad he didn’t insist on fighting,” remarked Dan, cheerfully, as we proceeded; “I’m going to a party tonight.”

Yet on another occasion, in a street off Lisson Grove, he insisted on fighting a young rough half again his own weight, who, brushing up against him, had knocked his hat off into the mud.

“I wouldn’t have said anything about his knocking it off,” explained Dan afterwards, tenderly brushing the poor bruised thing with his coat sleeve, “if he hadn’t kicked it.”

On another occasion I remember, three or four of us, Dan among the number, were on our way one broiling summer’s afternoon to Hadley Woods. As we turned off from the highroad just beyond Barnet and struck into the fields, Dan drew from his pocket an enormous juicy-looking pear.

“Where did you get that from?” inquired one, Dudley.

“From that big greengrocer’s opposite Barnet Church,” answered Dan. “Have a bit?”

“You told me you hadn’t any more money,” retorted Dudley, in reproachful tones.

“No more I had,” replied Dan, holding out a tempting slice at the end of his pocket-knife.

“You must have had some, or you couldn’t have bought that pear,” argued Dudley, accepting.

“Didn’t buy it.”

“Do you mean to say you stole it?”

“Yes.”

“You’re a thief,” denounced Dudley, wiping his mouth and throwing away a pip.

“I know it. So are you.”

“No, I’m not.”

“What’s the good of talking nonsense. You robbed an orchard only last Wednesday at Mill Hill, and gave yourself the stomach-ache.”

“That isn’t stealing.”

“What is it?”

“It isn’t the same thing.”

“What’s the difference?”

And nothing could make Dan comprehend the difference. “Stealing is stealing,” he would have it, “whether you take it off a tree or out of a basket. You’re a thief, Dudley; so am I. Anybody else say a piece?”

The thermometer was at that point where morals become slack. We all had a piece; but we were all of us shocked at Dan, and told him so. It did not agitate him in the least.

To Dan I could speak my inmost thoughts, knowing he would understand me, and sometimes from him I received assistance and sometimes confusion. The yearly examination was approaching. My father and mother said nothing, but I knew how anxiously each of them awaited the result; my father, to see how much I had accomplished; my mother, how much I had endeavoured. I had worked hard, but was doubtful, knowing that prizes depend less upon what you know than upon what you can make others believe you know; which applies to prizes beyond those of school.

“Are you going in for anything, Dan?” I asked him. We were discussing the subject, crossing Primrose Hill, one bright June morning.

I knew the question absurd. I asked it of him because I wanted him to ask it of me.

“They’re not giving away anything I particularly want,” murmured Dan, in his lazy drawl: looked at from that point of view, school prizes are, it must be confessed, not worth their cost.

“You’re sweating yourself, young ‘un, of course?” he asked next, as I expected.

“I mean to have a shot at the History,” I admitted. “Wish I was better at dates.”

“It’s always two-thirds dates,” Dan assured me, to my discouragement. “Old Florret thinks you can’t eat a potato until you know the date that chap Raleigh was born.”

“I’ve prayed so hard that I may win the History prize,” I explained to him. I never felt shy with Dan. He never laughed at me.

“You oughtn’t to have done that,” he said. I stared. “It isn’t fair to the other fellows. That won’t be your winning the prize; that will be your getting it through favouritism.”

“But they can pray, too,” I reminded him.

“If you all pray for it,” answered Dan, “then it will go, not to the fellow that knows most history, but to the fellow that’s prayed the hardest. That isn’t old Florret’s idea, I’m sure.”

“But we are told to pray for things we want,” I insisted.

“Beastly mean way of getting ’em,” retorted Dan. And no argument that came to me, neither then nor at any future time, brought him to right thinking on this point.

He would judge all matters for himself. In his opinion Achilles was a coward, not a hero.

“He ought to have told the Trojans that they couldn’t hurt any part of him except his heel, and let them have a shot at that,” he argued; “King Arthur and all the rest of them with their magic swords, it wasn’t playing the game. There’s no pluck in fighting if you know you’re bound to win. Beastly cads, I call them all.”

I won no prize that year. Oddly enough, Dan did, for arithmetic; the only subject studied in the Lower Fourth that interested him. He liked to see things coming right, he explained.

My father shut himself up with me for half an hour and examined me himself.

