Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Chance--A Tale in Two Parts by Joseph Conrad

Part 2 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download Chance--A Tale in Two Parts pdf
File size: 0.9 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

determinist philosopher ever was.

As to honour--you know--it's a very fine medieval inheritance which
women never got hold of. It wasn't theirs. Since it may be laid as
a general principle that women always get what they want we must
suppose they didn't want it. In addition they are devoid of
decency. I mean masculine decency. Cautiousness too is foreign to
them--the heavy reasonable cautiousness which is our glory. And if
they had it they would make of it a thing of passion, so that its
own mother--I mean the mother of cautiousness--wouldn't recognize
it. Prudence with them is a matter of thrill like the rest of
sublunary contrivances. "Sensation at any cost," is their secret
device. All the virtues are not enough for them; they want also all
the crimes for their own. And why? Because in such completeness
there is power--the kind of thrill they love most . . . "

"Do you expect me to agree to all this?" I interrupted.

"No, it isn't necessary," said Marlow, feeling the check to his
eloquence but with a great effort at amiability. "You need not even
understand it. I continue: with such disposition what prevents
women--to use the phrase an old boatswain of my acquaintance applied
descriptively to his captain--what prevents them from "coming on
deck and playing hell with the ship" generally, is that something in
them precise and mysterious, acting both as restraint and as
inspiration; their femininity in short which they think they can get
rid of by trying hard, but can't, and never will. Therefore we may
conclude that, for all their enterprises, the world is and remains
safe enough. Feeling, in my character of a lover of peace, soothed
by that conclusion I prepared myself to enjoy a fine day.

And it was a fine day; a delicious day, with the horror of the
Infinite veiled by the splendid tent of blue; a day innocently
bright like a child with a washed face, fresh like an innocent young
girl, suave in welcoming one's respects like--like a Roman prelate.
I love such days. They are perfection for remaining indoors. And I
enjoyed it temperamentally in a chair, my feet up on the sill of the
open window, a book in my hands and the murmured harmonies of wind
and sun in my heart making an accompaniment to the rhythms of my
author. Then looking up from the page I saw outside a pair of grey
eyes thatched by ragged yellowy-white eyebrows gazing at me solemnly
over the toes of my slippers. There was a grave, furrowed brow
surmounting that portentous gaze, a brown tweed cap set far back on
the perspiring head.

"Come inside," I cried as heartily as my sinking heart would permit.

After a short but severe scuffle with his dog at the outer door,
Fyne entered. I treated him without ceremony and only waved my hand
towards a chair. Even before he sat down he gasped out:

"We've heard--midday post."

Gasped out! The grave, immovable Fyne of the Civil Service, gasped!
This was enough, you'll admit, to cause me to put my feet to the
ground swiftly. That fellow was always making me do things in
subtle discord with my meditative temperament. No wonder that I had
but a qualified liking for him. I said with just a suspicion of
jeering tone:

"Of course. I told you last night on the road that it was a farce
we were engaged in."

He made the little parlour resound to its foundations with a note of
anger positively sepulchral in its depth of tone. "Farce be hanged!
She has bolted with my wife's brother, Captain Anthony." This
outburst was followed by complete subsidence. He faltered miserably
as he added from force of habit: "The son of the poet, you know."

A silence fell. Fyne's several expressions were so many examples of
varied consistency. This was the discomfiture of solemnity. My
interest of course was revived.

"But hold on," I said. "They didn't go together. Is it a suspicion
or does she actually say that . . . "

"She has gone after him," stated Fyne in comminatory tones. "By
previous arrangement. She confesses that much."

He added that it was very shocking. I asked him whether he should
have preferred them going off together; and on what ground he based
that preference. This was sheer fun for me in regard of the fact
that Fyne's too was a runaway match, which even got into the papers
in its time, because the late indignant poet had no discretion and
sought to avenge this outrage publicly in some absurd way before a
bewigged judge. The dejected gesture of little Fyne's hand disarmed
my mocking mood. But I could not help expressing my surprise that
Mrs. Fyne had not detected at once what was brewing. Women were
supposed to have an unerring eye.

He told me that his wife had been very much engaged in a certain
work. I had always wondered how she occupied her time. It was in
writing. Like her husband she too published a little book. Much
later on I came upon it. It had nothing to do with pedestrianism.
It was a sort of hand-book for women with grievances (and all women
had them), a sort of compendious theory and practice of feminine
free morality. It made you laugh at its transparent simplicity.
But that authorship was revealed to me much later. I didn't of
course ask Fyne what work his wife was engaged on; but I marvelled
to myself at her complete ignorance of the world, of her own sex and
of the other kind of sinners. Yet, where could she have got any
experience? Her father had kept her strictly cloistered. Marriage
with Fyne was certainly a change but only to another kind of
claustration. You may tell me that the ordinary powers of
observation ought to have been enough. Why, yes! But, then, as she
had set up for a guide and teacher, there was nothing surprising for
me in the discovery that she was blind. That's quite in order. She
was a profoundly innocent person; only it would not have been proper
to tell her husband so.


But there was nothing improper in my observing to Fyne that, last
night, Mrs. Fyne seemed to have some idea where that enterprising
young lady had gone to. Fyne shook his head. No; his wife had been
by no means so certain as she had pretended to be. She merely had
her reasons to think, to hope, that the girl might have taken a room
somewhere in London, had buried herself in town--in readiness or
perhaps in horror of the approaching day -

He ceased and sat solemnly dejected, in a brown study. "What day?"
I asked at last; but he did not hear me apparently. He diffused
such portentous gloom into the atmosphere that I lost patience with

"What on earth are you so dismal about?" I cried, being genuinely
surprised and puzzled. "One would think the girl was a state
prisoner under your care."

And suddenly I became still more surprised at myself, at the way I
had somehow taken for granted things which did appear queer when one
thought them out.

"But why this secrecy? Why did they elope--if it is an elopement?
Was the girl afraid of your wife? And your brother-in-law? What on
earth possesses him to make a clandestine match of it? Was he
afraid of your wife too?"

Fyne made an effort to rouse himself.

"Of course my brother-in-law, Captain Anthony, the son of . . . "
He checked himself as if trying to break a bad habit. "He would be
persuaded by her. We have been most friendly to the girl!"

"She struck me as a foolish and inconsiderate little person. But
why should you and your wife take to heart so strongly mere folly--
or even a want of consideration?"

"It's the most unscrupulous action," declared Fyne weightily--and

"I suppose she is poor," I observed after a short silence. "But
after all . . . "

"You don't know who she is." Fyne had regained his average

I confessed that I had not caught her name when his wife had
introduced us to each other. "It was something beginning with an S-
wasn't it?" And then with the utmost coolness Fyne remarked that it
did not matter. The name was not her name.

"Do you mean to say that you made a young lady known to me under a
false name?" I asked, with the amused feeling that the days of
wonders and portents had not passed away yet. That the eminently
serious Fynes should do such an exceptional thing was simply
staggering. With a more hasty enunciation than usual little Fyne
was sure that I would not demand an apology for this irregularity if
I knew what her real name was. A sort of warmth crept into his deep

"We have tried to befriend that girl in every way. She is the
daughter and only child of de Barral."

Evidently he expected to produce a sensation; he kept his eyes fixed
upon me prepared for some sign of it. But I merely returned his
intense, awaiting gaze. For a time we stared at each other.
Conscious of being reprehensibly dense I groped in the darkness of
my mind: De Barral, De Barral--and all at once noise and light
burst on me as if a window of my memory had been suddenly flung open
on a street in the City. De Barral! But could it be the same?
Surely not!

"The financier?" I suggested half incredulous.

"Yes," said Fyne; and in this instance his native solemnity of tone
seemed to be strangely appropriate. "The convict."

Marlow looked at me, significantly, and remarked in an explanatory

"One somehow never thought of de Barral as having any children, or
any other home than the offices of the "Orb"; or any other
existence, associations or interests than financial. I see you
remember the crash . . . "

"I was away in the Indian Seas at the time," I said. "But of

"Of course," Marlow struck in. "All the world . . . You may wonder
at my slowness in recognizing the name. But you know that my memory
is merely a mausoleum of proper names. There they lie inanimate,
awaiting the magic touch--and not very prompt in arising when
called, either. The name is the first thing I forget of a man. It
is but just to add that frequently it is also the last, and this
accounts for my possession of a good many anonymous memories. In de
Barral's case, he got put away in my mausoleum in company with so
many names of his own creation that really he had to throw off a
monstrous heap of grisly bones before he stood before me at the call
of the wizard Fyne. The fellow had a pretty fancy in names: the
"Orb" Deposit Bank, the "Sceptre" Mutual Aid Society, the "Thrift
and Independence" Association. Yes, a very pretty taste in names;
and nothing else besides--absolutely nothing--no other merit. Well
yes. He had another name, but that's pure luck--his own name of de
Barral which he did not invent. I don't think that a mere Jones or
Brown could have fished out from the depths of the Incredible such a
colossal manifestation of human folly as that man did. But it may
be that I am underestimating the alacrity of human folly in rising
to the bait. No doubt I am. The greed of that absurd monster is
incalculable, unfathomable, inconceivable. The career of de Barral
demonstrates that it will rise to a naked hook. He didn't lure it
with a fairy tale. He hadn't enough imagination for it . . . "

"Was he a foreigner?" I asked. "It's clearly a French name. I
suppose it WAS his name?"

"Oh, he didn't invent it. He was born to it, in Bethnal Green, as
it came out during the proceedings. He was in the habit of alluding
to his Scotch connections. But every great man has done that. The
mother, I believe, was Scotch, right enough. The father de Barral
whatever his origins retired from the Customs Service (tide-waiter I
think), and started lending money in a very, very small way in the
East End to people connected with the docks, stevedores, minor
barge-owners, ship-chandlers, tally clerks, all sorts of very small
fry. He made his living at it. He was a very decent man I believe.
He had enough influence to place his only son as junior clerk in the
account department of one of the Dock Companies. "Now, my boy," he
said to him, "I've given you a fine start." But de Barral didn't
start. He stuck. He gave perfect satisfaction. At the end of
three years he got a small rise of salary and went out courting in
the evenings. He went courting the daughter of an old sea-captain
who was a churchwarden of his parish and lived in an old badly
preserved Georgian house with a garden: one of these houses
standing in a reduced bit of "grounds" that you discover in a
labyrinth of the most sordid streets, exactly alike and composed of
six-roomed hutches.

Some of them were the vicarages of slum parishes. The old sailor
had got hold of one cheap, and de Barral got hold of his daughter--
which was a good bargain for him. The old sailor was very good to
the young couple and very fond of their little girl. Mrs. de Barral
was an equable, unassuming woman, at that time with a fund of simple
gaiety, and with no ambitions; but, woman-like, she longed for
change and for something interesting to happen now and then. It was
she who encouraged de Barral to accept the offer of a post in the
west-end branch of a great bank. It appears he shrank from such a
great adventure for a long time. At last his wife's arguments
prevailed. Later on she used to say: 'It's the only time he ever
listened to me; and I wonder now if it hadn't been better for me to
die before I ever made him go into that bank.'

You may be surprised at my knowledge of these details. Well, I had
them ultimately from Mrs. Fyne. Mrs. Fyne while yet Miss Anthony,
in her days of bondage, knew Mrs. de Barral in her days of exile.
Mrs. de Barral was living then in a big stone mansion with mullioned
windows in a large damp park, called the Priory, adjoining the
village where the refined poet had built himself a house.

These were the days of de Barral's success. He had bought the place
without ever seeing it and had packed off his wife and child at once
there to take possession. He did not know what to do with them in
London. He himself had a suite of rooms in an hotel. He gave there
dinner parties followed by cards in the evening. He had developed
the gambling passion--or else a mere card mania--but at any rate he
played heavily, for relaxation, with a lot of dubious hangers on.

