Jerome K. Jerome Fanny and the Servant Problem скачать бесплатно

Здесь вы сможете бесплатно прочитать книгу: Jerome K. Jerome «Fanny and the Servant Problem».

THE CHARACTERS

Fanny
Her Husband, Vernon Wetherell, Lord Bantock
Her Butler, Martin Bennet
Her Housekeeper, Susannah Bennet
Her Maid, Jane Bennet
Her Second Footman, Ernest Bennet
Her Still-room Maid, Honoria Bennet
Her Aunts by marriage, the Misses Wetherell
Her Local Medical Man, Dr. Freemantle
Her quondam Companions, «Our Empire»:
England
Scotland
Ireland
Wales
Canada
Australia
New Zealand
Africa
India
Newfoundland
Malay Archipelago
Straits Settlements
Her former Business Manager, George P. Newte

ACT I

SCENE

The Lady Bantock’s boudoir, Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire, a spacious
room handsomely furnished (chiefly in the style of Louis the
Fourteenth) and lighted by three high windows, facing the south-west.
A door between the fireplace and the windows leads to his lordship’s
apartments. A door the other side of the fireplace is the general
entrance. The door opposite the windows leads through her ladyship’s
dressing-room into her ladyship’s bedroom. Over the great fireplace
hangs a full-length portrait of Constance, first Lady Bantock, by
Hoppner.

The time is sunset of a day in early spring. The youthful Lord
Bantock is expected home with his newly wedded wife this evening; and
the two Misses Wetherell, his aunts, have been busy decorating the
room with flowers, and are nearing the end of their labours. The two
Misses Wetherell have grown so much alike it would be difficult for a
stranger to tell one from the other; and to add to his confusion they
have fallen into the habit of dressing much alike in a fashion of
their own that went out long ago, while the hair of both is white,
and even in their voices they have caught each other’s tones.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she has paused from her work and is looking
out of the windows]. Such a lovely sunset, dear.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she leaves her work and joins her sister.
The two stand holding each other's hands, looking out]. Beautiful!
[A silence. The sun is streaming full into the room.] You—you
don’t think, dear, that this room—[she looks round it]—may possibly
be a little TOO sunny to quite suit her?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [not at first understanding]. How, dear,
TOO sun—[She grasps the meaning.] You mean—you think that perhaps
she does that sort of thing?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Well, dear, one is always given to
understand that they do, women—ladies of her profession.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It seems to me so wicked: painting God’s
work.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We mustn’t judge hardly, dear. Besides,
dear, we don’t know yet that she does.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Perhaps she’s young, and hasn’t commenced
it. I fancy it’s only the older ones that do it.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He didn’t mention her age, I remember.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. No, dear, but I feel she’s young.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I do hope she is. We may be able to
mould her.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must be very sympathetic. One can
accomplish so much with sympathy.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We must get to understand her. [A
sudden thought.] Perhaps, dear, we may get to like her.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [doubtful]. We might TRY, dear.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. For Vernon’s sake. The poor boy seems
so much in love with her. We must -

Bennet has entered. He is the butler.

BENNET. Doctor Freemantle. I have shown him into the library.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Thank you, Bennet. Will you please tell
him that we shall be down in a few minutes? I must just finish these
flowers. [She returns to the table.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Why not ask him to come up here? We could
consult him—about the room. He always knows everything.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. A good idea. Please ask him, Bennet, if
he would mind coming up to us here. [Bennet, who has been piling up
fresh logs upon the fire, turns to go.] Oh, Bennet! You will remind
Charles to put a footwarmer in the carriage!

BENNET. I will see to it myself. [He goes out.]

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Thank you, Bennet. [To her sister]
One’s feet are always so cold after a railway journey.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I’ve been told that, nowadays, they heat
the carriages.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Ah, it is an age of luxury! I wish I
knew which were her favourite flowers. It is so nice to be greeted
by one’s favourite flowers.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I feel sure she loves lilies.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And they are so appropriate to a bride.
So -

Announced by Bennet, Dr. Freemantle bustles in. He is a dapper
little man, clean-shaven, with quick brisk ways.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he shakes hands]. Well, and how are we this
afternoon? [He feels the pulse of the Younger Miss Wetherell]
Steadier. Much steadier! [of the Elder Miss Wetherell.] Nervous
tension greatly relieved.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She has been sleeping much better.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he pats the hand of the Elder Miss Wetherell].
Excellent! Excellent!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She ate a good breakfast this morning.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he pats the hand of the Younger Miss Wetherell].
Couldn’t have a better sign. [He smiles from one to the other.]
Brain disturbance, caused by futile opposition to the inevitable,
evidently abating. One page Marcus Aurelius every morning before
breakfast. «Adapt thyself,» says Marcus Aurelius, «to the things
with which thy lot has been cast. Whatever happens—»

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, doctor, it was all so sudden.

DR. FREEMANTLE. The unexpected! It has a way of taking us by
surprise—bowling us over—completely. Till we pull ourselves
together. Make the best of what can’t be helped—like brave, sweet
gentlewomen. [He presses their hands. They are both wiping away a
tear.] When do you expect them?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. To-night, by the half-past eight train.
We had a telegram this morning from Dover.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Um! and this is to be her room? [He takes it in.]
The noble and renowned Constance, friend and confidant of the elder
Pitt, maker of history, first Lady Bantock—by Hoppner—always there
to keep an eye on her, remind her of the family traditions.
Brilliant idea, brilliant! [They are both smiling with pleasure.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And you don’t think—it is what we wanted
to ask you—that there is any fear of her finding it a little trying-
-the light? You see, this is an exceptionally sunny room.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And these actresses—if all one hears is
true -

The dying sun is throwing his last beams across the room.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Which, thank God, it isn’t. [He seats himself in a
large easy-chair. The two ladies sit side by side on a settee.]
I’ll tell you just exactly what you’ve got to expect. A lady—a few
years older than the boy himself, but still young. Exquisite figure;
dressed—perhaps a trifle too regardless of expense. Hair—maybe
just a shade TOO golden. All that can be altered. Features—
piquant, with expressive eyes, the use of which she probably
understands, and an almost permanent smile, displaying an admirably
preserved and remarkably even set of teeth. But, above all, clever.
That’s our sheet-anchor. The woman’s clever. She will know how to
adapt herself to her new position.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [turning to her sister]. Yes, she must be
clever to have obtained the position that she has. [To the Doctor]
Vernon says that she was quite the chief attraction all this winter,
in Paris.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And the French public is so critical.

DR. FREEMANTLE [drily]. Um! I was thinking rather of her cleverness
in «landing» poor Vernon. The lad’s not a fool.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must do her justice. I think she was
really in love with him.

DR. FREEMANTLE [still more drily]. Very possibly. Most cafe-
chantant singers, I take it, would be—with an English lord. [He
laughs.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, she didn’t know he was a lord.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Didn’t know—?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No. She married him, thinking him to be
a plain Mr. Wetherell, an artist.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Where d’ye get all that from?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. From Vernon himself. You’ve got his last
letter, dear. [She has opened her chatelaine bag.] Oh, no, I’ve got
it myself.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He’s not going to break it to her till
they reach here this evening.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she reads]. Yes. «I shall not break it to
her before we reach home. We were married quietly at the Hotel de
Ville, and she has no idea I am anything else than plain Vernon James
Wetherell, a fellow-countryman of her own, and a fellow-artist. The
dear creature has never even inquired whether I am rich or poor.» I
like her for that.

DR. FREEMANTLE. You mean to tell me—[He jumps up. With his hands
in his jacket pockets, he walks to and fro.] I suppose it’s
possible.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, she isn’t the ordinary class of
music-hall singer.

DR. FREEMANTLE. I should say not.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She comes of quite a good family.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Her uncle was a bishop.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Bishop? Of where?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [with the letter]. He says he can’t spell
it. It’s somewhere in New Zealand.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Do they have bishops over there?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Well, evidently.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Then her cousin is a judge.

DR. FREEMANTLE. In New Zealand?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [again referring to the letter]. No—in
Ohio.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Seems to have been a somewhat scattered family.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. People go about so much nowadays.

Mrs. Bennet has entered. She is the housekeeper.

MRS. BENNET [she is about to speak to the Misses Wetherell; sees the
Doctor]. Good afternoon, doctor.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Afternoon, Mrs. Bennet.

MRS. BENNET [she turns to the Misses Wetherell, her watch in her
hand]. I was thinking of having the fire lighted in her ladyship’s
bedroom. It is half past six.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You are always so thoughtful. She may be
tired.

MRS. BENNET. If so, everything will be quite ready. [She goes out,
closing door.]

DR. FREEMANTLE. What do they think about it all—the Bennets? You
have told them?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We thought it better. You see, one
hardly regards them as servants. They have been in the family so
long. Three generations of them.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Really, since our poor dear brother’s
death, Bennet has been more like the head of the house than the
butler.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Of course, he doesn’t say much.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is her having been on the stage that
they feel so.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, they have always been a
religious family.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Do you know, I really think they feel it
more than we do. I found Peggy crying about it yesterday, in the
scullery.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he has been listening with a touch of amusement.]
Peggy Bennet?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Yes. CHARLES Bennet’s daughter.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Happen to have a servant about the place who isn’t a
Bennet?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No, no, I don’t really think we have.
Oh, yes—that new girl Mrs. Bennet engaged last week for the dairy.
What is her name?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Arnold.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Ah, yes, Arnold.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I think she’s a cousin, dear.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Only a second cousin.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Um! Well I should tell the whole family to buck up.
Seems to me, from what you tell me, that their master is bringing
them home a treasure. [He shakes hands briskly with the ladies.]
May look in again to-morrow. Don’t forget—one page Marcus Aurelius
before breakfast—in case of need. [He goes out.]

The sun has sunk. The light is twilight.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He always cheers one up.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He’s so alive.

[Mrs. Bennet comes in from the dressing-room. She leaves the door
ajar. The sound of a hammer is heard. It ceases almost
immediately.] Oh, Mrs. Bennet, we were going to ask you—who is to
be her ladyship’s maid? Have you decided yet?

MRS. BENNET. I have come to the conclusion—looking at the thing
from every point of view—that Jane would be the best selection.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Jane!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. But does she understand the duties?

MRS. BENNET. A lady’s maid, being so much alone with her mistress,
is bound to have a certain amount of influence. And Jane has
exceptionally high principles.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. That is true, dear.

MRS. BENNET. As regards the duties, she is very quick at learning
anything new. Of course, at first -

The sound of hammering again comes from the bedroom.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Who is that hammering in her ladyship’s
bedroom?

MRS. BENNET. It is Bennet, Miss Edith. We thought it might be
helpful: a few texts, hung where they would always catch her
ladyship’s eye. [She notices the look of doubt.] Nothing offensive.
Mere general exhortations such as could be read by any lady. [The
Misses Wetherell look at one another, but do not speak.] I take it,
dinner will be at half past seven, as usual?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Yes, Mrs. Bennet, thank you. They will
not be here till about nine. They will probably prefer a little
supper to themselves.

Mrs. Bennet goes out—on her way to the kitchen. The Misses
Wetherell look at one another again. The hammering recommences.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she hesitates a moment, then goes to the
open door and calls]. Bennet—Bennet! [She returns and waits.
Bennet comes in.]

Oh, Bennet, your wife tells us you are putting up a few texts in her
ladyship’s bedroom.

BENNET. It seemed to me that a silent voice, speaking to her, as it
were, from the wall -

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It is so good of you—only, you—you
will be careful there is nothing she could regard as a PERSONAL
allusion.

BENNET. Many of the most popular I was compelled to reject, purely
for that reason.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We felt sure we could trust to your
discretion.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You see, coming, as she does, from a
good family -

BENNET. It is that—I speak merely for myself—that gives me hope of
reclaiming her.

A silence. The two ladies, feeling a little helpless, again look at
one another.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We must be very sympathetic.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And patient, Bennet.

BENNET. It is what I am preparing myself to be. Of course, if you
think them inadvisable, I can take them down again.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No, Bennet, oh no! I should leave them
up. Very thoughtful of you, indeed.

BENNET. It seemed to me one ought to leave no stone unturned. [He
returns to his labours in the bedroom.]

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [after a pause]. I do hope she’ll LIKE
the Bennets.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I think she will—after a time, when she
is used to them.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I am so anxious it should turn out well.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I feel sure she’s a good woman. Vernon
would never have fallen in love with her if she hadn’t been good.
[They take each other's hand, and sit side by side, as before, upon
the settee. The twilight has faded: only the faint firelight
remains, surrounded by shadows.] Do you remember, when he was a
little mite, how he loved to play with your hair? [The younger Miss
Wetherell laughs.] I always envied you your hair.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He was so fond of us both. Do you
remember when he was recovering from the measles, his crying for us
to bath him instead of Mrs. Bennet? I have always reproached myself
that we refused.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He was such a big boy for his age.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I think we might have stretched a point
in a case of illness.

The room has grown very dark. The door has been softly opened;
Vernon and Fanny have entered noiselessly. Fanny remains near the
door hidden by a screen, Vernon has crept forward. At this point the
two ladies become aware that somebody is in the room. They are
alarmed.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Who’s there?

VERNON. It’s all right, aunt. It’s only I.

The two ladies have risen. They run forward, both take him in their
arms.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. My dear boy!

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But we didn’t expect you -

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And your wife, dear?

VERNON. She’s here!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Here?

Fanny, from behind the screen, laughs.

VERNON. We’ll have some light. [He whispers to them.] Not a word—
haven’t told her yet. [Feeling his way to the wall, he turns on the
electric light.]

Fanny is revealed, having slipped out from behind the screen. There
is a pause. Vernon, standing near the fire, watches admiringly.

FANNY. Hope you are going to like me.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. My dear, I am sure we shall.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is so easy to love the young and
pretty. [They have drawn close to her. They seem to hesitate.]

FANNY [laughs]. It doesn’t come off, does it, Vernon, dear? [Vernon
laughs. The two ladies, laughing, kiss her.] I’m so glad you think
I’m pretty. As a matter of fact, I’m not. There’s a certain charm
about me, I admit. It deceives people.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We were afraid—you know, dear, boys—
[she looks at Vernon and smiles] sometimes fall in love with women
much older than themselves—especially women—[She grows confused.
She takes the girl's hand.] We are so relieved that you—that you
are yourself, dear,

FANNY. You were quite right, dear. They are sweet. Which is which?

VERNON [laughs]. Upon my word, I never can tell.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon! And you know I was always your
favourite!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Dear!

VERNON. Then this is Aunt Alice.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No dear, Edith.

[Vernon throws up his hands in despair. They all laugh.]

FANNY. I think I shall dress you differently; put you in blue and
you in pink. [She laughs.] Is this the drawing-room?

VERNON. Your room, dear.

FANNY. I like a room where one can stretch one’s legs. [She walks
across it.] A little too much desk [referring to a massive brass-
bound desk, facing the three windows].

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It belonged to the elder Pitt.

FANNY. Um! Suppose we must find a corner for it somewhere. That’s
a good picture.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It is by Hoppner.

FANNY. One of your artist friends?