“It’s very curious, Paul,” he said, “you seem to know a good deal.”

“They asked me all the things I didn’t know. They seemed to do it on purpose,” I blurted out, and laid my head upon my arm. My father crossed the room and sat down beside me.

“Spud!” he said–it was a long time since he had called me by that childish nickname–“perhaps you are going to be with me, one of the unlucky ones.”

“Are you unlucky?” I asked.

“Invariably,” answered my father, rumpling his hair. “I don’t know why. I try hard–I do the right thing, but it turns out wrong. It always does.”

“But I thought Mr. Hasluck was bringing us such good fortune,” I said, looking up in surprise. “We’re getting on, aren’t we?”

“I have thought so before, so often,” said my father, “and it has always ended in a–in a collapse.”

I put my arms round his neck, for I always felt to my father as to another boy; bigger than myself and older, but not so very much.

“You see, when I married your mother,” he went on, “I was a rich man. She had everything she wanted.”

“But you will get it all back,” I cried.

“I try to think so,” he answered. “I do think so–generally speaking. But there are times–you would not understand–they come to you.”

“But she is happy,” I persisted; “we are all happy.”

He shook his head.

“I watch her,” he said. “Women suffer more than we do. They live more in the present. I see my hopes, but she–she sees only me, and I have always been a failure. She has lost faith in me.

I could say nothing. I understood but dimly.

“That is why I want you to be an educated man, Paul,” he continued after a silence. “You can’t think what a help education is to a man. I don’t mean it helps you to get on in the world; I think for that it rather hampers you. But it helps you to bear adversity. To a man with a well-stored mind, life is interesting on a piece of bread and a cup of tea. I know. If it were not for you and your mother I should not trouble.”

And yet at that time our fortunes were at their brightest, so far as I remember them; and when they were dark again he was full of fresh hope, planning, scheming, dreaming again. It was never acting. A worse actor never trod this stage on which we fret. His occasional attempts at a cheerfulness he did not feel inevitably resulted in our all three crying in one another’s arms. No; it was only when things were going well that experience came to his injury. Child of misfortune, he ever rose, Antaeus-like, renewed in strength from contact with his mother.

Nor must it be understood that his despondent moods, even in time of prosperity, were oft recurring. Generally speaking, as he himself said, he was full of confidence. Already had he fixed upon our new house in Guilford Street, then still a good residential quarter; while at the same time, as he would explain to my mother, sufficiently central for office purposes, close as it was to Lincoln and Grey’s Inn and Bedford Row, pavements long worn with the weary footsteps of the Law’s sad courtiers.

“Poplar,” said my father, “has disappointed me. It seemed a good idea–a rapidly rising district, singularly destitute of solicitors. It ought to have turned out well, and yet somehow it hasn’t.”

“There have been a few come,” my mother reminded him.

“Of a sort,” admitted my father; “a criminal lawyer might gather something of a practice here, I have no doubt. But for general work, of course, you must he in a central position. Now, in Guilford Street people will come to me.”

“It should certainly be a pleasanter neighbourhood to live in,” agreed my mother.

“Later on,” said my father, “in case I want the whole house for offices, we could live ourselves in Regent’s Park. It is quite near to the Park.”

“Of course you have consulted Mr. Hasluck?” asked my mother, who of the two was by far the more practical.

“For Hasluck,” replied my father, “it will be much more convenient. He grumbles every time at the distance.”

“I have never been quite able to understand,” said my mother, “why Mr. Hasluck should have come so far out of his way. There must surely be plenty of solicitors in the City.”

“He had heard of me,” explained my father. “A curiou[s] old fellow–likes his own way of doing things. It’s not everyone who would care for him as a client. But I seem able to manage him.”

Often we would go together, my father and I, to Guilford Street. It was a large corner house that had taken his fancy, half creeper covered, with a balcony, and pleasantly situated, overlooking the gardens of the Foundling Hospital. The wizened old caretaker knew us well, and having opened the door, would leave us to wander through the empty, echoing rooms at our own will. We furnished them handsomely in later Queen Anne style, of which my father was a connoisseur, sparing no necessary expense; for, as my father observed, good furniture is always worth its price, while to buy cheap is pure waste of money.

“This,” said my father, on the second floor, stepping from the bedroom into the smaller room adjoining, “I shall make your mother’s boudoir. We will have the walls in lavender and maple green–she is fond of soft tones–and the window looks out upon the gardens. There we will put her writing-table.”

