It occurred to me that, maybe, she would like to hear a few of them there and then, but before I had got well started a hollow Society man came up and suggested supper, and she was compelled to leave me. As she disappeared, however, in the throng, she looked back over her shoulder with a glance half pathetic, half comic, that I understood. It said, "Pity me, I've got to be bored by this vapid, shallow creature," and I did.
I sought her through all the rooms before I went. I wished to assure her of my sympathy and support. I learned, however, from the butler that she had left early, in company with the hollow Society man.
A fortnight later I ran against a young literary friend in Regent Street, and we lunched together at the Monico.
"I met such a charming woman last night," he said, "a Mrs. Clifton Courtenay, a delightful woman."
"Oh, do you know her?" I exclaimed. "Oh, we're very old friends. She's always wanting me to go and see her. I really must."
"Oh, I didn't know you knew her," he answered. Somehow, the fact of my knowing her seemed to lessen her importance in his eyes. But soon he recovered his enthusiasm for her.
"A wonderfully clever woman," he continued. "I'm afraid I disappointed her a little though." He said this, however, with a laugh that contradicted his words. "She would not believe I was the Mr. Smith. She imagined from my book that I was quite an old man."
I could see nothing in my friend's book myself to suggest that the author was, of necessity, anything over eighteen. The mistake appeared to me to display want of acumen, but it had evidently pleased him greatly.
"I felt quite sorry for her," he went on, "chained to that bloodless, artificial society in which she lives. 'You can't tell,' she said to me, 'how I long to meet someone to whom I could show my real self—who would understand me.' I'm going to see her on Wednesday."
I went with him. My conversation with her was not as confidential as I had anticipated, owing to there being some eighty other people present in a room intended for the accommodation of eight; but after surging round for an hour in hot and aimless misery—as very young men at such gatherings do, knowing as a rule only the man who has brought them, and being unable to find him—I contrived to get a few words with her.
She greeted me with a smile, in the light of which I at once forgot my past discomfort, and let her fingers rest, with delicious pressure, for a moment upon mine.
"How good of you to keep your promise," she said. "These people have been tiring me so. Sit here, and tell me all you have been doing."
She listened for about ten seconds, and then interrupted me with—
"And that clever friend of yours that you came with. I met him at dear Lady Lennon's last week. Has he written anything?"
I explained to her that he had.
"Tell me about it?" she said. "I get so little time for reading, and then I only care to read the books that help me," and she gave me a grateful look more eloquent than words.
I described the work to her, and wishing to do my friend justice I even recited a few of the passages upon which, as I knew, he especially prided himself.
One sentence in particular seemed to lay hold of her. "A good woman's arms round a man's neck is a lifebelt thrown out to him from heaven."
"How beautiful!" she murmured. "Say it again."
I said it again, and she repeated it after me.
Then a noisy old lady swooped down upon her, and I drifted away into a corner, where I tried to look as if I were enjoying myself, and failed.
Later on, feeling it time to go, I sought my friend, and found him talking to her in a corner. I approached and waited. They were discussing the latest east-end murder. A drunken woman had been killed by her husband, a hard-working artizan, who had been maddened by the ruin of his home.
"Ah," she was saying, "what power a woman has to drag a man down or lift him up. I never read a case in which a woman is concerned without thinking of those beautiful lines of yours: 'A good woman's arms round a man's neck is a lifebelt thrown out to him from heaven.'"
* * * * *
Opinions differed concerning her religion and politics. Said the Low Church parson: "An earnest Christian woman, sir, of that unostentatious type that has always been the bulwark of our Church. I am proud to know that woman, and I am proud to think that poor words of mine have been the humble instrument to wean that true woman's heart from the frivolities of fashion, and to fix her thoughts upon higher things. A good Churchwoman, sir, a good Churchwoman, in the best sense of the word."
Said the pale aristocratic-looking young Abbe to the Comtesse, the light of old-world enthusiasm shining from his deep-set eyes: "I have great hopes for our dear friend. She finds it hard to sever the ties of time and love. We are all weak, but her heart turns towards our mother Church as a child, though suckled among strangers, yearns after many years for the bosom that has borne it. We have spoken, and I, even I, may be the voice in the wilderness leading the lost sheep back to the fold."
Said Sir Harry Bennett, the great Theosophist lecturer, writing to a friend: "A singularly gifted woman, and a woman evidently thirsting for the truth. A woman capable of willing her own life. A woman not afraid of thought and reason, a lover of wisdom. I have talked much with her at one time or another, and I have found her grasp my meaning with a quickness of perception quite unusual in my experience; and the arguments I have let fall, I am convinced, have borne excellent fruit. I look forward to her becoming, at no very distant date, a valued member of our little band. Indeed, without betraying confidence, I may almost say I regard her conversion as an accomplished fact."
Colonel Maxim always spoke of her as "a fair pillar of the State."
"With the enemy in our midst," said the florid old soldier, "it behoves every true man—aye, and every true woman—to rally to the defence of the country; and all honour, say I, to noble ladies such as Mrs. Clifton Courtenay, who, laying aside their natural shrinking from publicity, come forward in such a crisis as the present to combat the forces of disorder and disloyalty now rampant in the land."
"But," some listener would suggest, "I gathered from young Jocelyn that Mrs. Clifton Courtenay held somewhat advanced views on social and political questions."
"Jocelyn," the Colonel would reply with scorn; "pah! There may have been a short space of time during which the fellow's long hair and windy rhetoric impressed her. But I flatter myself I've put my spoke in Mr. Jocelyn's wheel. Why, damme, sir, she's consented to stand for Grand Dame of the Bermondsey Branch of the Primrose League next year. What's Jocelyn to say to that, the scoundrel!"
What Jocelyn said was:—
"I know the woman is weak. But I do not blame her; I pity her. When the time comes, as soon it will, when woman is no longer a puppet, dancing to the threads held by some brainless man—when a woman is not threatened with social ostracism for daring to follow her own conscience instead of that of her nearest male relative—then will be the time to judge her. It is not for me to betray the confidence reposed in me by a suffering woman, but you can tell that interesting old fossil, Colonel Maxim, that he and the other old women of the Bermondsey Branch of the Primrose League may elect Mrs. Clifton Courtenay for their President, and make the most of it; they have only got the outside of the woman. Her heart is beating time to the tramp of an onward-marching people; her soul's eyes are straining for the glory of a coming dawn."
But they all agreed she was a charming woman.
I never met it myself, but I knew Whibley very well indeed, so that I came to hear a goodish deal about it.
It appeared to be devoted to Whibley, and Whibley was extremely fond of it. Personally I am not interested in spirits, and no spirit has ever interested itself in me. But I have friends whom they patronise, and my mind is quite open on the subject. Of Whibley's Spirit I wish to speak with every possible respect. It was, I am willing to admit, as hard-working and conscientious a spirit as any one could wish to live with. The only thing I have to say against it is that it had no sense.
It came with a carved cabinet that Whibley had purchased in Wardour Street for old oak, but which, as a matter of fact, was chestnut wood, manufactured in Germany, and at first was harmless enough, saying nothing but "Yes!" or "No!" and that only when spoken to.
Whibley would amuse himself of an evening asking it questions, being careful to choose tolerably simple themes, such as, "Are you there?" (to which the Spirit would sometimes answer "Yes!" and sometimes "No!") "Can you hear me?" "Are you happy?"—and so on. The Spirit made the cabinet crack—three times for "Yes" and twice for "No." Now and then it would reply both "Yes!" and "No!" to the same question, which Whibley attributed to over-scrupulousness. When nobody asked it anything it would talk to itself, repeating "Yes!" "No!" "No!" "Yes!" over and over again in an aimless, lonesome sort of a way that made you feel sorry for it.
After a while Whibley bought a table, and encouraged it to launch out into more active conversation. To please Whibley, I assisted at some of the earlier seances, but during my presence it invariably maintained a reticence bordering on positive dulness. I gathered from Whibley that it disliked me, thinking that I was unsympathetic. The complaint was unjust; I was not unsympathetic, at least not at the commencement. I came to hear it talk, and I wanted to hear it talk; I would have listened to it by the hour. What tired me was its slowness in starting, and its foolishness when it had started, in using long words that it did not know how to spell. I remember on one occasion, Whibley, Jobstock (Whibley's partner), and myself, sitting for two hours, trying to understand what the thing meant by "H-e-s-t-u-r-n-e-m-y-s-f-e-a-r." It used no stops whatever. It never so much as hinted where one sentence ended and another began. It never even told us when it came to a proper name. Its idea of an evening's conversation was to plump down a hundred or so vowels and consonants in front of you and leave you to make whatever sense out of them you could.
We fancied at first it was talking about somebody named Hester (it had spelt Hester with a "u" before we allowed a margin for spelling), and we tried to work the sentence out on that basis, "Hester enemies fear," we thought it might be. Whibley had a niece named Hester, and we decided the warning had reference to her. But whether she was our enemy, and we were to fear her, or whether we had to fear her enemies (and, if so, who were they?), or whether it was our enemies who were to be frightened by Hester, or her enemies, or enemies generally, still remained doubtful. We asked the table if it meant the first suggestion, and it said "No." We asked what it did mean, and it said "Yes."
This answer annoyed me, but Whibley explained that the Spirit was angry with us for our stupidity (which seemed quaint). He informed us that it always said first "No," and then "Yes," when it was angry, and as it was his Spirit, and we were in his house, we kept our feelings to ourselves and started afresh.
This time we abandoned the "Hestur" theory altogether. Jobstock suggested "Haste" for the first word, and, thought the Spirit might have gone on phonetically.
"Haste! you are here, Miss Sfear!" was what he made of it.
Whibley asked him sarcastically if he'd kindly explain what that meant.
