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  • 1902
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notes of exclamation: “On Tuesday Evening! By Special Desire!!! Blessington’s Theatre! In the Meadow, adjoining the Falcon Arms!”–“On Saturday! Under the Patronage of Col. Sir William and the Officers of the 74th!!!! In the Corn Exchange!” Maybe it would convince us further were she to run through a passage here and there, say Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking scene, or from Ophelia’s entrance in the fourth act? It would be no trouble; her memory was excellent. We would hasten to assure her of our perfect faith.

Listening to her, it was difficult, as she herself would frankly admit, to imagine her the once “arch Miss Lucretia Barry;” looking at her, to remember there had been an evening when she had been “the cynosure of every eye.” One found it necessary to fortify oneself with perusal of underlined extracts from ancient journals, much thumbed and creased, thoughtfully lent to one for the purpose. Since those days Fate had woven round her a mantle of depression. She was now a faded, watery-eyed little woman, prone on the slightest provocation to sit down suddenly On the nearest chair and at once commence a history of her troubles. Quite unconscious of this failing, it was an idea of hers that she was an exceptionally cheerful person.

“But there, fretting’s no good. We must grin and bear things in this world,” she would conclude, wiping her eyes upon her apron. “It’s better to laugh than to cry, I always say.” And to prove that this was no mere idle sentiment, she would laugh then and there upon the spot.

Much stair-climbing had bestowed upon her a shortness of breath, which no amount of panting in her resting moments was able to make good.

“You don’t know ‘ow to breathe,” explained our second floor front to her on one occasion, a kindly young man; “you don’t swallow it, you only gargle with it. Take a good draught and shut your mouth; don’t be frightened of it; don’t let it out again till it’s done something: that’s what it’s ‘ere for.”

He stood over her with his handkerchief pressed against her mouth to assist her; but it was of no use.

“There don’t seem any room for it inside me,” she explained.

Bells had become to her the business of life; she lived listening for them. Converse to her was a filling in of time while waiting for interruptions.

A bottle of whiskey fell into my hands that Christmas time, a present from a commercial traveller in the way of business. Not liking whiskey myself, it was no sacrifice for me to reserve it for the occasional comfort of Mrs. Peedles, when, breathless, with her hands to her side, she would sink upon the chair nearest to my door. Her poor, washed-out face would lighten at the suggestion.

“Ah, well,” she would reply, “I don’t mind if I do. It’s a poor heart that never rejoices.”

And then, her tongue unloosened, she would sit there and tell me stories of my predecessors, young men lodgers who like myself had taken her bed-sitting-rooms, and of the woes and misfortunes that had overtaken them. I gathered that a more unlucky house I could not have selected. A former tenant of my own room, of whom I strangely reminded her, had written poetry on my very table. He was now in Portland doing five years for forgery. Mrs. Peedles appeared to regard the two accomplishments as merely different expressions of the same art. Another of her young men, as she affectionately called us, had been of studious ambition. His career up to a point appeared to have been brilliant. “What he mightn’t have been,” according to Mrs. Peedles, there was practically no saying; what he happened to be at the moment of conversation was an unpromising inmate of the Hanwell lunatic asylum.

“I’ve always noticed it,” Mrs. Peedles would explain; “it’s always the most deserving, those that try hardest, to whom trouble comes. I’m sure I don’t know why.”

I was glad on the whole when that bottle of whiskey was finished. A second might have driven me to suicide.

There was no Mr. Peedles–at least, not for Mrs. Peedles, though as an individual he continued to exist. He had been “general utility” at the Princess’s–the old terms were still in vogue at that time–a fine figure of a man in his day, so I was given to understand, but one easily led away, especially by minxes. Mrs. Peedles spoke bitterly of general utilities as people of not much use.

For working days Mrs. Peedles had one dress and one cap, both black and void of ostentation; but on Sundays and holidays she would appear metamorphosed. She had carefully preserved the bulk of her stage wardrobe, even to the paste-decked shoes and tinsel jewelry. Shapeless in classic garb as Hermia, or bulgy in brocade and velvet as Lady Teazle, she would receive her few visitors on Sunday evenings, discarded puppets like herself, with whom the conversation was of gayer nights before their wires had been cut; or, her glory hid from the ribald street beneath a mackintosh, pay her few calls. Maybe it was the unusual excitement that then brought colour into her furrowed cheeks, that straightened and darkened her eyebrows, at other times so singularly unobtrusive. Be this how it may, the change was remarkable, only the thin grey hair and the work-worn hands remaining for purposes of identification. Nor was the transformation merely one of surface. Mrs. Peedles hung on her hook behind the kitchen door, dingy, limp, discarded; out of the wardrobe with the silks and satins was lifted down to be put on as an undergarment Miss Lucretia Barry, like her costumes somewhat aged, somewhat withered, but still distinctly “arch.”

In the room next to me lived a law-writer and his wife. They were very old and miserably poor. The fault was none of theirs. Despite copy-books maxims, there is in this world such a thing as ill-luck-persistent, monotonous, that gradually wears away all power of resistance. I learned from them their history: it was hopelessly simple, hopelessly uninstructive. He had been a schoolmaster, she a pupil teacher; they had married young, and for a while the world had smiled upon them. Then came illness, attacking them both: nothing out of which any moral could be deduced, a mere case of bad drains resulting in typhoid fever. They had started again, saddled by debt, and after years of effort had succeeded in clearing themselves, only to fall again, this time in helping a friend. Nor was it even a case of folly: a poor man who had helped them in their trouble, hardly could they have done otherwise without proving themselves ungrateful. And so on, a tedious tale, commonplace, trivial. Now listless, patient, hard working, they had arrived at an animal-like indifference to their fate, content so long as they could obtain the bare necessities of existence, passive when these were not forthcoming, their interest in life limited to the one luxury of the poor–an occasional glass of beer or spirits. Often days would go by without his obtaining any work, and then they would more or less starve. Law documents are generally given out to such men in the evening, to be returned finished the next morning. Waking in the night, I would hear through the thin wooden partition that divided our rooms the even scratching of his pen.

Thus cheek by jowl we worked, I my side of the screen, he his: youth and age, hope and realisation.

Out of him my fears fashioned a vision of the future. Past his door I would slink on tiptoe, dread meeting him upon the stairs. Once had not he said to himself: “The world’s mine oyster?” May not the voices of the night have proclaimed him also king? Might I not be but an idle dreamer, mistaking desire for power? Would not the world prove stronger than I? At such times I would see my life before me: the clerkship at thirty shillings a week rising by slow instalments, it may be, to one hundred and fifty a year; the four-roomed house at Brixton; the girl wife, pretty, perhaps, but sinking so soon into the slatternly woman; the squalling children. How could I, unaided, expect to raise myself from the ruck? Was not this the more likely picture?

Our second floor front was a young fellow in the commercial line. Jarman was Young London personified–blatant yet kind-hearted; aggressively self-assertive, generous to a fault; cunning, yet at the same time frank; shrewd, cheery, and full of pluck. “Never say die” was his motto, and anything less dead it would be difficult to imagine. All day long he was noisy, and all night long he snored. He woke with a start, bathed like a porpoise, sang while dressing, roared for his boots, and whistled during his breakfast. His entrance and exit were always to an orchestration of banging doors, directions concerning his meals shouted at the top of his voice as he plunged up or down the stairs, the clattering and rattling of brooms and pails flying before his feet. His departure always left behind it the suggestion that the house was now to let; it came almost as a shock to meet a human being on the landing. He would have conveyed an atmosphere of bustle to the Egyptian pyramids.

Sometimes carrying his own supper-tray, arranged for two, he would march into my room. At first, resenting his familiarity, I would hint at my desire to be alone, would explain that I was busy.

“You fire away, Shakespeare Redivivus,” he would reply. “Don’t delay the tragedy. Why should London wait? I’ll keep quiet.”

But his notion of keeping quiet was to retire into a corner and there amuse himself by enacting a tragedy of his own in a hoarse whisper, accompanied by appropriate gesture.

“Ah, ah!” I would hear him muttering to himself, “I ‘ave killed ‘er good old father; I ‘ave falsely accused ‘er young man of all the crimes that I ‘ave myself committed; I ‘ave robbed ‘er of ‘er ancestral estates. Yet she loves me not! It is streeange!” Then changing his bass to a shrill falsetto: “It is a cold and dismal night: the snow falls fast. I will leave me ‘at and umbrella be’ind the door and go out for a walk with the chee-ild. Aha! who is this? ‘E also ‘as forgotten ‘is umbrella. Ah, now I know ‘im in the pitch dark by ‘is cigarette! Villain, murderer, silly josser! it is you!” Then with lightning change of voice and gesture: “Mary, I love yer!” “Sir Jasper Murgatroyd, let me avail myself of this opportunity to tell you what I think of you–” “No, no; the ‘ouses close in ‘alf an hour; there is not tee-ime. Fly with me instead!” “Never! Un’and me!” “‘Ear me! Ah, what ‘ave I done? I ‘ave slipped upon a piece of orange peel and broke me ‘ead! If you will kindly ask them to turn off the snow and give me a little moonlight, I will confess all.”

Finding it (much to Jarman’s surprise) impossible to renew the thread of my work, I would abandon my attempts at literature, and instead listen to his talk, which was always interesting. His conversation was, it is true, generally about himself, but it was none the less attractive on that account. His love affairs, which appeared to be numerous, formed his chief topic. There was no reserve about Jarman: his life contained no secret chambers. What he “told her straight,” what she “up and said to him” in reply was for all the world that cared to hear. So far his search after the ideal had met with but ill success.

“Girls,” he would say, “they’re all alike, till you know ’em. So long as they’re trying to palm themselves off on yer, they’ll persuade you there isn’t such another article in all the market. When they’ve got yer order–ah, then yer find out what they’re really made of. And you take it from me, ‘Omer Junior, most of ’em are put together cheap. Bah! it sickens me sometimes to read the way you paper-stainers talk about ’em-angels, goddesses, fairies! They’ve just been getting at yer. You’re giving ’em just the price they’re asking without examining the article. Girls ain’t a special make, like what you seem to think ’em. We’re all turned out of the same old slop shop.”