My own bedroom was on the third floor, a sunny little room.

“You will be quiet here,” said my father, “and we can shut out the bed and the washstand with a screen.”

Later, I came to occupy it; though its rent–eight and sixpence a week, including attendance–was somewhat more than at the time I ought to have afforded. Nevertheless, I adventured it, taking the opportunity of being an inmate of the house to refurnish it, unknown to my stout landlady, in later Queen Anne style, putting a neat brass plate with my father’s name upon the door. “Luke Kelver, Solicitor. Office hours, 10 till 4.” A medical student thought he occupied my mother’s boudoir. He was a dull dog, full of tiresome talk. But I made acquaintanceship with him; and often of an evening would smoke my pipe there in silence while pretending to be listening to his monotonous brag.

The poor thing! he had no idea that he was only a foolish ghost; that his walls, seemingly covered with coarse-coloured prints of wooden-looking horses, simpering ballet girls and petrified prize-fighters, were in reality a delicate tone of lavender and maple green; that at her writing-table in the sunlit window sat my mother, her soft curls curtaining her quiet face.

CHAPTER VI.

OF THE SHADOW THAT CAME BETWEEN THE MAN IN GREY AND THE LADY OF THE LOVE-LIT EYES.

“There’s nothing missing,” said my mother, “so far as I can find out. Depend upon it, that’s the explanation: she has got frightened and has run away.

“But what was there to frighten her?” said my father, pausing with a decanter in one hand and the bottle in the other.

“It was the idea of the thing,” replied my mother. “She has never been used to waiting at table. She was actually crying about it only last night.”

“But what’s to be done?” said my father. “They will be here in less than an hour.”

“There will be no dinner for them,” said my mother, “unless I put on an apron and bring it up myself.”

“Where does she live?” asked my father.

“At Ilford,” answered my mother.

“We must make a joke of it,” said my father.

My mother, sitting down, began to cry. It had been a trying week for my mother. A party to dinner–to a real dinner, beginning with anchovies and ending with ices from the confectioner’s; if only they would remain ices and not, giving way to unaccustomed influences, present themselves as cold custard–was an extraordinary departure from the even tenor of our narrow domestic way; indeed, I recollect none previous. First there had been the house to clean and rearrange almost from top to bottom; endless small purchases to be made of articles that Need never misses, but which Ostentation, if ever you let her sneering nose inside the door, at once demands. Then the kitchen range–it goes without saying: one might imagine them all members of a stove union, controlled by some agitating old boiler out of work–had taken the opportunity to strike, refusing to bake another dish except under permanently improved conditions, necessitating weary days with plumbers. Fat cookery books, long neglected on their shelf, had been consulted, argued with and abused; experiments made, failures sighed over, successes noted; cost calculated anxiously; means and ways adjusted, hope finally achieved, shadowed by fear.

And now with victory practically won, to have the reward thus dashed from her hand at the last moment! Downstairs in the kitchen would be the dinner, waiting for the guests; upstairs round the glittering table would be the assembled guests, waiting for their dinner. But between the two yawned an impassable gulf. The bridge, without a word of warning, had bolted–was probably by this time well on its way to Ilford. There was excuse for my mother’s tears.

“Isn’t it possible to get somebody else?” asked my father.

“Impossible, in the time,” said my mother. “I had been training her for the whole week. We had rehearsed it perfectly.”

“Have it in the kitchen,” suggested my aunt, who was folding napkins to look like ships, which they didn’t in the least, “and call it a picnic.” Really it seemed the only practical solution.

There came a light knock at the front door.

“It can’t be anybody yet, surely,” exclaimed my father in alarm, making for his coat.

“It’s Barbara, I expect,” explained my mother. “She promised to come round and help me dress. But now, of course, I shan’t want her.” My mother’s nature was pessimistic.

But with the words Barbara ran into the room, for I had taken it upon myself to admit her, knowing that shadows slipped out through the window when Barbara came in at the door–in those days, I mean.

She kissed them all three, though it seemed but one movement, she was so quick. And at once they saw the humour of the thing.

“There’s going to be no dinner,” laughed my father. “We are going to look surprised and pretend that it was yesterday. It will be fun to see their faces.”