Meantime Mrs. de Barral, expecting him every day, lived at the
Priory, with a carriage and pair, a governess for the child and many
servants. The village people would see her through the railings
wandering under the trees with her little girl lost in her strange
surroundings. Nobody ever came near her. And there she died as
some faithful and delicate animals die--from neglect, absolutely
from neglect, rather unexpectedly and without any fuss. The village
was sorry for her because, though obviously worried about something,
she was good to the poor and was always ready for a chat with any of
the humble folks. Of course they knew that she wasn't a lady--not
what you would call a real lady. And even her acquaintance with
Miss Anthony was only a cottage-door, a village-street acquaintance.
Carleon Anthony was a tremendous aristocrat (his father had been a
"restoring" architect) and his daughter was not allowed to associate
with anyone but the county young ladies. Nevertheless in defiance
of the poet's wrathful concern for undefiled refinement there were
some quiet, melancholy strolls to and fro in the great avenue of
chestnuts leading to the park-gate, during which Mrs. de Barral came
to call Miss Anthony 'my dear'--and even 'my poor dear.' The lonely
soul had no one to talk to but that not very happy girl. The
governess despised her. The housekeeper was distant in her manner.
Moreover Mrs. de Barral was no foolish gossiping woman. But she
made some confidences to Miss Anthony. Such wealth was a terrific
thing to have thrust upon one she affirmed. Once she went so far as
to confess that she was dying with anxiety. Mr. de Barral (so she
referred to him) had been an excellent husband and an exemplary
father but "you see my dear I have had a great experience of him. I
am sure he won't know what to do with all that money people are
giving to him to take care of for them. He's as likely as not to do
something rash. When he comes here I must have a good long serious
talk with him, like the talks we often used to have together in the
good old times of our life." And then one day a cry of anguish was
wrung from her: 'My dear, he will never come here, he will never,
never come!'

She was wrong. He came to the funeral, was extremely cut up, and
holding the child tightly by the hand wept bitterly at the side of
the grave. Miss Anthony, at the cost of a whole week of sneers and
abuse from the poet, saw it all with her own eyes. De Barral clung
to the child like a drowning man. He managed, though, to catch the
half-past five fast train, travelling to town alone in a reserved
compartment, with all the blinds down . . . "

"Leaving the child?" I said interrogatively.

"Yes. Leaving . . . He shirked the problem. He was born that way.
He had no idea what to do with her or for that matter with anything
or anybody including himself. He bolted back to his suite of rooms
in the hotel. He was the most helpless . . . She might have been
left in the Priory to the end of time had not the high-toned
governess threatened to send in her resignation. She didn't care
for the child a bit, and the lonely, gloomy Priory had got on her
nerves. She wasn't going to put up with such a life and, having
just come out of some ducal family, she bullied de Barral in a very
lofty fashion. To pacify her he took a splendidly furnished house
in the most expensive part of Brighton for them, and now and then
ran down for a week-end, with a trunk full of exquisite sweets and
with his hat full of money. The governess spent it for him in extra
ducal style. She was nearly forty and harboured a secret taste for
patronizing young men of sorts--of a certain sort. But of that Mrs.
Fyne of course had no personal knowledge then; she told me however
that even in the Priory days she had suspected her of being an
artificial, heartless, vulgar-minded woman with the lowest possible
ideals. But de Barral did not know it. He literally did not know
anything . . . "

"But tell me, Marlow," I interrupted, "how do you account for this
opinion? He must have been a personality in a sense--in some one
sense surely. You don't work the greatest material havoc of a
decade at least, in a commercial community, without having something
in you."

Marlow shook his head.

"He was a mere sign, a portent. There was nothing in him. Just
about that time the word Thrift was to the fore. You know the power
of words. We pass through periods dominated by this or that word--
it may be development, or it may be competition, or education, or
purity or efficiency or even sanctity. It is the word of the time.
Well just then it was the word Thrift which was out in the streets
walking arm in arm with righteousness, the inseparable companion and
backer up of all such national catch-words, looking everybody in the
eye as it were. The very drabs of the pavement, poor things, didn't
escape the fascination . . . However! . . . Well the greatest
portion of the press were screeching in all possible tones, like a
confounded company of parrots instructed by some devil with a taste
for practical jokes, that the financier de Barral was helping the
great moral evolution of our character towards the newly-discovered
virtue of Thrift. He was helping it by all these great
establishments of his, which made the moral merits of Thrift
manifest to the most callous hearts, simply by promising to pay ten
per cent. interest on all deposits. And you didn't want necessarily
to belong to the well-to-do classes in order to participate in the
advantages of virtue. If you had but a spare sixpence in the world
and went and gave it to de Barral it was Thrift! It's quite likely
that he himself believed it. He must have. It's inconceivable that
he alone should stand out against the infatuation of the whole
world. He hadn't enough intelligence for that. But to look at him
one couldn't tell . . . "

"You did see him then?" I said with some curiosity.

"I did. Strange, isn't it? It was only once, but as I sat with the
distressed Fyne who had suddenly resuscitated his name buried in my
memory with other dead labels of the past, I may say I saw him
again, I saw him with great vividness of recollection, as he
appeared in the days of his glory or splendour. No! Neither of
these words will fit his success. There was never any glory or
splendour about that figure. Well, let us say in the days when he
was, according to the majority of the daily press, a financial force
working for the improvement of the character of the people. I'll
tell you how it came about.

At that time I used to know a podgy, wealthy, bald little man having
chambers in the Albany; a financier too, in his way, carrying out
transactions of an intimate nature and of no moral character; mostly
with young men of birth and expectations--though I dare say he
didn't withhold his ministrations from elderly plebeians either. He
was a true democrat; he would have done business (a sharp kind of
business) with the devil himself. Everything was fly that came into
his web. He received the applicants in an alert, jovial fashion
which was quite surprising. It gave relief without giving too much
confidence, which was just as well perhaps. His business was
transacted in an apartment furnished like a drawing-room, the walls
hung with several brown, heavily-framed, oil paintings. I don't
know if they were good, but they were big, and with their elaborate,
tarnished gilt-frames had a melancholy dignity. The man himself sat
at a shining, inlaid writing table which looked like a rare piece
from a museum of art; his chair had a high, oval, carved back,
upholstered in faded tapestry; and these objects made of the costly
black Havana cigar, which he rolled incessantly from the middle to
the left corner of his mouth and back again, an inexpressibly cheap
and nasty object. I had to see him several times in the interest of
a poor devil so unlucky that he didn't even have a more competent
friend than myself to speak for him at a very difficult time in his

I don't know at what hour my private financier began his day, but he
used to give one appointments at unheard of times: such as a
quarter to eight in the morning, for instance. On arriving one
found him busy at that marvellous writing table, looking very fresh
and alert, exhaling a faint fragrance of scented soap and with the
cigar already well alight. You may believe that I entered on my
mission with many unpleasant forebodings; but there was in that fat,
admirably washed, little man such a profound contempt for mankind
that it amounted to a species of good nature; which, unlike the milk
of genuine kindness, was never in danger of turning sour. Then,
once, during a pause in business, while we were waiting for the
production of a document for which he had sent (perhaps to the
cellar?) I happened to remark, glancing round the room, that I had
never seen so many fine things assembled together out of a
collection. Whether this was unconscious diplomacy on my part, or
not, I shouldn't like to say--but the remark was true enough, and it
pleased him extremely. "It IS a collection," he said emphatically.
"Only I live right in it, which most collectors don't. But I see
that you know what you are looking at. Not many people who come
here on business do. Stable fittings are more in their way."

I don't know whether my appreciation helped to advance my friend's
business but at any rate it helped our intercourse. He treated me
with a shade of familiarity as one of the initiated.

The last time I called on him to conclude the transaction we were
interrupted by a person, something like a cross between a bookmaker
and a private secretary, who, entering through a door which was not
the anteroom door, walked up and stooped to whisper into his ear.

"Eh? What? Who, did you say?"

The nondescript person stooped and whispered again, adding a little
louder: "Says he won't detain you a moment."

My little man glanced at me, said "Ah! Well," irresolutely. I got
up from my chair and offered to come again later. He looked
whimsically alarmed. "No, no. It's bad enough to lose my money but
I don't want to waste any more of my time over your friend. We must
be done with this to-day. Just go and have a look at that garniture
de cheminee yonder. There's another, something like it, in the
castle of Laeken, but mine's much superior in design."

I moved accordingly to the other side of that big room. The
garniture was very fine. But while pretending to examine it I
watched my man going forward to meet a tall visitor, who said, "I
thought you would be disengaged so early. It's only a word or two"-
-and after a whispered confabulation of no more than a minute,
reconduct him to the door and shake hands ceremoniously. "Not at
all, not at all. Very pleased to be of use. You can depend
absolutely on my information"--"Oh thank you, thank you. I just
looked in." "Certainly, quite right. Any time . . . Good morning."

I had a good look at the visitor while they were exchanging these
civilities. He was clad in black. I remember perfectly that he
wore a flat, broad, black satin tie in which was stuck a large cameo
pin; and a small turn down collar. His hair, discoloured and silky,
curled slightly over his ears. His cheeks were hairless and round,
and apparently soft. He held himself very upright, walked with
small steps and spoke gently in an inward voice. Perhaps from
contrast with the magnificent polish of the room and the neatness of
its owner, he struck me as dingy, indigent, and, if not exactly
humble, then much subdued by evil fortune.

I wondered greatly at my fat little financier's civility to that
dubious personage when he asked me, as we resumed our respective
seats, whether I knew who it was that had just gone out. On my
shaking my head negatively he smiled queerly, said "De Barral," and
enjoyed my surprise. Then becoming grave: "That's a deep fellow,
if you like. We all know where he started from and where he got to;
but nobody knows what he means to do." He became thoughtful for a
moment and added as if speaking to himself, "I wonder what his game

And, you know, there was no game, no game of any sort, or shape or
kind. It came out plainly at the trial. As I've told you before,
he was a clerk in a bank, like thousands of others. He got that
berth as a second start in life and there he stuck again, giving
perfect satisfaction. Then one day as though a supernatural voice
had whispered into his ear or some invisible fly had stung him, he
put on his hat, went out into the street and began advertising.
That's absolutely all that there was to it. He caught in the street
the word of the time and harnessed it to his preposterous chariot.

One remembers his first modest advertisements headed with the magic
word Thrift, Thrift, Thrift, thrice repeated; promising ten per
cent. on all deposits and giving the address of the Thrift and
Independence Aid Association in Vauxhall Bridge Road. Apparently
nothing more was necessary. He didn't even explain what he meant to
do with the money he asked the public to pour into his lap. Of
course he meant to lend it out at high rates of interest. He did
so--but he did it without system, plan, foresight or judgment. And
as he frittered away the sums that flowed in, he advertised for
more--and got it. During a period of general business prosperity he
set up The Orb Bank and The Sceptre Trust, simply, it seems for
advertising purposes. They were mere names. He was totally unable
to organize anything, to promote any sort of enterprise if it were
only for the purpose of juggling with the shares. At that time he
could have had for the asking any number of Dukes, retired Generals,
active M.P.'s, ex-ambassadors and so on as Directors to sit at the
wildest boards of his invention. But he never tried. He had no
real imagination. All he could do was to publish more
advertisements and open more branch offices of the Thrift and
Independence, of The Orb, of The Sceptre, for the receipt of
deposits; first in this town, then in that town, north and south--
everywhere where he could find suitable premises at a moderate rent.
For this was the great characteristic of the management. Modesty,
moderation, simplicity. Neither The Orb nor The Sceptre nor yet
their parent the Thrift and Independence had built for themselves
the usual palaces. For this abstention they were praised in silly
public prints as illustrating in their management the principle of
Thrift for which they were founded. The fact is that de Barral
simply didn't think of it. Of course he had soon moved from
Vauxhall Bridge Road. He knew enough for that. What he got hold of
next was an old, enormous, rat-infested brick house in a small
street off the Strand. Strangers were taken in front of the meanest
possible, begrimed, yellowy, flat brick wall, with two rows of
unadorned window-holes one above the other, and were exhorted with
bated breath to behold and admire the simplicity of the head-
quarters of the great financial force of the day. The word THRIFT
perched right up on the roof in giant gilt letters, and two enormous
shield-like brass-plates curved round the corners on each side of
the doorway were the only shining spots in de Barral's business
outfit. Nobody knew what operations were carried on inside except
this--that if you walked in and tendered your money over the counter
it would be calmly taken from you by somebody who would give you a
printed receipt. That and no more. It appears that such knowledge
is irresistible. People went in and tendered; and once it was taken
from their hands their money was more irretrievably gone from them
than if they had thrown it into the sea. This then, and nothing
else was being carried on in there . . . "

"Come, Marlow," I said, "you exaggerate surely--if only by your way
of putting things. It's too startling."

