Presently the copper is removed, washed, dried, and placed in a tough glass tube, very narrow at one end. This is held over a flame and carefully heated, and then a phenomenon, not unknown, either, in the loves of mortals, occurs. The arsenic abandons the copper, and clings in crystals to the sides of the glass tube, where it can be recognised by the aid of a magnifying-glass or microscope; and if the crystals are heated with a bit of acetate of potash the odour drives the chemist from the room.
To this curious fact, that arsenic loves copper when it is wet with warm hydrochloric acid, and hates it when it is hot and dry, is due the discovery of many a crime.
It is already plain to the reader that the analyst's task is not an easy one. Sometimes the analytical examination is of vast extent; sometimes it is greatly narrowed by hints from the family doctor. These hints are interesting, and show that the doctor is, when he knows his business, a real and a very skilful detective.
The doctor's eye is a wonderful one. When he enters a room, he not only measures the patient from head to toe, notes the colour of his face, the posture of his body, the signs of pain, stupor, or perhaps sham; but observes the manner of the other people present, and sees every bottle, glass, and cup in the place.
Now, although sudden death is usually from natural causes, when it occurs soon after food there is always suspicion, as we have said. So, if the doctor perceives great pain and nausea, he thinks of arsenic, antimony, tinned meats, mushrooms, toadstools, and other things; if the pupil of the eye is as small as a pin-head, and the sick man is drowsy, he thinks of opium; if something seems to have caught hold of the patient's heart, and to be squeezing it like a sponge, he thinks of digitalis; if the poor victim is being worked like a puppet, and his pupils are large with fear, he thinks of strychnine; if there is great thirst, colic, and cramps in the legs, he thinks of lead.
He knows that prussic acid kills like a bullet in the brain—a glass of cold water taken while hot from exercise may do the same—and he smells for it. He can also tell if it is phosphorus or carbolic acid, by the smell.
He knows that relatives usually kill each other by means of particular poisons; that other poisons are used for suicidal purposes; that the photographer takes cyanide of potassium, the medical man and chemist prussic acid or morphia, the poor man vermin-killer or oxalic acid, or carbolic acid, or some such agonising destroyer of life. And thus, though all poisons lead to the same end—stoppage of the breathing and blood circulation—yet each has its own particular way of sending the soul to eternity. He can therefore often tell the analyst detective how to take a short cut.
By the way, there is no such thing as a slow poison—that is, a poison which, taken to-day, does not show its effects for weeks. This is a fiction of the novelists. On the other hand, there is—except in the case of prussic acid and nicotine—no death straight away after taking poison, as one sees it on the stage, Shakespeare notwithstanding.
An actual case will show that the discovery of murder by the doctor and analyst is not always plain sailing.
A good many years ago, a Mr. Sprague was tried for the murder of the Walker family by means of the well-known poison of the deadly nightshade. The medical evidence showed clearly that they all died from belladonna poisoning, and belladonna was found in the rabbit-pie they had for dinner. A common-sense jury, however, acquitted the prisoner; and only recently have medical men solved the mystery by discovering that rabbits can eat any quantity of this plant without suffering harm, while their flesh becomes fatally poisonous.
A second case shows what wonders the chemists can work. A surgeon's wife died from corrosive sublimate, given in a draught by her husband. He said that, in making up the draught, he mistook a bottle of mixture, which he had prepared for a sailor, for the water-bottle, and had poured some of it into his wife's draught. The sailor's mixture was analysed, and it certainly contained corrosive sublimate; but, not content with finding the poison, the analyst measured the quantity present, and, while the sailor's mixture contained only ten grains to an ounce of liquid, the wife's draught contained fifteen grains, showing that the surgeon's ingenious explanation was a lie!
Blood is so characteristic a fluid that it might be supposed a skilful analyst could never have any difficulty in recognising it. Of course, if he were given, say, a cupful in its ordinary state, he could not make a mistake. But he never gets a chance of earning his fee so easily.
When the police seek his assistance they give him, perhaps, a suit of dirty clothes, which may be stained by two or three small dark spots that might be anything.
Or perhaps he is given a rusty knife, or a perfectly clean hatchet, and is asked to say if there is blood on it. And when he comes into court he is expected to tell the jury whether the blood is human or animal, how old it is, was it spilled from a living blood vessel, and in what part of the body was this blood vessel.
Take an actual case. Years ago a celebrated murder was committed in Eltham, and in the report of Dr. Letheby, the analyst, is the following note:—
"On the evening of May 3rd I received from Mr. Mulvaney" (of the police) "a brown paper parcel containing a pair of dark trousers, a man's shirt, and a man's wide-awake hat. On the following evening I received from Mr. Mulvaney a brown paper parcel containing a lock of hair, a pair of men's boots, and a plasterer's hammer."
These were all very dirty, but that did not prevent the analyst from finding a number of blood stains and hairs, and giving valuable and decisive evidence at the trial.
What the analyst first does, when he receives such an article as a pair of trousers, is to scrutinise every inch of its surface with a magnifying glass. If he finds a little lump of dark-coloured stuff he scrapes it off and puts it into a watch glass. If he discovers merely a dark stain, he cuts out the piece of cloth and puts it into a small quantity of distilled water.
Now he has to find out whether the suspicious-looking thing is really blood, or whether it is merely red paint, or logwood, or cochineal, or madder, or iron-mould. There are three ways of doing this, and he nearly always utilises them all.
First, there is the marvellous spectroscope test. This test will reveal the presence of the minutest trace of blood, and it is practically infallible. It depends on the curious property, possessed by nearly all bodies, of absorbing certain parts of the light that passes through them. Sunlight passing through a prism is split up into the familiar seven colours of the rainbow. But if a little blood dissolved in water is placed in a glass tube, and if the light is made to pass through it on its way to the prism, the blood takes something out of it; for now among the seven bright colours are seen two dark bands near the middle of the yellow ray. Nothing but blood gives these two bands in that particular place, with the exception of two or three substances that are not likely to be found on criminals' clothes. These are cochineal, mixed with certain chemicals, hot purpurin sulphuric acid, and the red dye of the banana-eater.
Blood, however, changes after it is shed. In stains a few weeks old the colouring matter changes from what is technically called haemoglobin to methaemoglobin, and, later still, to haematin. All of these give different spectra. The analyst has standard spectra already mounted, and he invariably looks at the mounted or standard specimen and the suspected liquid at the same time, placing them side by side, so that a mistake is impossible. All the red colours in the world, in fact, have been tried, and, with the exceptions named above, none of them gives a spectrum like the colouring matter of blood in any of its forms.
But though the spectroscope is a certain discoverer of blood, it can draw no distinction between human and animal blood. That duty remains to the microscope.
With the microscope can be seen those red corpuscles which, in some mysterious manner, seize on the oxygen of the air as it passes into the lungs, shoulder it, so to speak, and rush away with it, like so many ants, to the remotest parts of the body. Unfortunately, they can only be seen in blood that has not been very long shed—that is to say, some weeks or months. To see these, the analyst scrapes the little clot from the piece of cloth, or wood, or iron, and places it on a slip of glass; over this he carefully lays the little film called a cover-glass; and then he gently places, at the edge of the latter, the tiniest possible drop of water. This gradually insinuates itself, and soon dissolves the blood clot; and, when the mixture is placed under a microscope magnifying from 300 to 500 diameters, he sees one of several pictures. The various shapes and arrangements taken by these little bodies are illustrated on the following page. Small as they are—it would take 12-1/4 millions to cover a square inch—they have the most peculiar way of behaving, and only the practised eye of the microscopist can recognise them in all their disguises.
Individually, the blood corpuscle is just like a tiny round biscuit, and measures 1/3200 to 1/4000 of an inch across its face. It is these two factors, the shape and measurement, which enable the medical man to say whether the blood is human. The picture above shows how a corpuscle looks under the microscope. Looking at its face, it is like a thick-edged biscuit, with a dark depression in the centre. Some are turned sideways in our illustration. These exist in blood and nothing but blood, so that, when the spectroscope fails, the microscope succeeds.
But it is not always that the analyst can get sufficient blood to place under the microscope. Perhaps he gets a piece of cloth saturated with a trifle of red fluid which he cannot scrape off, or perhaps he gets a stain some months or years old (Dr. Tidy identified a blood stain one hundred and one years old), in which the corpuscles are destroyed. Or perhaps he gets a garment which has been carefully washed, on which there is only the faintest trace of colouring matter. Even then the microscope tells whether the stain is blood.
Our detective mixes the particle of blood-stained wood, or earth, or dust, or cloth fibres, with water and caustic potash, and filters it. Then he takes a drop of the liquid and places it in the useful watch-glass. Into this he puts some glacial acetic acid and a crystal of ordinary table salt. He heats the mixture and lets it cool. And, if it is blood, he gets peculiar crystals visible under the microscope. These, by the way, differ to some extent in different animals.
Another test is so new that it has not yet been given a fair trial. It is as follows:—If a fairly large quantity of blood can be got, it is burned, and the ash is analysed. Now, there are two salts always in blood—sodium and potassium salts. But, while the quantity of the former in human blood is usually twice that of the latter, it is six times as great in the sheep's blood, eight times as great in the cow's blood, and sixteen times as great in the blood of a fowl. Very important results are expected from this principle.
Reliable as are the microscope and spectroscope, the analyst always uses the third means at his disposal—the chemical test. For instance, he gets a knife covered with dark red stains. Are they blood, or are they only the rust formed by vinegar or the juice of a lemon that has deceived so many people? Assuming that he has removed the stain, he places the matter in any kind of tiny vessel, and drops in some tincture of galls. If the thing is only rust, he has some excellent blue ink; if it is blood, he finds that a reddish powder makes its appearance.