“There will be a very nice dinner,” smiled my mother, “but it will be in the kitchen, and there’s no way of getting it upstairs.” And they explained to her the situation.

She stood for an instant, her sweet face the gravest in the group. Then a light broke upon it.

“I’ll get you someone,” she said.

“My dear, you don’t even know the neighbourhood,” began my mother. But Barbara had snatched the latchkey from its nail and was gone.

With her disappearance, shadow fell again upon us. “If there were only an hotel in this beastly neighbourhood,” said my father.

“You must entertain them by yourself, Luke,” said my mother; “and I must wait–that’s all.”

“Don’t be absurd, Maggie,” cried my father, getting angry. “Can’t cook bring it in?”

“No one can cook a dinner and serve it, too,” answered my mother, impatiently. “Besides, she’s not presentable.”

“What about Fan?” whispered my father.

My mother merely looked. It was sufficient.

“Paul?” suggested my father.

“Thank you,” retorted my mother. “I don’t choose to have my son turned into a footman, if you do.”

“Well, hadn’t you better go and dress?” was my father’s next remark.

“It won’t take me long to put on an apron,” was my mother’s reply.

“I was looking forward to seeing you in that new frock,” said my father. In the case of another, one might have attributed such a speech to tact; in the case of my father, one felt it was a happy accident.

My mother confessed–speaking with a certain indulgence, as one does of one’s own follies when past–that she herself also had looked forward to seeing herself therein. Threatening discord melted into mutual sympathy.

“I so wanted everything to be all right, for your sake, Luke,” said my mother; “I know you were hoping it would help on the business.”

“I was only thinking of you, Maggie, dear,” answered my father. “You are my business.”

“I know, dear,” said my mother. “It is hard.”

The key turned in the lock, and we all stood quiet to listen.

“She’s come back alone,” said my mother. “I knew it was hopeless.”

The door opened.

“Please, ma’am,” said the new parlour-maid, “will I do?”

She stood there, framed by the lintel, in the daintiest of aprons, the daintiest of caps upon her golden hair; and every objection she swept aside with the wind of her merry wilfulness. No one ever had their way with her, nor wanted it.

“You shall be footman,” she ordered, turning to me–but this time my mother only laughed. “Wait here till I come down again.” Then to my mother: “Now, ma’am, are you ready?”

It was the first time I had seen my mother, or, indeed, any other flesh and blood woman, in evening dress, and to tell the truth I was a little shocked. Nay, more than a little, and showed it, I suppose; for my mother flushed and drew her shawl over the gleaming whiteness of her shoulders, pleading coldness. But Barbara cried out against this, saying it was a sin such beauty should be hid; and my father, filching a shawl with a quick hand, so dextrously indeed as to suggest some previous practice in the feat, dropped on one knee–as though the world were some sweet picture book–and raised my mother’s hand with grave reverence to his lips; and Barbara, standing behind my mother’s chair, insisted on my following suit, saying the Queen was receiving. So I knelt also, glancing up shyly as towards the gracious face of some fair lady hitherto unknown, thus Catching my first glimpse of the philosophy of clothes.

My memory lingers upon this scene by contrast with the sad, changed days that swiftly followed, when my mother’s eyes would flash towards my father angry gleams, and her voice ring cruel and hard; though the moment he was gone her lips would tremble and her eyes grow soft again and fill with tears; when my father would sit with averted face and sullen lips tight pressed, or worse, would open them only to pour forth a rapid flood of savage speech; and fling out of the room, slamming the door behind him, and I would find him hours afterwards, sitting alone in the dark, with bowed head between his hands.

Wretched, I would lie awake, hearing through the flimsy walls their passionate tones, now rising high, now fiercely forced into cold whispers; and then their words to each other sounded even crueller.

In their estrangement from each other, so new to them, both clung closer to me, though they would tell me nothing, nor should I have understood if they had. When my mother was sobbing softly, her arms clasping me tighter and tighter with each quivering throb, then I hated my father, who I felt had inflicted this sorrow upon her. Yet when my father drew me down upon his knee, and I looked into his kind eyes so full of pain, then I felt angry with my mother, remembering her bitter tongue.

