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Fortitude
by Hugh Walpole
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He stood facing her and a sudden awkwardness came over both of them. The fire was dead (save for one red coal), and the windows rattled like pistol-shots. He was feeling perhaps that he had told her too much, and the reserve of his age, the fear of being indiscreet, had come upon him. And with her there was the difficulty of not knowing exactly what comfort it was that he wanted, or whether, indeed, any kind of comfort would not be an insult to him. And, with all that awkwardness, there was also a knowledge that they had never been so near together before, an intimacy had been established that night that would never again be broken.

Into their silence there came a knock on the door. When Miss Monogue opened it the stern figure of Mrs. Brockett confronted her.

"I beg your pardon, Miss Monogue, but is Mr. Westcott here?"

Peter stepped forward.

"Oh, I'm sure I'm sorry to have to disturb you, Mr. Westcott, but there's a man outside on the steps who insists on seeing you."

"Seeing me?"

"Yes—he won't come in or go away. He won't move until he's seen you. Very obstinate I'm sure—and such a night! Rather late, too—"

Mrs. Brockett was obviously displeased. Her tall black figure was drawn up outside the door, as a sentry might guard Buckingham Palace. There was a confusion of regality, displeasure, and grim humour in her attitude. But Peter was a favourite of hers. With a hurried goodnight to Miss Monogue he left the two women standing on the stairs and went to the hall-door.

When he opened it the wind was blowing up the steps so furiously that it flung him back into the hall again. Outside in the square the world was a wild tempestuous black, only, a little to the right, the feeble glow of the lamp blew hither and thither in the wind. The rain had stopped but all the pipes and funnels of the city were roaring with water. The noise was that of a thousand chattering voices, and very faintly through the tumult the bells of St. Matthews in Euston Square tinkled the hour.

On the steps a figure was standing bending beneath the wind. The light from the hall shone out on to the black slabs of stone, bright with the shining rain, but his cape covered the man's head. Nevertheless Peter knew at once who it was.

"Stephen," he said, quietly.

The hall door was flung to with a crash; the wind hurled Peter against Stephen's body.

"At last! Oh, Stephen! Why didn't you come before?"

"I couldn't, Master Peter. I oughtn't to of come now, but I 'ad to see yer face a minute. Not more than a minute though—"

"But you must come in now, and get dry things on at once. I'll see Mrs. Brockett, she'll get you a room. I'm not going to let you go now that—"

"No, Master Peter, I can't stop. I mustn't. I 'aven't been so far away all this time as you might have thought. But I mustn't see yer unless I can be of use to yer. And that's what I've come about."

He pressed close up to Peter, held both his hands in his and said: "Look 'ere, Peter boy, yer may be wanting me soon—no, I can't say more than that. But I want yer—to be on the look-out. Down there at the bookshop be ready, and then if any sort o' thing should 'appen down along—why I'm there, d'ye see? I'll be with yer when you want me—"

"Well, but Stephen, what do you mean? What could happen? Anyhow you mustn't go now, like this. I won't let you go—"

"Ah, but I must now—I must. Maybe we shall be meeting soon enough. Only I'm there, boy, if yer wants me. And—keep yer eye open—"

In an instant that warm pressure of the hand was gone; the darker black of Stephen's body no longer silhouetted against the lighter black of the night sky.

Still in Peter's nose there was that scent of wet clothes and the deep, husky voice was in his ears. But, save for the faint yellow flickering lamp, struggling against the tempest, he was alone in the square.

The rain had begun to fall again.



CHAPTER II

THE MAN ON THE LION

I

After the storm, the Fog.

It came, a yellow, shrouded witch down upon the town, clinging, choking, writhing, and bringing in its train a thousand mysteries, a thousand visions. It was many years since so dense and cruel a fog had startled London—in his seven years' experience of the place Peter had known nothing like it, and his mind flew back to that afternoon of his arrival, seven years before, and it seemed to him that he was now moving straight on from that point and that there had been no intervening period at all. The Signer saw in a fog as a cat sees in the dark, and he led Peter to the bookshop without hesitation. He saw a good many other things beside his immediate direction and became comparatively cheerful and happy.

"It is such a good thing that people can't see me," he said. "It relieves one of a lot of responsibility if one's plain to look at—one can act more freely." Certainly the Signor acted with very considerable freedom, darting off suddenly into the fog, apparently with the intention of speaking to some one, and leaving Peter perfectly helpless and then suddenly darting back again, catching Peter in tow and tugging him forward once more.

To the bookshop itself the fog made very little difference. There were always the gas-jets burning over the two dark corners and the top shelves even in the brightest of weather, were mistily shrouded by dust and distance. The fog indeed seemed to bring the books out and, whilst the world outside was so dark, the little shop flickered away under the gas-jets with little spasmodic leaps into light and colour when the door opened and blew the quivering flame.

It was not of the books that Peter was thinking this morning. He sat at a little desk in one dark corner under one of the gas-jets, and Herr Gottfried, huddled up as usual, with his hair sticking out above the desk like a mop, sat under the other; an old brass clock, perched on a heap of books, ticked away the minutes. Otherwise there was silence save when a customer entered, bringing with him a trail of fog, or some one who was not a customer passed solemnly, seriously through to the rooms beyond. The shop was, of course, full of fog, and the books seemed to form into lines and rows and curves in and out amongst the shelves of their own accord.

Peter meanwhile was most intently thinking. He knew as though he had seen it written down in large black letters in front of him, that a period was shortly to be put to his present occupation, but he could not have said how it was that he knew. The finishing of his book left the way clear for a number of things to attack his mind. Here in this misty shop he was beset with questions. Why was he here at all? Had he during these seven years been of such value, that the shop could not get on without him?... To that second question he must certainly answer, no. Why then had Mr. Zanti kept him all this time? Surely because Mr. Zanti was fond of him. Yes, that undoubtedly was a part of the reason. The relationship, all this time, had grown very strong and it was only now, when he set himself seriously to think about it, that he realised how glad he always was when Mr. Zanti returned from his travels and how happy he had been when it had been possible for them to spend an afternoon together. Yes, Mr. Zanti was attached to him; he had often said that he looked upon him as a son, and sometimes it seemed to Peter that the strange man was about to make some declaration, something that would clear the air, and explain the world—but he never did.

Peter had discovered strangely little about him. He knew now that Mr. Zanti's connection with the bookshop was of the very slenderest, that that was indeed entirely Herr Gottfried's affair, and that it was used by the large and smiling gentleman as a cloak and a covering. As a cloak and a covering to what? Well, at any rate, to some large and complicated game that a great number of gentlemen were engaged in playing. Peter knew a good many of them now by sight—untidy, dirty, many, foreigners most, all it seemed to Peter, with an air of attempting something that they could never hope to accomplish. Anything that they might do he was quite sure that they would bungle and, with the hearts of children, the dirty tatters of foreign countries, and the imaginations of exuberant story-tellers, he could see them go, ignorantly, to dreadful catastrophes.

Peter was even conscious that the shop was tolerantly watched by inspectors, detectives, and policemen, and that it was all too childish—whatever it was—for any one to take it in the least seriously. But nevertheless there were elements of very real danger in all those blundering mysteries that had been going on now for so many years, and it was at any rate of the greatest importance to Peter, because he earned his living by it, because of his love for Stephen and his affection for Mr. Zanti, and because if once anything were to happen his one resting-place in this wild sea of London would be swept away and he would be utterly resourceless and destitute.

This last fact bit him, as he sat there in the shop, with sudden and acute sharpness. What a fool he had been, all this time, to let things slide! He should have been making connections, having irons in the fire, bustling about—how could he have sat down thus happily and easily for seven years, as though such a condition of things could continue for ever? He had had wild ideas of "Reuben Hallard" making his fortune!... that showed his ignorance of the world. Let him begin to bustle. He would not lose another moment. There were two things for him now to do, to beard editors (those mythical creatures!) in their caves and to find out where Stephen lived ... both these things as soon as possible.

In the afternoon the fog became of an impenetrable thickness, and beyond the shop it seemed that there was pandemonium. Some fire, blazing at some street corner, flared as though it were the beating heart of all that darkness, and the cries of men and the slow, clumsy passing of the traffic filled the bookshop with sound.

No customers came; Herr Gottfried worked away at his desk, the brass clock ticked, Peter sat listening, waiting.

Herr Gottfried broke the silence once with: "Peter, my friend, at ten o'clock to-night there will be a little music in my room. Herr Dettzolter and his 'cello—a little Brahms—if the fog is not too much for you."

Peter accepted. He loved the low-roofed attic, the clouds of tobacco, the dark corner where he sat and listened to Herr Gottfried's friends (German exiles like Herr Gottfried playing their beloved music). It was his only luxury.

Once two men whom Peter knew very well by sight came into the shop. They were, he believed, Russians—one of them was called Oblotzky—a tall, bearded fierce-looking creature who could speak no English.

Then suddenly, just as Peter was thinking of finding his way home to the boarding-house, Mr. Zanti appeared. He had been away for the last two months, but there he was, his huge body filling the shop, the fog circling his beard like a halo, beaming, calm, and unflustered as though he had just come from the next street.

"Damned fog," he said, and then he went and put his hand on Peter's shoulder and looked down at him smiling.

"Well, 'ow goes the shop?" he said.

"Oh, well enough," said Peter.

"What 'ave you been doing, boy? Finished the book?"