"I exaggerate!" he defended himself. "My way of putting things! My
dear fellow I have merely stripped the rags of business verbiage and
financial jargon off my statements. And you are startled! I am
giving you the naked truth. It's true too that nothing lays itself
open to the charge of exaggeration more than the language of naked
truth. What comes with a shock is admitted with difficulty. But
what will you say to the end of his career?

It was of course sensational and tolerably sudden. It began with
the Orb Deposit Bank. Under the name of that institution de Barral
with the frantic obstinacy of an unimaginative man had been
financing an Indian prince who was prosecuting a claim for immense
sums of money against the government. It was an enormous number of
scores of lakhs--a miserable remnant of his ancestors' treasures--
that sort of thing. And it was all authentic enough. There was a
real prince; and the claim too was sufficiently real--only
unfortunately it was not a valid claim. So the prince lost his case
on the last appeal and the beginning of de Barral's end became
manifest to the public in the shape of a half-sheet of note paper
wafered by the four corners on the closed door of The Orb offices
notifying that payment was stopped at that establishment.

Its consort The Sceptre collapsed within the week. I won't say in
American parlance that suddenly the bottom fell out of the whole of
de Barral concerns. There never had been any bottom to it. It was
like the cask of Danaides into which the public had been pleased to
pour its deposits. That they were gone was clear; and the
bankruptcy proceedings which followed were like a sinister farce,
bursts of laughter in a setting of mute anguish--that of the
depositors; hundreds of thousands of them. The laughter was
irresistible; the accompaniment of the bankrupt's public

I don't know if it was from utter lack of all imagination or from
the possession in undue proportion of a particular kind of it, or
from both--and the three alternatives are possible--but it was
discovered that this man who had been raised to such a height by the
credulity of the public was himself more gullible than any of his
depositors. He had been the prey of all sorts of swindlers,
adventurers, visionaries and even lunatics. Wrapping himself up in
deep and imbecile secrecy he had gone in for the most fantastic
schemes: a harbour and docks on the coast of Patagonia, quarries in
Labrador--such like speculations. Fisheries to feed a canning
Factory on the banks of the Amazon was one of them. A principality
to be bought in Madagascar was another. As the grotesque details of
these incredible transactions came out one by one ripples of
laughter ran over the closely packed court--each one a little louder
than the other. The audience ended by fairly roaring under the
cumulative effect of absurdity. The Registrar laughed, the
barristers laughed, the reporters laughed, the serried ranks of the
miserable depositors watching anxiously every word, laughed like one
man. They laughed hysterically--the poor wretches--on the verge of

There was only one person who remained unmoved. It was de Barral
himself. He preserved his serene, gentle expression, I am told (for
I have not witnessed those scenes myself), and looked around at the
people with an air of placid sufficiency which was the first hint to
the world of the man's overweening, unmeasurable conceit, hidden
hitherto under a diffident manner. It could be seen too in his
dogged assertion that if he had been given enough time and a lot
more money everything would have come right. And there were some
people (yes, amongst his very victims) who more than half believed
him, even after the criminal prosecution which soon followed. When
placed in the dock he lost his steadiness as if some sustaining
illusion had gone to pieces within him suddenly. He ceased to be
himself in manner completely, and even in disposition, in so far
that his faded neutral eyes matching his discoloured hair so well,
were discovered then to be capable of expressing a sort of underhand
hate. He was at first defiant, then insolent, then broke down and
burst into tears; but it might have been from rage. Then he calmed
down, returned to his soft manner of speech and to that unassuming
quiet bearing which had been usual with him even in his greatest
days. But it seemed as though in this moment of change he had at
last perceived what a power he had been; for he remarked to one of
the prosecuting counsel who had assumed a lofty moral tone in
questioning him, that--yes, he had gambled--he liked cards. But
that only a year ago a host of smart people would have been only too
pleased to take a hand at cards with him. Yes--he went on--some of
the very people who were there accommodated with seats on the bench;
and turning upon the counsel "You yourself as well," he cried. He
could have had half the town at his rooms to fawn upon him if he had
cared for that sort of thing. "Why, now I think of it, it took me
most of my time to keep people, just of your sort, off me," he ended
with a good humoured--quite unobtrusive, contempt, as though the
fact had dawned upon him for the first time.

This was the moment, the only moment, when he had perhaps all the
audience in Court with him, in a hush of dreary silence. And then
the dreary proceedings were resumed. For all the outside excitement
it was the most dreary of all celebrated trials. The bankruptcy
proceedings had exhausted all the laughter there was in it. Only
the fact of wide-spread ruin remained, and the resentment of a mass
of people for having been fooled by means too simple to save their
self-respect from a deep wound which the cleverness of a consummate
scoundrel would not have inflicted. A shamefaced amazement attended
these proceedings in which de Barral was not being exposed alone.
For himself his only cry was: Time! Time! Time would have set
everything right. In time some of these speculations of his were
certain to have succeeded. He repeated this defence, this excuse,
this confession of faith, with wearisome iteration. Everything he
had done or left undone had been to gain time. He had hypnotized
himself with the word. Sometimes, I am told, his appearance was
ecstatic, his motionless pale eyes seemed to be gazing down the
vista of future ages. Time--and of course, more money. "Ah! If
only you had left me alone for a couple of years more," he cried
once in accents of passionate belief. "The money was coming in all
right." The deposits you understand--the savings of Thrift. Oh yes
they had been coming in to the very last moment. And he regretted
them. He had arrived to regard them as his own by a sort of
mystical persuasion. And yet it was a perfectly true cry, when he
turned once more on the counsel who was beginning a question with
the words "You have had all these immense sums . . . " with the
indignant retort "WHAT have I had out of them?"

"It was perfectly true. He had had nothing out of them--nothing of
the prestigious or the desirable things of the earth, craved for by
predatory natures. He had gratified no tastes, had known no luxury;
he had built no gorgeous palaces, had formed no splendid galleries
out of these "immense sums." He had not even a home. He had gone
into these rooms in an hotel and had stuck there for years, giving
no doubt perfect satisfaction to the management. They had twice
raised his rent to show I suppose their high sense of his
distinguished patronage. He had bought for himself out of all the
wealth streaming through his fingers neither adulation nor love,
neither splendour nor comfort. There was something perfect in his
consistent mediocrity. His very vanity seemed to miss the
gratification of even the mere show of power. In the days when he
was most fully in the public eye the invincible obscurity of his
origins clung to him like a shadowy garment. He had handled
millions without ever enjoying anything of what is counted as
precious in the community of men, because he had neither the
brutality of temperament nor the fineness of mind to make him desire
them with the will power of a masterful adventurer . . . "

"You seem to have studied the man," I observed.,

"Studied," repeated Marlow thoughtfully. "No! Not studied. I had
no opportunities. You know that I saw him only on that one occasion
I told you of. But it may be that a glimpse and no more is the
proper way of seeing an individuality; and de Barral was that, in
virtue of his very deficiencies for they made of him something quite
unlike one's preconceived ideas. There were also very few materials
accessible to a man like me to form a judgment from. But in such a
case I verify believe that a little is as good as a feast--perhaps
better. If one has a taste for that kind of thing the merest
starting-point becomes a coign of vantage, and then by a series of
logically deducted verisimilitudes one arrives at truth--or very
near the truth--as near as any circumstantial evidence can do. I
have not studied de Barral but that is how I understand him so far
as he could be understood through the din of the crash; the wailing
and gnashing of teeth, the newspaper contents bills, "The Thrift
Frauds. Cross-examination of the accused. Extra special"--blazing
fiercely; the charitable appeals for the victims, the grave tones of
the dailies rumbling with compassion as if they were the national
bowels. All this lasted a whole week of industrious sittings. A
pressman whom I knew told me "He's an idiot." Which was possible.
Before that I overheard once somebody declaring that he had a
criminal type of face; which I knew was untrue. The sentence was
pronounced by artificial light in a stifling poisonous atmosphere.
Something edifying was said by the judge weightily, about the
retribution overtaking the perpetrator of "the most heartless frauds
on an unprecedented scale." I don't understand these things much,
but it appears that he had juggled with accounts, cooked balance
sheets, had gathered in deposits months after he ought to have known
himself to be hopelessly insolvent, and done enough of other things,
highly reprehensible in the eyes of the law, to earn for himself
seven years' penal servitude. The sentence making its way outside
met with a good reception. A small mob composed mainly of people
who themselves did not look particularly clever and scrupulous,
leavened by a slight sprinkling of genuine pickpockets amused itself
by cheering in the most penetrating, abominable cold drizzle that I
remember. I happened to be passing there on my way from the East
End where I had spent my day about the Docks with an old chum who
was looking after the fitting out of a new ship. I am always eager,
when allowed, to call on a new ship. They interest me like charming
young persons.

I got mixed up in that crowd seething with an animosity as senseless
as things of the street always are, and it was while I was
laboriously making my way out of it that the pressman of whom I
spoke was jostled against me. He did me the justice to be
surprised. "What? You here! The last person in the world . . . If
I had known I could have got you inside. Plenty of room. Interest
been over for the last three days. Got seven years. Well, I am

"Why are you glad? Because he's got seven years?" I asked, greatly
incommoded by the pressure of a hulking fellow who was remarking to
some of his equally oppressive friends that the "beggar ought to
have been poleaxed." I don't know whether he had ever confided his
savings to de Barral but if so, judging from his appearance, they
must have been the proceeds of some successful burglary. The
pressman by my side said 'No,' to my question. He was glad because
it was all over. He had suffered greatly from the heat and the bad
air of the court. The clammy, raw, chill of the streets seemed to
affect his liver instantly. He became contemptuous and irritable
and plied his elbows viciously making way for himself and me.

A dull affair this. All such cases were dull. No really dramatic
moments. The book-keeping of The Orb and all the rest of them was
certainly a burlesque revelation but the public did not care for
revelations of that kind. Dull dog that de Barral--he grumbled. He
could not or would not take the trouble to characterize for me the
appearance of that man now officially a criminal (we had gone across
the road for a drink) but told me with a sourly, derisive snigger
that, after the sentence had been pronounced the fellow clung to the
dock long enough to make a sort of protest. 'You haven't given me
time. If I had been given time I would have ended by being made a
peer like some of them.' And he had permitted himself his very
first and last gesture in all these days, raising a hard-clenched
fist above his head.