VERNON. Well—you see, dear, that’s a portrait of my great-
grandmother, painted from life.

FANNY [she whistles]. I am awfully ignorant on some topics. One
good thing, I always was a quick study. Not a bad-looking woman.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We are very proud of her. She was the
first -

VERNON [hastily]. We will have her history some other time.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [who understands, signs to her sister].
Of course. She’s tired. We are forgetting everything. You will
have some tea, won’t you, dear?

FANNY. No, thanks. We had tea in the train. [With the more or less
helpful assistance of Vernon she divests herself of her outdoor
garments.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [she holds up her hands in astonishment].
Tea in the train!

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We were not expecting you so soon. You
said in your telegram -

VERNON. Oh, it was raining in London. We thought we would come
straight on—leave our shopping for another day.

FANNY. I believe you were glad it was raining. Saved you such a lot
of money. Old Stingy!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Then did you walk from the station, dear?

FANNY. Didn’t it seem a long way? [She laughs up into his face.]
He was so bored. [Vernon laughs.]

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I had better tell—[She is going towards
the bell.]

VERNON [he stops her]. Oh, let them alone. Plenty of time for all
that fuss. [He puts them both gently side by side on the settee.]
Sit down and talk. Haven’t I been clever? [He puts his arm round
Fanny, laughing.] You thought I had made an ass of myself, didn’t
you? Did you get all my letters?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I think so, dear.

FANNY [she is sitting in an easy-chair. Vernon seats himself on the
arm]. Do you know I’ve never had a love-letter from you?

VERNON. You gave me no time. She met me a month ago, and married me
last week.

FANNY. It was quick work. He came—he saw—I conquered! [Laughs.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. They say that love at first sight is often
the most lasting.

VERNON [he puts his arm around her]. You are sure you will never
regret having given up the stage? The excitement, the -

FANNY. The excitement! Do you know what an actress’s life always
seemed to me like? Dancing on a tight-rope with everybody throwing
stones at you. One soon gets tired of that sort of excitement. Oh,
I was never in love with the stage. Had to do something for a
living.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It must be a hard life for a woman.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Especially for anyone not brought up to
it.

FANNY. You see, I had a good voice and what I suppose you might call
a natural talent for acting. It seemed the easiest thing.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I suppose your family were very much
opposed to it? [Vernon rises. He stands with his back to the fire.]

FANNY. My family? Hadn’t any!

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. No family?

Bennet enters. Vernon and Fanny left the door open. He halts,
framed by the doorway.

FANNY. No. You see, I was an only child. My father and mother both
died before I was fourteen.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But your uncle?

FANNY. Oh, him! It was to get away from him and all that crew that
I went on the stage.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It is so sad when relations don’t get on
together.

FANNY. Sadder still when they think they’ve got a right to trample
on you, just because you happen to be an orphan and—I don’t want to
talk about my relations. I want to forget them. I stood them for
nearly six months. I don’t want to be reminded of them. I want to
forget that they ever existed. I want to forget -

Bennet has come down very quietly. Fanny, from where he stands, is
the only one who sees him. He stands looking at her, his features,
as ever, immovable. At sight of him her eyes and mouth open wider
and wider. The words die away from her tongue. Vernon has turned
away to put a log on the fire, and so has not seen her expression—
only hears her sudden silence. He looks up and sees Bennet.

VERNON. Ah, Bennet! [He advances, holding out his hand.] You quite
well?

BENNET [shaking hands with him]. Quite well.

VERNON. Good! And all the family?

BENNET. Nothing to complain of. Charles has had a touch of
influenza.

VERNON. Ah, sorry to hear that.

BENNET. And your lordship?

VERNON. Fit as a fiddle—your new mistress.

Fanny has risen. Bennet turns to her. For a moment his back is
towards the other three. Fanny alone sees his face.

BENNET. We shall endeavour to do our duty to her ladyship. [He
turns to Vernon.] I had arranged for a more fitting reception -

VERNON. To tell the honest truth, Bennet, the very thing we were
afraid of—why we walked from the station, and slipped in by the side
door. [Laughing.] Has the luggage come?

BENNET. It has just arrived. It was about that I came to ask. I
could not understand -

The Misses Wetherell have also risen. Fanny’s speechless amazement
is attributed by them and Vernon to natural astonishment at discovery
of his rank.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. You will be wanting a quiet talk
together. We shall see you at dinner.

VERNON. What time is dinner?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Half past seven.

[To Fanny] But don’t you hurry, dear. I will tell cook to delay it
a little. [She kisses her.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You will want some time to arrange that
pretty hair of yours. [She also kisses the passive, speechless
Fanny. They go out hand in hand.]

BENNET. I will see, while I am here, that your lordship’s room is in
order.

VERNON. Why, where’s Robert, then?

BENNET. He has gone into town to do some shopping. We did not
expect your lordship much before nine. There may be one or two
things to see to. [He goes into his lordship's apartments, closing
the door behind him.]

FANNY. Vernon, where am I?

VERNON. At home, dear.

FANNY. Yes, but where?

VERNON. At Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire. [Fanny sits down on the
settee--drops down rather.] You’re not angry with me? You know how
the world always talks in these cases. I wanted to be able to prove
to them all that you married me for myself. Not because I was Lord
Bantock. Can you forgive me?

FANNY [she still seems in a dream]. Yes—of course. You didn’t—you
wouldn’t—[She suddenly springs up.] Vernon, you do love me? [She
flings her arms round his neck.]

VERNON. Dear!

FANNY. You will never be ashamed of me?

VERNON. Dearest!

FANNY. I was only a music-hall singer. There’s no getting over it,
you know.

VERNON. I should have loved you had you been a beggar-maid.

FANNY [she still clings to him]. With an uncle a costermonger, and
an aunt who sold matches. It wouldn’t have made any difference to
you, would it? You didn’t marry me for my family, did you? You
didn’t, did you?

VERNON. Darling! I married you because you are the most
fascinating, the most lovable, the most wonderful little woman in the
world. [Fanny gives a sob.] As for your family—I’ve got a
confession to make to you, dear. I made inquiries about your family
before I proposed to you. Not for my own sake—because I knew I’d
have to answer a lot of stupid questions. It seemed to me quite a
good family.

FANNY. It is! Oh, it is! There never was such a respectable
family. That’s why I never could get on with them.

VERNON [laughing]. Well, you haven’t got to—any more. We needn’t
even let them know -

Bennet returns.

BENNET. Robert I find has returned. It is ten minutes to seven.

VERNON. Thanks. Well, I shall be glad of a bath. [He turns to
Fanny.] Bennet will send your maid to you. [He whispers to her.]
You’ll soon get used to it all. As for the confounded family—we
will forget all about them. [Fanny answers with another little
stifled sob. Bennet is drawing the curtains, his back to the room.
Vernon, seeing that Bennet is occupied, kisses the unresponsive Fanny
and goes out.]

At the sound of the closing of the door, Fanny looks up. She goes to
the door through which Vernon has just passed, listens a moment, then
returns. Bennet calmly finishes the drawing of the curtains. Then
he, too, crosses slowly till he and Fanny are facing one another
across the centre of the room.

FANNY. Well, what are you going to do?

BENNET. My duty!

FANNY. What’s that? Something unpleasant, I know. I can bet my
bottom dollar.

BENNET. That, my girl, will depend upon you.

FANNY. How upon me?

BENNET. Whether you prove an easy or a difficult subject. To fit
you for your position, a certain amount of training will, I fancy, be
necessary.

FANNY. Training! I’m to be—[She draws herself up.] Are you aware
who I am?

BENNET. Oh yes. AND who you were. His lordship, I take it, would
hardly relish the discovery that he had married his butler’s niece.
He might consider the situation awkward.

FANNY. And who’s going to train me?

BENNET. I am. With the assistance of your aunt and such other
members of your family as I consider can be trusted.

FANNY [for a moment she is speechless, then she bursts out]. That
ends it! I shall tell him! I shall tell him this very moment. [She
sweeps towards the door.]

BENNET. At this moment you will most likely find his lordship in his
bath.

FANNY. I don’t care! Do you think—do you think for a moment that
I’m going to allow myself—I, Lady Bantock, to be—[Her hand upon the
door.] I shall tell him, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. He
loves me. He loves me for myself. I shall tell him the whole truth,
and ask him to give you all the sack.

BENNET. You’re not forgetting that you’ve already told him ONCE who
you were?

[It stops her. What she really did was to leave the marriage
arrangements in the hands of her business manager, George P. Newte.
As agent for a music-hall star, he is ideal, but it is possible that
in answering Lord Bantock's inquiries concerning Fanny's antecedents
he may not have kept strictly to the truth.]

FANNY. I never did. I’ve never told him anything about my family.

BENNET. Curious. I was given to understand it was rather a classy
affair.

FANNY. I can’t help what other people may have done. Because some
silly idiot of a man may possibly—[She will try a new tack. She
leaves the door and comes to him.] Uncle, dear, wouldn’t it be
simpler for you all to go away? He’s awfully fond of me. He’ll do
anything I ask him. I could merely say that I didn’t like you and
get him to pension you off. You and aunt could have a little
roadside inn somewhere—with ivy.

BENNET. Seeing that together with the stables and the garden there
are twenty-three of us -

FANNY. No, of course, he couldn’t pension you all. You couldn’t
expect -

BENNET. I think his lordship might prefer to leave things as they
are. Good servants nowadays are not so easily replaced. And neither
your aunt nor I are at an age when change appeals to one.

FANNY. You see, it’s almost bound to creep out sooner or later, and
then -

BENNET. We will make it as late as possible [He crosses and rings
the bell], giving you time to prove to his lordship that you are not
incapable of learning.

FANNY [she drops back on the settee. She is half-crying.] Some
people would be pleased that their niece had married well.

BENNET. I am old-fashioned enough to think also of my duty to those
I serve. If his lordship has done me the honour to marry my niece,
the least I can is to see to it that she brings no discredit to his
name. [Mrs. Bennet, followed by Jane Bennet, a severe-looking woman
of middle age, has entered upon the words "the least I can do."
Bennet stays them a moment with his hand while he finishes. Then he
turns to his wife.] You will be interested to find, Susannah, that
the new Lady Bantock is not a stranger.

MRS. BENNET. Not a stranger! [She has reached a position from where
she sees the girl.] Fanny! You wicked girl! Where have you been
all these years?

BENNET [interposing]. There will be other opportunities for the
discussion of family differences. Just now, her ladyship is waiting
to dress for dinner.

MRS. BENNET [sneering]. Her ladyship!

JANE [also sneering]. I think she might have forewarned us of the
honour in store for us.

MRS. BENNET. Yes, why didn’t she write?

FANNY. Because I didn’t know. Do you think—[she rises]—that if I
had I would ever have married him—to be brought back here and put in
this ridiculous position? Do you think that I am so fond of you all
that I couldn’t keep away from you, at any price?

MRS. BENNET. But you must have known that Lord Bantock -

FANNY. I didn’t know he was Lord Bantock. I only knew him as Mr.
Wetherell, an artist. He wanted to feel sure that I was marrying him
for himself alone. He never told me—[Ernest Bennet, a very young
footman, has entered in answer to Bennet's ring of a minute ago. He
has come forward step by step, staring all the while open-mouthed at
Fanny. Turning, she sees him beside her.] Hulloa, Ernie. How are
the rabbits? [She kisses him.]

BENNET. Don’t stand there gaping. I rang for some wood. Tell your
brother dinner will be at a quarter to eight.

Ernest, never speaking, still staring at Fanny, gets clumsily out
again.

FANNY. Well, I suppose I’d better see about dressing? Do I dine
with his lordship or in the servants’ hall?

MRS. BENNET [turns to her husband]. You see! Still the old
impertinence.

FANNY. Only wanted to know. My only desire is to give satisfaction.

BENNET [he moves towards the door]. You will do it by treating the
matter more seriously. At dinner, by keeping your eye upon me, you
will be able to tell whether you are behaving yourself or not.

MRS. BENNET. And mind you are punctual. I have appointed Jane to be
your maid.

FANNY. Jane!

MRS. BENNET [in arms]. Have you any objections?

FANNY. No, oh no, so long as you’re all satisfied.

MRS. BENNET. Remember, you are no longer on the music-hall stage.
In dressing for Bantock Hall you will do well to follow her advice.

Bennet, who has been waiting with the door in his hand, goes out;
Mrs. Bennet follows.

JANE [in the tones of a patient executioner]. Are you ready?

FANNY. Quite ready, dear. Of course—I don’t know what you will
think of them—but I’ve only brought modern costumes with me.

JANE [not a lady who understands satire]. We must do the best we
can. [She marches out--into the dressing-room.]

Fanny, after following a few steps, stops and thinks. Ernest has
entered with the wood. He is piling it in the basket by the fire.
His entrance decides her. She glances through the open door of the
dressing-room, then flies across to the desk, seats herself, and
begins feverishly to write a telegram.

FANNY. Ernie! [He comes across to her.] Have you still got your
bicycle?

ERNEST. Yes.

FANNY. Could you get this telegram off for me before eight o’clock?
I don’t want it sent from the village; I want you to take it
YOURSELF—into the town. There’s a sovereign for you if you do it
all right.

ERNEST. I’ll do it. Can only get into a row.

FANNY. Pretty used to them, ain’t you? [She has risen. She gives
him the telegram. She has stamped it.] Can you read it?

ERNEST. «George P. Newte.»

FANNY. Hush!

They both glance at the open door.

ERNEST [he continues in a lower voice]. «72A, Waterloo Bridge Road,
London. Must see you at once. Am at the new shop.» [He looks up.]

FANNY. That’s all right.

ERNEST. «Come down. Q.T. Fanny.»

FANNY [nods]. Get off quietly. I’ll see you again -

THE VOICE OF JANE [from the dressing-room]. Are you going to keep me
waiting all night?

[They start. Ernest hastily thrusts the telegram into his breast-
pocket.]

FANNY. Coming, dear, coming. [To Ernest] Not a word to anyone!
[She hurries him out and closes door behind him.] Merely been
putting the room a bit tidy. [She is flying round collecting her
outdoor garments.] Thought it would please you. So sorry if I’ve
kept you waiting. [Jane has appeared at door.] After you, dear.

Jane goes out again. Fanny, with her pile of luggage, follows.

[CURTAIN]

 

ACT II

 

SCENE

The same.

Time.—The next morning.

The door opens. Dr. Freemantle enters, shown in by Bennet, who
follows him.

DR. FREEMANTLE [talking as he enters]. Wonderful! Wonderful! I
don’t really think I ever remember so fine a spring.

BENNET [he is making up the fire]. I’m afraid we shall have to pay
for it later on.

DR. FREEMANTLE. I expect so. Law of the universe, you know, Bennet-
-law of the universe. Everything in this world has got to be paid
for.

BENNET. Except trouble. [The doctor laughs.] The Times? [He hands
it to him.]

DR. FREEMANTLE. Thanks. Thanks. [Seats himself.] Won’t be long—
his lordship, will he?

BENNET. I don’t think so. I told him you would be here about
eleven.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Um—what do you think of her?

BENNET. Of—of her ladyship?

