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  • 1902
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guided by voices, came to a large room furnished barely with many chairs and worn settees, and here I found some twenty to thirty ladies and gentlemen already seated. They were of varying ages, sizes and appearance, but all of them alike in having about them that impossible-to-define but impossible-to-mistake suggestion of theatricality. The men were chiefly remarkable for having no hair on their faces, but a good deal upon their heads; the ladies, one and all, were blessed with remarkably pink and white complexions and exceptionally bright eyes. The conversation, carried on in subdued but penetrating voices, was chiefly of “him” and “her.” Everybody appeared to be on an affectionate footing with everybody else, the terms of address being “My dear,” “My love,” “Old girl,” “Old chappie,” Christian names–when name of any sort was needful–alone being employed. I hesitated for a minute with the door in my hand, fearing I had stumbled upon a family gathering. As, however, nobody seemed disconcerted at my entry, I ventured to take a vacant seat next to an extremely small and boyish-looking gentleman and to ask him if this was the room in which I, an applicant for a place in the chorus of the forthcoming comic opera, ought to be waiting.

He had large, fishy eyes, with which he looked me up and down. For such a length of time he remained thus regarding me in silence that a massive gentleman sitting near, who had overheard, took it upon himself to reply in the affirmative, adding that from what he knew of Butterworth we would all of us be waiting here a damned sight longer than any gentleman should keep other ladies and gentlemen waiting for no reason at all.

“I think it exceedingly bad form,” observed the fishy-eyed gentleman, in deep contralto tones, “for any gentleman to take it upon himself to reply to a remark addressed to quite another gentleman.”

“I beg your pardon,” retorted the large gentleman. “I thought you were asleep.”

“I think it very ill manners,” remarked the small gentlemen in the same slow and impressive tones, “for any gentleman to tell another gentleman, who happens to be wide awake, that he thought he was asleep.”

“Sir,” returned the massive gentleman, assuming with the help of a large umbrella a quite Johnsonian attitude, “I decline to alter my manners to suit your taste.”

“If you are satisfied with them,” replied the small gentleman, “I cannot help it. But I think you are making a mistake.”

“Does anybody know what the opera is about?” asked a bright little woman at the other end of the room.

“Does anybody ever know what a comic opera is about?” asked another lady, whose appearance suggested experience.

“I once asked the author,” observed a weary-looking gentleman, speaking from a corner. “His reply was: ‘Well, if you had asked me at the beginning of the rehearsals I might have been able to tell you, but damned if I could now![‘]”

“It wouldn’t surprise me,” observed a good-looking gentleman in a velvet coat, “if there occurred somewhere in the proceedings a drinking chorus for male voices.”

“Possibly, if we are good,” added a thin lady with golden hair, “the heroine will confide to us her love troubles, which will interest us and excite us.”

The door at the further end of the room opened and a name was cal[l]ed. An elderly lady rose and went out.

“Poor old Gertie!” remarked sympathetically the thin lady with the golden hair. “I’m told that she really had a voice once.”

“When poor young Bond first came to London,” said the massive gentleman who was sitting on my left, “I remember his telling me he applied to Lord Barrymore’s ‘tiger,’ Alexander Lee, I mean, of course, who was then running the Strand Theatre, for a place in the chorus. Lee heard him sing two lines, and then jumped up. ‘Thanks, that’ll do; good morning,’ says Lee. Bond knew he had got a good voice, so he asked Lee what was wrong. ‘What’s wrong?’ shouts Lee. ‘Do you think I hire a chorus to show up my principals?'”

“Having regard to the company present,” commented the fishy-eyed gentleman, “I consider that anecdote as distinctly lacking in tact.”

The feeling of the company appeared to be with the fish-eyed young man.

For the next half hour the door at the further end of the room continued to open and close, devouring, ogre-fashion, each time some dainty human morsel, now chorus gentleman, now chorus lady. Conversation among our thinning ranks became more fitful, a growing anxiety making for silence.

At length, “Mr. Horace Moncrieff” called the voice of the unseen Charon. In common with the rest, I glanced round languidly to see what sort of man “Mr. Horace Moncrieff” might be. The door was pushed open further. Charon, now revealed as a pale-faced young man with a drooping moustache, put his head into the room and repeated impatiently his invitation to the apparently coy Moncrieff. It suddenly occurred to me that I was Mr. Horace Moncrieff.

“So glad you’ve found yourself,” said the pale-faced young man, as I joined him at the door. “Please don’t lose yourself again; we’re rather pressed for time.”

I crossed with him through a deserted refreshment bar–one of the saddest of sights–into a room beyond. A melancholy-looking gentleman was seated at the piano. Beside him stood a tall, handsome man, who was opening and reading rapidly from a bundle of letters he held in his hand. A big, burly, bored-looking gentleman was making desperate efforts to be amused at the staccato conversation of a sharp-faced, restless-eyed gentleman, whose peculiarity was that he never by any chance looked at the person to whom he was talking, but always at something or somebody else.

“Moncrieff?” enquired the tall, handsome man–whom I later discovered to be Mr. Hodgson, the manager–without raising his eyes from his letters.

The pale-faced gentleman responded for me.

“Fire away,” said Mr. Hodgson.

“What is it?” asked of me wearily the melancholy gentleman at the piano.

“‘Sally in Our Alley,'” I replied.

“What are you?” interrupted Mr. Hodgson. He had never once looked at me, and did not now.

“A tenor,” I replied. “Not a full tenor,” I added, remembering the O’Kelly’s instructions.

“Utterly impossible to fill a tenor,” remarked the restless-eyed gentleman, looking at me and speaking to the worried-looking gentleman. “Ever tried?”

Everybody laughed, with the exception of the melancholy gentleman at the piano, Mr. Hodgson throwing in his contribution without raising his eyes from his letters. Throughout the proceedings the restless-eyed gentleman continued to make humorous observations of this nature, at which everybody laughed, excepting always the melancholy pianist–a short, sharp, mechanical laugh, devoid of the least suggestion of amusement. The restless-eyed gentleman, it appeared, was the leading low comedian of the theatre.

“Go on,” said the melancholy gentleman, and commenced the accompaniment.

“Tell me when he’s going to begin,” remarked Mr. Hodgson at the conclusion of the first verse.

“He has a fair voice,” said my accompanist. “He’s evidently nervous.”

“There is a prejudice throughout theatrical audiences,” observed Mr. Hodgson, “in favour of a voice they can hear. That is all I am trying to impress upon him.”

The second verse, so I imagined, I sang in the voice of a trumpet. The burly gentleman–the translator of the French libretto, as he turned out to be; the author of the English version, as he preferred to be called–acknowledged to having distinctly detected a sound. The restless-eyed comedian suggested an announcement from the stage requesting strict silence during my part of the performance.

The sickness of fear was stealing over me. My voice, so it seemed to me, disappointed at the effect it had produced, had retired, sulky, into my boots, whence it refused to emerge.

“Your voice is all right–very good,” whispered the musical conductor. “They want to hear the best you can do, that’s all.”

At this my voice ran up my legs and out of my mouth. “Thirty shillings a week, half salary for rehearsals. If that’s all right, Mr. Catchpole will give you your agreement. If not, very much obliged. Good morning,” said Mr. Hodgson, still absorbed in his correspondence.

With the pale-faced young man I retired to a desk in the corner, where a few seconds sufficed for the completion of the business. Leaving, I sought to catch the eye of my melancholy friend, but he appeared too sunk in dejection to notice anything. The restless-eyed comedian, looking at the author of the English version and addressing me as Boanerges, wished me good morning, at which the everybody laughed; and, informed as to the way out by the pale-faced Mr. Catchpole, I left.

The first “call” was for the following Monday at two o’clock. I found the theatre full of life and bustle. The principals, who had just finished their own rehearsal, were talking together in a group. We ladies and gentlemen of the chorus filled the centre of the stage. I noticed the lady I had heard referred to as Gertie; as also the thin lady with the golden hair. The massive gentleman and the fishy-eyed young man were again in close proximity; so long as I knew them they always were together, possessed, apparently, of a sympathetic antipathy for each other. The fishy-eyed young gentleman was explaining the age at which he thought decayed chorus singers ought, in justice to themselves and the public, to retire from the profession; the massive gentleman, the age and size at which he thought parcels of boys ought to be learning manners across their mother’s knee.

Mr. Hodgson, still reading letters exactly as I had left him four days ago, stood close to the footlights. My friend, the musical director, armed with a violin and supported by about a dozen other musicians, occupied the orchestra. The adapter and the stage manager–a Frenchman whom I found it good policy to mistake for a born Englishman–sat deep in confabulation at a small table underneath a temporary gas jet. Quarter of an hour or so passed by, and then the stage manager, becoming suddenly in a hurry, rang a small bell furiously.

“Clear, please; all clear,” shouted a small boy, with important air suggestive of a fox terrier; and, following the others, I retreated to the wings.

The comedian and the leading lady–whom I knew well from the front, but whom I should never have recognised–severed themselves from their companions and joined Mr. Hodgson by the footlights. As a preliminary we were sorted out, according to our sizes, into loving couples.

“Ah,” said the stage manager, casting an admiring gaze upon the fishy-eyed young man, whose height might have been a little over five feet two, “I have the very girl for you–a beauty!” Darting into the group of ladies, he returned with quite the biggest specimen, a lady of magnificent proportions, whom, with the air of the virtuous uncle of melodrama, he bestowed upon the fishy-eyed young man. To the massive gentleman was given a sharp-faced little lady, who at a distance appeared quite girlish. Myself I found mated to the thin lady with the golden hair.

At last complete, we took our places in the then approved semi-circle, and the attenuated orchestra struck up the opening chorus. My music, which had been sent me by post, I had gone over with the O’Kelly, and about that I felt confident; but for the rest, ill at ease.

“I am afraid,” said the thin lady, “I must ask you to put your arm round my waist. It’s very shocking, I know, but, you see, our salary depends upon it. Do you think you could manage it?”

I glanced into her face. A whimsical expression of fun replied to me and drove away my shyness. I carried out her instructions to the best of my ability.

The indefatigable stage manager ran in and out among us while we sang, driving this couple back a foot or so, this other forward, herding this group closer together, throughout another making space, suggesting the idea of a sheep-dog at work.

“Very good, very good indeed,” commented Mr. Hodgson at the conclusion. “We will go over it once more, and this time in tune.”