It seemed to me as though some cruel, unseen thing had crept into the house to stand ever between them, so that they might never look into each other’s loving eyes but only into the eyes of this evil shadow. The idea grew upon me until at times I could almost detect its outline in the air, feel a chillness as it passed me. It trod silently through the pokey rooms, always alert to thrust its grinning face before them. Now beside my mother it would whisper in her ear; and the next moment, stealing across to my father, answer for him with his voice, but strangely different. I used to think I could hear it laughing to itself as it stepped back into enfolding space.

To this day I seem to see it, ever following with noiseless footsteps man and woman, waiting patiently its opportunity to thrust its face between them. So that I can read no love tale, but, glancing round, I see its mocking eyes behind my shoulder, reading also, with a silent laugh. So that never can I meet with boy and girl, whispering in the twilight, but I see it lurking amid the half lights, just behind them, creeping after them with stealthy tread, as hand in hand they pass me in quiet ways.

Shall any of us escape, or lies the road of all through this dark valley of the shadow of dead love? Is it Love’s ordeal? testing the feeble-hearted from the strong in faith, who shall find each other yet again, the darkness passed?

Of the dinner itself, until time of dessert, I can give no consecutive account, for as footman, under the orders of this enthusiastic parlour-maid, my place was no sinecure, and but few opportunities of observation through the crack of the door were afforded me. All that was clear to me was that the chief guest was a Mr. Teidelmann–or Tiedelmann, I cannot now remember which–a snuffy, mumbling old frump, with whose name then, however, I was familiar by reason of seeing it so often in huge letters, though with a Co. added, on dreary long blank walls, bordering the Limehouse reach. He sat at my mother’s right hand; and I wondered, noticing him so ugly and so foolish seeming, how she could be so interested in him, shouting much and often to him; for added to his other disattractions he was very deaf, which necessitated his putting his hand up to his ear at every other observation made to him, crying querulously: “Eh, what? What are you talking about? Say it again,”–smiling upon him and paying close attention to his every want. Even old Hasluck, opposite to him, and who, though pleasant enough in his careless way, was far from being a slave to politeness, roared himself purple, praising some new disinfectant of which this same Teidelmann appeared to be the proprietor.

“My wife swears by it,” bellowed Hasluck, leaning across the table.

“Our drains!” chimed in Mrs. Hasluck, who was a homely soul; “well, you’d hardly know there was any in the house since I’ve took to using it.”

“What are they talking about?” asked Teidelmann, appealing to my mother. “What’s he say his wife does?”

“Your disinfectant,” explained my mother; “Mrs. Hasluck swears by it.”

“Who?”

“Mrs. Hasluck.”

“Does she? Delighted to hear it,” grunted the old gentleman, evidently bored.

“Nothing like it for a sick-room,” persisted Hasluck; “might almost call it a scent.”

“Makes one quite anxious to be ill,” remarked my aunt, addressing no one in particular.

“Reminds me of cocoanuts,” continued Hasluck.

Its proprietor appeared not to hear, but Hasluck was determined his flattery should not be lost.

“I say it reminds me of cocoanuts.” He screamed it this time.

“Oh, does it?” was the reply.

“Doesn’t it you?”

“Can’t say it does,” answered Teidelmann. “As a matter of fact, don’t know much about it myself. Never use it.”

Old Teidelmann went on with his dinner, but Hasluck was still full of the subject.

“Take my advice,” he shouted, “and buy a bottle.”

“Buy a what?”

“A bottle,” roared the other, with an effort palpably beyond his strength.

“What’s he say? What’s he talking about now?” asked Teidelmann, again appealing to my mother.

“He says you ought to buy a bottle,” again explained my mother.

“What of?”

“Of your own disinfectant.”

“Silly fool!”

Whether he intended the remark to be heard and thus to close the topic (which it did), or whether, as deaf people are apt to, merely misjudged the audibility of an intended sotto vocalism, I cannot say. I only know that outside in the passage I heard the words distinctly, and therefore assume they reached round the table also.

A lull in the conversation followed, but Hasluck was not thin-skinned, and the next thing I distinguished was his cheery laugh.

“He’s quite right,” was Hasluck’s comment; “that’s what I am undoubtedly. Because I can’t talk about anything but shop myself, I think everybody else is the same sort of fool.”

But he was doing himself an injustice, for on my next arrival in the passage he was again shouting across the table, and this time Teidelmann was evidently interested.