“Not that I say, mind yer,” he would continue, “that there are none of the right sort. They’re to be ‘ad–real good ‘uns. All I say is, taking ’em at their own valuation ain’t the way to do business with ’em.”

What he was on the look out for–to quote his own description–was a really first class article, not something from which the paint would come off almost before you got it home.

“They’re to be found,” he would cheerfully affirm, “but you’ve got to look for ’em. They’re not the sort that advertises.”

Behind Jarman in the second floor back resided one whom Jarman had nicknamed “The Lady ‘Ortensia.” I believe before my arrival there had been love passages between the two; but neither of them, so I gathered, had upon closer inspection satisfied the other’s standard. Their present attitude towards each other was that of insult thinly veiled under exaggerated politeness. Miss Rosina Sellars was, in her own language, a “lady assistant,” in common parlance, a barmaid at the Ludgate Hill Station refreshment room. She was a large, flabby young woman. With less powder, her complexion might by admirers have been termed creamy; as it was, it presented the appearance rather of underdone pastry. To be on all occasions “quite the lady” was her pride. There were those who held the angle of her dignity to be exaggerated. Jarman would beg her for her own sake to be more careful lest one day she should fall down backwards and hurt herself. On the other hand, her bearing was certainly calculated to check familiarity. Even stockbrokers’ clerks–young men as a class with the bump of reverence but poorly developed–would in her presence falter and grow hesitating. She had cultivated the art of not noticing to something approaching perfection. She could draw the noisiest customer a glass of beer, which he had never ordered; exchange it for three of whiskey, which he had; take his money and return him his change without ever seeing him, hearing him, or knowing he was there. It shattered the self-assertion of the youngest of commercial travellers. Her tone and manner, outside rare moments of excitement, were suggestive of an offended but forgiving iceberg. Jarman invariably passed her with his coat collar turned up to his ears, and even thus protected might have been observed to shiver. Her stare, in conjunction with her “I beg your pardon!” was a moral douche that would have rendered apologetic and explanatory Don Juan himself.

To me she was always gracious, which by contrast to her general attitude towards my sex of studied disdain, I confess flattered me. She was good enough to observe to Mrs. Peedles, who repeated it to me, that I was the only gentleman in the house who knew how to behave himself.

The entire first floor was occupied by an Irishman and–they never minced the matter themselves, so hardly is there need for me to do so. She was a charming little dark-eyed woman, an ex-tight-rope dancer, and always greatly offended Mrs. Peedles by claiming Miss Lucretia Barry as a sister artiste.

“Of course I don’t know how it may be now,” would reply Mrs. Peedles, with some slight asperity; “but in my time we ladies of the legitimate stage used to look down upon dancers and such sort. Of course, no offence to you, Mrs. O’Kelly.”

Neither of them was in the least offended.

“Sure, Mrs. Peedles, ye could never have looked down upon the Signora,” the O’Kelly would answer laughing. “Ye had to lie back and look up to her. Why, I’ve got the crick in me neck to this day!”

“Ah! my dear, and you don’t know how nervous I was when glancing down I’d see his handsome face just underneath me, thinking that with one false step I might spoil it for ever,” would reply the Signora.

“Me darling! I’d have died happy, just smothered in loveliness!” would return the O’Kelly; and he and the Signora would rush into each other’s arms, and the sound of their kisses would quite excite the little slavey sweeping down the stairs outside.

He was a barrister attached in theory to the Western Circuit; in practice, somewhat indifferent to it, much more attached to the lower strata of Bohemia and the Signora. At the present he was earning all sufficient for the simple needs of himself and the Signora as a teacher of music and singing. His method was simple and suited admirably the locality. Unless specially requested, he never troubled his pupils with such tiresome things as scales and exercises. His plan was to discover the song the young man fancied himself singing, the particular jingle the young lady yearned to knock out of the piano, and to teach it to them. Was it “Tom Bowling?” Well and good. Come on; follow your leader. The O’Kelly would sing the first line.

“Now then, try that. Don’t be afraid. Just open yer mouth and gave it tongue. That’s all right. Everything has a beginning. Sure, later on, we’ll get the time and tune, maybe a little expression.”

Whether the system had any merit in it, I cannot answer. Certain it was that as often as not it achieved success. Gradually–say, by the end of twelve eighteen-penny lessons–out of storm and chaos “Tom Bowling” would emerge, recognisable for all men to hear. Had the pupil any voice to start with, the O’Kelly improved it; had he none, the O’Kelly would help him to disguise the fact.

“Take it easy, now; take it easy,” the O’Kelly would counsel. “Sure, it’s a delicate organ, yer voice. Don’t ye strain it now. Ye’re at yer best when ye’re just low and sweet.”

So also with the blushing pianiste. At the end of a month a tune was distinctly discernible; she could hear it herself, and was happy. His repute spread.

Twice already had he eloped with the Signora (and twice again was he to repeat the operation, before I finally lost sight of him: to break oneself of habit is always difficult) and once by well-meaning friends had he been induced to return to home, if not to beauty. His wife, who was considerably older than himself, possessed, so he would inform me with tears in his eyes, every moral excellence that should attract mankind. Upon her goodness and virtue, her piety and conscientiousness he would descant to me by the half hour. His sincerity it was impossible to question. It was beyond doubt that he respected her, admired her, honoured her. She was a saint, an angel–a wretch, a villain such as he, was not fit to breathe the same pure air. To do him justice, it must be admitted he showed no particular desire to do so. As an aunt or grandmother, I believe he would have suffered her gladly. He had nothing to say against her, except that he found himself unable to live with her.

That she must have been a lady of exceptional merit one felt convinced. The Signora, who had met her only once, and then under somewhat trying conditions, spoke her praises with equal enthusiasm. Had she, the Signora, enjoyed the advantage of meeting such a model earlier, she, the Signora, might have been a better woman. It seemed a pity the introduction could not have taken place sooner and under different circumstances. Could they both have adopted her as a sort of mutual mother-in-law, it would have given them, I am positive, the greatest satisfaction. On her occasional visits they would have vied with each other in showing her affectionate attention. For the deserted lady I tried to feel sorry, but could not avoid the reflection that it would have been better for all parties had she been less patient and forgiving. Her husband was evidently much more suited to the Signora.

Indeed, the relationship between these two was more a true marriage than one generally meets with. No pair of love-birds could have been more snug together. In their virtues and failings alike they fitted each other. When sober the immorality of their behaviour never troubled them; in fact, when sober nothing ever troubled them. They laughed, joked, played through life, two happy children. To be shocked at them was impossible. I tried it and failed.

But now and again there came an evening when they were not sober. It happened when funds were high. On such occasion the O’Kelly would return laden with bottles of a certain sweet champagne, of which they were both extremely fond; and a friend or two would be invited to share in the festivity. Whether any exceptional quality resided in this particular brand of champagne I am not prepared to argue; my own personal experience of it has prompted me to avoid it for the rest of my life. Its effect upon them was certainly unique. Instead of intoxicating them, it sobered them: there is no other way of explaining it. With the third or fourth glass they began to take serious views of life. Before the end of the second bottle they would be staring at each other, appalled at contemplation of their own transgression. The Signora, the tears streaming down her pretty face, would declare herself a wicked, wicked woman; she had dragged down into shame the most blameless, the most virtuous of men. Emptying her glass, she would bury her face in her hands, and with her elbows on her knees, in an agony of remorse, sit rocking to and fro. The O’Kelly, throwing himself at her feet, would passionately abjure her to “look up.” She had, it appeared, got hold of the thing at the wrong end; it was he who had dragged her down.

At this point metaphor would become confused. Each had been dragged down by the other one and ruined; also each one was the other one’s good angel. All that was commendable in the Signora, she owed to the O’Kelly. Whatever was not discreditable about the O’Kelly was in the nature of a loan from the Signora. With the help of more champagne the right course would grow plain to them. She would go back broken-hearted but repentant to the tight-rope; he would return a better but a blighted man to Mrs. O’Kelly and the Western Circuit. This would be their last evening together on earth. A fresh bottle would be broached, and the guest or guests called upon to assist in the ceremony of renunciation; glasses full to the brim this time.

So much tragedy did they continue to instil into the scene that on the first occasion of my witnessing it I was unable to refrain from mingling my tears with theirs. As, however, the next morning they had forgotten all about it, and as nothing came of it, nor of several subsequent repetitions, I should have believed a separation between them impossible but that even while I was an inmate of the house the thing actually happened.

It came about in this wise. His friends, having discovered him, had pointed out to him again his duty. The Signora–a really excellent little woman so far as intention was concerned–had seconded their endeavours, with the result that on a certain evening in autumn we of the house assembled all of us on the first floor to support them on the occasion of their final–so we all deemed it then–leave-taking. For eleven o’clock two four-wheeled cabs had been ordered, one to transport the O’Kelly with his belongings to Hampstead and respectability; in the other the Signora would journey sorrowfully to the Tower Basin, there to join a circus company sailing for the Continent.

I knocked at the door some quarter of an hour before the appointed hour of the party. I fancy the idea had originated with the Signora.

“Dear Willie has something to say to you,” she had informed me that morning on the stairs. “He has taken a sincere liking to you, and it is something very important.”

They were sitting one each side the fireplace, looking very serious; a bottle of the sobering champagne stood upon the table. The Signora rose and kissed me gravely on the brow; the O’Kelly laid both hands upon my shoulders, and sat me down on a chair between them.

“Mr. Kelver,” said the Signora, “you are very young.”

I hinted–it was one of those rare occasions upon which gallantry can be combined with truth–that I found myself in company.

The Signora smiled sadly, and shook her head.

“Age,” said the O’Kelly, “is a matter of feeling. Kelver, may ye never be as old as I am feeling now.”

“As _we_ are feeling,” corrected the Signora. “Kelver,” said the O’Kelly, pouring out a third glass of champagne, “we want ye to promise us something.”

“It will make us both happier,” added the Signora.

“That ye will take warning,” continued the O’Kelly, “by our wretched example. Paul, in this world there is only one path to possible happiness. The path of strict–” he paused.

“Propriety,” suggested the Signora.

“Of strict propriety,” agreed the O’Kelly. “Deviate from it,” continued the O’Kelly, impressively, “and what is the result?”

“Unutterable misery,” supplied the Signora.

“Ye think we two have been happy here together,” said the O’Kelly.