"Yes."

"Ah, good. You'll be ze great man, Peter." He looked down at him proudly as a father might look upon his son.

"Ze damnedest fog—" he began, then suddenly he stopped and Peter felt his hand on his shoulder tighten. "Ze damnedest—" Mr. Zanti said slowly.

Peter looked up into his face. He was listening. Herr Gottfried, standing in the middle of the shop, was also listening.

For a moment there was an intense breathless silence. The noise from the street seemed also, for the instant, to be hushed.

Very slowly, very quietly, Mr. Zanti went to the street door and opened it. A cloud of yellow fog blew into the shop.

"Ze damnedest fog ..." repeated Mr. Zanti, still very slowly, as though he were thinking.

"Any one been?" he said at last to Herr Gottfried.

"Oblotzky."

Mr. Zanti, after flinging a strange, half-affectionate, half-inquisitive look at Peter, went through into the room beyond.

"What ..." said Peter.

"Often enough," interrupted Herr Gottfried, shuffling back to his seat, "young boys want to know—too much ... often enough."

II

The Tressiter children, of whom there were eight, loved Peter with a devotion that was in fact idolatry. They loved him because he understood them so completely and from Anne Susan, aged one and a half, to Rupert Bernard, aged nine, there was no member of the family who did not repose complete trust and confidence in Peter's opinions, and rejoice in his wonderful grasp of the things in the world that really mattered. Other persons might be seen shifting, slowly and laboriously, their estimates and standards in order to bring them into line with the youthful Tressiter estimates and standards.... Peter had his ready without any shifting.

First of all the family did Robin Tressiter, aged four, adore Peter. He was a fat, round child with brown eyes and brown hair, and an immense and overwhelming interest in the world and everything contained therein. He was a silent child, with a delightful fat chuckle when really amused and pleased, and he never cried. His interest in the world led him into strange and terrible catastrophes, and Mrs. Tressiter was always far too busy and too helpless to be of any real assistance. On this foggy afternoon, Peter, arriving at Brockett's after much difficulty and hesitation, found Robin Tressiter, on Miss Monogue's landing, with his head fastened between the railings that overlooked the hall below. He was stuck very fast indeed, but appeared to be perfectly unperturbed—only every now and again he kicked a little with his legs.

"I've sticked my neck in these silly things," he said, when he saw Peter. "You must pull at me."

Peter tried to wriggle the child through, but he found that he must have some one to help him. Urging Robin not to move he knocked at Miss Monogue's door. She opened it, and he stepped back with an apology when he saw that some one else was there.

"It's a friend of mine," Norah Monogue said, "Come in and be introduced, Peter."

"It's only," Peter explained, "that young Robin has got his head stuck in the banisters and I want some one to help me—"

Between them they pulled the boy through to safety. He chuckled.

"I'll do it again," he said.

"I'd rather you didn't," said Peter.

"Then I won't," said Robin. "I did it 'cause Rupert said I couldn't—Rupert's silly ass."

"You mustn't call your brother names or I won't come and see you in bed."

"You will come?" said Robin, very earnestly.

"I will," said Peter, "to-night, if you don't call your brother names."

"I think," said Robin, reflectively, "that now I will hunt for the lion and the tigers on the stairs—"

"Bring him into my room until his bedtime," said Miss Monogue, laughing. "It's safer. Mrs. Tressiter is busy and has quite enough children in with her already."

So Peter brought Robin into Miss Norah Monogue's room and was introduced, at once, to Clare Elizabeth Rossiter—so easily and simply do the furious events of life occur.

She was standing with her back to the window, and the light from Miss Monogue's candles fell on her black dress and her red-gold hair. As he came towards her he knew at once that she was the little girl who had talked to him on a hill-top one Good Friday afternoon. He could almost hear her now as she spoke to Crumpet—the candle-light glow was dim and sacred in the foggy room; the colour of her hair was filled more wonderfully with light and fire. Her hands were so delicate and fine as they moved against her black dress that they seemed to have some harmony of their own like a piece of music or a running stream. She wore blue feathers in her black hat. She did not know him at all when he came forward, but she smiled down at Robin, who was clinging on to Peter's trousers.

"This is a friend of mine, Mr. Westcott," Miss Monogue said.

She turned gravely and met him. They shook hands and then she sat down; suddenly she bent down and took Robin into her lap. He sat there sucking his thumb, and taking every now and again a sudden look at her hair and the light that the candles made on it, but he was very silent and quiet which was unlike him because he generally hated strangers.

Peter sat down and was filled with embarrassment; his heart also was beating very quickly.

"I have met you before," he said suddenly. "You don't remember."

"No—I'm afraid—"

"You had once, a great many years ago, a dog called Crumpet. Once in Cornwall ... one Good Friday, he tumbled into a lime-pit. A boy—"

"Why, of course," she broke in, "I remember you perfectly. Why of all the things! Norah, do you realise? Your friend and I have known each other for eight years. Isn't the world a small place! Why I remember perfectly now!"

She turned and talked to Norah Monogue, and whilst she talked he took her in. Although now she was grown up she was still strangely like that little girl in Cornwall. He realised that now, as he looked at her, he had still something of the same feeling about her as he had had then—that she was some one to be cared for, protected, something fragile that the world might break if she were not guarded.

She was porcelain but without anything of Meredith's "rogue." Because Peter was strong and burly the contrast of her appealing fragility attracted him all the more. Had she not been so perfectly proportioned her size would have been a defect; but now it was simple that her delicacy of colour and feature demanded that slightness and slenderness of build. Her hair was of so burning a red-gold that its colour gave her precisely the setting that she required. She seemed, as she sat there, a little helpless, and Peter fancied that she was wishing him to understand that she wanted friends who should assist her in rather a rough-and-tumble world. Just as she had once appealed to him to save Crumpet, so now she seemed to appeal for some far greater assistance. Ah! how he could protect her! Peter thought.

Something in Peter's steady gaze seemed suddenly to surprise her. She stopped—the colour mounted into her cheeks—she bent down over the boy.

They were both of them supremely conscious of one another. There was a moment.... Then, as men feel, when some music that has held them ceases, they came, with a sense of breathlessness, back to Norah Monogue and her dim room.

Peter was conscious that Robin had watched them both. He almost, Peter thought, chuckled to himself, in his fat solemn way.

"Miss Rossiter," Norah Monogue said—and her voice seemed a long way away—"has just come back from Germany and has brought some wonderful photographs with her. She was going to show them to me when you came in—"

"Let me see them too, please," said Peter.

Robin was put on to the floor and he went slowly and with ceremony to an old brown china Toby that had his place on a little shelf by the door. This Toby—his name was Nathaniel—was an old friend of Robin's. Robin sat on the floor in a corner and told Nathaniel the things about the world that he had noticed. Every now and again he paused for Nathaniel's reply; he was always waiting for him to speak, and the continued silence of a now ancient acquaintance had not shaken Robin's faith.... Robin forgot the rest of the company.

"Photographs?" said Peter.

"Yes. Germany. I have just been there." She looked up at him eagerly and then opened a portfolio that she had behind her chair and began to show them.

He bent gravely forward feeling that all of this was pretence of the most absurd kind and that she also knew that it was.

But they were very beautiful photographs—the most beautiful that he had ever seen, and as each, in its turn, was shown for a moment his eyes met hers and his mouth almost against his will, smiled. His hand too was very near the silk of her dress. If he moved it a very little more then they would touch. He felt that if that happened the room would immediately burst into flame, the air was so charged with the breathless tension; but he watched the little space of air between his fingers and the black silk and his hand did not move.

They were all very silent as she turned the photographs over and there were no sounds but the sharp crackling of the fire as it burst into little spurts of flame, the noise that her hand made on the silk of her dress as she turned each picture and the little mutterings of Robin in his corner as he talked to his Toby.

Peter had never seen anything like this photography. The man had used his medium as delicately as though he had drawn every line. Things stood out—castles, a hill, trees, running water, a shining road—and behind them there was darkness and mystery.

Suddenly Peter cried out:

"Oh! that!" he said. It was the photograph of a great statue standing on a hill that overlooked a river. That was all that could be seen—the background was dark and vague, it was the statue of a man who rode a lion. The lion was of enormous size and struggling to be free, but the man, naked, with his utmost energy, his back set, his arms stiff, had it in control, but only just in control ... his face was terrible in the agony of his struggle and that struggle had lasted for a great period of time ... but at length, when all but defeated, he had mastered his beast.

"Ah that!" Miss Rossiter held it up that Norah Monogue might see it better. "That is on a hill outside a little town in Bavaria. They put it up to a Herr Drexter who had done something, saved their town from riot I think. It's a fine thing, isn't it, and I think it so clever of them to have made him middle-aged with all the marks of the struggle about him—those scars, his face—so that you can see that it's all been tremendous—"

Peter spoke very slowly—"I'd give anything to see that!" he said.

"Well, it's in Bavaria; I wonder that it isn't better known. But funnily enough the people that were with me at the time didn't like it; it was only afterwards, when I showed them the photograph that they saw that there might have been ... aren't people funny?" she ended abruptly, appealing to him with a kind of freemasonry against the world.