“Well, if you could spare the time, I’d be more obliged than I can tell you,” Hasluck was saying. “I know absolutely nothing about pictures myself, and Pearsall says you are one of the best judges in Europe.”

“He ought to know,” chuckled old Teidelmann. “He’s tried often enough to palm off rubbish onto me.”

“That last purchase of yours must have been a good thing for young–” Hasluck mentioned the name of a painter since world famous; “been the making of him, I should say.”

“I gave him two thousand for the six,” replied Teidelmann, “and they’ll sell for twenty thousand.”

“But you’ll never sell them?” exclaimed my father.

“No,” grunted old Teidelmann, “but my widow will.” There came a soft, low laugh from a corner of the table I could not see.

“It’s Anderson’s great disappointment,” followed a languid, caressing voice (the musical laugh translated into prose, it seemed), “that he has never been able to educate me to a proper appreciation of art. He’ll pay thousands of pounds for a child in rags or a badly dressed Madonna. Such a waste of money, it appears to me.”

“But you would pay thousands for a diamond to hang upon your neck,” argued my father’s voice.

“It would enhance the beauty of my neck,” replied the musical voice.

“An even more absolute waste of money,” was my father’s answer, spoken low. And I heard again the musical, soft laugh.

“Who is she?” I asked Barbara.

“The second Mrs. Teidelmann,” whispered Barbara. “She is quite a swell. Married him for his money–I don’t like her myself, but she’s very beautiful.”

“As beautiful as you?” I asked incredulously. We were sitting on the stairs, sharing a jelly.

“Oh, me!” answered Barbara. “I’m only a child. Nobody takes any notice of me–except other kids, like you.” For some reason she appeared out of conceit with herself, which was not her usual state of mind.

“But everybody thinks you beautiful,” I maintained.

“Who?” she asked quickly.

“Dr. Hal,” I answered.

We were with our backs to the light, so that I could not see her face.

“What did he say?” she asked, and her voice had more of contentment in it.

I could not remember his exact words, but about the sense of them I was positive.

“Ask him what he thinks of me, as if you wanted to know yourself,” Barbara instructed me, “and don’t forget what he says this time. I’m curious.” And though it seemed to me a foolish command–for what could he say of her more than I myself could tell her–I never questioned Barbara’s wishes.

Yet if I am right in thinking that jealousy of Mrs. Teidelmann may have clouded for a moment Barbara’s sunny nature, surely there was no reason for this, seeing that no one attracted greater attention throughout the dinner than the parlour-maid.

“Where ever did you get her from?” asked Mrs. Florret, Barbara having just descended the kitchen stairs.

“A neat-handed Phillis,” commented Dr. Florret with approval.

“I’ll take good care she never waits at my table,” laughed the wife of our minister, the Rev. Cottle, a broad-built, breezy-voiced woman, mother of eleven, eight of them boys.

“To tell the truth,” said my mother, “she’s only here temporarily.”

“As a matter of fact,” said my father, “we have to thank Mrs. Hasluck for her.”

“Don’t leave me out of it,” laughed Hasluck; “can’t let the old girl take all the credit.”

Later my father absent-mindedly addressed her as “My dear,” at which Mrs. Cottle shot a swift glance towards my mother; and before that incident could have been forgotten, Hasluck, when no one was looking, pinched her elbow, which would not have mattered had not the unexpectedness of it drawn from her an involuntary “augh,” upon which, for the reputation of the house, and the dinner being then towards its end; my mother deemed it better to take the whole company into her confidence. Naturally the story gained for Barbara still greater admiration, so that when with the dessert, discarding the apron but still wearing the dainty cap, which showed wisdom, she and the footman took their places among the guests, she was even more than before the centre of attention and remark.

“It was very nice of you,” said Mrs. Cottle, thus completing the circle of compliments, “and, as I always tell my girls, that is better than being beautiful.”

“Kind hearts,” added Dr. Florret, summing up the case, “are more than coronets.” Dr. Florret had ever ready for the occasion the correct quotation, but from him, somehow, it never irritated; rather it fell upon the ear as a necessary rounding and completing of the theme; like the Amen in church.

Only to my aunt would further observations have occurred.

“When I was a girl,” said my aunt, breaking suddenly upon the passing silence, “I used to look into the glass and say to myself: ‘Fanny, you’ve got to be amiable,’ and I was amiable,” added my aunt, challenging contradiction with a look; “nobody can say that I wasn’t, for years.”