I replied that such was the conclusion to which observation had directed me.

“We tried to appear so,” explained the Signora; “it was merely on the outside. In reality all the time we hated each other. Tell him, Willie, dear, how we have hated each other.”

“It is impossible,” said the O’Kelly, finishing and putting down his glass, “to give ye any idea, Kelver, how we have hated each other.”

“How we have quarrelled!” said the Signora. “Tell him, dear, how we have quarrelled.”

“All day long and half the night,” concluded the O’Kelly.

“Fought,” added the Signora. “You see, Mr. Kelver, people in–in our position always do. If it had been otherwise, if–if everything had been proper, then of course we should have loved each other. As it is, it has been a cat and dog existence. Hasn’t it been a cat and dog existence, Willie?”

“It’s been just hell upon earth,” murmured the O’Kelly, with his eyes fixed gloomily upon the fire-stove ornament. Deadly in earnest though they both were, I could not repress a laugh, their excellent intention was so obvious. The Signora burst into tears.

“He doesn’t believe us,” she wailed.

“Me dear,” replied the O’Kelly, throwing up his part with promptness and satisfaction, “how could ye expect it? How could he believe that any man could look at ye and hate ye?”

“It’s all my fault,” cried the little woman; “I am such a wicked creature. I cannot even be miserable when I am doing wrong. A decent woman in my place would have been wretched and unhappy, and made everybody about her wretched and unhappy, and so have set a good example and have been a warning. I don’t seem to have any conscience, and I do try.” The poor little lady was sobbing her heart out.

When not shy I could be sensible, and of the O’Kelly and the Signora one could be no more shy than of a pair of robin redbreasts. Besides, I was really fond of them; they had been very good to me.

“Dear Miss Beltoni,” I answered, “I am going to take warning by you both.”

She pressed my hand. “Oh, do, please do,” she murmured. “We really have been miserable–now and then.”

“I am never going to be content,” I assured her, “until I find a lady as charming and as amiable as you, and if ever I get her I’ll take good care never to run any risk of losing her.”

It sounded well and pleased us all. The O’Kelly shook me warmly by the hand, and this time spoke his real feelings.

“Me boy,” he said, “all women are good–for somebody. But the woman that is good for yerself is better for ye than a better woman who’s the best for somebody else. Ye understand?”

I said I did.

At eight o’clock precisely Mrs. Peedles arrived–as Flora MacDonald, in green velvet jacket and twelve to fifteen inches of plaid stocking. As a topic fitting the occasion we discussed the absent Mr. Peedles and the subject of deserted wives in general.

“A fine-looking man,” allowed Mrs. Peedles, “but weak–weak as water.”

The Signora agreed that unfortunately there did exist such men: ’twas pitiful but true.

“My dear,” continued Mrs. Peedles, “she wasn’t even a lady.”

The Signora expressed astonishment at the deterioration in Mr. Peedles’ taste thus implied.

“I won’t go so far as to say we never had a difference,” continued Mrs. Peedles, whose object appeared to be an impartial statement of the whole case. “There may have been incompatability of temperament, as they say. Myself, I have always been of a playful disposition–frivolous, some might call me.”

The Signora protested; the O’Kelly declined to listen to such aspersion on her character even from Mrs. Peedles herself.

Mrs. Peedles, thus corrected, allowed that maybe frivolous was too sweeping an accusation: say sportive.

“But a good wife to him I always was,” asserted Mrs. Peedles, with a fine sense of justice; “never flighty, like some of them. I challenge any one to accuse me of having been flighty.”

We felt we should not believe any one who did, and told her so.

Mrs. Peedles, drawing her chair closer to the Signora, assumed a confidential attitude. “If they want to go, let ’em go, I always say,” she whispered loudly into the Signora’s ear. “Ten to one they’ll find they’ve only jumped out of the frying-pan into the fire. One can always comfort oneself with that.”

There seemed to be confusion in the mind of Mrs. Peedles. Her virtuous sympathies, I gathered, were with the Signora. Mr. O’Kelly’s return to Mrs. O’Kelly evidently manifested itself in the light of a shameful desertion. Having regard to the fact, patent to all who knew him, that the poor fellow was sacrificing every inclination to stern sense of duty, such view of the matter was rough on him. But philosophers from all ages have agreed that our good deeds are the whips with which Fate punishes us for our bad.

“My dear,” continued Mrs. Peedles, “when Mr. Peedles left me I thought that I should never smile again. Yet here you see me laughing away through life, just as ever. You’ll get over it all right.” And Mrs. Peedles wiped away her tears and smiled upon the Signora; upon which the Signora commenced to cry again.

Happily, timely diversion was made at this point by the bursting into the room of Jarman, who upon perceiving Mrs. Peedles, at once gave vent to a hoot, supposed to be expressive of Scottish joy, and without a moment’s hesitation commenced to dance a reel.

My neighbours of the first floor knocked at the door a little while afterwards; and genteelly late arrived Miss Rosina Sellars, coldly gleaming in a decollete but awe-inspiring costume of mingled black and scarlet, out of which her fair, if fleshy, neck and arms shone luxuriant.

We did not go into supper; instead, supper came into us from the restaurant at the corner of the Blackfriars Road. I cannot say that at first it was a festive meal. The O’Kelly and the Signora made effort, as in duty bound, to be cheerful, but for awhile were somewhat unsuccessful. The third floor front wasted no time in speech, but ate and drank copiously. Miss Sellars, retaining her gloves–which was perhaps wise, her hands being her weak point–signalled me out, much to my embarrassment, as the recipient of her most polite conversation. Mrs. Peedles became reminiscent of parties generally. Seeing that most of Mrs. Peedles’ former friends and acquaintances were either dead or in more or less trouble, her efforts did not tend to enliven the table. One gathering, of which the present strangely reminded her, was a funeral, chiefly remarkable from discovery of the romantic fact, late in the proceedings, that the gentleman in whose honour the whole affair had been organised was not dead at all; but instead, having taken advantage of an error arising out of a railway accident, was at the moment eloping with the wife of his own chief mourner. As Mrs. Peedles explained, and as one could well credit, it had been an awkward position for all present. Nobody had quite known whether to feel glad or sorry–with the exception of the chief mourner, upon whose personal undertaking that the company might regard the ceremony as merely postponed, festivities came to an end.

Our prop and stay from a convivial point of view was Jarman. As a delicate attention to Mrs. Peedles and her costume he sunk his nationality and became for the evening, according to his own declaration, “a braw laddie.” With her–his “sonsie lassie,” so he termed her–he flirted in the broadest, if not purest, Scotch. The O’Kelly for him became “the Laird;” the third floor “Jamie o’ the Ilk;” Miss Sellars, “the bonnie wee rose;” myself, “the chiel.” Periods of silence were dispersed by suggestions that we should “hoot awa’,” Jarman himself setting us the example.

With the clearance away of the eatables, making room for the production of a more varied supply of bottles, matters began to mend. Mrs. Peedles became more arch, Jarman’s Scotch more striking and extensive, the Lady ‘Ortensia’s remarks less depressingly genteel, her aitches less accentuated.

Jarman rose to propose the health of the O’Kelly, coupled with that of the Signora. To the O’Kelly, in a burst of generosity, Jarman promised our united patronage. To Jarman it appeared that by employing the O’Kelly to defend us whenever we got into trouble with the police, and by recommending him to our friends, a steady income should be assured to him.

The O’Kelly replied feelingly to the effect that Nelson Square, Blackfriars, would ever remain engraved upon his memory as the fairest and brightest spot on earth. Personally, nothing would have given him greater pleasure than to die among the dear friends who now surrounded him. But there was such a thing as duty, and he and the Signora had come to the conclusion that true happiness could only be obtained by acting according to one’s conscience, even if it made one miserable.

Jarman, warming to his work, then proposed the health of Mrs. Peedles, as true-hearted and hard-breathing a lady as ever it had been his privilege to know. Her talent for cheery conversation was familiar to us all, upon it he need not enlarge; all he would say was that personally never did she go out of his room without leaving him more cheerful than when she entered it.

After that–I forget in what–we drank the health of the Lady ‘Ortensia. Persons there were–Jarman would not attempt to disguise the fact–who complained that the Lady ‘Ortensia was too distant, “too stand-offish.” With such complaint he himself had no sympathy; but tastes differed. If the Lady ‘Ortensia were inclined to be exclusive, who should blame her? Everybody knew their own business best. For use in a second floor front he could not honestly recommend the Lady ‘Ortensia; it would not be giving her a fair chance, and it would not be giving the second floor a fair chance. But for any gentleman fitting up marble halls, for any one on the lookout for a really “toney article,” Jarman would say: Inquire for Miss Rosina Sellars, and see that you get her.

There followed my turn. There had been literary chaps in the past, Jarman admitted so much. Against them he had nothing to say. They had no doubt done their best. But the gentleman whose health Jarman wished the company now to drink had this advantage over them: that they were dead, and he wasn’t. Some of this gentleman’s work Jarman had read–in manuscript; but that was a distinction purely temporary. He, Jarman, claimed to be no judge of literature, but this he could and would say, it took a good deal to make him miserable, yet this the literary efforts of Mr. Kelver invariably accomplished.

Mrs. Peedles, speaking without rising, from personal observation in the daytime–which she hoped would not be deemed a liberty; literature, even in manuscript, being, so to speak, public property–found herself in a position to confirm all that Mr. Jarman had remarked. Speaking as one not entirely without authority on the subject of literature and the drama, Mrs. Peedles could say that passages she had read had struck her as distinctly not half bad. Some of the love-scenes, in particular, had made her to feel quite a girl again. How he had acquired such knowledge was not for her to say. Cries of “Naughty!” from Jarman, and “Oh, Mr. Kelver, I shall be quite afraid of you,” roguishly from Miss Sellars.

The O’Kelly, who, having abandoned his favourite champagne for less sobering liquor, had since supper-time become rapidly more cheerful, felt sure there was a future before me. That he had not seen any of my work, so he assured me, in no way lessened his opinion of it. One thing only would he impress upon me: that the best work was the result of strict attention to virtue. His advice to me was to marry young and be happy.