“And we will make love,” added the stage manager; “not like marionettes, but like ladies and gentlemen all alive.” Seizing the lady nearest to him, he explained to us by object lesson how the real peasant invariably behaves when under influence of the grand passion, standing gracefully with hands clasped upon heart, head inclined at an angle of forty-five, his whole countenance eloquent with tender adoration.

“If he expects” remarked the massive gentleman _sotto voce_ to an experienced-looking young lady, “a performance of Romeo thrown in, I, for one, shall want an extra ten shillings a week.”

Casting the lady aside and seizing upon a gentleman, our stage manager then proceeded to show the ladies how a village maiden should receive affectionate advances: one shoulder a trifle higher than the other, body from the waist upward gently waggling, roguish expression in left eye.

“Ah, he’s a bit new to it,” replied the experienced young lady. “He’ll get over all that.”

Again we started. Whether others attempted to follow the stage manager’s directions I cannot say, my whole attention being centred upon the fishy-eyed young man, who did, implicitly. Soon it became apparent that the whole of us were watching the fishy-eyed young man to the utter neglect of our own business. Mr. Hodgson even looked up from his letters; the orchestra was playing out of time; the author of the English version and the leading lady exchanged glances. Three people only appeared not to be enjoying themselves: the chief comedian, the stage manager and the fishy-eyed young gentleman himself, who pursued his labours methodically and conscientiously. There was a whispered confabulation between the leading low comedian, Mr. Hodgson and the stage manager. As a result, the music ceased and the fishy-eyed young gentleman was requested to explain what he was doing.

“Only making love,” replied the fishy-eyed young gentleman.

“You were playing the fool, sir,” retorted the leading low comedian, severely.

“That is a very unkind remark,” replied the fishy-eyed young gentleman, evidently hurt, “to make to a gentleman who is doing his best.”

Mr. Hodgson behind his letters was laughing. “Poor fellow,” he murmured; “I suppose he can’t help it. Go on.”

“We are not producing a pantomime, you know,” urged our comedian.

“I want to give him a chance, poor devil,” explained Mr. Hodgson in a lower voice. “Only support of a widowed mother.”

Our comedian appeared inclined to argue; but at this point Mr. Hodgson’s correspondence became absorbing.

For the chorus the second act was a busy one. We opened as soldiers and vivandieres, every warrior in this way possessing his own private travelling bar. Our stage manager again explained to us by example how a soldier behaves, first under stress of patriotic emotion, and secondly under stress of cheap cognac, the difference being somewhat subtle: patriotism displaying itself by slaps upon the chest, and cheap cognac by slaps upon the forehead. A little later we were conspirators; our stage manager, with the help of a tablecloth, showed us how to conspire. Next we were a mob, led by the sentimental baritone; our stage manager, ruffling his hair, expounded to us how a mob led by a sentimental baritone would naturally behave itself. The act wound up with a fight. Our stage manager, minus his coat, demonstrated to us how to fight and die, the dying being a painful and dusty performance, necessitating, as it did, much rolling about on the stage. The fishy-eyed young gentleman throughout the whole of it was again the centre of attraction. Whether he were solemnly slapping his chest and singing about glory, or solemnly patting his head and singing about grapes, was immaterial: he was the soldier for us. What the plot was about did not matter, so long as he was in it. Who led the mob one did not care; one’s desire was to see him lead. How others fought and died was matter of no moment; to see him slaughtered was sufficient. Whether his unconsciousness was assumed or natural I cannot say; in either case it was admirable. An earnest young man, over-anxious, if anything, to do his duty by his employers, was the extent of the charge that could be brought against him. Our chief comedian frowned and fumed; our stage manager was in despair. Mr. Hodgson and the author of the English version, on the contrary, appeared kindly disposed towards the gentleman. In addition to the widowed mother, Mr. Hodgson had invented for him five younger brothers and sisters utterly destitute but for his earnings. To deprive so exemplary a son and brother of the means of earning a livelihood for dear ones dependent upon him was not in Mr. Hodgson’s heart. Our chief comedian dissociated himself from all uncharitable feelings–would subscribe towards the subsistence of the young man out of his own pocket, his only concern being the success of the opera. The author of the English version was convinced the young man would not accept a charity; had known him for years–was a most sensitive creature.

The rehearsal proceeded. In the last act it became necessary for me to kiss the thin lady.

“I am very sorry,” said the thin lady, “but duty is duty. It has to be done.”

Again I followed directions. The thin lady was good enough to congratulate me on my performance.

The last three or four rehearsals we performed in company with the principals. Divided counsels rendered them decidedly harassing. Our chief comedian had his views, and they were decided; the leading lady had hers, and was generous with them. The author of the English version possessed his also, but of these nobody took much notice. Once every twenty minutes the stage manager washed his hands of the whole affair and left the theatre in despair, and anybody’s hat that happened to be handy, to return a few minutes later full of renewed hope. The sentimental baritone was sarcastic, the tenor distinctly rude to everybody. Mr. Hodgson’s method was to agree with all and listen to none. The smaller fry of the company, together with the more pushing of the chorus, supported each in turn, when the others were not looking. Up to the dress rehearsal it was anybody’s opera.

About one thing, and about one thing, only, had the principals fallen into perfect agreement, and that was that the fishy-eyed young gentleman was out of place in a romantic opera. The tenor would be making impassioned love to the leading lady. Perception would come to both of them that, though they might be occupying geographically the centre of the stage, dramatically they were not. Without a shred of evidence, yet with perfect justice, they would unhesitatingly blame for this the fishy-eyed young man.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” he would explain meekly. “I was only looking.” It was perfectly true; that was all he was doing.

“Then don’t look,” would comment the tenor.

The fishy-eyed young gentleman obediently would turn his face away from them; and in some mysterious manner the situation would thereupon become even yet more hopelessly ridiculous.

“My scene, I think, sir!” would thunder our chief comedian, a little later on.

“I am only doing what I was told to do,” answered the fishy-eyed young gentleman; and nobody could say that he was not.

“Take a circus, and run him as a side-show,” counselled our comedian.

“I am afraid he would never be any good as a side-show,” replied Mr. Hodgson, who was reading letters.

On the first night, passing the gallery entrance on my way to the stage door, the sight of the huge crowd assembled there waiting gave me my first taste of artistic joy. I was a part of what they had come to see, to praise or to condemn, to listen to, to watch. Within the theatre there was an atmosphere of suppressed excitement, amounting almost to hysteria. The bird-like gentleman in his glass cage was fluttering, agitated. The hands of the stage carpenters putting the finishing touches to the scenery were trembling, their voices passionate with anxiety; the fox-terrier-like call-boy was pale with sense of responsibility.

I made my way to the dressing-room–a long, low, wooden corridor, furnished from end to end with a wide shelf that served as common dressing-table, lighted by a dozen flaring gas-jets, wire-shielded. Here awaited us gentlemen of the chorus the wigmaker’s assistant, whose duty it was to make us up. From one to another he ran, armed with his hare’s foot, his box of paints and his bundle of crepe hair. My turn arriving, he seized me by the head, jabbed a wig upon me, and in less than a couple of minutes I left his hands the orthodox peasant of the stage, white of forehead and pink of cheek, with curly moustache and lips of coral. Glancing into the glass, I could not help feeling pleased with myself; a moustache, without doubt, suited me.

The chorus ladies, when I met them on the stage, were a revelation to me. Paint and powder though I knew their appearance to consist of chiefly, yet in that hot atmosphere of the theatre, under that artificial glare, it seemed fit and fascinating. The close approximation to so much bare flesh, its curious, subtle odour was almost intoxicating. Dr. Johnson’s excuse to Garrick for the rarity of his visits to the theatre recurred to me with understanding.

“How do you like my costume?” asked the thin lady with the golden hair.

“I think you–” We were standing apart behind a piece of projecting scenery. She laid her hand upon my mouth, laughing.

“How old are you?” she asked me.

“Isn’t that a rude question?” I answered. “I don’t ask your age.

“Mine,” she replied, “entitles me to talk to you as I should to a boy of my own–I had one once. Get out of this life if you can. It’s bad for a woman; it’s worse still for a man. To you especially it will be harmful.”

“Why to me in particular?”

“Because you are an exceedingly foolish little boy,” she answered, with another laugh, “and are rather nice.”

She slipped away and joined the others. The chorus was now entirely assembled on the stage. The sound of the rapidly-filling house reached us, softened through the thick baize curtain, a dull, continuous droning, as of water pouring into some huge cistern. Suddenly there fell upon our ears a startling crash; the overture had commenced. The stage manager–more suggestive of a sheep-dog than ever, but lacking the calm dignity, the self-possession born of conscious capability distinctive of his prototype; a fussy, argumentative sheep-dog–rushed into the midst of us and worried us into our positions, where the more experienced continued to converse in whispers, the rest of us waiting nervously, trying to remember our words. The chorus master, taking his stand with his back to the proscenium, held his white-gloved hand in readiness. The curtain rushed up, the house, a nightmare of white faces, appearing to run towards us. The chorus-master’s white-gloved hand flung upward. A roar of voices struck upon my ear, but whether my own were of them I could not say; if I were singing at all it was unconsciously, mechanically. Later, I found myself standing in the wings beside the thin lady; the stage was in the occupation of the principals. On my next entrance my senses were more with me; I was able to look about me. Here and there a strongly-marked face among the audience stood out, but the majority were as indistinguishable as so many blades of grass. Looked at from the stage, the house seemed no more real than from the front do the painted faces upon a black cloth.

The curtain fell amid the usual applause, sounding to us behind it like the rattle of tiny stones against a window-pane. Three times it rose and fell, like the opening and shutting of a door; and then followed a scamper for the dressing-rooms, the long corridors being filled with the rustling of skirts and the scurrying of feet.

It was in the second act that the fishy-eyed young gentleman came into his own. The chorus had lingered till it was quite apparent that the tenor and the leading lady were in love with each other; then, with the exquisite delicacy so characteristic of a chorus, foreseeing that its further presence might be embarrassing, it turned to go, half to the east, the other half to the west. The fishy-eyed young man, starting from the centre, was the last to leave the stage. In another moment he would have disappeared from view. There came a voice from the gallery, clear, distinct, pathetic with entreaty:

“Don’t go. Get behind a tree.”