But, still bending his brows upon it he said insistently—

"Tell me more about it—the place—everything—"

"There isn't really anything to tell; it's only a very ordinary, very beautiful, little German town. There are many orchards and this forest at the back of it and the river running through it—little cobbled streets and bridges over the river. And then, outside, this great statue on the hill—"

"Ah, but it's wonderful, that man's face—I'd like to go to that town—" He felt perhaps that he was taking it all too seriously for he turned round and said laughing: "The boy's daft on lions—Robin, come and look at this lion—here's an animal for you."

The boy put down the Toby and walked slowly and solemnly toward them. He climbed on to Peter's knee and looked at the photograph: "Oh! it is a lion!" he said at last, rubbing his fat finger on the surface of it to see of what material it was made. "Oh! for me!" he said at last in a shrill, excited voice and clutching on to it with one hand. "For me—to hang over my bed."

"No, old man," Peter answered, "it belongs to the lady here. She must take it away with her."

"Oh! but I want it!" his eyes began to fill with tears.

Miss Rossiter bent down and kissed him. He looked at her distrustfully. "I know now I'm not to have it," he said at last, eyeing her, "or you wouldn't have kissed me."

"Come on," said Peter, afraid of a scene, "the lady will show you the lion another day—meantime I think bed is the thing."

He mounted the boy on to his shoulder and turned round to Miss Rossiter to say "Good-bye." The photograph lay on the table between them—"I shan't forget that," he said.

"Oh! but you must come and see us one day. My mother will be delighted. There are a lot more photographs at home. You must bring him out one day, Norah," she said turning to Miss Monogue.

If he had been a primitive member of society in the Stone Age he would at this point, have placed Robin carefully on the floor and have picked Miss Rossiter up and she should never again have left his care.

As it was he said, "I shall be delighted to come one day."

"We will talk about Cornwall—"

"And Germany."

His hand was burning hot when he gave it her—he knew that she was looking at his eyes.

He was abruptly conscious of Miss Monogue's voice behind him.

"I've read a quarter of the book, Peter."

He wondered as he turned to her how it could be possible to regard two women so differently. To be so sternly critical of one—her hair that was nearly down, a little ink on her thumb, her blouse that was unbuttoned—and of the other to see her all in a glory so that her whole body, for colour and light and beautiful silence, had no equal amongst the possessions of the earth or the wonders of heaven. Here there was a button undone, there there was a flaming fire.

"I won't say anything," Miss Monogue said, "until I've read more, but it's going to be extraordinarily good I think." What did he care about "Reuben Hallard?" What did that matter when he had Claire Elizabeth Rossiter in front of him.

And then he pulled himself up. It must matter. How delighted an hour ago those words would have made him.

"Oh! you think there's something in it?" he said.

"We'll wait," she answered, but her smile and the sparkle in her eyes showed what she thought. What a brick she was!

He turned round back to Miss Rossiter.

"My first book," he said laughing. "Of course we're excited—"

And then he was out of the room in a moment with Robin clutching his hair. He did not want to look at her again ... he had so wonderful a picture!

And as he left Robin in the heart of his family he heard him say—

"Such a lion, Mother, a lady's got—with a man on it—a 'normous lion, and the man hasn't any clothes on, and his legs are all scratched...."



CHAPTER III

ROYAL PERSONAGES ARE COMING

I

Peter, sitting obscurely in a corner of Herr Gottfried's attic on the evening of this eventful day and listening to that string sextette that was written by Brahms when he was nineteen years of age (and it came straight from the heights of Olympus if any piece of music ever did), was conscious of the eyes of Herr Lutz.

Herr Lutz was Herr Gottfried's greatest friend and was notable for three things, his enormous size, his surpassing skill on the violoncello and his devoted attachment to the veriest shrew of a little sharp-boned wife that ever crossed from Germany into England. For all these things Peter loved him, but Herr Lutz was never very actively conscious of Peter because from the moment that he entered Herr Gottfried's attic to the moment he left it his soul was wrapped in the music and in nothing else whatever. To-night as usual he was absorbed and after the second movement of the sextette had come to a most rapturous conclusion he was violently dissatisfied and pulled them back over it again, because they had been ragged and their enthusiasm had got the better of their time and they were altogether disgraceful villains, but through all of this his grey eyes were upon Peter.

Peter, watching from his dark corner even felt that the 'cello was being played especially for his benefit and that Herr Lutz was talking all the time to him through the medium of his instrument. It may have been that he himself was in a state of most exalted emotion, and never until the end of all things mortal and possibly all things eternal will he forget that sextette by Brahms; he may perhaps have put more into Herr Lutz than was really there, but it is certain that he was conscious of the German's attention.

As is common to all persons of his age and condition he was amazed at the glorified vision of everyday things. In Herr Gottfried's flat there was a model of Beethoven in plaster of Paris, a bed, and a tin wash-hand stand, a tiny bookshelf containing some tattered volumes of Reclame's Universal Bibliothek, a piano and six cane-bottomed chairs covered at the moment by the stout bodies of the six musicians—nothing here to light the world with wonder!—and yet to-night, Peter, sitting on a cushion in a dark corner watched the glories of Olympus; the music of heaven was in his ear and before him, laughing at him, smiling, vanishing only to reappear more rapturous and beautiful than ever was the lady, the wonderful and only lady.

His cheeks were hot and his heart was beating so loudly that it was surely no wonder that Herr Lutz had discovered his malady. The sextette came to an end and the six musicians sat, for a moment, silent on their chairs whilst they dragged themselves into the world that they had for a moment forsaken. That was a great instant of silence when every one in the room was concerned entirely with their souls and had forgotten that they so much as had bodies at all. Then Herr Lutz gathered his huge frame together, stuck his hand into his beard and cried aloud for drink.

Beer was provided—conversation was, for the next two hours, volcanic. When twelve o'clock struck in the church round the corner the meeting was broken up.

Herr Lutz said to Peter, "There is still the 'verdammte' fog. Together we will go part of the way."

So they went together. But on the top of the dark and crooked staircase Herr Gottfried stopped Peter.

"Boy," he said and he rubbed his nose with his finger as he always did when he was nervous and embarrassed, "I shouldn't go to the shop for a week or two if I were you."

"Not go?" said Peter astonished.

"No—for reason why—well—who knows? The days come and they go, and again it will be all right for you. I should rub up the Editors, I should—"

"Rub up the Editors?" repeated Peter still confused.

"Yes—have other irons, you know—often enough other irons are handy—"

"Did Zanti tell you to say this to me?"

"No, he says nothing. It is only I—as a friend, you understand—"

"Well, thank you very much," said Peter at last. Herr Gottfried, he reflected, must think that he, Peter, had mints of money if he could so lightly and on so slender a warning propose his abandoning his precious two pounds a week. Moreover there was loyalty to Mr. Zanti to be considered.... Anyway, what did it all mean?

"I can't go," he said at last, "unless Zanti says something to me. But what are they all up to?"

"Seven years," said Herr Gottfried darkly, "has the Boy been in the shop—of so little enquiring a mind is he."

And he would say nothing further. Peter followed Herr Lutz' huge body into the street. They took arms when they encountered the fog and went stumbling along together.

"You are in lof," said Herr Lutz, breathlessly avoiding a lamp post.

"Yes," said Peter, "I am."

"Ah," said Herr Lutz giving Peter's arm a squeeze. "It is the only thing—The—Only—Thing.... However it may be for you—bad or ill—whether she scold or smile, it is a most blessed state."

He spoke when under stress of emotion, in capitals with a pause before the important word.

"It won't come to anything," said Peter. "It can't possibly. I haven't got anything to offer anybody—an uncertain two pounds a week."

"You have a—Career," said Herr Lutz solemnly, "I know—I have often watched you. You have written a—Book. Karl Gottfried has told me. But all that does not matter," he went on impetuously. "It does not matter what you get—It is—Being—in—Love—The—divine—never—to—be—equalled—State—"

The enormous German stopped on an island in the middle of the road and waved his arms. On every side of him through the darkness the traffic rolled and thundered. He waved his arms and exulted because he had been married to a shrew of a wife for thirty years. During that time she had never given him a kind word, not a loving look, but Peter knew that out of all the fog and obscurity that life might bring to him that Word, sprung though it might be out of Teutonic sentiment and Heller's beer, that word, at any rate, was true.

II

London, in the morning, recovered from the fog and prepared to receive Foreign Personages. They were not to arrive for another week, but it was some while since anything of the kind had occurred and London meant to carry it out well. The newspapers were crowded with details; personal anecdotes about the Personages abounded—a Procession was to take place, stands began to climb into the air and the Queen and her visitors were to have addresses presented to them at intervals during the Progress.

To Peter this all seemed supremely unimportant. At the same moment, to confuse little things with big ones, Mrs. Lazarus suddenly decided to die. She had been unwell for many months and her brain had been very clouded and temper uncertain—but now suddenly she felt perfectly well, her intelligence was as sharp and bright as it had ever been and the doctor gave her a week at the utmost. She would like, she said, to have seen the dear Queen ride through the streets amidst the plaudits of the populace, but she supposed it was not to be. So with a lace cap on her head and her nose sharp and shiny she sat up in bed, flicked imaginary bread pellets along the counterpane, talked happily to the boarding-house and made ready to die.

The boarding-house was immensely moved, and Peter, during these days came back early from the bookshop in order to sit with her. He was surprised that he cared as he did. The old lady had been for so long a part of his daily background that he could no more believe in her departure than he could in the sudden disappearance of the dark green curtains and the marble pillars in the dining-room. She had had, from the first, a great liking for Peter. He had never known how much of that affection was an incoherent madness and he had never in any way analysed his own feeling for her, but now he was surprised at the acute sharpness of his regret.