Perhaps he gets a handkerchief with a red stain. If the cloth is white he can apply a test direct to it, but as a rule he prefers to dissolve the stain out. Now, a handkerchief may be stained with a number of different reddish things—Condy's fluid, jam, cochineal log-wood, or red paint. He puts a drop of ordinary ammonia on the cloth. If the stain is caused by currant, gooseberry, or other fruit juice it turns blue or green; if it is Condy's fluid it becomes blue; if it is cochineal it becomes crimson, and so on. But if it is blood, it does not change in the least. Other tests might be described, but we have not the space.
Probably the most interesting of all his duties to the analyst is that of judging from what animal the blood stains came. This can be done only in some cases; that is, when the blood is not quite so old that the red corpuscles have entirely lost their shape.
Of course this is a matter of the greatest importance when a man is on his trial; for, in the first place, every spot of blood found on his belongings is supposed to have come from his victim, although it may be nothing more than the blood of a fish; and, in the second place, the stock explanation of blood stains on his clothing offered by a prisoner is that they came from some animal he killed. The plan is to ask him what animal. Five times out of six he will say a domestic fowl or some kind of bird especially if he is a poacher who has killed a gamekeeper—and then he is done for.
Look at the pictures on page 149 and you have the whole thing in a nutshell. It will be seen that the red corpuscles of the blood of birds, reptiles, and fishes (with the exception of the cyclostomata) are oval, while those of mammalian blood are round. Here is, at once, a sure way of differentiating mammalian blood from that of the other three great classes of animals. The only difficulty is that blood corpuscles get out of shape, under certain circumstances, and are no longer either oval or round. But there is another difference. A mammalian corpuscle is of uniform substance throughout: that of a fish, bird, or reptile has a small, dense spot near the centre, called a nucleus. Snails, slugs, worms, and other low forms of animal life do not come into the question at all, for their blood is generally colourless, and, if not, it is blue-green, violet, brown, being scarcely ever red, and then not from the presence of corpuscles.
All that remains for the analyst, therefore, supposing he finds a round corpuscle, is to say to what mammalian animal it belongs. (The llama, alpaca, camel, and their kin, by the way, have oval corpuscles.)
How are the corpuscles of different mammalia to be distinguished under the microscope? Merely by their size. They have all been measured with the greatest care, a specially small unit of length, called a micron, having been invented for the purpose. It is only 1/25000 of an inch long, and, expressed in tenths of a micron, the average diameter of a human blood corpuscle is 77; of a dog, 73; of a rabbit, 69; of a cat, 65; of a sheep, 50; of a goat, 41; and of an elephant, 94. But these are average measurements, and some corpuscles are smaller, some larger.
Therefore, when it is a question of whether the blood is that of a dog, pig, hare, rabbit, or man, he would be a daring man that would give a decided opinion. But it is certainly possible to come to a safe conclusion as to whether it is that of a human being or a sheep, goat, or elephant.
Owing to the influence of disease on the blood, however, it is never really safe to say absolutely "This is human blood," and, in fact, all that is generally stated in evidence is whether it is mammalian.
There is one other important piece of work the medical detective can perform in his laboratory, in the way of tracking criminals; that is to distinguish hairs from vegetable fibres, and human hairs from animals'. Our illustrations show how it is done. He simply places the thing to be tested under the microscope, and—as he is acquainted with every description of hair, cotton, wool, silk and other fibre—he can tell at a glance what it is.
Hair is more like wool than anything else, but wool is irregular and hair is pretty regular in breadth. The hair of an adult, also, has a streak in the middle.
We append accurate illustrations, from microscopic photographs, of the hairs of many animals. Obviously, there is no difficulty to the practised eye in distinguishing them. In fact, most animals' hairs can be known by the naked eye, or with a small magnifying glass; but that of skye terriers and spaniels is wonderfully like human hair.
On all these little things hinges, very often, the terrible issue of "guilty" or "not guilty"!
Some years ago, a woman was found dead with a knife lying loosely in her hand. This fact might mislead people into thinking it was a case of suicide; but the fact that the knife was not held tight made the doctor suspicious. He examined the blood on the knife, and found woollen fibres which resembled those of the husband's clothes. This discovery so acted on the husband that he confessed his guilt.
On another occasion a Taunton man was seen last in company with a man subsequently found dead. In the Taunton man's possession was a knife with a slight film of blood on the blade. He said he had been cutting raw beef. The analyst easily showed, however, that the blood on the knife came from a living animal; and, further, he found on it some little scales from the lining of the human gullet. The Taunton man was convicted.
A remarkable instance of the analyst's power was given in a Cornwall murder case. A man was found with his head broken. On a hammer belonging to a suspect were a couple of grey hairs. This hammer, however, had been used for beating goat-skins, and, in fact, it was found in a hedge on which a goat-skin was spread out to dry.
But the medical witness swore that the two hairs came from somebody's eyebrow, and, on comparing them with the dead man's eyebrow, they corresponded!
In one case a man was very near being hanged—and in the old days, doubtless, he would have been hanged—mainly because a knife with red stains was found in his possession. The medical witness found that they were rust caused by an acid fruit; and then it was found that the prisoner had actually used a knife for cutting a lemon. But, curiously, this stain is so very like blood that the naked eye of even the most skilful medical jurist would be deceived by it.
Footprints are usually left to the police to interpret. But, very probably, the result is often a miscarriage of justice. When the police are working up a case they would not be human if they did not view evidence with a certain amount of bias. The scientific witness, on the other hand, has no personal interest one way or the other. And, moreover, the comparison of a naked foot with its supposed print on the ground, or the fitting of a boot to a boot-mark, is a process requiring not only the most exact measurements, but consideration of the kind of mark made on different kinds of soil, and in the various positions taken by the foot in standing, walking, and running. In running we press mainly on the toes, and in walking the greater part of the foot comes down, and the longer the foot rests on the ground the deeper is the impress. In fact, an expert can make a pretty shrewd guess as to the rate at which the owner of the foot was travelling, by considering the size and depth of the footprint.
In order to make a comparison a cast has to be taken, if the mark is on soft ground. This is done by heating the footprint with a hot iron, and filling it in with paraffin. From this a plaster cast is taken, and it can be preserved for comparison until someone is arrested.
When the footprint is found in snow, gelatine is used to take the form of it, and from this also a plaster cast is made.
Of course, these operations have to be carried out with the greatest care, for footprints are frequently the strongest pillars of an indictment. In order to compare the foot of the suspected person, he is made to walk, stand, and run, over a surface similar to that on which the incriminating print has been found. There is one case in which the scientific detective is certain—when the person has stood still on soft, but firm and tenacious, soil.
The footprints represented in our sketch are those of course of naked feet, which give the clearest impression. But a corresponding variation occurs in all footprints made by persons wearing boots, so that the attitude or action of the wearer is easily told.
Now and again some deformity, such as the possession of six or of only four toes, leaves no room for doubt. When the mark has been made by boots, rather than with the naked foot, it is frequently easy to identify it by the arrangement and number of the nails, by a missing nail, or a patch, or a hole, or a heel worn on one side.
Nevertheless, footprints are, to the medical man, exceedingly doubtful evidence, although from this view the police, and probably the jury, differ.
Taking him altogether, the medical detective does his work with a skill, certainty, and absence of prejudice, worthy of emulation by all engaged in hunting down the criminal. The story of modern medical detective work is one of the most romantic of our times.
THE ONLY WHITE "ZOO" IN EXISTENCE.
LORD ALINGTON'S QUAINT HOBBY.
BY ALFRED ARKAS.
The subject of eccentric hobbies is always fascinating, more especially when the hobby-rider need spare neither time nor expense in humouring his particular fancy.
From time to time we hope to give our readers some account of the many curious and interesting hobbies pursued by those who are distinguished in this direction, although it is doubtful if a more interesting example than the Crichel White Farm is to be found.
The White Farm belongs to Lord Alington, whose name is better known in connection with Turf matters. It was he who bred the immortal Common, one of the grandest horses that ever won the Derby. Common was sold for L15,000. The same week two other of Lord Alington's horses changed hands, the three together making a record price of L39,000. These facts are of peculiar interest in this connection, since the White Farm and the Racing Stud Farm are practically the same, one being part and parcel of the other.
Near the entrance to the White Farm there appears a long low building, over which three flags are flying. This is one of the racehorse stables; and the flags, which are of yellow silk, bear the names of three of Crichel's winners.
Mr. Bartlett, Lord Alington's trainer, is 74 years of age, and one of the most successful men the turf has ever known. In spite of his age he is as sprightly as a young man; and I should say many another "good 'un" is to be expected from his hands.
Common's stable overlooks a portion of the White Farm, and is that seen in the illustration of the white mule.
Crichel is situated six miles from Wimborne, in Dorsetshire. It is on the edge of the New Forest.
On nearing the farm one gets the impression that there is something unusual about the place. The long low stable buildings, the tall white masts and bright yellow flags, numberless white-painted cages, aviaries, outhouses, and the spotless white of the fencings and gateways, all lend it a pleasing individuality.
On turning into the big White Farm gate one encounters the spectacle of a teeming population of bird and animal life. All are pure white, spotlessly clean, and you couldn't find a dark hair or feather if you tried to do so.
The only thing that seems to be missing at a first glance is a white elephant; but the farm is that itself in a sense, as one may readily imagine, when the difficulty of keeping it stocked is considered.
Although one could hardly conceive a more complete collection of white birds and beasts, it is by no means so large or varied as in the past. The mortality among what may be termed the "hot-house" species—the birds and animals from tropical countries—was very great, and the difficulty and expense of constantly replacing them was so considerable that Lord Alington decided to dispense with them altogether.
The most striking creatures on the estate—and well they know it—are the white peafowl. The many-coloured peacock with which we are familiar is a beautiful bird, but I never saw anything in my life as perfect as the white specimen at Crichel.
We were fortunate enough, by the exercise of the patience of Job, to stalk one of these birds, and snap him in full war paint.