The request was instantly seconded by a roar of applause from every part of the house, followed by laughter. From that point onward the house was chiefly concerned with the fortunes of the fishy-eyed young gentleman. At his next entrance, disguised as a conspirator, he was welcomed with enthusiasm, his passing away regretted loudly. At the fall of the curtain, the tenor, furious, rushed up to him, and, shaking a fist in his face, demanded what he meant by it.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” explained the fishy-eyed young man.

“You went off sideways!” roared the tenor.

“Well, you told me not to look at you,” explained meekly the fishy-eyed young gentleman. “I must go off somehow. I regard you as a very difficult man to please.”

At the final fall of the curtain the house appeared divided as regarded the merits of the opera; but for “Goggles” there was a unanimous and enthusiastic call, and the while we were dressing a message came for “Goggles” that Mr. Hodgson wished to see him in his private room.

“He can make a funny face, no doubt about it,” commented one gentleman, as “Goggles” left the room.

“I defy him to make a funnier one than God Almighty’s made for him,” responded the massive gentleman.

“There’s a deal in luck,” observed, with a sigh, another, a tall, handsome young gentleman possessed of a rich bass voice.

Leaving the stage door, I encountered a group of gentlemen waiting upon the pavement outside. Not interested in them myself, I was hurrying past, when one laid a hand upon my shoulder. I turned. He was a big, broad-shouldered fellow, with a dark Vandyke beard and soft, dreamy eyes.

“Dan!” I cried.

“I thought it was you, young ‘un, in the first act,” he answered. “In the second, when you came on without a moustache, I knew it. Are you in a hurry?”

“Not at all,” I answered. “Are you?”

“No,” he replied; “we don’t go to press till Thursday, so I can write my notice to-morrow. Come and have supper with me at the Albion and we will talk. You look tired, young ‘un.”

“No,” I assured him, “only excited–partly at meeting you.”

He laughed, and drew my arm through his.

CHAPTER V.

HOW ON A SWEET GREY MORNING THE FUTURE CAME TO PAUL.

Over our supper Dan and I exchanged histories. They revealed points of similarity. Leaving school some considerable time earlier than myself, Dan had gone to Cambridge; but two years later, in consequence of the death of his father, of a wound contracted in the Indian Mutiny and never cured, had been compelled to bring his college career to an untimely termination.

“You might not have expected that to grieve me,” said Dan, with a smile, “but, as a matter of fact, it was a severe blow to me. At Cambridge I discovered that I was by temperament a scholar. The reason why at school I took no interest in learning was because learning was, of set purpose, made as uninteresting as possible. Like a Cook’s tourist party through a picture gallery, we were rushed through education; the object being not that we should see and understand, but that we should be able to say that we had done it. At college I chose my own subjects, studied them in my own way. I fed on knowledge, was not stuffed with it like a Strassburg goose.”

Returning to London, he had taken a situation in a bank, the chairman of which had been an old friend of his father. The advantage was that while earning a small income he had time to continue his studies; but the deadly monotony of the work had appalled him, and upon the death of his mother he had shaken the cloying dust of the City from his brain and joined a small “fit-up” theatrical company. On the stage he had remained for another eighteen months; had played all roles, from “Romeo” to “Paul Pry,” had helped to paint the scenery, had assisted in the bill-posting. The latter, so he told me, he had found one of the most difficult of accomplishments, the paste-laden poster having an innate tendency to recoil upon the amateur’s own head, and to stick there. Wearying of the stage proper, he had joined a circus company, had been “Signor Ricardo, the daring bare-back rider,” also one of the “Brothers Roscius in their marvellous trapeze act;” inclining again towards respectability, had been a waiter for three months at Ostend; from that, a footman.

“One never knows,” remarked Dan. “I may come to be a society novelist; if so, inside knowledge of the aristocracy will give me decided advantage over the majority of my competitors.”

Other callings he had sampled: had tramped through Ireland with a fiddle; through Scotland with a lecture on Palestine, assisted by dissolving views; had been a billiard-marker; next a schoolmaster. For the last three months he had been a journalist, dramatic and musical critic to a Sunday newspaper. Often had I dreamt of such a position for myself.

“How did you obtain it?” I asked.

“The idea occurred to me,” replied Dan, “late one afternoon, sauntering down the Strand, wondering what I should do next. I was on my beam ends, with only a few shillings in my pocket; but luck has always been with me. I entered the first newspaper office I came to, walked upstairs to the first floor, and opening the first door without knocking, passed through a small, empty room into a larger one, littered with books and papers. It was growing dark. A gentleman of extremely youthful figure was running round and round, cursing to himself because of three things: he had upset the ink, could not find the matches, and had broken the bell-pull. In the gloom, assuming him to be the office boy, I thought it would be fun to mistake him for the editor. As a matter of fact, he turned out to be the editor. I lit the gas for him, and found him another ink-pot. He was a slim young man with the voice and manner of a schoolboy. I don’t suppose he is any more than five or six-and-twenty. He owes his position to the fact of his aunt’s being the proprietress. He asked me if he knew me. Before I could tell him that he didn’t, he went on talking. He appeared to be labouring under a general sense of injury.

“‘People come into this office,’ he said; ‘they seem to look upon it as a shelter from the rain–people I don’t know from Adam. And that damned fool downstairs lets them march straight up–anybody, men with articles on safety valves, people who have merely come to kick up a row about something or another. Half my work I have to do on the stairs.

“I recommended to him that he should insist upon strangers writing their business upon a slip of paper. He thought it a good idea.

“‘For the last three-quarters of an hour,’ he said, ‘have I been trying to finish this one column, and four times have I been interrupted.’

“At that precise moment there came another knock at the door.

“‘I won’t see him!’ he cried. ‘I don’t care who he is; I won’t see him. Send him away! Send everybody away!’

“I went to the door. He was an elderly gentleman. He made to sweep by me; but I barred his way, and closed the editorial door behind me. He seemed surprised; but I told him it was impossible for him to see the editor that afternoon, and suggested his writing his business on a sheet of paper, which I handed to him for the purpose. I remained in that ante-room for half an hour, and during that time I suppose I must have sent away about ten or a dozen people. I don’t think their business could have been important, or I should have heard about it afterwards. The last to come was a tired-looking gentleman, smoking a cigarette. I asked him his name.

“He looked at me in surprise, and then answered, ‘Idiot!’

“I remained firm, however, and refused to let him pass.

“‘It’s a bit awkward,’ he retorted. ‘Don’t you think you could make an exception in favour of the sub-editor on press night?’

“I replied that such would be contrary to my instructions.

“‘Oh, all right,’ he answered. ‘I’d like to know who’s going to the Royalty to-night, that’s all. It’s seven o’clock already.’

“An idea occurred to me. If the sub-editor of a paper doesn’t know whom to send to a theatre, it must mean that the post of dramatic critic on that paper is for some reason or another vacant.

“‘Oh, that’s all right,’ I told him. ‘I shall be in time enough.’

“He appeared neither pleased nor displeased. ‘Have you arranged with the Guv’nor?’ he asked me.

“‘I’m just waiting to see him again for a few minutes,’ I returned. ‘It’ll be all right. Have you got the ticket?’

“‘Haven’t seen it,’ he replied.

“‘About a column?’ I suggested.

“‘Three-quarters,’ he preferred, and went.

“The moment he was gone, I slipped downstairs and met a printer’s boy coming up.

“‘What’s the name of your sub?’ I asked him. ‘Tall man with a black moustache, looks tired.’

“‘Oh, you mean Penton,’ explained the boy.

“‘That’s the name,’ I answered; ‘couldn’t think of it.’

“I walked straight into the editor; he was still irritable. ‘What is it? What is it now?’ he snapped out.

“‘I only want the ticket for the Royalty Theatre,’ I answered. ‘Penton says you’ve got it.’

“‘I don’t know where it is,’ he growled.

“I found it after some little search upon his desk.

“‘Who’s going?’ he asked.

“‘I am,’ I said. And I went.

“They have never discovered to this day that I appointed myself. Penton thinks I am some relation of the proprietress, and in consequence everybody treats me with marked respect. Mrs. Wallace herself, the proprietress, thinks I am the discovery of Penton, in whose judgment she has great faith; and with her I get on admirably. The paper I don’t think is doing too well, and the salary is small, but sufficient. Journalism suits my temperament, and I dare say I shall keep to it.”

“You’ve been somewhat of a rolling stone hitherto,” I commented.

He laughed. “From the stone’s point of view,” he answered, “I never could see the advantage of being smothered in moss. I should always prefer remaining the stone, unhidden, able to move and see about me. But now, to speak of other matters, what are your plans for the immediate future? Your opera, thanks to the gentlemen, the gods have dubbed ‘Goggles,’ will, I fancy, run through the winter. Are you getting any salary?”

“Thirty shillings a week,” I explained to him, “with full salary for matinees.”

“Say two pounds,” he replied. “With my three we could set up an establishment of our own. I have an idea that is original. Shall we work it out together?”

I assured him with fervour that nothing would please me better.

“There are four delightful rooms in Queen’s Square,” he continued. “They are charmingly furnished: a fine sitting-room in the front, with two bedrooms and a kitchen behind. Their last tenant was a Polish Revolutionary, who, three months ago, poor fellow, was foolish enough to venture back to Russia, and who is now living rent free. The landlord of the house is an original old fellow, Deleglise the engraver. He occupies the rest of the house himself. He has told me I can have the rooms for anything I like to offer, and I should suggest thirty shillings a week, though under ordinary circumstances they would be worth three or four pounds. But he will only let us have them on the understanding that we ‘do for’ ourselves. He is quite an oddity. He hates petticoats, especially elderly petticoats. He has one servant, an old Frenchwoman, who, I believe, was housekeeper to his mother, and he and she do the housework together, most of their time quarrelling over it. Nothing else of the genus domestic female will he allow inside the door; not even an occasional charwoman would be permitted to us. On the other hand, it is a beautiful old Georgian house, with Adams mantelpieces, a stone staircase, and oak-panelled rooms; and our portion would be the entire second floor: no pianos and no landlady. He is a widower with one child, a girl of about fourteen or maybe a little older. Now, what do you say? I am a very fair cook; will you be house-and-parlour-maid?”