On a bright evening of sunshine, about six o'clock, she died—Mrs. Brockett, the Tressiters, Norah Monogue also were with her at the time. Peter had been with her alone during the earlier afternoon and although she had been very weak she had talked to him in her trembling voice (it was like the noise that two needles knocking against one another would make), and she had told him how she believed in him.

She made him ashamed with the things that she said about him. He had paid her little enough attention, he thought, during these seven years. There were so many things that he might have done. As the afternoon sun streamed into the room and the old lady, her hands like ivory upon the counterpane, fell into a quiet sleep he wondered—Was he bad or good? Was he strong or weak? These things that people said, the affection that people gave him ... he deserved none of it. Surely never were two so opposite presences bound together in one body—he was profoundly selfish, profoundly unselfish, loving, hard, kind, cruel, proud, humble, generous, mean, completely possessed, entirely uncontrolled, old beyond his years, young beyond belief—

As he sat there beside the sleeping old lady he felt a contempt of himself that was beyond all expression, and also he felt a pride at the things that he knew that he might do, a pride that brought the blood to his cheeks.

The Man on the Lion? The Man under the Lion's Paw?... The years would show. A quiet happy serenity passed over Mrs. Lazarus' face and he called the others into the room.

Stern Mrs. Brockett was crying. Mrs. Lazarus woke for a moment and smiled upon them all. She took Peter's hand.

"Be good to old people," she breathed very faintly—then she closed her eyes and so died.

Below in the street a boy was calling the evening papers. "Arrival of the Prince and Princess of Schloss.... Arrival of the Prince and—"

They closed the windows and pulled down the blinds.

II

Thursday was to be the day of Royal Processions, and on Friday old Mrs. Lazarus was to be buried.

To Peter, Wednesday was a day of extravagant confusion—extravagant because it was a day on which nothing was done. Customers were not served in the shop. Editors were not attacked in their lairs. Nothing was done, every one hung about.

Peter could not name any one as directly responsible for this state of things, nor could he define his own condition of mind; only he knew that he could not leave the shop. About its doors and passages there fell all day an air of suspense. Mr. Zanti was himself a little responsible for this; it was so unusual for that large and smiling gentleman to waste the day idly; and yet there he was, starting every now and again for the door, looking into the empty yard from the windows at the back of the house, disappearing sometimes into the rooms above, reappearing suddenly with an air of unconcern a little too elaborately contrived.

Peter felt that Mr. Zanti had a great deal that he would like to say to him, and once or twice he came to him and began "Oh, I say, boy," and then stopped with an air of confusion as though he had recollected something, suddenly.

There was a Russian girl, too, who was about the shop, uneasily on this day. She was thin, slight, very dark; fierce eyes and hands that seemed to be always curving. Her name was Maria Notroska and she was engaged to the big Russian, Oblotzky, whom Peter had seen, on other days up and down through the shop. She spoke to no one. She knew but little English—but she would stand for hours at the door looking out into the street. It was a long uneasy day and Peter was glad when the evening, in slow straight lines of golden light, came in through the black door. The evening too seemed to bring forward a renewed hope of seeing Stephen again—enquiries could bring nothing from either Zanti or Herr Gottfried; they had never heard of the man, oh no!... Stephen Brant? Stephen ...? No! Never—

That sudden springing out of the darkness had meant something however. Peter could still feel his wet clothes and see his shining beard. Yes, if there were any trouble Stephen would be there. What were they all about? Peter closed the shutters of the shop that night without having any explanation to offer. Mr. Zanti was indeed a strange man; when Peter turned to go he stopped him with his hand on his shoulder: "Peter, boy," he said, whispering, "come upstairs—I have something to tell you."

Peter was about to follow him back into the shop when suddenly the man shook his head. "No, not to-night," he said and almost pushed him into the street.

Peter, looking back, saw that he was talking to the Russian girl.

But the day was not over with that. Wondering about Mr. Zanti, thinking that the boarding-house would be gloomy now after Mrs. Lazarus' death, recalling, above all, to himself every slightest incident of his meeting with Miss Rossiter, Peter, crossing Oxford Street, flung his broad body against a fat and soft one. There was nearly a collapse.

The other man and Peter grasped arms to steady themselves, and then behold! the fat body was Bobby Galleon's. Bobby Galleon, after all these years! But there could be no possible doubt about it. There he stood, standing back a little from the shock, his bowler hat knocked to one side of his head, a deprecating, apologetic smile on his dear fat face! A man of course now, but very little altered in spite of all the years; a little fatter perhaps, his body seemed rather shapeless—but those same kind eyes, that large mouth and the clear straight look in all his face that spoke him to all the world for what he was. Peter felt exactly as though, after a long and tiring journey, he had tumbled at last into a large arm-chair. He was excited, he waved his arms:

"Bobby, Bobby," he cried, so loudly that two old women in bonnets, crossing the road like a couple of hens turned to look at him.

"I'm sorry—" Bobby said vaguely, and then slowly recognition came into his eyes.

"Peter!" he said in a voice lost in amazement, the colour flooding his cheeks.

It was all absurdly moving; they were quite ridiculously stirred, both of them. The lamps were coming out down Oxford Street, a pale saffron sky outlined the dark bulk of the Church that is opposite Mudie's shop and stands back from the street, a little as though it wondered at all the noise and clamour, a limpid and watery blue still lingered, wavering, in the evening sky.

They turned into an A.B.C. shop and ordered glasses of milk and they sat and looked at one another. They had altered remarkably little and to both of them, although the roar of the Oxford Street traffic was outside the window, it might have been, easily enough, that a clanging bell would soon summon them back to ink-stained desks and Latin exercises.

"Why, in heaven's name, did you ever get out of my sight so completely? I wrote to Treliss again and again but I don't suppose anything was forwarded."

"They don't know where I am."

"But why did you never write to me?"

"Why should I? I wanted to do something first—to show you-"

"What rot! Is that friendship? I call that the most selfish thing I've ever known." No, obviously enough, Bobby could never understand that kind of thing. With him, once a friend always a friend, that is what life is for. With Peter, once an adventure always an adventure—that is what life is for—but as soon as a friend ceases to be an adventure, why then—

But Bobby had not ceased to be an adventure. He was, as he sat there, more of one than he had ever been before.

"What have you been doing all these years?"

"Been in a bookshop."

"In a bookshop?"

"Yes, selling second-hand books."

"What else?"

"Oh reading a lot... seeing one or two people... and some music." Peter was vague; what after all had he been doing?

Bobby looked at him tenderly and affectionately. "You want seeing after—you look fierce, as you used to when you'd been having a bad time at school. The day they all hissed you."

"But I haven't been having a bad time. I've had a jolly good one. By the way," Peter leant forward, "have you seen or heard anything of Cards?"

Bobby coloured a little. "No, not for a long time. His mother died. He's a great swell now with heaps of money, I believe. I'm not his sort a bit."

They drank milk and beamed upon one another. Peter wanted to tell Bobby everything. That was one of his invaluable qualities, that one did like telling him everything. Talking to him eagerly now, Peter wondered how it could be that he'd ever managed to get through these many years without him. Bobby simply existed to help his friends and that was the kind of person that Peter had so often wanted.

But in it all—in their talking, their laughing together, their remembering certain catchwords that they had used together, there was nothing more remarkable than their finding each other exactly as they had been during those years before at Dawson's. Not even Bobby's tremendous statement could alter that.

"I'm married," he said.

"Married?"

Bobby blushed. "Yes—two years now—got a baby. She's quite splendid!"

"Oh!" Peter was a little blank. Somehow this did remove Bobby a little—it also made him, suddenly, strangely old.

"But it doesn't make any difference," Bobby said, leaning forward eagerly and putting his hand on Peter's arm—"not the least difference. You two will simply get on famously. I've so often told her about you and we've always been hoping that you'd turn up again—and now she'll be simply delighted."

But it made a difference to Peter, nevertheless. He went back a little into his shell; Bobby with a home and a wife and a baby couldn't spare time, of course, for ordinary friends. But even here his conscience pricked him. Did he not know Bobby well enough to be assured that he was as firm and solid as a rock, that nothing at all could move or change him? And after all, was not he, Peter, wishing to be engaged and married and the father of a family and the owner of a respectable mansion?

Clare Elizabeth Rossiter! How glorious for an instant were the thin, sharp-faced waitresses, the little marble-topped tables, the glass windows filled with sponge-cakes and hard-boiled eggs!

Peter came out of his shell again. "I shall just love to come and see her," he said.

"Well, just as soon as you can. By Jove, old man, I'll never let you go again. Now tell me, everything—all that you have done since I saw you."

Peter told him a great deal—not quite everything. He told him nothing, for instance, about meeting a certain young lady on a Good Friday afternoon and he passed over some of the Scaw House incidents as speedily as possible.

"And since I came up to London," he went on, "the whole of my time has been spent either in the bookshop or the boarding-house. They're awfully good sorts at both, but it's all very uncertain of course and instead of writing a novel that no one will want to read I ought to have been getting on to editors. I've a kind of feeling that the bookshop's going to end very shortly."

"Let me see the book," said Bobby.

"Yes, certainly," said Peter.

"Anyhow, we go on together from this time forth—72 Cheyne Walk is my little house. When will you come—to-morrow?"