The photograph will give some idea of the beauty of the bird, but it cannot convey any adequate notion of the rich silken texture of the plumage, or the aristocratic stateliness of this beauty among beauties. Built into the hedge close to the place where our snapshot of the white peacock was taken, are several white cages devoted to some of the rarer breeds of white pigeons and guinea pigs. At the extreme end are the white rats and mice.
One of the rarest and most interesting members of the white family is the mule—which is really much more like a pony in appearance—shown in another illustration.
The poor brute has experienced many social vicissitudes; originally he was the property of the "Shadow of God upon Earth," as the Sultan of Turkey modestly styles himself.
When Lord Alington was visiting Constantinople, the Sultan, who had heard of his hobby, presented the animal to him. The mule had not long been installed at the White Farm, when a gentleman who drove a four-in-hand of these animals was ordered abroad. He had a white mule in his team which he sold to Lord Alington, and so the farm became possessed of a pair.
They were regularly used in harness till the death of the last-mentioned purchase. Then, as the survivor threatened to die of inactivity and crass laziness, he was given to the local baker, who uses him for the work of distributing bread round the country-side.
From the Yildiz Kiosk to a country cart! How are the mighty fallen!
In a little paddock on the left-hand side of the entrance, a small but most interesting collection of white animals attracts the attention of the visitor. It consists of four superb Angora sheep and a pigmy bull.
The pigmy bull has no history of any particular interest. But if he lacks history, he has a temper—a temper with which it is useless to argue. The photographer, with courage worthy of a better cause, leapt light-heartedly into the paddock, with the trigger of his hand camera at half cock. With a lightning movement he took aim, but the pigmy was too quick for him. He charged our harmless snapshotter, who, "retiring in confusion," as the war correspondents say, made for the fence and fell over it, camera and all, only half a second before the infuriated animal's head rammed furiously into the iron railings. A moment's hesitation and these photographs had never seen publication. The photograph of the bull we reproduce was taken immediately after the adventure. Tiny as the animal is, it is not a creature to be trifled with. As a matter of fact the brute had a bad fit of tantrums during the rest of the day, and the last sound we heard as we wended our way through the quiet lanes that evening was the angry bellowing of offended majesty.
In endeavouring to get a snapshot of Fanny, the white deer, we had quite a different experience. With the modesty and timidity characteristic of the breed, she was strongly opposed to the idea of being photographed. She literally flew round the paddock for some time after our entrance, and I was very much afraid we should have to give her up as a hopeless job.
However, by the exercise of great patience we were enabled to get a snapshot as she stood nervously surveying us from a dark corner. Fanny is one of the beauties of the farm; she is on the most friendly terms with her keeper, and follows him about like a dog. Needless to say, she has not a dark hair in her coat.
An even greater expenditure of time and ingenuity was necessary in photographing the smaller denizens of Lord Alington's Zoo.
Your ordinary guinea pig is a nervous fellow at best; the white variety suffers from hyper-sensitiveness. Over and over again, by frequent offerings of the most tempting dainties, were the shaggy bright-eyed little creatures lured from their haunts. But no matter how stealthily stalked by the camera fiend, they were off like greased lightning long before he was near enough; which circumstance explains why only two of these interesting little pets appear in the vicinity of the runs. At one time during my visit I saw the small paddock devoted to their use simply alive with them.
The White Farm guinea pigs are much larger than the ordinary cavies kept by most of us in boyhood days, and the coat is long and shaggy. Save for the head they are more like pigmy Angora sheep than anything.
For much the same reason we were unable to photograph more than a small corner of the rabbit run. It literally teems with pure white rabbits, but they are not used to visitors, and their native modesty makes them shun the camera like the plague. Only three or four braved the ordeal, but as they are much like their companions, one has only to multiply them indefinitely to obtain some idea of what the run looks like when in full swing.
The title "King of the White Farm" undoubtedly belongs to the peacock. You have only to glance at him to realise that he is equally certain of his position.
But there is another gentleman—the white turkey cock—on the estate who obviously does not share this view, and, were it not for the fact that his consummate vanity renders him blissfully unconscious of his colleague's pretensions, I imagine there would be war. Certainly the turkey cock is a beautiful and stately creature. He was purchased by Lord Alington for L10.
Needless to say, all the ducks and fowls are of the prevailing colour, and very fine birds they are. Even the pigs must turn grey or get themselves bleached if they wish to take up permanent quarters at Crichel.
The pigeons interested me more than anything else in the place, possibly on account of their number, and intelligence. The whole farm is alive with them, and the sight of the colony whirling in mid-air above their cotes is one not readily forgotten.
They cross the sun like a white cloud, and when they swoop downwards to the ground the air vibrates with the hum of whirling wings. They have a trick of sitting along the coping tiles of the roof in single file like a company of soldiers drawn up in line, and on one occasion I saw some hundreds resting so closely together in this fashion that there was not room for a sparrow between them the whole length of the roof.
They are perfectly tame, and are the most knowing-looking rascals I have ever seen. Feeding time is a great institution, and, to my mind, is the most fascinating sight on the farm.
They know their dinner hour to the second, and some time before it is due the air is white with returning stragglers.
The ceremony is interesting enough to justify several illustrations, but we can find room for only one. Preparatory to the all-important function, the birds collect in their hundreds on the roofs of the adjoining buildings. A few seconds later the more impatient spirits among them fly to the ground and move restlessly about near the door from which they know the attendant will emerge.
Directly the man appears they swarm round him as he makes his way into the middle of the grass plot where the food is scattered.
There is not a single feather in any one of the birds which is not of the purest white. A dark feather seals the doom of its unfortunate owner. However, this is a rare event. Possibly the birds conspire to preserve uniformity of colour by plucking alien shades from each other's plumage before they are noticed by the keeper.
If space would permit, one might illustrate many other interesting features of the White Farm, but enough has been said to give a general notion of the charm and interest of Lord Alington's fascinating hobby.
A COMPLETE SHORT STORY
BY CUTCLIFFE HYNE. Illustrated by Richard Jack.
She was not the regular Portuguese mail. She was an ancient seven-knot tramp, which had come across from Brazil to Loando, and had been lucky enough to pick up half a cargo of coffee there for Lisbon. She called in at Banana, the station on the mangrove-spit at the mouth of the Congo, where the river pilots live (and on occasion die), and where the Dutch factory used to bring trade till the Free State killed it with duties; and at Banana she had further fortune. There were two hundred and thirty negroes there, Accra men and Kroo-boys mostly, a gang that had made their fifteen or twenty pounds apiece on the railway, and were waiting to go home.
The passenger-boys had collected their chattels, and were gathering in a howling chattering mob by the surf-boats ready to go on board, when the first notion came to me of joining her. It was the Danish harbour-master who gave it. He came up, under his old white umbrella with the green lining, to the house where I was staying, and told me that the tramp was going to call in at San Thome and the Bonny River.
"Now, we don't hanker to get rid of you here, Mr. Calvert," he said, "but if you want to climb that mountain in Fernando Po, you're not likely to get so good a chance for the next three months to come. Your place is on the road between San Thome and Bonny, though of course you'll have to make it worth the skipper's while to stop. But that's your palaver."
"Can you put a figure on it?" I asked.
"I should take it," said the harbour-master, "that you could hustle the man into Fernando Po for ten sovereigns. He's only a Portugee. Come aboard now in my gig and see him."
The tramp's interior was not inviting. We went into the chart-house and drank the inevitable sweet champagne with the captain; and whilst the bargain was being made, a thousand cockroaches crawled thoughtfully over the yellow-white paint.
"I tell you straight," said the harbour-master in English, "she's a dirty ship, and the chop'll be bad enough to poison a spotted dog. But if you will go to these Portugee and Spanish places to sweat up mountains, that's part of the palaver."
"Oh, if the grub's good enough for them, it won't kill me."
"Then if you will go, I'll send my boy off in the boat for your boxes one-time, because the Old Man's in a hurry to be off. He's got a bishop on board below, very sick with fever, and he wants to be out of this stew and get to sea again as quick as it can be done. Thinks it'll give the ship bad luck, I suppose, if the bishop pegs out."
The harbour-master's boy was speedy, and the harbour-master himself piloted us out into the wide gulf of the river's mouth. The beer-coloured stream gave up its scent of crushed marigolds strongly enough to pierce through the smells of the ship and the smells of the crowded chattering negroes on the fore-deck, and the old steamer began to groan and creak as she lifted to the South Atlantic swell. The sun went down, and night followed like the turning out of a lamp. The lighthouse flickered out on the Portuguese shore away on the port bow, and above it hung the Southern Cross, a pale faint thing, shaped like an ill-made kite.
[Footnote 1: Copyrighted in the U.S.A. by Cutcliffe Hyne, 1898.]
The bumping engines stopped, and the Dane came down off the upper bridge. He stood with me for a minute on the brown, greasy deck planks, and then went down the ladder into his boat.
"Oscar-strasse, tretten, Kjobnhavn!" he shouted, as the gig dropped astern. "Mind you come. I shall be home in another nine months."
"Wanderers' Club, London; don't forget; sorry I haven't a card left," I hailed back, and wondered in my mind whether in any of the world's turnings I should ever meet that good fellow again. But the steamer was once more under way, mumbling and complaining, and the store-keeper at that moment was beginning to open the case of dried fish—baccalhao, as they call it on the coast—to which we traced back the hideous plague which in the next few days swept away her people like the fire from a battery of guns.
There were only two other passengers beside the bishop and myself—a pair of yellow-faced, yellow-fingered Portuguese from down the coast, traders both, with livers like Strasbourg geese. The Skipper was a decent, weak little chap from Lisbon, who might have been good-looking if he had sometimes washed; the Chief Engineer was a Swede, who spoke English and quoted Ibsen; and the other officers I never came specially across. There was only one of my own countrymen on board, a fireman from Hull, one of the strongest men I ever met, and certainly the most truculent ruffian. His name was Tordoff on the ship's books, but that was a "purser's name." He spoke pure English when he forgot himself, and certainly had once been a gentleman.
It was baking hot down below, and the place was alive with rats and cockroaches. I rigged a wind-scoop through the port in my room, got into pyjamas, and lay down on the top of the bunk. But I can't say I did much business with sleep; the menagerie held cheerful meetings all round, and the perspiration tickled as it ran off my body in little streams; and these things keep a man awake. My room was to starboard, and when through the porthole I saw day blaze up from behind the low line of African hills, I turned out, rolled a cigarette, and went on deck. I was just in time to see the first funeral.
Four very frightened-looking men and a profane mate were fitting a couple of biscuit sacks over a twisted figure which lay on the grimy greasy deck planks. They pulled one over the head and another over the heels, and then with a palm and needle made them fast about the figure's middle. Afterwards they lashed a fire-bar along the shins, and then, with faces screwed up and turned away, they lifted the body as though it had been red-hot, and toppled it over the rail.
The dead man dived through the swell alongside almost without a splash; but, as though his coming had been a signal, a dozen streaks of foam started up from various points, each with a black triangular fin in the middle of it; and I did not feel any the happier from knowing precisely what that convoy meant.
However, the sharks and the body drifted away into the wake astern, and I rolled another cigarette and got a chair and sat on the break of the bridge deck. From there I saw the mate and his four hands fetch one by one five other bodies out of the forecastle, and prepare them for burial. Three they covered with canvas; and then the supply of biscuit sacks seemed to run out, because the last two they put over the side with the fire-bar attachment only.
The fifth man had to be content with four participators in his funeral. The remaining sailor held strangely aloof; his face turning through a prism of curious colours; his body swaying in uncouth jerks. As the fifth corpse toppled over the rail, this fellow threw himself down on the hatch cover, and lay there writhing and screaming in a torment of cramps.
At that moment a man in a white serge cassock, which reached to his heels, came out of one of the forecastle doors and walked rapidly across to the new victim. He was a long lean man with a hawk's nose, and bright large eyes. The skin of his face was like baggy yellow leather, and it was dry with fever. As he knelt beside the writhing sailor, I saw the metal crucifix nearly fall from his thin hands through sheer weakness. He was the Portuguese bishop from down-coast of course, and when I remembered that he had just been through black-water fever (which is own brother to yellow jack) I judged that from a human point of view he was behaving with exquisite foolishness in meddling with first-crop cholera patients. But I respected him a good deal for all that, and went and got opium and acetate of lead and gave the man on the hatch a swingeing dose. It was a useless thing to do, because the chap had got to die, and one incurred one's own risks by going near him; but if that bishop was a fool, I had got to be a fool too, and there was an end of it.
Mark you, I wasn't feeling a bit frightened then. I'd been through cholera-cramp in India, and knew what my chances were, and was ready to face them without whimpering; though of course I'd freely have given every farthing I was worth to have been snugly back in the Congo again. But the thing had got to be seen through, and I intended to keep my end up somehow. I couldn't afford to die like a rat in a squalid hole like that.
I had breakfast all to myself that morning, because no one else turned up; and afterwards the captain did me the honour to call me into consultation. My Portuguese is off colour, but I speak enough to get along with.
"You English know so much about these things," he said.
"We keep clean ships," I answered, "and when anything goes wrong on them we do not lose our heads. Also we try to trace our way back to the root of evils. How did this plague start?"
"You must have brought it on board at Banana. We had not in the ship before you came."
"We did not bring it. There is no cholera in the Congo now. And, moreover, your passenger-boys are none of them sick. We must try back further."
We did that together laboriously; and at last traced the mischief to that fatal case of baccalhao which had been shipped at Bahia, an infected port; and had this essence of pest promptly thrown to the sharks. Next we went into the question of hands.
"I have not enough firemen and trimmers left to man a single watch," said the captain. "The cholera hit the stoke-hold first. The fellows who are working there now have stood three watches on end, and they are hardly making enough steam to give her steerage way."
"If you let your old beast of a tramp stop and drift about here like a potato-chip in a frying-pan it won't improve matters. Those of us who don't peg out with cholera will start murdering one another. The niggers will begin."
"Yes, I know. I wanted some of them to serve as firemen for good pay. But they will not listen to me. I do not think they understood. Will you come and translate?"
We took revolvers, holding them ostentatiously in our pockets. I crossed the dizzy sunshine of the lower main deck. The negroes on the forecastle head were chattering together like a fair of monkeys, but they ceased when we came up, and stared at us with faces working with excitement.
"Which be head-man?" I asked.
A big fellow stood forward, hat in hand. "I fit for head-man, sar."
I told him hands were wanted for the stoke-hold, and that the gorgeous pay of four shillings English per diem was offered.
"We no fit for stoke, sar," said he. "We gentlemen wid money, sar. We passenger-boys, sar."
"Very well, daddy," said I. "But stoke you've got to. And if you won't do it civilly you'll do it the other way. Now my frien', pick me out twelve good strong boys. If you don't do it, I'll shoot you dead one-time; if they won't work, I'll shoot them. You quite savvy?"
We got the men and they went off to the stokehold, frightened and raging. Poor wretches, eight of them toppled over in the next twenty-four hours, and half-a-day later the engines stopped for the last time. I was smoking industriously under the alley-way, and Tordoff came and loafed near me.
"I'm a bally fine chief-engineer, aren't I?" said he.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm the best man that's left of all our crowd, that's all. They're every sinner of them dead, black men, white men, and Portuguese. Where are we now?"
"Slap bang under the equator. That mountain-top sticking out of the water is San Thome."
"Then I'm off there," said Tordoff. "This bloomin' steamer's played out. She can't steam, and she wouldn't sail if there was any wind, which there isn't. I shall take one of the boats and skip. You'd better come too."
"What for? Why not?"
"Because there are only two boats and they aren't enough for all hands."
"The boats will hold all the white men, or them that call themselves white. But if you are one of the missionary crowd that hold niggers as good——"
"I'm not. I know what niggers are, and therefore I'm not an Exeter Hall fool about them. I'll make free to tell you this boat-game's been thought of before; but that bishop says he won't leave the niggers to peg out alone; and if he's going to be idiot enough to stay, I am going to be another idiot. That's the size of it."
"Well," said Tordoff, "I've got no use for that kind of foolishness myself, and if you're left, you needn't come and haunt me afterwards. You've had the straight, square tip. And you'll do no good by spreading this palaver about. If anyone tries to stop us there'll be a lot of men killed. We aren't the kind of crowd that'll stick at trifles if we're meddled with. So long!"
He slouched off, and I went to the deck of the bridge and looked down on a curious scene. The main deck was a shambles. There were a score of corpses there, pitching about stiffly to the roll of the ship, with no one offering to touch them. There were a score more of sick, shrieking and knotting themselves in their agony. The survivors were in two sorts of panic—the comatose, and the madly violent. A crowd of yelling dancing negroes, most of them stark naked, had set up a ju-ju on a barrel of the fore-deck winch, and were sacrificing to it a hen which they had stolen from one of the coops. The little wooden god I knew: it was one that I had picked up in the Kasai country, and I was taking it home as a curiosity. It had been lifted from my own state-room by some prowling negro, and was now receiving fresh daubs of red blood amid the clamour of frantic worshippers. It was quite a reasonable thing to expect under the circumstances. But what threw the action of these savages into grotesque relief was the sight of another man crouched in prayer beside the bulwarks. It was the bishop. His tottering hands were pinning the crucifix to his hollow chest; his hips were swaying under him with weakness; his dry cracked lips moved noiselessly; and the molten sunlight beat upon him as it pleased.
The sight of that man gave me a bad feeling. Before I knew quite how it happened, I was down on the frizzling main-deck, and the ju-ju had been plucked from the winch barrel and flung over the side, together with the tortured hen, and I was fighting for my life amongst a crowd of furies. Tordoff was there too (though I'm sure I don't know how he came), and thanks to him I got back again on to the bridge deck; but the bishop did not come with us. He stayed down there amongst those sullen animal blacks, imploring them, praying with them, soothing them. He was a braver man than I, that Portuguese.
Another night came down, and the steamer wallowed in inky blackness. In the morning we were still more helpless. The mates, the few remaining sailors, the stewards and cooks, and the two yellow traders had gone; the captain lay in the alley-way with a knife between his shoulder-blades; the bishop and I and Tordoff were the only white men remaining on board. Yes, Tordoff. I went into the pantry smoking a cigarette, and found him there, eating biscuits and raisins.
"You here?" I said, "Why, man, I thought you cleared out with the rest."
"No," he said, "I thought it would be so fine to stay behind and be able to scoff the cabin grub just as I pleased. I just stayed for the grub, it's worth it."
"You're rather a decent sort of liar," I said; "do you mind shaking hands?"
"I don't see the need," he said; "and besides, I'm using my hands to eat these raisins; but you may kick me if you like. There isn't a redder fool than me in both Atlantics. By the way, how's the padre?"
"Very sick. I looked into his room and found him lying in his bunk. He couldn't talk."
"I put him there. Found the old fool preaching to those beasts on all fours this morning, and looked on till he dropped; then I lugged him under cover."
"Any more dead?"
"Five pegged out during the night. They were lying pleasantly in and amongst the others, and there were seven more sick. I told the head-man when I went down with the padre to have them put over the side or I'd kill him. And when I came back I found he'd shoved over the whole dozen. The man-and-a-brother's a tolerable brute when he comes to handling his own kind, Mr. Calvert."
We went out then and set the passenger-boys to washing down decks. We could not give them the hose because there was no donkey working; but they drew water in buckets and holystoned and scraped and scrubbed till they cleaned the infection out of the decks, and sweated it out of themselves. The cholera seemed to have exhausted itself. There were three other cases, it is true, but they were mild, and none died. In their fright the boys would have chucked their friends overboard as soon as they were taken sick, but I promised the head-man to shoot him most punctually if any one went over the side who was not a pukka corpse, and if niggers were addicted to gratitude (which they are not), there are gentlemen now living on the Kroos coast who might remember me favourably. For we did get in. A B. and A. boat picked us up three weary days later, and towed us at the end of an extremely long hawser into the very place to which I wanted to go.
Of course Fernando Po, being Spanish, kept us very much at arm's length; and we did a thirty days' most rigid quarantine, which made (after the last case had recovered) a matter of forty days in all. But we had no more deaths, and the bishop pulled up into fine form. He was not a man that I could ever bring myself to like, and as Tordoff was for the most part sullen and unwishful for talk, the time that we swung to our anchor off Port Clarence was not exhilarating.
Still it was pleasant to think that one was alive, and to realise that one had got respectably out of a very tight corner—yes, one of the tightest. The tramp's two boats never turned up again. I suppose they carried cholera away with them, and drifted about in the belt of equatorial calms, full of sun-dried corpses, till some tornado came and swamped them. So that we three were the only Europeans left out of thirty-four, and of the two hundred and thirty negroes who left Banana in the Congo, only seventy-four came to Fernando Po. It was a tolerable thinning out, but when it came to climbing the peak, that made up for all which had gone before. Indeed it is a wonderful mountain.
I saw Tordoff again just as I was going away from the island, and tried to put it to him delicately that I was not badly off, and would like to give him a lift if the thing could be managed.
"No, Mr. Calvert," he said, "thanks. I prefer to go to the devil my own gait. I don't suppose you'd ever know who I am; but if anybody describes me and asks, just say you haven't seen me."
And that is the last I have seen or heard of him. It is extraordinary how one drifts away from men. But, on the other hand, I should not be in the least surprised at stumbling across Tordoff again, in purple and fine linen for choice on the next occasion.
IN A DISAPPEARING CHESHIRE TOWN.
THE STRANGE STORY OF NORTHWICH.
BY PERCY L. PARKER.
The town of Northwich is subject to fits, and the reason is that people like salt. The existence of the fits is proved by a glance at the photos here given, and a few words will explain their cause.
A stranger who knows nothing of the town may well be alarmed as he walks down its streets, for on all sides he sees walls and houses standing at every possible angle. Houses lean against each other in a way suggestive of intoxication; doorways are all awry, and pavements and roads roll like a sea-serpent.
CASTLE CHAMBERS, WHICH FELL OVER WHOLE IN THE NIGHT.]
It is not certain that you will find your horse or cow in its stall next morning even if you lock the door at night, for a great gulf may have swallowed it alive. Most people like to see their fireplaces standing above the level of the floor, but such prejudices cannot be tolerated at Northwich, and if your fireplace goes beneath the floor, well, such is one of the privileges of living in the place. It may happen that your house falls over in the night, or that its roof may come crashing down on your head. Even churches are not safe. Two at least have suffered demolition, and one is now closed as unsafe. The town bridge leads a vagrant life, and makes constant settlements, which impede the traffic on the river. Northwich cannot boast a town hall, for it also was a victim of the "moving" spirit of the place.
The details of this state of things are little known even in England, but a graphic description recently appeared in a German newspaper. It declared that so serious was the condition of Northwich that the inhabitants had fled to the neighbouring mountains, and all that could be seen on the site of the ancient town was the funnel of a passing steamer.
Some worthy people at Bradford evidently had a similar idea, for after a certain bank of that town had lent the Northwich authorities L5,000 they heard such alarming things about the place that they sent two directors to see if there was any chance of anything being left of Northwich when the repayment of the loan was due.
It is true that boats have been seen in the streets of Northwich, for every now and then they get flooded. The case of Northwich is serious enough, but there is still dry land, the people have not fled to the mountains, and the bank is pretty certain to be paid. What then is the matter?
ONE OF THE MOST COMMON SIGHTS IN NORTHWICH.]
Northwich has the misfortune to be built on the top of a pie-crust. If you cover some fruit in a pie-dish with a crust and then pump out the juice and fruit through a hole in the crust and place a heavy weight on it, you naturally expect the crust to break and the weight to fall into the dish. The pie under Northwich is made of rock salt, and on the top of the salt is a large amount of juice (or brine), and over it is the earth's crust. But a good many Jack Homers have been at this pie and have pumped the brine away. The heavy buildings on the crust have then broken through it, and in this way Northwich is subject to "fits." Locally they are called "subsidences."
The classic event at Northwich was the upsetting of a house called "Castle Chambers," occupied at the time by a solicitor. At 3 o'clock one morning in May, this house fell back into a large hole which suddenly opened at the rear of it. But not a single brick was moved nor a pane of glass broken, though the chimney was not proof against such antics and fell to the floor. This was due to the way in which the house was built.
WHERE A HORSE WAS SWALLOWED UP.]
For so universal and expected are these subsidences, that the houses are now all built in wooden frames with massive timber beams screwed tightly together. This has revived a style of building common enough more than a hundred years ago, specimens of which are often seen in country places. If the house subsides it falls as a whole and does not necessarily collapse. All you have to do is to use a screw-jack to raise the house, fill in the hole, remove the jack, and sleep as before till another subsidence, when the same operation is gone through. Castle Chambers, however, were taken down and the ground made "sound." Twelve months after another subsidence took place, and the result is shown in the above photograph.
THE SECOND SUBSIDENCE ON THE SITE OF CASTLE CHAMBERS.]
Just opposite Castle Chambers stood the old "Wheat Sheaf Inn." It was built with timber to resist the dreaded subsidence, but to no purpose. Money was frequently spent in making good the damage done. One year it had to be raised no less than nine feet! A year after part of the building disappeared, then the cellars went, and as a climax a horse which was in the stable was swallowed up.
One Sunday morning a neighbouring farmer put his horse—worth L30 with its harness—into the stable, and when he returned after doing his business, he found that the beast had gone down a hole 15 ft. in diameter which had suddenly opened. The house was then pulled down and built further up the street. This shows how owners in Northwich stand to lose both buildings and the sites of them.
Next to the "Wheat Sheaf" was a butcher's shop, which was robbed one day of a sausage machine by the gaping earth. When it is mentioned that a second horse disappeared, and that a minister had a narrow escape from being swallowed, the fun of the following story will be appreciated. The minister one day in a funny mood was making some remarks at a public meeting about the strange disappearance of the horses and the sausage machine. He suggested that when the people below received the first horse they naturally wanted a sausage machine, and hence the disappearance of that useful article. Then so much did they enjoy the produce of the machine that they wanted a second horse, and hence the second disappearance. At this point the chairman of the meeting rose and gravely asked whether on one occasion they did not also want a minister (referring to the funny man's escape), and the story-teller meekly ended his tale.
Another extraordinary subsidence was that which took place in a house in Tabley Street. The family were quietly seated in a room when they heard a tremendous crash, which soon brought the neighbours out to see what was the matter. An adjoining room was found to be minus its fireplace; instead there was a big hole reaching to the cellar beneath. The marble mantel-piece was smashed, and the tiled floor or hearth had fallen to the cellar. The cellar wall of the next house had given way, and there was great danger that the chimney would come smashing down. Soon after the walls cracked and the floors were drawn apart, making the house more breezy than comfortable. This was a peculiarly hard case, for the proprietor had recently spent a good deal of money in putting the property in order. In the end, the house and site were worth nothing.
A CHASM IN A ROADWAY.]
The house of a linen draper in the town sank one-fifth of its height between the years 1881 and 1891, and in the seven years since it has sunk nearly another fifth. One kitchen window looks out on the river, and the water is now but a few inches below the window sill. When I saw it the moon was shining on the water, making the scene singularly effective. At one time the kitchens were lofty rooms, now one can hardly stand upright in them, for the floors and the walls have not kept pace.
Another house I saw had eight steps of one foot each down to the front door. Not many years ago the doorstep was on the road level. An ironmonger's shop floor has sunk six feet in a similar way. One side of the floor is describing a semicircle, and the walls have long been cracked.
The "Crown and Anchor," the chief hotel in the place, had to be rebuilt, for to walk its floors was "like being at sea in a heavy gale." The floor of the dining-room had sunk so much that it was several feet below the level of the roadway, and the windows afforded a beautiful view of passing feet.
BRINE PUMPING SHAFT IN A FIT.]
A jeweller had the novel experience of seeing his fireplace sink below the level of the floor and his mantel-piece half buried. Even the police station was not safe. It was built at a cost of L2,000, repairs to the extent of L300 were soon needed, but it became so bad that it had to be abandoned.
There are several streets in Northwich where the houses are simply tobogganing into each other, and all over the place are houses which have been condemned and now are closed. One street became suddenly several feet wider than it used to be, for one side was sliding away. It was afterwards found that the houses on that side had moved three feet from their foundations, which were discovered under the kerb stones of the pavement! The Marston Road sank 15 feet in forty years, and at last had to be abandoned owing to a huge chasm many feet in width which formed across it.
It is only fair that even the buildings of the salt works in the town are not exempt from these subsidences, which, indeed, are due to their activity. One photograph is given which shows a pumping shaft in a serious epileptic fit, which ended in its total collapse. Some time ago the curious sight might have been seen of a large wall travelling from three to four feet away from the building of which it was once a part. And in several of the salt works I found the walls parting in all directions, the floors in the shape of an S, and whole blocks of buildings waiting for the house-breaker.
One of the most remarkable features of these subsidences is that no loss of human life has occurred. A girl with a child was passing the "Wheat Sheaf Inn" on the occasion of a subsidence and was nearly swallowed up, but not quite. The only loss of life was that of the two horses already mentioned and a cow. A man was driving a cow through the streets and turned to speak to a friend. On looking round he found that his cow had been swallowed up. He was assured that the animal would be pumped up with the brine at some point, but the beast was never seen again!
The subsidences already mentioned are almost invariably caused by the pumping away of the brine. Other subsidences are caused by the falling in of old and disused salt mines which have not been properly worked, or worked too near the surface. The result of these subsidences is generally seen in the formation of huge lakes of water called "flashes." One of these covers 100 acres, and is 40 to 50 feet deep. They cover what were formerly fields, and the ensuing loss was very great.
One gentleman had to make a new road to his property because 100 acres were under water, and other areas were badly damaged by subsidences; another built a house costing L6,000, and the largest offer he could get for it was L1,500—it had been so much injured by subsidence.
The area over which these subsidences take place is about two square miles. Some years ago the property in Northwich was valued at L311,885, but the depreciation on it was valued at one third, or L102,945—the annual loss being L5,147. When the matter was brought before the House of Commons it was stated that damage had been done to no less than 892 buildings. But the number to-day, if it could be estimated, would be infinitely larger. These 892 buildings comprised five public buildings, 15 manufacturing works, 21 slaughter-houses and stables, 34 ware-houses and workshops, 41 public-houses, 140 shops, and 636 houses and cottages.
In ten years the pumping up of brine had excavated from beneath beneath Northwich a space large enough to form a ship canal from Northwich to Warrington 150 feet wide and 30 feet deep. And a well-known authority declares that the subsidences during the present century form an excavation very much more extensive than was required for the Manchester and Liverpool Ship Canal. For the subsidences correspond with the amount of salt taken from the earth.
ANOTHER VIEW OF CASTLE CHAMBERS ON ITS BACK.]
Every ton of white salt consumes one ton of rock salt, and a ton of rock salt represents a solid cubic yard. As 1,200,000 tons of white salt are made every year at Northwich it follows that at least 1,200,000 cubic yards of solid foundation are removed from beneath Northwich each year. This is equal to an annual uniform subsidence of 248 acres one yard thick. No wonder that Northwich has fits!
Taking the fits as proved, we will now look more closely beneath the pie-crust of Northwich. The best way to do so is to get into a big tub which will just hold two people and go down the shaft of a salt mine, lowered by a windlass. First of all you pass through 32 feet of soil and drift, and then about 92 feet of what would commonly be called rock. Then below these 124 feet you come to the first bed of rock salt, which averages about 75 feet in thickness. Passing through this you come to 30 feet more of rock, and below again is found another bed of rock salt, which averages in thickness about 90 feet. It is the lower bed of rock salt which is mined. The bottom of the mine down which I went was 330 feet below the surface, but the atmosphere was delightful, being cool and dry and not in the least oppressive. A magnificent chamber, 25 feet high and 17 acres in extent, had been dug out of the salt, and its extent could easily be gauged by the help of the candles which had been lit all round the mine. Massive pillars of salt of 10 or 12 feet square are left at intervals of 25 yards to support the roof.
The rock is got largely by blasting. A hole is drilled, and into the bottom of the hole a small powder ball is put. Loose powder is placed in a piece of straw and the straw is lighted. In a few seconds it burns down to the powder ball, and the rock salt which has lain so quietly in its bed for aeons breaks up, and in process of time may find itself in any quarter of the globe.
A FLOOD IN THE STREETS OF NORTHWICH.]
No damage is done to the surface by the mining of this lower bed of rock salt. It is too deep for that. The subsidences are all connected with the upper bed of salt. These upper beds used to be worked because the lower beds were not known, and when they were neglected they fell in, and in this way the large sheets of water of which I have spoken were formed above the earth's crust.
HOUSES WHICH COLLAPSED OWING TO A SUBSIDENCE.]
But the mining of the upper bed of salt by man does not account for the subsidences here recorded. The name of the dangerous miner is "water." When water reaches the upper bed of salt it dissolves it as water does snow. Water can take in 26 degrees of salt and no more, and then it is called brine. Underneath Northwich is a sea of brine which lies on the top of the upper bed of salt rock. From this brine white salt is made by a process of evaporation, and that is why all over Northwich you see numbers of pumping stations which pump up the brine as fast almost as it is made. As the brine is taken out fresh water flows in and takes up its 26 degrees of salt. In this way the great cavities under Northwich which cause all the subsidences are made; they will grow bigger and bigger as long as the pumping up of brine is continued.
Truly Northwich lives and moves and has its being in salt, and promises to be buried in it too.
Brine pumping is the source of a terrible injustice. A man may buy a piece of land large enough to erect a pumping station, and if on that spot he can tap the brine there is nothing to prevent him from drawing brine from any part of Northwich. And though his neighbour's house is engulfed in the process, and though he is ruined thereby, he can secure no compensation. If you were to mine salt or coal under your neighbour's house you could be brought to book, but not if you take water, salt or fresh.
Such was the law till a few months ago. But after a tremendous fight a bill has been passed which gives a Compensation Board power to levy not more than three-pence a ton on all brine pumped at Northwich. This levy is to go to the compensation of those whose houses and property have suffered. But at present not a penny has been paid and in no case will a penny ever be paid for all the damage done before the passing of the Act. Such is the tragedy of salt getting.
Illustration: OUR ARTIST'S WAKING DREAM OF A STREET IN NORTHWICH.]
Northwich has been called the salt metropolis of the world, and as becomes a metropolis it is unique. It has a Salt Museum, the only one in existence, which contains the finest collection of Indian and American salts in the country. It also contains some very interesting exhibits. Among them are a pair of boots and an old broom-head which were left in an old salt mine for fifteen years. They had not much beauty when they were left, but Nature has made them exquisitely beautiful, for they are encased in salt crystals which were formed upon them in those fifteen years.
No one can go down a salt mine without asking, How did this salt come here? And no one can fail to be impressed by the answer. AEons before the footfall of man was heard upon the earth there stretched across Cheshire a great salt lake; and under the hot sun of a semi-tropical age the salt crystallised out of the water and rested at the bottom of the lake. How many years it is since the first layer was deposited can hardly be imagined, for it was formed under deep waters, while now it is over 300 feet beneath the earth's crust. But there are few finer fields for the exercise of the imagination than in trying to conceive the vastness of time and change which have elapsed since then. And when one does realise something of the eternity of that time one ceases to wonder that Northwich has fits when its heart of salt is taken from it.
THAT FIVE HUNDRED POUND PRIZE.
THE STORY OF A GENIUS.
BY RICHARD MARSH.
Illustrated by John H. Bacon.
To him, the idea, from all points of view, suggested nothing but objections. He told her so.
"You know, Philippa, I don't believe, as the cant of the day has it, that a woman ought to earn for herself her daily bread; and that a woman should earn her husband's daily bread as well—to me, the mere idea of such a thing is nauseous. There may be men who are content to take the good which their wives provide. Thank goodness, I am not one of them. In this matter I am old-fashioned in my notions. I look at woman from a point of view which is, perhaps, my own. To me, the woman who, urged even by necessity, works for money, soils her womanhood, falls away from her high estate. I pity her, but—not that woman, if you please, for me. Necessity, Philippa, surely does not urge you. Am I not always at your side? Believe me, my day will come—come shortly! Only wait!" Putting his arm about her waist, he looked up into her face, with, in his eyes, a certain light of laughter. "Besides, in the great army of the workers, what work do you think there is for you? Do you think that in you there is the making of a woman of letters, Philippa?"
So he kissed her, and she said nothing. She could say nothing. She could only let him fondle her, as though they still were sweethearts. For she loved him, and he loved her. But though she loved him, in her heart there was a hot remonstrance, which she allowed to remain unspoken, because she loved him. It was easy to say that there was no necessity to prick her with a spur. But there were the tradesmen's bills unpaid, the rent in arrear, and the children wanted things—not to speak of herself and of him. And there was a drawer full of his unaccepted manuscripts. They went hither and thither, from editor to editor, and then for the most part they seemed to settle in the drawer.
She understood well enough what he meant when he asked if she thought that she had in herself the making of a woman of letters. She had been a nothing and a nobody. She had not even been very pretty. Certainly no superfluity of money had been thrown away upon her education. It was not at all as it is in the story books, but, quite by chance, he met her. Before he knew it, he was wooing her. And, when things came to the worst at home, he married her—she having nothing which she could call her own except the things which she was wearing. And he had very little more. It was not strange that he should doubt if in her there was the making of a woman of letters—she, who, save in the way of love letters, had scarcely ever written a line.
Geoffrey Ford was a genius. He had given her to understand that from the very first—in the days when, in her ignorance, she scarcely understood what a genius was. He gave her to understand it still, almost every day. With him, to write was to live. To be a great writer was the dream of his life. He strove to realise his dream with that dogged pertinacity which is only to be seen in the case of a master passion. When they first were married, he was struggling to be a dramatist. He was quite conscious that, in the trade of the writer, wealth was only to be achieved by the successful playwright. He believed that his was essentially the playwright's instinct. Although his plays met with abundance of good words, they did not attain production. It seemed as if they never would. When they began to be actually starving, she suggested that he should put aside playwriting for a time, and try to earn money by other products of his pen. He had acted on her suggestion. He had become that curiosity of modern civilisation—a writer for the magazines. And, in a way, he had been successful. He was earning, perhaps, an irregular hundred and fifty pounds a year. But what are an irregular, a very irregular, hundred and fifty pounds a year, when there are three babies? And yet he said that there was no spur of necessity to urge her on.
The worst of it was, she was beginning to be a doubter. She would not own it, even to herself, but she was beginning to fear that he might be mistaking the desire to be, for the power to be. What he considered his best work invariably came back. He said that this was because editors were unable to appreciate strikingly original ideas when they were presented to them by a wholly unknown man. What they desired was a commonplace, and when he said this, she—well, she said nothing. From the first she had insisted on his reading aloud to her everything he wrote. Unconsciously to herself she had become a critic. She was beginning to fear that he was only at home in the lower levels. When he soared, he floundered. It was only among the hacks that he held his own. Even then, at times, he lagged behind. So far from hinting to him her fears, she would almost rather have died than have allowed him to know she had them. Their love for each other had never faltered, even when their cupboard was emptiest. It had seemed to grow stronger with the coming of each child. And, what is more, it appeared to her that, but for him, she would have dropped into a ditch.
Lately there had been growing up within her a desire to add to the family income. And, oddly enough, it had seemed to her that the best way to do this would be by writing. She had hinted something of this desire to Geoffrey. She had suggested, playfully, that she should join her pen to his—that they should collaborate. He had received her playful suggestion in such a way that she had not ventured to repeat it in earnest. She knew him, through and through. She knew that he desired to succeed, not only for himself, but, first of all, for her. He loved his work for the work's sake. He cared nothing for fame in the sense of popularity, or its equivalent, notoriety. In that respect he was a clear-sighted man—he knew what the thing was worth. For himself he cared nothing for the material products of success. His own tastes were of the simplest kind. He desired to achieve success simply that he might pour the fruits of success into her lap. He wished her to owe nothing to anyone but to himself, to owe nothing even to her own self. He wanted to be all in all to her, to have his love her beginning, and her end.
She knew this. Yet—the rent was overdue. Of late his manuscripts seemed coming back worse than ever. He seemed to be out of the vein. And the children wanted things so badly. And so——
Well, one day he came to her with an expression of countenance which she knew so well. It meant that a new idea, some fresh project, either was germinating, or else had germinated, in his mind. In his hand he held a newspaper.
"Philippa, I am going to do what I have told you I thought that I should never do—I am going in for a prize competition. See here." He opened the paper out in front of her. "The North British Telegraph is offering L500 for the best story, L250 for the second best, and L100 for the third best. I am going to win one of those prizes—mark my words, and see if I don't."
He was kneeling at the table by her chair. She had her hand upon his shoulder. She smiled as he spoke. She knew his tone so well. He was always going to do this, that, or the other. But somehow, after all, he seldom did it.
"Are you? The money would be very useful."
"Useful! I should think it would. Why, to us, it would be a fortune. But that's not the only thing. You know how ideas come to me in an instant. Directly I saw that announcement I saw the story which will be the very thing."
"Did you?" Her heart grew faint. She was beginning to be a little afraid of his sudden flashes of inspiration. "How long is the story to be?"
"It does not say exactly, but it says that it should not exceed a hundred and fifty thousand words. It will give me elbow room. I shall have a chance to let myself go—to get into my stride. I am sick of dancing in fetters, with a limit of four thousand words or so."
"But it will take you a long time to write, won't it?"
"Oh, about six weeks. It will take me no time, when I am once well into the story. You know how I do travel, when I once have got my grip. It is half mapped out in my head already. Every line of it will practically be written before I begin. There will only be the pen work to do." Putting both his hands upon her shoulders, he stooped his eager face to hers. "Philippa, you see if I don't do the trick this time."
"Geoffrey, if I were you, I wouldn't be so sanguine. You know how disappointed you have been before."
Thrusting his hands into his trousers pockets, he began to stride about the room.
"Yes, I know that is so, and I won't be sanguine. But, somehow, I feel quite certain that, this time, I have the thing—however, I'll say nothing. But don't you tell me not to be sanguine, or you'll put me clean off—you know how funny I am, that way. You keep the children quiet, and don't let me hear a sound, and you'll see—well, you'll see what you will see." He laughed, and she laughed too. "Don't you laugh at me! If I don't get the first prize, it'll be hard lines if I don't get one of the three—even a hundred pounds is not to be despised."
"But, Geoffrey, what will become of your other work during those six weeks? And you know, when you have finished a long story, you never feel inclined to start again at once."
"Don't talk to me like that, or you'll drive me off my head. Philippa, I've set my heart upon doing this thing—do let me do it. You don't want me to be a penny-a-liner all my life, sweetheart, do you? By the way, I saw The Leviathan at the library. There's a first-rate story in it, by a new man—Philip Ayre. I know good work when I see it, and that is good work. And, do you know, it might almost be a story about us—you should read it. It is called 'Two in One.'" Wandering hither and thither about the room, he did not notice that his wife's face had suddenly been bent low over her mending, and that her cheeks had paled. "Another thing, I met old Briggs." Mr. Briggs was their landlord. "I assure you, when I saw him coming, I was half inclined, Dick Swiveller fashion, to dodge down some side street. I made sure he was going to dun, and that I should have to shuffle. But, to my surprise, he was quite friendly. He asked how you were, and how the children were, and never said a word about the rent. So, of course, I said nothing either. I'm just going for a stroll, and a smoke, and a think. Mind, when you go to the library, that you don't forget to read that thing in The Leviathan."
When he had gone, spreading out the paper which he had brought in front of her she began attentively to study the announcement of the North British Telegraph prize story competition. Putting down the figures—150,000—upon a scrap of paper, she began to divide and to sub-divide them, as if she were trying to find out exactly what they meant. When she had finished her calculations, she continued to sit in a brown study, quite oblivious of the heap of mending which still lay unfinished on her knee.
"If I could only help him to win it—if I only could! Poor Geoff! The day on which he gave me five hundred pounds, as the product of his own work, would be the happiest day that he had ever known. My own, own Geoff!
"I wonder if he will win it? Oh, if he only would! But supposing that he does not win it, it would be just as well that—that someone else should win it—someone in—in his own home. Oh, what a wicked wretch I am! What's that? It's baby! I do hope she won't wake up. There's all this mending, and I've only milk enough for one more bottle. There! She is waking up! You naughty, naughty, darling child!"
The next day Geoffrey Ford began his story. He began to pour it out upon the paper, white-hot from the furnace of his brain. Seldom had he seen his way so clearly. It had come, as he said, in an instant. It possessed him, as it were, body and soul and mind, as his work was wont to possess him when, as he thought, he saw his way. His ideas would come to him with the force of a mighty rushing river. He could not dam them back. He felt that he was obliged to give them instant utterance or they would overflow the banks, and so be lost. He worked best, or he thought that he worked best, at high pressure. He believed in striking the iron when the force of the fire had almost made it liquid. Not for him was the journeyman labour of hammering out tediously, and with infinite care, cold iron.
The story was to be called "The Beggar." He had even got the title! It was one of those half-psychological, half-transcendental stories, in the turnings and twistings of which he liked to give his fancy scope. His fault was not too little imagination, but too much. The task of keeping it within due bounds was not only a task which he hated, but possibly it was a task which was beyond his strength. There are impressionists in painting. He was an impressionist in literature. He was fond of large effects—effects which were dashed in by a single movement of the brush. To descend to details was, he thought, a descent indeed. He was conscious that there was a public which would read a volume which, from first to last, only dealt with the minutest particularity, with a couple of days in the life of a single individual. That was a public he despised. He preferred to deal with a whole life in the course of a couple of pages.
He was, in short, a genius. And when I say a genius, I mean, in this connection, a wholly unmanageable person. As you read his work, you felt that you were in the presence of an exceptional mind—in the presence of a man who saw things, great things, things worth seeing, which were hidden from other men—who saw them, as it were, by flashes of lightning. That was just how he did see them—by flashes of lightning. He saw them for an instant, then no more. Partially, and not the whole. In a lurid light, which almost blinded the beholder. So, when you read a work of his, you were startled, first by the light, then by the darkness. It seemed strange that a man who one moment could be so light, the next could be so dull. Soon you began to be irritated. Then you were bored. When you reached the end—if you ever reached the end—you wondered if the man was mad, or if he was merely stupid. But he was neither mad nor stupid. He was a genius, who, so far, declined to allow himself to be managed. When he became manageable, he would cease to be a genius—in the sense in which the word is here being used. Then, if he wrote at all, he would write what the plainest of plain men could plainly read.
The idea of his story was not an unattractive one—to a certain sort of writer. It was to be the story of a beggar, of a man who asked for alms in the streets, and who, by the exercise of certain arts, which verged upon the marvellous, amassed a fortune. Geoffrey Ford proposed to follow the beggar, as he amassed his fortune, and to show what he did with his fortune, when he once had gained it. And in the little room upstairs, the wife sat with the children, watching over their every movement to see that they made no unnecessary sound. They were good children. When papa was writing, even the baby seemed to do her best to keep the peace. The little ones seemed willing to give up the birthright of the child—the right to enter into the heritage of life with a rush of happy noise. And, below, the husband, and the father, wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and rushed about the room, chasing his dreams, so that he might imprison them, with ink, on paper.
The days went by, and the story grew. And so wrapped up was the writer in its growth, that he failed to notice that about his wife there was something unusual, and even a little strange. She was interested in his work, there could be no doubt of that. But she did not, as he was inclined to think that she was apt to do, worry him with continual questions as to how it was getting on, and inquiries into this, or that. She let him go his own way, without making so much as even one suggestion. She was wont to be a little too free with her suggestions, he sometimes fancied. For her suggestions hampered him. And—but this he did not notice—she went her own way too. Rather an odd way it seemed to be. For one thing, she seemed to be unusually busy. She did not come into the room in which he was working even after the children had gone to bed. She seemed to have something on her mind. She became distinctly paler. It might have been illness, or it might have been anxiety, or it might have been overwork. A queer look came into her eyes. Sometimes it was almost like a look of apprehension. Then there would come a timidity in all her movements, as if she were even afraid of him. Then it would be like a look of vacancy, as if her thoughts were far away. When that vacant look was there, she seemed to be unconscious of her husband's presence—just as he had a trick, in his meditative moods, when he was thinking of his work, of becoming unconscious of her. Then again, as one looked into her eyes, one would have thought that she was possessed by some mastering excitement—a flaming fire which glowed within.
One afternoon her husband came in from his daily visit to the Library Reading Room. He was not in his happiest mood. He was a man of moods. When the black mood was upon him, all the world was black.
"On my word, I do not know what things are coming to. There's Graham, of The Leviathan, sends back everything I send him. That MS. which came back this morning, he has had two months, and it's a first-rate thing. Then he goes and fills his pages with stuff which I wouldn't put my name to. The new number's out, and there's another story in it by that man Philip Ayre. I never read such rubbish in my life."
His wife had looked up at him, as he came in, with a smile of welcome. When he began to speak of The Leviathan, her face dropped again. It went paler than even it was wont to do. There was a tremor in her voice.
"I thought you said that that other story of his was rather good."
"It was good enough—of its kind. But it's a kind I hate. There's a craze about for sickly pathos, which, to me, is simply disgusting. In that man Ayre there's the making of a popular writer. Mark my words, and see if he doesn't make a hit. In a few months he will be all the rage—you see. And it is to make room for such men as Ayre that I shall be condemned to eat my heart out till I die."
Putting down her work, his wife came to him from the other side of the table.
"Geoffrey, don't say that!"
Tears were actually in her eyes.
"Philippa, what's the matter?" As he put his arms about her and drew her on to his knee, he felt that she was trembling. "Sweetheart, what is wrong?"
"Don't speak like that of Philip Ayre!"
"Not speak like that of Philip Ayre! Why, lady, do you hold a brief for him? You silly child! It's only a foolish way I have. But if you could only realise how I long, and long, and strive, and strive, to stand up with the best of them, you would understand how it galls me to find how I am thrust aside by men whose work seems to me to be so poor a thing. For their work's sake, I almost begin to hate the man."
"Geoffrey! Geoffrey! Not that! not that!"
Flinging both her arms about his neck, she burst into an hysterical flood of weeping—she who never cried.
"Dear heart!—tell me!—what is wrong!—Philippa! Philippa!—my wife."
She did not tell him what was wrong. It seemed as if she could not tell him what was wrong. Perhaps, as he told himself, it was because, after all, there was nothing wrong. She was only out of sorts that day-unusually out of sorts for Philippa.
After a while he began upon another theme.
"Sweetheart, if something doesn't come in soon—and I don't know where it's going to come from—I can't see what we shall do for money. I don't know if you are acquainted with the state of the family finances. What we must owe the people I am afraid to think. Why they don't worry us more than they do is a mystery to me. I see you've been getting new boots for the children. They wanted them. But they'll have to be paid for, I suppose. Never mind! All things come to those who wait, and luck will come to me. I'm sure I've waited. Let's hope that an unexpected cheque will come along. Anyhow, wait until the 'The Beggar' is finished. It'll be a splendid thing-you see! I'm putting some of the best work into it I ever did. If it doesn't win the first prize, it's bound to win the third. Why, Philippa, your eyes are red. The idea of your crying because I was pushed against the wall to make room for an unknown ass like Mr. Philip Ayre!"
"The Beggar" was finished. It was sent in. Then came the weeks of waiting. Geoffrey Ford did scarcely any work. The larger proportion of the work he did came back again. He seemed to be in a curious frame of mind—as though he took it for granted that that five hundred pounds was already on its way to him.
"If I get that five hundred pounds," he would say, "I will do this, or that."
His wife grew sick at heart.
"Geoffrey, I wish you wouldn't think of it so much. You make me think about it, too. And then, if you don't get it, you know what a bitter disappointment it will be."
"I suppose you take it for granted that I shan't get it?"
"I don't take anything for granted. I never do. I wish you wouldn't either."
"There's one thing, I don't believe that these competitions are ever conducted fairly. I don't see how they can be. I don't see how any man, or any set of men, can wade through a cartload of MSS. in such a manner as to be able to judge, with critical nicety, which is the best one in the truckful. But I'm sure of this, I don't believe that any man sent in a better story than 'The Beggar'—a more original one, I mean. I know the sort of people who enter for these competitions-a lot of wretched amateurs."
She said nothing in reply. What could she say? She knew that it was not only conceit which prompted him to talk like that. She understood quite well the almost anguished longing which filled his heart. Her own heart throbbed pulse for pulse with his.
Returned MSS. seemed to annoy him more than usual. He was case-hardened, as a rule. When they reappeared, he simply packed them up again, and sent them off upon another journey. Especially was he irritated by the return of a MS. which he had sent to The Monthly Magazine.
"I knew that would come back. I see that Philip Ayre has something in this month's number. I don't know who he is. So far as I know, he is the very last discovery. But I believe that that man is destined to be my evil star."
His wife went white to the lips.
"Geoffrey! I wish you wouldn't talk like that. It doesn't sound like you at all."
"I suppose they're quite right in preferring his work to mine, only—" He shrugged his shoulders. "Philippa, I sometimes wish that you were a writer. Then you would understand me better. You would understand what I feel when I see the dream of my life growing dimmer and dimmer, and more dream-like, every day."
Philippa was still.
The day approached on which the conductors of the North British Herald had stated that they would announce the winners in their competition for stories. Geoffrey Ford's anxiety increased to fever heat. His heart stood still every time he heard the postman's knock. His wife knew that it was so, although he did his best to hide how it was with him.
"To-morrow," he said, "I shall know if I have won."
"Or," his wife suggested faintly, "if you have lost."
"Or, as you say, if I have lost. But we won't speak of losing. I have never put my heart into anything as I have put it into this. I am sure that 'The Beggar' is the best work I have ever done—I am sure of it. I will go further, and say I believe it is as good work as I shall ever do. Upon my honour, Philippa, something tells me I shall win—it does! Oh, if I could only win!"
He had arranged that a copy of the issue of the paper containing the announcement should be sent to him by post. That morning the postman brought him two enclosures. One was a bulky parcel. When he saw it, his heart, all at once, ceased beating. He had to gasp for breath. Without a word, he began to unfasten it, with hands which trembled. Philippa bustled about the breakfast table, as if her own heart was not working like a wheezy pair of bellows.
"Philippa! it's 'The Beggar'! the manuscript—come back again!"
"Never mind." How she tried to speak in the most commonplace of voices. "You can send it somewhere else. It's sure to get accepted."
"Send it somewhere else?" She saw that his lips were twitching, that his face seemed bloodless. "But—I don't understand. Not a word of explanation is enclosed. I don't know what it means. Perhaps there's some mistake. Let's—let's see who's won."
The other enclosure which had come for him was obviously a copy of the paper. He tore it open-still with hands which trembled. He searched its columns for the announcement.
"Geoffrey! what's the matter? Who has won? Oh, Geoffrey, have you won?"
"Me! me!" He rose to his feet, as it were, inch by inch. "It's Philip Ayre!"
Falling on her knees beside the table, Mrs. Ford covered her face with her hands.
"It's Philip Ayre! Didn't I tell you he was destined to be my evil star? Curse——"
Mrs. Ford rose up in front of him.
"Geoffrey, be careful what you say! I am Philip Ayre."
"You? What do you mean?"
She advanced to him, on tottering feet, with outstretched hands.
"Geoffrey, I am Philip Ayre!"
"You are Philip Ayre? What on earth do you mean?"
"Oh, Geoffrey, don't you understand? Philippa—Philip Ayre!"
There was a moment's pause—a pause which, probably, neither of them ever would forget.
"You—you are Philip Ayre! How dull I must have been not to have seen the pretty play upon your name before. Philippa—Philip Ayre. Of course! So you have been my rival. My wife—the mother of my children—the woman I loved better than all the world."
"Geoffrey, don't say that I have been your rival!"
"No? Not my rival? What then?"
"I did it all for you!"
"For me? I see. I am beginning, for the first time, to understand the meaning of words. You did it for me? This is not a foreign language which you are speaking—I suppose it is English?"
"Geoffrey, will you listen to me for a moment?"
"Certainly; and I shall understand that I am listening to you, to your own self, for the first time. It is someone else I have listened to before. Proceed, Mr. Philip Ayre."
She seemed to find some difficulty in proceeding. Very soon she was to give another child unto the world. Perhaps it was that which made her seem so weak. She never had been very pretty. She had not grown prettier with the passage of the years. Now, as she stood trembling so that she had to clutch at the table to keep her stand, she seemed an insignificant, pale-faced, ill-shaped woman—not a thing of beauty to the eye. She seemed, also, to be in mortal terror.
"Geoffrey, I would have told you all along, only I was afraid."
"Afraid to tell me that you had set up as a rival in the business? I see. Go on."
"I wouldn't have done it at all if we hadn't been so short of money."
"Which was because you had a blundering fool for a husband. That is clear. Well?"
"The children wanted things, and—and there were the bills, and—and the rent."
"Which you paid. Now I understand Mr. Briggs' civility, the tradesmen's reticence. I have been living on my wife. What a blind worm a man who has the use of his eyes can be!"
"I—I never meant to be your rival—never, Geoffrey, never."
"Mr. Philip Ayre——"
"Don't call me Mr. Philip Ayre!"
"Why not? Aren't you Mr. Philip Ayre?"
"Oh, Geoffrey! Geoffrey!"
She knelt down before him, so that her hands fell on his knees as he was seated on his chair. He moved her hands and rose.
"Let us understand each other, quietly. Philippa, I told you, before we were married, that I objected to a woman who worked for money. I had no objection to women who worked for money. That was no affair of mine. I simply objected to make such an one my wife. I imagined, when you became my wife, that you would make my hopes and my ambitions yours. Indeed, you told me that you would. I was poor, and you were poor. You knew that I would work for you with all my strength. And so I have done. When, a little time ago, you suggested that you, too, should become a labourer for hire, I told you, with such courtesy as I could command, that, to me, the idea was nauseous. Perhaps I should have told you then, what, indeed, I had told you before, and what I tell you now again, that rather than have a wife who worked for money, I would have no wife. You were perfectly aware of this. You were well acquainted with what I thought and felt upon the matter. I do not say that my thoughts and feelings were correct. Still, they were mine. You said you loved me. You swore it every day. I never dreamed that, to you, my wishes were nothing, and less than nothing. And that you should deliberately set yourself to cheat me out of the fruits of what you well knew was the labour and the longing of my life—"