“It didn’t pay?” suggested Hasluck.

“It attracted,” replied my aunt, “no attention whatever.”

Hasluck had changed places with my mother, and having after many experiments learned the correct pitch for conversation with old Teidelmann, talked with him as much aside as the circumstances of the case would permit. Hasluck never wasted time on anything else than business. It was in his opera box on the first night of Verdi’s Aida (I am speaking of course of days then to come) that he arranged the details of his celebrated deal in guano; and even his very religion, so I have been told and can believe, he varied to suit the enterprise of the moment, once during the protracted preliminaries of a cocoa scheme becoming converted to Quakerism.

But for the most of us interest lay in a discussion between Washburn and Florret concerning the superior advantages attaching to residence in the East End.

As a rule, incorrect opinion found itself unable to exist in Dr. Florret’s presence. As no bird, it is said, can continue its song once looked at by an owl, so all originality grew silent under the cold stare of his disapproving eye. But Dr. “Fighting Hal” was no gentle warbler of thought. Vehement, direct, indifferent, he swept through all polite argument as a strong wind through a murmuring wood, carrying his partisans with him further than they meant to go, and quite unable to turn back; leaving his opponents clinging desperately–upside down, anyhow–to their perches, angry, their feathers much ruffled.

“Life!” flung out Washburn–Dr. Florret had just laid down unimpeachable rules for the conduct of all mankind on all occasions–“what do you respectable folk know of life? You are not men and women, you are marionettes. You don’t move to your natural emotions implanted by God; you dance according to the latest book of etiquette. You live and love, laugh and weep and sin by rule. Only one moment do you come face to face with life; that is in the moment when you die, leaving the other puppets to be dressed in black and make believe to cry.”

It was a favourite subject of denunciation with him, the artificiality of us all.

“Little doll,” he had once called me, and I had resented the term.

“That’s all you are, little Paul,” he had persisted, “a good little hard-working doll, that does what it’s made to do, and thinks what it’s made to think. We are all dolls. Your father is a gallant-hearted, soft-headed little doll; your mother the sweetest and primmest of dolls. And I’m a silly, dissatisfied doll that longs to be a man, but hasn’t the pluck. We are only dolls, little Paul.”

“He’s a trifle–a trifle whimsical on some subjects,” explained my father, on my repeating this conversation.

“There are a certain class of men,” explained my mother–“you will meet with them more as you grow up–who talk for talking’s sake. They don’t know what they mean. And nobody else does either.”

“But what would you have?” argued Dr. Florret, “that every man should do that which is right in his own eyes?”

“Far better than, like the old man in the fable, he should do what every other fool thinks right,” retorted Washburn. “The other day I called to see whether a patient of mine was still alive or not. His wife was washing clothes in the front room. ‘How’s your husband?’ I asked. ‘I think he’s dead,’ replied the woman. Then, without leaving off her work, ‘Jim,’ she shouted, ‘are you there?’ No answer came from the inner room. ‘He’s a goner,’ she said, wringing out a stocking.”

“But surely,” said Dr. Florret, “you don’t admire a woman for being indifferent to the death of her husband?”

“I don’t admire her for that,” replied Washburn, “and I don’t blame her. I didn’t make the world and I’m not responsible for it. What I do admire her for is not pretending a grief she didn’t feel. In Berkeley Square she’d have met me at the door with an agonised face and a handkerchief to her eyes.

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not,” murmured Dr. Florret.

“Go on,” said Washburn. “How does it run? ‘That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat, of devil’s habit, is angel yet in this, that to the use of actions fair and good he gives a frock that aptly is put on.’ So was the lion’s skin by the ass, but it showed him only the more an ass. Here asses go about as asses, but there are lions also. I had a woman under my hands only a little while ago. I could have cured her easily. Why she got worse every day instead of better I could not understand. Then by accident learned the truth: instead of helping me she was doing all she could to kill herself. ‘I must, Doctor,’ she cried. ‘I must. I have promised. If I get well he will only leave me, and if I die now he has sworn to be good to the children.’ Here, I tell you, they live–think their thoughts, work their will, kill those they hate, die for those they love; savages if you like, but savage men and women, not bloodless dolls.”

“I prefer the dolls,” concluded Dr. Florret.