The pressman disapproved of that manifestation. It was not his
business to understand it. Is it ever the business of any pressman
to understand anything? I guess not. It would lead him too far
away from the actualities which are the daily bread of the public
mind. He probably thought the display worth very little from a
picturesque point of view; the weak voice; the colourless
personality as incapable of an attitude as a bed-post, the very
fatuity of the clenched hand so ineffectual at that time and place--
no, it wasn't worth much. And then, for him, an accomplished
craftsman in his trade, thinking was distinctly "bad business." His
business was to write a readable account. But I who had nothing to
write, I permitted myself to use my mind as we sat before our still
untouched glasses. And the disclosure which so often rewards a
moment of detachment from mere visual impressions gave me a thrill
very much approaching a shudder. I seemed to understand that, with
the shock of the agonies and perplexities of his trial, the
imagination of that man, whose moods, notions and motives wore
frequently an air of grotesque mystery--that his imagination had
been at last roused into activity. And this was awful. Just try to
enter into the feelings of a man whose imagination wakes up at the
very moment he is about to enter the tomb . . . "

"You must not think," went on Marlow after a pause, "that on that
morning with Fyne I went consciously in my mind over all this, let
us call it information; no, better say, this fund of knowledge which
I had, or rather which existed, in me in regard to de Barral.
Information is something one goes out to seek and puts away when
found as you might do a piece of lead: ponderous, useful,
unvibrating, dull. Whereas knowledge comes to one, this sort of
knowledge, a chance acquisition preserving in its repose a fine
resonant quality . . . But as such distinctions touch upon the
transcendental I shall spare you the pain of listening to them.
There are limits to my cruelty. No! I didn't reckon up carefully
in my mind all this I have been telling you. How could I have done
so, with Fyne right there in the room? He sat perfectly still,
statuesque in homely fashion, after having delivered himself of his
effective assent: "Yes. The convict," and I, far from indulging in
a reminiscent excursion into the past, remained sufficiently in the
present to muse in a vague, absent-minded way on the respectable
proportions and on the (upon the whole) comely shape of his great
pedestrian's calves, for he had thrown one leg over his knee,
carelessly, to conceal the trouble of his mind by an air of ease.
But all the same the knowledge was in me, the awakened resonance of
which I spoke just now; I was aware of it on that beautiful day, so
fresh, so warm and friendly, so accomplished--an exquisite courtesy
of the much abused English climate when it makes up its
meteorological mind to behave like a perfect gentleman. Of course
the English climate is never a rough. It suffers from spleen
somewhat frequently--but that is gentlemanly too, and I don't mind
going to meet him in that mood. He has his days of grey, veiled,
polite melancholy, in which he is very fascinating. How seldom he
lapses into a blustering manner, after all! And then it is mostly
in a season when, appropriately enough, one may go out and kill
something. But his fine days are the best for stopping at home, to
read, to think, to muse--even to dream; in fact to live fully,
intensely and quietly, in the brightness of comprehension, in that
receptive glow of the mind, the gift of the clear, luminous and
serene weather.

That day I had intended to live intensely and quietly, basking in
the weather's glory which would have lent enchantment to the most
unpromising of intellectual prospects. For a companion I had found
a book, not bemused with the cleverness of the day--a fine-weather
book, simple and sincere like the talk of an unselfish friend. But
looking at little Fyne seated in the room I understood that nothing
would come of my contemplative aspirations; that in one way or
another I should be let in for some form of severe exercise.
Walking, it would be, I feared, since, for me, that idea was
inseparably associated with the visual impression of Fyne. Where,
why, how, a rapid striding rush could be brought in helpful relation
to the good Fyne's present trouble and perplexity I could not
imagine; except on the principle that senseless pedestrianism was
Fyne's panacea for all the ills and evils bodily and spiritual of
the universe. It could be of no use for me to say or do anything.
It was bound to come. Contemplating his muscular limb encased in a
golf-stocking, and under the strong impression of the information he
had just imparted I said wondering, rather irrationally:

"And so de Barral had a wife and child! That girl's his daughter.
And how . . . "

Fyne interrupted me by stating again earnestly, as though it were
something not easy to believe, that his wife and himself had tried
to befriend the girl in every way--indeed they had! I did not doubt
him for a moment, of course, but my wonder at this was more
rational. At that hour of the morning, you mustn't forget, I knew
nothing as yet of Mrs. Fyne's contact (it was hardly more) with de
Barral's wife and child during their exile at the Priory, in the
culminating days of that man's fame.

Fyne who had come over, it was clear, solely to talk to me on that
subject, gave me the first hint of this initial, merely out of
doors, connection. "The girl was quite a child then," he continued.
"Later on she was removed out of Mrs. Fyne's reach in charge of a
governess--a very unsatisfactory person," he explained. His wife
had then--h'm--met him; and on her marriage she lost sight of the
child completely. But after the birth of Polly (Polly was the third
Fyne girl) she did not get on very well, and went to Brighton for
some months to recover her strength--and there, one day in the
street, the child (she wore her hair down her back still) recognized
her outside a shop and rushed, actually rushed, into Mrs. Fyne's
arms. Rather touching this. And so, disregarding the cold
impertinence of that . . . h'm . . . governess, his wife naturally

He was solemnly fragmentary. I broke in with the observation that
it must have been before the crash.

Fyne nodded with deepened gravity, stating in his bass tone -

"Just before," and indulged himself with a weighty period of solemn

De Barral, he resumed suddenly, was not coming to Brighton for week-
ends regularly, then. Must have been conscious already of the
approaching disaster. Mrs. Fyne avoided being drawn into making his
acquaintance, and this suited the views of the governess person,
very jealous of any outside influence. But in any case it would not
have been an easy matter. Extraordinary, stiff-backed, thin figure
all in black, the observed of all, while walking hand-in-hand with
the girl; apparently shy, but--and here Fyne came very near showing
something like insight--probably nursing under a diffident manner a
considerable amount of secret arrogance. Mrs. Fyne pitied Flora de
Barral's fate long before the catastrophe. Most unfortunate
guidance. Very unsatisfactory surroundings. The girl was known in
the streets, was stared at in public places as if she had been a
sort of princess, but she was kept with a very ominous consistency,
from making any acquaintances--though of course there were many
people no doubt who would have been more than willing to--h'm--make
themselves agreeable to Miss de Barral. But this did not enter into
the plans of the governess, an intriguing person hatching a most
sinister plot under her severe air of distant, fashionable
exclusiveness. Good little Fyne's eyes bulged with solemn horror as
he revealed to me, in agitated speech, his wife's more than
suspicions, at the time, of that, Mrs., Mrs. What's her name's
perfidious conduct. She actually seemed to have--Mrs. Fyne
asserted--formed a plot already to marry eventually her charge to an
impecunious relation of her own--a young man with furtive eyes and
something impudent in his manner, whom that woman called her nephew,
and whom she was always having down to stay with her.

"And perhaps not her nephew. No relation at all"--Fyne emitted with
a convulsive effort this, the most awful part of the suspicions Mrs.
Fyne used to impart to him piecemeal when he came down to spend his
week-ends gravely with her and the children. The Fynes, in their
good-natured concern for the unlucky child of the man busied in
stirring casually so many millions, spent the moments of their
weekly reunion in wondering earnestly what could be done to defeat
the most wicked of conspiracies, trying to invent some tactful line
of conduct in such extraordinary circumstances. I could see them,
simple, and scrupulous, worrying honestly about that unprotected big
girl while looking at their own little girls playing on the sea-
shore. Fyne assured me that his wife's rest was disturbed by the
great problem of interference.

"It was very acute of Mrs. Fyne to spot such a deep game," I said,
wondering to myself where her acuteness had gone to now, to let her
be taken unawares by a game so much simpler and played to the end
under her very nose. But then, at that time, when her nightly rest
was disturbed by the dread of the fate preparing for de Barral's
unprotected child, she was not engaged in writing a compendious and
ruthless hand-book on the theory and practice of life, for the use
of women with a grievance. She could as yet, before the task of
evolving the philosophy of rebellious action had affected her
intuitive sharpness, perceive things which were, I suspect,
moderately plain. For I am inclined to believe that the woman whom
chance had put in command of Flora de Barral's destiny took no very
subtle pains to conceal her game. She was conscious of being a
complete master of the situation, having once for all established
her ascendancy over de Barral. She had taken all her measures
against outside observation of her conduct; and I could not help
smiling at the thought what a ghastly nuisance the serious, innocent
Fynes must have been to her. How exasperated she must have been by
that couple falling into Brighton as completely unforeseen as a bolt
from the blue--if not so prompt. How she must have hated them!

But I conclude she would have carried out whatever plan she might
have formed. I can imagine de Barral accustomed for years to defer
to her wishes and, either through arrogance, or shyness, or simply
because of his unimaginative stupidity, remaining outside the social
pale, knowing no one but some card-playing cronies; I can picture
him to myself terrified at the prospect of having the care of a
marriageable girl thrust on his hands, forcing on him a complete
change of habits and the necessity of another kind of existence
which he would not even have known how to begin. It is evident to
me that Mrs. What's her name would have had her atrocious way with
very little trouble even if the excellent Fynes had been able to do
something. She would simply have bullied de Barral in a lofty
style. There's nothing more subservient than an arrogant man when
his arrogance has once been broken in some particular instance.

However there was no time and no necessity for any one to do
anything. The situation itself vanished in the financial crash as a
building vanishes in an earthquake--here one moment and gone the
next with only an ill-omened, slight, preliminary rumble. Well, to
say 'in a moment' is an exaggeration perhaps; but that everything
was over in just twenty-four hours is an exact statement. Fyne was
able to tell me all about it; and the phrase that would depict the
nature of the change best is: an instant and complete destitution.
I don't understand these matters very well, but from Fyne's
narrative it seemed as if the creditors or the depositors, or the
competent authorities, had got hold in the twinkling of an eye of
everything de Barral possessed in the world, down to his watch and
chain, the money in his trousers' pocket, his spare suits of
clothes, and I suppose the cameo pin out of his black satin cravat.
Everything! I believe he gave up the very wedding ring of his late
wife. The gloomy Priory with its damp park and a couple of farms
had been made over to Mrs. de Barral; but when she died (without
making a will) it reverted to him, I imagine. They got that of
course; but it was a mere crumb in a Sahara of starvation, a drop in
the thirsty ocean. I dare say that not a single soul in the world
got the comfort of as much as a recovered threepenny bit out of the
estate. Then, less than crumbs, less than drops, there were to be
grabbed, the lease of the big Brighton house, the furniture therein,
the carriage and pair, the girl's riding horse, her costly trinkets;
down to the heavily gold-mounted collar of her pedigree St. Bernard.
The dog too went: the most noble-looking item in the beggarly

What however went first of all or rather vanished was nothing in the
nature of an asset. It was that plotting governess with the trick
of a "perfect lady" manner (severely conventional) and the soul of a
remorseless brigand. When a woman takes to any sort of unlawful
man-trade, there's nothing to beat her in the way of thoroughness.
It's true that you will find people who'll tell you that this
terrific virulence in breaking through all established things, is
altogether the fault of men. Such people will ask you with a clever
air why the servile wars were always the most fierce, desperate and
atrocious of all wars. And you may make such answer as you can--
even the eminently feminine one, if you choose, so typical of the
women's literal mind "I don't see what this has to do with it!" How
many arguments have been knocked over (I won't say knocked down) by
these few words! For if we men try to put the spaciousness of all
experiences into our reasoning and would fain put the Infinite
itself into our love, it isn't, as some writer has remarked, "It
isn't women's doing." Oh no. They don't care for these things.
That sort of aspiration is not much in their way; and it shall be a
funny world, the world of their arranging, where the Irrelevant
would fantastically step in to take the place of the sober humdrum
Imaginative . . . "

I raised my hand to stop my friend Marlow.