"Oh! To-morrow! I don't think I can. There are these Processions and things—I think I ought to be in the shop. But I'll come very soon. This is the name of my boarding-house—"

Bobby, as he saw his friend, broad-shouldered, swinging along, pass down the street with the orange lamps throwing chains of light about him, was confronted again by that old elusive spirit that he had known so well at school. Peter liked him, Peter was glad to see him again, but there were so many other Peters, so many doors closed against intruders.... Bobby would always, to the end, be for Peter, outside these doors. He knew it quite certainly, a little sadly, as he climbed on to his bus. What was there about Peter? Something hard, fierce, wildly hostile ... a devil, a God. Something that Bobby going quietly home to his comfortable dinner, might watch and guard and even love but something that he could never share.

Now, in the cool and quiet of the Chelsea Embankment as he walked to his door, Bobby sighed a little because life was so comfortable.



CHAPTER IV

A LITTLE DUST

I

That night Peter had one of his old dreams. In all the seven years that he had been in London the visions that had so often made his nights at Scaw House terrible had never come to him. Now, after so long an interval they returned.

He thought that he was once more back on the sea-road above Treliss, that the wind was blowing in a tempest and that the sea below him was foaming on to the rocks. He could see those rocks like sharp black teeth, stretching up to him—a grey sky was above his head and to his right stretched the grey and undulating moor.

Round the bend of the road, beyond the point that he could see, he thought that Clare Rossiter was waiting for him. He must get there before it struck eleven or something terrible would happen to him. Only a few minutes remained to him, and only a little stretch of the thin white road, but two things prevented his progress; first, the wind blew so fiercely in his face that it drove him back and for every step that he took forward, although his head was bent and his teeth set, he seemed to lose two. Also, across the moor voices cried to him and they seemed to him like the voices of Stephen and Bobby Galleon, and they were pleading to him to stop; he paused to listen but the cries mingled softly with the wind and he could hear bells from the town below the road begin to strike eleven. The sweat was pouring from him—she was waiting for him, and if he did not reach her all would be lost. He would never see her again; he began to cry, to beat against the wind with his hands. The voices grew louder, the wind more vehement, the jagged edges of the rocks sharper in their outline; the bells were still striking, but as, at last, breathless, a sharp terror at his heart, he turned the corner there fell suddenly a silence. At last he was there—only a few trees blowing a little, a little white dust curling over the road, as though there had been no rain, and then suddenly the laughing face of Cards, no longer now a boy, but a man, more handsome than ever, laughing at him as he battled round the corner.

Cards shouted something to him, suddenly the road was gone and Peter was in the water, fighting for his life. He felt all the breathless terror of approaching death—he was sinking—black, silent water rose above and around him. For an instant he caught once more the sight of sky and land. Cards was still on the road and beside him was a woman whose face Peter could not see. Cards was still laughing. Then in the darkening light the Grey Hill was visible against the horizon and instead of the Giant's Finger there was that figure of the rider on the lion.... The waters closed.... Peter woke to a grey, stormy morning. The sweat was pouring down his face, his body was burning hot and his hands were trembling.

II

When he came down to breakfast his head was aching and heavy and Mrs. Brockett's boiled egg and hard crackling toast were impossible. Miss Monogue had things to tell him about the book—it was wonderful, tremendous ... beyond everything that she had believed possible. But strangely enough, he was scarcely interested. He was pleased of course, but he was weighted with the sense of overhanging catastrophe. The green bulging curtains, the row of black beads about Mrs. Brockett's thin neck, the untidy egg-shells—everything depressed him.

"I have had a rotten night," he said, "nightmares. I suppose I ate something—anyhow it's a gloomy day."

"Yes," said Miss Monogue, pinning some of her hair in at the wrong place and unpinning other parts of it that happened by accident to be right. "I'm afraid it's a poor sort of day for the Procession. But Miss Black and I are going to do our best to see it. It may clear up later." He had forgotten about the Procession and he wished that she would keep her hair tidier.

He wanted to ask her whether she had seen Miss Rossiter but had not the courage. A little misty rain made feathery noises against the window-pane.

"Well, I must go down to the shop," he said, finding his umbrella in the hall.

"I think it's superb," she said, referring back to the book. "You won't be having to go down to the shop much longer."

It was really surprising that he cared so little. He banged the door behind him and did not see her eyes as she watched him go.

Processions be damned! He wished that the wet, shining street were not so strangely like the sea-road at Treliss, and that the omnibuses at a distance did not murmur like the sea. People, black and funereal, were filling stands down Oxford Street; soldiers were already lining the way, the music of bands could be heard some streets away.

He was in a thoroughly bad temper and scowled at the people who passed him. He hated Royal Processions, he hated the bookshop, he hated all his friends and he wished that he were dead. Here he had been seven years, he reflected, and nothing had been done. Where was his city paved with gold? Where his Fame, where his Glory?

He even found himself envying those old Treliss days. There at any rate things had happened. There had been an air, a spirit. Fighting his father—or at any rate, escaping from his father—had been something vital. And here he was now, an ill-tempered, useless youth, earning two pounds a week, in love with some one who was scarcely conscious of his existence. He cursed the futility of it all.

And so fuming, he crossed the threshold of the bookshop, and, unwitting, heedless, left for ever behind him the first period of his history.

"Programme of the Royal Procession," a man was shouting—"Coloured 'Andkerchief with Programme of Royal Procession—"

Peter, stepping into the dark shop, was conscious of Mr. Zanti's white face and that behind him was standing Stephen.

III

At the sight of their faces, of their motionless bodies and at the solemn odd expression of their eyes as they looked past him into the dark expanse of the door through which he had entered, he knew that something was very wrong.

He had known it, plainly enough, by the fact of Stephen's presence there, but it seemed to him that he had known it from his first awakening that morning and that he was only waiting to change into hard outline the misty shapelessness of his earlier fears. But, there and then, he was to know nothing—

Stephen greeted him with a great hand-shake as though he had met him only the day before, and Mr. Zanti with a smile gave him his accustomed greeting. In the doorway at the other end of the shop the Russian girl was standing, one arm on the door-post, staring, with her dark eyes, straight through into the gloomy street.

"What are you all waiting for?" Peter said to the motionless figures. With his words they seemed at once to spring to life. Mr. Zanti rolled his big body casually to the door and looked down the street, Stephen, smiling at Peter said:

"I was just passing, so I thought to myself I'd just look in," his voice came from his beard like the roll of the sea from a cave. "Just for an hour, maybe. It's a long day since we've 'ad a bit of a chat, Mr. Peter."

Peter could not take it on that casual scale. Here was Stephen vanished during all those years, returned now suddenly and with as little fuss as possible, as though indeed he had only been hiding no farther than behind the door of the shop and waiting merely to walk out when the right moment should have arrived. If he had been no farther than that then it was unkind of him—he might have known how badly Peter had wanted him; if, on the other hand, he had been farther afield, then he should show more excitement at his return.

But, Peter thought, it was impossible to recognise in the grave reserved figure at his side that Stephen who had once given him the most glorious evening of his life. The connection was there somewhere but many things must have happened between those years.

"Shall we go and have luncheon together?" Peter asked.

Stephen appeared to fling a troubled look in the direction of Mr. Zanti's broad back. He hesitated. "Well," he said awkwardly, "I don't rightly know. I've got to be going out for an hour or two—I can't rightly say as I'll be back. This afternoon, maybe—"

Peter did not press it any farther. They must settle these things for themselves, but what was the matter with them all this morning was more than he could pretend to discover.

Stephen, still troubled, went out.

Fortunately there was this morning a good deal of work for Peter to do. A large number of second-hand books had arrived during the day before and they must be catalogued and arranged. Moreover there were several customers. A young lady wanted "something about Wagner, just a description of the plays, you know."

"Of the Operas," Peter corrected.

"Oh, well, the stories—that's what I want—something about two shillings, have you? I don't think it's really worth more—but so that one will know where one is, you know."

She was bright and confidential. She had thought that everything would be closed because of the Procession... so lucky—

A short red-faced woman, dressed in bright colours, and carrying innumerable little parcels wanted "Under Two Flags," by Mrs. Henry Wood.

"It's by Ouida, Madam," Peter told her.

"Nonsense, don't tell me. As if I didn't know."

Peter produced the volume and showed it to her. She dropped some of her parcels—they both went to pick them up.

Red in the face, she glared at him. "Really it's too provoking, I know it was Mrs. Henry Wood I wanted."

"Perhaps 'East Lynne,' or 'The Channings'—"

"Nonsense—don't tell me—it was 'Under Two Flags.'"

Finally the woman put both "Under Two Flags" and "East Lynne" into her bag and departed. A silence fell upon the shop. Herr Gottfried was at his desk, Mr. Zanti at the street door, the girl at the door of the inner room, they were all motionless. Beyond the shop the murmur of the gathering crowd was like the confused, blundering hum of bees; a band was playing stridently in Oxford Street.

Once Peter said: "It passes about three-thirty, doesn't it? I think I'll just go out and have a look later. It'll be fine if only the sun comes."

Mr. Zanti turned slowly round.

"I'm afraid, boy," he said, "you'll be wanted in ze shop. At two Herr Gottfried must be going out for some business—zere will be no one—I am zo zorry."

They wanted to keep him there, that was evident. Or, at any rate, they didn't want him to see the Procession.