I needed no pressing. A week later we were installed there, and for nearly two years we lived there. At the risk of offending an adorable but somewhat touchy sex, convinced that man, left to himself, is capable of little more than putting himself to bed, and that only in a rough-and-ready fashion, truth compels me to record the fact that without female assistance or supervision of any kind we passed through those two years, and yet exist to tell the tale. Dan had not idly boasted. Better plain cooking I never want to taste; so good a cup of coffee, omelette, or devilled kidney I rarely have tasted. Had he always confined his efforts within the boundaries of his abilities, there would be little to record beyond continuous and monotonous success. But stirred into dangerous ambition at the call of an occasional tea or supper party, lured out of his depths by the example of old Deleglise, our landlord–a man who for twenty years had made cooking his hobby–Dan would at intervals venture upon experiment. Pastry, it became evident, was a thing he should never have touched: his hand was heavy and his temperament too serious. There was a thing called lemon sponge, necessitating much beating of eggs. In the cookery-book–a remarkably fat volume, luscious with illustrations of highly-coloured food–it appeared an airy and graceful structure of dazzling whiteness. Served as Dan sent it to table, it suggested rather in form and colour a miniature earthquake. Spongy it undoubtedly was. One forced it apart with the assistance of one’s spoon and fork; it yielded with a gentle tearing sound. Another favourite dainty of his was manna-cake. Concerning it I would merely remark that if it in any way resembled anything the Children of Israel were compelled to eat, then there is explanation for that fretfulness and discontent for which they have been, perhaps, unjustly blamed–some excuse even for their backward-flung desires in the direction of the Egyptian fleshpots. Moses himself may have been blessed with exceptional digestion. It was substantial, one must say that for it. One slice of it–solid, firm, crusty on the outside, towards the centre marshy–satisfied most people to a sense of repletion. For supper parties Dan would essay trifles–by no means open to the criticism of being light as air–souffle’s that guests, in spite of my admonishing kicks, would persist in alluding to as pudding; and in winter-time, pancakes. Later, as regards these latter, he acquired some skill; but at first the difficulty was the tossing. I think myself a safer plan would have been to turn them by the aid of a knife and fork; it is less showy, but more sure. At least, you avoid all danger of catching the half-baked thing upon your head instead of in the pan, of dropping it into the fire, or among the cinders. But “Thorough” was always Dan’s motto; and after all, small particles of coal or a few hairs can always be detected by the careful feeder, and removed.

A more even-tempered man than Dan for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four surely never breathed. It was a revelation to me to discover that for the other he could be uncertain, irritable, even ungrateful. At first, in a spirit of pure good nature, I would offer him counsel and advice; explain to him why, as it seemed to me, the custard was pimply, the mayonnaise sauce suggestive of hair oil. What was my return? Sneers, insult and abuse, followed, if I did not clear out quickly, by spoilt tomatoes, cold coffee grounds–anything that happened to be handy. Pained, saddened, I would withdraw, he would kick the door to after me. His greatest enemy appeared to be the oven. The oven it was that set itself to thwart his best wrought schemes. Always it was the oven’s fault that the snowy bun appeared to have been made of red sandstone, the macaroni cheese of Cambrian clay. One might have sympathised with him more had his language been more restrained. As it was, the virulence of his reproaches almost inclined one to take the part of the oven.

Concerning our house-maid, I can speak in terms of unqualified praise. There are, alas, fussy house-maids–who has not known and suffered them?–who overdo the thing, have no repose, no instinct telling them when to ease up and let the place alone. I have always held the perpetual stirring up of dust a scientific error; left to itself, it is harmless, may even be regarded as a delicate domestic bloom, bestowing a touch of homeliness upon objects that without it gleam cold and unsympathetic. Let sleeping dogs lie. Why be continually waking up the stuff, filling the air with all manner of unhealthy germs? Nature in her infinite wisdom has ordained that upon table, floor, or picture frame it shall sink and settle. There it remains, quiet and inoffensive; there it will continue to remain so long as nobody interferes with it: why worry it? So also with crumbs, odd bits of string, particles of egg-shell, stumps of matches, ends of cigarettes: what fitter place for such than under the nearest mat? To sweep them up is tiresome work. They cling to the carpet, you get cross with them, curse them for their obstinacy, and feel ashamed of yourself for your childishness. For every one you do persuade into the dust-pan, two jump out again. You lose your temper, feel bitter towards the man that dropped them. Your whole character becomes deteriorated. Under the mat they are always willing to go. Compromise is true statesmanship. There will come a day when you will be glad of an excuse for not doing something else that you ought to be doing. Then you can take up the mats and feel quite industrious, contemplating the amount of work that really must be done–some time or another.

To differentiate between the essential and the non-essential, that is where woman fails. In the name of common sense, what is the use of washing a cup that half an hour later is going to be made dirty again? If the cat be willing and able to so clean a plate that not one speck of grease remain upon it, why deprive her of pleasure to inflict toil upon yourself? If a bed looks made and feels made, then for all practical purposes it is made; why upset it merely to put it straight again? It would surprise most women the amount of labour that can be avoided in a house.

For needlework, I confess, I never acquired skill. Dan had learnt to handle a thimble, but my own second finger was ever reluctant to come forward when wanted. It had to be found, all other fingers removed out of its way. Then, feebly, nervously, it would push, slip, get itself pricked badly with the head of the needle, and, thoroughly frightened, remain incapable of further action. More practical I found it to push the needle through by help of the door or table.

The opera, as Dan had predicted, ran far into the following year. When it was done with, another–in which “Goggles” appeared as one of the principals–took its place, and was even more successful. After the experience of Nelson Square, my present salary of thirty-five shillings, occasionally forty shillings, a week seemed to me princely. There floated before my eyes the possibility of my becoming a great opera singer. On six hundred pounds a week, I felt I could be content. But the O’Kelly set himself to dispel this dream.

“Ye’d be making a mistake, me boy,” explained the O’Kelly. “Ye’d be just wasting ye’re time. I wouldn’t tell ye so if I weren’t convinced of it.”

“I know it is not powerful,” I admitted.

“Ye might almost call it thin,” added the O’Kelly.

“It might be good enough for comic opera,” I argued. “People appear to succeed in comic opera without much voice.

“Sure, there ye’re right,” agreed the O’Kelly, with a sigh. “An’ of course if ye had an exceptionally fine presence and were strikingly handsome–“

“One can do a good deal with make-up,” I suggested.

The O’Kelly shook his head. “It’s never quite the same thing. It would depend upon your acting.”

I dreamt of becoming a second Kean, of taking Macready’s place. It need not interfere with my literary ambition. I could combine the two: fill Drury Lane in the evening, turn out epoch-making novels in the morning, write my own plays.

Every day I studied in the reading-room of the British Museum. Wearying of success in Art, I might eventually go into Parliament: a Prime Minister with a thorough knowledge of history: why not? With Ollendorf for guide, I continued French and German. It might be the diplomatic service that would appeal to me in my old age. An ambassadorship! It would be a pleasant termination to a brilliant career.

There was excuse for my optimistic mood about this period. All things were going well with me. A story of mine had been accepted. I forget for the moment the name of the journal: it is dead now. Most of the papers in which my early efforts appeared are dead. My contributions might be likened to their swan songs. Proofs had been sent me, which I had corrected and returned. But proofs are not facts. This had happened to me once before, and I had been lifted to the skies only to fall the more heavily. The paper had collapsed before my story had appeared. (Ah, why had they delayed? It might have saved them!) This time I remembered the proverb, and kept my own counsel, slipping out early each morning on the day of publication to buy the paper, to scan eagerly its columns. For weeks I suffered hope deferred. But at last, one bright winter’s day in January, walking down the Harrow Road, I found myself standing still, suddenly stunned, before a bill outside a small news-vendor’s shop. It was the first time I had seen my real name in print: “The Witch of Moel Sarbod: a legend of Mona, by Paul Kelver.” (For this I had even risked discovery by the Lady ‘Ortensia.) My legs trembling under me, I entered the shop. A ruffianly-looking man in dirty shirt-sleeves, who appeared astonished that any one should want a copy, found one at length on the floor underneath the counter. With it in my pocket, I retraced my footsteps as in a dream. On a seat in Paddington Green I sat down and read it. The hundred best books! I have waded through them all; they have never charmed me as charmed me that one short story in that now forgotten journal. Need I add it was a sad and sentimental composition. Once upon a time there lived a mighty King; one–but with the names I will not bore you; they are somewhat unpronounceable. Their selection had cost me many hours of study in the British Museum reading-rooms, surrounded by lexicons of the Welsh language, gazetteers, translations from the early Celtic poets–with footnotes. He loved and was beloved by a beautiful Princess, whose name, being translated, was Purity. One day the King, hunting, lost his way, and being weary, lay down and fell asleep. And by chance the spot whereon he lay was near to a place which by infinite pains, with the aid of a magnifying glass, I had discovered upon the map, and which means in English the Cave of the Waters, where dwelt a wicked Sorceress, who, while he slept, cast her spells upon him, so that he awoke to forget his kingly honour and the good of all his people, his only desire being towards the Witch of Moel Sarbod.

Now, there lived in this Kingdom by the sea a great Magician; and Purity, who loved the King far better than herself, bethought her of him, and of all she had heard concerning his power and wisdom; and went to him and besought his aid that she might save the King. There was but one way to accomplish this: with bare feet Purity must climb the rocky path leading to the Witch’s dwelling, go boldly up to her, not fearing her sharp claws nor her strong teeth, and kiss her upon the mouth. In this way the spirit of Purity would pass into the Witch’s soul, and she would become a woman. But the form and spirit of the Witch would pass into Purity, transforming her, and in the Cave of the Waters she must forever abide. Thus Purity gave herself that the King might live. With bleeding feet she climbed the rocky path, clasped the Witch’s form within her arms, kissed her on the mouth. And the Witch became a woman and reigned with the King over his people, wisely and helpfully. But Purity became a hideous witch, and to this day abides on Moel Sarbod, where is the Cave of the Waters. And they who climb the mountain’s side still hear above the roaring of the cataract the sobbing of Purity, the King’s betrothed. But many liken it rather to a joyous song of love triumphant.