My persevering efforts of the last few months towards the acquisition of convivial habits appeared this evening to be receiving their reward. The O’Kelly’s sweet champagne I had drunk with less dislike than hitherto; a white, syrupy sort of stuff, out of a fat and artistic-looking bottle, I had found distinctly grateful to the palate. Dimly the quotation about taking things at the flood, and so getting on quickly, floated through my brain, coupled with another one about fortune favouring the bold. It had seemed to me a good occasion to try for the second time in my life a full flavoured cigar. I had selected with the caution of a connoisseur one of mottled green complexion from the O’Kelly’s largest box. And so far all had gone well. An easy self-confidence, delightful by reason of its novelty, had replaced my customary shyness; a sense of lightness–of positive airiness, emanating from myself, pervaded all things. Tossing off another glass of the champagne, I rose to reply.

Modesty in my present mood would have been affectation. To such dear and well-beloved friends I had no hesitation in admitting the truth, that I was a clever fellow–a damned clever fellow. I knew it, they knew it, in a short time everybody would know it. But they need not fear that in the hour of my pride, when it arrived, I should prove ungrateful. Never should I forget their kindness to me, a lonely young man, alone in a lonely– Here the pathos of my own situation overcame me; words seemed weak. “Jarman–” I meant, putting my hand upon his head, to have blessed him for his goodness to me; but he being not exactly where he looked to be, I just missed him, and sat down on the edge of my chair, which was a hard one. I had not intended this to be the end of my speech, by a long one; but Jarman, whispering to me: “Ended at exactly the right moment; shows the born orator,” strong inclination to remain seated, now that I was down seconding his counsel, and the company being clearly satisfied, I decided to leave things where they were.

A delightful dreaminess was stealing over me. Everything and everybody appeared to be a long way off, but, whether because of this or in spite of it, exceedingly attractive. Never had I noticed the Signora so bewitching; in a motherly sort of way even the third floor front was good to look upon; Mrs. Peedles I could almost have believed to be the real Flora MacDonald sitting in front of me. But the vision of Miss Rosina Sellars made literally my head to swim. Never before had I dared to cast upon female loveliness the satisfying gaze with which I now boldly regarded her every movement. Evidently she noticed it, for she turned away her eyes. I had heard that exceptionally strong-minded people merely by concentrating their will could make other, ordinary people, do just whatever they, the exceptionally strong-minded people, wished. I willed that Miss Rosina Sellars should turn her eyes again towards me. Victory crowned my efforts. Evidently I was one of these exceptionally strong-minded persons. Slowly her eyes came round and met mine with a smile–a helpless, pathetic smile that said, so I read it: “You know no woman can resist you: be merciful!”

Inflamed by the brutal lust of conquest, I suppose I must have willed still further, for the next thing I remember is sitting with Miss Sellars on the sofa, holding her hand, the while the O’Kelly sang a sentimental ballad, only one line of which comes back to me: “For the angels must have told him, and he knows I love him now,” much stress upon the “now.” The others had their backs towards us. Miss Sellars, with a look that pierced my heart, dropped her somewhat large head upon my shoulder, leaving, as I observed the next day, a patch of powder on my coat.

Miss Sellars observed that one of the saddest things in the world was unrequited love.

I replied gallantly, “Whateryou know about it?”

“Ah, you men, you men,” murmured Miss Sellars; “you’re all alike.”

This suggested a personal aspersion on my character. “Not allus,” I murmured.

“You don’t know what love is,” said Miss Sellars. “You’re not old enough.”

The O’Kelly had passed on to Sullivan’s “Sweethearts,” then in its first popularity.

“Oh, love for a year–a week–a day! But oh for the love that loves al-wa-ay[s]!”
Miss Sellars’ languishing eyes were fixed upon me; Miss Sellars’ red lips pouted and twitched; Miss Sellars’ white bosom rose and fell. Never, so it seemed to me, had so large an amount of beauty been concentrated in one being.

“Yeserdo,” I said. “I love you.”

I stooped to kiss the red lips, but something was in my way. It turned out to be a cold cigar. Miss Sellars thoughtfully removed it, and threw it away. Our lips met. Her large arms closed about my neck and held me tight.

“Well, I’m sure!” came the voice of Mrs. Peedles, as from afar. “Nice goings on!”

I have vague remembrance of a somewhat heated discussion, in which everybody but myself appeared to be taking extreme interest–of Miss Sellars in her most ladylike and chilling tones defending me against the charge of “being no gentleman,” which Mrs. Peedles was explaining nobody had said I wasn’t. The argument seemed to be of the circular order. No gentleman had ever kissed Miss Sellars who had not every right to do so, nor ever would. To kiss Miss Sellars without such right was to declare oneself no gentleman. Miss Sellars appealed to me to clear my character from the aspersion of being no gentleman. I was trying to understand the situation, when Jarman, seizing me somewhat roughly by the arm, suggested my going to bed. Miss Sellars, seizing my other arm, suggested my refusing to go to bed. So far I was with Miss Sellars. I didn’t want to go to bed, and said so. My desire to sit up longer was proof positive to Miss Sellars that I was a gentleman, but to no one else. The argument shifted, the question being now as to whether Miss Sellars were a lady. To prove the point it was, according to Miss Sellars, necessary that I should repeat I loved her. I did repeat it, adding, with faint remembrance of my own fiction, that if a life’s devotion was likely to be of the slightest further proof, my heart’s blood was at her service. This cleared the air, Mrs. Peedles observing that under such circumstances it only remained for her to withdraw everything she had said; to which Miss Sellars replied graciously that she had always known Mrs. Peedles to be a good sort at the bottom.

Nevertheless, gaiety was gone from among us, and for this, in some way I could not understand, I appeared to be responsible. Jarman was distinctly sulky. The O’Kelly, suddenly thinking of the time, went to the door and discovered that the two cabs were waiting. The third floor recollected that work had to be finished. I myself felt sleepy.

Our host and hostess departed; Jarman again suggested bed, and this time I agreed with him. After a slight misunderstanding with the door, I found myself upon the stairs. I had never noticed before that they were quite perpendicular. Adapting myself to the changed conditions, I climbed them with the help of my hands. I accomplished the last flight somewhat quickly, and feeling tired, sat down the moment I was within my own room. Jarman knocked at the door. I told him to come in; but he didn’t. It occurred to me that the reason was I was sitting on the floor with my back against the door. The discovery amused me exceedingly and I laughed; and Jarman, baffled, descended to his own floor. I found getting into bed a difficulty, owing to the strange behaviour of the room. It spun round and round. Now the bed was just in front of me, now it was behind me. I managed at last to catch it before it could get past me, and holding on by the ironwork, frustrated its efforts to throw me out again on to the floor.

But it was some time before I went to sleep, and over my intervening experiences I draw a veil.



The sun was streaming into my window when I woke in the morning. I sat up and listened. The roar of the streets told me plainly that the day had begun without me. I reached out my hand for my watch; it was not in its usual place upon the rickety dressing-table. I raised myself still higher and looked about me. My clothes lay scattered on the floor. One boot, in solitary state, occupied the chair by the fireplace; the other I could not see anywhere.

During the night my head appeared to have grown considerably. I wondered idly for the moment whether I had not made a mistake and put on Minikin’s; if so, I should be glad to exchange back for my own. This thing I had got was a top-heavy affair, and was aching most confoundedly.

Suddenly the recollection of the previous night rushed at me and shook me awake. From a neighbouring steeple rang chimes: I counted with care. Eleven o’clock. I sprang out of bed, and at once sat down upon the floor.

I remembered how, holding on to the bed, I had felt the room waltzing wildly round and round. It had not quite steadied itself even yet. It was still rotating, not whirling now, but staggering feebly, as though worn out by its all-night orgie. Creeping to the wash-stand, I succeeded, after one or two false plunges, in getting my head inside the basin. Then, drawing on my trousers with difficulty and reaching the easy-chair, I sat down and reviewed matters so far as I was able, commencing from the present and working back towards the past.

I was feeling very ill. That was quite clear. Something had disagreed with me.

“That strong cigar,” I whispered feebly to myself; “I ought never to have ventured upon it. And then the little room with all those people in it. Besides, I have been working very hard. I must really take more exercise.

It gave me some satisfaction to observe that, shuffling and cowardly though I might be, I was not a person easily bamboozled.

“Nonsense,” I told myself brutally; “don’t try to deceive me. You were drunk.”

“Not drunk,” I pleaded; “don’t say drunk; it is such a coarse expression. Some people cannot stand sweet champagne, so I have heard. It affected my liver. Do please make it a question of liver.”

“Drunk,” I persisted unrelentingly, “hopelessly, vulgarly drunk–drunk as any ‘Arry after a Bank Holiday.”

“It is the first time,” I murmured.

“It was your first opportunity,” I replied.

“Never again,” I promised.

“The stock phrase,” I returned.

“How old are you?”


“So you have not even the excuse of youth. How do you know that it will not grow upon you; that, having thus commenced a downward career, you will not sink lower and lower, and so end by becoming a confirmed sot?”

My heavy head dropped into my hands, and I groaned. Many a temperance tale perused on Sunday afternoons came back to me. Imaginative in all directions, I watched myself hastening toward a drunkard’s grave, now heroically struggling against temptation, now weakly yielding, the craving growing upon me. In the misty air about me I saw my father’s white face, my mother’s sad eyes. I thought of Barbara, of the scorn that could quiver round that bewitching mouth; of Hal, with his tremendous contempt for all forms of weakness. Shame of the present and terror of the future between them racked my mind.

“It shall be never again!” I cried aloud. “By God, it shall!” (At nineteen one is apt to be vehement.) “I will leave this house at once,” I continued to myself aloud; “I will get away from its unwholesome atmosphere. I will wipe it out of my mind, and all connected with it. I will make a fresh start. I will–“

Something I had been dimly conscious of at the back of my brain came forward and stood before me: the flabby figure of Miss Rosina Sellars. What was she doing here? What right had she to step between me and my regeneration?

“The right of your affianced bride,” my other half explained, with a grim smile to myself.

“Did I really go so far as that?”

“We will not go into details,” I replied; “I do not wish to dwell upon them. That was the result.”

“I was–I was not quite myself at the time. I did not know what I was doing.”