"Very well," he said cheerfully, "I'll stay. There'll be plenty more Processions before I die." But why, why, why? What was there that they wanted him to avoid?

He went on arranging the piles of dusty books, the sense of weighty expectation growing on him with every instant. The clock struck one, but he did not go out to luncheon; the others were still motionless in their places.

Once Herr Gottfried spoke: "The people will have been waiting a much-more-than-necessary long time," he said. "The police doubtless have frightened them, but there is still room to walk in the streets and there have been some unfortunates, since early in the morning—"

The street beyond the shop was now deserted because soldiers guarded its approach into Oxford Street; the shop seemed to be left high and dry, beyond the noise and confusion of the street.

Then there came into the silence a sharp sound that made Peter amongst his books, jump to his feet: the Russian girl was crying.

She stood there, leaning her thin dark body against the side of the door, surely the most desolate figure in the world. Her hands were about her face, her body heaved with her sobbing and the little sad noise came into the dusty tangled room and hung amongst the old broken books as though they only could sympathise and give it shelter. The band in Oxford Street was blazing with sound but it did not hide her crying.

Mr. Zanti crossed to her and spoke to her but she suddenly let her hands fall from her face and turned upon him, furiously, wildly—"You ..." she said, "You ..." and then as though the words choked her she turned back into the inner room. Peter saw Mr. Zanti's face and it was puckered with distress like a child's. It was almost laughable in its helpless dismay.

Two o'clock struck. "They'll be starting in half an hour," Herr Gottfried said.

"Women," Mr. Zanti said, still looking distressfully about him, "they are, in truth, very difficult."

And now there was no pretence, any longer, of disguising the nervous tension that was with them in the room. They were all waiting for something—what it might be Peter did not know, but, with every tick of the old brass clock, some event crept more nearly towards them.

Then Stephen came back.

He came in very quietly as though he were trying to keep the note of agitation that he must have felt on every side of him as near the normal as possible.

His face above his beard was grey and streaky and his breath came rapidly as though he had been running. When he saw Mr. Zanti his hand went up suddenly in front of his face as though he would protect himself from the other's questioning.

"I've 'eard nothing—" he said almost sullenly and then he turned and looked at Peter.

"Why must 'e be 'ere?" he said sharply to Zanti.

"Why not? Where else?" the other answered and the two men watched each other with hostility across the floor.

"I wish we'd all bloomin' wull kept out of it," Stephen murmured to himself it seemed.

Peter's eyes were upon Mr. Zanti. That gentleman looked more like a naughty child than ever. In his eyes there was the piteous appeal of a small boy about to be punished for some grievous fault. In some strange way Peter was, it appeared, his court of appeal because he glanced towards him again and again and then looked away.

Peter could stand it no longer. He got up from the place where he was and faced them all.

"What is it? What have you all done? What is the matter with you all?"

The Russian girl had come back. Her face was white and her hair fell untidily about her eyes. She came forward fiercely as though she would have answered Peter, but Mr. Zanti motioned her back with his hand.

"No, no," he said almost imploringly, "let the boy be—what has he to do with all this? Leave him. He has nothing to do with it. He knows nothing."

"But I ought to know," Peter burst in. "Why have I been kept in the dark all this time? What right have you—"

He broke off suddenly. Absolute silence fell amongst them all and they stood looking at the door, motionless, in their places. There was a new note in the murmuring of the crowd, and the swift steady passing of it came up the street to the shop and in at the door. Voices could be heard rising above others, and then the eager passing of some piece of news from one to another.

No one in the shop spoke. Outside in the deserted street there was silence and then the bands, as though driven by some common wave of feeling, seemed at the same moment to burst into a blare of music. Some voice, from the crowd, started "God save the Queen" and immediately it was taken up and flung into the air by a thousand voices. They must give vent to their feelings, some news had passed down the crowds like a flame setting fire to a chain of beacons.

"What is it?" Peter pressed forwards to the door. And at once he was answered. Men were running past the shop, crying out; one stopped for an instant and, wild with excitement, his hands gesticulating, stammering, the words tumbling from his lips, he shouted at them—"They've bin flinging bombs ... dirty foreigners ... up there by the Marble Arch—flinging them at the Old Lady. But it's all right, by Gawd—only blew 'imself up, dirty foreigner—little bits of 'im and no one else 'urt and now the Old Lady's comin' down the street—she'll be 'ere in quarter of an 'our and won't we show 'er ... by Gawd ... flingin' their dirty bombs up there by the Marble Arch and killin' nobody but 'imself—Gawd save the Old Lady—" he rushed on.

So that was it. Peter, standing in the middle of the room, looked at them all and understood at last amongst whom he had been working these seven years. They were murderers, the lot of them—all of them—Gottfried, Zanti ... Stephen—Oh God! Stephen! He understood now for what they had been waiting.

He turned sick at the sudden realisation of it. It did not, at first, seem to touch himself in any way. At the first immediate knowledge of it he had been faced by its amazing incongruity. There by the Marble Arch, with bands flying, flags waving, in all the tumult of a Royal Progress some one had been blown into little pieces. Elsewhere there were people waiting, eating buns out of paper bags, and here in the shop the sun lighted the backs of rows of second-hand novels and down in Treliss the water was, very gently, lapping the little wooden jetty. Oh! the silly jumbling of things in this silly jumbling world!

And then he began to look more closely into it as it concerned himself. He saw with amazing clearness. He knew that it was Oblotzky the tall Russian who had been killed. He knew because Oblotzky was the lover of this Russian girl and he turned round to watch her, curiously, as one who was outside it all. She was standing with her back against the wall, her hands spread out flat, looking through the door into the bright street, seeing none of them. Then she turned and said something in Russian between her clenched teeth to Mr. Zanti. He would have answered her but very quietly and speaking now in English she flung at him, as though it had been a stone:

"God curse you! You drove him to it!" Then she turned round and left the room. But the tall man was blubbering like a child. He had turned round to them all, with his hands outstretched, appealing:

"But it's not true!" he cried between his sobs, "it's not true! I did all I could to stop them—I did not know that they would do things—not really—until now, this morning, when it was too late. It is the others, Sergius, Paslov, Odinsky—zey were always wild, desperate. But we, the rest of us, with us it was only tall words."

Little Herr Gottfried, who had been silent behind them, came forward now and spoke:

"It is too late," he said, "for this crying like a baby. We have no time—we must consider what must be done. If it is true, what that man says that Oblotzky has blown himself up and no other is touched then no harm is done. Why regret the Russian? He wanted a violent end and he has got it—and he has given it to no other. Often enough we are not so fortunate. He will have spoken to no one. We are safe." Then he turned to Peter:

"Poor boy," he said.

But Peter was not there to be pitied. He had only one thought, "Stephen, tell me—tell me. You did not know? You had nothing to do with this?"

Stephen turned and faced him. "No, Peter boy, nothing. I did not know what they were at. They—Zanti there—'ad 'elped me when I was in trouble years ago. They've given me jobs before now, but they've always been bunglers and now, thank the Lord, they've bungled again. You come with me, Mr. Peter—come along from it all. We'll manage something. I've only been waiting until you wanted me."

Zanti turned furiously upon him but the words that he would have spoken were for the moment held. The Procession was passing. The roar of cheering came up against the walls of the shop like waves against the rocks; the windows shook. There she was, the little Old Lady in her black bonnet, sitting smiling and bowing, and somewhere behind her a little dust had been blown into the air, had hung for a moment about her and then had once more settled down into the other dust from which it had come.

That was all. In front of her were the Royal Personages, on every side of her her faithful subjects ... only a cloud of dust had given occasion for a surer sign of her people's devotion. That, at any rate, Oblotzky had done.

The carriage passed.

Mr. Zanti now faced Peter.

"Peter—Boy—you must believe me. I did not know, believe me, I did not. They had talked and I had listened but there is so much talk and never anything is done. Peter, you must not go, you must not leave me. You would break my 'eart—"

"All these years," Peter said, "you have let me be here while you have deceived me and blinded me. I am going now and I pray to God that I may never see you again."

"No, Boy, listen. You must not go like this. 'Ave I not been good to you? 'Ave I ever made you do anything wrong? 'Ave I not always kept you out of these things? You are the only person zat I 'ave ever loved. You 'ave become my son to me. I am not wicked. I was not one of these men—these anarchists—but it is only that all my life I 'ave wanted adventure, what you call Ro-mance. And I 'ave found it 'ere, there—one place, anuzzer place. But it 'as never been wicked—I 'ave never 'armed a soul. What zat girl says it is not true—I would 'ave done all to stop it if I could. But you—if you leave me now, I am all alone. There is no one in the world for me—a poor old man—but if you will be with me I will show you wonderful things.

"See," he went on eagerly, almost breathlessly, "we 'ave been socialists 'ere, what you will. We 'ave talked and talked. It amuses me—to intrigue, to pretend, to 'ave games—one day it is Treason, another Brigands, another Travel—what you will. But never, never, never danger to a soul. Now only this morning did I 'ear that they were going to do this. Always it had been words before—but this morning I got a rumour. But it was only rumour. I 'ad not enough to be sure of my news. Stephen here and I—we could do nozzing—we 'ad no time—I did not know where Oblotzky was—this girl 'ere did not know—I could do nozzing—Peter, believe me, believe me—"

The man was no scoundrel. It was plain enough as he stood there, his eyes simple as a child's, pleading still like a small boy.