DR. FREEMANTLE. What’s she like?

BENNET. [They have sunk their voices.] Well, it might have been
worse.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah! There’s always that consolation, isn’t there?

BENNET. I think her ladyship—with MANAGEMENT—may turn out very
satisfactory.

DR. FREEMANTLE. You like her?

BENNET. At present, I must say for her, she appears willing to be
taught.

DR. FREEMANTLE. And you think it will last?

BENNET. I think her ladyship appreciates the peculiarity of her
position. I will tell the Miss Wetherells you are here.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah, thanks!

BENNET. I fancy her ladyship will not herself be visible much before
lunch time. I understand she woke this morning with a headache. [He
goes out.]

The Doctor reads a moment. Then the door of the dressing-room opens,
and Fanny enters. Her dress is a wonderful contrast to her costume
of last evening. It might be that of a poor and demure nursery
governess. Her hair is dressed in keeping. She hardly seems the
same woman.

FANNY [seeing the Doctor, she pauses]. Oh!

DR. FREEMANTLE [rises]. I beg pardon, have I the pleasure of seeing
Lady Bantock?

FANNY. Yes.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Delighted. May I introduce myself—Dr. Freemantle?
I helped your husband into the world.

FANNY. Yes. I’ve heard of you. You don’t mind my closing this
door, do you? [Her very voice and manner are changed.]

DR. FREEMANTLE [a little puzzled]. Not at all.

FANNY [she closes the door and returns]. Won’t—won’t you be seated?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Thanks. [They both sit.] How’s the headache?

FANNY. Oh, it’s better.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Ah! [A silence.] Forgive me—I’m an old friend of
the family. You’re not a bit what I expected.

FANNY. But you like it? I mean you think this—[with a gesture]—is
all right?

DR. FREEMANTLE. My dear young lady, it’s charming. You couldn’t be
anything else.

FANNY. Thank you.

DR. FREEMANTLE. I merely meant that—well, I was not expecting
anything so delightfully demure.

FANNY. That’s the idea—»seemly.» The Lady Bantocks have always
been «seemly»? [She puts it as a question.]

DR. FREEMANTLE [more and more puzzled]. Yes—oh, yes. They have
always been—[His eye catches that of Constance, first Lady Bantock,
looking down at him from above the chimney-piece. His tone changes.]
Well, yes, in their way, you know.

FANNY. You see, I’m in the difficult position of following her LATE
ladyship. SHE appears to have been exceptionally «seemly.» This is
her frock. I mean it WAS her frock.

DR. FREEMANTLE. God bless my soul! You are not dressing yourself up
in her late ladyship’s clothes? The dear good woman has been dead
and buried these twenty years.

FANNY [she looks at her dress]. Yes, it struck me as being about
that period.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he goes across to her]. What’s the trouble? Too
much Bennet?

FANNY [she looks up. There is a suspicion of a smile]. One might
say—sufficient?

DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Excellent servants. If they’d only
remember it. [He glances round--sinks his voice.] Take my advice.
Put your foot down—before it’s too late.

FANNY. Sit down, please. [She makes room for him on the settee.]
Because I’m going to be confidential. You don’t mind, do you?

DR. FREEMANTLE [seating himself]. My dear, I take it as the greatest
compliment I have had paid to me for years.

FANNY. You put everything so nicely. I’m two persons. I’m an
angel—perhaps that is too strong a word?

DR. FREEMANTLE [doubtfully]. Well -

FANNY. We’ll say saint. Or else I’m—the other thing.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Do you know, I think you could be.

FANNY. It’s not a question about which there is any doubt.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Of course, in this case, a LITTLE bit of the devil -

FANNY [she shakes her head]. There’s such a lot of mine. It has
always hampered me, never being able to hit the happy medium.

DR. FREEMANTLE. It IS awkward.

FANNY. I thought I would go on being an angel -

DR. FREEMANTLE. Saint.

FANNY. Saint—till—well, till it became physically impossible to be
a saint any longer.

DR. FREEMANTLE. And then?

FANNY [she rises, turns to him with a gesture of half-comic, half-
tragic despair]. Well, then I can’t help it, can I?

DR. FREEMANTLE. I think you’re making a mistake. An explosion will
undoubtedly have to take place. That being so, the sooner it takes
place the better. [He rises.] What are you afraid of?

FANNY [she changes her tone--the talk becomes serious]. You’ve known
Vernon all his life?

DR. FREEMANTLE. No one better.

FANNY. Tell me. I’ve known him only as a lover. What sort of a man
is he?

A pause. They are looking straight into each other’s eyes.

DR. FREEMANTLE. A man it pays to be perfectly frank with.

FANNY. It’s a very old family, isn’t it?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Old! Good Lord no! First Lord Bantock was only
Vernon’s great-grandfather. That is the woman that did it all. [He
is looking at the Hoppner.]

FANNY. How do you mean?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Got them their title. Made the name of Bantock of
importance in the history of the Georges. Clever woman.

FANNY [leaning over a chair, she is staring into the eyes of the
first Lady Bantock]. I wonder what she would have done if she had
ever got herself into a really first-class muddle?

DR. FREEMANTLE. One thing’s certain. [Fanny turns to him.] She’d
have got out of it.

FANNY [addresses the portrait]. I do wish you could talk.

Vernon bursts into the room. He has been riding. He throws aside
his hat and stick.

VERNON. Hulloa! This is good of you. [He shakes hands with the
Doctor.] How are you? [Without waiting for any reply, he goes to
Fanny, kisses her.] Good morning, dear. How have you been getting
on together, you two? Has she been talking to you?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, yes.

VERNON. Doesn’t she talk well? I say, what have you been doing to
yourself?

FANNY. Jane thought this style—[with a gesture]—more appropriate
to Lady Bantock.

VERNON. Um! Wonder if she’s right? [To the Doctor] What do you
think?

DR. FREEMANTLE. I think it a question solely for Lady Bantock.

VERNON. Of course it is. [To Fanny] You know, you mustn’t let them
dictate to you. Dear, good, faithful souls, all of them. But they
must understand that you are mistress.

FANNY [she seizes eagerly at the chance]. You might mention it to
them, dear. It would come so much better from you.

VERNON. No, you. They will take more notice of you.

FANNY. I’d so much rather you did it. [To Dr. Freemantle] Don’t
you think it would come better from him?

DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. I’m afraid you’ll have to do it yourself.

VERNON. You see, dear, it might hurt them, coming from me. It would
seem like ingratitude. Mrs. Bennet—Why, it wasn’t till I began to
ask questions that I grasped the fact that she WASN’T my real mother.
As for old Bennet, ever since my father died—well, I hardly know how
I could have got on without him. It was Charles Bennet that taught
me to ride; I learned my letters sitting on Jane’s lap.

FANNY. Yes. Perhaps I had better do it myself.

VERNON. I’m sure it will be more effective. Of course I shall
support you.

FANNY. Thank you. Oh, by the by, dear, I shan’t be able to go with
you to-day.

VERNON. Why not?

FANNY. I’ve rather a headache.

VERNON. Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, all right, we’ll stop at home. I’m
not so very keen about it.

FANNY. No, I want you to go, dear. Your aunts are looking forward
to it. I shall get over it all the sooner with everybody out of the
way.

VERNON. Well, if you really wish it.

The Misses Wetherell steal in. They are dressed for driving. They
exchange greetings with the Doctor.

FANNY. You know you promised to obey. [Tickles his nose with a
flower.]

VERNON [laughing--to the Doctor]. You see what it is to be married?

DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Very trying.

VERNON [turning to his aunts]. Fanny isn’t coming with us.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to Fanny]. Oh, my dear!

FANNY. It’s only a headache. [She takes her aside.] I’m rather
glad of it. I want an excuse for a little time to myself.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I understand, dear. It’s all been so
sudden. [She kisses her--then to the room] She’ll be all the better
alone. We three will go on. [She nods and signs to her sister.]

FANNY [kissing the Elder Miss Wetherell]. Don’t you get betting.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Oh no, dear, we never do. It’s just to
see the dear horses. [She joins her sister. They whisper.]

VERNON [to the Doctor to whom he has been talking]. Can we give you
a lift?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Well, you might as far as the Vicarage. Good-bye,
Lady Bantock.

FANNY [shaking hands]. Good-bye, Doctor.

VERNON. Sure you won’t be lonely?

FANNY [laughs]. Think I can’t exist an hour without you? Mr.
Conceited!

VERNON [laughs and kisses her]. Come along. [He takes the Doctor
and his younger Aunt towards the door.]

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [who is following last]. I like you in that
frock.

FANNY [laughs]. So glad. It’s Ernest who attends to the fires,
isn’t it?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Yes, dear.

FANNY. I wish you’d send him up. [At door--calls after them] Hope
you’ll all enjoy yourselves!

VERNON [from the distance]. I shall put you on a fiver.

FANNY. Mind it wins. [She listens a moment--closes door, comes back
to desk, and takes a Bradshaw.] Five-six-three—five-six-three.
[Finds page.] St. Pancras, eight o’clock. Oh, Lord! Stamford,
10.45. Leave Stamford—[Ernest has entered.] Is that you, Ernest?

ERNEST. Yes.

FANNY. Shut the door. Sure it went off last night, that telegram?

ERNEST. Yes.

FANNY. If he doesn’t catch that eight o’clock, he can’t get here
till nearly four. That will be awkward. [To Ernest] What time is
it now?

ERNEST [looks at clock]. Twenty past eleven.

FANNY. If he does, he’ll be here about twelve—I believe I’ll go and
meet him. Could I get out without being seen?

ERNEST. You’ll have to pass the lodge.

FANNY. Who’s at the lodge now?

ERNEST. Mother.

FANNY. Damn!

Bennet has entered unnoticed and drawn near. At this point from
behind, he boxes Ernest’s ears.

ERNEST. Here, steady!

BENNET. On the occasions when your cousin forgets her position, you
will remember it and remind her of it. Get out! [Ernest, clumsily
as ever, "gets out."] A sort of person has called who, according to
his own account, «happened to be passing this way,» and would like to
see you.

FANNY [who has been trying to hide the Bradshaw--with affected
surprise.] To see me!

BENNET [drily]. Yes. I thought you would be surprised. He claims
to be an old friend of yours—Mr. George Newte.

FANNY [still keeping it up]. George Newte! Of course—ah, yes. Do
you mind showing him up?

BENNET. I thought I would let you know he had arrived, in case you
might be getting anxious about him. I propose giving him a glass of
beer and sending him away again.

FANNY [flares up]. Look here, uncle, you and I have got to
understand one another. I may put up with being bullied myself—if I
can’t see any help for it—but I’m not going to stand my friends
being insulted. You show Mr. Newte up here.

A silence.

BENNET. I shall deem it my duty to inform his lordship of Mr.
Newte’s visit.

FANNY. There will be no need to. Mr. Newte, if his arrangements
permit, will be staying to dinner.

BENNET. That, we shall see about. [He goes out.]

FANNY [following him to door]. And tell them I shall want the best
bedroom got ready in case Mr. Newte is able to stay the night. I’ve
done it. [She goes to piano, dashes into the "Merry Widow Waltz," or
some other equally inappropriate but well-known melody, and then
there enters Newte, shown in by Bennet. Newte is a cheerful person,
attractively dressed in clothes suggestive of a successful bookmaker.
He carries a white pot hat and tasselled cane. His gloves are large
and bright. He is smoking an enormous cigar.]

BENNET. Mr. Newte.

FANNY [she springs up and greets him. They are evidently good
friends] . Hulloa, George!

NEWTE. Hulloa, Fan—I beg your pardon, Lady Bantock. [Laughs.] Was
just passing this way -

FANNY [cutting him short]. Yes. So nice of you to call.

NEWTE. I said to myself—[His eye catches Bennet; he stops.] Ah,
thanks. [He gives Bennet his hat and stick, but Bennet does not seem
satisfied. He has taken from the table a small china tray. This he
is holding out to Newte, evidently for Newte to put something in it.
But what? Newte is puzzled, he glances at Fanny. The idea strikes
him that perhaps it is a tip Bennet is waiting for. It seems odd,
but if it be the custom--he puts his hand to his trousers pocket.]

BENNET. The smoking-room is on the ground-floor.

NEWTE. Ah, my cigar. I beg your pardon. I couldn’t understand.
[He puts it on the tray--breaks into a laugh.]

BENNET. Thank you. Her ladyship is suffering from a headache. If I
might suggest—a little less boisterousness. [He goes out.]

NEWTE [he watches him out]. I say, your Lord Chamberlain’s a bit of
a freezer!

FANNY. Yes. Wants hanging out in the sun. How did you manage to
get here so early? [She sits.]

NEWTE. Well, your telegram rather upset me. I thought—correct
etiquette for me to sit down here, do you think?

FANNY. Don’t ask me. Got enough new tricks of my own to learn.
[Laughs.] Should chance it, if I were you.

NEWTE. Such a long time since I was at Court. [He sits.] Yes, I
was up at five o’clock this morning.

FANNY [laughs]. Oh, you poor fellow!

NEWTE. Caught the first train to Melton, and came on by cart.
What’s the trouble?

FANNY. A good deal. Why didn’t you tell me what I was marrying?

NEWTE. I did. I told you that he was a gentleman; that he -

FANNY. Why didn’t you tell me that he was Lord Bantock? You knew,
didn’t you?

NEWTE [begins to see worries ahead]. Can’t object to my putting a
cigar in my mouth if I don’t light it—can he?

FANNY. Oh, light it—anything you like that will help you to get
along.

NEWTE [bites the end off the cigar and puts it between his teeth.
This helps him]. No, I didn’t know—not officially.

FANNY. What do you mean—»not officially»?

NEWTE. He never told me.

FANNY. He never told you ANYTHING—for the matter of that. I
understood you had found out everything for yourself.

NEWTE. Yes; and one of the things I found out was that he didn’t
WANT you to know. I could see his little game. Wanted to play the
Lord Burleigh fake. Well, what was the harm? Didn’t make any
difference to you!

FANNY. Didn’t make any difference to me! [Jumps up.] Do you know
what I’ve done? Married into a family that keeps twenty-three
servants, every blessed one of whom is a near relation of my own.
[He sits paralysed. She goes on.] That bald-headed old owl—[with a
wave towards the door]—that wanted to send you off with a glass of
beer and a flea in your ear—that’s my uncle. The woman that opened
the lodge gate for you is my Aunt Amelia. The carroty-headed young
man that answered the door to you is my cousin Simeon. He always
used to insist on kissing me. I’m expecting him to begin again. My
«lady’s» maid is my cousin Jane. That’s why I’m dressed like this!
My own clothes have been packed off to the local dressmaker to be
made «decent.» Meanwhile, they’ve dug up the family vault to find
something for me to go on with. [He has been fumbling in all his
pockets for matches. She snatches a box from somewhere and flings it
to him.] For Heaven’s sake light it! Then, perhaps, you’ll be able
to do something else than stare. I have claret and water—mixed—
with my dinner. Uncle pours it out for me. They’ve locked up my
cigarettes. Aunt Susannah is coming in to-morrow morning to hear me
say my prayers. Doesn’t trust me by myself. Thinks I’ll skip them.
She’s the housekeeper here. I’ve got to know them by heart before I
go to bed to-night, and now I’ve mislaid them. [She goes to the
desk--hunts for them.]