"Do you really believe what you have said?" I asked, meaning no
offence, because with Marlow one never could be sure.

"Only on certain days of the year," said Marlow readily with a
malicious smile. "To-day I have been simply trying to be spacious
and I perceive I've managed to hurt your susceptibilities which are
consecrated to women. When you sit alone and silent you are
defending in your mind the poor women from attacks which cannot
possibly touch them. I wonder what can touch them? But to soothe
your uneasiness I will point out again that an Irrelevant world
would be very amusing, if the women take care to make it as charming
as they alone can, by preserving for us certain well-known, well-
established, I'll almost say hackneyed, illusions, without which the
average male creature cannot get on. And that condition is very
important. For there is nothing more provoking than the Irrelevant
when it has ceased to amuse and charm; and then the danger would be
of the subjugated masculinity in its exasperation, making some
brusque, unguarded movement and accidentally putting its elbow
through the fine tissue of the world of which I speak. And that
would be fatal to it. For nothing looks more irretrievably
deplorable than fine tissue which has been damaged. The women
themselves would be the first to become disgusted with their own

There was something of women's highly practical sanity and also of
their irrelevancy in the conduct of Miss de Barral's amazing
governess. It appeared from Fyne's narrative that the day before
the first rumble of the cataclysm the questionable young man arrived
unexpectedly in Brighton to stay with his "Aunt." To all outward
appearance everything was going on normally; the fellow went out
riding with the girl in the afternoon as he often used to do--a
sight which never failed to fill Mrs. Fyne with indignation. Fyne
himself was down there with his family for a whole week and was
called to the window to behold the iniquity in its progress and to
share in his wife's feelings. There was not even a groom with them.
And Mrs. Fyne's distress was so strong at this glimpse of the
unlucky girl all unconscious of her danger riding smilingly by, that
Fyne began to consider seriously whether it wasn't their plain duty
to interfere at all risks--simply by writing a letter to de Barral.
He said to his wife with a solemnity I can easily imagine "You ought
to undertake that task, my dear. You have known his wife after all.
That's something at any rate." On the other hand the fear of
exposing Mrs. Fyne to some nasty rebuff worried him exceedingly.
Mrs. Fyne on her side gave way to despondency. Success seemed
impossible. Here was a woman for more than five years in charge of
the girl and apparently enjoying the complete confidence of the
father. What, that would be effective, could one say, without
proofs, without . . . This Mr. de Barral must be, Mrs. Fyne
pronounced, either a very stupid or a downright bad man, to neglect
his child so.

You will notice that perhaps because of Fyne's solemn view of our
transient life and Mrs. Fyne's natural capacity for responsibility,
it had never occurred to them that the simplest way out of the
difficulty was to do nothing and dismiss the matter as no concern of
theirs. Which in a strict worldly sense it certainly was not. But
they spent, Fyne told me, a most disturbed afternoon, considering
the ways and means of dealing with the danger hanging over the head
of the girl out for a ride (and no doubt enjoying herself) with an
abominable scamp.


And the best of it was that the danger was all over already. There
was no danger any more. The supposed nephew's appearance had a
purpose. He had come, full, full to trembling--with the bigness of
his news. There must have been rumours already as to the shaky
position of the de Barral's concerns; but only amongst those in the
very inmost know. No rumour or echo of rumour had reached the
profane in the West-End--let alone in the guileless marine suburb of
Hove. The Fynes had no suspicion; the governess, playing with cold,
distinguished exclusiveness the part of mother to the fabulously
wealthy Miss de Barral, had no suspicion; the masters of music, of
drawing, of dancing to Miss de Barral, had no idea; the minds of her
medical man, of her dentist, of the servants in the house, of the
tradesmen proud of having the name of de Barral on their books, were
in a state of absolute serenity. Thus, that fellow, who had
unexpectedly received a most alarming straight tip from somebody in
the City arrived in Brighton, at about lunch-time, with something
very much in the nature of a deadly bomb in his possession. But he
knew better than to throw it on the public pavement. He ate his
lunch impenetrably, sitting opposite Flora de Barral, and then, on
some excuse, closeted himself with the woman whom little Fyne's
charity described (with a slight hesitation of speech however) as
his "Aunt."

What they said to each other in private we can imagine. She came
out of her own sitting-room with red spots on her cheek-bones, which
having provoked a question from her "beloved" charge, were accounted
for by a curt "I have a headache coming on." But we may be certain
that the talk being over she must have said to that young
blackguard: "You had better take her out for a ride as usual." We
have proof positive of this in Fyne and Mrs. Fyne observing them
mount at the door and pass under the windows of their sitting-room,
talking together, and the poor girl all smiles; because she enjoyed
in all innocence the company of Charley. She made no secret of it
whatever to Mrs. Fyne; in fact, she had confided to her, long
before, that she liked him very much: a confidence which had filled
Mrs. Fyne with desolation and that sense of powerless anguish which
is experienced in certain kinds of nightmare. For how could she
warn the girl? She did venture to tell her once that she didn't
like Mr. Charley. Miss de Barral heard her with astonishment. How
was it possible not to like Charley? Afterwards with naive loyalty
she told Mrs. Fyne that, immensely as she was fond of her she could
not hear a word against Charley--the wonderful Charley.

The daughter of de Barral probably enjoyed her jolly ride with the
jolly Charley (infinitely more jolly than going out with a stupid
old riding-master), very much indeed, because the Fynes saw them
coming back at a later hour than usual. In fact it was getting
nearly dark. On dismounting, helped off by the delightful Charley,
she patted the neck of her horse and went up the steps. Her last
ride. She was then within a few days of her sixteenth birthday, a
slight figure in a riding habit, rather shorter than the average
height for her age, in a black bowler hat from under which her fine
rippling dark hair cut square at the ends was hanging well down her
back. The delightful Charley mounted again to take the two horses
round to the mews. Mrs. Fyne remaining at the window saw the house
door close on Miss de Barral returning from her last ride.

And meantime what had the governess (out of a nobleman's family) so
judiciously selected (a lady, and connected with well-known county
people as she said) to direct the studies, guard the health, form
the mind, polish the manners, and generally play the perfect mother
to that luckless child--what had she been doing? Well, having got
rid of her charge by the most natural device possible, which proved
her practical sense, she started packing her belongings, an act
which showed her clear view of the situation. She had worked
methodically, rapidly, and well, emptying the drawers, clearing the
tables in her special apartment of that big house, with something
silently passionate in her thoroughness; taking everything belonging
to her and some things of less unquestionable ownership, a jewelled
penholder, an ivory and gold paper knife (the house was full of
common, costly objects), some chased silver boxes presented by de
Barral and other trifles; but the photograph of Flora de Barral,
with the loving inscription, which stood on her writing desk, of the
most modern and expensive style, in a silver-gilt frame, she
neglected to take. Having accidentally, in the course of the
operations, knocked it off on the floor she let it lie there after a
downward glance. Thus it, or the frame at least, became, I suppose,
part of the assets in the de Barral bankruptcy.

At dinner that evening the child found her company dull and brusque.
It was uncommonly slow. She could get nothing from her governess
but monosyllables, and the jolly Charley actually snubbed the
various cheery openings of his "little chum"--as he used to call her
at times,--but not at that time. No doubt the couple were nervous
and preoccupied. For all this we have evidence, and for the fact
that Flora being offended with the delightful nephew of her
profoundly respected governess sulked through the rest of the
evening and was glad to retire early. Mrs., Mrs.--I've really
forgotten her name--the governess, invited her nephew to her
sitting-room, mentioning aloud that it was to talk over some family
matters. This was meant for Flora to hear, and she heard it--
without the slightest interest. In fact there was nothing
sufficiently unusual in such an invitation to arouse in her mind
even a passing wonder. She went bored to bed and being tired with
her long ride slept soundly all night. Her last sleep, I won't say
of innocence--that word would not render my exact meaning, because
it has a special meaning of its own--but I will say: of that
ignorance, or better still, of that unconsciousness of the world's
ways, the unconsciousness of danger, of pain, of humiliation, of
bitterness, of falsehood. An unconsciousness which in the case of
other beings like herself is removed by a gradual process of
experience and information, often only partial at that, with saving
reserves, softening doubts, veiling theories. Her unconsciousness
of the evil which lives in the secret thoughts and therefore in the
open acts of mankind, whenever it happens that evil thought meets
evil courage; her unconsciousness was to be broken into with profane
violence with desecrating circumstances, like a temple violated by a
mad, vengeful impiety. Yes, that very young girl, almost no more
than a child--this was what was going to happen to her. And if you
ask me, how, wherefore, for what reason? I will answer you: Why,
by chance! By the merest chance, as things do happen, lucky and
unlucky, terrible or tender, important or unimportant; and even
things which are neither, things so completely neutral in character
that you would wonder why they do happen at all if you didn't know
that they, too, carry in their insignificance the seeds of further
incalculable chances.

Of course, all the chances were that de Barral should have fallen
upon a perfectly harmless, naive, usual, inefficient specimen of
respectable governess for his daughter; or on a commonplace silly
adventuress who would have tried, say, to marry him or work some
other sort of common mischief in a small way. Or again he might
have chanced on a model of all the virtues, or the repository of all
knowledge, or anything equally harmless, conventional, and middle
class. All calculations were in his favour; but, chance being
incalculable, he fell upon an individuality whom it is much easier
to define by opprobrious names than to classify in a calm and
scientific spirit--but an individuality certainly, and a temperament
as well. Rare? No. There is a certain amount of what I would
politely call unscrupulousness in all of us. Think for instance of
the excellent Mrs. Fyne, who herself, and in the bosom of her
family, resembled a governess of a conventional type. Only, her
mental excesses were theoretical, hedged in by so much humane
feeling and conventional reserves, that they amounted to no more
than mere libertinage of thought; whereas the other woman, the
governess of Flora de Barral, was, as you may have noticed, severely
practical--terribly practical. No! Hers was not a rare
temperament, except in its fierce resentment of repression; a
feeling which like genius or lunacy is apt to drive people into
sudden irrelevancy. Hers was feminine irrelevancy. A male genius,
a male ruffian, or even a male lunatic, would not have behaved
exactly as she did behave. There is a softness in masculine nature,
even the most brutal, which acts as a check.

While the girl slept those two, the woman of forty, an age in itself
terrible, and that hopeless young "wrong 'un" of twenty-three (also
well connected I believe) had some sort of subdued row in the
cleared rooms: wardrobes open, drawers half pulled out and empty,
trunks locked and strapped, furniture in idle disarray, and not so
much as a single scrap of paper left behind on the tables. The
maid, whom the governess and the pupil shared between them, after
finishing with Flora, came to the door as usual, but was not
admitted. She heard the two voices in dispute before she knocked,
and then being sent away retreated at once--the only person in the
house convinced at that time that there was "something up."

Dark and, so to speak, inscrutable spaces being met with in life
there must be such places in any statement dealing with life. In
what I am telling you of now--an episode of one of my humdrum
holidays in the green country, recalled quite naturally after all
the years by our meeting a man who has been a blue-water sailor--
this evening confabulation is a dark, inscrutable spot. And we may
conjecture what we like. I have no difficulty in imagining that the
woman--of forty, and the chief of the enterprise--must have raged at
large. And perhaps the other did not rage enough. Youth feels
deeply it is true, but it has not the same vivid sense of lost
opportunities. It believes in the absolute reality of time. And
then, in that abominable scamp with his youth already soiled,
withered like a plucked flower ready to be flung on some rotting
heap of rubbish, no very genuine feeling about anything could exist-
-not even about the hazards of his own unclean existence. A
sneering half-laugh with some such remark as: "We are properly sold
and no mistake" would have been enough to make trouble in that way.
And then another sneer, "Waste time enough over it too," followed
perhaps by the bitter retort from the other party "You seemed to
like it well enough though, playing the fool with that chit of a
girl." Something of that sort. Don't you see it--eh . . . "

Marlow looked at me with his dark penetrating glance. I was struck
by the absolute verisimilitude of this suggestion. But we were
always tilting at each other. I saw an opening and pushed my
uncandid thrust.