A minute ago Peter had hated him, now he crossed over and put his hand on his shoulder.

"You have been wonderfully good to me," he said. "I owe you everything. But I must go—all this has only made sure what I have been knowing this long time that I ought to do. I can't—I mustn't—depend on your charity any longer—it has been too long as it is. I must be on my own and then one day, when I have proved myself, I will come back to you."

"No—Peter, Boy—come with me now. I will show you wonderful things all over Europe; we will have adventures. There is gold in Cornwall in a place I know. There is a place in Germany where there is treasure—ze world is full of ze most wonderful things that I know and you and I—we two—Oh! ze times we all 'ave—"

"No," ... Peter drew back. "That is not my way. I am going to make my living here, in London—or die for it."

"No—you must not. You will succeed—you will grow fat and sleepy and ze good things of the world and ze many friends will kill your soul. I know it ... but come with me, first and we will 'ave adventures ... and zen you shall write."

But Peter's face was set. The time for the new life had come. Up to this moment he had been passive, he had used his life as an instrument on which others might play. From henceforward his should be the active part.

The crowds were pouring up the street on their homeward way. Bands were playing the soldiers back to the barracks. Soon the streets would have only the paper bags left to them for company. The little bookshop hung, with its misty shelves about the three men.... Somewhere in another room, a girl was staring with white set face and burning eyes in front of her, for her lover was dead and the world had died with him.

After a little time amongst the second-hand novels Mr. Zanti sat, his great head buried in his hands, the tears trickling down through his fingers, and Herr Gottfried, motionless from behind his counter watched him in silent sympathy.

Peter and Stephen had gone together.



CHAPTER V

A NARROW STREET

I

The bomb was, that evening, the dominant note of the occasion. Through the illuminated streets, the slowly surging crowds—inhuman in their abandon to the monotonous ebb and flow as of a sweeping river—the cries and laughter and shouting of songs, that note was above all. An eye-witness—a Mr. Frank Harris, butcher of 82 Cheapside—had his veracious account journalistically doctored.

* * * * *

"I was standing quite close to the man, a foreigner of course, with a dirty hanging black moustache—tall, big fellow, with coat up over his ears—I must say that I wasn't looking at him. I had Mrs. Harris with me and was trying to get her a place where she could see better, you understand. Then suddenly—before one was expecting it—the Procession began and I forgot the man, the foreigner, although he was quite up close against me. One was excited of course—a most moving sight—and then suddenly, when by the distant shouting we understood that the Queen was approaching, I saw the man break through. I was conscious of the man's vigour as he rushed past—he must have been immensely strong—because there he was, through the soldiers and everybody—out in the middle of the street. It all happened so quickly of course. I heard vaguely that some one was shouting and I think a policeman started forward, but anyhow the man raised his arm and in an instant there was the explosion. It went off before he was ready I suppose, but the ground rocked under one's feet. Two soldiers fell, unhurt, I have learnt since. There was a hideous dust, horses plunging and men shouting and then suddenly silence. The dust cleared and there was a hole in the ground, stones rooted up ... no sign of the man but some pieces of cloth and men had rushed forward and covered something up—a limb I suppose.... I was only anxious of course that my wife should see nothing ... she was considerably affected...."

So Mr. Harris of Cheapside, with the assistance of an eager and talented young journalist. But the fact remained in the heart of the crowd—blasted foreigner had had a shot at the Old Lady and missed her, therefore whatever gaiety may have been originally intended let it now be redoubled, shouted into frenzy—and frenzy it was.

"There was no clue," an evening paper added to the criminal's identity.... The police were blamed, of course.... Such a thing must never be allowed to occur again. It was reported that the Queen had in no way suffered from the shock—was in capital health.

Outside the bookshop Stephen and Peter had parted.

"I'll meet you about half-past ten, Trafalgar Square by the lion that faces Whitehall; I must go back to Brockett's, have supper and get my things, and say good-bye. Then I'll join you ... half-past ten."

"Peter boy, we'll have to rough it—"

"Oh! at last! Life's beginning. We'll soon get work, both of us—where do you mean to go?"

"There's a place I been before—down East End—not much of a place for your sort, but just for a bit...."

For a moment Peter's thoughts swept back to the shop.

"Poor Zanti!" He half turned. "After so many years ... the good old chap." Then he pulled himself up and set his shoulders. "Well, half-past ten—"

The streets were, at the instant, almost deserted. It was about five o'clock now and at seven o'clock they would be closed to all traffic. Then the surging crowds would come sweeping down.

Peter, furiously excited, hurried through the grimy deserts of Bloomsbury, to Brockett's. To his singing, beating heart the thin ribbon of the grey street with the faint dim blue of the evening sky was out of place, ill-judged as a setting to his exultations. He had swept in the tempestuous way that was natural to him, the shop and all that it had been to him, behind him. Even Brockett's must go with the rest. Of course he could not stay there now that the weekly two pounds had stopped. He quite savagely desired to be free from all business. These seven years had been well enough as a preparation; now at last he was to be flung, head foremost, into life.

He could have sung, he could have shouted. He burst through the heavy doors of Brockett's. But there, inside the quiet and solemn building, another mood seized him. He crept quietly, on tiptoe, up to his room because he did not want to see any of them before supper. After all, he was leaving the best friends that he had ever had, the only home that he had ever really known. Mrs. Brockett, Norah Monogue, Robin, the Signor.... Seven years is a long time and one gets fond of a place. He closed his bedroom door softly behind him. The little room had been very much to him during all these years, and that view over the London roofs would never be forgotten by him. But he wondered, as he looked at it, how he had ever been able to sit there so quietly and write "Reuben Hallard." Now, between his writing and himself, a thousand things were sweeping. Far away he saw it like the height of some inaccessible hill—his emotions, his adventures, the excitement of life made his thoughts, his ideas, thinner than smoke. He even, standing there in his little room and looking over the London roofs, despised the writer's inaction.... Often again he was to know that rivalry.

A quarter of an hour before supper he went down to say good-bye to Miss Monogue. She was sitting quietly reading and he thought suddenly, as he came upon her, there under the light of her candles in the grey room, that she did not look well. He had never during their seven years' friendship, noticed anything before, and now he could not have said what it was that he saw except perhaps that her cheeks were flushed and that there were heavy dark lines beneath her eyes. But she seemed to him, as he took her, thus unprepared, with her untidy hair and her white cheap evening dress that showed her thin fragile arms, to be something that he was leaving to face the world alone, something very delicate that he ought not to leave.

Then she looked up and saw him and put her book down and smiled at him and was the old cheerful Norah Monogue whom he had always known.

He stood with his legs apart facing her and told her:

"I've come to say good-bye."

"Good-bye?"

"Yes—I'm going to-night. What I've been expecting for so long has happened at last. There's been a blow up at the bookshop and I've got to go."

For an instant the colour left her face; her book fell to the ground and she put her hand back on the arm of the chair to steady herself.

"Oh! how silly of me ... never mind picking it up.... Oh thank you, Peter. You gave me quite a shock, telling me like that. We shall all miss you dreadfully."

His affection for her was strong enough to break in upon the great overwhelming excited exultation that had held him all the evening. He was dreadfully sorry to leave her!... dear Norah Monogue, what a pal she'd been!

"I shall miss you horribly," he said with that note in his voice that showed that, above all things, he wished to avoid a scene. "We've been such tremendous pals all this time—you've been such a brick—I don't know what I should have done...." He pulled himself up. "But it's got to be. I've felt it coming you know and it's time I really lashed out for myself."

"Where are you going?"

"Ah! I must keep that dark for a bit. There's been trouble at the bookshop. It'll be all right I expect but I don't want Mother Brockett to stand any chance of being mixed up in it. I shall just disappear for a week or two and then I'll be back again."

She smiled at him bravely: "Well, I won't ask what's happened, if you don't want to tell me, but of course—I shall miss you. After seven years it seems so abrupt. And, Peter, do take care of yourself."

"Oh, I shall be all right." He was very gruff. He felt now a furious angry reluctance at leaving her behind. He stormed at himself as a fool; one of the things that the strong man must learn of life is to be ruthless in these partings and breaking of relations. He stood further away from her and spoke as though he hated being there.

She understood him with wonderful tenderness.

"Well," she said cheerfully, "I daresay it will be better for you to try for a little and see what you can make of it all. And then if you want anything you'll come back to us, won't you?... You promise that?"

"Of course."

"And then there's the book. I know that man in Heriot and Lord's that I told you about. I'll send it to them right away, if you like."

"Aren't they rather tremendous people for me to begin with? Oughtn't I to begin with some one smaller?"

"Oh! there's no harm in starting at the top. They can't do more than refuse it. But I don't think they will. I believe in it. But how shall I let you know what they say?"

"Oh, I'll come in a week or two and see what's happening—I'll be on a paper by then probably. I say, I don't want the others to know. I'll have supper with them as usual and just tell Mother Brockett afterwards. I don't want to have to say good-bye lots of times. Well"—he moved off awkwardly towards the door—"You've been most tremendously good to me."

"Rot, Peter: Don't forget me!"

"Forget you! The best pal I've ever had." They clasped hands for a moment. There was a pause and then Peter said: "I say—there is a thing you can do if you like—"

"Yes?—anything—"

"Well—about Miss Rossiter—you'll be seeing her I suppose?"