NEWTE [having lighted his eternal cigar, he can begin to think]. But
why should THEY -

FANNY [still at desk]. Because they’re that sort. They honestly
think they are doing the right and proper thing—that Providence has
put it into their hands to turn me out a passable substitute for all
a Lady Bantock should be; which, so far as I can understand, is
something between the late lamented Queen Victoria and Goody-Two-
Shoes. They are the people that I ran away from, the people I’ve
told you about, the people I’ve always said I’d rather starve than
ever go back to. And here I am, plumped down in the midst of them
again—for life! [Honoria Bennet, the "still-room" maid, has
entered. She is a pert young minx of about Fanny's own age.] What
is is? What is it?

HONORIA. Merely passing through. Sorry to have excited your
ladyship. [Goes into dressing-room.]

FANNY. My cousin Honoria. They’ve sent her up to keep an eye upon
me. Little cat! [She takes her handkerchief, drapes it over the
keyhole of the dressing-room door.]

NEWTE [at sight of Honoria he has jumped up and hastily hidden his
cigar behind him]. What are you going to do?

FANNY [she seats herself and suggests to him the writing-chair].
Hear from you—first of all—exactly what you told Vernon.

NEWTE [sitting]. About you?

FANNY [nods]. About me—and my family.

NEWTE. Well—couldn’t tell him much, of course. Wasn’t much to
tell.

FANNY. I want what you did tell.

NEWTE. I told him that your late father was a musician.

FANNY. Yes.

NEWTE. Had been unfortunate. Didn’t go into particulars. Didn’t
seem to be any need for it. That your mother had died when you were
still only a girl and that you had gone to live with relatives. [He
looks for approval.]

FANNY. Yes.

NEWTE. That you hadn’t got on well with them—artistic temperament,
all that sort of thing—that, in consequence, you had appealed to
your father’s old theatrical friends; and that they—that they,
having regard to your talent—and beauty -

FANNY. Thank you.

NEWTE. Had decided that the best thing you could do was to go upon
the stage. [He finishes, tolerably well pleased with himself.]

FANNY. That’s all right. Very good indeed. What else?

NEWTE [after an uncomfortable pause]. Well, that’s about all I knew.

FANNY. Yes, but what did you TELL him?

NEWTE. Well, of course, I had to tell him something. A man doesn’t
marry without knowing just a little about his wife’s connections.
Wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him. You’d never told me anything—
never would; except that you’d liked to have boiled the lot. What
was I to do? [He is playing with a quill pen he has picked up.]

FANNY [she takes it from him]. What DID you do?

NEWTE [with fine frankness]. I did the best I could for you, old
girl, and he was very nice about it. Said it was better than he’d
expected, and that I’d made him very happy—very happy indeed.

FANNY [she leans across, puts her hand on his]. You’re a dear, good
fellow, George—always have been. I wouldn’t plague you only it is
absolutely necessary I should know—exactly what you did tell him.

NEWTE [a little sulkily]. I told him that your uncle was a bishop.

FANNY [sits back--staring at him]. A what?

NEWTE. A bishop. Bishop of Waiapu, New Zealand.

FANNY. Why New Zealand?

NEWTE. Why not? Had to be somewhere. Didn’t want him Archbishop of
Canterbury, did you?

FANNY. Did he believe it?

NEWTE. Shouldn’t have told him had there been any fear that he
wouldn’t.

FANNY. I see. Any other swell relations of mine knocking about?

NEWTE. One—a judge of the Supreme Court in Ohio. Same name,
anyhow, O’Gorman. Thought I’d make him a cousin of yours. I’ve
always remembered him. Met him when I was over there in ninety-
eight—damn him!

A silence.

FANNY [she rises]. Well, nothing else for it! Got to tell him it
was all a pack of lies. Not blaming you, old boy—my fault. Didn’t
know he was going to ask any questions, or I’d have told him myself.
Bit of bad luck, that’s all.

NEWTE. Why must you tell him? Only upset him.

FANNY. It’s either my telling him or leaving it for them to do. You
know me, George. How long do you see me being bossed and bullied by
my own servants? Besides, it’s bound to come out in any case.

NEWTE [he rises. Kindly but firmly he puts her back into her chair.
Then pacing to and fro with his hands mostly in his trousers pockets,
he talks]. Now, you listen to me, old girl. I’ve been your business
manager ever since you started in. I’ve never made a mistake before-
-[he turns and faces her]—and I haven’t made one this time.

FANNY. I don’t really see the smartness, George, stuffing him up
with a lot of lies he can find out for himself.

NEWTE. IF HE WANTS TO. A couple of telegrams, one to His Grace the
Bishop of Waiapu, the other to Judge Denis O’Gorman, Columbus, Ohio,
would have brought him back the information that neither gentlemen
had ever heard of you. IF HE HADN’T BEEN CAREFUL NOT TO SEND THEM.
He wasn’t marrying you with the idea of strengthening his family
connections. He was marrying you because he was just gone on you.
Couldn’t help himself.

FANNY. In that case, you might just as well have told him the truth.

NEWTE. WHICH HE WOULD THEN HAVE HAD TO PASS ON TO EVERYONE ENTITLED
TO ASK QUESTIONS. Can’t you understand? Somebody, in the interest
of everybody, had to tell a lie. Well, what’s a business manager
for?

FANNY. But I can’t do it, George. You don’t know them. The longer
I give in to them the worse they’ll get.

NEWTE. Can’t you square them?

FANNY. No, that’s the trouble. They ARE honest. They’re the
«faithful retainers» out of a melodrama. They are working eighteen
hours a day on me not for any advantage to themselves, but because
they think it their «duty» to the family. They don’t seem to have
any use for themselves at all.

NEWTE. Well, what about the boy? Can’t HE talk to them?

FANNY. Vernon! They’ve brought him up from a baby—spanked him all
round, I expect. Might as well ask a boy to talk to his old
schoolmaster. Besides, if he did talk, then it would all come out.
As I tell you, it’s bound to come out—and the sooner the better.

NEWTE. It must NOT come out! It’s too late. If we had told him at
the beginning that he was proposing to marry into his own butler’s
family—well, it’s an awkward situation—he might have decided to
risk it. Or he might have cried off.

FANNY. And a good job if he had.

NEWTE. Now talk sense. You wanted him—you took a fancy to him from
the beginning. He’s a nice boy, and there’s something owing to him.
[It is his trump card, and he knows it.] Don’t forget that. He’s
been busy, explaining to all his friends and relations why they
should receive you with open arms: really nice girl, born
gentlewoman, good old Church of England family—no objection
possible. For you to spring the truth upon him NOW—well, it doesn’t
seem to me quite fair to HIM.

FANNY. Then am I to live all my life dressed as a charity girl?

NEWTE. You keep your head and things will gradually right
themselves. This family of yours—they’ve got SOME sense, I suppose?

FANNY. Never noticed any sign of it myself.

NEWTE. Maybe you’re not a judge. [Laughs.] They’ll listen to
reason. You let ME have a talk to them, one of these days; see if I
can’t show them—first one and then the other—the advantage of
leaving to «better» themselves—WITH THE HELP OF A LITTLE READY
MONEY. Later on—choosing your proper time—you can break it to him
that you have discovered they’re distant connections of yours, a
younger branch of the family that you’d forgotten. Give the show
time to settle down into a run. Then you can begin to make changes.

FANNY. You’ve a wonderful way with you, George. It always sounds
right as you put it—even when one jolly well knows that it isn’t.

NEWTE. Well, it’s always been right for you, old girl, ain’t it?

FANNY. Yes. You’ve been a rattling good friend. [She takes his
hands.] Almost wish I’d married you instead. We’d have been more
suited to one another.

NEWTE [shakes his head]. Nothing like having your fancy. You’d
never have been happy without him. [He releases her.] ‘Twas a good
engagement, or I’d never have sanctioned it.

FANNY. I suppose it will be the last one you will ever get me. [She
has dropped for a moment into a brown study.]

NEWTE [he turns]. I hope so.

FANNY [she throws off her momentary mood with a laugh]. Poor fellow!
You never even got your commission.

NEWTE. I’ll take ten per cent. of all your happiness, old girl. So
make it as much as you can for my benefit. Good-bye. [He holds out
hand.]

FANNY. You’re not going? You’ll stop to lunch?

NEWTE. Not to-day.

FANNY. Do. If you don’t, they’ll think it’s because I was
frightened to ask you.

NEWTE. All the better. The more the other party thinks he’s having
his way, the easier always to get your own. Your trouble is, you
know, that you never had any tact.

FANNY. I hate tact. [Newte laughs.] We could have had such a jolly
little lunch together. I’m all alone till the evening. There were
ever so many things I wanted to talk to you about.

NEWTE. What?

FANNY. Ah, how can one talk to a man with his watch in his hand?
[He puts it away and stands waiting, but she is cross.] I think
you’re very disagreeable.

NEWTE. I must really get back to town. I oughtn’t to be away now,
only your telegram -

FANNY. I know. I’m an ungrateful little beast! [She crosses and
rings bell.] You’ll have a glass of champagne before you go?

NEWTE. Well, I won’t say no to that.

FANNY. How are all the girls?

NEWTE. Oh, chirpy. I’m bringing them over to London. We open at
the Palace next week.

FANNY. What did they think of my marriage? Gerty was a bit jealous,
wasn’t she?

NEWTE. Well, would have been, if she’d known who he was. [Laughs.]

FANNY. Tell her. Tell her [she draws herself up] I’m Lady Bantock,
of Bantock Hall, Rutlandshire. It will make her so mad. [Laughs.]

NEWTE [laughs]. I will.

FANNY. Give them all my love. [Ernest appears in answer to her
bell.] Oh, Ernest, tell Bennet—[the eyes and mouth of Ernest open]-
-to see that Mr. Newte has some refreshment before he leaves. A
glass of champagne and—and some caviare. Don’t forget. [Ernest
goes out.] Good-bye. You’ll come again?

NEWTE. Whenever you want me—and remember—the watchword is «Tact»!

FANNY. Yes, I’ve got the WORD all right. [Laughs.] Don’t forget to
give my love to the girls.

NEWTE. I won’t. So long! [He goes out.]

Fanny closes the door. Honoria has re-entered from the dressing-
room. She looks from the handkerchief still hanging over the keyhole
to Fanny.

HONORIA. Your ladyship’s handkerchief?

FANNY. Yes. Such a draught through that keyhole.

HONORIA [takes the handkerchief, hands it to Fanny]. I will tell the
housekeeper.

FANNY. Thanks. Maybe you will also mention it to the butler.
Possibly also to the—[She suddenly changes.] Honoria. Suppose it
had been you—you know, you’re awfully pretty—who had married Lord
Bantock, and he had brought you back here, among them all—uncle,
aunt, all the lot of them—what would you have done?

HONORIA [she draws herself up]. I should have made it quite plain
from the first, that I was mistress, and that they were my servants.

FANNY. You would, you think -

HONORIA [checking her outburst]. But then, dear—you will excuse my
speaking plainly—there is a slight difference between the two cases.
[She seats herself on the settee. Fanny is standing near the desk.]
You see, what we all feel about you, dear, is—that you are—well,
hardly a fit wife for his lordship. [Fanny's hands are itching to
box the girl's ears. To save herself, she grinds out through her
teeth the word "Tack!"] Of course, dear, it isn’t altogether your
fault.

FANNY. Thanks.

HONORIA. Your mother’s marriage was most unfortunate.

FANNY [her efforts to suppress her feelings are just--but only just--
successful.] Need we discuss that?

HONORIA. Well, he was an Irishman, dear, there’s no denying it.
[Fanny takes a cushion from a chair--with her back to Honoria, she
strangles it. Jane has entered and is listening.] Still, perhaps it
is a painful subject. And we hope—all of us—that, with time and
patience, we may succeed in eradicating the natural results of your
bringing-up.

JANE. Some families, finding themselves in our position, would seek
to turn it to their own advantage. WE think only of your good.

FANNY. Yes, that’s what I feel—that you are worrying yourselves too
much about me. You’re too conscientious, all of you. You, in
particular, Jane, because you know you’re not strong. YOU’LL end up
with a nervous breakdown. [Mrs. Bennet has entered. Honoria slips
out. Fanny turns to her aunt.] I was just saying how anxious I’m
getting about Jane. I don’t like the look of her at all. What she
wants is a holiday. Don’t you agree with me?

MRS. BENNET. There will be no holiday, I fear, for any of us, for
many a long day.

FANNY. But you must. You must think more of yourselves, you know.
YOU’RE not looking well, aunt, at all. What you both want is a
month—at the seaside.

MRS. BENNET. Your object is too painfully apparent for the subject
to need discussion. True solicitude for us would express itself
better in greater watchfulness upon your own behaviour.

FANNY. Why, what have I done?

Bennet enters, followed, unwillingly, by Ernest.

MRS. BENNET. Your uncle will explain.

BENNET. Shut that door. [Ernest does so. They group round Bennet--
Ernest a little behind. Fanny remains near the desk.] Sit down.
[Fanny, bewildered, speechless, sits.] Carry your mind back, please,
to the moment when, with the Bradshaw in front of you, you were
considering, with the help of your cousin Ernest, the possibility of
your slipping out unobserved, to meet and commune with a person you
had surreptitiously summoned to visit you during your husband’s
absence.

FANNY. While I think of it, did he have anything to eat before he
went? I told Ernest to—ask you to see that he had a glass of
champagne and a -

BENNET [waves her back into silence]. Mr. Newte was given
refreshment suitable to his station. [She goes to interrupt. Again
he waves her back.] We are speaking of more important matters. Your
cousin reminded you that you would have to pass the lodge, occupied
by your Aunt Amelia. I state the case correctly?

FANNY. Beautifully!

BENNET. I said nothing at the time, doubting the evidence of my own
ears. The boy, however—where is the boy?—[Ernest is pushed
forward]—has admitted—reluctantly—that he also heard it. [A
pause. The solemnity deepens.] You made use of an expression -

FANNY. Oh, cut it short. I said «damn.» [A shudder passes.] I’m
sorry to have frightened you, but if you knew a little more of really
good society, you would know that ladies—quite slap-up ladies—when
they’re excited, do—.

MRS. BENNET [interrupting with almost a scream]. She defends it!

BENNET. You will allow ME to be the judge of what a LADY says, even
when she is excited. As for this man, Newte -

FANNY. The best friend you ever had. [She is "up" again.] You
thank your stars, all of you, and tell the others, too, the whole
blessed twenty-three of you—you thank your stars that I did
«surreptitiously» beg and pray him to run down by the first train and
have a talk with me; and that Providence was kind enough to YOU to
enable him to come. It’s a very different tune you’d have been
singing at this moment—all of you—if he hadn’t. I can tell you
that.

MRS. BENNET. And pray, what tune SHOULD we have been singing if
Providence hadn’t been so thoughtful of us?