“As a rule, we don’t when we do foolish things; but we have to abide by the consequences, all the same. Unfortunately, it happened to be in the presence of witnesses, and she is not the sort of lady to be easily got rid of. You will marry her and settle down with her in two small rooms. Her people will be your people. You will come to know them better before many days are passed. Among them she is regarded as ‘the lady,’ from which you can judge of them. A nice commencement of your career, is it not, my ambitious young friend? A nice mess you have made of it!”

“What am I to do?” I asked.

“Upon my word, I don’t know,” I answered.

I passed a wretched day. Ashamed to face Mrs. Peedles or even the slavey, I kept to my room, with the door locked. At dusk, feeling a little better–or, rather, less bad, I stole out and indulged in a simple meal, consisting of tea without sugar and a kippered herring, at a neighbouring coffee-house. Another gentleman, taking his seat opposite to me and ordering hot buttered toast, I left hastily.

At eight o’clock in the evening Minikin called round from the office to know what had happened. Seeking help from shame, I confessed to him the truth.

“Thought as much,” he answered. “Seems to have been an A1 from the look of you.”

“I am glad it has happened, now it is over,” I said to him. “It will be a lesson I shall never forget.”

“I know,” said Minikin. “Nothing like a fair and square drunk for making you feel real good; better than a sermon.”

In my trouble I felt the need of advice; and Minikin, though my junior, was, I knew, far more experienced in worldly affairs than I was.

“That’s not the worst,” I confided to him. “What do you think I’ve done?”

“Killed a policeman?” suggested Minikin.

“Got myself engaged.”

“No one like you quiet fellows for going it when you do begin,” commented Minikin. “Nice girl?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I only know I don’t want her. How can I get out of it?”

Minikin removed his left eye and commenced to polish it upon his handkerchief, a habit he had when in doubt. From looking into it he appeared to derive inspiration.

“Take-her-own-part sort of a girl?”

I intimated that he had diagnosed Miss Rosina Sellars correctly.

“Know how much you’re earning?”

“She knows I live up here in this attic and do my own cooking,” I answered.

Minikin glanced round the room. “Must be fond of you.”

“She thinks I’m clever,” I explained, “and that I shall make my way.

“And she’s willing to wait?”

I nodded.

“Well, I should let her wait,” replied Minikin, replacing his eye. “There’s plenty of time before you.”

“But she’s a barmaid, and she’ll expect me to walk with her, to take her out on Sundays, to go and see her friends. I can’t do it. Besides, she’s right: I mean to get on. Then she’ll stick to me. It’s awful!”

“How did it happen?” asked Minikin.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I didn’t know I had done it till it was over.”

“Anybody present?”

“Half-a-dozen of them,” I groaned.

The door opened, and Jarman entered; he never troubled to knock anywhere. In place of his usual noisy greeting, he crossed in silence and shook me gravely by the hand.

“Friend of yours?” he asked, indicating Minikin.

I introduced them to each other.

“Proud to meet you,” said Jarman.

“Glad to hear it,” said Minikin. “Don’t look as if you’d got much else to be stuck up about.”

“Don’t mind him,” I explained to Jarman. “He was born like it.”

“Wonderful gift” replied Jarman. “D’ye know what I should do if I ‘ad it?” He did not wait for Minikin’s reply. “‘Ire myself out to break up evening parties. Ever thought of it seriously?”

Minikin replied that he would give the idea consideration.

“Make your fortune going round the suburbs,” assured him Jarman. “Pity you weren’t ‘ere last night,” he continued; “might ‘ave saved our young friend ‘ere a deal of trouble. Has ‘e told you the news?”

I explained that I had already put Minikin in possession of all the facts.

“Now you’ve got a good, steady eye,” said Jarman, upon whom Minikin, according to his manner, had fixed his glass orb; “‘ow d’ye think ‘e is looking?”

“As well as can be expected under the circumstances, don’t you think?” answered Minikin.

“Does ‘e know the circumstances? Has ‘e seen the girl?” asked Jarman.

I replied he had not as yet enjoyed that privilege. “Then ‘e don’t know the worst,” said Jarman. “A hundred and sixty pounds of ‘er, and still growing! Bit of a load for ‘im, ain’t it?”

“Some of ’em do have luck,” was Minikin’s rejoinder. Jarman leant forward and took further stock for a few seconds of his new acquaintance.

“That’s a fine ‘ead of yours,” he remarked; “all your own? No offence,” continued Jarman, without giving Minikin time for repartee. “I was merely thinking there must be room for a lot of sense in it. Now, what do you, as a practical man, advise ‘im: dose of poison, or Waterloo Bridge and a brick?”

“I suppose there’s no doubt,” I interjected, “that we are actually engaged?”

“Not a blooming shadow,” assured me Jarman, cheerfully, “so far as she’s concerned.”

“I shall tell her plainly,” I explained, “that I was drunk at the time.”

“And ‘ow are you going to convince ‘er of it?” asked Jarman. “You think your telling ‘er you loved ‘er proves it. So it would to anybody else, but not to ‘er. You can’t expect it. Besides, if every girl is going to give up ‘er catch just because the fellow ‘adn’t all ‘is wits about ‘im at the time–well, what do you think?” He appealed to Minikin.

To Minikin it appeared that if such contention were allowed girls might as well shut up shop.

Jarman, who now that he had “got even” with Minikin, was more friendly disposed towards that young man, drew his chair closer to him and entered upon a private and confidential argument, from which I appeared to be entirely excluded.

“You see,” explained Jarman, “this ain’t an ordinary case. This chap’s going to be the future Poet Laureate. Now, when the Prince of Wales invites him to dine at Marlborough ‘ouse, ‘e don’t want to go there tacked on to a girl that carries aitches with her in a bag, and don’t know which end of the spoon out of which to drink ‘er soup.”

“It makes a difference, of course,” agreed Minikin.

“What we’ve got to do,” said Jarman, “is to get ‘im out of it. And upon my sivvy, blessed if I see ‘ow to do it!”

“She fancies him?” asked Minikin.

“What she fancies,” explained Jarman, “is that nature intended ‘er to be a lady. And it’s no good pointing out to ‘er the mistake she’s making, because she ain’t got sense enough to see it.”

“No good talking straight to her,” suggested Minikin, “telling her that it can never be?”

“That’s our difficulty,” replied Jarman; “it can be. This chap”–I listened as might a prisoner in the dock to the argument of counsel, interested but impotent–“don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, as the saying is. ‘E’s just the sort of chap this sort of thing does ‘appen to.”

“But he don’t want her,” urged Minikin. “He says he don’t want her.”

“Yes, to you and me,” answered Jarman; “and of course ‘e don’t. I’m not saying ‘e’s a natural born idiot. But let ‘er come along and do a snivel–tell ‘im that ‘e’s breaking ‘er ‘eart, and appeal to ‘im to be’ave as a gentleman, and all that sort of thing, and what do you think will be the result?”

Minikin agreed that the problem presented difficulties.

“Of course, if ’twas you or me, we should just tell ‘er to put ‘erself away somewhere where the moth couldn’t get at ‘er and wait till we sent round for ‘er; and there’d be an end of the matter. But with ‘im it’s different.”

“He is a bit of a soft,” agreed Minikin.

“‘Tain’t ‘is fault,” explained Jarman; “’twas the way ‘e was brought up. ‘E fancies girls are the sort of things one sees in plays, going about saying ‘Un’and me!’ ‘Let me pass!’ Maybe some of ’em are, but this ain’t one of ’em.”

“How did it happen?” asked Minikin.

“‘Ow does it ‘appen nine times out of ten?” returned Jarman. “‘E was a bit misty, and she was wide awake. ‘E gets a bit spoony, and–well, you know.”

“Artful things, girls,” commented Minikin.

“Can’t blame ’em,” returned Jarman, with generosity; “it’s their business. Got to dispose of themselves somehow. Oughtn’t to be binding without a written order dated the next morning; that’d make it all right.”

“Couldn’t prove a prior engagement?” suggested Minikin.

“She’d want to see the girl first before she’d believe it–only natural,” returned Jarman.

“Couldn’t get a girl?” urged Minikin.

“Who could you trust?” asked the cautious Jarman. “Besides, there ain’t time. She’s letting ‘im rest to-day; to-morrow evening she’ll be down on ‘im.”

“Don’t see anything for it,” said Minikin, “but for him to do a bunk.”

“Not a bad idea that,” mused Jarman; “only where’s ‘e to bunk to?”

“Needn’t go far,” said Minikin.

“She’d find ‘im out and follow ‘im,” said Jarman. “She can look after herself, mind you. Don’t you go doing ‘er any injustice.”

“He could change his name,” suggested Minikin.

“‘Ow could ‘e get a crib?” asked Jarman; “no character, no references.”

“I’ve got it,” cried Jarman, starting up; “the stage!”

“Can he act?” asked Minikin.

“Can do anything,” retorted my supporter, “that don’t want too much sense. That’s ‘is sanctuary, the stage. No questions asked, no character wanted. Lord! why didn’t I think of it before?”

“Wants a bit of getting on to, doesn’t it?” suggested Minikin.

“Depends upon where you want to get,” replied Jarman. For the first time since the commencement of the discussion he turned to me. “Can you sing?” he asked me.

I replied that I could a little, though I had never done so in public.

“Sing something now,” demanded Jarman; “let’s ‘ear you. Wait a minute!” he cried.

He slipped out of the room. I heard him pause upon the landing below and knock at the door of the fair Rosina’s room. The next minute he returned.

“It’s all right,” he explained; “she’s not in yet. Now, sing for all you’re worth. Remember, it’s for life and freedom.”

I sang “Sally in Our Alley,” not with much spirit, I am inclined to think. With every mention of the lady’s name there rose before me the abundant form and features of my _fiancee_, which checked the feeling that should have trembled through my voice. But Jarman, though not enthusiastic, was content.

“It isn’t what I call a grand opera voice,” he commented, “but it ought to do all right for a chorus where economy is the chief point to be considered. Now, I’ll tell you what to do. You go to-morrow straight to the O’Kelly, and put the whole thing before ‘im. ‘E’s a good sort; ‘e’ll touch you up a bit, and maybe give you a few introductions. Lucky for you, this is just the right time. There’s one or two things comin’ on, and if Fate ain’t dead against you, you’ll lose your amorita, or whatever it’s called, and not find ‘er again till it’s too late.”