I think Jobstock was getting irritable. We had been sitting cramped up round a wretched little one-legged table all the evening, and this was almost the first bit of gossip we had got out of it. To further excuse him, it should also be explained that the gas had been put out by Whibley, and that the fire had gone out of its own accord. He replied that it was hard labour enough to find out what the thing said without having to make sense of it.
"It can't spell," he added, "and it's got a nasty, sulky temper. If it was my spirit I'd hire another spirit to kick it."
Whibley was one of the mildest little men I ever knew, but chaff or abuse of his Spirit roused the devil in him, and I feared we were going to have a scene. Fortunately, I was able to get his mind back to the consideration of "Hesturnemysfear" before anything worse happened than a few muttered remarks about the laughter of fools, and want of reverence for sacred subjects being the sign of a shallow mind.
We tried "He's stern," and "His turn," and the "fear of Hesturnemy," and tried to think who "Hesturnemy" might be. Three times we went over the whole thing again from the beginning, which meant six hundred and six tiltings of the table, and then suddenly the explanation struck me—"Eastern Hemisphere."
Whibley had asked it for any information it might possess concerning his wife's uncle, from whom he had not heard for months, and that apparently was its idea of an address.
The fame of Whibley's Spirit became noised abroad, with the result that Whibley was able to command the willing service of more congenial assistants, and Jobstock and myself were dismissed. But we bore no malice.
Under these more favourable conditions the Spirit plucked up wonderfully, and talked everybody's head off. It could never have been a cheerful companion, however, for its conversation was chiefly confined to warnings and prognostications of evil. About once a fortnight Whibley would drop round on me, in a friendly way, to tell me that I was to beware of a man who lived in a street beginning with a "C," or to inform me that if I would go to a town on the coast where there were three churches I should meet someone who would do me an irreparable injury, and, that I did not rush off then and there in search of that town he regarded as flying in the face of Providence.
In its passion for poking its ghostly nose into other people's affairs it reminded me of my earthly friend Poppleton. Nothing pleased it better than being appealed to for aid and advice, and Whibley, who was a perfect slave to it, would hunt half over the parish for people in trouble and bring them to it.
It would direct ladies, eager for divorce court evidence, to go to the third house from the corner of the fifth street, past such and such a church or public-house (it never would give a plain, straightforward address), and ring the bottom bell but one twice. They would thank it effusively, and next morning would start to find the fifth street past the church, and would ring the bottom bell but one of the third house from the corner twice, and a man in his shirt sleeves would come to the door and ask them what they wanted.
They could not tell what they wanted, they did not know themselves, and the man would use bad language, and slam the door in their faces.
Then they would think that perhaps the Spirit meant the fifth street the other way, or the third house from the opposite corner, and would try again, with still more unpleasant results.
One July I met Whibley, mooning disconsolately along Princes Street, Edinburgh.
"Hullo!" I exclaimed, "what are you doing here? I thought you were busy over that School Board case."
"Yes," he answered, "I ought really to be in London, but the truth is I'm rather expecting something to happen down here."
"Oh!" I said, "and what's that?"
"Well," he replied hesitatingly, as though he would rather not talk about it, "I don't exactly know yet."
"You've come from London to Edinburgh, and don't know what you've come for!" I cried.
"Well, you see," he said, still more reluctantly, as it seemed to me, "it was Maria's idea; she wished—"
"Maria!" I interrupted, looking perhaps a little sternly at him, "who's Maria?" (His wife's name I knew was Emily Georgina Anne.)
"Oh! I forgot," he explained; "she never would tell her name before you, would she? It's the Spirit, you know."
"Oh! that," I said, "it's she that has sent you here. Didn't she tell you what for?"
"No," he answered, "that's what worries me. All she would say was, 'Go to Edinburgh—something will happen.'"
"And how long are you going to remain here?" I inquired.
"I don't know," he replied. "I've been here a week already, and Jobstock writes quite angrily. I wouldn't have come if Maria hadn't been so urgent. She repeated it three evenings running."
I hardly knew what to do. The little man was so dreadfully in earnest about the business that one could not argue much with him.
"You are sure," I said, after thinking a while, "that this Maria is a good Spirit? There are all sorts going about, I'm told. You're sure this isn't the spirit of some deceased lunatic, playing the fool with you?"
"I've thought of that," he admitted. "Of course that might be so. If nothing happens soon I shall almost begin to suspect it."
"Well, I should certainly make some inquiries into its character before I trusted it any further," I answered, and left him.
About a month later I ran against him outside the Law Courts.
"It was all right about Maria; something did happen in Edinburgh while I was there. That very morning I met you one of my oldest clients died quite suddenly at his house at Queensferry, only a few miles outside the city."
"I'm glad of that," I answered, "I mean, of course, for Maria's sake. It was lucky you went then."
"Well, not altogether," he replied, "at least, not in a worldly sense. He left his affairs in a very complicated state, and his eldest son went straight up to London to consult me about them, and, not finding me there, and time being important, went to Kebble. I was rather disappointed when I got back and heard about it."
"Umph!" I said; "she's not a smart spirit, anyway."
"No," he answered, "perhaps not. But, you see, something did really happen."
After that his affection for "Maria" increased tenfold, while her attachment to himself became a burden to his friends. She grew too big for her table, and, dispensing with all mechanical intermediaries, talked to him direct. She followed him everywhere. Mary's lamb couldn't have been a bigger nuisance. She would even go with him into the bedroom, and carry on long conversations with him in the middle of the night. His wife objected; she said it seemed hardly decent, but there was no keeping her out.
She turned up with him at picnics and Christmas parties. Nobody heard her speak to him, but it seemed necessary for him to reply to her aloud, and to see him suddenly get up from his chair and slip away to talk earnestly to nothing in a corner disturbed the festivities.
"I should really be glad," he once confessed to me, "to get a little time to myself. She means kindly, but it is a strain. And then the others don't like it. It makes them nervous. I can see it does."
One evening she caused quite a scene at the club. Whibley had been playing whist, with the Major for a partner. At the end of the game the Major, leaning across the table toward him, asked, in a tone of deadly calm, "May I inquire, sir, whether there was any earthly reason" (he emphasised "earthly") "for your following my lead of spades with your only trump?"
"I—I—am very sorry, Major," replied Whibley apologetically. "I—I—somehow felt I—I ought to play that queen."
"Entirely your own inspiration, or suggested?" persisted the Major, who had, of course, heard of "Maria."
Whibley admitted the play had been suggested to him. The Major rose from the table.
"Then, sir," said he, with concentrated indignation, "I decline to continue this game. A human fool I can tolerate for a partner, but if I am to be hampered by a damned spirit—"
"You've no right to say that," cried Whibley hotly.
"I apologise," returned the Major coldly; "we will say a blessed spirit. I decline to play whist with spirits of any kind; and I advise you, sir, if you intend giving many exhibitions with the lady, first to teach her the rudiments of the game."
Saying which the Major put on his hat and left the club, and I made Whibley drink a stiff glass of brandy and water, and sent him and "Maria" home in a cab.
Whibley got rid of "Maria" at last. It cost him in round figures about eight thousand pounds, but his family said it was worth it.
A Spanish Count hired a furnished house a few doors from Whibley's, and one evening he was introduced to Whibley, and came home and had a chat with him. Whibley told him about "Maria," and the Count quite fell in love with her. He said that if only he had had such a spirit to help and advise him, it might have altered his whole life.
He was the first man who had ever said a kind word about the spirit, and Whibley loved him for it. The Count seemed as though he could never see enough of Whibley after that evening, and the three of them—Whibley, the Count, and "Maria"—would sit up half the night talking together.
The precise particulars I never heard. Whibley was always very reticent on the matter. Whether "Maria" really did exist, and the Count deliberately set to work to bamboozle her (she was fool enough for anything), or whether she was a mere hallucination of Whibley's, and the man tricked Whibley by "hypnotic suggestions" (as I believe it is called), I am not prepared to say. The only thing certain is that "Maria" convinced Whibley that the Count had discovered a secret gold mine in Peru. She said she knew all about it, and counselled Whibley to beg the Count to let him put a few thousands into the working of it. "Maria," it appeared, had known the Count from his boyhood, and could answer for it that he was the most honourable man in all South America. Possibly enough he was.
The Count was astonished to find that Whibley knew all about his mine. Eight thousand pounds was needed to start the workings, but he had not mentioned it to any one, as he wanted to keep the whole thing to himself, and thought he could save the money on his estates in Portugal. However, to oblige "Maria," he would let Whibley supply the money. Whibley supplied it—in cash, and no one has ever seen the Count since.
That broke up Whibley's faith in "Maria," and a sensible doctor, getting hold of him threatened to prescribe a lunatic asylum for him if ever he found him carrying on with any spirits again. That completed the cure.
THE MAN WHO WENT WRONG
I first met Jack Burridge nearly ten years ago on a certain North-country race-course.
The saddling bell had just rung for the chief event of the day. I was sauntering along with my hands in my pockets, more interested in the crowd than in the race, when a sporting friend, crossing on his way to the paddock, seized me by the arm and whispered hoarsely in my ear:—
"Put your shirt on Mrs. Waller."
"Put my—?" I began.
"Put your shirt on Mrs. Waller," he repeated still more impressively, and disappeared in the throng.
I stared after him in blank amazement. Why should I put my shirt on Mrs. Waller? Even if it would fit a lady. And how about myself?
I was passing the grand stand, and, glancing up, I saw "Mrs. Waller, twelve to one," chalked on a bookmaker's board. Then it dawned upon me that "Mrs. Waller" was a horse, and, thinking further upon the matter, I evolved the idea that my friend's advice, expressed in more becoming language, was "Back 'Mrs. Waller' for as much as you can possibly afford."
"Thank you," I said to myself, "I have backed cast-iron certainties before. Next time I bet upon a horse I shall make the selection by shutting my eyes and putting a pin through the card."