"You have a ghastly imagination," I said with a cheerfully sceptical

"Well, and if I have," he returned unabashed. "But let me remind
you that this situation came to me unasked. I am like a puzzle-
headed chief-mate we had once in the dear old Samarcand when I was a
youngster. The fellow went gravely about trying to "account to
himself"--his favourite expression--for a lot of things no one would
care to bother one's head about. He was an old idiot but he was
also an accomplished practical seaman. I was quite a boy and he
impressed me. I must have caught the disposition from him."

"Well--go on with your accounting then," I said, assuming an air of

"That's just it." Marlow fell into his stride at once. "That's
just it. Mere disappointed cupidity cannot account for the
proceedings of the next morning; proceedings which I shall not
describe to you--but which I shall tell you of presently, not as a
matter of conjecture but of actual fact. Meantime returning to that
evening altercation in deadened tones within the private apartment
of Miss de Barral's governess, what if I were to tell you that
disappointment had most likely made them touchy with each other, but
that perhaps the secret of his careless, railing behaviour, was in
the thought, springing up within him with an emphatic oath of relief
"Now there's nothing to prevent me from breaking away from that old
woman." And that the secret of her envenomed rage, not against this
miserable and attractive wretch, but against fate, accident and the
whole course of human life, concentrating its venom on de Barral and
including the innocent girl herself, was in the thought, in the fear
crying within her "Now I have nothing to hold him with . . . "

I couldn't refuse Marlow the tribute of a prolonged whistle "Phew!
So you suppose that . . . "

He waved his hand impatiently.

"I don't suppose. It was so. And anyhow why shouldn't you accept
the supposition. Do you look upon governesses as creatures above
suspicion or necessarily of moral perfection? I suppose their
hearts would not stand looking into much better than other people's.
Why shouldn't a governess have passions, all the passions, even that
of libertinage, and even ungovernable passions; yet suppressed by
the very same means which keep the rest of us in order: early
training--necessity--circumstances--fear of consequences; till there
comes an age, a time when the restraint of years becomes
intolerable--and infatuation irresistible . . . "

"But if infatuation--quite possible I admit," I argued, "how do you
account for the nature of the conspiracy."

"You expect a cogency of conduct not usual in women," said Marlow.
"The subterfuges of a menaced passion are not to be fathomed. You
think it is going on the way it looks, whereas it is capable, for
its own ends, of walking backwards into a precipice.

When one once acknowledges that she was not a common woman, then all
this is easily understood. She was abominable but she was not
common. She had suffered in her life not from its constant
inferiority but from constant self-repression. A common woman
finding herself placed in a commanding position might have formed
the design to become the second Mrs. de Barral. Which would have
been impracticable. De Barral would not have known what to do with
a wife. But even if by some impossible chance he had made advances,
this governess would have repulsed him with scorn. She had treated
him always as an inferior being with an assured, distant politeness.
In her composed, schooled manner she despised and disliked both
father and daughter exceedingly. I have a notion that she had
always disliked intensely all her charges including the two ducal
(if they were ducal) little girls with whom she had dazzled de
Barral. What an odious, ungratified existence it must have been for
a woman as avid of all the sensuous emotions which life can give as
most of her betters.

She had seen her youth vanish, her freshness disappear, her hopes
die, and now she felt her flaming middle-age slipping away from her.
No wonder that with her admirably dressed, abundant hair, thickly
sprinkled with white threads and adding to her elegant aspect the
piquant distinction of a powdered coiffure--no wonder, I say, that
she clung desperately to her last infatuation for that graceless
young scamp, even to the extent of hatching for him that amazing
plot. He was not so far gone in degradation as to make him utterly
hopeless for such an attempt. She hoped to keep him straight with
that enormous bribe. She was clearly a woman uncommon enough to
live without illusions--which, of course, does not mean that she was
reasonable. She had said to herself, perhaps with a fury of self-
contempt "In a few years I shall be too old for anybody. Meantime I
shall have him--and I shall hold him by throwing to him the money of
that ordinary, silly, little girl of no account." Well, it was a
desperate expedient--but she thought it worth while. And besides
there is hardly a woman in the world, no matter how hard, depraved
or frantic, in whom something of the maternal instinct does not
survive, unconsumed like a salamander, in the fires of the most
abandoned passion. Yes there might have been that sentiment for him
too. There WAS no doubt. So I say again: No wonder! No wonder
that she raged at everything--and perhaps even at him, with
contradictory reproaches: for regretting the girl, a little fool
who would never in her life be worth anybody's attention, and for
taking the disaster itself with a cynical levity in which she
perceived a flavour of revolt.

And so the altercation in the night went on, over the irremediable.
He arguing "What's the hurry? Why clear out like this?" perhaps a
little sorry for the girl and as usual without a penny in his
pocket, appreciating the comfortable quarters, wishing to linger on
as long as possible in the shameless enjoyment of this already
doomed luxury. There was really no hurry for a few days. Always
time enough to vanish. And, with that, a touch of masculine
softness, a sort of regard for appearances surviving his
degradation: "You might behave decently at the last, Eliza." But
there was no softness in the sallow face under the gala effect of
powdered hair, its formal calmness gone, the dark-ringed eyes
glaring at him with a sort of hunger. "No! No! If it is as you
say then not a day, not an hour, not a moment." She stuck to it,
very determined that there should be no more of that boy and girl
philandering since the object of it was gone; angry with herself for
having suffered from it so much in the past, furious at its having
been all in vain.

But she was reasonable enough not to quarrel with him finally. What
was the good? She found means to placate him. The only means. As
long as there was some money to be got she had hold of him. "Now go
away. We shall do no good by any more of this sort of talk. I want
to be alone for a bit." He went away, sulkily acquiescent. There
was a room always kept ready for him on the same floor, at the
further end of a short thickly carpeted passage.

How she passed the night, this woman with no illusions to help her
through the hours which must have been sleepless I shouldn't like to
say. It ended at last; and this strange victim of the de Barral
failure, whose name would never be known to the Official Receiver,
came down to breakfast, impenetrable in her everyday perfection.
From the very first, somehow, she had accepted the fatal news for
true. All her life she had never believed in her luck, with that
pessimism of the passionate who at bottom feel themselves to be the
outcasts of a morally restrained universe. But this did not make it
any easier, on opening the morning paper feverishly, to see the
thing confirmed. Oh yes! It was there. The Orb had suspended
payment--the first growl of the storm faint as yet, but to the
initiated the forerunner of a deluge. As an item of news it was not
indecently displayed. It was not displayed at all in a sense. The
serious paper, the only one of the great dailies which had always
maintained an attitude of reserve towards the de Barral group of
banks, had its "manner." Yes! a modest item of news! But there was
also, on another page, a special financial article in a hostile tone
beginning with the words "We have always feared" and a guarded,
half-column leader, opening with the phrase: "It is a deplorable
sign of the times" what was, in effect, an austere, general rebuke
to the absurd infatuations of the investing public. She glanced
through these articles, a line here and a line there--no more was
necessary to catch beyond doubt the murmur of the oncoming flood.
Several slighting references by name to de Barral revived her
animosity against the man, suddenly, as by the effect of unforeseen
moral support. The miserable wretch! . . . "

"--You understand," Marlow interrupted the current of his narrative,
"that in order to be consecutive in my relation of this affair I am
telling you at once the details which I heard from Mrs. Fyne later
in the day, as well as what little Fyne imparted to me with his
usual solemnity during that morning call. As you may easily guess
the Fynes, in their apartments, had read the news at the same time,
and, as a matter of fact, in the same august and highly moral
newspaper, as the governess in the luxurious mansion a few doors
down on the opposite side of the street. But they read them with
different feelings. They were thunderstruck. Fyne had to explain
the full purport of the intelligence to Mrs. Fyne whose first cry
was that of relief. Then that poor child would be safe from these
designing, horrid people. Mrs. Fyne did not know what it might mean
to be suddenly reduced from riches to absolute penury. Fyne with
his masculine imagination was less inclined to rejoice extravagantly
at the girl's escape from the moral dangers which had been menacing
her defenceless existence. It was a confoundedly big price to pay.
What an unfortunate little thing she was! "We might be able to do
something to comfort that poor child at any rate for the time she is
here," said Mrs. Fyne. She felt under a sort of moral obligation
not to be indifferent. But no comfort for anyone could be got by
rushing out into the street at this early hour; and so, following
the advice of Fyne not to act hastily, they both sat down at the
window and stared feelingly at the great house, awful to their eyes
in its stolid, prosperous, expensive respectability with ruin
absolutely standing at the door.

By that time, or very soon after, all Brighton had the information
and formed a more or less just appreciation of its gravity. The
butler in Miss de Barral's big house had seen the news, perhaps
earlier than anybody within a mile of the Parade, in the course of
his morning duties of which one was to dry the freshly delivered
paper before the fire--an occasion to glance at it which no
intelligent man could have neglected. He communicated to the rest
of the household his vaguely forcible impression that something had
gone d-bly wrong with the affairs of "her father in London."

This brought an atmosphere of constraint through the house, which
Flora de Barral coming down somewhat later than usual could not help
noticing in her own way. Everybody seemed to stare so stupidly
somehow; she feared a dull day.

In the dining-room the governess in her place, a newspaper half-
concealed under the cloth on her lap, after a few words exchanged
with lips that seemed hardly to move, remaining motionless, her eyes
fixed before her in an enduring silence; and presently Charley
coming in to whom she did not even give a glance. He hardly said
good morning, though he had a half-hearted try to smile at the girl,
and sitting opposite her with his eyes on his plate and slight
quivers passing along the line of his clean-shaven jaw, he too had
nothing to say. It was dull, horribly dull to begin one's day like
this; but she knew what it was. These never-ending family affairs!
It was not for the first time that she had suffered from their
depressing after-effects on these two. It was a shame that the
delightful Charley should be made dull by these stupid talks, and it
was perfectly stupid of him to let himself be upset like this by his

When after a period of still, as if calculating, immobility, her
governess got up abruptly and went out with the paper in her hand,
almost immediately afterwards followed by Charley who left his
breakfast half eaten, the girl was positively relieved. They would
have it out that morning whatever it was, and be themselves again in
the afternoon. At least Charley would be. To the moods of her
governess she did not attach so much importance.

For the first time that morning the Fynes saw the front door of the
awful house open and the objectionable young man issue forth, his
rascality visible to their prejudiced eyes in his very bowler hat
and in the smart cut of his short fawn overcoat. He walked away
rapidly like a man hurrying to catch a train, glancing from side to
side as though he were carrying something off. Could he be
departing for good? Undoubtedly, undoubtedly! But Mrs. Fyne's
fervent "thank goodness" turned out to be a bit, as the Americans--
some Americans--say "previous." In a very short time the odious
fellow appeared again, strolling, absolutely strolling back, his hat
now tilted a little on one side, with an air of leisure and
satisfaction. Mrs. Fyne groaned not only in the spirit, at this
sight, but in the flesh, audibly; and asked her husband what it
might mean. Fyne naturally couldn't say. Mrs. Fyne believed that
there was something horrid in progress and meantime the object of
her detestation had gone up the steps and had knocked at the door
which at once opened to admit him.

He had been only as far as the bank.