FANNY [she is about to answer, then checks herself, and sits again].
You take care you don’t find out. There’s time yet.

MRS. BENNET. We had better leave her.

BENNET. Threats, my good girl, will not help you.

MRS. BENNET [with a laugh]. She’s in too tight a corner for that.

BENNET. A contrite heart is what your aunt and I desire to see. [He
takes from his pocket a small book, places it open on the desk.] I
have marked one or two passages, on pages 93-7. We will discuss them
together—later in the day.

They troop out in silence, the key turns in the lock.

FANNY [takes up the book--turns to the cover, reads]. «The Sinner’s
Manual.» [She turns to page 93.]

[CURTAIN]

 

ACT III

 

SCENE

The same.

Time.—A few days later.

A table is laid for tea. Ernest enters with the tea-urn. He leaves
the door open; through it comes the sound of an harmonium,
accompanying the singing of a hymn. Fanny comes from her dressing-
room. She is dressed more cheerfully than when we last saw her, but
still «seemly.» She has a book in her hand. She pauses, hearing the
music, goes nearer to the open door, and listens; then crosses and
takes her place at the table. The music ceases.

FANNY. Another prayer meeting? [Ernest nods.] I do keep ‘em busy.

ERNEST. D’ye know what they call you downstairs?

FANNY. What?

ERNEST. The family cross.

FANNY. I’m afraid it’s about right.

ERNEST. What have you been doing THIS time? Swearing again?

FANNY. Worse. I’ve been lying. [Ernest gives vent to a low
whistle.] Said I didn’t know what had become of that yellow poplin
with the black lace flounces, that they’ve had altered for me. Found
out that I’d given it to old Mother Potts for the rummage sale at the
Vicarage. Jane was down there. Bought it in for half a crown.

ERNEST. You are risky. Why, you might have known -

Vernon comes in. He is in golfing get-up. He throws his cap on to
the settee.

VERNON. Hello, got a cup of tea there?

Ernest goes out.

FANNY. Yes. Thought you were playing golf?

VERNON. Just had a telegram handed to me in the village—from your
friend Newte. Wants me to meet him at Melton Station at five
o’clock. [Looks at his watch.] Know what he wants?

FANNY. Haven’t the faintest idea. [She hands him his cup.] Is he
coming HERE? Or merely on his way somewhere?

VERNON. I don’t know; he doesn’t say.

FANNY. Don’t let him mix you up in any of his «ventures.» Dear old
George, he’s as honest as the day, but if he gets hold of an «idea»
there’s always thousands in it for everybody.

VERNON. I’ll be careful. [Ernest has left the door open. The
harmonium breaks forth again, together with vocal accompaniment as
before.] What’s on downstairs, then—a party?

FANNY. Bennet is holding a prayer meeting.

VERNON. A prayer meeting?

FANNY. One of the younger members of the family has been detected
«telling a deliberate lie.» [Vernon is near the door listening, with
his back towards her, or he would see that she is smiling.] Black
sheep, I suppose, to be found in every flock. [Music ceases, Ernest
having arrived with the news of his lordship's return.]

VERNON [returning to the table, having closed the door]. Good old
man, you know, Bennet. All of them! So high-principled! Don’t
often get servants like that, nowadays.

FANNY. Seems almost selfish, keeping the whole collection to
ourselves.

VERNON [laughs]. ‘Pon my word it does. But what can we do? They’ll
never leave us—not one of them.

FANNY. No, I don’t believe they ever will.

VERNON. Do you know, I sometimes think that you don’t like them.
[Fanny makes a movement.] Of course, they are a bit bossy, I admit.
But all that comes from their devotion, their -

FANNY. The wonder to me is that, brought up among them, admiring
them as you do, you never thought of marrying one of them.

VERNON [staggered.] Marrying them?

FANNY. I didn’t say «them.» I said «ONE of them.» There’s Honoria.
She’s pretty enough, anyhow. So’s Alice, Charles Bennet’s daughter,
and Bertha and Grace—all of them beautiful. And what’s even better
still—good. [She says it viciously.] Didn’t you ever think of
them?

VERNON. Well [laughs]—well, one hardly marries into one’s own
kitchen.

FANNY. Isn’t that rather snobbish? You say they’re more like
friends than servants. They’ve lived with your people, side by side,
for three generations, doing their duty, honourably. There’s never
been a slur upon their name. They’re «high-principled.» You know
it. They’ve better manners than nine-tenths of your smart society,
and they’re healthy. What’s wrong with them—even from a lord’s
point of view?

VERNON [recovering himself]. Well, don’t pitch into me about it.
It’s your fault if I didn’t marry them—I mean one of them. [He
laughs, puts his empty cup back on the table.] Maybe I’d have
thought about it—if I hadn’t met you.

FANNY [takes his hand in hers]. I wish you hadn’t asked Newte any
questions about me. It would have been so nice to feel that you had
married me—just because you couldn’t help it—just because I was I
and nothing else mattered.

VERNON. Let’s forget I ever did. [He kneels beside her.] I didn’t
do it for my own sake, as you know. A MAN in my position has to
think of other people. His wife has to take her place in society.
People insist upon knowing something about her. It’s not enough for
the stupid «County» that she’s the cleverest, most bewilderingly
beautiful, bewitching lady in the land.

FANNY. And how long will you think all that?

VERNON. For ever, and ever, and ever.

FANNY. Oh, you dear boy. [She kisses him.] You don’t know how a
woman loves the man she loves to love her. [Laughs.] Isn’t that
complicated?

VERNON. Not at all. We’re just the same. We love to love the woman
we love.

FANNY. Provided the «County» will let us. And the County has said:
A man may not marry his butler’s niece.

VERNON [laughing]. You’ve got butlers on the brain. If ever I do
run away with my own cook or under-housemaid, it will be your doing.

FANNY. You haven’t the pluck! The «County» would laugh at you. You
men are so frightened of being laughed at.

VERNON [he rises]. Well, if it saves us from making asses of
ourselves -

FANNY. Wasn’t there a niece of old Bennet’s, a girl who had been
brought up abroad, and who WASN’T a domestic servant—never had been-
-who stayed with them here, at the gardener’s cottage, for a short
time, some few years ago?

VERNON. You mean poor Rose Bennet’s daughter—the one who ran away
and married an organ-grinder.

FANNY. An organ-grinder?

VERNON. Something of that sort—yes. They had her over; did all
they could. A crazy sort of girl; used to sing French ballads on the
village green to all the farm labourers she could collect. Shortened
poor Bennet’s life by about ten years. [Laughs.] But why? Not
going to bully me for not having fallen in love with her, are you?
Because that really WASN’T my fault. I never even saw her. ‘Twas
the winter we spent in Rome. She bolted before we got back. Never
gave me a chance.

FANNY. I accept the excuse. [Laughs.] No, I was merely wondering
what the «County» would have done if by any chance you had married
HER. Couldn’t have said you were marrying into your own kitchen in
her case, because she was never IN your kitchen—absolutely refused
to enter it, I’m told.

VERNON [laughs]. It would have been a «nice point,» as they say in
legal circles. If people had liked her, they’d have tried to forget
that her cousins had ever been scullery-maids. If not, they’d have
taken good care that nobody did.

Bennet enters. He brings some cut flowers, with the «placing» of
which he occupies himself.

BENNET. I did not know your lordship had returned.

VERNON. Found a telegram waiting for me in the village. What’s
become of that niece of yours, Bennet—your sister Rose’s daughter,
who was here for a short time and ran away again? Ever hear anything
about her?

BENNET [very quietly he turns, lets his eyes for a moment meet
Fanny's. Then answers as he crosses to the windows]. The last I
heard about her was that she was married.

VERNON. Satisfactorily?

BENNET. Looking at it from her point of view—most satisfactorily.

VERNON [laughs]. But looking at it from his—more doubtful?

BENNET. She was not without her attractions. Her chief faults, I am
inclined to think, were those arising from want of discipline in
youth. I have hopes that it is not even yet too late to root out
from her nature the weeds of indiscretion.

VERNON. And you think he is the man to do it?

BENNET. Perhaps not. But fortunately there are those about her
fully alive to the duty devolving upon them.

VERNON. Um. Sounds a little bit like penal servitude for the poor
girl, the way you put it, Bennet.

BENNET. Even penal servitude may be a blessing, if it serves to
correct a stubborn spirit.

VERNON. We’ll have to make you a J.P., Bennet. Must be jolly
careful I don’t ever get tried before you. [Laughs.] Is that the
cart?

BENNET [he looks out through the window]. Yes, your lordship.

VERNON [he takes up his cap]. I may be bringing someone back with
me. [To Fanny, who throughout has remained seated.] Why not put on
your hat—come with me?

FANNY [she jumps up, delighted]. Shall I?

BENNET. Your ladyship is not forgetting that to-day is Wednesday?

FANNY. What’s the odds. There’s nobody to call. Everybody is still
in town.

BENNET. It has always been the custom of the Lady Bantocks, when in
residence, to be at home on Wednesdays.

VERNON. Perhaps better not. It may cause talk; if, by chance,
anybody does come. I was forgetting it was Wednesday. [Fanny sits
again.] I shan’t do anything without consulting you. Good-bye.

FANNY. Good-bye.

Vernon goes out.

BENNET. You think it wise, discussing with his lordship the secret
history of the Bennet family?

FANNY. What do you mean by telling him my father was an organ-
grinder? If the British public knew the difference between music and
a hurdy-gurdy, he would have kept a butler of his own.

BENNET. I am not aware of having mentioned to his lordship that you
ever to my knowledge even had a father. It is not my plan—for the
present at all events—to inform his lordship anything about your
family. Take care I am not forced to.

FANNY. Because my father, a composer who had his work performed at
the Lamoureux Concerts—as I can prove, because I’ve got the
programme—had the misfortune to marry into a family of lackeys—I’m
not talking about my mother: she was never really one of you. SHE
had the soul of an artist.

BENNET [white with suppressed fury; he is in front of her; his very
look is enough to silence her]. Now you listen to me, my girl, once
and for all. I told you the night of your arrival that whether this
business was going to prove a pleasant or an unpleasant one depended
upon you. You make it an easy one—for your own sake. With one word
I can bring your house of cards about your ears. I’ve only to tell
him the truth for him to know you as a cheat and liar. [She goes to
speak; again he silences her.] You listen to me. You’ve seen fit to
use strong language; now I’m using strong language. This BOY, who
has married you in a moment of impulse, what does HE know about the
sort of wife a man in his position needs? What do YOU? made to sing
for your living on the Paris boulevards—whose only acquaintance with
the upper classes has been at shady restaurants.

FANNY. He didn’t WANT a woman of his own class. He told me so. It
was because I wasn’t a colourless, conventional puppet with a book of
etiquette in place of a soul that he was first drawn towards me.

BENNET. Yes. At twenty-two, boys like unconventionality. Men
don’t: they’ve learnt its true name, vulgarity. Do you think I’ve
stood behind English society for forty years without learning
anything about it! What you call a colourless puppet is what WE call
an English lady. And that you’ve got to learn to be. You talk of
«lackeys.» If your mother, my poor sister Rose, came from a family
of «lackeys» there would be no hope for you. With her blood in your
veins the thing can be done. We Bennets—[he draws himself up]—we
serve. We are not lackeys.

FANNY. All right. Don’t you call my father an organ-grinder, and I
won’t call you lackeys. Unfortunately that doesn’t end the trouble.

BENNET. The trouble can easily be ended.

FANNY. Yes. By my submitting to be ruled in all things for the
remainder of my life by my own servants.

BENNET. Say «relations,» and it need not sound so unpleasant.

FANNY. Yes, it would. It would sound worse. One can get rid of
one’s servants. [She has crossed towards the desk. Her cheque-book
lies there half hidden under other papers. It catches her eye. Her
hand steals unconsciously towards it. She taps it idly with her
fingers. It is all the work of a moment. Nothing comes of it. Just
the idea passes through her brain--not for the first time. She does
nothing noticeable--merely stands listless while one might count half
a dozen--then turns to him again.] Don’t you think you’re going it a
bit too strong, all of you? I’m not a fool. I’ve got a lot to
learn, I know. I’d be grateful for help. What you’re trying to do
is to turn me into a new woman entirely.

BENNET. Because that is the only WAY to help you. Men do not put
new wine into old bottles.

FANNY. Oh, don’t begin quoting Scripture. I want to discuss the
thing sensibly. Don’t you see it can’t be done? I can’t be anybody
else than myself. I don’t want to.

BENNET. My girl, you’ve GOT to be. Root and branch, inside and
outside, before you’re fit to be Lady Bantock, mother of the Lord
Bantocks that are to be, you’ve got to be a changed woman.

A pause.

FANNY. And it’s going to be your job, from beginning to end—yours
and the rest of you. What I wear and how I look is Jane’s affair.
My prayers will be for what Aunt Susannah thinks I stand in need of.
What I eat and drink and say and do YOU will arrange for me. And
when you die, Cousin Simeon, I suppose, will take your place. And
when Aunt Susannah dies, it will merely be a change to Aunt Amelia.
And if Jane ever dies, Honoria will have the dressing and the
lecturing of me. And so on and so on, world without end, for ever
and ever, Amen.

BENNET. Before that time, you will, I shall hope, have learnt
sufficient sense to be grateful to us. [He goes out.]

FANNY [she turns--walks slowly back towards the tea-table. Halfway
she pauses, and leaning over the back of a chair regards in silence
for a while the portrait of the first Lady Bantock]. I do wish I
could tell what you were saying.

The door opens. The Misses Wetherell come in. They wear the same
frocks that they wore in the first act. They pause. Fanny is still
gazing at the portrait.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Don’t you notice it, dear?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Yes. There really is.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It struck me the first day. [To Fanny,
who has turned] Your likeness, dear, to Lady Constance. It’s really
quite remarkable.

FANNY. You think so?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It’s your expression—when you are
serious.

FANNY [laughs]. I must try to be more serious.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It will come, dear.

They take their places side by side on the settee.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister, with a pat of the hand].
In good time. It’s so nice to have her young. I wonder if
anybody’ll come this afternoon.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [to Fanny]. You see, dear, most of the
county people are still in town.

FANNY [who is pouring out tea]. I’m not grumbling.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Oh, you’ll like them, dear. The
Cracklethorpes especially. [To her sister for confirmation] Bella
Cracklethorpe is so clever.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And the Engells. She’ll like the
Engells. All the Engell girls are so pretty. [Fanny brings over two
cups of tea.] Thank you, dear.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [as she takes her cup--patting Fanny's
hand]. And they’ll like you, dear, ALL of them.

FANNY [returning to table]. I hope so.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It’s wonderful, dear—you won’t mind my
saying it?—how you’ve improved.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Of course it was such a change for you.
And at first [turns to her sister] we were a little anxious about
her, weren’t we?

Fanny has returned to them with the cake-basket.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [as she takes a piece]. Bennet [she lingers
on the name as that of an authority] was saying only yesterday that
he had great hopes of you.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [Fanny is handing the basket to her].
Thank you, dear.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I told Vernon. He was SO pleased.

FANNY. VERNON was?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He attaches so much importance to Bennet’s
opinion.

FANNY. Um. I’m glad I appear to be giving satisfaction. [She has
returned to her seat at the table.] I suppose when you go to town,
you take the Bennets with you?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [surprised at the question]. Of course,
dear.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon didn’t wish to go this year. He
thought you would prefer -

FANNY. I was merely thinking of when he did. Do you ever go abroad
for the winter? So many people do, nowadays.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We tried it once. But there was nothing
for dear Vernon to do. You see, he’s so fond of hunting.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister]. And then there will be
his Parliamentary duties that he will have to take up now.

Fanny rises, abruptly.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You’re not ill, dear?

FANNY. No. Merely felt I wanted some air. You don’t mind, do you?
[She flings a casement open.]

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Not at all, dear. [To her sister] It
IS a bit close.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. One could really do without fires.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. If it wasn’t for the evenings.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And then, of course, the cold weather
might come again. One can never feel safe until -

The door opens. Dr. Freemantle enters, announced by Bennet. The old
ladies go to rise. He stops them.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Don’t get up. [He shakes hands with them.] How are
we this afternoon? [He shakes his head and clicks his tongue.]
Really, I think I shall have to bring an action for damages against
Lady Bantock. Ever since she -

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Hush! [She points to the window.] Fanny.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Here’s Doctor Freemantle.

Fanny comes from the window.

DR. FREEMANTLE [he meets her and takes her hand]. Was just saying, I
really think I shall have to claim damages against you, Lady Bantock.
You’ve practically deprived me of two of my best paying patients.
Used to be sending for me every other day before you came. Now look
at them! [The two ladies laugh.] She’s not as bad as we expected.
[He pats her hand.] Do you remember my description of what I thought
she was going to be like?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She’s a dear girl.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Bennet -

FANNY [she has crossed to table--is pouring out the Doctor's tea].
Oh, mightn’t we have a holiday from Bennet?

DR. FREEMANTLE [laughs]. Seems to be having a holiday himself to-
day.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. A holiday?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Didn’t you know? Oh, there’s an awfully swagger
party on downstairs. They were all trooping in as I came.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. I’d no idea he was giving a party. [To
Fanny] Did you, dear?

FANNY [she hands the Doctor his tea]. Yes. It’s a prayer meeting.
The whole family, I expect, has been summoned.

DR. FREEMANTLE. A prayer meeting! Didn’t look like it.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. But why should he be holding a prayer
meeting?

FANNY. Oh, one of the family -

DR. FREEMANTLE. And why twelve girls in a van?

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. In a van?

DR. FREEMANTLE. One of Hutton’s from the Station Hotel—with a big
poster pinned on the door: «Our Empire.»

Fanny has risen. She crosses and rings the bell.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. What’s the matter, dear?

FANNY. I’m not quite sure yet. [Her whole manner is changed. A
look has come into her eyes that has not been there before. She
speaks in quiet, determined tones. She rings again. Then returning
to table, hands the cake-basket to the Doctor.] Won’t you take one,
Doctor? They’re not as indigestible as they look. [Laughs.]

DR. FREEMANTLE [he also is bewildered at the changed atmosphere].
Thank you. I hope I -

FANNY [she turns to Ernest, who has entered. Her tone, for the first
time, is that of a mistress speaking to her servants]. Have any
visitors called for me this afternoon?

ERNEST. Vi-visitors—?

FANNY. Some ladies.

ERNEST [he is in a slough of doubt and terror]. L—ladies?

FANNY. Yes. Please try to understand the English language. Has a
party of ladies called here this afternoon?

ERNEST. There have been some ladies. They—we -

FANNY. Where are they?

ERNEST. They—I -

FANNY. Send Bennet up to me. Instantly, please.

Ernest, only too glad to be off, stumbles out.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. My dear -

FANNY. You’ll take some more tea, won’t you? Do you mind, Doctor,
passing Miss Wetherell’s cup? And the other one. Thank you. And
will you pass them the biscuits? You see, I am doing all I can on
your behalf. [She is talking and laughing--a little hysterically--
for the purpose of filling time.] Tea and hot cake—could anything
be worse for them?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Well, tea, you know -

FANNY. I know. [Laughs.] You doctors are all alike. You all
denounce it, but you all drink it. [She hands him the two cups.]
That one is for Aunt Wetherell of the beautiful hair; and the other
is for Aunt Wetherell of the beautiful eyes. [Laughs.] It’s the
only way I can distinguish them.

Bennet enters.

Oh, Bennet!

BENNET. You sent for me?

FANNY. Yes. I understand some ladies have called.

BENNET. I think your ladyship must have been misinformed. I most
certainly have seen none.

FANNY. I have to assume, Bennet, that either Dr. Freemantle or you
are telling lies.

A silence.

BENNET. A party of over-dressed young women, claiming to be
acquainted with your ladyship, have arrived in a van. I am giving
them tea in the servants’ hall, and will see to it that they are sent
back to the station in ample time to catch their train back to town.

FANNY. Please show them up. They will have their tea here.

BENNET [her very quietness is beginning to alarm him. It shakes him
from his customary perfection of manners]. The Lady Bantocks do not
as a rule receive circus girls in their boudoir.

FANNY [still with her alarming quietness]. Neither do they argue
with their servants. Please show these ladies in.

BENNET. I warn you -

FANNY. You heard my orders. [Her tone has the right ring. The
force of habit is too strong upon him. He yields--savagely--and goes
out. She turns to the Doctor.] So sorry I had to drag you into it.
I didn’t see how else I was going to floor him.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Splendid! [He grips her hand.]

FANNY [she goes to the old ladies who sit bewildered terrified.]
They won’t be here for more than a few minutes—they can’t be. I
want you to be nice to them—both of you. They are friends of mine.
[She turns to the Doctor.] They’re the girls I used to act with. We
went all over Europe—twelve of us—representing the British Empire.
They are playing in London now.

DR. FREEMANTLE. To-night? [He looks at his watch.]

FANNY [she is busy at the tea-table]. Yes. They are on the stage at
half past nine. You might look out their train for them. [She
points to the Bradshaw on the desk.] I don’t suppose they’ve ever
thought about how they’re going to get back. It’s Judy’s
inspiration, this, the whole thing; I’d bet upon it. [With a laugh.]
She always was as mad as a March hare.

DR. FREEMANTLE [busy with the Bradshaw]. They were nice-looking
girls.

FANNY. Yes. I think we did the old man credit. [With a laugh.]
John Bull’s daughters, they called us in Paris.

Bennet appears in doorway.

BENNET [announces]. «Our Empire.»

Headed by «England,» the twelve girls, laughing, crowding, jostling
one another, talking all together, swoop in.

ENGLAND [a lady with a decided Cockney accent]. Oh, my dear, talk
about an afternoon! We ‘ave ‘ad a treat getting ‘ere.

Fanny kisses her.

SCOTLAND [they also kiss]. Your boss told us you’d gone out.

FANNY. It was a slight—misunderstanding. Bennet, take away these
things, please. And let me have half a dozen bottles of champagne.

STRAITS SETTLEMENTS [a small girl at the back of the crowd--with a
shrill voice]. Hooray!

BENNET [he is controlling himself with the supremest difficulty.
Within he is a furnace]. I’m afraid I have mislaid the key of the
cellar.

FANNY [she looks at him]. You will please find it—quickly.
[Bennet, again from habit, yields. But his control almost fails him.
He takes up the tray of unneeded tea-things from the table.] I shall
want some more of all these [cakes, fruit, sandwiches, etc.]. And
some people to wait. Tell Jane she must come and help.

Bennet goes out. During this passage of arms between mistress and
man a momentary lull has taken place in the hubbub. As he goes out,
it begins to grow again.

ENGLAND. ‘E does tease yer, don’t ‘e? Wanted us to ‘ave tea in the
kitchen.

FANNY. Yes. These old family servants -

AFRICA [she prides herself on being "quite the lady"]. Don’t talk
about ‘em, dear. We had just such another. [She turns to a girl
near her.] Oh, they’ll run the whole show for you if you let ‘em.

ENGLAND. It was Judy’s idea, our giving you this little treat.
Don’t you blime me for it.

WALES [a small, sprightly girl with a childish, laughing voice].
Well, we were all together with nothing better to do. They’d called
a rehearsal and then found they didn’t want us—silly fools. I told
‘em you’d just be tickled to death.

FANNY [laughing--kisses her]. So I am. It was a brilliant idea.
[By this time she has kissed or shaken hands with the whole dozen.]
I can’t introduce you all singly; it would take too long. [She makes
a wholesale affair of it.] My aunts, the Misses Wetherell—Dr.
Freemantle.

The Misses Wetherell, suggesting two mice being introduced to a party
of friendly kittens, standing, clinging to one another, murmur
something inaudible.

DR. FREEMANTLE [who is with them to comfort them--he has got rid of
the time-table, discreetly--smiles]. Delighted.

ENGLAND. Charmed. [The others join in, turning it into a chorus.
To Fanny] Glad we didn’t strike one of your busy days. I say,
you’re not as dressy as you used to be. ‘Ow are they doing you?—all
right?

FANNY. Yes. Oh, yes.

CANADA ["Gerty," a big, handsome girl, with a loud, commanding
voice]. George gave me your message.

FANNY [puzzled at first]. My message? [Remembering--laughs.] Oh.
That I was Lady Bantock of Bantock Hall. Yes. I thought you’d be
pleased.

CANADA. Was delighted, dear.

FANNY. So glad.

CANADA. I’d always had the idea that you were going to make a mess
of your marriage.

FANNY. What a funny idea! [But the laugh that accompanies it is not
a merry one.]

CANADA. Wasn’t it? So glad I was wrong.

WALES. We’re all of us looking out for lords in disguise, now.
Can’t you give us a tip, dear, how to tell ‘em?

SCOTLAND. Sukey has broken it off with her boy. Found he was mixed
up in trade.

STRAITS SETTLEMENTS [as before, unseen at back of crowd]. No. I
didn’t. ‘Twas his moral character.

Then enter Honoria with glasses on a tray; Ernest with champagne;
Jane with eatables; Bennet with a napkin. It is a grim procession.
The girls are scattered, laughing, talking: Africa to the Misses
Wetherell; a couple to Dr. Freemantle. England, Scotland, Wales, and
Canada are with Fanny. The hubbub, with the advent of the
refreshments, increases. There is a general movement towards the
refreshments.

FANNY. Thanks, Bennet. You can clear away a corner of the desk.

ENGLAND [aside to her]. Go easy with it, dear. [Fanny, smiling,
nods. She directs operations in a low tone to the Bennets, who take
her orders in grim silence and with lips tight shut.] Don’t forget,
girls, that we’ve got to get back to-night. [Aside to the Doctor,
who has come forward to help.] Some of ‘em, you know, ain’t used to
it.

DR. FREEMANTLE [nods]. Glasses not TOO full. [He whispers to
Fanny.]

IRELAND [a decided young woman]. How much time have we got?

ENGLAND. Don’t ask me. It’s Judy’s show.

WALES [mimicking Newte]. The return train, ladies, leaves Oakham
station. [Stops--she is facing the clock. She begins to laugh.]

ENGLAND. What’s the matter?

WALES [still laughing]. We’ve got just quarter of an hour to catch
it.

There is a wild rush for the refreshments. Jane is swept off her
feet. Bennet’s tray is upset.

ENGLAND. Quarter—! Oh, my Gawd! Here, tuck up your skirts, girls.
We’ll have to -

DR. FREEMANTLE. It’s all right. You’ve got plenty of time, ladies.
There’s a train from Norton on the branch line at 5.33. Gets you
into London at a quarter to nine.

ENGLAND. You’re SURE?

DR. FREEMANTLE [he has his watch in his hand]. Quite sure. The
station is only half a mile away.

ENGLAND. Don’t let’s miss it. Keep your watch in your ‘and, there’s
a dear.

FANNY [her business is--and has been--to move quietly through the
throng, making the girls welcome, talking, laughing with them,
directing the servants--all in a lady's way. On the whole she does
it remarkably well. She is offering a plate of fruit to Judy].
You’re a nice acting manager, you are. [Judy laughs. Fanny finds
herself in front of Ireland. She turns to England.] Won’t you
introduce us?

ENGLAND. I beg your pardon, dear. Of course, you don’t know each
other. Miss Tetsworth, our new Ireland, Lady Bantock. It is
«Bantock,» isn’t it, dear?

FANNY. Quite right. It’s a good little part, isn’t it?

IRELAND. Well, depends upon what you’ve been used to.

ENGLAND. She’s got talent, as I tell ‘er. But she ain’t you, dear.
It’s no good saying she is.

FANNY [hastening to smooth it over]. People always speak so well of
us after we’re gone. [Laughs.] You’ll take another glass of
champagne.

IRELAND. Thank you—you made a great success, they tell me, in the
part.

FANNY. Oh, there’s a deal of fluke about these things. You see, I
had the advantage -

DR. FREEMANTLE [with watch still in his hand]. I THINK, ladies -

ENGLAND. Come on, girls.

A general movement.

FANNY. You must all come again—spend a whole day—some Sunday.

CANADA. Remember me to Vernon.

FANNY. He’ll be so sorry to have -

ENGLAND [cutting in]. ‘Ope we ‘aven’t upset you, dear. [She is
bustling them all up.]

FANNY. Not at all. [She is kissing the girls.] It’s been so good
to see you all again.

ENGLAND. ‘Urry up, girls, there’s dears. [To Fanny] Good-bye,
dear. [Kissing her.] We DO miss yer.

FANNY. I’m glad you do.

ENGLAND. Oh, it ain’t the same show. [The others are crowding out
of the door. She and Fanny are quite apart.] No chance of your
coming back to it, I suppose? [A moment.] Well, there, you never
know, do yer? Good-bye, dear. [Kisses her again.]

FANNY. Good-bye! [She stands watching them out. Bennet goes down
with them. Ernest is busy collecting debris. Jane and Honoria stand
one each side of the table, rigid, with set faces. After a moment
Fanny goes to the open window. The voices of the girls below,
crowding into the van, come up into the room. She calls down to
them.] Good-bye. You’ve plenty of time. What? Yes, of course.
[Laughs.] All right. Good-bye. [She turns, comes slowly back. She
looks at Jane and Honoria, where they stand rigid. Honoria makes a
movement with her shoulders--takes a step towards the door.]
Honoria! [Honoria stops--slowly turns.] You can take away these
glasses. Jane will help you.

Bennet has reappeared.

HONORIA. It’s not my place -

FANNY. Your place is to obey my orders.

BENNET [his coolness seems to have deserted him. His voice is
trembling]. Obey her ladyship’s orders, both of you. Leave the rest
to me. [Honoria and Jane busy themselves, with Ernest setting the
room to rights.] May I speak with your ladyship?

FANNY. Certainly.

BENNET. Alone, I mean.

FANNY. I see no need.

BENNET [her firmness takes him aback. He expected to find her
defiance disappear with the cause of it. But pig-headed, as all
Bennets, her opposition only drives him on]. Your ladyship is not
forgetting the alternative?

The Misses Wetherell have been watching the argument much as the
babes in the wood might have watched the discussion between the two
robbers.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [in terror]. Bennet! you’re not going to
give notice!

BENNET. What my duty may be, I shall be able to decide after I have
spoken with her ladyship—alone.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Dear! You will see him?

FANNY. I am sorry. I have not the time.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. No. Of course. [Appealing to Bennet
for mercy] Her ladyship is tired. To-morrow -

FANNY [interrupting]. Neither to-morrow—nor any other day. [Vernon
enters, followed by Newte. She advances to meet them.] You’ve just
missed some old friends of yours. [She shakes hands with Newte.]

VERNON. So it seems. We were hoping to have been in time. [To
Newte] The mare came along pretty slick, didn’t she?

BENNET [he has remained with his look fixed all the time on Fanny].
May I speak with your lordship a moment—in private?

VERNON. Now?

BENNET. It is a matter that needs to be settled now. [It is the
tone of respectful authority he has always used towards the lad.]

VERNON. Well, if it’s as pressing as all that I suppose you must.
[He makes a movement towards the door. To Newte] Shan’t be long.

FANNY. One moment. [Vernon stops.] I may be able to render the
interview needless. Who is mistress of this house?

VERNON. Who is mistress?

FANNY. Who is mistress of your house?

VERNON. Why, you are, of course.

FANNY. Thank you. [She turns to Bennet] Please tell Mrs. Bennet I
want her.

BENNET. I think if your lordship -

FANNY. At once. [She is looking at him. He struggles--looks at
Vernon. But Vernon is evidently inclined to support Fanny. Bennet
goes out. She crosses and seats herself at the desk. She takes from
a drawer some neatly folded papers. She busies herself with
figures.]

VERNON [he crosses to his Aunts]. Whatever’s the matter?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She is excited. She has had a very trying
time.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Bennet didn’t like the idea of her
receiving them.

NEWTE. It was that minx Judy’s doing. They’ll have the rough side
of my tongue when I get back—all of them.

VERNON. What does she want with Mrs. Bennet?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. I can’t think.

The atmosphere is somewhat that of a sheepfold before a thunderstorm.
The Misses Wetherell are still clinging to one another. Vernon and
Dr. Freemantle are both watching Fanny. Jane, Honoria, and Ernest
are still busy about the room.

Suddenly, to Newte—who is standing apart—the whole thing comes with
a rush. But it is too late for him to interfere.

Mrs. Bennet, followed by Bennet, are entering the room. He shrugs
his shoulders and turns away.

MRS. BENNET. Your ladyship sent for me?

FANNY. Yes. [She half turns--holds out a paper.] This wages sheet
is quite correct, I take it? It is your own.

MRS. BENNET [she takes it]. Quite correct.

FANNY [she tears out a cheque she has written--hands it to Mrs.
Bennet]. You will find there two months’ wages for the entire
family. I have made it out in a lump sum payable to your husband.
The other month is in lieu of notice. [A silence. The thing strikes
them all dumb. She puts the cheque-book back and closes the drawer.
She rises.] I’m sorry. There’s been a misunderstanding. It’s time
that it ended. It has been my own fault. [To Vernon] I deceived
you about my family -

NEWTE. If there’s been any deceit -

FANNY. My scene, please, George. [Newte, knowing her, returns to
silence.] I have no relations outside this country that I know of.
My uncle is Martin Bennet, your butler. Mrs. Bennet is my aunt. I’m
not ashamed of them. If they’d had as much respect for me as I have
for them, this trouble would not have arisen. We don’t get on
together, that’s all. And this seems to me the only way out. As I
said before, I’m sorry.

VERNON [recovering speech]. But why did you—?

FANNY [her control gives way. She breaks out]. Oh, because I’ve
been a fool. It’s the explanation of most people’s muddles, I
expect, if they only knew it. Don’t talk to me, anybody. I’ve got
nothing more to say. [To Bennet] I’m sorry. You wouldn’t give me a
chance. I’d have met you half way. [To Mrs. Bennet] I’m sorry.
Don’t be too hard on me. It won’t mean much trouble to you. Good
servants don’t go begging. You can depend upon me for a character.
[To Jane] You’ll do much better for yourselves elsewhere. [To
Honoria] Don’t let that pretty face of yours ever get you into
trouble. [To Ernest] Good-bye, Ernest. We were always pals,
weren’t we? Good-bye. [She kisses him. It has all been the work of
a moment. She comes down again.] Don’t think me rude, but I’d like
to be alone. We can talk calmly about it all to-morrow morning. [To
the Misses Wetherell] I’m so awfully sorry. I wish I could have
seen any other way out. [The tears are streaming from her eyes. To
Vernon] Take them all away, won’t you, dear? We’ll talk about it
all to-morrow. I’ll feel gooder. [She kisses him. To Dr.
Freemantle] Take them all away. Tell him it wasn’t all my fault.
[To Newte] You’ll have to stop the night. There are no more trains.
I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.

Bennet has collected his troop. Leads them away. Dr. Freemantle,
kindly and helpful, takes off Vernon and the two ladies.

NEWTE [he grips her hand, and speaks in his short, growling way].
Good night, old girl. [He follows the others out.]

FANNY [crosses towards the windows. Her chief business is dabbing
her eyes. The door closes with a click. She turns. She puts her
handkerchief away. She looks at the portrait of Constance, first
Lady Bantock]. I believe it’s what you’ve been telling me to do, all
the time.

[CURTAIN]

 

ACT IV

 

SCENE

The same. The blinds are down. Ashes fill the grate.

Time.—Early the next morning.

The door opens softly. Newte steals in. He fumbles his way across
to the windows, draws the blinds. The morning sun streams in. He
listens—no one seems to be stirring. He goes out, returns
immediately with a butler’s tray, containing all things necessary for
a breakfast and the lighting of a fire. He places the tray on table,
throws his coat over a chair, and is on his knees busy lighting the
fire, when enter the Misses Wetherell, clad in dressing-gowns and
caps: yet still they continue to look sweet. They also creep in,
hand in hand. The crouching Newte is hidden by a hanging fire-
screen. They creep forward till the coat hanging over the chair
catches their eye. They are staring at it as Robinson Crusoe might
at the footprint, when Newte rises suddenly and turns. The Misses
Wetherell give a suppressed scream, and are preparing for flight.

NEWTE [he stays them]. No call to run away, ladies. When a man’s
travelled—as I have—across America, in a sleeping-car, with a
comic-opera troop, there’s not much left for him to know. You want
your breakfast! [He wheedles them to the table.] We’ll be able to
talk cosily—before anybody else comes.

They yield themselves. He has a way with him.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We haven’t slept all night.

Newte answers with a sympathetic gesture. He is busy getting ready
the breakfast.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. There’s something we want to tell dear
Vernon—before he says anything to Fanny.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. It’s something very important.

NEWTE. We’ll have a cup of tea first—to steady our nerves.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. It’s so important that we should tell
him before he sees Fanny.

NEWTE. We’ll see to it. [He makes the tea.] I fancy they’re both
asleep at present.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Poor boy!

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. If she only hadn’t -

Dr. Freemantle has entered.

DR. FREEMANTLE. I thought I heard somebody stirring -

NEWTE. Hush! [He indicates doors, the one leading to her ladyship's
apartments, the other to his lordship's.]

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [turning and greeting him]. It was so
kind of you not to leave us last night.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We were so upset.

Dr. Freemantle pats their hands.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We hope you slept all right.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Excellently. Shall be glad of a shave, that’s all.
[Laughs. Both he and Newte suggest the want of one.]

NEWTE [who has been officiating]. Help yourself to milk and sugar.

DR. FREEMANTLE [who has seated himself]. Have the Bennets gone?

NEWTE. Well, they had their notice all right.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [they have begun to cry]. It has been so
wrong and foolish of us. We have never learnt to do anything for
ourselves.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We don’t even know where our things are.

DR. FREEMANTLE. They can’t all have gone—the whole twenty-three of
them, at a couple of hours’ notice. [To Newte] Haven’t seen any of
them, have you?

NEWTE. No sign of any of them downstairs.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, they must be still here. Not up, I suppose. It
isn’t seven o’clock yet.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But they have all been discharged. We
can’t ask them to do anything.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [to her sister]. And the Grimstones are
coming to lunch with the new curate. Vernon asked them on Sunday.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. Perhaps there’s something cold.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Vernon so dislikes a cold lunch.

DR. FREEMANTLE [to Newte]. Were you able to get hold of Vernon last
night?

NEWTE. Waited up till he came in about two o’clock. Merely answered
that he wasn’t in a talkative mood—brushed past me and locked
himself in.

DR. FREEMANTLE. He wouldn’t say anything to me either. Rather a bad
sign when he won’t talk.

NEWTE. What’s he likely to do?

DR. FREEMANTLE. Don’t know. Of course it will be all over the
county.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And dear Vernon is so sensitive.

DR. FREEMANTLE. It had to come—the misfortune IS -

NEWTE. The misfortune IS that people won’t keep to their own line of
business. Why did he want to come fooling around her? She was doing
well for herself. She could have married a man who would have
thought more of her than all the damn fools in the county put
together. Why couldn’t he have left her alone?

DR. FREEMANTLE [he is sitting at the head of the table, between Newte
on his right and the Misses Wetherell on his left. He lays his hand
on Newte's sleeve--with a smile]. I’m sure you can forgive a man—
with eyes and ears in his head—for having fallen in love with her.

NEWTE. Then why doesn’t he stand by her? What if her uncle is a
butler? If he wasn’t a fool, he’d be thanking his stars that ’twas
anything half as respectable.

DR. FREEMANTLE. I’m not defending him—we’re not sure yet that he
needs any defence. He has married a clever, charming girl of—as you
say—a better family than he’d any right to expect. The misfortune
is, that—by a curious bit of ill-luck—it happens to be his own
butler.

NEWTE. If she takes my advice, she’ll return to the stage. No sense
stopping where you’re not wanted.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. But how can she?

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. You see, they’re married!

DR. FREEMANTLE [to change the subject]. You’ll take an egg?

Newte has been boiling some. He has just served them.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL [rejecting it]. Thank you.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We’re not feeling hungry.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. He was so fond of her.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She was so pretty.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. And so thoughtful.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. One would never have known she was an
actress.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. If only she hadn’t -

Bennet has entered. Newte is at fireplace. The old ladies have
their backs to the door. Dr. Freemantle, who is pouring out tea, is
the first to see him. He puts down the teapot, staring. The old
ladies look round. A silence. Newte turns. Bennet is again the
perfect butler. Yesterday would seem to have been wiped out of his
memory.

BENNET. Good morning, Miss Wetherell. Good morning, Miss Edith.
[To the two men] Good morning. I was not aware that breakfast was
required to be any earlier than usual, or I should have had it ready.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We are sure you would, Bennet. But you
see, under the circumstances, we—we hardly liked to trouble you.

BENNET [he goes about the room, putting things to rights. He has
rung the bell. Some dead flowers he packs on to Newte's tray, the
water he pours into Newte's slop-basin]. My duty, Miss Edith, I have
never felt to be a trouble to me.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. We know, Bennet. You have always been so
conscientious. But, of course, after what’s happened—[They are on
the verge of tears again.]

BENNET [he is piling up the breakfast things]. Keziah requested me
to apologise to you for not having heard your bell this morning. She
will be ready to wait upon you in a very few minutes. [To the
Doctor] You will find shaving materials, doctor, on your dressing-
table.

DR. FREEMANTLE. Oh, thank you.

Ernest has entered, with some wood; he is going towards the fire.

BENNET [to Ernest]. Leave the fire for the present. Take away this
tray. [Ernest takes up the tray, and goes out. Bennet speaks over
the heads of the Misses Wetherell to Newte] Breakfast will be ready
in the morning-room, in a quarter of an hour.

NEWTE [at first puzzled, then indignant, now breaks out]. What’s the
little game on here—eh? Yesterday afternoon you were given the
sack—by your mistress, Lady Bantock, with a month’s wages in lieu of
notice—not an hour before you deserved it. What do you mean, going
on like this, as if nothing had happened? Is Lady Bantock to be
ignored in this house as if she didn’t exist—or is she not? [He
brings his fist down on the table. He has been shouting rather than
speaking.] I want this thing settled!

BENNET. Your bath, Mr. Newte, is quite ready.

NEWTE [as soon as he can recover speech]. Never you mind my bath, I
want -

Vernon has entered. He is pale, heavy-eyed, short in his manner,
listless.

VERNON. Good morning—everybody. Can I have some breakfast, Bennet?

BENNET. In about ten minutes; I will bring it up here. [He collects
the kettle from the fire as he passes, and goes out.]

VERNON. Thank you. [He responds mechanically to the kisses of his
two aunts, who have risen and come to him.]

NEWTE. Can I have a word with you?

VERNON. A little later on, if you don’t mind, Mr. Newte. [He passes
him.]

NEWTE [he is about to speak, changes his mind]. All right, go your
own way. [Goes out.]

DR. FREEMANTLE. «Remember», says Marcus Aurelius -

VERNON. Yes—good old sort, Marcus Aurelius. [He drops listlessly
into a chair.]

Dr. Freemantle smiles resignedly, looks at the Misses Wetherell,
shrugs his shoulders, and goes out, closing the door after him.

The Misses Wetherell whisper together—look round cautiously, steal
up behind him, encouraging one another.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She’s so young.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. And so adaptable.

VERNON [he is sitting, bowed down, with his face in his hands]. Ah,
it was the deception.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL [she puts her old thin hand on his
shoulder]. What would you have done, dear, if she had told you—at
first?

VERNON [he takes her hand in his--answers a little brokenly]. I
don’t know.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. There’s something we wanted to tell you.
[He looks at her. They look across at each other.] The first Lady
Bantock, your great-grandmamma -

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. She danced with George III.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. She was a butcher’s daughter.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. He was quite a little butcher.

THE ELDER MISS WETHERELL. Of course, as a rule, dear, we never
mention it.

THE YOUNGER MISS WETHERELL. We felt you ought to know. [They take
each other's hands; on tip-toe they steal out. They close the door
softly behind them.]

Vernon rises. He looks at the portrait—draws nearer to it. With
his hands in his pockets, stops dead in front of it, and contemplates
it in silence. The door of the dressing-room opens. Fanny enters.
She is dressed for going out. She stands for a moment, the door in
her hand. Vernon turns. She closes the door and comes forward.

VERNON. Good morning.

FANNY. Good morning. George stayed the night, didn’t he?

VERNON. Yes. He’s downstairs now.

FANNY. He won’t be going for a little while?

VERNON. Can’t till the ten o’clock train. Have you had breakfast?

FANNY. I—I’ve had something to eat. I’m sorry for what I did last
night—although they did deserve it. [Laughs.] I suppose it’s a
matter than can easily be put right again.

VERNON. You have no objection to their staying?

FANNY. Why should I?

VERNON. What do you mean?

FANNY. There’s only one hope of righting a mistake. And that is
going back to the point from where one went wrong—and that was our
marriage.

[A moment.]

VERNON. We haven’t given it a very long trial.

FANNY [with an odd smile]. It went to pieces at the first. I was in
trouble all last night; you must have known it. You left me alone.