But the seed had taken root. My friend's words surged in my brain. The birds passing overhead twittered, "Put your shirt on 'Mrs. Waller.'"
I reasoned with myself. I reminded myself of my few former ventures. But the craving to put, if not my shirt, at all events half a sovereign on "Mrs. Waller" only grew the stronger the more strongly I battled against it. I felt that if "Mrs. Waller" won and I had nothing on her, I should reproach myself to my dying day.
I was on the other side of the course. There was no time to get back to the enclosure. The horses were already forming for the start. A few yards off, under a white umbrella, an outside bookmaker was shouting his final prices in stentorian tones. He was a big, genial-looking man, with an honest red face.
"What price 'Mrs. Waller'?" I asked him.
"Fourteen to one," he answered, "and good luck to you."
I handed him half a sovereign, and he wrote me out a ticket. I crammed it into my waistcoat pocket, and hurried off to see the race. To my intense astonishment "Mrs. Waller" won. The novel sensation of having backed the winner so excited me that I forgot all about my money, and it was not until a good hour afterwards that I recollected my bet.
Then I started off to search for the man under the white umbrella. I went to where I thought I had left him, but no white umbrella could I find.
Consoling myself with the reflection that my loss served me right for having been fool enough to trust an outside "bookie," I turned on my heel and began to make my way back to my seat. Suddenly a voice hailed me:—
"Here you are, sir. It's Jack Burridge you want. Over here, sir."
I looked round, and there was Jack Burridge at my elbow.
"I saw you looking about, sir," he said, "but I could not make you hear. You was looking the wrong side of the tent."
It was pleasant to find that his honest face had not belied him.
"It is very good of you," I said; "I had given up all hopes of seeing you. Or," I added with a smile, "my seven pounds."
"Seven pun' ten," he corrected me; "you're forgetting your own thin 'un."
He handed me the money and went back to his stand.
On my way into the town I came across him again. A small crowd was collected, thoughtfully watching a tramp knocking about a miserable-looking woman.
Jack, pushing to the front, took in the scene and took off his coat in the same instant.
"Now then, my fine old English gentleman," he sang out, "come and have a try at me for a change."
The tramp was a burly ruffian, and I have seen better boxers than Jack. He got himself a black eye, and a nasty cut over the lip, before he hardly knew where he was. But in spite of that—and a good deal more—he stuck to his man and finished him.
At the end, as he helped his adversary up, I heard him say to the fellow in a kindly whisper:—
"You're too good a sort, you know, to whollop a woman. Why, you very near give me a licking. You must have forgot yourself, matey."
The fellow interested me. I waited and walked on with him. He told me about his home in London, at Mile End—about his old father and mother, his little brothers and sisters—and what he was saving up to do for them. Kindliness oozed from every pore in his skin.
Many that we met knew him, and all, when they saw his round, red face, smiled unconsciously. At the corner of the High Street a pale-faced little drudge of a girl passed us, saying as she slipped by "Good-evening, Mr. Burridge."
He made a dart and caught her by the shoulder.
"And how is father?" he asked.
"Oh, if you please, Mr. Burridge, he is out again. All the mills is closed," answered the child.
"She don't get no better, sir."
"And who's keeping you all?"
"Oh, if you please, sir, Jimmy's earning something now," replied the mite.
He took a couple of sovereigns from his waistcoat pocket, and closed the child's hand upon them.
"That's all right, my lass, that's all right," he said, stopping her stammering thanks. "You write to me if things don't get better. You know where to find Jack Burridge."
Strolling about the streets in the evening, I happened to pass the inn where he was staying. The parlour window was open, and out into the misty night his deep, cheery voice, trolling forth an old-fashioned drinking song, came rolling like a wind, cleansing the corners of one's heart with its breezy humanness. He was sitting at the head of the table surrounded by a crowd of jovial cronies. I lingered for a while watching the scene. It made the world appear a less sombre dwelling-place than I had sometimes pictured it.
I determined, on my return to London, to look him up, and accordingly one evening started to find the little by-street off the Mile End Road in which he lived. As I turned the corner he drove up in his dog-cart; it was a smart turn-out. On the seat beside him sat a neat, withered little old woman, whom he introduced to me as his mother.
"I tell 'im it's a fine gell as 'e oughter 'ave up 'ere aside 'im," said the old lady, preparing to dismount, "an old woman like me takes all the paint off the show."
"Get along with yer," he replied laughingly, jumping down and handing the reins to the lad who had been waiting, "you could give some of the young uns points yet, mother. I allus promised the old lady as she should ride behind her own 'oss one day," he continued, turning to me, "didn't I, mother?"
"Ay, ay," replied the old soul, as she hobbled nimbly up the steps, "ye're a good son, Jack, ye're a good son."
He led the way into the parlour. As he entered every face lightened up with pleasure, a harmony of joyous welcome greeted him. The old hard world had been shut out with the slam of the front door. I seemed to have wandered into Dickensland. The red-faced man with the small twinkling eyes and the lungs of leather loomed before me, a large, fat household fairy. From his capacious pockets came forth tobacco for the old father; a huge bunch of hot-house grapes for a neighbour's sickly child, who was stopping with them; a book of Henty's—beloved of boys—for a noisy youngster who called him "uncle"; a bottle of port wine for a wan, elderly woman with a swollen face—his widowed sister-in-law, as I subsequently learned; sweets enough for the baby (whose baby I don't know) to make it sick for a week; and a roll of music for his youngest sister.
"We're a-going to make a lady of her," he said, drawing the child's shy face against his gaudy waistcoat, and running his coarse hand through her pretty curls; "and she shall marry a jockey when she grows up."
After supper he brewed some excellent whisky punch, and insisted upon the old lady joining us, which she eventually did with much coughing and protestation; but I noticed that she finished the tumblerful. For the children he concocted a marvellous mixture, which he called an "eye-composer," the chief ingredients being hot lemonade, ginger wine, sugar, oranges, and raspberry vinegar. It had the desired effect.
I stayed till late, listening to his inexhaustible fund of stories. Over most of them he laughed with us himself—a great gusty laugh that made the cheap glass ornaments upon the mantelpiece to tremble; but now and then a recollection came to him that spread a sudden gravity across his jovial face, bringing a curious quaver into his deep voice.
Their tongues a little loosened by the punch, the old folks would have sung his praises to the verge of tediousness had he not almost sternly interrupted them.
"Shut up, mother," he cried at last, quite gruffly, "what I does I does to please myself. I likes to see people comfortable about me. If they wasn't, it's me as would be more upset than them."
I did not see him again for nearly two years. Then one October evening, strolling about the East End, I met him coming out of a little Chapel in the Burdett Road. He was so changed that I should not have known him had not I overheard a woman as she passed him say, "Good-evening, Mr. Burridge."
A pair of bushy side-whiskers had given to his red face an aggressively respectable appearance. He was dressed in an ill-fitting suit of black, and carried an umbrella in one hand and a book in the other.
In some mysterious way he managed to look both thinner and shorter than my recollection of him. Altogether, he suggested to me the idea that he himself—the real man—had by some means or other been extracted, leaving only his shrunken husk behind. The genial juices of humanity had been squeezed out of him.
"Not Jack Burridge!" I exclaimed, confronting him in astonishment.
His little eyes wandered shiftily up and down the street. "No, sir," he replied (his tones had lost their windy boisterousness—a hard, metallic voice spoke to me), "not the one as you used to know, praise be the Lord."
"And have you given up the old business?" I asked.
"Yes, sir," he replied, "that's all over; I've been a vile sinner in my time, God forgive me for it. But, thank Heaven, I have repented in time."
"Come and have a drink," I said, slipping my arm through his, "and tell me all about it."
He disengaged himself from me, firmly but gently. "You mean well, sir," he said, "but I have given up the drink."
Evidently he would have been rid of me, but a literary man, scenting material for his stockpot, is not easily shaken off. I asked after the old folks, and if they were still stopping with him.
"Yes," he said, "for the present. Of course, a man can't be expected to keep people for ever; so many mouths to fill is hard work these times, and everybody sponges on a man just because he's good-natured."
"And how are you getting on?" I asked.
"Tolerably well, thank you, sir. The Lord provides for His servants," he replied with a smug smile. "I have got a little shop now in the Commercial Road."
"Whereabouts?" I persisted. "I would like to call and see you."
He gave me the address reluctantly, and said he would esteem it a great pleasure if I would honour him by a visit, which was a palpable lie.
The following afternoon I went. I found the place to be a pawnbroker's shop, and from all appearances he must have been doing a very brisk business. He was out himself attending a temperance committee, but his old father was behind the counter, and asked me inside. Though it was a chilly day there was no fire in the parlour, and the two old folks sat one each side of the empty hearth, silent and sad. They seemed little more pleased to see me than their son, but after a while Mrs. Burridge's natural garrulity asserted itself, and we fell into chat.
I asked what had become of his sister-in-law, the lady with the swollen face.
"I couldn't rightly tell you, sir," answered the old lady, "she ain't livin' with us now. You see, sir," she continued, "John's got different notions to what 'e used to 'ave. 'E don't cotten much to them as ain't found grace, and poor Jane never did 'ave much religion!"
"And the little one?" I inquired. "The one with the curls?"
"What, Bessie, sir?" said the old lady. "Oh, she's out at service, sir; John don't think it good for young folks to be idle."
"Your son seems to have changed a good deal, Mrs. Burridge," I remarked.
"Ay, sir," she assented, "you may well say that. It nearly broke my 'art at fust; everythin' so different to what it 'ad been. Not as I'd stand in the boy's light. If our being a bit uncomfortable like in this world is a-going to do 'im any good in the next me and father ain't the ones to begrudge it, are we, old man?"
The "old man" concurred grumpily.
"Was it a sudden conversion?" I asked. "How did it come about?"
"It was a young woman as started 'im off," explained the old lady. "She come round to our place one day a-collectin' for somethin' or other, and Jack, in 'is free-'anded way, 'e give 'er a five-pun' note. Next week she come agen for somethin' else, and stopped and talked to 'im about 'is soul in the passage. She told 'im as 'e was a-goin' straight to 'ell, and that 'e oughter give up the bookmakin' and settle down to a respec'ble, God-fearin' business. At fust 'e only laughed, but she lammed in tracts at 'im full of the most awful language; and one day she fetched 'im round to one of them revivalist chaps, as fair settled 'im.
"'E ain't never been his old self since then. 'E give up the bettin' and bought this 'ere, though what's the difference blessed if I can see. It makes my 'eart ache, it do, to 'ear my Jack a-beatin' down the poor people—and it ain't like 'im. It went agen 'is grain at fust, I could see; but they told him as 'ow it was folks's own fault that they was poor, and as 'ow it was the will of God, because they was a drinkin', improvident lot.
"Then they made 'im sign the pledge. 'E'd allus been used to 'is glass, Jack 'ad, and I think as knockin' it off 'ave soured 'im a bit—seems as if all the sperit 'ad gone out of 'im—and of course me and father 'ave 'ad to give up our little drop too. Then they told 'im as 'e must give up smokin'- that was another way of goin' straight to 'ell—and that ain't made 'im any the more cheerful like, and father misses 'is little bit—don't ye, father?"
"Ay," answered the old fellow savagely; "can't say I thinks much of these 'ere folks as is going to heaven; blowed if I don't think they'll be a chirpier lot in t'other place."
An angry discussion in the shop interrupted us. Jack had returned, and was threatening an excited woman with the police. It seemed she had miscalculated the date, and had come a day too late with her interest.
Having got rid of her, he came into the parlour with the watch in his hand.
"It's providential she was late," he said, looking at it; "it's worth ten times what I lent on it."
He packed his father back into the shop, and his mother down into the kitchen to get his tea, and for a while we sat together talking.
I found his conversation a strange mixture of self-laudation, showing through a flimsy veil of self-disparagement, and of satisfaction at the conviction that he was "saved," combined with equally evident satisfaction that most other people weren't—somewhat trying, however; and, remembering an appointment, rose to go.
He made no effort to stay me, but I could see that he was bursting to tell me something. At last, taking a religious paper from his pocket, and pointing to a column, he blurted out:
"You don't take any interest in the Lord's vineyard, I suppose, sir?"
I glanced at the part of the paper indicated. It announced a new mission to the Chinese, and heading the subscription list stood the name, "Mr. John Burridge, one hundred guineas."
"You subscribe largely, Mr. Burridge," I said, handing him back the paper.
He rubbed his big hands together. "The Lord will repay a hundredfold," he answered.
"In which case it's just as well to have a note of the advance down in black and white, eh?" I added.
His little eyes looked sharply at me; but he made no reply, and, shaking hands, I left him.
THE HOBBY RIDER
Bump. Bump. Bump-bump. Bump.
I sat up in bed and listened intently. It seemed to me as if someone with a muffled hammer were trying to knock bricks out of the wall.
"Burglars," I said to myself (one assumes, as a matter of course, that everything happening in this world after 1 a.m. is due to burglars), and I reflected what a curiously literal, but at the same time slow and cumbersome, method of housebreaking they had adopted.
The bumping continued irregularly, yet uninterruptedly.
My bed was by the window. I reached out my hand and drew aside a corner of the curtain. The sunlight streamed into the room. I looked at my watch: it was ten minutes past five.
A most unbusinesslike hour for burglars, I thought. Why, it will be breakfast-time before they get in.
Suddenly there came a crash, and some substance striking against the blind fell upon the floor. I sprang out of bed and threw open the window.
A red-haired young gentleman, scantily clad in a sweater and a pair of flannel trousers, stood on the lawn below me.
"Good morning," he said cheerily. "Do you mind throwing me back my ball?"
"What ball?" I said.
"My tennis ball," he answered. "It must be somewhere in the room; it went clean through the window."
I found the ball and threw it back to him.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "Playing tennis?"
"No," he said. "I am just practising against the side of the house. It improves your game wonderfully."
"It don't improve my night's rest," I answered somewhat surlily I fear. "I came down here for peace and quiet. Can't you do it in the daytime?"
"Daytime!" he laughed. "Why it has been daytime for the last two hours. Never mind, I'll go round the other side."
He disappeared round the corner, and set to work at the back, where he woke up the dog. I heard another window smash, followed by a sound as of somebody getting up violently in a distant part of the house, and shortly afterwards I must have fallen asleep again.
I had come to spend a few weeks at a boarding establishment in Deal. He was the only other young man in the house, and I was naturally thrown a good deal upon his society. He was a pleasant, genial young fellow, but he would have been better company had he been a little less enthusiastic as regards tennis.
He played tennis ten hours a day on the average. He got up romantic parties to play it by moonlight (when half his time was generally taken up in separating his opponents), and godless parties to play it on Sundays. On wet days I have seen him practising services by himself in a mackintosh and goloshes.
He had been spending the winter with his people at Tangiers, and I asked him how he liked the place.
"Oh, a beast of a hole!" he replied. "There is not a court anywhere in the town. We tried playing on the roof, but the mater thought it dangerous."
Switzerland he had been delighted with. He counselled me next time I went to stay at Zermatt.
"There is a capital court at Zermatt," he said. "You might almost fancy yourself at Wimbledon."
A mutual acquaintance whom I subsequently met told me that at the top of the Jungfrau he had said to him, his eyes fixed the while upon a small snow plateau enclosed by precipices a few hundred feet below them—
"By Jove! That wouldn't make half a bad little tennis court—that flat bit down there. Have to be careful you didn't run back too far."
When he was not playing tennis, or practising tennis, or reading about tennis, he was talking about tennis. Renshaw was the prominent figure in the tennis world at that time, and he mentioned Renshaw until there grew up within my soul a dark desire to kill Renshaw in a quiet, unostentatious way, and bury him.
One drenching afternoon he talked tennis to me for three hours on end, referring to Renshaw, so far as I kept count, four thousand nine hundred and thirteen times. After tea he drew his chair to the window beside me, and commenced—
"Have you ever noticed how Renshaw—"
"Suppose someone took a gun—someone who could aim very straight—and went out and shot Renshaw till he was quite dead, would you tennis players drop him and talk about somebody else?"
"Oh, but who would shoot Renshaw?" he said indignantly.
"Never mind," I said, "supposing someone did?"
"Well, then, there would be his brother," he replied.
I had forgotten that.
"Well, we won't argue about how many of them there are," I said. "Suppose someone killed the lot, should we hear less of Renshaw?"
"Never," he replied emphatically. "Renshaw will always be a name wherever tennis is spoken of."
I dread to think what the result might have been had his answer been other than it was.
The next year he dropped tennis completely and became an ardent amateur photographer, whereupon all his friends implored him to return to tennis, and sought to interest him in talk about services and returns and volleys, and in anecdotes concerning Renshaw. But he would not heed them.
Whatever he saw, wherever he went, he took. He took his friends, and made them his enemies. He took babies, and brought despair to fond mothers' hearts. He took young wives, and cast a shadow on the home. Once there was a young man who loved not wisely, so his friends thought, but the more they talked against her the more he clung to her. Then a happy idea occurred to the father. He got Begglely to photograph her in seven different positions.
When her lover saw the first, he said—
"What an awful looking thing! Who did it?"
When Begglely showed him the second, he said—
"But, my dear fellow, it's not a bit like her. You've made her look an ugly old woman."
At the third he said—
"Whatever have you done to her feet? They can't be that size, you know. It isn't in nature!"
At the fourth he exclaimed—
"But, heavens, man! Look at the shape you've made her. Where on earth did you get the idea from?"
At the first glimpse of the fifth he staggered.
"Great Scott!" he cried with a shudder, "what a ghastly expression you've got into it! It isn't human!"
Begglely was growing offended, but the father, who was standing by, came to his defence.
"It's nothing to do with Begglely," exclaimed the old gentleman suavely. "It can't be his fault. What is a photographer? Simply an instrument in the hands of science. He arranges his apparatus, and whatever is in front of it comes into it."
"No," continued the old gentleman, laying a constrained hand upon Begglely, who was about to resume the exhibition, "don't—don't show him the other two."
I was sorry for the poor girl, for I believe she really cared for the youngster; and as for her looks, they were quite up to the average. But some evil sprite seemed to have got into Begglely's camera. It seized upon defects with the unerring instinct of a born critic, and dilated upon them to the obscuration of all virtues. A man with a pimple became a pimple with a man as background. People with strongly marked features became merely adjuncts to their own noses. One man in the neighbourhood had, undetected, worn a wig for fourteen years. Begglely's camera discovered the fraud in an instant, and so completely exposed it that the man's friends wondered afterwards how the fact ever could have escaped them. The thing seemed to take a pleasure in showing humanity at its very worst. Babies usually came out with an expression of low cunning. Most young girls had to take their choice of appearing either as simpering idiots or embryo vixens. To mild old ladies it generally gave a look of aggressive cynicism. Our vicar, as excellent an old gentleman as ever breathed, Begglely presented to us as a beetle-browed savage of a peculiarly low type of intellect; while upon the leading solicitor of the town he bestowed an expression of such thinly-veiled hypocrisy that few who saw the photograph cared ever again to trust him with their affairs.
As regards myself I should, perhaps, make no comment, I am possibly a prejudiced party. All I will say, therefore, is that if I in any way resemble Begglely's photograph of me, then the critics are fully justified in everything they have at any time, anywhere, said of me—and more. Nor, I maintain—though I make no pretence of possessing the figure of Apollo—is one of my legs twice the length of the other, and neither does it curve upwards. This I can prove. Begglely allowed that an accident had occurred to the negative during the process of development, but this explanation does not appear on the picture, and I cannot help feeling that an injustice has been done me.
His perspective seemed to be governed by no law either human or divine. I have seen a photograph of his uncle and a windmill, judging from which I defy any unprejudiced person to say which is the bigger, the uncle or the mill.
On one occasion he created quite a scandal in the parish by exhibiting a well-known and eminently respectable maiden lady nursing a young man on her knee. The gentleman's face was indistinct, and he was dressed in a costume which, upon a man of his size—one would have estimated him as rising 6 ft. 4 in.—appeared absurdly juvenile. He had one arm round her neck, and she was holding his other hand and smirking.
I, knowing something of Begglely's machine, willingly accepted the lady's explanation, which was to the effect that the male in question was her nephew, aged eleven; but the uncharitable ridiculed this statement, and appearances were certainly against her.
It was in the early days of the photographic craze, and an inexperienced world was rather pleased with the idea of being taken on the cheap. The consequence was that nearly everyone for three miles round sat or stood or leant or laid to Begglely at one time or another, with the result that a less conceited parish than ours it would have been difficult to discover. No one who had once looked upon a photograph of himself taken by Begglely ever again felt any pride in his personal appearance. The picture was invariably a revelation to him.
Later, some evil-disposed person invented Kodaks, and Begglely went everywhere slung on to a thing that looked like an overgrown missionary box, and that bore a legend to the effect that if Begglely would pull the button, a shameless Company would do the rest. Life became a misery to Begglely's friends. Nobody dared to do anything for fear of being taken in the act. He took an instantaneous photograph of his own father swearing at the gardener, and snapped his youngest sister and her lover at the exact moment of farewell at the garden gate. Nothing was sacred to him. He Kodaked his aunt's funeral from behind, and showed the chief mourner but one whispering a funny story into the ear of the third cousin as they stood behind their hats beside the grave.
Public indignation was at its highest when a new comer to the neighbourhood, a young fellow named Haynoth, suggested the getting together of a party for a summer's tour in Turkey. Everybody took up the idea with enthusiasm, and recommended Begglely as the "party." We had great hopes from that tour. Our idea was that Begglely would pull his button outside a harem or behind a sultana, and that a Bashi Bazouk or a Janissary would do the rest for us.
We were, however, partly doomed to disappointment—I say, "partly," because, although Begglely returned alive, he came back entirely cured of his photographic craze. He said that every English-speaking man, woman, or child whom he met abroad had its camera with it, and that after a time the sight of a black cloth or the click of a button began to madden him.
He told us that on the summit of Mount Tutra, in the Carpathians, the English and American amateur photographers waiting to take "the grand panorama" were formed by the Hungarian police in queue, two abreast, each with his or her camera under his or her arm, and that a man had to stand sometimes as long as three and a half hours before his turn came round. He also told us that the beggars in Constantinople went about with placards hung round their necks, stating their charges for being photographed. One of these price lists he brought back with him as a sample.
One snap shot, back or front .. ... ... 2 frcs. ,, with expression ... ... 3 ,, ,, surprised in quaint attitude . 4 ,, ,, while saying prayers ... ... 5 ,, ,, while fighting ... ... 10 ,,
He said that in some instances where a man had an exceptionally villainous cast of countenance, or was exceptionally deformed, as much as twenty francs were demanded and readily obtained.
He abandoned photography and took to golf. He showed people how, by digging a hole here and putting a brickbat or two there, they could convert a tennis-lawn into a miniature golf link,—and did it for them. He persuaded elderly ladies and gentlemen that it was the mildest exercise going, and would drag them for miles over wet gorse and heather, and bring them home dead beat, coughing, and full of evil thoughts.
The last time I saw him was in Switzerland, a few months ago. He appeared indifferent to the subject of golf, but talked much about whist. We met by chance at Grindelwald, and agreed to climb the Faulhorn together next morning. Half-way up we rested, and I strolled on a little way by myself to gain a view. Returning, I found him with a "Cavendish" in his hand and a pack of cards spread out before him on the grass, solving a problem.
THE MAN WHO DID NOT BELIEVE IN LUCK
He got in at Ipswich with seven different weekly papers under his arm. I noticed that each one insured its reader against death or injury by railway accident. He arranged his luggage upon the rack above him, took off his hat and laid it on the seat beside him, mopped his bald head with a red silk handkerchief, and then set to work steadily to write his name and address upon each of the seven papers. I sat opposite to him and read Punch. I always take the old humour when travelling; I find it soothing to the nerves.
Passing over the points at Manningtree the train gave a lurch, and a horse-shoe he had carefully placed in the rack above him slipped through the netting, falling with a musical ring upon his head.
He appeared neither surprised nor angry. Having staunched the wound with his handkerchief, he stooped and picked the horse-shoe up, glanced at it with, as I thought, an expression of reproach, and dropped it gently out of the window.
"Did it hurt you?" I asked.
It was a foolish question. I told myself so the moment I had uttered it. The thing must have weighed three pounds at the least; it was an exceptionally large and heavy shoe. The bump on his head was swelling visibly before my eyes. Anyone but an idiot must have seen that he was hurt. I expected an irritable reply. I should have given one myself had I been in his place. Instead, however, he seemed to regard the inquiry as a natural and kindly expression of sympathy.
"It did, a little," he replied.
"What were you doing with it?" I asked. It was an odd sort of thing for a man to be travelling with.
"It was lying in the roadway just outside the station," he explained; "I picked it up for luck."
He refolded his handkerchief so as to bring a cooler surface in contact with the swelling, while I murmured something genial about the inscrutability of Providence.
"Yes," he said, "I've had a deal of luck in my time, but it's never turned out well."
"I was born on a Wednesday," he continued, "which, as I daresay you know, is the luckiest day a man can be born on. My mother was a widow, and none of my relatives would do anything for me. They said it would be like taking coals to Newcastle, helping a boy born on a Wednesday; and my uncle, when he died, left every penny of his money to my brother Sam, as a slight compensation to him for having been born on a Friday. All I ever got was advice upon the duties and responsibilities of wealth, when it arrived, and entreaties that I would not neglect those with claims upon me when I came to be a rich man."
He paused while folding up his various insurance papers and placing them in the inside breast-pocket of his coat.
"Then there are black cats," he went on; "they're said to be lucky. Why, there never was a blacker cat than the one that followed me into my rooms in Bolsover Street the very first night I took them."
"Didn't it bring you luck?" I enquired, finding that he had stopped.
A far-away look came into his eyes.
"Well, of course it all depends," he answered dreamily. "Maybe we'd never have suited one another; you can always look at it that way. Still, I'd like to have tried."
He sat staring out of the window, and for a while I did not care to intrude upon his evidently painful memories.
"What happened then?" I asked, however, at last.
He roused himself from his reverie.
"Oh," he said. "Nothing extraordinary. She had to leave London for a time, and gave me her pet canary to take charge of while she was away."
"But it wasn't your fault," I urged.
"No, perhaps not," he agreed; "but it created a coldness which others were not slow to take advantage of."
"I offered her the cat, too," he added, but more to himself than to me.
We sat and smoked in silence. I felt that the consolations of a stranger would sound weak.
"Piebald horses are lucky, too," he observed, knocking the ashes from his pipe against the window sash. "I had one of them once."
"What did it do to you?" I enquired.
"Lost me the best crib I ever had in my life," was the simple rejoinder. "The governor stood it a good deal longer than I had any right to expect; but you can't keep a man who is always drunk. It gives a firm a bad name."
"It would," I agreed.
"You see," he went on, "I never had the head for it. To some men it would not have so much mattered, but the very first glass was enough to upset me. I'd never been used to it."
"But why did you take it?" I persisted. "The horse didn't make you drink, did he?"
"Well, it was this way," he explained, continuing to rub gently the lump which was now about the size of an egg. "The animal had belonged to a gentleman who travelled in the wine and spirit line, and who had been accustomed to visit in the way of business almost every public-house he came to. The result was you couldn't get that little horse past a public- house—at least I couldn't. He sighted them a quarter of a mile off, and made straight for the door. I struggled with him at first, but it was five to ten minutes' work getting him away, and folks used to gather round and bet on us. I think, maybe, I'd have stuck to it, however, if it hadn't been for a temperance chap who stopped one day and lectured the crowd about it from the opposite side of the street. He called me Pilgrim, and said the little horse was 'Pollion,' or some such name, and kept on shouting out that I was to fight him for a heavenly crown. After that they called us "Polly and the Pilgrim, fighting for the crown." It riled me, that did, and at the very next house at which he pulled up I got down and said I'd come for two of Scotch. That was the beginning. It took me years to break myself of the habit.
"But there," he continued, "it has always been the same. I hadn't been a fortnight in my first situation before my employer gave me a goose weighing eighteen pounds as a Christmas present."
"Well, that couldn't have done you any harm," I remarked. "That was lucky enough."
"So the other clerks said at the time," he replied. "The old gentleman had never been known to give anything away before in his life. 'He's taken a fancy to you,' they said; 'you are a lucky beggar!'"
He sighed heavily. I felt there was a story attached.
"What did you do with it?" I asked.
"That was the trouble," he returned. "I didn't know what to do with it. It was ten o'clock on Christmas Eve, just as I was leaving, that he gave it to me. 'Tiddling Brothers have sent me a goose, Biggles,' he said to me as I helped him on with his great-coat. 'Very kind of 'em, but I don't want it myself; you can have it!'
"Of course I thanked him, and was very grateful. He wished me a merry Christmas and went out. I tied the thing up in brown paper, and took it under my arm. It was a fine bird, but heavy.
"Under all the circumstances, and it being Christmas time, I thought I would treat myself to a glass of beer. I went into a quiet little house at the corner of the Lane and laid the goose on the counter.
"'That's a big 'un,' said the landlord; 'you'll get a good cut off him to- morrow.'
"His words set me thinking, and for the first time it struck me that I didn't want the bird—that it was of no use to me at all. I was going down to spend the holidays with my young lady's people in Kent."
"Was this the canary young lady?" I interrupted.
"No," he replied. "This was before that one. It was this goose I'm telling you of that upset this one. Well, her folks were big farmers; it would have been absurd taking a goose down to them, and I knew no one in London to give it to, so when the landlord came round again I asked him if he would care to buy it. I told him he could have it cheap.
"'I don't want it myself,' he answered. 'I've got three in the house already. Perhaps one of these gentlemen would like to make an offer.'
"He turned to a couple of chaps who were sitting drinking gin. They didn't look to me worth the price of a chicken between them. The seediest said he'd like to look at it, however, and I undid the parcel. He mauled the thing pretty considerably, and cross-examined me as to how I come by it, ending by upsetting half a tumbler of gin and water over it. Then he offered me half a crown for it. It made me so angry that I took the brown paper and the string in one hand and the goose in the other, and walked straight out without saying a word.
"I carried it in this way for some distance, because I was excited and didn't care how I carried it; but as I cooled, I began to reflect how ridiculous I must look. One or two small boys evidently noticed the same thing. I stopped under a lamp-post and tried to tie it up again. I had a bag and an umbrella with me at the same time, and the first thing I did was to drop the goose into the gutter, which is just what I might have expected to do, attempting to handle four separate articles and three yards of string with one pair of hands. I picked up about a quart of mud with that goose, and got the greater part of it over my hands and clothes and a fair quantity over the brown paper; and then it began to rain.
"I bundled everything up into my arm and made for the nearest pub, where I thought I would ask for a piece more string and make a neat job of it.
"The bar was crowded. I pushed my way to the counter and flung the goose down in front of me. The men nearest stopped talking to look at it; and a young fellow standing next to me said—
"'Well, you've killed it.' I daresay I did seem a bit excited.
"I had intended making another effort to sell it here, but they were clearly not the right sort. I had a pint of ale—for I was feeling somewhat tired and hot—scraped as much of the mud off the bird as I could, made a fresh parcel of it, and came out.
"Crossing the road a happy idea occurred to me. I thought I would raffle it. At once I set to work to find a house where there might seem to be a likely lot. It cost me three or four whiskies—for I felt I didn't want any more beer, which is a thing that easily upsets me—but at length I found just the crowd I wanted—a quiet domestic-looking set in a homely little place off the Goswell Road.
"I explained my views to the landlord. He said he had no objection; he supposed I would stand drinks round afterwards. I said I should be delighted to do so, and showed him the bird.
"'It looks a bit poorly,' he said. He was a Devonshire man.
"'Oh, that's nothing,' I explained. 'I happened to drop it. That will all wash off.'
"'It smells a bit queer, too,' he said.
"'That's mud,' I answered; 'you know what London mud is. And a gentleman spilled some gin over it. Nobody will notice that when it's cooked.'
"'Well,' he replied. 'I don't think I'll take a hand myself, but if any other gent likes to, that's his affair.'
"Nobody seemed enthusiastic. I started it at sixpence, and took a ticket myself. The potman had a free chance for superintending the arrangements, and he succeeded in inducing five other men, much against their will, to join us. I won it myself, and paid out three and twopence for drinks. A solemn-looking individual who had been snoring in a corner suddenly woke up as I was going out, and offered me sevenpence ha'penny for it—why sevenpence ha'penny I have never been able to understand. He would have taken it away, I should never have seen it again, and my whole life might have been different. But Fate has always been against me. I replied, with perhaps unnecessary hauteur, that I wasn't a Christmas dinner fund for the destitute, and walked out.
"It was getting late, and I had a long walk home to my lodgings. I was beginning to wish I had never seen the bird. I estimated its weight by this time to be thirty-six pounds.
"The idea occurred to me to sell it to a poulterer. I looked for a shop, I found one in Myddleton Street. There wasn't a customer near it, but by the way the man was shouting you might have thought that he was doing all the trade of Clerkenwell. I took the goose out of the parcel and laid it on the shelf before him.
"'What's this?' he asked.
"'It's a goose,' I said. 'You can have it cheap.'
"He just seized the thing by the neck and flung it at me. I dodged, and it caught the side of my head. You can have no idea, if you've never been hit on the head with a goose, how if hurts. I picked it up and hit him back with it, and a policeman came up with the usual, 'Now then, what's all this about?'
"I explained the facts. The poulterer stepped to the edge of the curb and apostrophised the universe generally.
"'Look at that shop,' he said. 'It's twenty minutes to twelve, and there's seven dozen geese hanging there that I'm willing to give away, and this fool asks me if I want to buy another.'
"I perceived then that my notion had been a foolish one, and I followed the policeman's advice, and went away quietly, taking the bird with me.
"Then said I to myself, 'I will give it away. I will select some poor deserving person, and make him a present of the damned thing.' I passed a good many people, but no one looked deserving enough. It may have been the time or it may have been the neighbourhood, but those I met seemed to me to be unworthy of the bird. I offered it to a man in Judd Street, who I thought appeared hungry. He turned out to be a drunken ruffian. I could not make him understand what I meant, and he followed me down the road abusing me at the top of his voice, until, turning a corner without knowing it, he plunged down Tavistock Place, shouting after the wrong man. In the Euston Road I stopped a half-starved child and pressed it upon her. She answered 'Not me!' and ran away. I heard her calling shrilly after me, 'Who stole the goose?'
"I dropped it in a dark part of Seymour Street. A man picked it up and brought it after me. I was unequal to any more explanations or arguments. I gave him twopence and plodded on with it once more. The pubs were just closing, and I went into one for a final drink. As a matter of fact I had had enough already, being, as I am, unaccustomed to anything more than an occasional class of beer. But I felt depressed, and I thought it might cheer me. I think I had gin, which is a thing I loathe.
"I meant to fling it over into Oakley Square, but a policeman had his eye on me, and followed me twice round the railings. In Golding Road I sought to throw it down an area, but was frustrated in like manner. The whole night police of London seemed to have nothing else to do but prevent my getting rid of that goose.
"They appeared so anxious about it that I fancied they might like to have it. I went up to one in Camden Street. I called him 'Bobby,' and asked him if he wanted a goose.
"'I'll tell you what I don't want,' he replied severely, 'and that is none of your sauce.'
"He was very insulting, and I naturally answered him back. What actually passed I forget, but it ended in his announcing his intention of taking me in charge.
"I slipped out of his hands and bolted down King Street. He blew his whistle and started after me. A man sprang out from a doorway in College Street and tried to stop me. I tied him up with a butt in the stomach, and cut through the Crescent, doubling back into the Camden Road by Batt Street.
"At the Canal Bridge I looked behind me, and could see no one. I dropped the goose over the parapet, and it fell with a splash into the water.
"Heaving a sigh of relief, I turned and crossed into Randolph Street, and there a constable collared me. I was arguing with him when the first fool came up breathless. They told me I had better explain the matter to the Inspector, and I thought so too.
"The Inspector asked me why I had run away when the other constable wanted to take me in charge. I replied that it was because I did not desire to spend my Christmas holidays in the lock-up, which he evidently regarded as a singularly weak argument. He asked me what I had thrown into the canal. I told him a goose. He asked me why I had thrown a goose into the canal. I told him because I was sick and tired of the animal.
"At this stage a sergeant came in to say that they had succeeded in recovering the parcel. They opened it on the Inspector's table. It contained a dead baby.
"I pointed out to them that it wasn't my parcel, and that it wasn't my baby, but they hardly took the trouble to disguise the fact that they did not believe me.
"The Inspector said it was too grave a case for bail, which, seeing that I did not know a soul in London, was somewhat immaterial. I got them to send a telegram to my young lady to say that I was unavoidably detained in town, and passed as quiet and uneventful a Christmas Day and Boxing Day as I ever wish to spend.
"In the end the evidence against me was held to be insufficient to justify a conviction, and I got off on the minor charge of drunk and disorderly. But I lost my situation and I lost my young lady, and I don't care if I never see a goose again."
We were nearing Liverpool Street. He collected his luggage, and taking up his hat made an attempt to put it on his head. But in consequence of the swelling caused by the horseshoe it would not go anywhere near him, and he laid it sadly back upon the seat.
"No," he said quietly, "I can't say that I believe very much in luck."
DICK DUNKERMAN'S CAT
Richard Dunkerman and I had been old school-fellows, if a gentleman belonging to the Upper Sixth, and arriving each morning in a "topper" and a pair of gloves, and "a discredit to the Lower Fourth," in a Scotch cap, can by any manner of means be classed together. And though in those early days a certain amount of coldness existed between us, originating in a poem, composed and sung on occasions by myself in commemoration of an alleged painful incident connected with a certain breaking-up day, and which, if I remember rightly ran:—
Dicky, Dicky, Dunk, Always in a funk, Drank a glass of sherry wine, And went home roaring drunk,
and kept alive by his brutal criticism of the same, expressed with the bony part of the knee, yet in after life we came to know and like each other better. I drifted into journalism, while he for years had been an unsuccessful barrister and dramatist; but one spring, to the astonishment of us all, he brought out the play of the season, a somewhat impossible little comedy, but full of homely sentiment and belief in human nature. It was about a couple of months after its production that he first introduced me to "Pyramids, Esquire."
I was in love at the time. Her name was, I think, Naomi, and I wanted to talk to somebody about her. Dick had a reputation for taking an intelligent interest in other men's love affairs. He would let a lover rave by the hour to him, taking brief notes the while in a bulky red-covered volume labelled "Commonplace Book." Of course everybody knew that he was using them merely as raw material for his dramas, but we did not mind that so long as he would only listen. I put on my hat and went round to his chambers.
We talked about indifferent matters for a quarter of an hour or so, and then I launched forth upon my theme. I had exhausted her beauty and goodness, and was well into my own feelings—the madness of my ever imagining I had loved before, the utter impossibility of my ever caring for any other woman, and my desire to die breathing her name—before he made a move. I thought he had risen to reach down, as usual, the "Commonplace Book," and so waited, but instead he went to the door and opened it, and in glided one of the largest and most beautiful black tom- cats I have ever seen. It sprang on Dick's knee with a soft "cur-roo," and sat there upright, watching me, and I went on with my tale.
After a few minutes Dick interrupted me with:—
"I thought you said her name was Naomi?"
"So it is," I replied. "Why?"
"Oh, nothing," he answered, "only just now you referred to her as Enid."
This was remarkable, as I had not seen Enid for years, and had quite forgotten her. Somehow it took the glitter out of the conversation. A dozen sentences later Dick stopped me again with:—
I began to get irritated. Julia, I remembered, had been cashier in a city restaurant, and had, when I was little more than a boy, almost inveigled me into an engagement. I found myself getting hot at the recollection of the spooney rhapsodies I had hoarsely poured into her powder-streaked ear while holding her flabby hand across the counter.
"Did I really say 'Julia'?" I answered somewhat sharply, "or are you joking?"
"You certainly alluded to her as Julia," he replied mildly. "But never mind, you go on as you like, I shall know whom you mean."
But the flame was dead within me. I tried to rekindle it, but every time I glanced up and met the green eyes of the black Tom it flickered out again. I recalled the thrill that had penetrated my whole being when Naomi's hand had accidently touched mine in the conservatory, and wondered whether she had done it on purpose. I thought how good and sweet she was to that irritatingly silly old frump her mother, and wondered if it really were her mother, or only hired. I pictured her crown of gold-brown hair as I had last seen it with the sunlight kissing its wanton waves, and felt I would like to be quite sure that it were all her own.
Once I clutched the flying skirts of my enthusiasm with sufficient firmness to remark that in my own private opinion a good woman was more precious than rubies; adding immediately afterwards—the words escaping me unconsciously before I was aware even of the thought—"pity it's so difficult to tell 'em."
Then I gave it up, and sat trying to remember what I had said to her the evening before, and hoping I had not committed myself.
Dick's voice roused me from my unpleasant reverie.
"No," he said, "I thought you would not be able to. None of them can."
"None of them can what?" I asked. Somehow I was feeling angry with Dick and with Dick's cat, and with myself and most other things.
"Why talk love or any other kind of sentiment before old Pyramids here?" he replied, stroking the cat's soft head as it rose and arched its back.
"What's the confounded cat got to do with it?" I snapped.
"That's just what I can't tell you," he answered, "but it's very remarkable. Old Leman dropped in here the other evening and began in his usual style about Ibsen and the destiny of the human race, and the Socialistic idea and all the rest of it—you know his way. Pyramids sat on the edge of the table there and looked at him, just as he sat looking at you a few minutes ago, and in less than a quarter of an hour Leman had come to the conclusion that society would do better without ideals and that the destiny of the human race was in all probability the dust heap. He pushed his long hair back from his eyes and looked, for the first time in his life, quite sane. 'We talk about ourselves,' he said, 'as though we were the end of creation. I get tired listening to myself sometimes. Pah!' he continued, 'for all we know the human race may die out utterly and another insect take our place, as possibly we pushed out and took the place of a former race of beings. I wonder if the ant tribe may not be the future inheritors of the earth. They understand combination, and already have an extra sense that we lack. If in the courses of evolution they grow bigger in brain and body, they may become powerful rivals, who knows?' Curious to hear old Leman talking like that, wasn't it?"
"What made you call him 'Pyramids'?" I asked of Dick.
"I don't know," he answered, "I suppose because he looked so old. The name came to me."
I leaned across and looked into the great green eyes, and the creature, never winking, never blinking, looked back into mine, until the feeling came to me that I was being drawn down into the very wells of time. It seemed as though the panorama of the ages must have passed in review before those expressionless orbs—all the loves and hopes and desires of mankind; all the everlasting truths that have been found false; all the eternal faiths discovered to save, until it was discovered they damned. The strange black creature grew and grew till it seemed to fill the room, and Dick and I to be but shadows floating in the air.
I forced from myself a laugh, that only in part, however, broke the spell, and inquired of Dick how he had acquired possession of it.
"It came to me," he answered, "one night six months ago. I was down on my luck at the time. Two of my plays, on which I had built great hopes, had failed, one on top of the other—you remember them—and it appeared absurd to think that any manager would ever look at anything of mine again. Old Walcott had just told me that he did not consider it right of me under all the circumstances to hold Lizzie any longer to her engagement, and that I ought to go away and give her a chance of forgetting me, and I had agreed with him. I was alone in the world, and heavily in debt. Altogether things seemed about as hopeless as they could be, and I don't mind confessing to you now that I had made up my mind to blow out my brains that very evening. I had loaded my revolver, and it lay before me on the desk. My hand was toying with it when I heard a faint scratching at the door. I paid no attention at first, but it grew more persistent, and at length, to stop the faint noise which excited me more than I could account for, I rose and opened the door and it walked in.
"It perched itself upon the corner of my desk beside the loaded pistol, and sat there bolt upright looking at me; and I, pushing back my chair, sat looking at it. And there came a letter telling me that a man of whose name I had never heard had been killed by a cow in Melbourne, and that under his will a legacy of three thousand pounds fell into the estate of a distant relative of my own who had died peacefully and utterly insolvent eighteen months previously, leaving me his sole heir and representative, and I put the revolver back into the drawer."
"Do you think Pyramids would come and stop with me for a week?" I asked, reaching over to stroke the cat as it lay softly purring on Dick's knee.
"Maybe he will some day," replied Dick in a low voice, but before the answer came—I know not why—I had regretted the jesting words.
"I came to talk to him as though he were a human creature," continued Dick, "and to discuss things with him. My last play I regard as a collaboration; indeed, it is far more his than mine."
I should have thought Dick mad had not the cat been sitting there before me with its eyes looking into mine. As it was, I only grew more interested in his tale.
"It was rather a cynical play as I first wrote it," he went on, "a truthful picture of a certain corner of society as I saw and knew it. From an artistic point of view I felt it was good; from the box-office standard it was doubtful. I drew it from my desk on the third evening after Pyramids' advent, and read it through. He sat on the arm of the chair and looked over the pages as I turned them.
"It was the best thing I had ever written. Insight into life ran through every line, I found myself reading it again with delight. Suddenly a voice beside me said:—
"'Very clever, my boy, very clever indeed. If you would just turn it topsy-turvy, change all those bitter, truthful speeches into noble sentiments; make your Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (who never has been a popular character) die in the last act instead of the Yorkshireman, and let your bad woman be reformed by her love for the hero and go off somewhere by herself and be good to the poor in a black frock, the piece might be worth putting on the stage.'
"I turned indignantly to see who was speaking. The opinions sounded like those of a theatrical manager. No one was in the room but I and the cat. No doubt I had been talking to myself, but the voice was strange to me.
"'Be reformed by her love for the hero!' I retorted, contemptuously, for I was unable to grasp the idea that I was arguing only with myself, 'why it's his mad passion for her that ruins his life.'
"'And will ruin the play with the great B.P.,' returned the other voice. 'The British dramatic hero has no passion, but a pure and respectful admiration for an honest, hearty English girl—pronounced "gey-url." You don't know the canons of your art.'
"'And besides,' I persisted, unheeding the interruption, 'women born and bred and soaked for thirty years in an atmosphere of sin don't reform.'
"'Well, this one's got to, that's all,' was the sneering reply, 'let her hear an organ.'
"'But as an artist—,' I protested.
"'You will be always unsuccessful,' was the rejoinder. 'My dear fellow, you and your plays, artistic or in artistic, will be forgotten in a very few years hence. You give the world what it wants, and the world will give you what you want. Please, if you wish to live.'
"So, with Pyramids beside me day by day, I re-wrote the play, and whenever I felt a thing to be utterly impossible and false I put it down with a grin. And every character I made to talk clap-trap sentiment while Pyramids purred, and I took care that everyone of my puppets did that which was right in the eyes of the lady with the lorgnettes in the second row of the dress circle; and old Hewson says the play will run five hundred nights.
"But what is worst," concluded Dick, "is that I am not ashamed of myself, and that I seem content."
"What do you think the animal is?" I asked with a laugh, "an evil spirit"? For it had passed into the next room and so out through the open window, and its strangely still green eyes no longer drawing mine towards them, I felt my common sense returning to me.
"You have not lived with it for six months," answered Dick quietly, "and felt its eyes for ever on you as I have. And I am not the only one. You know Canon Whycherly, the great preacher?"
"My knowledge of modern church history is not extensive," I replied. "I know him by name, of course. What about him?"
"He was a curate in the East End," continued Dick, "and for ten years he laboured, poor and unknown, leading one of those noble, heroic lives that here and there men do yet live, even in this age. Now he is the prophet of the fashionable up-to-date Christianity of South Kensington, drives to his pulpit behind a pair of thorough-bred Arabs, and his waistcoat is taking to itself the curved line of prosperity. He was in here the other morning on behalf of Princess —-. They are giving a performance of one of my plays in aid of the Destitute Vicars' Fund."
"And did Pyramids discourage him?" I asked, with perhaps the suggestion of a sneer.
"No," answered Dick, "so far as I could judge, it approved the scheme. The point of the matter is that the moment Whycherly came into the room the cat walked over to him and rubbed itself affectionately against his legs. He stood and stroked it."
"'Oh, so it's come to you, has it?' he said, with a curious smile.
"There was no need for any further explanation between us. I understood what lay behind those few words."