I was not in the mood that evening to feel hopeful about anything; but I thanked both of them for their kind intentions and promised to think the suggestion over on the morrow, when, as it was generally agreed, I should be in a more fitting state to bring cool judgment to bear upon the subject; and they rose to take their departure.

Leaving Minikin to descend alone, Jarman returned the next minute. “Consols are down a bit this week,” he whispered, with the door in his hand. “If you want a little of the ready to carry you through, don’t go sellin’ out. I can manage a few pounds. Suck a couple of lemons and you’ll be all right in the morning. So long.”

I followed his advice regarding the lemons, and finding it correct, went to the office next morning as usual. Lott & Co., in consideration of my agreeing to a deduction of two shillings on the week’s salary, allowed himself to overlook the matter. I had intended acting on Jarman’ S advice, to call upon the O’Kelly at his address of respectability in Hampstead that evening, and had posted him a note saying I was coming. Before leaving the office, however, I received a reply to the effect that he would be out that evening, and asking me to make it the following Friday instead. Disappointed, I returned to my lodgings in a depressed state of mind. Jarman ‘s scheme, which had appeared hopeful and even attractive during the daytime, now loomed shadowy and impossible before me. The emptiness of the first floor parlour as I passed its open door struck a chill upon me, reminding me of the disappearance of a friend to whom, in spite of moral disapproval, I had during these last few months become attached. Unable to work, the old pain of loneliness returned upon me. I sat for awhile in the darkness, listening to the scratching of the pen of my neighbour, the old law-writer, and the sense of despair that its sound always communicated to me encompassed me about this evening with heavier weight than usual.

After all, was not the sympathy of the Lady ‘Ortensia, stimulated for personal purposes though it might be, better than nothing? At least, here was some living creature to whom I belonged, to whom my existence or nonexistence was of interest, who, if only for her own sake, was bound to share my hopes, my fears.

It was in this mood that I heard a slight tap at the door. In the dim passage stood the small slavey, holding out a note. I took it, and returning, lighted my candle. The envelope was pink and scented. It was addressed, in handwriting not so bad as I had expected, to “Paul Kelver, Esquire.” I opened it and read:

“Dr mr. Paul–I herd as how you was took hill hafter the party. I feer you are not strong. You must not work so hard or you will be hill and then I shall be very cros with you. I hop you are well now. If so I am going for a wark and you may come with me if you are good. With much love. From your affechonat
In spite of the spelling, a curious, tingling sensation stole over me as I read this my first love-letter. A faint mist swam before my eyes. Through it, glorified and softened, I saw the face of my betrothed, pasty yet alluring, her large white fleshy arms stretched out invitingly toward me. Moved by a sudden hot haste that seized me, I dressed myself with trembling hands; I appeared to be anxious to act without giving myself time for thought. Complete, with a colour in my cheeks unusual to them, and a burning in my eyes, I descended and knocked with a nervous hand at the door of the second floor back.

“Who’s that?” came in answer Miss Sellars’ sharp tones.

“It is I–Paul.”

“Oh, wait a minute, dear.” The tone was sweeter. There followed the sound of scurried footsteps, a rustling of clothes, a banging of drawers, a few moments’ dead silence, and then:

“You can come in now, dear.”

I entered. It was a small, untidy room, smelling of smoky lamp; but all I saw distinctly at the moment was Miss Sellars with her arms above her head, pinning her hat upon her straw-coloured hair.

With the sight of her before me in the flesh, my feelings underwent a sudden revulsion. During the few minutes she had kept me waiting outside the door I had suffered from an almost uncontrollable desire to turn the handle and rush in. Now, had I acted on impulse, I should have run out. Not that she was an unpleasant-looking girl by any means; it was the atmosphere of coarseness, of commonness, around her that repelled me. The fastidiousness–finikinness; if you will–that would so often spoil my rare chop, put before me by a waitress with dirty finger-nails, forced me to disregard the ample charms she no doubt did possess, to fasten my eyes exclusively upon her red, rough hands and the one or two warts that grew thereon.

“You’re a very naughty boy,” told me Miss Sellars, finishing the fastening of her hat. “Why didn’t you come in and see me in the dinner-_h_our? I’ve a great mind not to kiss you.”

The powder she had evidently dabbed on hastily was plainly visible upon her face; the round, soft arms were hidden beneath ill-fitting sleeves of some crapey material, the thought of which put my teeth on edge. I wished her intention had been stronger. Instead, relenting, she offered me her flowery cheek, which I saluted gingerly, the taste of it reminding me of certain pale, thin dough-cakes manufactured by the wife of our school porter and sold to us in playtime at four a penny, and which, having regard to their satisfying quality, had been popular with me in those days.

At the top of the kitchen stairs Miss Sellars paused and called down shrilly to Mrs. Peedles, who in course of time appeared, panting.

“Oh, me and Mr. Kelver are going out for a short walk, Mrs. Peedles. I shan’t want any supper. Good night.”

“Oh, good night, my dear,” replied Mrs. Peedles. “Hope you’ll enjoy yourselves. Is Mr. Kelver there?”

“He’s round the corner,” I heard Miss Sellars explain in a lower voice; and there followed a snigger.

“He’s a bit shy, ain’t he?” suggested Mrs. Peedles in a whisper.

“I’ve had enough of the other sort,” was Miss Sellars’ answer in low tones.

“Ah, well; it’s the shy ones that come out the strongest after a bit–leastways, that’s been my experience.”

“He’ll do all right. So long.”

Miss Sellars, buttoning a burst glove, rejoined me.

“I suppose you’ve never had a sweetheart before?” asked Miss Sellars, as we turned into the Blackfriars Road.

I admitted that this was my first experience.

“I can’t a-bear a flirty man,” explained Miss Sellars. “That’s why I took to you from the beginning. You was so quiet.”

I began to wish that nature had bestowed upon me a noisier temperament.

“Anybody could see you was a gentleman,” continued Miss Sellars. “Heaps and heaps of hoffers I’ve had–_h_undreds you might almost say. But what I’ve always told ’em is, ‘I like you very much indeed as a friend, but I’m not going to marry any one but a gentleman.’ Don’t you think I was right?”

I murmured it was only what I should have expected of her.

“You may take my harm, if you like,” suggested Miss Sellars, as we crossed St. George’s Circus; and linked, we pursued our way along the Kennington Park Road.

Fortunately, there was not much need for me to talk. Miss Sellars was content to supply most of the conversation herself, and all of it was about herself.

I learned that her instincts since childhood had been toward gentility. Nor was this to be wondered at, seeing that her family–on her mother’s side, at all events,–were connected distinctly with “the _h_ighest in the land.” _Mesalliances_, however, are common in all communities, and one of them, a particularly flagrant specimen–her “Mar” had, alas! contracted, having married–what did I think? I should never guess–a waiter! Miss Sellars, stopping in the act of crossing Newington Butts to shudder at the recollection of her female parent’s shame, was nearly run down by a tramcar.

Mr. and Mrs. Sellars did not appear to have “hit it off” together. Could one wonder: Mrs. Sellars with an uncle on the Stock Exchange, and Mr. Sellars with one on Peckham Rye? I gathered his calling to have been, chiefly, “three shies a penny.” Mrs. Sellars was now, however, happily dead; and if no other good thing had come out of the catastrophe, it had determined Miss Sellars to take warning by her mother’s error and avoid connection with the lowly born. She it was who, with my help, would lift the family back again to its proper position in society.

“It used to be a joke against me,” explained Miss Sellars, “heven when I was quite a child. I never could tolerate anything low. Why, one day when I was only seven years old, what do you think happened?”

I confessed my inability to guess.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” said Miss Sellars; “it’ll just show you. Uncle Joseph–that was father’s uncle, you understand?”

I assured Miss Sellars that the point was fixed in my mind.

“Well, one day when he came to see us he takes a cocoanut out of his pocket and offers it to me. ‘Thank you,’ I says; ‘I don’t heat cocoanuts that have been shied at by just anybody and missed!’ It made him so wild. After that,” explained Miss Sellars, “they used to call me at home the Princess of Wales.”

I murmured it was a pretty fancy.

“Some people,” replied Miss Sellars, with a giggle, “says it fits me; but, of course, that’s only their nonsense.”

Not knowing what to reply, I remained silent, which appeared to somewhat disappoint Miss Sellars.

Out of the Clapham Road we turned into a by-street of two-storeyed houses.

“You’ll come in and have a bit of supper?” suggested Miss Sellars. “Mar’s quite hanxious to see you.”

I found sufficient courage to say I was not feeling well, and would much rather return home.

“Oh, but you must just come in for five minutes, dear. It’ll look so funny if you don’t. I told ’em we was coming.”

“I would really rather not,” I urged; “some other evening.” I felt a presentiment, I confided to her, that on this particular evening I should not shine to advantage.

“Oh, you mustn’t be so shy,” said Miss Sellars. “I don’t like shy fellows–not too shy. That’s silly.” And Miss Sellars took my arm with a decided grip, making it clear to me that escape could be obtained only by an unseemly struggle in the street; not being prepared for which, I meekly yielded.

We knocked at the door of one of the small houses, Miss Sellars retaining her hold upon me until it had been opened to us by a lank young man in his shirt-sleeves and closed behind us.

“Don’t gentlemen wear coats of a hevening nowadays?” asked Miss Sellars, tartly, of the lank young man. “New fashion just come in?”

“I don’t know what gentlemen wear in the evening or what they don’t,” retorted the lank young man, who appeared to be in an aggressive mood. “If I can find one in this street, I’ll ast him and let you know.”

“Mother in the droaring-room?” enquired Miss Sellars, ignoring the retort.

“They’re all of ’em in the parlour, if that’s what you mean,” returned the lank young man, “the whole blooming shoot. If you stand up against the wall and don’t breathe, there’ll just be room for you.”

Sweeping by the lank young man, Miss Sellars opened the parlour door, and towing me in behind her, shut it.

“Well, Mar, here we are,” announced Miss Sellars. An enormously stout lady, ornamented with a cap that appeared to have been made out of a bandanna handkerchief, rose to greet us, thus revealing the fact that she had been sitting upon an extremely small horsehair-covered easy-chair, the disproportion between the lady and her support being quite pathetic.

“I am charmed, Mr.–“

“Kelver,” supplied Miss Sellars.

“Kelver, to make your ac-quain-tance,” recited Mrs. Sellars in the tone of one repeating a lesson.

I bowed, and murmured that the honour was entirely mine.

“Don’t mention it,” replied Mrs. Sellars. “Pray be seated.”

Mrs. Sellars herself set the example by suddenly giving way and dropping down into her chair, which thus again became invisible. It received her with an agonised groan.

Indeed, the insistence with which this article of furniture throughout the evening cal1ed attention to its sufferings was really quite distracting. With every breath that Mrs. Sellars took it moaned wearily. There were moments when it literally shrieked. I could not have accepted Mrs. Sellars’ offer had I wished, there being no chair vacant and no room for another. A young man with watery eyes, sitting just behind me between a fat young lady and a lean one, rose and suggested my taking his place. Miss Sellars introduced me to him as her cousin Joseph something or other, and we shook hands.

The watery-eyed Joseph remarked that it had been a fine day between the showers, and hoped that the morrow would be either wet or dry; upon which the lean young lady, having slapped him, asked admiringly of the fat young lady if he wasn’t a “silly fool;” to which the fat young lady replied, with somewhat unnecessary severity, I thought, that no one could help being what they were born. To this the lean young lady retorted that it was with precisely similar reflection that she herself controlled her own feelings when tempted to resent the fat young lady’s “nasty jealous temper.”

The threatened quarrel was nipped in the bud by the discretion of Miss Sellars, who took the opportunity of the fat young lady’s momentary speechlessness to introduce me promptly to both of them. They also, I learned, were cousins. The lean girl said she had “erd on me,” and immediately fell into an uncontrollable fit of giggles; of which the watery-eyed Joseph requested me to take no notice, explaining that she always went off like that at exactly three-quarters to the half-hour every evening, Sundays and holidays excepted; that she had taken everything possible for it without effect, and that what he himself advised was that she should have it off.

The fat girl, seizing the chance afforded her, remarked genteelly that she too had “heard hof me,” with emphasis upon the “hof.” She also remarked it was a long walk from Blackfriars Bridge.

“All depends upon the company, eh? Bet they didn’t find it too long.”

This came from a loud-voiced, red-faced man sitting on the sofa beside a somewhat melancholy-looking female dressed in bright green. These twain I discovered to be Uncle and Aunt Gutton. From an observation dropped later in the evening concerning government restrictions on the sale of methylated spirit, and hastily smothered, I gathered that their line was oil and colour.

Mr. Gutton’s forte appeared to be badinage. He it was who, on my explaining my heightened colour as due to the closeness of the evening, congratulated his niece on having secured so warm a partner.

“Will be jolly handy,” shouted Uncle Gutton, “for Rosina, seeing she’s always complaining of her cold feet.”

Here the lank young man attempted to squeeze himself into the room, but found his entrance barred by the square, squat figure of the watery-eyed young man.

“Don’t push,” advised the watery-eyed young man. “Walk over me quietly.”

“Well, why don’t yer get out of the way,” growled the lank young man, now coated, but still aggressive.

“Where am I to get to?” asked the watery-eyed young man, with some reason. “Say the word and I’ll ‘ang myself up to the gas bracket.”

“In my courting days,” roared Uncle Gutton, “the girls used to be able to find seats, even if there wasn’t enough chairs to go all round.”

The sentiment was received with varying degrees of approbation. The watery-eyed young man, sitting down, put the lean young lady on his knee, and in spite of her struggles and sounding slaps, heroically retained her there.

“Now, then, Rosie,” shouted Uncle Gutton, who appeared to have constituted himself master of the ceremonies, “don’t stand about, my girl; you’ll get tired.”

Left to herself, I am inclined to think my _fiancee_ would have spared me; but Uncle Gutton, having been invited to a love comedy, was not to be cheated of any part of the performance, and the audience clearly being with him, there was nothing for it but compliance. I seated myself, and amid plaudits accommodated the ample and heavy Rosina upon my knee.

“Good-bye,” called out to me the watery-eyed young man, as behind the fair Rosina I disappeared from his view. “See you again later on.”

“I used to be a plump girl myself before I married,” observed Aunt Gutton. “Plump as butter I was at one time.”

“It isn’t what one eats,” said the maternal Sellars. “I myself don’t eat enough to keep a fly, and my legs–“

“That’ll do, Mar,” interrupted the filial Sellars, tartly.

“I was only going to say, my dear–“

“We all know what you was going to say, Mar,” retorted Miss Sellars. “We’ve heard it before, and it isn’t interesting.”

Mrs. Sellars relapsed into silence.

“‘Ard work and plenty of it keeps you thin enough, I notice,” remarked the lank young man, with bitterness. To him I was now introduced, he being Mr. George Sellars. “Seen ‘im before,” was his curt greeting.

At supper–referred to by Mrs. Sellars again in the tone of one remembering a lesson, as a cold col-la-tion, with the accent on the “tion”–I sat between Miss Sellars and the lean young lady, with Aunt and Uncle Gutton opposite to us. It was remarked with approval that I did not appear to be hungry.

“Had too many kisses afore he started,” suggested Uncle Gutton, with his mouth full of cold roast pork and pickles. “Wonderfully nourishing thing, kisses, eh? Look at mother and me. That’s all we live on.”

Aunt Gutton sighed, and observed that she had always been a poor feeder.

The watery-eyed young man, observing he had never tasted them himself–at which sally there was much laughter–said he would not mind trying a sample if the lean young lady would kindly pass him one.

The lean young lady opined that, not being used to high living, it might disagree with him.

“Just one,” pleaded the watery-eyed young man, “to go with this bit of cracklin’.”

The lean young lady, amid renewed applause, first thoughtfully wiping her mouth, acceded to his request.

The watery-eyed young man turned it over with the air of a gourmet.

“Not bad,” was his verdict. “Reminds me of onions.” At this there was another burst of laughter.

“Now then, ain’t Paul goin’ to have one?” shouted Uncle Gutton, when the laughter had subsided.

Amid silence, feeling as wretched as perhaps I have ever felt in my life before or since, I received one from the gracious Miss Sellars, wet and sounding.

“Looks better for it already,” commented the delighted Uncle Gutton. “He’ll soon get fat on ’em.”

“Not too many at first,” advised the watery-eyed young man. “Looks to me as if he’s got a weak stomach.”

I think, had the meal lasted much longer, I should have made a dash for the street; the contemplation of such step was forming in my mind. But Miss Sellars, looking at her watch, declared we must be getting home at once, for the which I could have kissed her voluntarily; and, being a young lady of decision, at once rose and commenced leave-taking. Polite protests were attempted, but these, with enthusiastic assistance from myself, she swept aside.

“Don’t want any one to walk home with you?” suggested Uncle Gutton. “Sure you won’t feel lonely by yourselves, eh?”

“We shan’t come to no harm,” assured him Miss Sellars.

“P’raps you’re right,” agreed Uncle Gutton. “There don’t seem to be much of the fiery and untamed about him, so far as I can see.”

“‘Slow waters run deep,'” reminded us Aunt Gutton, with a waggish shake of her head.

“No question about the slow,” assented Uncle Gutton. “If you don’t like him–” observed Miss Sellars, speaking with dignity.

“To be quite candid with you, my girl, I don’t,” answered Uncle Gutton, whose temper, maybe as the result of too much cold pork and whiskey, seemed to have suddenly changed.

“Well, he happens to be good enough for me,” recommenced Miss Sellars.

“I’m sorry to hear a niece of mine say so,” interrupted Uncle Gutton. “If you want my opinion of him–“

“If ever I do I’ll call round some time when you’re sober and ast you for it,” returned Miss Sellars. “And as for being your niece, you was here when I came, and I don’t see very well as how I could have got out of it. You needn’t throw that in my teeth.”

The gust was dispersed by the practical remark of brother George to the effect that the last tram for Walworth left the Oval at eleven-thirty; to which he further added the suggestion that the Clapham Road was wide and well adapted to a row.

“There ain’t going to be no rows,” replied Uncle Gutton, returning to amiability as suddenly as he had departed from it. “We understand each other, don’t we, my girl?”

“That’s all right, uncle. I know what you mean,” returned Miss Sellars, with equal handsomeness.

“Bring him round again when he’s feeling better,” added Uncle Gutton, “and we’ll have another look at him.”

“What you want,” advised the watery-eyed young man on shaking hands with me, “is complete rest and a tombstone.”

I wished at the time I could have followed his prescription.

The maternal Sellars waddled after us into the passage, which she completely blocked. She told me she was delight-ted to have met me, and that she was always at home on Sundays.

I said I would remember it, and thanked her warmly for a pleasant evening, at Miss Sellars’ request calling her Ma.

Outside, Miss Sellars agreed that my presentiment had proved correct–that I had not shone to advantage. Our journey home on a tramcar was a somewhat silent proceeding. At the door of her room she forgave me, and kissed me good night. Had I been frank with her, I should have thanked her for that evening’s experience. It had made my course plain to me.

The next day, which was Thursday, I wandered about the streets till two o’clock in the morning, when I slipped in quietly, passing Miss Sellars’ door with my boots in my hand.

After Mr. Lott’s departure on Friday, which, fortunately, was pay-day, I set my desk in order and confided to Minikin written instructions concerning all matters unfinished.

“I shall not be here to-morrow,” I told him. “Going to follow your advice.”

“Found anything to do?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I answered.

“Suppose you can’t get anything?”

“If the worst comes to the worst,” I replied, “I can hang myself.”

“Well, you know the girl. Maybe you are right,” he agreed.

“Hope it won’t throw much extra work on you,” I said.

“Well, I shan’t be catching it if it does,” was his answer. “That’s all right.”

He walked with me to the “Angel,” and there we parted.

“If you do get on to the stage,” he said, “and it’s anything worth seeing, and you send me an order, and I can find the time, maybe I’ll come and see you.”

I thanked him for his promised support and jumped upon the tram.

The O’Kelly’s address was in Belsize Square. I was about to ring and knock, as requested by a highly-polished brass plate, when I became aware of pieces of small coal falling about me on the doorstep. Looking up, I perceived the O’Kelly leaning out of an attic window. From signs I gathered I was to retire from the doorstep and wait. In a few minutes the door opened and his hand beckoned me to enter.