“I admit they are pretty,” answered Washburn.

“I remember,” said my father, “the first masked ball I ever went to when I was a student in Paris. It struck me just as you say, Hal; everybody was so exactly alike. I was glad to get out into the street and see faces.”

“But I thought they always unmasked at midnight,” said the second Mrs. Teidelmann in her soft, languid tones.

“I did not wait,” explained my father.

“That was a pity,” she replied. “I should have been interested to see what they were like, underneath.”

“I might have been disappointed,” answered my father. “I agree with Dr. Florret that sometimes the mask is an improvement.”

Barbara was right. She was a beautiful woman, with a face that would have been singularly winning if one could have avoided the hard cold eyes ever restless behind the half-closed lids.

Always she was very kind to me. Moreover, since the disappearance of Cissy she was the first to bestow again upon me a good opinion of my small self. My mother praised me when I was good, which to her was the one thing needful; but few of us, I fear, child or grown-up, take much pride in our solid virtues, finding them generally hindrances to our desires: like the oyster’s pearl, of more comfort to the world than to ourselves. If others there were who admired me, very guardedly must they have kept the secret I would so gladly have shared with them. But this new friend of ours–or had I not better at once say enemy–made me feel when in her presence a person of importance. How it was accomplished I cannot explain. No word of flattery nor even of mere approval ever passed her lips. Her charm to me was not that she admired me, but that she led me by some mysterious process to admire myself.

And yet in spite of this and many lesser kindnesses she showed to me, I never really liked her; but rather feared her, dreading always the sudden raising of those ever half-closed eyelids.

She sat next to my father at the corner of the table, her chin resting on her long white hands, her sweet lips parted, and as often as his eyes were turned away from her, her soft low voice would draw them back again. Once she laid her hand on his, laughing the while at some light jest of his, and I saw that he flushed; and following his quick glance, saw that my mother’s eyes were watching also.

I have spoken of my father only as he then appeared to me, a child–an older chum with many lines about his mobile mouth, the tumbled hair edged round with grey; but looking back with older eyes, I see him a slightly stooping, yet still tall and graceful man, with the face of a poet–the face I mean a poet ought to possess but rarely does, nature apparently abhorring the obvious–with the shy eyes of a boy, and a voice tender as a woman’s. Never the dingiest little drab that entered the kitchen but adored him, speaking always of “the master” in tones of fond proprietorship, for to the most slatternly his “orders” had ever the air of requests for favours. Women, I so often read, can care for only masterful men. But may there not be variety in women as in other species? Or perhaps–if the suggestion be not over-daring–the many writers, deeming themselves authorities upon this subject of woman, may in this one particular have erred? I only know my father spoke to few women whose eyes did not brighten. Yet hardly should I call him a masterful man.

“I think it’s all right,” whispered Hasluck to my father in the passage–they were the last to go. “What does she think of it, eh?”

“I think she’ll be with us,” answered my father.

“Nothing like food for bringing people together,” said Hasluck. “Good-night.”

The door closed, but Something had crept into the house. It stood between my father and mother. It followed them silently up the narrow creaking stairs.

CHAPTER VII.

OF THE PASSING OF THE SHADOW.

Better is little, than treasure and trouble therewith. Better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. None but a great man would have dared to utter such a glaring commonplace as that. Not only on Sundays now, but all the week, came the hot joint to table, and on every day there was pudding, till a body grew indifferent to pudding; thus a joy-giving luxury of life being lost and but another item added to the long list of uninteresting needs. Now we could eat and drink without stint. No need now to organise for the morrow’s hash. No need now to cut one’s bread instead of breaking it, thinking of Saturday’s bread pudding. But there the saying fails, for never now were we merry. A silent unseen guest sat with us at the board, so that no longer we laughed and teased as over the half pound of sausages or the two sweet-scented herrings; but talked constrainedly of empty things that lay outside us.

Easy enough would it have been for us to move to Guilford Street. Occasionally in the spiritless tones in which they now spoke on all subjects save the one, my mother and father would discuss the project; but always into the conversation would fall, sooner or later, some loosened thought to stir it to anger, and so the aching months went by, and the cloud grew.

Then one day the news came that old Teidelmann had died suddenly in his counting house.

“You are going to her?” said my mother.

“I have been sent for,” said my father; “I must–it may mean business.”