His reason for leaving his breakfast unfinished to run after Miss de
Barral's governess, was to speak to her in reference to that very
errand possessing the utmost possible importance in his eyes. He
shrugged his shoulders at the nervousness of her eyes and hands, at
the half-strangled whisper "I had to go out. I could hardly contain
myself." That was her affair. He was, with a young man's
squeamishness, rather sick of her ferocity. He did not understand
it. Men do not accumulate hate against each other in tiny amounts,
treasuring every pinch carefully till it grows at last into a
monstrous and explosive hoard. He had run out after her to remind
her of the balance at the bank. What about lifting that money
without wasting any more time? She had promised him to leave
nothing behind.

An account opened in her name for the expenses of the establishment
in Brighton, had been fed by de Barral with deferential lavishness.
The governess crossed the wide hall into a little room at the side
where she sat down to write the cheque, which he hastened out to go
and cash as if it were stolen or a forgery. As observed by the
Fynes, his uneasy appearance on leaving the house arose from the
fact that his first trouble having been caused by a cheque of
doubtful authenticity, the possession of a document of the sort made
him unreasonably uncomfortable till this one was safely cashed. And
after all, you know it was stealing of an indirect sort; for the
money was de Barral's money if the account was in the name of the
accomplished lady. At any rate the cheque was cashed. On getting
hold of the notes and gold he recovered his jaunty bearing, it being
well known that with certain natures the presence of money (even
stolen) in the pocket, acts as a tonic, or at least as a stimulant.
He cocked his hat a little on one side as though he had had a drink
or two--which indeed he might have had in reality, to celebrate the

The governess had been waiting for his return in the hall,
disregarding the side-glances of the butler as he went in and out of
the dining-room clearing away the breakfast things. It was she,
herself, who had opened the door so promptly. "It's all right," he
said touching his breast-pocket; and she did not dare, the miserable
wretch without illusions, she did not dare ask him to hand it over.
They looked at each other in silence. He nodded significantly:
"Where is she now?" and she whispered "Gone into the drawing-room.
Want to see her again?" with an archly black look which he
acknowledged by a muttered, surly: "I am damned if I do. Well, as
you want to bolt like this, why don't we go now?"

She set her lips with cruel obstinacy and shook her head. She had
her idea, her completed plan. At that moment the Fynes, still at
the window and watching like a pair of private detectives, saw a man
with a long grey beard and a jovial face go up the steps helping
himself with a thick stick, and knock at the door. Who could he be?

He was one of Miss de Barral's masters. She had lately taken up
painting in water-colours, having read in a high-class woman's
weekly paper that a great many princesses of the European royal
houses were cultivating that art. This was the water-colour
morning; and the teacher, a veteran of many exhibitions, of a
venerable and jovial aspect, had turned up with his usual
punctuality. He was no great reader of morning papers, and even had
he seen the news it is very likely he would not have understood its
real purport. At any rate he turned up, as the governess expected
him to do, and the Fynes saw him pass through the fateful door.

He bowed cordially to the lady in charge of Miss de Barral's
education, whom he saw in the hall engaged in conversation with a
very good-looking but somewhat raffish young gentleman. She turned
to him graciously: "Flora is already waiting for you in the

The cultivation of the art said to be patronized by princesses was
pursued in the drawing-room from considerations of the right kind of
light. The governess preceded the master up the stairs and into the
room where Miss de Barral was found arrayed in a holland pinafore
(also of the right kind for the pursuit of the art) and smilingly
expectant. The water-colour lesson enlivened by the jocular
conversation of the kindly, humorous, old man was always great fun;
and she felt she would be compensated for the tiresome beginning of
the day.

Her governess generally was present at the lesson; but on this
occasion she only sat down till the master and pupil had gone to
work in earnest, and then as though she had suddenly remembered some
order to give, rose quietly and went out of the room.

Once outside, the servants summoned by the passing maid without a
bell being rung, and quick, quick, let all this luggage be taken
down into the hall, and let one of you call a cab. She stood
outside the drawing-room door on the landing, looking at each piece,
trunk, leather cases, portmanteaus, being carried past her, her
brows knitted and her aspect so sombre and absorbed that it took
some little time for the butler to muster courage enough to speak to
her. But he reflected that he was a free-born Briton and had his
rights. He spoke straight to the point but in the usual respectful

"Beg you pardon, ma'am--but are you going away for good?"

He was startled by her tone. Its unexpected, unlady-like harshness
fell on his trained ear with the disagreeable effect of a false
note. "Yes. I am going away. And the best thing for all of you is
to go away too, as soon as you like. You can go now, to-day, this
moment. You had your wages paid you only last week. The longer you
stay the greater your loss. But I have nothing to do with it now.
You are the servants of Mr. de Barral--you know."

The butler was astounded by the manner of this advice, and as his
eyes wandered to the drawing-room door the governess extended her
arm as if to bar the way. "Nobody goes in there." And that was
said still in another tone, such a tone that all trace of the
trained respectfulness vanished from the butler's bearing. He
stared at her with a frank wondering gaze. "Not till I am gone,"
she added, and there was such an expression on her face that the man
was daunted by the mystery of it. He shrugged his shoulders
slightly and without another word went down the stairs on his way to
the basement, brushing in the hall past Mr. Charles who hat on head
and both hands rammed deep into his overcoat pockets paced up and
down as though on sentry duty there.

The ladies' maid was the only servant upstairs, hovering in the
passage on the first floor, curious and as if fascinated by the
woman who stood there guarding the door. Being beckoned closer
imperiously and asked by the governess to bring out of the now empty
rooms the hat and veil, the only objects besides the furniture still
to be found there, she did so in silence but inwardly fluttered.
And while waiting uneasily, with the veil, before that woman who,
without moving a step away from the drawing-room door was pinning
with careless haste her hat on her head, she heard within a sudden
burst of laughter from Miss de Barral enjoying the fun of the water-
colour lesson given her for the last time by the cheery old man.

Mr. and Mrs. Fyne ambushed at their window--a most incredible
occupation for people of their kind--saw with renewed anxiety a cab
come to the door, and watched some luggage being carried out and put
on its roof. The butler appeared for a moment, then went in again.
What did it mean? Was Flora going to be taken to her father; or
were these people, that woman and her horrible nephew, about to
carry her off somewhere? Fyne couldn't tell. He doubted the last,
Flora having now, he judged, no value, either positive or
speculative. Though no great reader of character he did not credit
the governess with humane intentions. He confessed to me naively
that he was excited as if watching some action on the stage. Then
the thought struck him that the girl might have had some money
settled on her, be possessed of some means, of some little fortune
of her own and therefore -

He imparted this theory to his wife who shared fully his
consternation. "I can't believe the child will go away without
running in to say good-bye to us," she murmured. "We must find out!
I shall ask her." But at that very moment the cab rolled away,
empty inside, and the door of the house which had been standing
slightly ajar till then was pushed to.

They remained silent staring at it till Mrs. Fyne whispered
doubtfully "I really think I must go over." Fyne didn't answer for
a while (his is a reflective mind, you know), and then as if Mrs.
Fyne's whispers had an occult power over that door it opened wide
again and the white-bearded man issued, astonishingly active in his
movements, using his stick almost like a leaping-pole to get down
the steps; and hobbled away briskly along the pavement. Naturally
the Fynes were too far off to make out the expression of his face.
But it would not have helped them very much to a guess at the
conditions inside the house. The expression was humorously puzzled-
-nothing more.

For, at the end of his lesson, seizing his trusty stick and coming
out with his habitual vivacity, he very nearly cannoned just outside
the drawing-room door into the back of Miss de Barral's governess.
He stopped himself in time and she turned round swiftly. It was
embarrassing; he apologised; but her face was not startled; it was
not aware of him; it wore a singular expression of resolution. A
very singular expression which, as it were, detained him for a
moment. In order to cover his embarrassment, he made some inane
remark on the weather, upon which, instead of returning another
inane remark according to the tacit rules of the game, she only gave
him a smile of unfathomable meaning. Nothing could have been more
singular. The good-looking young gentleman of questionable
appearance took not the slightest notice of him in the hall. No
servant was to be seen. He let himself out pulling the door to
behind him with a crash as, in a manner, he was forced to do to get
it shut at all.

When the echo of it had died away the woman on the landing leaned
over the banister and called out bitterly to the man below "Don't
you want to come up and say good-bye." He had an impatient movement
of the shoulders and went on pacing to and fro as though he had not
heard. But suddenly he checked himself, stood still for a moment,
then with a gloomy face and without taking his hands out of his
pockets ran smartly up the stairs. Already facing the door she
turned her head for a whispered taunt: "Come! Confess you were
dying to see her stupid little face once more,"--to which he
disdained to answer.

Flora de Barral, still seated before the table at which she had been
wording on her sketch, raised her head at the noise of the opening
door. The invading manner of their entrance gave her the sense of
something she had never seen before. She knew them well. She knew
the woman better than she knew her father. There had been between
them an intimacy of relation as great as it can possibly be without
the final closeness of affection. The delightful Charley walked in,
with his eyes fixed on the back of her governess whose raised veil
hid her forehead like a brown band above the black line of the
eyebrows. The girl was astounded and alarmed by the altogether
unknown expression in the woman's face. The stress of passion often
discloses an aspect of the personality completely ignored till then
by its closest intimates. There was something like an emanation of
evil from her eyes and from the face of the other, who, exactly
behind her and overtopping her by half a head, kept his eyelids
lowered in a sinister fashion--which in the poor girl, reached,
stirred, set free that faculty of unreasoning explosive terror lying
locked up at the bottom of all human hearts and of the hearts of
animals as well. With suddenly enlarged pupils and a movement as
instinctive almost as the bounding of a startled fawn, she jumped up
and found herself in the middle of the big room, exclaiming at those
amazing and familiar strangers.

"What do you want?"

You will note that she cried: What do you want? Not: What has
happened? She told Mrs. Fyne that she had received suddenly the
feeling of being personally attacked. And that must have been very
terrifying. The woman before her had been the wisdom, the
authority, the protection of life, security embodied and visible and

You may imagine then the force of the shock in the intuitive
perception not merely of danger, for she did not know what was
alarming her, but in the sense of the security being gone. And not
only security. I don't know how to explain it clearly. Look! Even
a small child lives, plays and suffers in terms of its conception of
its own existence. Imagine, if you can, a fact coming in suddenly
with a force capable of shattering that very conception itself. It
was only because of the girl being still so much of a child that she
escaped mental destruction; that, in other words she got over it.
Could one conceive of her more mature, while still as ignorant as
she was, one must conclude that she would have become an idiot on
the spot--long before the end of that experience. Luckily, people,
whether mature or not mature (and who really is ever mature?) are
for the most part quite incapable of understanding what is happening
to them: a merciful provision of nature to preserve an average
amount of sanity for working purposes in this world . . . "

"But we, my dear Marlow, have the inestimable advantage of
understanding what is happening to others," I struck in. "Or at
least some of us seem to. Is that too a provision of nature? And
what is it for? Is it that we may amuse ourselves gossiping about
each other's affairs? You for instance seem--"

"I don't know what I seem," Marlow silenced me, "and surely life
must be amused somehow. It would be still a very respectable
provision if it were only for that end. But from that same
provision of understanding, there springs in us compassion, charity,
indignation, the sense of solidarity; and in minds of any largeness
an inclination to that indulgence which is next door to affection.
I don't mean to say that I am inclined to an indulgent view of the
precious couple which broke in upon an unsuspecting girl. They came
marching in (it's the very expression she used later on to Mrs.
Fyne) but at her cry they stopped. It must have been startling
enough to them. It was like having the mask torn off when you don't
expect it. The man stopped for good; he didn't offer to move a step
further. But, though the governess had come in there for the very
purpose of taking the mask off for the first time in her life, she
seemed to look upon the frightened cry as a fresh provocation.
"What are you screaming for, you little fool?" she said advancing
alone close to the girl who was affected exactly as if she had seen
Medusa's head with serpentine locks set mysteriously on the
shoulders of that familiar person, in that brown dress, under that
hat she knew so well. It made her lose all her hold on reality.
She told Mrs. Fyne: "I didn't know where I was. I didn't even know
that I was frightened. If she had told me it was a joke I would
have laughed. If she had told me to put on my hat and go out with
her I would have gone to put on my hat and gone out with her and
never said a single word; I should have been convinced I had been
mad for a minute or so, and I would have worried myself to death
rather than breathe a hint of it to her or anyone. But the wretch
put her face close to mine and I could not move. Directly I had
looked into her eyes I felt grown on to the carpet."