“Walk quietly,” he whispered; and on tip-toe we climbed up to the attic from where had fallen the coal. “I’ve been waiting for ye,” explained the O’Kelly, speaking low. “Me wife–a good woman, Paul; sure, a better woman never lived; ye’ll like her when ye know her, later on–she might not care about ye’re calling. She’d want to know where I met ye, and–ye understand? Besides,” added the O’Kelly, “we can smoke up here;” and seating himself where he could keep an eye upon the door, near to a small cupboard out of which he produced a pipe still alight, the O’Kelly prepared himself to listen.

I told him briefly the reason of my visit.

“It was my fault, Paul,” he was good enough to say; “my fault entirely. Between ourselves, it was a damned silly idea, that party, the whole thing altogether. Don’t ye think so?”

I replied that I was naturally prejudiced against it myself.

“Most unfortunate for me,” continued the O’Kelly; “I know that. Me cabman took me to Hammersmith instead of Hampstead; said I told him Hammersmith. Didn’t get home here till three o’clock in the morning. Most unfortunate–under the circumstances.”

I could quite imagine it.

“But I’m glad ye’ve come,” said the O’Kelly. “I had a notion ye did something foolish that evening, but I couldn’t remember precisely what. It’s been worrying me.”

“It’s been worrying me also, I can assure you,” I told him; and I gave him an account of my Wednesday evening’s experience.

“I’ll go round to-morrow morning,” he said, “and see one or two people. It’s not a bad idea, that of Jarman’s. I think I may be able to arrange something for ye.”

He fixed a time for me to call again upon him the next day, when Mrs. O’Kelly would be away from home. He instructed me to walk quietly up and down on the opposite side of the road with my eye on the attic window, and not to come across unless he waved a handkerchief.

Rising to go, I thanked him for his kindness. “Don’t put it that way, me dear Paul,” he answered. “If I don’t get ye out of this scrape I shall never forgive meself. If we damned silly fools don’t help one another,” he added, with his pleasant laugh, “who is to help us?”

We crept downstairs as we had crept up. As we reached the first floor, the drawing-room door suddenly opened.

“William!” cried a sharp voice.

“Me dear,” answered the O’Kelly, snatching his pipe from his mouth and thrusting it, still alight, into his trousers pocket. I made the rest of the descent by myself, and slipping out, closed the door behind me as noiselessly as possible.

Again I did not return to Nelson Square until the early hours, and the next morning did not venture out until I had heard Miss Sellars, who appeared to be in a bad temper, leave the house. Then running to the top of the kitchen stairs, I called for Mrs. Peedles. I told her I was going to leave her, and, judging the truth to be the simplest explanation, I told her the reason why.

“My dear,” said Mrs. Peedles, “I am only too glad to hear it. It wasn’t for me to interfere, but I couldn’t help seeing you were making a fool of yourself. I only hope you’ll get clear off, and you may depend upon me to do all I can to help you.”

“You don’t think I’m acting dishonourably, do you, Mrs. Peedles?” I asked.

“My dear,” replied Mrs. Peedles, “it’s a difficult world to live in–leastways, that’s been my experience of it.”

I had just completed my packing–it had not taken me long–when I heard upon the stairs the heavy panting that always announced to me the up-coming of Mrs. Peedles. She entered with a bundle of old manuscripts under her arm, torn and tumbled booklets of various shapes and sizes. These she plumped down upon the rickety table, and herself upon the nearest chair.

“Put them in your box, my dear,” said Mrs. Peedles. “They’ll come in useful to you later on.”

I glanced at the bundle. I saw it was a collection of old plays in manuscript-prompt copies, scored, cut and interlined. The top one I noticed was “The Bloodspot: Or the Maiden, the Miser and the Murderer;” the second, “The Female Highwayman.”

“Everybody’s forgotten ’em,” explained Mrs. Peedles, “but there’s some good stuff in all of them.”

“But what am I to do with them?” I enquired.

“Just whatever you like, my dear,” explained Mrs. Peedles. “It’s quite safe. They’re all of ’em dead, the authors of ’em. I’ve picked ’em out most carefully. You just take a scene from one and a scene from the other. With judgment and your talent you’ll make a dozen good plays out of that little lot when your time comes.”

“But they wouldn’t be my plays, Mrs. Peedles,” I suggested.

“They will if I give them to you,” answered Mrs. Peedles. “You put ’em in your box. And never mind the bit of rent,” added Mrs. Peedles; “you can pay me that later on.”

I kissed the kind old soul good-bye and took her gift with me to my new lodgings in Camden Town. Many a time have I been hard put to it for plot or scene, and more than once in weak mood have I turned with guilty intent the torn and crumpled pages of Mrs. Peedles’s donation to my literary equipment. It is pleasant to be able to put my hand upon my heart and reflect that never yet have I yielded to the temptation. Always have I laid them back within their drawer, saying to myself, with stern reproof:

“No, no, Paul. Stand or fall by your own merits. Never plagiarise–in any case, not from this ‘little lot.'”



“Don’t be nervous,” said the O’Kelly, “and don’t try to do too much. You have a very fair voice, but it’s not powerful. Keep cool and open your mouth.”

It was eleven o’clock in the morning. We were standing at the entrance of the narrow court leading to the stage door. For a fortnight past the O’Kelly had been coaching me. It had been nervous work for both of us, but especially for the O’Kelly. Mrs. O’Kelly, a thin, acid-looking lady, of whom I once or twice had caught a glimpse while promenading Belsize Square awaiting the O’Kelly’s signal, was a serious-minded lady, with a conscientious objection to all music not of a sacred character. With the hope of winning the O’Kelly from one at least of his sinful tendencies, the piano had been got rid of, and its place in the drawing-room filled by an American organ of exceptionally lugubrious tone. With this we had had to make shift, and though the O’Kelly–a veritable musical genius–had succeeded in evolving from it an accompaniment to “Sally in Our Alley” less misleading and confusing than might otherwise have been the case, the result had not been to lighten our labours. My rendering of the famous ballad had, in consequence, acquired a dolefulness not intended by the composer. Sung as I sang it, the theme became, to employ a definition since grown hackneyed as applied to Art, a problem ballad. Involuntarily one wondered whether the marriage would turn out as satisfactorily as the young man appeared to anticipate. Was there not, when one came to think of it, a melancholy, a pessimism ingrained within the temperament of the complainful hero that would ill assort with those instincts toward frivolity the careful observer could not avoid discerning in the charming yet nevertheless somewhat shallow character of Sally.

“Lighter, lighter. Not so soulful,” would demand the O’Kelly, as the solemn notes rolled jerkily from the groaning instrument beneath his hands.

Once we were nearly caught, Mrs. O’Kelly returning from a district visitors’ committee meeting earlier than was expected. Hastily I was hidden in a small conservatory adjutting from the first floor landing, where, crouching behind flower-pots, I listened in fear and trembling to the severe cross-examination of the O’Kelly.

“William, do not prevaricate. It was not a hymn.”

“Me dear, so much depends upon the time. Let me give ye an example of what I mean.”

“William, pray in my presence not to play tricks with sacred melodies. If you have no respect for religion, please remember that I have. Besides, why should you be playing hymns in any time at ten o’clock in the morning? It is not like you, William, and I do not credit your explanation. And you were singing. I distinctly heard the word ‘Sally’ as I opened the door.”

“Salvation, me dear,” corrected the O’Kelly.

“Your enunciation, William, is not usually so much at fault.”

“A little hoarseness, me dear,” explained the O’Kelly.

“Your voice did not sound hoarse. Perhaps it will be better if we do not pursue the subject further.”

With this the O’Kelly appeared to agree.

“A lady a little difficult to get on with when ye’re feeling well and strong,” so the O’Kelly would explain her; “but if ye happen to be ill, one of the kindest, most devoted of women. When I was down with typhoid three years ago, a tenderer nurse no man could have had. I shall never forget it. And so she would be again to-morrow, if there was anything serious the matter with me.”

I murmured the well-known quotation.

“Mrs. O’Kelly to a T,” concurred the O’Kelly. “I sometimes wonder if Lady Scott may not have been the same sort of woman.”

“The unfortunate part of it is,” continued the O’Kelly, “that I’m such a healthy beggar; it don’t give her a chance. If I were only a chronic invalid, now, there’s nothing that woman would not do to make me happy. As it is–” The O’Kelly struck a chord. We resumed our studies.

But to return to our conversation at the stage door.

“Meet me at the Cheshire Cheese at one o’clock,” said the O’Kelly, shaking hands. “If ye don’t get on here, we’ll try something else; but I’ve spoken to Hodgson, and I think ye will. Good luck to ye!”

He went his way and I mine. In a glass box just behind the door a curved-nose, round-eyed little man, looking like an angry bird in a cage, demanded of me my business. I showed him my letter of appointment.

“Up the passage, across the stage, along the corridor, first floor, second door on the right,” he instructed me in one breath, and shut the window with a snap.

I proceeded up the passage. It somewhat surprised me to discover that I was not in the least excited at the thought of this, my first introduction to “behind the scenes.”

I recall my father’s asking a young soldier on his return from the Crimea what had been his sensations at the commencement of his first charge.

“Well,” replied the young fellow, “I was worrying all the time, remembering I had rushed out leaving the beer tap running in the canteen, and I could not forget it.”

So far as the stage I found my way in safety. Pausing for a moment and glancing round, my impression was not so much disillusionment concerning all things theatrical as realisation of my worst forebodings. In that one moment all glamour connected with the stage fell from me, nor has it since ever returned to me. From the tawdry decorations of the auditorium to the childish make-belief littered around on the stage, I saw the Theatre a painted thing of shreds and patches–the grown child’s doll’s-house. The Drama may improve us, elevate us, interest and teach us. I am sure it does; long may it flourish! But so likewise does the dressing and undressing of dolls, the opening of the front of the house, and the tenderly putting of them away to bed in rooms they completely fill, train our little dears to the duties and the joys of motherhood. Toys! what wise child despises them? Art, fiction, the musical glasses: are they not preparing us for the time, however distant, when we shall at last be grown up?

In a maze of ways beyond the stage I lost myself, but eventually,