No writer worth his salt was ever satisfied with anything he ever wrote, so I have been told, and so I try to believe. Evidently I am not worth my salt. Candid friends, and others, to whom in my salad days I used to show my work, asking for a frank opinion, meaning, of course, though never would they understand me, their unadulterated praise, would assure me for my good, that this, my first to whom the gods gave life, was but a feeble, ill-shaped child: its attempted early English a cross between “The Pilgrim’s Progress” and “Old Moore’s Almanac;” its scenery–which had cost me weeks of research–an apparent attempt to sum up in the language of a local guide book the leading characteristics of the Garden of Eden combined with Dante’s Inferno; its pathos of the penny-plain and two-penny-coloured order. Maybe they were right. Much have I written since that at the time appeared to me good, that I have read later with regret, with burning cheek, with frowning brow. But of this, my first-born, the harbinger of all my hopes, I am no judge. Touching the yellowing, badly-printed pages, I feel again the deep thrill of joy with which I first unfolded them and read. Again I am a youngster, and life opens out before me–inmeasurable, no goal too high. This child of my brain, my work: it shall spread my name throughout the world. It shall be a household world in lands that I shall never see. Friends whose voices I shall never hear will speak of me. I shall die, but it shall live, yield fresh seed, bear fruit I know not of. Generations yet unborn shall read it and remember me. My thoughts, my words, my spirit: in it I shall live again; it shall keep my memory green.

The long, long thoughts of boyhood! We elders smile at them. The little world spins round; the little voices of an hour sink hushed. The crawling generations come and go. The solar system drops from space. The eternal mechanism reforms and shapes itself anew. Time, turning, ploughs another furrow. So, growing sleepy, we murmur with a yawn. Is it that we see clearer, or that our eyes are growing dim? Let the young men see their visions, dream their dreams, hug to themselves their hopes of enduring fame; so shall they serve the world better.

I brushed the tears from my eyes and looked up. Half-a-dozen urchins, male and female, were gaping at me open-mouthed. They scattered shouting, whether compliment or insult I know not: probably the latter. I flung them a handful of coppers, which for the moment silenced them; and went upon my way. How bright, how fair the bustling streets, golden in the winter sunshine, thronged with life, with effort! Laughter rang around me. Sweet music rolled from barrel-organs. The strenuous voices of the costermongers called invitation to the fruitful earth. Errand boys passed me whistling shrilly joyous melodies. Perspiring tradesmen shouted generous offers to the needy. Men and women hurried by with smiling faces. Sleek cats purred in sheltered nooks, till merry dogs invited them to sport. The sparrows, feasting in the roadway, chirped their hymn of praise.

At the Marble Arch I jumped upon a ‘bus. I mentioned to the conductor in mounting that it was a fine day. He replied that he had noticed it himself. The retort struck me as a brilliant repartee. Our coachman, all but run into by a hansom cab driven by a surly old fellow of patriarchal appearance, remarked upon the danger of allowing horses out in charge of bits of boys. How full the world of wit and humour!

Almost without knowing it, I found myself in earnest conversation with a young man sitting next to me. We conversed of life, of love. Not until afterwards, reflecting upon the matter, did it surprise me that to a mere chance acquaintance of the moment he had spoken of the one thing dearest to his heart: a sweet but clearly wayward maiden, the Hebe of a small, old-fashioned coffee-shop the ‘bus was at that moment passing. Hitherto I had not been the recipient of confidences. It occurred to me that as a rule not even my friends spoke much to me concerning their own affairs; generally it was I who spoke to them of mine. I sympathised with him, advised him–how, I do not recollect. He said, however, he thought that I was right; and at Regent Street he left me, expressing his determination to follow my counsel, whatever it may have been.

Between Berners Street and the Circus I lent a shilling to a couple of young ladies who had just discovered with amusement, quickly swallowed by despair, that they neither of them had any money with them. (They returned it next day in postage stamps, with a charming note.) The assurance with which I tendered the slight service astonished me myself. At any other time I should have hesitated, argued with my fears, offered it with an appearance of sulky constraint, and been declined. For a moment they were doubtful, then, looking at me, accepted with a delightful smile. They consulted me as to the way to Paternoster Row. I instructed them, adding a literary anecdote, which seemed to interest them. I even ventured on a compliment, neatly phrased, I am inclined to think. Evidently it pleased–a result hitherto unusual in the case of my compliments. At the corner of Southampton Row I parted from them with regret. Why had I never noticed before how full of pleasant people this sweet and smiling London?

At the corner of Queen’s Square a decent-looking woman stopped me to ask the way to the Children’s Hospital at Chelsea, explaining she had made a mistake, thinking it was the one in Great Ormond Street where her child lay. I directed her, then glancing into her face, noticed how tired she looked, and a vista of the weary pavements she would have to tramp flashed before me. I slipped some money into her hand and told her to take a ‘bus. She flushed, then thanked me. I turned a few yards further on; she was starting after me, amazement on her face. I laughed and waved my hand to her. She smiled back in return, and went her way.

A rain began to fall. I paused upon the doorstep for a minute, enjoying the cool drops upon by upturned face, the tonic sharpness of the keen east wind; then slipped my key into the lock and entered.

The door of old Deleglise’s studio on the first floor happened to he open. Hitherto, beyond the usual formal salutations, when by chance we met upon the stairs, I had exchanged but few words with my eccentric landlord; but remembering his kindly face, the desire came upon me to tell him my good fortune. I felt sure his eyes would lighten with delight. By instinct I knew him for a young man’s man.

I tapped lightly; no answer came. Someone was talking; it sounded like a girl’s voice. I pushed the door further open and walked in; such was the custom of the house. It was a large room, built over the yard, lighted by one high window, before which was the engraving desk, shaded under a screen of tissue paper. At the further end of the room stood a large cheval-glass, and in front of this, its back towards me, was a figure that excited my curiosity; so that remaining where I was, partly hidden behind a large easel, I watched it for awhile in silence. Above a heavily flounced blue skirt, which fell in creases on the floor and trailed a couple of yards or so behind, it wore a black low-cut sleeveless bodice–much too big for it–of the fashion early Victorian. A good deal of dark-brown hair, fastened up by hair-pins that stuck out in all directions like quills upon a porcupine, suggesting collapse with every movement, was ornamented by three enormous green feathers, one of which hung limply over the lady’s left ear. Three times, while I watched, unnoticed, the lady propped it into a more befitting attitude, and three times, limp and intoxicated-looking, it fell back into its former foolish position. Her long, thin arms, displaying a pair of brilliantly red elbows, pointed to quite a dangerous degree, terminated in hands so very sunburnt as to convey the impression of a pair of remarkably well-fitting gloves. Her right hand grasped and waved with determination a large lace fan, her left clutched fiercely the front of her skirt. With a sweeping curtsey to herself in the glass, which would have been more effective could she have avoided tying her legs together with her skirt–a _contretemps_ necessitating the use of both hands and a succession of jumps before she could disentangle herself–she remarked so soon as she had recovered her balance:

“So sorry I am late. My carriage was unfortunately delayed.”

The excuse, I gathered, was accepted, for with a gracious smile and a vigorous bow, by help of which every hairpin made distinct further advance towards freedom, she turned, and with much dignity and head over the right shoulder took a short walk to the left. At the end of six short steps she stopped and began kicking. For what reason, I, at first, could not comprehend. It dawned upon me after awhile that her object was the adjustment of her train. Finding the manoeuvre too difficult of accomplishment by feet alone, she stooped, and, taking the stuff up in her hands, threw it behind her. Then, facing north, she retraced her steps to the glass, talking to herself, as she walked, in the high-pitched drawl, distinctive, as my stage knowledge told me, of aristocratic society.

“Oh, do you think so–really? Ah, yes; you say that. Certainly not! I shouldn’t think of it.” There followed what I am inclined to believe was intended for a laugh, musical but tantalising. If so, want of practice marred the effort. The performance failed to satisfy even herself. She tried again; it was still only a giggle.

Before the glass she paused, and with a haughty inclination of her head succeeded for the third time in displacing the intoxicated feather.

“Oh, bother the silly thing!” she said in a voice so natural as to be, by contrast with her previous tone, quite startling.

She fixed it again with difficulty, muttering something inarticulate. Then, her left hand resting on an imaginary coat-sleeve, her right holding her skirt sufficiently high to enable her to move, she commenced to majestically gyrate.

Whether, hampered as she was by excess of skirt, handicapped by the natural clumsiness of her age, catastrophe in any case would not sooner or later have overtaken her, I have my doubts. I have since learnt her own view to be that but for catching sight, in turning, of my face, staring at her through the bars of the easel, all would have gone well and gracefully. Avoiding controversy on this point, the facts to be recorded are, that, seeing me, she uttered a sudden exclamation of surprise, dropped her skirt, trod on her train, felt her hair coming down, tried to do two things at once, and sat upon the floor. I ran to her assistance. With flaming face and flashing eyes she sprang to her feet. There was a sound as of the rushing down of avalanches. The blue flounced skirt lay round her on the floor. She stood above its billowy folds, reminiscent of Venus rising from the waves–a gawky, angular Venus in a short serge frock, reaching a little below her knees, black stockings and a pair of prunella boots of a size suggesting she had yet some inches to grow before reaching her full height.

“I hope you haven’t hurt yourself,” I said.

The next moment I didn’t care whether she had or whether she hadn’t. She did not reply to my kindly meant enquiry. Instead, her hand swept through the air in the form of an ample semi-circle. It terminated on my ear. It was not a small hand; it was not a soft hand; it was not that sort of hand. The sound of the contact rang through the room like a pistol shot; I beard it with my other ear. I sprang at her, and catching her before she had recovered her equilibrium, kissed her. I did not kiss her because I wanted to. I kissed her because I could not box her ears back in return, which I should have preferred doing. I kissed her, hoping it would make her mad. It did. If a look could have killed me, such would have been the tragic ending of this story. It did not kill me; it did me good.

“You horrid boy!” she cried. “You horrid, horrid boy!”

There, I admit, she scored. I did not in the least object to her thinking me horrid, but at nineteen one does object to being mistaken for a boy.

“I am not a boy,” I explained.

“Yes, you are,” she retorted; “a beast of a boy!”

“If you do it again,” I warned her–a sudden movement on her part hinting to me the possibility–“I’ll kiss you again! I mean it.”

“Leave the room!” she commanded, pointing with her angular arm towards the door.

I did not wish to remain. I was about to retire with as much dignity as circumstances permitted.

“Boy!” she added.

At that I turned. “Now I won’t go!” I replied. “See if I do.”

We stood glaring at each other.

“What right have you in here?” she demanded.