"Oh yes, often—"

"Well, you might just keep her in mind of me. I know it sounds silly but—just a word or two, sometimes."

He felt that he was blushing—their hands separated. She moved back from him and pushed at her hair in the nervous way that she had.

"Why, of course—she was awfully interested. She won't forget you. Well, we'll meet at supper." She moved back with a last little nod at him and he went awkwardly out of the room with a curious little sense of sudden dismissal. Would she rather he didn't know Miss Rossiter, he vaguely wondered. Women were such queer creatures.

As he went downstairs he wondered with a sudden almost shameful confusion whether he was responsible in some way for the awkwardness that the scene had had. He had noticed lately that she had not been quite herself when he had been with her—that she would stop in the middle of a sentence, that she would be, for instance, vexed at something he said, that she would look at him sometimes as though ...

He pulled himself up. He was angry with himself for imagining such a thing—as though ... Well, women were strange creatures....

And then supper was more difficult than he had expected. They would show him, the silly things, that they were fond of him just when he would much rather have persuaded himself that they hated him. It was almost, as he told himself furiously, as though they knew that he was going; Norah Monogue was the only person who chattered and laughed in a natural way; he was rather relieved that after all she seemed to care so little.

He found that he couldn't eat. There was a silly lump in his throat and he looked at the marble pillars and the heavy curtains through a kind of mist.... Especially was there Robin....

Mrs. Tressiter told him that Robin had something very important to say to him and that he was going to stay awake until he, Peter, came up to him.

"I told him," she said, "that he must lie down and go to sleep like a good boy and that his father would punish him if he didn't. But there! What's the use of it? He isn't afraid of his father the slightest. He would go on—something about a lion...."

At any rate this gave Peter an excuse to escape from the table and it was, indeed, time, for they had all settled, like a clatter of hens, on to the subject of the bomb, and they all had a great deal to say about it and a great many questions to ask Peter.

"It's these Foreigners... of course our Police are entirely inadequate."

"Yes—that's what I say—the Police are really absurdly inadequate—"

"If they will allow these foreigners—"

"Yes, what can you expect—and the Police really can't—"

Peter escaped to Robin. He glowered down at the child who was sitting up in his cot counting the flowers on the old wall-paper to keep himself awake.

"I always am so muddled after fourteen," he said. "Never mind, I'm not sleeping—"

Peter frowned at him. "You ought to have been asleep long ago," he said. He wished the boy hadn't got his hair tousled in that absurdly fascinating way and that his cheeks weren't flushed so beautiful a red—also his nightgown had lost a button at the top and showed a very white little neck. Peter blinked his eyes—"Look here, kid, you must go to sleep right away at once. What do you want?"

"It's that lion—the one the lady had—I want it."

"You can't have it—the lady's got it."

"Well—take me to see them—the real ones—there are lots somewhere Mother says." Robin inserted his very small hand into Peter's large one.

"All right, one day—we'll go to the 'Zoo."

Robin sighed with satisfaction—he lay down and murmured sleepily to himself, "I love Mister Peter and lions and Mother and God," and was suddenly asleep.

Peter bent down over the cot and kissed him. He felt miserably wretched. He had known nothing like it since that day when he had said good-bye to his mother. He wondered that he could ever have felt any exultation; he wondered that writing and glory and ambition could ever have seemed worth anything to him at all. Could he have had his prayer granted he would have prayed that he might always stay in Brockett's, always have these same friends, watch over Robin as he grew up, talk to Norah Monogue—and then all the others ... and Mr. Zanti. He felt fourteen years old ... more miserable than he had ever been.

He kissed Robin again—then he went down to find Mrs. Brockett. Here, too, he was faced with an unexpected difficulty. The good lady, listening to him sternly in her grim little sitting-room, refused to hear of his departure. She sat upright in her stiff chair, her thin black dress in folds about her, the gas-light shining on her neatly parted hair.

"You see, Mrs. Brockett," he explained to her, "I'm no longer in the same position. I can't be sure of my two pounds a week any more and so it wouldn't be right for me to live in a place like this."

"If it's expense that you're thinking about," she answered him grimly, "you're perfectly welcome to stay on here and pay me when you can. I'm sure that one day with so clever a young man—"

"That's awfully good of you, Mrs. Brockett, but of course I couldn't hear of anything like that." For the third time that evening he had to fight against a disposition to blow his nose and be absurd. They were, both of them, increasingly grim with every word that they spoke and any outside observer would have supposed that they were the deadliest of enemies.

"Of course," she began again, "there's a room that I could let you have at the back of the house that's only four shillings a week and really you'd be doing me a kindness in taking it off my hands. I'm sure—"

"No, there's more in it than that," he answered. "I've got to go away—right away. It's time I had a change of scene. It's good for me to get along a bit by myself. You've all been too kind to me, spoilt me—"

She stood up and faced him sternly. "In all my years," she said, "I've never spoilt anybody yet and I'm not likely to be going to begin now. Spoilt you! Bah!" She almost snorted at him—but there were tears in her eyes.

"I'm not a philanthropist," she went on more dryly than ever, "but I like to have you about the house—you keep the lodgers contented and the babies quiet. I'm sure," and the little break in her voice was the first sign of submission, "that we've been very good friends these seven years and it isn't everywhere that one can pick up friends for the asking—"

"You've been splendid to me," he answered. "But it isn't as though I were going away altogether—you'll see me back in a week or two. And—and—I say I shall make a fool of myself if I go on talking like this—"

He suddenly gripped her hand and wrung it again and again—then he burst away from her, leaving her standing there in the middle of the room.

The old black bag was very soon packed, his possessions had not greatly increased during these seven years, and soon he was creeping down the stairs softly so that no one should hear.

The hall was empty. He gave it one last friendly look, the door had closed behind him and he was in the street.

II

In its exuberance and high spirits and general lack of self-control London was similar to a small child taken to the Drury Lane Pantomime for the first time. Of the numbers of young men who, with hats on the back of their heads, passed arm-in-arm down the main thoroughfares announcing it as their definite opinion that "Britons never shall be slaves," of the numbers of young women who, armed with feathers and the sharpest of tongues, showed conclusively the superiority of their sex and personal attractions, of the numbers of old men and old women who had no right whatever to be out on a night like this but couldn't help themselves, and enjoyed it just as much as their sons and daughters did, there is here no room to tell. The houses were ablaze with light, the very lamp-posts seemed to rock up and down with delight at the spirit of the whole affair and the Feast of the Glorification of the Bomb that Didn't Come Off was being celebrated with all the honours.

Peter was very soon in the thick of it. The grey silences of Bennett Square and Bloomsbury were left behind and with them the emotions of those tender partings. After all, it would only be a very few weeks before he would be back again among them all, telling them of his success on some paper and going back perhaps to live with them all when his income was assured.

And, anyhow, here he was, out to seek his fortune and with Stephen to help him! He battled with the crowd dragging the black bag with him and shouting sometimes in sheer excitement and good spirits. Young women tickled him with feathers, once some one linked arms with him and dragged him along, always he was surrounded with this sea of shouting, exultant humanity—this was life!

By the lion Stephen was waiting for him, standing huge and solemn as the crowd surged past. He pressed Peter's arm to show that he was pleased to see him and then, without speaking, they pushed through, past Charing Cross station, and down the hill to the Underground.

Here, once again, there was startling silence. No one seemed to be using the trains at all.

"I'm afraid it ain't much of a place that I'm taking yer to," Stephen said. "We can't pick and choose yer know and I was there before and she's a good woman."

A chill seemed to come with them into the carriage. Suddenly to Peter the comforts of Brockett's stretched out alluring arms, then he pulled himself together.

"I'm sure it will be splendid," he said, "and it will be just lovely being with you after all this time."

They got out and plunged into a city of black night. Around them, on every side there was silence—even the broad central thoroughfare seemed to be deserted and on either side of it, to right and left, black grim roads like open mouths, lay waiting for the unwary traveller.

Down one of these they plunged; Peter was conscious of faces watching them. "Bucket Lane" was the street's title to fame. Windows showed dim candles, in the distance a sharp cry broke the silence and then fell away again. The street was very narrow and from the running gutters there stole into the air the odour of stale cabbage.

"This is the 'ouse." Stephen stopped. Somewhere, above their heads, a child was crying.



CHAPTER VI

THE WORLD AND BUCKET LANE

I

A light flashed in the upper windows, stayed for a moment, and disappeared. There was a pause and then the door slowly opened and a woman's head protruded.

She stared at them without speaking.

"Mr. Brant," Stephen said. "I'm come back, Mrs. Williams 'oping you might 'ave that same room me and my friend might use if it's agreeable."

She stepped forward then and looked at them more carefully. She was a stout red-faced woman, her hair hanging about her face, her dirty bodice drawn tightly over her enormous bosom and her skirt pulled up in front and hanging, draggled behind her. Her long, dirty fingers went up to her face continually; she had a way of pushing at her teeth with them.

She seemed, however, pleased to see Stephen.

"Well, Mr. Brant," she said, "come in. It's a surprise I must say but Lord! as I'm always telling Mrs. Griggs oo's on the bottom floor when she can afford 'er rent which 'asn't been often lately, poor thing, owing to 'aving 'er tenth only three weeks back, quite unexpected, and 'er man being turned off 'is 'ouse-painting business what 'e's been at this ten year and more—well come along in, I'm sure—"

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