I lost sight of Dick for some time, though I heard a good deal of him, for he was rapidly climbing into the position of the most successful dramatist of the day, and Pyramids I had forgotten all about, until one afternoon calling on an artist friend who had lately emerged from the shadows of starving struggle into the sunshine of popularity, I saw a pair of green eyes that seemed familiar to me gleaming at me from a dark corner of the studio.
"Why, surely," I exclaimed, crossing over to examine the animal more closely, "why, yes, you've got Dick Dunkerman's cat."
He raised his face from the easel and glanced across at me.
"Yes," he said, "we can't live on ideals," and I, remembering, hastened to change the conversation.
Since then I have met Pyramids in the rooms of many friends of mine. They give him different names, but I am sure it is the same cat, I know those green eyes. He always brings them luck, but they are never quite the same men again afterwards.
Sometimes I sit wondering if I hear his scratching at the door.
THE MINOR POET'S STORY
"It doesn't suit you at all," I answered.
"You're very disagreeable," said she, "I shan't ever ask your advice again."
"Nobody," I hastened to add, "would look well in it. You, of course, look less awful in it than any other woman would, but it's not your style."
"He means," exclaimed the Minor Poet, "that the thing itself not being pre-eminently beautiful, it does not suit, is not in agreement with you. The contrast between you and anything approaching the ugly or the commonplace, is too glaring to be aught else than displeasing."
"He didn't say it," replied the Woman of the World; "and besides it isn't ugly. It's the very latest fashion."
"Why is it," asked the Philosopher, "that women are such slaves to fashion? They think clothes, they talk clothes, they read clothes, yet they have never understood clothes. The purpose of dress, after the primary object of warmth has been secured, is to adorn, to beautify the particular wearer. Yet not one woman in a thousand stops to consider what colours will go best with her complexion, what cut will best hide the defects or display the advantages of her figure. If it be the fashion, she must wear it. And so we have pale-faced girls looking ghastly in shades suitable to dairy-maids, and dots waddling about in costumes fit and proper to six-footers. It is as if crows insisted on wearing cockatoo's feathers on their heads, and rabbits ran about with peacocks' tails fastened behind them."
"And are not you men every bit as foolish?" retorted the Girton Girl. "Sack coats come into fashion, and dumpy little men trot up and down in them, looking like butter-tubs on legs. You go about in July melting under frock-coats and chimney-pot hats, and because it is the stylish thing to do, you all play tennis in still shirts and stand-up collars, which is idiotic. If fashion decreed that you should play cricket in a pair of top-boots and a diver's helmet, you would play cricket in a pair of top-boots and a diver's helmet, and dub every sensible fellow who didn't a cad. It's worse in you than in us; men are supposed to think for themselves, and to be capable of it, the womanly woman isn't."
"Big women and little men look well in nothing," said the Woman of the World. "Poor Emily was five foot ten and a half, and never looked an inch under seven foot, whatever she wore. Empires came into fashion, and the poor child looked like the giant's baby in a pantomime. We thought the Greek might help her, but it only suggested a Crystal Palace statue tied up in a sheet, and tied up badly; and when puff-sleeves and shoulder- capes were in and Teddy stood up behind her at a water-party and sang 'Under the spreading chestnut-tree,' she took it as a personal insult and boxed his ears. Few men liked to be seen with her, and I'm sure George proposed to her partly with the idea of saving himself the expense of a step-ladder, she reaches down his boots for him from the top shelf."
"I," said the Minor Poet, "take up the position of not wanting to waste my brain upon the subject. Tell me what to wear, and I will wear it, and there is an end of the matter. If Society says, 'Wear blue shirts and white collars,' I wear blue shirts and white collars. If she says, 'The time has now come when hats should be broad-brimmed,' I take unto myself a broad-brimmed hat. The question does not interest me sufficiently for me to argue it. It is your fop who refuses to follow fashion. He wishes to attract attention to himself by being peculiar. A novelist whose books pass unnoticed, gains distinction by designing his own necktie; and many an artist, following the line of least resistance, learns to let his hair grow instead of learning to paint."
"The fact is," remarked the Philosopher, "we are the mere creatures of fashion. Fashion dictates to us our religion, our morality, our affections, our thoughts. In one age successful cattle-lifting is a virtue, a few hundred years later company-promoting takes its place as a respectable and legitimate business. In England and America Christianity is fashionable, in Turkey, Mohammedanism, and 'the crimes of Clapham are chaste in Martaban.' In Japan a woman dresses down to the knees, but would be considered immodest if she displayed bare arms. In Europe it is legs that no pure-minded woman is supposed to possess. In China we worship our mother-in-law and despise our wife; in England we treat our wife with respect, and regard our mother-in-law as the bulwark of comic journalism. The stone age, the iron age, the age of faith, the age of infidelism, the philosophic age, what are they but the passing fashions of the world? It is fashion, fashion, fashion wherever we turn. Fashion waits beside our cradle to lead us by the hand through life. Now literature is sentimental, now hopefully humorous, now psychological, now new-womanly. Yesterday's pictures are the laughing-stock of the up-to- date artist of to-day, and to-day's art will be sneered at to-morrow. Now it is fashionable to be democratic, to pretend that no virtue or wisdom can exist outside corduroy, and to abuse the middle classes. One season we go slumming, and the next we are all socialists. We think we are thinking; we are simply dressing ourselves up in words we do not understand for the gods to laugh at us."
"Don't be pessimistic," retorted the Minor Poet, "pessimism is going out. You call such changes fashions, I call them the footprints of progress. Each phase of thought is an advance upon the former, bringing the footsteps of the many nearer to the landmarks left by the mighty climbers of the past upon the mountain paths of truth. The crowd that was satisfied with The Derby Day now appreciates Millet. The public that were content to wag their heads to The Bohemian Girl have made Wagner popular."
"And the play lovers, who stood for hours to listen to Shakespeare," interrupted the Philosopher, "now crowd to music-halls."
"The track sometimes descends for a little way, but it will wind upwards again," returned the Poet. "The music-hall itself is improving; I consider it the duty of every intellectual man to visit such places. The mere influence of his presence helps to elevate the tone of the performance. I often go myself!"
"I was looking," said the Woman of the World, "at some old illustrated papers of thirty years ago, showing the men dressed in those very absurd trousers, so extremely roomy about the waist, and so extremely tight about the ankles. I recollect poor papa in them; I always used to long to fill them out by pouring in sawdust at the top."
"You mean the peg-top period," I said. "I remember them distinctly myself, but it cannot be more than three-and-twenty years ago at the outside."
"That is very nice of you," replied the Woman of the World, "and shows more tact than I should have given you credit for. It could, as you say, have been only twenty-three years ago. I know I was a very little girl at the time. I think there must be some subtle connection between clothes and thought. I cannot imagine men in those trousers and Dundreary whiskers talking as you fellows are talking now, any more than I could conceive of a woman in a crinoline and a poke bonnet smoking a cigarette. I think it must be so, because dear mother used to be the most easy-going woman in the world in her ordinary clothes, and would let papa smoke all over the house. But about once every three weeks she would put on a hideous old-fashioned black silk dress, that looked as if Queen Elizabeth must have slept in it during one of those seasons when she used to go about sleeping anywhere, and then we all had to sit up. 'Look out, ma's got her black silk dress on,' came to be a regular formula. We could always make papa take us out for a walk or a drive by whispering it to him."
"I can never bear to look at those pictures of by-gone fashions," said the Old Maid, "I see the by-gone people in them, and it makes me feel as though the faces that we love are only passing fashions with the rest. We wear them for a little while upon our hearts, and think so much of them, and then there comes a time when we lay them by, and forget them, and newer faces take their place, and we are satisfied. It seems so sad."
"I wrote a story some years ago," remarked the Minor Poet, "about a young Swiss guide, who was betrothed to a laughing little French peasant girl."
"Named Suzette," interrupted the Girton Girl. "I know her. Go on."
"Named Jeanne," corrected the Poet, "the majority of laughing French girls, in fiction, are named Suzette, I am well aware. But this girl's mother's family was English. She was christened Jeanne after an aunt Jane, who lived in Birmingham, and from whom she had expectations."
"I beg your pardon," apologised the Girton Girl, "I was not aware of that fact. What happened to her?"
"One morning, a few days before the date fixed for the wedding," said the Minor Poet, "she started off to pay a visit to a relative living in the village, the other side of the mountain. It was a dangerous track, climbing half-way up the mountain before it descended again, and skirting more than one treacherous slope, but the girl was mountain born and bred, sure-footed as a goat, and no one dreamed of harm."
"She went over, of course," said the Philosopher, "those sure-footed girls always do."
"What happened," replied the Minor Poet, "was never known. The girl was never seen again."
"And what became of her lover?" asked the Girton Girl. "Was he, when next year's snow melted, and the young men of the village went forth to gather Edelweiss, wherewith to deck their sweethearts, found by them dead, beside her, at the bottom of the crevasse?"
"No," said the Poet; "you do not know this story, you had better let me tell it. Her lover returned the morning before the wedding day, to be met with the news. He gave way to no sign of grief, he repelled all consolation. Taking his rope and axe he went up into the mountain by himself. All through the winter he haunted the track by which she must have travelled, indifferent to the danger that he ran, impervious apparently to cold, or hunger, or fatigue, undeterred by storm, or mist, or avalanche. At the beginning of the spring he returned to the village, purchased building utensils, and day after day carried them back with him up into the mountain. He hired no labour, he rejected the proffered assistance of his brother guides. Choosing an almost inaccessible spot, at the edge of the great glacier, far from all paths, he built himself a hut, with his own hands; and there for eighteen years he lived alone.
"In the 'season' he earned good fees, being known far and wide as one of the bravest and hardiest of all the guides, but few of his clients liked him, for he was a silent, gloomy man, speaking little, and with never a laugh or jest on the journey. Each fall, having provisioned himself, he would retire to his solitary hut, and bar the door, and no human soul would set eyes on him again until the snows melted.