“I came to see Mr. Deleglise,” I answered. “I suppose you are Miss Deleglise. It doesn’t seem to me that you know how to treat a visitor.”

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Mr. Horace Moncrieff,” I replied. I was using at the period both my names indiscriminately, but for this occasion Horace Moncrieff I judged the more awe-inspiring.

She snorted. “I know. You’re the house-maid. You sweep all the crumbs under the mats.”

Now this was a subject about which at the time I was feeling somewhat sore. “Needs must when the Devil drives;” but as matters were, Dan and I could well have afforded domestic assistance. It rankled in my mind that to fit in with the foolish fad of old Deleglise, I the future Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Kean, Macready and Phelps rolled into one, should be compelled to the performance of menial duties. On this morning of all others, my brilliant literary career just commenced, the anomaly of the thing appeared naturally more glaring.

Besides, how came she to know I swept the crumbs under the mat–that it was my method? Had she and Dan been discussing me, ridiculing me behind my back? What right had Dan to reveal the secrets of our menage to this chit of a school-girl? Had he done so? or had she been prying, poking her tilted nose into matters that did not concern her? Pity it was she had no mother to occasionally spank her, teach her proper behaviour.

“Where I sweep our crumbs is nothing to do with you,” I replied with some spirit. “That I have to sweep them at all is the fault of your father. A sensible girl–“

“How dare you speak against my father!” she interrupted me with blazing eyes.

“We will not discuss the question further,” I answered, with sense and dignity.

“I think you had better not!” she retorted.

Turning her back on me, she commenced to gather up her hairpins–there must have been about a hundred of them. I assisted her to the extent of picking up about twenty, which I handed to her with a bow: it may have been a little stiff, but that was only to be expected. I wished to show her that her bad example had not affected my own manners.

“I am sorry my presence should have annoyed you,” I said. “It was quite an accident. I entered the room thinking your father was here.”

“When you saw he wasn’t, you might have gone out again,” she replied, “instead of hiding yourself behind a picture.”

“I didn’t hide myself,” I explained. “The easel happened to be in the way.”

“And you stopped there and watched me.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

She looked round and our eyes met. They were frank, grey eyes. An expression of merriment shot into them. I laughed.

Then she laughed: it was a delightful laugh, the laugh one would have expected from her.

“You might at least have coughed,” she suggested.

“It was so amusing,” I pleaded.

“I suppose it was,” she agreed, and held out her hand. “Did I hurt you?” she asked.

“Yes, you did,” I answered, taking it.

“Well, it was enough to annoy me, wasn’t it?” she suggested.

“Evidently,” I agreed.

“I am going to a ball next week,” she explained, “a grown-up ball, and I’ve got to wear a skirt. I wanted to see if I could manage a train.”

“Well, to be candid, you can’t,” I assured her.

“It does seem difficult.”

“Shall I show you?” I asked.

“What do you know about it?”

“Well, I see it done every night.”

“Oh, yes; of course, you’re on the stage. Yes, do.”

We readjusted the torn skirt, accommodating it better to her figure by the help of hairpins. I showed her how to hold the train, and, I humming a tune, we commenced to waltz.

“I shouldn’t count my steps,” I suggested to her. “It takes your mind away from the music.”

“I don’t waltz well,” she admitted meekly. “I know I don’t do anything well–except play hockey.”

“And try not to tread on your partner’s feet. That’s a very bad fault.”

“I do try not to,” she explained.

“It comes with practice,” I assured her.

“I’ll get Tom to give me half an hour every evening,” she said. “He dances beautifully.”

“Who’s Tom?”

“Oh, father.”

“Why do you call your father Tom? It doesn’t sound respectful.”

“Oh, he likes it; and it suits him so much better than father. Besides, he isn’t like a real father. He does everything I want him to.”

“Is that good for you?”

“No; it’s very bad for me–everybody says so. When you come to think of it, of course it isn’t the way to bring up a girl. I tell him, but he merely laughs–says it’s the only way he knows. I do hope I turn out all right. Am I doing it better now?”

“A little. Don’t be too anxious about it. Don’t look at your feet.”

“But if I don’t they go all wrong. It was you who trod on mine that time.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s a little difficult not to.”

“Am I holding my train all right?”

“Well, there’s no need to grip it as if you were afraid it would run away. It will follow all right. Hold it gracefully.”

“I wish I wasn’t a girl.”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.” We concluded our dance.

“What do I do–say ‘Thank you’?”

“Yes, prettily.”

“What does he do?”

“Oh, he takes you back to your chaperon, or suggests refreshment, or you sit and talk.”

“I hate talking. I never know what to say.”

“Oh, that’s his duty. He’ll try and amuse you, then you must laugh. You have a nice laugh.”

“But I never know when to laugh. If I laugh when I want to it always offends people. What do you do if somebody asks you to dance and you don’t want to dance with them?”

“Oh, you say your programme is full.”

“But if it isn’t?”

“Well, you tell a lie.”

“Couldn’t I say I don’t dance well, and that I’m sure they’d get on better with somebody else?”

“It would be the truth, but they might not believe it.”

“I hope nobody asks me that I don’t want.”

“Well, he won’t a second time, anyhow.”

“You are rude.”

“You are only a school-girl.”

“I look a woman in my new frock, I really do.”

“I should doubt it.”

“You shall see me, then you’ll be polite. It is because you are a boy you are rude. Men are much nicer.”

“Oh, are they?”

“Yes. You will be, when you are a man.”

The sound of voices rose suddenly in the hall.

“Tom!” cried Miss Deleglise; and collecting her skirt in both hands, bolted down the corkscrew staircase leading to the kitchen, leaving me standing in the centre of the studio.

The door opened and old Deleglise entered, accompanied by a small, slight man with red hair and beard and somewhat watery eyes.

Deleglise himself was a handsome old fellow, then a man of about fifty-five. His massive, mobile face, illuminated by bright, restless eyes, was crowned with a lion-like mane of iron-grey hair. Till a few years ago he had been a painter of considerable note. But in questions of art his temper was short. Pre-Raphaelism had gone out of fashion for the time being; the tendency of the new age was towards impressionism, and in disgust old Deleglise had broken his palette across his knee, and swore never to paint again. Artistic work of some sort being necessary to his temperament, he contented himself now with engraving. At the moment he was engaged upon the reproduction of Memlinc’s Shrine of St. Ursula, with photographs of which he had just returned from Bruges.

At sight of me his face lighted with a smile, and he advanced with outstretched hand.

“Ah; my lad, so you have got over your shyness and come to visit the old bear in his den. Good boy. I like young faces.”

He had a clear, musical voice, ever with the suggestion of a laugh behind it. He laid his hand upon my shoulder.

“Why, you are looking as if you had come into a fortune,” he added, “and didn’t know what a piece of bad luck that can be to a young fellow like yourself.”

“How could it be bad luck?” I asked, laughing.

“Takes all the sauce out of life, young man,” answered Deleglise. “What interest is there in running a race with the prize already in your possession, tell me that?”

“It is not that kind of fortune,” I answered, “it is another. I have had my first story accepted. It is in print. Look.”

I handed him the paper. He spread it out upon the engraving board before him.

“Ah, that’s better,” he said, “that’s better. Charlie,” he turned to the red-headed man, who had seated himself listlessly in the one easy-chair the room contained, “come here.”

The red-headed man rose and wandered towards us. “Let me introduce you to Mr. Paul Kelver, our new fellow servant. Our lady has accepted him. He has just been elected; his first story is in print.”

The red-haired man stretched out his long thin hand. “I have thirty years of fame,” said the red-haired man–“could I say world-wide?”

He turned for confirmation to old Deleglise, who laughed. “I think you can.”

“If I could give it you would you exchange with me–at this moment?”

“You would be a fool if you did,” he went on. “One’s first success, one’s first victory! It is the lover’s first kiss. Fortune grows old and wrinkled, frowns more often than she smiles. We become indifferent to her, quarrel with her, make it up again. But the joy of her first kiss after the long wooing! Burn it into your memory, my young friend, that it may live with you always!”

He strolled away. Old Deleglise took up the parable.

“Ah, yes; one’s first success, Paul! Laugh, my boy, cry! Shut yourself up in your room, shout, dance! Throw your hat into the air and cry hurrah! Make the most of it, Paul. Hug it to your heart, think of it, dream of it. This is the finest hour of your life, my boy. There will never come another like it–never!”

He crossed the studio, and taking from its nail a small oil painting, brought it over and laid it on the board beside my paper. It was a fascinating little picture, painted with that exquisite minutiae and development of detail that a newer school was then ridiculing: as though Art had but one note to her voice. The dead figure of an old man lay upon a bed. A child had crept into the darkened room, and supporting itself by clutching tightly at the sheet, was gazing with solemn curiosity upon the white, still face.

“That was mine,” said old Deleglise. “It was hung in the Academy thirty-six years ago, and bought for ten guineas by a dentist at Bury St. Edmunds. He went mad a few years later and died in a lunatic asylum. I had never lost sight of it, and the executors were quite agreeable to my having it back again for the same ten guineas. I used to go every morning to the Academy to look at it. I thought it the cleverest bit of work in the whole gallery, and I’m not at all sure that it wasn’t. I saw myself a second Teniers, another Millet. Look how that light coming through the open door is treated; isn’t it good? Somebody will pay a thousand guineas for it before I have been dead a dozen years, and it is worth it. But I wouldn’t sell it myself now for five thousand. One’s first success; it is worth all the rest of life!”

“All?” queried the red-haired man from his easy-chair. We looked round. The lady of the skirt had entered, now her own proper self: a young girl of about fifteen, angular, awkward-looking, but bringing into the room with her that atmosphere of life, of hope, that is the eternal message of youth. She was not beautiful, not then–plain one might almost have called her but for her frank, grey eyes, her mass of dark-brown hair now gathered into a long thick plait. A light came into old Deleglise’s eyes.

“You are right, not all,” he murmured to the red-haired man.

She came forward shyly. I found it difficult to recognise in her the flaming Fury that a few minutes before had sprung at me from the billows of her torn blue skirt. She shook hands with the red-haired man and kissed her father.

“My daughter,” said old Deleglise, introducing me to her. “Mr. Paul Kelver, a literary gent.”

“Mr. Kelver and I have met already,” she explained. “He has been waiting for you here in the studio.”

“And have you been entertaining him?” asked Deleglise. “Oh, yes, I entertained him,” she replied. Her voice was singularly like her father’s, with just the same suggestion of ever a laugh behind it.

“We entertained each other,” I said.

“That’s all right,” said old Deleglise. “Stop and lunch with us. We will make ourselves a curry.”

CHAPTER VI.

OF THE GLORY AND GOODNESS AND THE EVIL THAT GO TO THE MAKING OF LOVE.

During my time of struggle I had avoided all communication with old Hasluck. He was not a man to sympathise with feelings he did not understand. With boisterous good humour he would have insisted upon helping me. Why I preferred half starving with Lott and Co. to selling my labour for a fair wage to good-natured old Hasluck, merely because I knew him, I cannot explain. Though the profits may not have been so large, Lott and Co.’s dealings were not one whit more honest: I do not believe it was that which decided me. Nor do I think it was because he was Barbara’s father. I never connected him, nor that good old soul, his vulgar, homely wife, in any way with Barbara. To me she was a being apart from all the world. Her true Parents! I should have sought them rather amid the sacred groves of vanished lands, within the sky-domed shrines of banished gods. There are instincts in us not easily analysed, not to be explained by reason. I have always preferred the finding–sometimes the losing–of my way according to the map, to the surer and simpler method of vocal enquiry; working out a complicated journey, and running the risk of never arriving at my destination, by aid of a Continental Bradshaw, to putting myself into the hands of courteous officials maintained and paid to assist the perplexed traveller. Possibly a far-off progenitor of mine may have been some morose “rogue” savage with untribal inclinations, living in his cave apart, fashioning his own stone hammer, shaping his own flint arrow-heads, shunning the merry war-dance, preferring to caper by himself.

But now, having gained my own foothold, I could stretch out my hand without fear of the movement being mistaken for appeal. I wrote to old Hasluck; and almost by the next post received from him the friendliest of notes. He told me Barbara had just returned from abroad, took it upon himself to add that she also would be delighted to see me, and, as I knew he would, threw his doors open to me.

Of my boyish passion for Barbara never had I spoken to a living soul, nor do I think, excepting Barbara herself, had any ever guessed it. To my mother, though she was very fond of her, Barbara was only a girl, with charms but also with faults, concerning which my mother would speak freely; hurting me, as one unwittingly might hurt a neophyte by philosophical discussion of his newly embraced religion. Often, choosing by preference late evening or the night, I would wander round and round the huge red-brick house standing in its ancient garden on the top of Stamford Hill; descending again into the noisome streets as one returning to the world from praying at a shrine, purified, filled with peace, all noble endeavour, all unselfish aims seeming within my grasp.

During Barbara’s four years’ absence my adoration had grown and strengthened. Out of my memory of her my desire had evolved its ideal; a being of my imagination, but by reason of that, to me the more real, the more present. I looked forward to seeing her again, but with no impatience, revelling rather in the anticipation than eager for the realisation. As a creature of flesh and blood, the child I had played with, talked with, touched, she had faded further and further into the distance; as the vision of my dreams she stood out clearer day by day. I knew that when next I saw her there would be a gulf between us I had no wish to bridge. To worship her from afar was a sweeter thought to me than would have been the hope of a passionate embrace. To live with her, sit opposite to her while she ate and drank, see her, perhaps, with her hair in curl-papers, know possibly that she had a corn upon her foot, hear her speak maybe of a decayed tooth, or of a chilblain, would have been torture to me. Into such abyss of the commonplace there was no fear of my dragging her, and for this I was glad. In the future she would be yet more removed from me. She was older than I was; she must be now a woman. Instinctively I felt that in spite of years I was not yet a man. She would marry. The thought gave me no pain, my feeling for her was utterly devoid of appetite. No one but myself could close the temple I had built about her, none deny to me the right of entry there. No jealous priest could hide her from my eyes, her altar I had reared too high. Since I have come to know myself better, I perceive that she stood to me not as a living woman, but as a symbol; not a fellow human being to be walked with through life, helping and to be helped, but that impalpable religion of sex to which we raise up idols of poor human clay, alas, not always to our satisfaction, so that foolishly we fall into anger against them, forgetting they were but the work of our own hands; not the body, but the spirit of love.

I allowed a week to elapse after receiving old Hasluck’s letter before presenting myself at Stamford Hill. It was late one afternoon in early summer. Hasluck had not returned from the City, Mrs. Hasluck was out visiting, Miss Hasluck was in the garden. I told the supercilious footman not to trouble, I would seek her there myself. I guessed where she would be; her favourite spot had always been a sunny corner, bright with flowers, surrounded by a thick yew hedge, cut, after the Dutch fashion, into quaint shapes of animals and birds. She was walking there, as I had expected, reading a book. And again, as I saw her, came back to me the feeling that had swept across me as a boy, when first outlined against the dusty books and papers of my father’s office she had flashed upon my eyes: that all the fairy tales had suddenly come true, only now, instead of the Princess, she was the Queen. Taller she was, with a dignity that formerly had been the only charm she lacked. She did not hear my coming, my way being across the soft, short grass, and for a little while I stood there in the shadow of the yews, drinking in the beauty of her clear-cut profile, bent down towards her book, the curving lines of her long neck, the wonder of the exquisite white hand against the lilac of her dress.

I did not speak; rather would I have remained so watching; but turning at the end of the path, she saw me, and as she came towards me held out her hand. I knelt upon the path, and raised it to my lips. The action was spontaneous, till afterwards I was not aware of having done it. Her lips were smiling as I raised my eyes to them, the faintest suggestion of contempt mingling with amusement. Yet she seemed pleased, and her contempt, even if I were not mistaken, would not have wounded me.

“So you are still in love with me? I wondered if you would be.”

“Did you know that I was in love with you?”

“I should have been blind if I had not.”

“But I was only a boy.”

“You were not the usual type of boy. You are not going to be the usual type of man.”

“You do not mind my loving you?”

“I cannot help it, can I? Nor can you.”

She seated herself on a stone bench facing a sun-dial, and leaning hack, her hands clasped behind her head, looked at me and laughed.

“I shall always love you,” I answered, “but it is with a curious sort of love. I do not understand it myself.”

“Tell me,” she commanded, still with a smile about her lips, “describe it to me.”

I was standing over against her, my arm resting upon the dial’s stone column. The sun was sinking, casting long shadows on the velvety grass, illuminating with a golden light her upturned face.

“I would you were some great queen of olden days, and that I might be always near you, serving you, doing your bidding. Your love in return would spoil all; I shall never ask it, never desire it. That I might look upon you, touch now and then at rare intervals with my lips your hand, kiss in secret the glove you had let fall, the shoe you had flung off, know that you knew of my love, that I was yours to do with as you would, to live or die according to your wish. Or that you were priestess in some temple of forgotten gods, where I might steal at daybreak and at dusk to gaze upon your beauty; kneel with clasped hands, watching your sandalled feet coming and going about the altar steps; lie with pressed lips upon the stones your trailing robes had touched.”

She laughed a light mocking laugh. “I should prefer to be the queen. The role of priestess would not suit me. Temples are so cold.” A slight shiver passed through her. She made a movement with her hand, beckoning me to her feet. “That is how you shall love me, Paul,” she said, “adoring me, worshipping me–blindly. I will be your queen and treat you–as it chooses me. All I think, all I do, I will tell you, and you shall tell me it is right. The queen can do no wrong.”

She took my face between her hands, and bending over me, looked long and steadfastly into my eyes. “You understand, Paul, the queen can do no wrong–never, never.” There had crept into her voice a note of vehemence, in her face was a look almost of appeal.

“My queen can do no wrong,” I repeated. And she laughed and let her hands fall back upon her lap.

“Now you may sit beside me. So much honour, Paul, shall you have to-day, but it will have to last you long. And you may tell me all you have been doing, maybe it will amuse me; and afterwards you shall hear what I have done, and shall say that it was right and good of me.”

I obeyed, sketching my story briefly, yet leaving nothing untold, not even the transit of the Lady ‘Ortensia, ashamed of the episode though I was. At that she looked a little grave.

“You must do nothing again, Paul,” she commanded, “to make me feel ashamed of you, or I shall dismiss you from my presence for ever. I must be proud of you, or you shall not serve me. In dishonouring yourself you are dishonouring me. I am angry with you, Paul. Do not let me be angry with you again.

And so that passed; and although my love for her–as I know well she wished and sought it should–failed to save me at all times from the apish voices whispering ever to the beast within us, I know the desire to be worthy of her, to honour her with all my being, helped my life as only love can. The glory of the morning fades, the magic veil is rent; we see all things with cold, clear eyes. My love was a woman. She lies dead. They have mocked her white sweet limbs with rags and tatters, but they cannot cheat love’s eyes. God knows I loved her in all purity! Only with false love we love the false. Beneath the unclean clinging garments she sleeps fair.

My tale finished, “Now I will tell you mine,” she said. “I am going to be married soon. I shall be a Countess, Paul, the Countess Huescar–I will teach you how to pronounce it–and I shall have a real castle in Spain. You need not look so frightened, Paul; we shall not live there. It is a half-ruined, gloomy place, among the mountains, and he loves it even less than I do. Paris and London will be my courts, so you will see me often. You shall know the great world, Paul, the world I mean to conquer, where I mean to rule.”

“Is he very rich?” I asked.

“As poor,” she laughed, “as poor as a Spanish nobleman. The money I shall have to provide, or, rather, poor dear Dad will. He gives me title, position. Of course I do not love him, handsome though he is. Don’t look so solemn, Paul. We shall get on together well enough. Queens, Paul, do not make love matches, they contract alliances. I have done well, Paul; congratulate me. Do you hear, Paul? Say that I have acted rightly.”

“Does he love you?” I asked.

“He tells me so,” she answered, with a laugh. “How uncourtier-like you are, Paul! Do you suggest that any man could see me and not love me?”

She sprang to her feet. “I do not want his love,” she cried; “it would bore me. Women hate love they cannot return. I don’t mean love like yours, devout little Paul,” she added, with a laugh. “That is sweet incense wafted round us that we like to scent with our noses in the air. Give me that, Paul; I want it, I ask for it. But the love of a hand, the love of a husband that one does not care for–it would be horrible!”

I felt myself growing older. For the moment my goddess became a child needing help.

“But have you thought–” I commenced.

“Yes, yes,” she interrupted me quickly, “I have thought and thought till I can think no more. There must be some sacrifice; it must be as little as need be, that is all. He does not love me; he is marrying me for my money–I know that, and I am glad of it. You do not know me, Paul. I must have rank, position. What am I? The daughter of rich old Hasluck, who began life as a butcher in the Mile End Road. As the Princess Huescar, society will forget, as Mrs.”–it seemed to me she checked herself abruptly–“Jones or Brown it would remember, however rich I might be. I am vain, Paul, caring for power–ambition. I have my father’s blood in me. All his nights and days he has spent in gaining wealth; he can do no more. We upstarts have our pride of race. He has done his share, I must do mine.”

“But you need not be mere Mrs. anybody commonplace,” I argued. “Why not wait? You will meet someone who can give you position and whom at the same time you can love. Would that not be better?”

“He will never come, the man I could love,” she answered. “Because, my little Paul, he has come already. Hush, Paul, the queen can do no wrong.”

“Who is he?” I asked. “May I not know?”

“Yes, Paul,” she answered, “you shall know; I want you to know, then you shall tell me that I have acted rightly. Do you hear me, Paul?–quite rightly–that you still respect me and honour me. He could not help me. As his wife, I should be less even than I am, a mere rich nobody, giving long dinner-parties to other rich nobodies, living amongst City men, retired trades-people; envied only by their fat, vulgarly dressed wives, courted by seedy Bohemians for the sake of my cook; with perhaps an opera singer or an impecunious nobleman or two out of Dad’s City list for my show-guests. Is that the court, Paul, where you would have your queen reign?”

“Is he so commonplace a man,” I answered, “the man you love? I cannot believe it.”

“He is not commonplace,” she answered. “It is I who am commonplace. The things I desire, they are beneath him; he will never trouble himself to secure them.”

“Not even for love of you?”

“I would not have him do so even were he willing. He is great, with a greatness I cannot even understand. He is not the man for these times. In old days, I should have married him, knowing he would climb to greatness by sheer strength of manhood. But now men do not climb; they crawl to greatness. He could not do that. I have done right, Paul.”

“What does be say?” I asked.

“Shall I tell you?” She laughed a little bitterly. “I can give you his exact words, ‘You are half a woman and half a fool, so woman-like you will follow your folly. But let your folly see to it that your woman makes no fool of herself.'”

The words were what I could imagine his saying. I heard the strong ring of his voice through her mocking mimicry.

“Hal!” I cried. “It is he.”

“So you never guessed even that, Paul. I thought at times it would be sweet to cry it out aloud, that it could have made no difference, that everyone who knew me must have read it in my eyes.”

“But he never seemed to take much notice of you,” I said.

She laughed. “You needn’t be so unkind, Paul. What did I ever do for you much more than snub you? We boys and girls; there is not so much difference between us: we love our masters. Yet you must not think so poorly of me. I was only a child to him then, but we were locked up in Paris together during the entire siege. Have not you heard? He did take a little notice of me there, Paul, I assure you.”

Would it have been better, I wonder, had she followed the woman and not the fool? It sounds an easy question to answer; but I am thinking of years later, one winter’s night at Tiefenkasten in the Julier Pass. I was on my way from San Moritz to Chur. The sole passenger, I had just climbed, half frozen, from the sledge, and was thawing myself before the stove in the common room of the hotel when the waiter put a pencilled note into my hand:

“Come up and see me. I am a prisoner in this damned hole till the weather breaks. Hal.”

I hardly recognised him at first. Only the poor ghost he seemed of the Hal I had known as a boy. His long privations endured during the Paris siege, added to the superhuman work he had there put upon himself, had commenced the ruin of even his magnificent physique–a ruin the wild, loose life he was now leading was soon to complete. It was a gloomy, vaulted room that once had been a chapel, lighted dimly by a cheap, evil-smelling lamp, heated to suffocation by one of those great green-tiled German ovens now only to be met with in rare out-of-the-way world corners. He was sitting propped up by pillows on the bed, placed close to one of the high windows, his deep eyes flaring like two gleaming caverns out of his drawn, haggard face.

“I saw you from the window,” he explained. “It is the only excitement I get, twice a day when the sledges come in. I broke down coming across the Pass a fortnight ago, on my way from Davos. We were stuck in a drift for eighteen hours; it nearly finished my last lung. And I haven’t even a book to read. By God! lad, I was glad to see your frosted face ten minutes ago in the light of the lantern.”

He grasped me with his long bony hand. “Sit down, and let me hear my voice using again its mother tongue–you were always a good listener–for the last eight years I have hardly spoken it. Can you stand the room? The windows ought to be open, but what does it matter? I may as well get accustomed to the heat before I die.”

I drew my chair close to the bed, and for awhile, between his fits of coughing, we talked of things that were outside our thoughts, or, rather, Hal talked, continuously, boisterously, meeting my remonstrances with shouts of laughter, ending in wild struggles for breath, so that I deemed it better to let him work his mad mood out.

Then suddenly: “What is she doing?” he asked. “Do you ever see her?”

“She is playing in–” I mentioned the name of a comic opera then running in Paris. “No; I have not seen her for some time.”

He laid his white, wasted hand on mine. “What a pity you and I could not have rolled ourselves into one, Paul–you, the saint, and I, the satyr. Together we should have made her perfect lover.”

There came back to me the memory of those long nights when I had lain awake listening to the angry voices of my father and mother soaking through the flimsy wall. It seemed my fate to stand thus helpless between those I loved, watching them hurting one another against their will.

“Tell me,” I asked–“I loved her, knowing her: I was not blind. Whose fault was it? Yours or hers?”

He laughed. “Whose fault, Paul? God made us.”

Thinking of her fair, sweet face, I hated him for his mocking laugh. But the next moment, looking into his deep eyes, seeing the pain that dwelt there, my pity was for him. A smile came to his ugly mouth.

“You have been on the stage, Paul; you must have heard the saying often: ‘Ah, well, the curtain must come down, however badly things are going.’ It is only a play, Paul. We do not choose our parts. I did not even know I was the villain, till I heard the booing of the gallery. I even thought I was the hero, full of noble sentiment, sacrificing myself for the happiness of the heroine. She would have married me in the beginning had I plagued her sufficiently.”

I made to speak, but he interrupted me, continuing: “Ah, yes, it might have been better. That is easy to say, not knowing. So, too, it might have been worse–in all probability much the same. All roads lead to the end. You know I was always a fatalist, Paul. We tried both ways. She loved me well enough, but she loved the world also. I thought she loved it better, so I kissed her on her brow, mumbled a prayer for her happiness and made my exit to a choking sob. So ended the first act. Wasn’t I the hero throughout that, Paul? I thought so; slapped myself upon the back, told myself what a fine fellow I had been. Then–you know what followed. She was finer clay than she had fancied. Love is woman’s kingdom, not the world. Even then I thought more of her than of myself. I could have borne my share of the burden had I not seen her fainting under hers, shamed, degraded. So we dared to think for ourselves, injuring nobody but ourselves, played the man and woman, lost the world for love. Wasn’t it brave, Paul? Were we not hero and heroine? They had printed the playbill wrong, Paul, that was all. I was really the hero, but the printing devil had made a slip, so instead of applauding you booed. How could you know, any of you? It was not your fault.”

“But that was not the end,” I reminded him. “If the curtain had fallen then, I could have forgiven you.”

He grinned. “That fatal last act. Even yours don’t always come right, so the critics tell me.”

The grin faded from his face. “We may never see each other again, Paul,” he went on; “don’t think too badly of me. I found I had made a second mistake–or thought I had. She was no happier with me after a time than she had been with him. If all our longings were one, life would be easy; but they are not. What is to be done but toss for it? And if it come down head we wish it had been tail, and if tail we think of what we have lost through its not coming down head. Love is no more the whole of a woman’s life than it is of a man’s. He did not apply for a divorce: that was smart of him. We were shunned, ignored. To some women it might not have mattered; but she had been used to being sought, courted, feted. She made no complaint–did worse: made desperate effort to appear cheerful, to pretend that our humdrum life was not boring her to death. I watched her growing more listless, more depressed; grew angry with her, angrier with myself. There was no bond between us except our passion; that was real enough–‘grand,’ I believe, is the approved literary adjective. It is good enough for what nature intended it, a summer season in a cave. It makes but a poor marriage settlement in these more complicated days. We fell to mutual recriminations, vulgar scenes. Ah, most of us look better at a little distance from one another. The sordid, contemptible side of life became important to us. I was never rich; by contrast with all that she had known, miserably poor. The mere sight of the food our twelve-pound-a-year cook put upon the table would take away her appetite. Love does not change the palate, give you a taste for cheap claret when you have been accustomed to dry champagne. We have bodies to think of as well as souls; we are apt to forget that in moments of excitement.

“She fell ill, and it seemed to me that I had dragged her from the soil where she had grown only to watch her die. And then he came, precisely at the right moment. I cannot help admiring him. Most men take their revenge clumsily, hurting themselves; he was so neat, had been so patient. I am not even ashamed of having fallen into his trap; it was admirably baited. Maybe I had despised him for having seemed to submit meekly to the blow. What cared he for me and my opinion? It was she was all he cared for. He knew her better than I, knew that sooner or later she would tire, not of love but of the cottage; look back with longing eyes towards all that she had lost. Fool! Cuckold! What was it to him that the world would laugh at him, despise him? Love such as his made fools of men. Would I not give her back to him?

“By God! It was fine acting; half into the night we talked, I leaving him every now and again to creep to the top of the stairs and listen to her breathing. He asked me my advice, I being the hard-headed partner of cool judgment. What would be the best way of approaching her after I was gone? Where should he take her? How should they live till the nine days’ talk had died away? And I sat opposite to him–how he must have longed to laugh in my silly face–advising him! We could not quite agree as to details of a possible yachting cruise, and I remember hunting up an atlas, and we pored over it, our heads close together. By God! I envy him that night!”

He sank back on his pillows and laughed and coughed, and laughed and coughed again, till I feared that wild, long, broken laugh would be his last. But it ceased at length, and for awhile, exhausted, he lay silent before continuing.

“Then came the question: how was I to go? She loved me still. He was sure of it, and, for the matter of that, so was I. So long as she thought that I loved her, she would never leave me. Only from her despair could fresh hope arise for her. Would I not make some sacrifice for her sake, persuade her that I had tired of her? Only by one means could she be convinced. My going off alone would not