It was years afterwards that she used to talk like this to Mrs.
Fyne--and to Mrs. Fyne alone. Nobody else ever heard the story from
her lips. But it was never forgotten. It was always felt; it
remained like a mark on her soul, a sort of mystic wound, to be
contemplated, to be meditated over. And she said further to Mrs.
Fyne, in the course of many confidences provoked by that
contemplation, that, as long as that woman called her names, it was
almost soothing, it was in a manner reassuring. Her imagination
had, like her body, gone off in a wild bound to meet the unknown;
and then to hear after all something which more in its tone than in
its substance was mere venomous abuse, had steadied the inward
flutter of all her being.

"She called me a little fool more times than I can remember. I! A
fool! Why, Mrs. Fyne! I do assure you I had never yet thought at
all; never of anything in the world, till then. I just went on
living. And one can't be a fool without one has at least tried to
think. But what had I ever to think about?"

"And no doubt," commented Marlow, "her life had been a mere life of
sensations--the response to which can neither be foolish nor wise.
It can only be temperamental; and I believe that she was of a
generally happy disposition, a child of the average kind. Even when
she was asked violently whether she imagined that there was anything
in her, apart from her money, to induce any intelligent person to
take any sort of interest in her existence, she only caught her
breath in one dry sob and said nothing, made no other sound, made no
movement. When she was viciously assured that she was in heart,
mind, manner and appearance, an utterly common and insipid creature,
she remained still, without indignation, without anger. She stood,
a frail and passive vessel into which the other went on pouring all
the accumulated dislike for all her pupils, her scorn of all her
employers (the ducal one included), the accumulated resentment, the
infinite hatred of all these unrelieved years of--I won't say
hypocrisy. The practice of perfect hypocrisy is a relief in itself,
a secret triumph of the vilest sort, no doubt, but still a way of
getting even with the common morality from which some of us appear
to suffer so much. No! I will say the years, the passionate,
bitter years, of restraint, the iron, admirably mannered restraint
at every moment, in a never-failing perfect correctness of speech,
glances, movements, smiles, gestures, establishing for her a high
reputation, an impressive record of success in her sphere. It had
been like living half strangled for years.

And all this torture for nothing, in the end! What looked at last
like a possible prize (oh, without illusions! but still a prize)
broken in her hands, fallen in the dust, the bitter dust, of
disappointment, she revelled in the miserable revenge--pretty safe
too--only regretting the unworthiness of the girlish figure which
stood for so much she had longed to be able to spit venom at, if
only once, in perfect liberty. The presence of the young man at her
back increased both her satisfaction and her rage. But the very
violence of the attack seemed to defeat its end by rendering the
representative victim as it were insensible. The cause of this
outrage naturally escaping the girl's imagination her attitude was
in effect that of dense, hopeless stupidity. And it is a fact that
the worst shocks of life are often received without outcries,
without gestures, without a flow of tears and the convulsions of
sobbing. The insatiable governess missed these signs exceedingly.
This pitiful stolidity was only a fresh provocation. Yet the poor
girl was deadly pale.

"I was cold," she used to explain to Mrs. Fyne. "I had had time to
get terrified. She had pushed her face so near mine and her teeth
looked as though she wanted to bite me. Her eyes seemed to have
become quite dry, hard and small in a lot of horrible wrinkles. I
was too afraid of her to shudder, too afraid of her to put my
fingers to my ears. I didn't know what I expected her to call me
next, but when she told me I was no better than a beggar--that there
would be no more masters, no more servants, no more horses for me--I
said to myself: Is that all? I should have laughed if I hadn't
been too afraid of her to make the least little sound."

It seemed that poor Flora had to know all the possible phases of
that sort of anguish, beginning with instinctive panic, through the
bewildered stage, the frozen stage and the stage of blanched
apprehension, down to the instinctive prudence of extreme terror--
the stillness of the mouse. But when she heard herself called the
child of a cheat and a swindler, the very monstrous unexpectedness
of this caused in her a revulsion towards letting herself go. She
screamed out all at once "You mustn't speak like this of Papa!"

The effort of it uprooted her from that spot where her little feet
seemed dug deep into the thick luxurious carpet, and she retreated
backwards to a distant part of the room, hearing herself repeat "You
mustn't, you mustn't" as if it were somebody else screaming. She
came to a chair and flung herself into it. Thereupon the somebody
else ceased screaming and she lolled, exhausted, sightless, in a
silent room, as if indifferent to everything and without a single
thought in her head.

The next few seconds seemed to last for ever so long; a black abyss
of time separating what was past and gone from the reappearance of
the governess and the reawakening of fear. And that woman was
forcing the words through her set teeth: "You say I mustn't, I
mustn't. All the world will be speaking of him like this to-morrow.
They will say it, and they'll print it. You shall hear it and you
shall read it--and then you shall know whose daughter you are."

Her face lighted up with an atrocious satisfaction. "He's nothing
but a thief," she cried, "this father of yours. As to you I have
never been deceived in you for a moment. I have been growing more
and more sick of you for years. You are a vulgar, silly nonentity,
and you shall go back to where you belong, whatever low place you
have sprung from, and beg your bread--that is if anybody's charity
will have anything to do with you, which I doubt--"

She would have gone on regardless of the enormous eyes, of the open
mouth of the girl who sat up suddenly with the wild staring
expression of being choked by invisible fingers on her throat, and
yet horribly pale. The effect on her constitution was so profound,
Mrs. Fyne told me, that she who as a child had a rather pretty
delicate colouring, showed a white bloodless face for a couple of
years afterwards, and remained always liable at the slightest
emotion to an extraordinary ghost-like whiteness. The end came in
the abomination of desolation of the poor child's miserable cry for
help: "Charley! Charley!" coming from her throat in hidden gasping
efforts. Her enlarged eyes had discovered him where he stood
motionless and dumb.

He started from his immobility, a hand withdrawn brusquely from the
pocket of his overcoat, strode up to the woman, seized her by the
arm from behind, saying in a rough commanding tone: "Come away,
Eliza." In an instant the child saw them close together and remote,
near the door, gone through the door, which she neither heard nor
saw being opened or shut. But it was shut. Oh yes, it was shut.
Her slow unseeing glance wandered all over the room. For some time
longer she remained leaning forward, collecting her strength,
doubting if she would be able to stand. She stood up at last.
Everything about her spun round in an oppressive silence. She
remembered perfectly--as she told Mrs. Fyne--that clinging to the
arm of the chair she called out twice "Papa! Papa!" At the thought
that he was far away in London everything about her became quite
still. Then, frightened suddenly by the solitude of that empty
room, she rushed out of it blindly.

With that fatal diffidence in well doing, inherent in the present
condition of humanity, the Fynes continued to watch at their window.
"It's always so difficult to know what to do for the best," Fyne
assured me. It is. Good intentions stand in their own way so much.
Whereas if you want to do harm to anyone you needn't hesitate. You
have only to go on. No one will reproach you with your mistakes or
call you a confounded, clumsy meddler. The Fynes watched the door,
the closed street door inimical somehow to their benevolent
thoughts, the face of the house cruelly impenetrable. It was just
as on any other day. The unchanged daily aspect of inanimate things
is so impressive that Fyne went back into the room for a moment,
picked up the paper again, and ran his eyes over the item of news.
No doubt of it. It looked very bad. He came back to the window and
Mrs. Fyne. Tired out as she was she sat there resolute and ready
for responsibility. But she had no suggestion to offer. People do
fear a rebuff wonderfully, and all her audacity was in her thoughts.
She shrank from the incomparably insolent manner of the governess.
Fyne stood by her side, as in those old-fashioned photographs of
married couples where you see a husband with his hand on the back of
his wife's chair. And they were about as efficient as an old
photograph, and as still, till Mrs. Fyne started slightly. The
street door had swung open, and, bursting out, appeared the young
man, his hat (Mrs. Fyne observed) tilted forward over his eyes.
After him the governess slipped through, turning round at once to
shut the door behind her with care. Meantime the man went down the
white steps and strode along the pavement, his hands rammed deep
into the pockets of his fawn overcoat. The woman, that woman of
composed movements, of deliberate superior manner, took a little run
to catch up with him, and directly she had caught up with him tried
to introduce her hand under his arm. Mrs. Fyne saw the brusque half
turn of the fellow's body as one avoids an importunate contact,
defeating her attempt rudely. She did not try again but kept pace
with his stride, and Mrs. Fyne watched them, walking independently,
turn the corner of the street side by side, disappear for ever.

The Fynes looked at each other eloquently, doubtfully: What do you
think of this? Then with common accord turned their eyes back to
the street door, closed, massive, dark; the great, clear-brass
knocker shining in a quiet slant of sunshine cut by a diagonal line
of heavy shade filling the further end of the street. Could the
girl be already gone? Sent away to her father? Had she any
relations? Nobody but de Barral himself ever came to see her, Mrs.
Fyne remembered; and she had the instantaneous, profound, maternal
perception of the child's loneliness--and a girl too! It was
irresistible. And, besides, the departure of the governess was not
without its encouraging influence. "I am going over at once to find
out," she declared resolutely but still staring across the street.
Her intention was arrested by the sight of that awful, sombrely
glistening door, swinging back suddenly on the yawning darkness of
the hall, out of which literally flew out, right out on the
pavement, almost without touching the white steps, a little figure
swathed in a holland pinafore up to the chin, its hair streaming
back from its head, darting past a lamp-post, past the red pillar-
box . . . "Here," cried Mrs. Fyne; "she's coming here! Run, John!

Fyne bounded out of the room. This is his own word. Bounded! He
assured me with intensified solemnity that he bounded; and the sight
of the short and muscular Fyne bounding gravely about the
circumscribed passages and staircases of a small, very high class,
private hotel, would have been worth any amount of money to a man
greedy of memorable impressions. But as I looked at him, the desire
of laughter at my very lips, I asked myself: how many men could be
found ready to compromise their cherished gravity for the sake of
the unimportant child of a ruined financier with an ugly, black
cloud already wreathing his head. I didn't laugh at little Fyne. I
encouraged him: "You did!--very good . . . Well?"

His main thought was to save the child from some unpleasant
interference. There was a porter downstairs, page boys; some people
going away with their trunks in the passage; a railway omnibus at
the door, white-breasted waiters dodging about the entrance.

He was in time. He was at the door before she reached it in her
blind course. She did not recognize him; perhaps she did not see
him. He caught her by the arm as she ran past and, very sensibly,
without trying to check her, simply darted in with her and up the
stairs, causing no end of consternation amongst the people in his
way. They scattered. What might have been their thoughts at the
spectacle of a shameless middle-aged man abducting headlong into the
upper regions of a respectable hotel a terrified young girl
obviously under age, I don't know. And Fyne (he told me so) did not
care for what people might think. All he wanted was to reach his
wife before the girl collapsed. For a time she ran with him but at
the last flight of stairs he had to seize and half drag, half carry
her to his wife. Mrs. Fyne waited at the door with her quite

Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest