The Idler Magazine, Volume III, June 1893 - An Illustrated Monthly
Author: Various
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Transcribers Notes: Title and Table of Contents added.

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June 1893.

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Memoirs of a Female Nihilist.





The life of a female prisoner! It is so uniformly dull that I fear to weary you, friends, in repeating its history; while for me, even now, outside of some few days only too memorable, the twenty-seven months spent in the fortress are like a great hole, empty and badly lighted, at the bottom of which sometimes passed human shadows and some few phantasmagorical scenes.

In these scattered remembrances, the foremost is my cell and the first moments I passed there.

About ten feet square, its stone walls were covered with whitewash. For furniture, a whitewood stool showing the marks of time and hard wear, a rough deal table, a narrow iron bedstead with thin mattress, a pillow filled with horsehair, and a coarse grey blanket such as is used for covering horses. These details, lighted up for a moment by the candle held by the director of the prison who accompanied me, soon fade away, not into darkness, but into semi-obscurity, for above the door, the dark outlines of which form a contrast with the surrounding whitewashed walls, is a square of glass the width of the door, and behind this burns a small paraffin lamp. By the uncertain light of this lamp, I try to get a more exact idea of my new abode.

High up in the wall opposite the door is a deep and dark hole which I presume to be a window. On the floor, in addition to the slender furniture noticed by the light of the candle, I vaguely distinguish the outlines of my travelling trunk and of a water-jug. The cold humid air gives off a musty odour. Silence reigns, but, as I move, the sound of my footsteps echoes and re-echoes beneath the vaulted roof of the corridor.

All this gives to my cell the aspect of a funeral vault, into which, a few moments ago, I entered full of feverish life and vibrating emotion, and in which I now suddenly find myself buried. From time to time, at intervals of about ten minutes, this cavern is lighted up a little more brightly. There is in the door, at about the height of a man, another window much smaller than that to which I have already referred, a sort of wicket that I have not before noticed, and which on the outside appears to be protected by a shutter. At intervals, this shutter opens with a metallic noise; a ray of bluish light penetrates into my cell, and behind the wicket appears the head and part of the shoulders of a man. He wears a moustache, and for several seconds regards me attentively. Accustomed to the stronger gaslight burning in the corridor, he can only vaguely distinguish what is going on in the cell. His eyes, fixed on me at short intervals, vex and trouble me. Taking advantage of one of these intervals, I rapidly change the clothes I am wearing for others larger and more comfortable, which Aunt Vera has put into my trunk, and then I throw myself upon my narrow bed. A few minutes later, amidst the noise of iron bars and padlocks being removed, my cell door opens, and then a woman appears, and behind her I notice several men wearing blue uniforms braided with silver. The woman, whose features, owing to her back being turned towards the light, I can only vaguely distinguish, appears to be either a servant, or a woman of the people; she alone enters my cell.

This apparition causes a shudder to go through my entire being. I have before now heard of an atrocious and odious proceeding, of a special search, for the carrying out of which the prisoners, gagged and strapped on their beds, or to the iron rings found in the walls of the cells of all political prisons, are reduced to absolute helplessness, while men and women appointed to this work examine their mouths, their hair, their ears, every fold of their garments and of their bodies, in the search for some scrap of paper hidden at the last moment, and on which, perchance, may be found a name or an address.

The sudden remembrance of these examinations[1] exasperates and freezes me with terror. I rise and stand trembling by the side of my bed, with arms outstretched to defend myself, while I follow each of my visitor's movements, and question her, "What does she require? Why has she come?" She neither replies nor turns her head, but gathers up the garments I have taken off, together with the few toilet necessaries I have placed on the table, then turning towards me she extends her right arm. I start back, and my question, "What do you require of me?" becomes almost a scream.

[1] These examinations of the person only take place in cases of exceptional gravity. On the other hand, it is not prisoners alone who have to submit to the ordeal, but all persons suspected of concealing papers, Russian travellers returning from abroad, &c., &c.

Ah! no—happily, no!—it is only to take the fur mantle that I have used to cover my feet, and that, silently, and with the same noiseless footsteps, my ghostly visitor takes away, together with my other effects.

Are they to be examined, or are they simply taken away in order to be replaced by the prisoner's garb? I know not, and the question is one of perfect indifference to me. But the clang of iron bars and padlocks being replaced on the door, all this noise of iron, which so painfully affected me an hour ago, I now listen to with a sigh of relief.

This noise, and possibly my cry, appears to have awakened some of the other prisoners. I hear blows struck on the doors; voices, unknown to me, or rendered unrecognisable by reason of the thickness of these cursed walls, appear to be crying out and questioning. The questions remain unanswered, but they tell me that I am not alone; that I need only cry for help in order, if need be, to put the entire prison in a state of revolt. This idea soothes my nerves, and I lie close against the humid wall, behind which I feel there is an unknown but blessed protection, and with my face pressed into the hard horsehair pillow, I give vent to my first prisoner's tears; tears of agony and impotent revolt, tears of farewell to life.

By daylight the appearance of my cell is not improved. The narrow door made from rough oak is crossed on the inside with iron bars, while those on the outside, together with the locks and padlocks, render it almost as solid as the walls. As to the latter, white at night, they appear in the day, thanks to the moisture with which they are covered, a bluish grey. The window, placed high in a niche of the wall, is about twenty inches square, and is protected on the inner side by a grating. It is double, composed of eight small panes, those on the inner side being of fluted ground-glass, so that it is impossible to see what is going on outside. As the window is never opened, the dust has accumulated, and the light that now filters through is dull and grey. Grey are the stone blocks of which the floor is composed; grey the oak door, the furniture, and the walls; grey the narrow bed, with coarse grey covering, and all this grey, of which afterwards I learned to distinguish the shades, constitutes a cloud which presses and weighs upon the prisoner. Later on, in the Swiss mountains, it sometimes happened that I was enveloped in a cloud which, intercepting light and sound, cut me off from the rest of the world. A sojourn in one of these clouds gives to the surprised traveller, by reason of its rarity, a series of curious impressions. But twenty-seven months in a cloud is a long time! A very long time! Three times each day, with a noise of falling iron, the door of my cell opened, and on the threshold appeared two men in blue uniforms braided with silver, and armed with swords and revolvers. A third, dressed as an orderly, entered my cell carrying a tray, on which, morning and evening, was placed a glass, a teapot, sugar, and bread—at noon, a bowl of soup, and a plate containing the daily ration of meat and vegetables, all cut in small pieces. In the morning the orderly swept out my cell, filled my water-jug, and, if so desired, opened a movable pane at the top of the window, which when closed was secured by a catch.

These three silent and regular visits were the sole events of the day. Outside of these—an absolute void, a heavy silence, broken from time to time by the clang of a sword-scabbard on the pavement or the jingle of a spur, instantly suppressed.

This silence, this void, I feel but in a slight degree during the first days after my arrest—that is to say, physically. Morally, however, although separated from the world by these thick walls, I am still too near to it. At every hour of the day I can picture to myself what is taking place at home and amongst my friends, and I live their life. The desire to know if the others have been arrested, and under what circumstances, mingles with the anxiety which preoccupies me. I await with impatience the first interrogatory examination, for the questions then asked are for the political prisoner the only indications obtainable from which he can form an idea of why he has been arrested, what are the charges against him, and what fate he may expect!

I am very weary because of sleepless nights, partly due to being obliged to lie down in my clothes, and also because of excitement, which tends to keep me awake. My days I spend in alternately feverishly promenading my cell and lying on my bed in a state which is neither sleeping nor waking. Gradually I learn to correspond with my neighbours by means of telegraphic signals. Ah! those signals! How carefully should they be studied by all those whose fate it may one day be to be confined in a political prison, and who in Russia is not liable to such a fate? I know the signals theoretically—that is to say, I know how the alphabet is produced. But from theory to practice is a long stride, and to what movements of impatience have I given way, how desperately in my unnerved state have I struggled in order to learn the meaning of the light blows struck against the walls, and to understand the precious words that were addressed to me.

After a fortnight of such days, each of which, taken by itself, seemed more empty and slower than the previous one, but which, taken as a whole, appeared, by reason of their absolute uniformity, to have passed like a dream, I am at last summoned to the cabinet of the director of the prison, in order to be interrogated. The cabinet is at the other end of the corridor, and only separated from the latter by an antechamber, the doors and windows of which are barred and grilled in the same manner as the cells. Notwithstanding this, and although the distance is so short, an escort, composed of an officer of constabulary, two subalterns, and a private, await me outside my cell, armed with revolvers in their belts and sword-bayonets in their hands. This display of force for a woman prisoner, who is little more than a child, causes me to smile.

Arrived at the Director's cabinet, a large whitewashed room, in the centre of which is a table covered by a green cloth, and on which are papers, I find myself in the presence of three gentlemen. The first of these is a short, fat man, with bald pointed head, sharp, crafty grey eyes, and he reminds me of one of the rats with which the prison abounds, but it is a rat in uniform. This is the director of the prison, Capt. W——. The second is Col. P——, who, a fortnight ago, arrested me. He is still young, tall, broad-shouldered, and his constabulary uniform seems almost too tight for him. His face, square and massive, is pitted with smallpox, his moustache small and fair, and his eyes sharp and ferret-like. The third, who is in mufti, is Mr. N——, the procurer to the Chamber of Judgments.[2] Tall, stout, with an insignificant face, brown eyes, and a brown beard shaved on the chin, he is still a young man. In the town of X——, where he is a stranger, he enjoys a reputation for ability and intelligence in conducting examinations. I know him by sight, and his presence gives me cause for inquietude, for, as a rule, in ordinary cases he is satisfied to leave their conduct to one of his substitutes. I cannot help noticing the air of wellbeing and repose which characterises these gentlemen, as compared with my nervous and fatigued state, and the comparison puts me on my guard.

[2] Court of Justice which, if necessary, revises the judgements of the other courts, and deals with cases of exceptional gravity. Doubting the best judges—since the acquittal of Vera Vassoulitch—the Government no longer confides political cases to civil courts, but hands them over either to martial courts, or the Chamber of Judgments. This latter court has no examining judge, that function being undertaken by the procurer.

I mistrust the half-closed eyes, apparently tired and sleepy, with which Mr. N—— examines me, and I also mistrust my outspoken nature and the ease with which I am carried away, characteristics which Serge and Aunt Vera have so often tried to repress. On the table is the parcel of books found at my home at the time of my arrest. Where they come from remains an enigma which I fear to touch, because its solution may compromise some of my relatives and friends. Therefore, after I have replied to sundry questions concerning my social status, I refuse to answer any other. My refusal provokes much dissatisfaction, especially on the part of Colonel P——, who resorts to heroic measures, promising, if I speak, to immediately set me at liberty, but threatening, if I refuse, a long imprisonment and, possibly, hard labour. After half-an-hour devoted to a discussion, in which Mr. N—— takes only a very small part, I am escorted to my cell, and informed that I have a week in which to reflect. Tired out, nervously excited, I have learnt nothing as to my probable fate. On the other hand, the large sheet of white paper, which was intended for my confession, only bears my name, age, address, and the statement that, as to my political opinions, I am a revolutionary socialist, and this document I have signed.

The scene in the Director's cabinet is renewed two or three times. I take advantage of these examinations to ask for books and the removal of the "blue angel," whose almost continual presence at the wicket of my door is intended to keep me from communicating with my neighbours, to render my life more miserable, to force me to confess, and to make it a matter of impossibility for me to change my garments, or enjoy any repose. Aunt Vera, to whom, according to prison regulations, I am allowed to write once a month, works towards the same end. At last, one fine day, Capt. W—— comes to my cell and informs me that, morning or evening, when I desire it, I can dismiss the sentry for half-an-hour. Two men who follow Capt. W—— bring in my large travelling trunk, in which, among other things, I find part of my boarding school trousseau, including bedding and the numbered knife, fork, and spoon. At the same time, I obtain permission to take books from the prison library. These consist principally of various editions of the Gospels, and the dull "lives" of saints who never troubled themselves about earthly affairs.

Thanks to these books, of which I soon get a selection, to be later on replaced by others sent by Aunt Vera; thanks to the whiteness of my quilt and tablecloth[3]; and, lastly, to a few toilet objects found in my trunk, and an alarm clock, which I still possess, my cell appears less repulsive than heretofore. And when at night, dressed in one of those long white flannel dressing-gowns, which Aunt Vera has made especially for me, I stretch myself in my bed, I am happy as one rarely is between those walls covered with the dew of prisoners' tears, and dream of immense steppes, the blue sea, and a vast expanse free and flooded in sunlight.

[3] The regulations admit only articles in white, black, or grey.


This period, so poor in events, is for me most memorable, for it is the commencement of my monotonous life as a prisoner. I spend the greater portion of my time reading. Pen, ink, and paper are forbidden to political prisoners, as are also newspapers, reviews, and other works dealing with current events. Even the books allowed, although they have already been passed by the Public Censor, are again examined by Colonel P——, who rigorously eliminates every line even distantly hinting at politics or social life, or which may appear to him "subversive." Thanks to this system, I for some time read nothing but scientific and philosophic works, for which classes of reading I am too young and but ill-prepared. Gradually, however, these works take hold upon me; they appeal to my pride, and I struggle to vanquish the difficulties of understanding these vast systems which rule the world, of which I know so little. They cause me to reflect, and appeal to my imagination. Outside of these works, I write Aunt Vera to send me those of different poets and celebrated novelists, and to send them as much as possible in chronological order, so that I may improve my knowledge of literature. This simple desire is in opposition to Colonel P——'s system. Fortunately, he does not know foreign languages, and such books are sent for approval to Mr. N——, who, more intelligent than his colleague, does not need to read a book through to grasp its motive, and so he signs most of what is presented to him, and then they are sent to me. Reading, with short intervals for needlework or embroidery, constitutes my daily life, excepting for the interruptions for meals and the daily walk in the narrow prison yard. There is very little to attract in this solitary walk in a small paved court-yard, surrounded by high walls, and with a soldier or policeman at each corner. The walk is soon over, however, for only one prisoner is allowed there at one time, and there are many prisoners, and the winter days are short. The most peaceable time is the twilight hour. Then the feeble light reflected from the snow and filtered through the frost-covered panes of my window rapidly declines. Then I am forced to drop work or reading, and I abandon myself to the current of my sad thoughts. I feel tired and discouraged. The slow course of a political trial of which the preliminary examinations often extend over several years; the absolute and arbitrary character of the proceedings, the ready-made verdict sent from St. Petersburg; the prisoner's ignorance of the offence of which he is accused, and of which he seldom obtains details until the trial is ended; the disastrous influence which prison life exercises, even on the strongest, all tend to prove that, once in prison, one can never be certain of regaining liberty. This idea, which the anxiety and the fatigue of the first few days chases away, returns later on with renewed force. Then another, not less painful and more important, creeps into the brain, namely, the absolute inutility of all that one can do or learn. At such times, in the semi-obscurity of my cell, when the wind is shaking my window as though it would tear it from its stone casing, I, who am only eighteen or nineteen years of age, ask myself, with infinite agony of soul, of what use are these books, of what use is life, if it is only to be a longer or shorter suffering, without the opportunity of being useful for something or to somebody?

To escape from these thoughts, I often pass the twilight hour at my window. The prison regulations forbid it, but prisoners pay little attention to this or any other rule, and our keepers, soldiers, officers, or Captain W—— passing by, and noticing a prisoner at the window, simply shrug their shoulders as who would say, "What can they see?" And after all they are right, for there is little to be seen. Above, a small patch of sky; below, under the window, a sentry pacing up and down; farther on, the wall surrounding the prison; beyond that, the outside wall surrounding the fortress; and lastly, a plain, through which a river takes its course. At times on this plain I notice moving figures. Sometimes, too, the evening breeze brings to my ears the sound of laughter, a call, or a soldier's song. These indications of life in the distance are so feeble that in reality they amount to very little. And yet, in order to catch them on the wing, I sometimes pass hours at the little open square in my window, in spite of the cold and the snow and rain beating upon my face.

But now it is night. Tea is served, together with cold meat, purchased with money deposited at the prison office by prisoners or their friends. The little lamp above the door is lighted, the cell is locked, and the key handed over to the prison director. This regulation is not without its dangers[4], but I am thankful to know that, although I cannot go out, nor even receive the friends I so much desire to see, still there is no fear of a sudden visit from Colonel P—— or his soldiers; nor of one of those examinations that sometimes take place in the cells. I also like the lamplight at night. Too dim to read or work by, it enlarges and transforms my little cell, so sad and grey by daylight, and in filling it with a golden mist produces an illusion of warmth and life. Besides, the evening is the time for telegraphic communications with neighbours, conversations which, thanks to the impossibility of the "blue angel's" interruption, are often prolonged far into the night. This is also the hour for memories and dreams. Tired of counting the rapid and hardly perceptible blows, and putting together the letters and words composing the sentences they convey, I stretch myself upon my bed; I gaze into the dim and golden mist, and gradually people it with life and movement. Again I see our immense plains, the towns, the country with its innumerable natural riches, and the suffering and misery which our regime imposes upon the inhabitants, and the view of which agonises my heart. The scene is gradually peopled with known and loved faces, amongst which those of Serge and Aunt Vera oftenest appear. Sometimes the figures appear one after the other, then in groups, bringing back details of their life and of mine. These figures appearing before me stand out in such strong relief, they are so truly alive, that I sometimes forget my past and try to read the future of those for whom it exists—and for others I build castles in Spain. Often, too, joining my desires to all that my intelligence and imagination can create that is beautiful, I indulge in Utopias, and before my eyes, enlarged by the feverish dream, pass immense crowds, free, good, beautiful and happy, crowds grand as humanity.

[4] In 1877, or '78, an Odessa prisoner, named Solomine, in an access of melancholia, tied himself on his bed and then set fire to the bedding. The smoke issuing through the door cracks warned the keepers, but the key had been handed to the director, and he was in town. When the door was at last forced open there only remained the ashes of the bedding and a partly carbonised corpse.

The noise of footsteps, or the closing of a door, a groan or a cry, sometimes disperse these memories and dreams; for in the prison no doors open at night save to commit fresh prisoners, and no cries are heard save cries for help. Uneasy, I rise, as others did the night I was brought here, and listen. If the noise or the groan is prolonged, if the cry is repeated, I and others knock on the wicket of our doors in order to call the attention of the "blue angel." As he is not allowed to speak to the prisoners, he generally indicates by dumb motions that all is well and that one may sleep in peace. But as he opens the wicket we obtain a glimpse of part of the corridor, and that often enables us to judge of what is taking place. Besides, these signals are intended to convey to the new arrival, or the comrade taken ill, that he is not alone, and that we are watching. Generally this suffices, but if not, then one or more of the prisoners takes up some hard object, such as a bottle or stool, and commences to knock on the door. In an instant the prison is alarmed, the prisoners, suddenly awakened, call for an explanation, often difficult to furnish, and in turn seize their stools and strike. The din produced by these blows, struck simultaneously, is enormous, and I know and can imagine nothing more frightfully lugubrious than to be suddenly awakened by this awful noise, and to find oneself in a cold cell from which there is no issue.

This method, one of the few employed by prisoners for the purpose of imposing their collective will, is only resorted to in exceptional cases, as, for instance, when it is necessary to force the warders and the director to attend to a sick comrade, or to summon the doctor at an unusual hour.

Outside of these events, outside of memories and dreams, my prison life has also its joys. These consist in the letters I receive from Serge and Aunt Vera. The former are full of a forced gaiety, short and commonplace, for the prison regulations forbid prisoners to write on other subjects save their health, clothes, and books, and they are all read by a constabulary officer, who acts as censor.

Aunt Vera's letters are long, and she tries to encourage me by a recital of the efforts she is making in order to obtain an interview with me, and each of her dear letters ends with "until we meet." But that "until" is long, and lasts eight months. At last, one day, at the commencement of summer, I hear a male voice in the corridor cry, "No. 16 for an interview." My heart throbs as though it would burst, and as soon as my door is opened I rush into the corridor, and then into the antechamber. I push the door pointed out by the warder, who enters with me, and instead of finding myself in Aunt Vera's arms, rush against a wire screen, light but strong, and closely woven. This network is high, and stretched entirely across the room. A few steps beyond is a similar screen, and between, as in a cage, is a constabulary officer with red, bloated face, who, with hands behind his back, walks slowly up and down.

This officer, these nets, this drunkard's face, blot out at intervals the gentle form of Aunt Vera, who, on the other side of the cage, is doing her utmost to smile at me through her tears. Later on I get accustomed to all this, but at this first interview, so much desired, so long waited for, I feel choking with rage and despair. I do not know how to reply to Aunt Vera's enquiries, and, when I do, my voice is so strange that it causes her to murmur in despair—"My God, how you are changed, my little one!"

Changed! It is possible! The prison so crushes its victims that it is no wonder they change, especially when they are young and stay there a long time. Of the changes in myself I am aware only much later. In waiting, my slow, dull life is passed in a cloud, which covers and presses upon the prisoner until the day when the lightning flash and the tempest rends the clouds and brings down showers of tears and blood.

(To be continued.)

The Legs of Sister Ursula.




The one man of all men who could have told this tale and lived has long since gone to his place; and there is no apology for those that would follow in the footsteps of Lawrence Sterne.

In a nameless city of a land that shall be nameless, a rich man lived alone. His wealth had bought him a luxurious flat on the fifth floor of a red-brick mansion, whose grilles were of hammered iron, and whose halls were of inlaid marble. When he needed attendance, coals, his letters, a meal, a messenger or a carriage, he pressed an electric button and his wants were satisfied almost as swiftly as even petulant wealth could expect. An exceedingly swift lift bore him to and from his rooms, and in his rooms he had gathered about him all that his eye desired—books in rich cases with felted hinges, ivories from all the world, rugs, lamps, cushions, couches, engravings and rings with engravings upon them, miniatures of pretty women, scientific toys and china from Persia. He had friends and acquaintances as many as he could befriend or know; and some said that more than one woman had given him her whole love. Therefore, he could have lacked nothing whatever.

One day a hot sickness touched him with its finger, and he became no more than a sick man alone among his possessions, the sport of dreams and devils and shadows, sometimes a log and sometimes a lunatic crying in delirium. Before his friends forsook him altogether, as healthy brutes will forsake the wounded, they saw that he was efficiently doctored, and the expensive physician who called upon him at first three times a day, and later only once, caused him to be nursed by a nun. "Science is good," said the physician, "but for steady, continuous nursing, with no science in it, Religion is better—and I know Sister Ursula."

So this sick man was nursed by a nun, young and fairly pretty, but, above all, skilful. When he got better he would give the convent, and not Sister Ursula, a thankoffering which would be spent among the poor whom Sister Ursula chiefly attended. At first the man knew nothing of the nun's existence—he was in the country beyond all creeds—but later a white coifed face came and went across his visions, and at last, spent and broken, he woke to see a very quiet young woman in black moving about his room. He was too weak to speak: too weak almost to cling to life any more. In his despair he thought that it was not worth clinging to; but the woman was at least a woman and alive. The touch of her fingers in his as she gave him the medicine was warm. She testified to the existence of a world full of women also alive—the world he was beginning to disbelieve in. He watched her sitting in the sunshine by the window, and counted the light creeping down from bead to bead of the rosary at her waist. They then moved his bed to the window that he might look down upon the stately avenue that ran by the flat-house, and watch the people going to and fro about their business. But the change, instead of cheering, cast him into a deeper melancholy. It was nearly a hundred feet, sheer drop, to those healthy people walking so fast, and the mere distance depressed him unutterably. He played with the scores of visiting-cards that his friends had left for him, and he tried to play with the knobs of the desk close to the head of his bed, and he was very, very wretched.

One morning he turned his face away from the sunlight and took no interest in anything, while the hand turned back upon the dial so swiftly that it almost alarmed the doctor. He said to himself: "Bored, eh? Yes. You're just the kind of over-educated, over-refined man that would drop his hold on life through sheer boredom. You've been a most interesting case so far, and I won't lose you." He said to Sister Ursula that he would send an entirely fresh prescription by his boy, and that Sister Ursula must give it to the invalid every twenty minutes without fail. Also, if the man responded, it might be well to talk to him a little. "He needs cheering up. There is nothing the matter with him now; but he won't pick up."

There can be few points of sympathy between a man born, bred, trained, and sold for and to the world and a good nun made for the service of other things. Sister Ursula's voice was very sweet, but the matter of her speech did not interest. The invalid lay still, looking out of the window upon the street all dressed in its Sunday afternoon emptiness. Then he shut his eyes. The doctor's boy rang at the door. Sister Ursula stepped out into the hall, not to disturb the sleeper, and took the medicine from the boy's hand. Then the lift shot down again, and even as she turned the wind of its descent puffed up and blew to the spring-lock door of the rooms with a click only a little more loud than the leap of her terrified heart.

Sister Ursula tried the door softly, but rich men with many hundred pounds worth of bric-a-brac buy themselves very well made doors that fasten with singularly cunning locks. Then the lift returned with the boy in charge, and, so soon as his Sunday and rather distracted attention was drawn to the state of affairs, he suggested that Sister Ursula should go down to the basement and speak to the caretaker, who doubtless had a duplicate key. To the basement, therefore, Sister Ursula went with the medicine-bottle clasped to her breast, and there, among mops and brooms and sinks and heating pipes, and the termini of all the electric communications of that many-storied warren, she found, not the caretaker, but his wife, reading a paper, with her feet on a box of soap. The caretaker's wife was Irish, and a Catholic, reverencing the Church in all its manifestations. She was not only sympathetic, but polite. Her husband had gone out, and, being a prudent guardian of the interests confided to him, had locked up all the duplicate keys.

"An' the saints only know whin Mike'll be back av a Sunday," she concluded cheerfully, after a history of Mike's peculiarities. "He'll be afther havin' supper wid friends."

"The medicine!" said Sister Ursula, looking at the inscription on the bottle. "It must begin at twenty minutes past five. There are only ten minutes now. There must—oh! there must be a way!"

"Give him a double dose next time. The docthor won't know the differ." The convent of Sister Ursula is not modelled after Irish ideals, and the present duty before its nun was to return to the locked room with the medicine. Meantime the minutes flew bridleless, and Sister Ursula's eyes were full of tears.

"I must get to the room," she insisted. "Oh, surely, there is a way, any way!"

"There's wan way," said the caretaker's wife, stung to profitable thought by the other's distress. "And that's the way the tenants would go in case av fire. To be sure now I might send the lift boy."

"It would frighten him to death. He must not see strangers. What is the way?"

"If we wint into the cellar an' out into the area, we'll find the ground ends av the fire-eshcapes that take to all the rooms. Go aisy, dear."

Sister Ursula had gone down the basement steps through the cellar into the area, and with clenched teeth was looking up the monstrous sheer of red-brick wall cut into long strips by the lessening perspective of perpendicular iron ladders. Under each window each ladder opened out into a little, a very little, balcony. The rest was straighter than a ship's mast.

The caretaker's wife followed, panting; came out into the sunshine, and, shading her eyes, took stock of the ground.

"He'll be No. 42 on the Fifth. Thin this ladder goes up to it. Bad luck to thim, they've the eshcapes front an' back, spoilin' the look av a fine house: but it's all paid for in the rint. Glory be to God, the avenue's empty—all but. But it should ha' been the back—it should ha' been the back!"

Two children were playing in the gutter. But for these the avenue was deserted, and the hush of a Sabbath afternoon hung over it all. Sister Ursula put the medicine-bottle carefully into the pocket of her gown. Her face was as white as her coif.

"'Tis not for me," said the caretaker's wife, shaking her head sadly. "I'm so's to be round, or I'd go wid ye. Those ladders do be runnin' powerful straight up an' down. 'Tis scandalous to think—but in a fire, an' runnin' wid their night clothes, they'd not stop to think. Go away, ye two little imps, there! The bottle's in your pocket? You'll not lose good hold av the irons. What is ut?—oh!"

Sister Ursula retreated into the cellar, dropped on her knees, and was praying—praying as Lady Godiva prayed before she mounted her palfrey. The caretaker's wife had barely time to cross herself, and follow her example, when she was on her feet again, and her feet were on the lowest rungs of the ladder.

"Hould tight," said the caretaker's wife. "Oh, darlint, wait till Mike comes! Come down, now!—the good angels be wid you. There should have been a way at the back. Walk tinderly an' hould tight. Heaven above sind there'll be no wind! Oh, why wasn't his ugly rooms at the back, where 'tis only yards an' bedroom windows!"

The voice grew fainter and stopped. Sister Ursula was at the level of the first floor windows when the two children caught sight of her, raising together a shrill shout. The devil that delights in torturing good nuns inspired them next to separate and run the one up and the other down the avenue, yelling, "O—oh! There's a nun up the fire-escape! A nun on the fire-escape!" and, since one word at least was familiar, a score of heads came to windows in the avenue, and were much interested.

In spite of her prayers, Sister Ursula was not happy. The medicine-bottle banged and bumped in her pocket as she gripped the iron bars hand over hand and toiled aloft. "It is for the sake of a life," she panted to herself. "It is a good work. He might die if I did not come. Ah! it is terrible." A flake of rust from the long disused irons had fallen on her nose. The rungs were chafing her hands, and the minutes were flying. The round, red face of the caretaker's wife grew smaller and smaller below her, and there was a rumbling of wheels in the avenue. An idle coachman, drawn by the shouts of the children, had turned the corner to see what was to be seen. And Sister Ursula climbed in agony of spirit, the heelless black cloth shoes that nuns wear slipping on the rungs of the ladder, and all earth reeling a hundred thousand feet below.

She passed one set of apartments, and they were empty of people, but the fire, the books on the table, and the child's toy cast on the hearthrug showed it was deserted only for a minute. Sister Ursula drew breath on the balcony, and then hurried upwards. There was iron rust red on both her hands, the front of her gown was speckled with it, and a reflection in the stately double window showed a stainless stiff fold of her head-gear battered down over her eye. Her shoe, yes, the mended one, had burst at the side near the toe in a generous bulge of white stocking. She climbed on wearily, for the bottle was swinging again, and in her ears there came unbidden the nursery refrain that she used to sing to the little sick children in the hospital at Quebec:

"This is the cow with the crumpled horn."

Between earth and heaven, it is said, the soul on its upward journey must pass the buffeting of many evil spirits. There flashed into Sister Ursula's mind the remembrance of a picture of a man gazing from the leads down the side of a house—a wonderful piece of foreshortening that made one dizzy to see. Where had she seen that picture? Memory, that works indifferently on earth or in vacuo, told her of a book read by stealth in her novitiate, such a book as perils body and soul, and Sister Ursula blushed redder than the brickwork a foot before her nose. Everything that she had read in or thought about that book raced through her mind as all his past life does not race through the soul of a drowning man. It was horrible, most horrible. Then rose a fierce wave of rage and indignation that she, a sister of irreproachable life and demeanour (the book had been an indiscretion, long since bitterly repented of), should be singled out for these humiliating exercises. There were other nuns of her acquaintance, proud, haughty and overbearing (her foot slipped here as a reminder against the sin of hasty judgments, and she felt that it was a small and niggling Justice that counted offences at such a crisis), and—and thinking too much of their holiness, to whom this mortification, with all the rust flakes in bosom and kerchief, would have been salutary and wholesome. But that she, Sister Ursula, who only desired a quiet life, should climb fire-escapes in the face of the shameless sun and a watching population! It was too terrible. None the less she did not come down.

Praying to be delivered from evil thoughts, praying that the swinging bottle would not smash itself against the iron ladders, she toiled on. The second and third flats were empty, and she heard a murmur in the street; a hum of encouraging tumult, cheerful outcries bidding her go up higher, and crisp enquiries as to whether this were the end of the performance. Her Saint—she that had not prevailed against the Nuns—would not help Sister Ursula, and it came over her, as cold water slides down the spine, that at her journey's end she would have to—go—through—the window. There is no vestibule, portico, or robing-room at the upper end of a fire-escape. It is designed for such as move in a hurry, unstudious of the graces, being for the most part not over-dressed, and yet seeking publicity—that publicity which came to Sister Ursula unsought. She must go through that window in order to give her invalid his medicine. Her head must go first, and her feet, and the bursten shoe, must go last. It was the very breaking point in the strain, and here her saint, mistaking the needs of the case, sent her a companion. Her head was level with the window of the fourth story, and she was rejoicing to find that that also was empty when the door opened, and there entered a man something elderly, of prominent figure, and dressed according to the most rigid canons laid down for afternoon visits. He was millions of leagues removed from Sister Ursula's world—this person with the tall silk hat, the long frock-coat, the light grey trousers, the tiny yellow buttonhole rose, and the marvellous puffed cravat anchored about with black pearl-headed pins—but an imperative need for justification was upon her. Her own mission, the absolute rightness of her own mission, were so clear to herself that she never doubted anyone might misunderstand when she pointed upwards to the skies, and the flat above.

The man, who was in the act of laying his tall hat absently upon the table, looked up as the shadow took the light, saw the gesture, and stared. Then his jaw dropped, and his face became ashy-grey. Sister Ursula had never seen Terror in the flesh, well-dressed and fresh from a round of calls. She gathered herself up to climb on, but the man within uttered a cry that even the double windows could not altogether stifle, and ran round the room in circles as a dog runs seeking a lost glove.

"He is mad," thought Sister Ursula. "Oh, heavens, and that is what has driven him mad."

He was stooping fondly over something that seemed like the coffin of a little child. Then he rushed directly at the window open-mouthed. Sister Ursula went upwards and onwards, none the less swiftly because she heard a muffled oath, the crash of broken glass, and the tinkling of the broken splinters on the pavestones below. For the second time only in her career, she looked down—down between the ladder and the wall. A silk hat was bobbing wildly, as a fishing-float on a troubled stream, not a dozen rungs beneath, and a voice—the voice of fear—cried hoarsely, "Where is it? Where is it?" Then went up to the roofs the roaring and the laughter of a great crowd; yells, cat-calls, ki-yis and hootings many times multiplied. Her Saint had heard her at last, and caused Sister Ursula to disregard the pains of going through the window. Her one desire now was to reach that haven, to jump, dive, leap-frog through it if necessary, and shut out the unfortunate maniac. It was a short race, but swift, and Saint Ursula took care of the bottle. A long course of afternoon calls, with refreshments at clubs in the intervals, is not such good training as the care of the sick in all weathers for sprinting over a course laid at ninety degrees. Nor again can the best of athletes go swiftly up a ladder if he carries a priceless violin in one hand and its equally priceless bow in his teeth, and handicaps himself with varnished leather buttoned boots. They climbed, the one below the other.

The window at the foot of the invalid's bed was open. At the next window was the white face of the invalid. Sister Ursula reached the sash, threw it up, went through—let no man ask how—shut it gently but with amazing quickness, and sank panting at the foot of the bed, one hand on the bottle.

"There was no other way," she panted. "The door was locked. I could not help. Oh! He is here!"

The face of Terror in the top hat rose to the window-level inch by inch. The violin-bow was between his teeth, and his hat hung over one eye in the fashion of early dawn.

"It's Cott van Cott," said the invalid, slowly and critically. "He looks quite an old man. Cott and his Strad. How very bad for the Strad!"

"Open the window. Where is it? Is there a way? Open the window!" roared Cott, without removing the violin-bow.

Sister Ursula held up one hand warningly as she stooped over the invalid.

For the second time did Cott van Cott misinterpret the gesture and heaved himself upward, the violin and the bow clicking and rattling at every stride. He was fleeing to the leads to save his life and his violin from death by fire—fire in the basement—and the crowd in the street roared below him with the roar of a full-fed conflagration.

The invalid fell back on the pillows and wiped his eyes. The hands of the clock were on the hour appointed for the medicine, lacking only the thirty seconds necessary for pouring it into a wine-glass. He took it from Sister Ursula's hand, still shaking with helpless laughter.

"God bless you, Sister Ursula," he said. "You've saved my life."

"The medicine was to be given," she answered simply. "I—I could not help coming that way."

"If you only knew," said the invalid. "If you only knew! I saw it from out of the windows. Good heavens! the dear old world is just the same as ever. I must get back to it. I must positively get well and get back. And, Sister Ursula, do you mind telling me when you're quite composed everything that happened between the time the door shut and—and you came in that way?"

After a little Sister Ursula told, and the invalid laughed himself faint once more. When Sister Ursula re-settled the pillows, her hand fell on the butt of a revolver that had come from the desk by the head of the bed. She did not understand what it was, but the sight pained her.

"Wait a minute," said the invalid, and he took one little brass thimble-like thing from its inside. "I—I wanted to use it for something before you went out, but I saw you come up, and I don't want it any more. I must certainly get back to the world again. Dear old world! Nice old world! And Mrs. Cassidy prayed with you in the cellar, did she? And Van Cott thought it was a fire? Do you know, Sister Ursula, that all those things would have been impossible on any other planet? I'm going to get well, Sister Ursula."

In the long night, Sister Ursula, blushing all over under the eyes of the night-light, heard him laughing softly in his sleep.

"Lions in Their Dens."



(With photographs at various ages.)


"M. Zola?"

"No, monsieur, this is not No. 21 bis—this is No. 21."

By way of justification for the asperity of the tones in which this reply is given forth the concierge of No. 21 proceeds to inform me that every one makes the same mistake.

"It is a perpetual procession here," she goes on. "It is nothing but M. Zola? M. Zola? M. Zola? without cease. I wish people would learn the right address."

Now I at least ought to have known better, for I had visited M. Zola before, so, feeling rather small, I beat a hurried retreat, and betook myself to No. 21 bis.

Unlike most Parisians, Zola has a whole house to himself, and, as you perceive at a glance on entering, a very richly decorated house it is; tapestries, bronzes, bas-reliefs, sculptures in stone and marble, are studiously arranged about the hall and the handsome staircase, the general effect, in the subdued light of windows of stained glass, being most artistic.

On the first landing, lances and swords and armour of different kinds shine out from behind tropical plants. On this landing is Zola's studio, which is full of indications of his love for the antique—a love that is not carried to extremes, however, for the high-backed, uncomfortable chairs of our forefathers, in which so many of his fellow-collectors find it necessary to seat themselves (or their visitors), are here replaced by spacious modern armchairs.

I am not kept long waiting.

"Well, I am glad that this is a wet day, or else you would very likely have regretted losing the opportunity of going to the Bois."

Such are the maitre's first words after a hearty shake of the hands.

"So you want to know all about me. Now let me see what I can tell you without repeating myself."

And Zola sinks down into a small but comfortable armchair, with a small Turkish inlaid coffee and cigarette stand covered with books on one side, and on the other an antique wrought iron fender placed in front of an immense fireplace, and commences placidly the following monologue, which I give as nearly as possible in his own words.

"My father's mother was a Corfiote, he himself a Venetian, and my mother was a Parisian. My father and mother met in Paris, during one of my father's numerous visits here in connection with an aqueduct which he wanted to construct at Aix in Provence. Within a very short time of their first meeting, they were married. It was a love match. I was born in Paris, in 1840, and to-day I am, therefore, 53.

"In 1847 my father died, and left very little behind him, except lawsuits, which, through inexperience more than anything else, my mother and grandmother managed to lose.

"My education only then began, but until 12, when I had finally to enter college, I had it pretty much my own way. That means I worked very little, and spent most of my time in the open air, running about in our glorious southern fields, and learning how to love and admire nature.

"At college I studied with varying success.

"What I liked best were mathematics and science. I hated Greek and Latin.

"It was during the last year of my college life that I made the acquaintance of two young fellows who may have been instrumental in making of me what I am now. As we had pretty much the same tastes it was our passion, whenever we could indulge in it, to run out in the fields, get on the banks of a stream, and for hours, under the shade of some tree, read the books of fiction which came to our possession. After each book had been gone through, we discussed its merits, chapter by chapter, studied the characters and the plot; all this more from a metaphysical than a literary point of view.

"I left college in 1848, and came to Paris to get work, in order to help my mother. I found a situation which I soon had to give up, and, till 1861, I went through all the hardships that a destitute young man can undergo in Paris.

"Often have I spent in my attic the best part of the day, lying in bed to keep warm.

"Although, as you see, I am better off now, I often look back upon that time regretting that it cannot return.

"Voyez vous, privations and suffering were my lot, but I had in me the fire of youth. I had health, hope, unbounded confidence in myself, and ambition.

"Ah oui! It was a glorious time. I remember how I used to write for hours and hours in my bed; how everything was then fresh to me, how my inexperience made me look hopefully forward. Enfin, life seemed bright, beautiful, and cheerful.

"After all, I really think hope is a higher satisfaction than possession.

"But I stray from the subject.

"Let me see, you left me in bed trying to get warm, and waiting for someone to provide the necessary number of coppers for a dinner.

"In 1861, I at last found a sufficiently remunerative situation at Hachette's, the publishers.

"I began at 200 francs a month. I did my work so thoroughly that I was soon raised. After a certain time I was placed in the advertising department, and there came in contact with the writers and newspaper men, who, in my first literary efforts, gave me a helping hand.

"During my stay in that office, I never ceased writing.

"You must know that I was all my life a very hard and conscientious worker.

"After my day's work at the office, I used to read and write for hours at home by candlelight. In fact, the habit of writing at night became so inveterate that, long afterwards, when I had time in the day, I pulled down the blinds in my room and lit the lamp in order to work.

"Towards this epoch I met my two college friends again. One had gained some notoriety as a painter, the other was a student at the ecole polytechnique. We resumed our rambles in the woods and our discussions. This, I am convinced, was of great use to me, as our different ways of looking at things enabled me to judge of characters, and to appreciate differing opinions.

"Before I left college, viz., when I was 17, I had written the 'Contes a Ninon.' These I retouched a little, and determined to try my luck as a writer with them.

"As usual, with young and unknown writers, publishers received me and politely returned my manuscript. I tried my employer, but, although he encouraged me, and showed his sense of appreciation, by giving me a more responsible position, he refused to publish my story. Finally, I presented it to Mr. Hetzel, and to my indescribable joy he accepted it.

"The book was very favourably reviewed, but sold very poorly.

"Soon afterwards, I began contributing to the Vie Parisienne and the Petit Journal, and thus got launched in journalism.

"As my evenings alone did not enable me to do all the work I had in hand, I resigned my situation in 1867, and devoted myself exclusively to literature.

"This did not improve my position, and I was obliged, for a certain time, to suffer new hardships and privations.

"It is needless to follow my career step by step. You know what I am now—you see I have succeeded."

"Well, mon cher maitre, not many men can boast of a success equal to yours. Indeed, there is evidence enough in this very room of that success."

"That implies, of course, that you think I have an enormous account at the bank. You are mistaken. Every centime I get comes from the sale of my books, the rights of translation, etc. My royalty is 60 centimes per volume. This brings me about 300,000 francs a year, and I am not a man to economise. All this furniture, and the articles you see scattered about, I have slowly accumulated. I began to purchase with the first economies I ever made.

"This passion which obliged me frequently to change residences in order to find room for the ever increasing number of objects was acquired by me through reading Victor Hugo in my childhood. It is not so ardent now, I regret to say."

As he got up to show me round, the light fell full on his face. I thought I noticed a look of melancholy, and made a remark to that effect.

With a sigh he replied, "Mon cher monsieur, I repeat I always think with pleasure of my garret. I had then no cares. I was, what I call, absolutely independent."

"But in what way are you dependent now?"

"More than you think. I was then my own reader and my only critic. I lived in my writings, and thought them perfect. Since then I belong to the public, upon whose judgment my success depends, upon whose appreciation my reward lies. Do not imagine that I do not frequently suffer deeply, that I am not wounded, and that I do not feel mortified and become discouraged by the misinterpretation of my motives. These are passing clouds, but they are not pleasant, I can assure you."

As he was unburdening his sorrows, we visited the apartment. It would be impossible to describe it in the short space of an article, as I must admit I seldom found such a mass, and at the same time such a variety, of objects collected.

The accompanying photos will be more eloquent than my pen.

Taste presides in everything; choice, disposal, grouping, and colouring. The southern nature of the host reveals itself in its love for bright colours, education and refinement in the subdued tones and harmonious ensemble.

He did not hesitate to show me everything; unfortunately, however, had I seen less, I would have remembered more.

As we walked back to the studio I returned to the previous subject, and asked him whether, as was generally supposed, he dashed through his books after a painstaking preliminary work.

He denied this.

"It is an error; I work very hard."

"What way do you proceed then, cher maitre?"

"Well, I never prepare a plot. I cannot do it. I have frequently meditated for hours, buried my head in my hands, closed my eyes, and got ill over it. But no use. I finally gave it up. What I do is to make three kinds of studies for each novel. The first I call a sketch, viz., I determine the dominant idea of the book, and the elements required to develop this idea. I also establish certain logical connections between one series of facts and another. The next dossier contains a study of the character of each actor in my work. For the principal ones I go even further. I enquire into the character of both father and mother, their life, the influence of their mutual relations on the temperament of the child. The way the latter was brought up, his schooldays, the surroundings and his associates up to the time I introduce him in my book. You see, therefore, I sail as close to nature as possible, and even take into account his personal appearance, health and heredity. My third preoccupation is to study the surroundings into which I intend to place my actors, the locality and the spot where certain parts may be acted. I enquire into the manners, habits, character, language, and even learn the jargon of the inhabitants of such localities.

"I frequently take pencil sketches and measurement of rooms, and know exactly how the furniture is placed. Finally, I know the appearance of such quarters by night and by day. After I have collected laboriously all this material, I sit down to my work regularly every morning, and do not write more than three pages of print a day."

"How long does it take you to produce that?"

"Well, not very long. The subject is so vivid that the work proceeds slowly, but without interruption. In fact, I hardly ever make any erasures or alterations, and once my sheet is written and laid aside, I do not look at it again. The next morning I resume the thread, and the story proceeds to the end by logical progression.

"I work like a mathematician. Before I begin I know into how many chapters the novel shall be divided. The descriptive parts have an allotted space, and if they are too long for one chapter I terminate them in another. I try also to give some rest to the mind of the reader, or rather remove the tension caused by too long and stirring a passage, by interlarding something which diverts the attention for a time.

"Finally, I repeat, I have no preconceived plot. I do not know at the beginning of a chapter how it will end. Situations must logically follow one another, that is all."

Of course, after this, the conversation rolled on some of his principal works, particularly "La Terre."

In reply to the objection taken to that book, one of his arguments is that progress and science have made of man a being distinct from that of last century, and insisted that nowadays we must abandon the study of the metaphysical man of years gone by for an enquiry into the physiological creature of our days. That is my opinion, and it is in defence of this conviction that I worked for years.

The next subject upon which I thought I might tackle him was the "Debacle."

"How did I prepare my 'Debacle'? Well, in the same way as all my other books. You know I went over most of the battlefields described by me. Moreover, I received innumerable letters on the subject. The most interesting ones came from the professors of Paris schools, who, being left without employment, enlisted. These letters, coming from educated men, contain, without one exception, the same lamentations, and give similar accounts of privations and suffering. They all describe how for days they had to go without food, and ragged; and how fast their numbers were thinned. Each had in his memoirs accounts illustrating the blundering ignorance of the commanders! I was violently attacked when the 'Debacle' appeared. Everything was criticised as usual, and many details declared inaccurate. But I ask you whether it is always possible to be as absolutely accurate in small details in a novel as in a history?

"Some dates have been misplaced, and some details relating to the colour of the troopers' collars were not right; but criticism of such absurd details cannot affect the treatment and the development of the subject, and the conclusions arrived at. I am told that Marshal MacMahon is wild against me, and that he is preparing a reply to my book. It has always been my object to avoid personalities. I never once accused MacMahon, but the facts prove that he acted ignorantly. History will be severer, and when those who write it consult documents as I did, they will not treat him with the deference I used.

"General Gallifet is also my enemy. Do you know why? Because I have not mentioned him."

"How does your 'Debacle' sell now, cher maitre?"

"Not so well as at the beginning, and the cause of it is the Panama scandal. When the unscrupulousness of a certain class of men was made bare, the initiators of the enquiry were accused by a section of the nation with want of patriotism. Curiously enough, the same accusation was levelled against my book, therefore, instead of being thanked for the courage I had of disclosing the evils, I am punished for it. The same influences acted against me in the last Academy elections. Before the Panama affair, I was certain to have a chair."

"Will you continue presenting yourself?"

"Certainly, until I get a seat. There is no reason why I should be excluded from that body, and if I abstain from presenting my candidature, it might be construed as an admission on my part that I considered justified the action of the academicians against me."

"When is your novel about 'Lourdes' going to appear?"

"Later than you think. I am working at present at Dr. Pascal, which closes my series of the Rougon Macquart novels."

"Would it be indiscreet to ask you what subject you intend treating this time?"

"No. It will be a philosophical and scientific defence of the principal work of my life—the twenty volumes of the Rougon Macquarts. You see I attach the greatest importance to this, and therefore give special attention to my work, which is meant to be a justification of my theories and hardiesses. After this I'll take 'Lourdes' in hand. 'Lourdes' will be followed by 'Rome,' and then by 'Paris.' They will form a triptych."


"Well, in the first I shall try to prove that the great scientific development of our time has inspired hopes in the mind of all classes, hopes which it has not realised to the satisfaction of the most impressionable, therefore the most exacting and unreasonable minds. How such minds have returned with greater conviction to the belief in the existence of something more powerful than science, a something which can alleviate the evils from which they suffer, or imagine they do.

"Among these there may even be social philanthropists, who may think that divine intercession is more efficacious to cure the suffering of the people than anarchist theories. In my 'Rome' I shall treat of the Neo-Catholicism, with its ambitions, its struggle, etc., as distinct from the pure religious sentiment of the pilgrims of 'Lourdes.'

"Finally, in 'Paris' I shall endeavour to lay bare the corruption and vice which devour that city; vice and corruption to which the whole civilised world brings its share. I need not say that these will be written in the shape of novels.

"For 'Lourdes' I have collected all my material. As you know, I followed a pilgrimage, and was given the kindest assistance by the clergy, who allowed me to consult every document in their possession. As usual, I receive every day letters from laymen and priests, who spontaneously supply me with information."

Zola thereupon got up, opened a drawer, and showed me piles of such letters. Among these I read one from a priest, who seemed convinced that before long Zola would be a convert. I asked him what he had seen at Lourdes.

"Nothing that I did not expect, considering that before going there I had had long conversations with eminent specialists in nervous diseases. I saw cures which would be called extraordinary by such as ignore the curative power of faith in hysteric complaints and its derivatives. But I did not see limbs straightened or replaced, nor has any monk or priest showed me or even alluded to such cures.

"But what struck me was that, contrary to what one is made to expect, I did not find among the clergy that aggressive and ostentatious proselytism. Everything is conducted in a dignified, quiet, unassuming manner."

Continuing to look among the letters, I picked one from an English lady, expressing the sincere hope that the "Debacle" would bear fruit, that the lesson it taught would be a warning to France, and save the nation from the errors it had fallen into during the Empire.

When I had done, Zola assured me that since the "Debacle" he was happy to say that he receives numerous such letters from England. This shows him that the hostile feeling against him tends to disappear.

Before withdrawing, I asked him whether he had heard any more of the thief who, assuming the title of a journalist, had stolen some of his bronzes.

With a laugh, Zola replied in the negative, and explained that he had to thank "Lourdes" for the theft.

"Since it has become known that I prepare that book, the clerical papers send me their reporters. I receive them without exception. On this occasion, I was talking to a friend when a card was presented bearing the title of a small such paper. I requested the servant to show the bearer in the drawing-room.

"Five minutes later I was with the fellow, who asked a couple of questions. Instead, however, of waiting for complete information, which I volunteered to give, he very politely withdrew, and only the next day did I discover that he had removed valuables for about 700 francs."

For how long I might have engaged the great and amiable novelist in conversation I don't know; but at this point, having listened to him for more than an hour and a half, I rose to leave.

And now that the heavy door has closed behind me, shall I attempt to compose a picture of Zola as I have seen him there in his room in his warm, many-pocketed Tyrolese jacket, braided with green, and buttoned up to the throat? Perhaps it is unnecessary, for his features must by this time be familiar to almost all.

Like all Southerners, Zola helps out his voice with frequent gestures; but he has none of the exuberant eloquence of his race. In society he is still, to a certain degree, and must always remain the victim of bashfulness; and his one attempt at public speaking was a complete failure. He has in him nothing of the boulevardier, and he is happy only when at work. Enforced idleness would mean misery to him.

People I Have Never Met.




An Ethiopian Cricket Match.



After the "Rhine" had been anchored in the harbour of St. Thomas, West Indies, for the space of two days, our First Officer, more generally known in these records as the Model Man, received a rather remarkable communication. It was a letter from a black sportsman, who issued a challenge to our ship on behalf of a local club. This note reminded the Model Man of a most successful cricket match in the past, when an eleven from the "Rhine" was victorious; and it suggested that, during the present visit of our vessel, a return match might be played. We talked the matter over, and I said:

"Of course you will accept."

But the Treasure answered:

"You see there is always one great difficulty with black cricketers. They have a theory you cannot play the game properly in clothes, and they get themselves up for a match much the same as we should if we were going swimming."

"Why, last time we played," continued the Model Man, "only one man had anything you could fairly call raiment. He came on to the pitch with what he regarded as a pair of cocoanut-fibre trousers, and his team made him captain upon the strength of them."

I said:

"If they prefer to play undraped, I don't see that it much matters to us."

"Not personally, but a mixed audience cannot be expected to stand it," replied the Treasure. "We play cricket in St. Thomas upon a very public and central piece of ground, and, at one time, everybody used to turn out and watch the matches; but now, owing to the barbarous reasons I have given you, cricket has fallen into disrepute. Of course, to see an eleven taking the field in a state of nature makes dead against civilisation and human progress."

Finally, the Model Man wrote to say that it would give him great pleasure to bring a team to the ground upon the following morning if the local talent promised to wear clothes. "My eleven will absolutely refuse to play against anybody in the nude," he wound up.

An hour later a negro in a boat paddled out to us with an answer. He hailed us, and we asked him if his people would accept our terms.

"Yes, massa, we all put fings on, but we much sooner play cricket widdout."

"Nonsense," shouted back the Model Man. "Cricket is a civilised game, and must be followed in a civilised way, or not at all. We will be on the ground at ten o'clock."

The messenger rowed off, and a great discussion began as to the constitution of our team. Everybody wanted to go to the match, and sit in the shade and look on and criticise, but no one much cared about playing. The Captain of the "Rhine" absolutely refused, to begin with. He said:

"I would do anything for my officers—anything in reason; but cricket is out of the question. I shall, however, be on the ground with some ladies. A good appreciative audience is everything in these cases. Moreover, I will umpire if the tide turns against us."

The Treasure only consented to play after much pressure. He said:

"You know what the wicket is like; it's simply mountainous, and black men have no control over their bowling. For you medium-sized chaps it may be comparatively safe, but bowling at me is like bowling at a haystack—you cannot miss. When I go in, the blacks never bother about the stumps, but just let fly at random on the chance of winging me. Last match here, I hit their crack fast bowler all over the island, and he got mad at last, and gave up attempting to bowl me, but just tried to kill me."

"You scored off him, though," said our Fourth Officer, who remembered the incident.

"I did," admitted the Treasure. "I slapped one straight back, as hard as ever I could lay in to it, and he funked it, and tried to get out of the way and failed. I nearly knocked a limb off him, and then he abandoned the ball, and went and sulked and chattered to himself in the deep field."

The Doctor said it would give him great pleasure to play, but he added that he should feel very averse to bowling against anybody with nothing on. Then the Model Man answered:

"You need not fear. The negroes are very particular about pads and such things. They don't wear shoes, for nothing could hurt their feet, but they never dream of batting without leg-guards, because a nigger's shins are his weak spot. These fellows are not much good at cricket after you have once hit them hard. Either they get cross and throw up the whole thing, and leave the ground and go home to their families, or else they become frightened and servile. I have known them almost beg for mercy before each ball."

"You'll play, of course," said the Fourth Officer to me.

"Certainly, if you will," I answered. Then he replied:

"I shall undoubtedly play. I'm not a man who does much with the bat, but my bowling is rather out of the common. I have a natural leg-break which baffles fellows frightfully. Why, there was a question raised once about playing me for my county."

I did not ask him which county, because one should never goad a willing horse. The Fourth Officer had been in a thoroughly mendacious vein ever since we left St. Kitts; the fault grew upon him, and now he began to utter transparent inaccuracies at all hours, from sheer love of them.

After much argument and conversation, our team was finally selected, the last man chosen being a black stoker of great size and strength.

"I regard him as a speculation," explained the Captain of our side; "either he will get out first ball or make a hundred. There are no half-measures with him."

As we approached the ground on the following morning, our Model Man confided to me a great source of anxiety. This was the fielding. He said:

"You see, men don't mind batting, but they get very unsportsmanlike when it comes to going out into the field. Some actually hide, or pretend they have engagements; others feign illness and retire; others, again, salve their miserable consciences by paying a negro a shilling to go and field for them. I only mention this. I know you're not the man to do such things; but, between ourselves, I fear the Doctor is just a sort of chap to escape fielding. There are others also I must keep an eye upon. Being captain of a scratch cricket team in the Tropics is no light task, I can tell you."

A considerable crowd had gathered to see the conflict. The negroes sat and lolled round the ground, while, behind them, buggies and horsemen were drawn up. Conspicuous in that gay throng appeared the Captain of the "Rhine," seated on a brown horse, amid female equestrians. Beyond the audience rose a belt of tamarind and flamboyant trees, the latter with gigantic green and brown seed-pods hanging from their branches; and above these woods, sloping upwards to the blue sky, extended the hills, with winding roads, visible here and there through the foliage that covered them, and with many a flagstaff and white cottage scattered upon their sides.

The ground itself suggested golf rather than cricket. Here and there a little dried-up grass occurred, but it collected in lonely tufts, between which extended great ravines and hillocks and boulders and patches of desolation. Upon a barren spot in the middle, the wickets had been pitched. When we arrived, they appeared to be an object of no little interest to sundry goats. These beasts evidently regarding the stumps as some strange new form of vegetation, sprang up in a single night from the arid soil, sauntered round them enquiringly, and a shabby he-goat, braver than his companions, nibbled the bails.

Our opponents, adequately attired, had arrived. They constituted a motley, good-humoured gathering in all shades. One, John Smith, a genial hybrid, commanded them, and presently a great shout arose, when it transpired that he had secured choice of innings. The Doctor said, in a tone of reproof:

"Hang it, John, you've only won the toss. You couldn't make a bigger row if you'd won the match."

"Great fing to go in fus, sar," explained John; "we go in fus now, when we's fresh."

Then the Model Man led out his warriors.

I sauntered across the pitch with the Treasure, and examined its peculiarities. We were discussing a curious geological formation, midway between the wickets, when our Fourth Officer approached in some glee at a great discovery. He had found a little hill, rather wide of the stumps, on one side, and he explained that whenever he dropped a ball on this elevation, he must bowl an Ethiop.

"You see, my natural leg-break will take the ball dead into the wicket every time," he said.

We hoped it might be so; and he begged us to keep the thing a profound secret, because, as he said, if it got about that we were going to utilise this hill to such an extent, the enemy would probably send out and have it removed, or alter the pitch.

After the goats cleared away, and the juvenile spectators driven back a trifle, our Model Man arranged his field. More correctly speaking, the field arranged itself. Indeed, our team hardly proved as amenable as might have been wished. The Doctor insisted on taking long-leg and long-oft.

"Why?" asked his Captain, looking rather distrustfully at a buggy with some red parasols in it, which would be extremely close to the Doctor at long-leg.

"It isn't that, old chap," replied our physician, cheerfully, following the Model Man's eye. "In fact, I'm not sure if I even know those girls. I only suggested a place in the long field because I'm a safe catch. That's important."

So he had his way.

Meantime, the Treasure found some other parasols—white ones—and placed himself within easy chatting distance. Investigation proved that the white parasols were protecting the Enchantress and her mother. The Model Man said that he might just as well be on the ship as there. So he ordered his man up to take the wicket. The Treasure came reluctantly, and absolutely declined to keep wicket. He declared that it was simple murder to make a person of his size attempt such a thing on such a ground.

He led me aside privately, and said:

"Look here, you know that walking-stick of mine, manufactured from a shark's backbone—the one you are always worrying me to give you? Well, I will, when we go back to the ship, if you'll take the wicket. If you fall at your post, then your heirs shall have it."

I closed on this bargain promptly, and while I dressed up in all sorts of life-saving inventions used at cricket, the Treasure took an unobtrusive, circuitous route back to the white parasols.

John Smith himself and another negro, who was said to be related to him by marriage, came in first. They were padded up to the eyes, and evidently felt the importance of their position. Then a black umpire said: "Play, gem'men," and our Fourth Officer started with his world-famed, natural leg-break. He bowled three wides in succession as a preliminary. It is not easy to bowl wides underhand, but that Fourth Officer managed it; and I began to understand why, after all, his county had determined to struggle along without him.

"What's the matter, old man?" asked our Captain, who was fielding at short-slip.

"It's all right, old chap; you wait," answered the Fourth Officer, full of confidence.

"Yes, quite so, but they count one against us every time. I didn't know whether you knew it," explained the Model Man.

Meantime the bowler made further futile attempts to drop the ball upon the mound he had discovered. At last he actually did do so, but instead of breaking in and taking a wicket, as we, who were in the secret, hoped, the batsman got hold of it, and hit it high and hard to long-leg. All eyes turned to see if the Doctor's estimate of his own powers at a catch was justified. But he had disappeared entirely. He had not even left a substitute. Everybody shouted with dismay, and then the Doctor suddenly bounded on to the field. He distinctly came out of the buggy, from between the red parasols. If he had not actually known those girls, he must have introduced himself, or prevailed upon somebody else to do so. He tore into the scene of action, looking for the ball.

"It's in the air, you fool," yelled a dozen voices. Then it fell within a yard of the Doctor. A child could have caught it. We were all quite unsettled. The Model Man said:

"I'm not a bit surprised—it's just what I expected."

And the Fourth Officer said:

"I don't really see what good it is my bowling for catches at long-leg if there's no long-leg."

And the Doctor said:

"Wouldn't have done it for money. Hadn't the faintest idea you'd started. I saw you bowling balls all over the place, miles away from the wicket, and I thought you were merely practising." Which was rather an unpleasant thing for the Fourth Officer to hear.

Then the game steadied down and proceeded. Our Captain took the ball, after the underhand expert had got a few within sight of the wicket, and so finished his over. The Model Man was much more successful, for he clean-bowled a negro with his third delivery. It pitched in a sort of mountain-pass, about ten feet from the wicket; then it branched off to the right and hit a stone, and came back again, and finally took the off stump. I don't see how anybody alive could have played it. The batsman retired utterly bewildered, and the Model Man assured me he had never sent down a better ball.

A slogger came in next, and made runs rather rapidly, but nothing much happened until the Fourth Officer's third over. Then he fell foul of me, and took exception to my method of keeping the wicket. He was being hit about pretty generally, and had become very hot, so, at another time, I should not have retorted upon him; but, when he spoke, I was hot too, and being hit about also, so I answered without deliberation. He said:

"Can't you even try to stump them?"

And I replied:

"I might, if my arms were ten feet long."

Then he said:

"You've had dozens of chances. I always want a wicket-keeper for my bowling."

Whereupon I answered:

"You want twenty—in a row. One's no good."

He said:

"You don't like standing up to my fast ones, that's the truth."

And I responded:

"Oh, bless you, I'd stand up to them all right, if I knew where to stand. A wicket-keeper's supposed to keep the wicket, not run all over the ground after wides."

During this unseemly argument, the Model Man, the Treasure, and the Doctor were all having an unpleasantness on their own account. The Doctor was imploring our Captain to take himself off and let somebody else bowl. He said: "Can't you see they've collared you? They've scored twenty runs. Don't think that I want to go on. Far from it. I'm only speaking for the good of the side."

But the Model Man refused to leave off bowling for anybody. He emphatically denied that they had collared him. Then he changed the subject, and turned upon the Treasure, and asked him where he supposed he was fielding.

The Treasure answered:

"This is mid-on. I'm all right."

"You may think it's mid-on, but it isn't," shouted back the worried Model Man. "I've no doubt you're all right," he continued, bitterly, "but you're no sportsman."

After twenty more runs had been scored, the Fourth Officer unexpectedly and frankly admitted that he was not in form. He relinquished the ball, and said he had the makings of a sunstroke about his head, and went off to field among a few friends in a patch of shade under a tree, where all kinds of refreshments were being sold. Then our Captain held a consultation, and determined to try a complete change in the attack. He called upon the Doctor and the Treasure, and told them just to bowl quietly and carefully, and as straight as possible.

The Treasure started with yorkers; which was about the most effective thing he could have done, for, whenever he got one on the wicket, it bowled a black man. Two negroes, including the slogger, fell to him in his first over. Then the Doctor tried his hand, and began by being absurdly particular about the field. He put five men in the slips, and then started with terrifically fast full pitches to leg. A good player would have hit one and all of these right out of the island into the sea, but the people who were now at the wickets merely got out of the way, and let the Doctor's deliveries proceed to the boundary for three byes each.

Upon this he insulted me, as the Fourth Officer had done before him. He said:

"Do stand up to them, old man."

I said:

"Why should I? I'm out to enjoy myself. I'm a human being, not a target. Besides, long-stop will lose interest in the game if he has nothing to do."

"They don't have long-stops in first-class cricket," grumbled the Doctor. "You've got no proper pride."

Then I said:

"Of course, if you are mistaking this display for first-class cricket, it's no good arguing with you."

In his second over the Doctor bowled a shade straighter, and began knocking the batsmen about, and hurting them and frightening them. If they had only kept in front of the wicket, and put their bats between their legs out of the way, they might have been safe enough, but they dashed nervously about and tried to escape; and the ball would shoot and hit their toes, or rise and threaten their heads, or break back into their stomachs. Then the bowler got a man "retired hurt," and a regular panic set in.

"I'm keeping down the run-getting, anyhow," said the elated Doctor.

"Yes, and you'll have to mend all these local celebrities for nothing after the match," replied our Treasure.

The latter had taken several more wickets, and now the score stood at sixty, with three further blacks to bat. About this time I made an appeal to the umpire upon a question of stumping a man, but he had his back turned and was buying a piece of sugarcane. He apologised profusely. He said:

"I'se too sorry, Massa, jus' too sorry, but I'se dam hungry, Sar."

Hungry! Whoever heard of an umpire being hungry? Thirsty they may be, and generally are, but hunger is a paltry plea to raise.

Soon afterwards, our black stoker made two brilliant catches, one after the other, the Treasure quickly bowled their last man, and the innings closed for seventy-three runs.

Then the rival teams scattered through St. Thomas for luncheon, the spectators dispersed, and the goats had the cricket ground all to themselves until the afternoon.

Some lively betting took place during our meal. The Model Man was gloomy, and doubted the ability of his eleven to make the necessary score on such a wicket; but the Doctor appeared extremely sanguine, and the Fourth Officer actually guaranteed half the runs himself. He said:

"Though not a finished bat, yet it often happens that I come off with the willow when I fail with the leather."

It struck me that if his success with one was proportionate to his failure with the other, there seemed just reason for hoping he would get into three figures that afternoon.

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