VERNON. Jane told me you had locked yourself in.

FANNY. You never tried the door for yourself, dear. [She pretends
to rearrange something on the mantelpiece--any excuse to turn away
her face for a moment. She turns to him again, smiling.] It was a
mistake, the whole thing. You were partly to blame. You were such a
nice boy. I «fancied» you—to use George’s words. [She laughs.]
And when a woman wants a thing, she is apt to be a bit unscrupulous
about how she gets it. [She moves about the room, touching the
flowers, rearranging a cushion, a vase.] I didn’t invent the bishop;
that was George’s embroidery. [Another laugh.] But, of course, I
ought to have told you everything myself. I ought not to have wanted
a man to whom it would have made one atom of difference whether my
cousins were scullery-maids or not. Somehow, I felt that to you it
might. [Vernon winces.] It’s natural enough. You have a big
position to maintain. I didn’t know you were a lord—that was your
doing. George did find it out, but he never told me; least of all,
that you were Lord Bantock—or you may be pretty sure I should have
come out with the truth, if only for my own sake. It hasn’t been any
joke for me, coming back here.

VERNON. Yes. I can see they’ve been making things pretty hard for
you.

FANNY. Oh, they thought they were doing their duty. [He is seated.
She comes up behind him, puts her hands on his shoulders.] I want
you to take them all back again. I want to feel I have made as
little commotion in your life as possible. It was just a little
mistake. And everybody will say how fortunate it was that she took
herself off so soon with that—[She was about to say "that theatrical
Johnny," thinking of Newte. She checks herself.] And you will marry
somebody belonging to your own class. And those are the only
sensible marriages there are.

VERNON. Have you done talking?

FANNY. Yes! Yes, I think that’s all.

VERNON. Then perhaps you’ll let me get in a word. You think me a
snob? [Fanny makes a movement.] As a matter of fact, I am.

FANNY. No, that’s not fair. You wouldn’t have married a girl off
the music-hall stage.

VERNON. Niece of a bishop, cousin to a judge. Whether I believed it
or not, doesn’t matter. The sham that isn’t likely to be found out
is as good as the truth, to a snob. If he had told me your uncle was
a butler, I should have hesitated. That’s where the mistake began.
We’ll go back to that. Won’t you sit down? [Fanny sits.] I want
you to stop. There’ll be no mistake this time. I’m asking my
butler’s niece to do me the honour to be my wife.

FANNY. That’s kind of you.

VERNON. Oh, I’m not thinking of you. I’m thinking of myself. I
want you. I fell in love with you because you were pretty and
charming. There’s something else a man wants in his wife besides
that. I’ve found it. [He jumps up, goes over to her, brushing aside
things in his way.] I’m not claiming it as a right; you can go if
you like. You can earn your own living, I know. But you shan’t have
anybody else. You’ll be Lady Bantock and nobody else—as long as I
live. [He has grown quite savage.]

FANNY [she bites her lip to keep back the smile that wants to come].
That cuts both ways, you know.

VERNON. I don’t want anybody else.

FANNY [she stretches out her hand and lays it on his]. Won’t it be
too hard for you? You’ll have to tell them all—your friends—
everybody.

VERNON. They’ve got to be told in any case. If you are here, for
them to see, they’ll be able to understand—those that have got any
sense.

Bennet comes in with breakfast, for two, on a tray. He places it on
a table.

FANNY [she has risen, she goes over to him]. Good morning, uncle.
[She puts up her face. He stares, but she persists. Bennet kisses
her.] Lord Bantock—[she looks at Vernon]—has a request to make to
you. He wishes me to remain here as his wife. I am willing to do
so, provided you give your consent.

VERNON. Quite right, Bennet. I ought to have asked for it before.
I apologise. Will you give your consent to my marriage with your
niece?

FANNY. One minute. You understand what it means? From the moment
you give it—if you do give it—I shall be Lady Bantock, your
mistress.

BENNET. My dear Fanny! My dear Vernon! I speak, for the first and
last time, as your uncle. I am an old-fashioned person, and my
ideas, I have been told, are those of my class. But observation has
impressed it upon me that success in any scheme depends upon each
person being fit for their place. Yesterday, in the interests of you
both, I should have refused my consent. To-day, I give it with
pleasure, feeling sure I am handing over to Lord Bantock a wife in
every way fit for her position. [Kissing her, he gives her to
Vernon, who grips his hand. He returns to the table.] Breakfast,
your ladyship, is quite ready.

They take their places at the table. Fanny takes off her hat, Bennet
takes off the covers.

[CURTAIN]

Jerome K. Jerome The Cost of Kindness скачать бесплатно

Здесь вы сможете бесплатно прочитать книгу: Jerome K. Jerome «The Cost of Kindness».

«Kindness,» argued little Mrs. Pennycoop, «costs nothing.»

«And, speaking generally, my dear, is valued precisely at cost
price,» retorted Mr. Pennycoop, who, as an auctioneer of twenty years’
experience, had enjoyed much opportunity of testing the attitude of the
public towards sentiment.

«I don’t care what you say, George,» persisted his wife; «he may be
a disagreeable, cantankerous old brute—I don’t say he isn’t. All the
same, the man is going away, and we may never see him again.»

«If I thought there was any fear of our doing so,» observed Mr.
Pennycoop, «I’d turn my back on the Church of England to-morrow and
become a Methodist.»

«Don’t talk like that, George,» his wife admonished him, reprovingly;
«the Lord might be listening to you.»

«If the Lord had to listen to old Cracklethorpe He’d sympathize with
me,» was the opinion of Mr. Pennycoop.

«The Lord sends us our trials, and they are meant for our good,»
explained his wife. «They are meant to teach us patience.»

«You are not churchwarden,» retorted her husband; «you can get away from
him. You hear him when he is in the pulpit, where, to a certain extent,
he is bound to keep his temper.»

«You forget the rummage sale, George,» Mrs. Pennycoop reminded him; «to
say nothing of the church decorations.»

«The rummage sale,» Mr. Pennycoop pointed out to her, «occurs only once
a year, and at that time your own temper, I have noticed—»

«I always try to remember I am a Christian,» interrupted little Mrs.
Pennycoop. «I do not pretend to be a saint, but whatever I say I am
always sorry for it afterwards—you know I am, George.»

«It’s what I am saying,» explained her husband. «A vicar who has
contrived in three years to make every member of his congregation hate
the very sight of a church—well, there’s something wrong about it
somewhere.»

Mrs. Pennycoop, gentlest of little women, laid her plump and still
pretty hands upon her husband’s shoulders. «Don’t think, dear, I
haven’t sympathized with you. You have borne it nobly. I have marvelled
sometimes that you have been able to control yourself as you have done,
most times; the things that he has said to you.»

Mr. Pennycoop had slid unconsciously into an attitude suggestive of
petrified virtue, lately discovered.

«One’s own poor self,» observed Mr. Pennycoop, in accents of proud
humility—»insults that are merely personal one can put up with. Though
even there,» added the senior churchwarden, with momentary descent
towards the plane of human nature, «nobody cares to have it hinted
publicly across the vestry table that one has chosen to collect from
the left side for the express purpose of artfully passing over one’s own
family.»

«The children have always had their three-penny-bits ready waiting in
their hands,» explained Mrs. Pennycoop, indignantly.

«It’s the sort of thing he says merely for the sake of making a
disturbance,» continued the senior churchwarden. «It’s the things he
does I draw the line at.»

«The things he has done, you mean, dear,» laughed the little woman, with
the accent on the «has.» «It is all over now, and we are going to be
rid of him. I expect, dear, if we only knew, we should find it was his
liver. You know, George, I remarked to you the first day that he came
how pasty he looked and what a singularly unpleasant mouth he had.
People can’t help these things, you know, dear. One should look upon
them in the light of afflictions and be sorry for them.»

«I could forgive him doing what he does if he didn’t seem to enjoy it,»
said the senior churchwarden. «But, as you say, dear, he is going, and
all I hope and pray is that we never see his like again.»

«And you’ll come with me to call upon him, George,» urged kind little
Mrs. Pennycoop. «After all, he has been our vicar for three years, and
he must be feeling it, poor man—whatever he may pretend—going away
like this, knowing that everybody is glad to see the back of him.»

«Well, I sha’n't say anything I don’t really feel,» stipulated Mr.
Pennycoop.

«That will be all right, dear,» laughed his wife, «so long as you don’t
say what you do feel. And we’ll both of us keep our temper,» further
suggested the little woman, «whatever happens. Remember, it will be for
the last time.»

Little Mrs. Pennycoop’s intention was kind and Christianlike. The Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe would be quitting Wychwood-on-the-Heath the
following Monday, never to set foot—so the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe
himself and every single member of his congregation hoped sincerely—in
the neighbourhood again. Hitherto no pains had been taken on either side
to disguise the mutual joy with which the parting was looked forward
to. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, M.A., might possibly have been
of service to his Church in, say, some East-end parish of unsavoury
reputation, some mission station far advanced amid the hordes of
heathendom. There his inborn instinct of antagonism to everybody and
everything surrounding him, his unconquerable disregard for other
people’s views and feelings, his inspired conviction that everybody but
himself was bound to be always wrong about everything, combined with
determination to act and speak fearlessly in such belief, might have
found their uses. In picturesque little Wychwood-on-the-Heath, among the
Kentish hills, retreat beloved of the retired tradesman, the spinster
of moderate means, the reformed Bohemian developing latent instincts
towards respectability, these qualities made only for scandal and
disunion.

For the past two years the Rev. Cracklethorpe’s parishioners, assisted
by such other of the inhabitants of Wychwood-on-the-Heath as had
happened to come into personal contact with the reverend gentleman,
had sought to impress upon him, by hints and innuendoes difficult to
misunderstand, their cordial and daily-increasing dislike of him, both
as a parson and a man. Matters had come to a head by the determination
officially announced to him that, failing other alternatives, a
deputation of his leading parishioners would wait upon his bishop. This
it was that had brought it home to the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe that,
as the spiritual guide and comforter of Wychwood-on-the Heath, he had
proved a failure. The Rev. Augustus had sought and secured the care of
other souls. The following Sunday morning he had arranged to preach his
farewell sermon, and the occasion promised to be a success from every
point of view. Churchgoers who had not visited St. Jude’s for months
had promised themselves the luxury of feeling they were listening to
the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe for the last time. The Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe had prepared a sermon that for plain speaking and
directness was likely to leave an impression. The parishioners of St.
Jude’s, Wychwood-on-the-Heath, had their failings, as we all have. The
Rev. Augustus flattered himself that he had not missed out a single one,
and was looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the sensation
that his remarks, from his «firstly» to his «sixthly and lastly,» were
likely to create.

What marred the entire business was the impulsiveness of little Mrs.
Pennycoop. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, informed in his study on the
Wednesday afternoon that Mr. and Mrs. Pennycoop had called, entered the
drawing-room a quarter of an hour later, cold and severe; and, without
offering to shake hands, requested to be informed as shortly as possible
for what purpose he had been disturbed. Mrs. Pennycoop had had her
speech ready to her tongue. It was just what it should have been, and no
more.

It referred casually, without insisting on the point, to the duty
incumbent upon all of us to remember on occasion we were Christians;
that our privilege it was to forgive and forget; that, generally
speaking, there are faults on both sides; that partings should never
take place in anger; in short, that little Mrs. Pennycoop and George,
her husband, as he was waiting to say for himself, were sorry for
everything and anything they may have said or done in the past to hurt
the feelings of the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, and would like to shake
hands with him and wish him every happiness for the future. The chilling
attitude of the Rev. Augustus scattered that carefully-rehearsed speech
to the winds. It left Mrs. Pennycoop nothing but to retire in choking
silence, or to fling herself upon the inspiration of the moment and make
up something new. She choose the latter alternative.

At first the words came halting. Her husband, man-like, had deserted
her in her hour of utmost need and was fumbling with the door-knob. The
steely stare with which the Rev. Cracklethorpe regarded her, instead
of chilling her, acted upon her as a spur. It put her on her mettle. He
should listen to her. She would make him understand her kindly feeling
towards him if she had to take him by the shoulders and shake it into
him. At the end of five minutes the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe,
without knowing it, was looking pleased. At the end of another five Mrs.
Pennycoop stopped, not for want of words, but for want of breath.
The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe replied in a voice that, to his own
surprise, was trembling with emotion. Mrs. Pennycoop had made his task
harder for him. He had thought to leave Wychwood-on-the-Heath without a
regret. The knowledge he now possessed, that at all events one member of
his congregation understood him, as Mrs. Pennycoop had proved to him she
understood him, sympathized with him—the knowledge that at least
one heart, and that heart Mrs. Pennycoop’s, had warmed to him, would
transform what he had looked forward to as a blessed relief into a
lasting grief.

Mr. Pennycoop, carried away by his wife’s eloquence, added a few halting
words of his own. It appeared from Mr. Pennycoop’s remarks that he had
always regarded the Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe as the vicar of his
dreams, but misunderstandings in some unaccountable way will arise. The
Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe, it appeared, had always secretly respected
Mr. Pennycoop. If at any time his spoken words might have conveyed
the contrary impression, that must have arisen from the poverty of our
language, which does not lend itself to subtle meanings.

Then following the suggestion of tea, Miss Cracklethorpe, sister to the
Rev. Augustus—a lady whose likeness to her brother in all respects
was startling, the only difference between them being that while he was
clean-shaven she wore a slight moustache—was called down to grace the
board. The visit was ended by Mrs. Pennycoop’s remembrance that it was
Wilhelmina’s night for a hot bath.

«I said more than I intended to,» admitted Mrs. Pennycoop to George, her
husband, on the way home; «but he irritated me.»

Rumour of the Pennycoops’ visit flew through the parish. Other ladies
felt it their duty to show to Mrs. Pennycoop that she was not the only
Christian in Wychwood-on-the-Heath. Mrs. Pennycoop, it was feared, might
be getting a swelled head over this matter. The Rev. Augustus, with
pardonable pride, repeated some of the things that Mrs. Pennycoop had
said to him. Mrs. Pennycoop was not to imagine herself the only person
in Wychwood-on-the-Heath capable of generosity that cost nothing. Other
ladies could say graceful nothings—could say them even better. Husbands
dressed in their best clothes and carefully rehearsed were brought in
to grace the almost endless procession of disconsolate parishioners
hammering at the door of St. Jude’s parsonage. Between Thursday morning
and Saturday night the Rev. Augustus, much to his own astonishment, had
been forced to the conclusion that five-sixths of his parishioners had
loved him from the first without hitherto having had opportunity of
expressing their real feelings.

The eventful Sunday arrived. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe had been
kept so busy listening to regrets at his departure, assurances of
an esteem hitherto disguised from him, explanations of seeming
discourtesies that had been intended as tokens of affectionate regard,
that no time had been left to him to think of other matters. Not till
he entered the vestry at five minutes to eleven did recollection of his
farewell sermon come to him. It haunted him throughout the service.
To deliver it after the revelations of the last three days would be
impossible. It was the sermon that Moses might have preached to Pharaoh
the Sunday prior to the exodus. To crush with it this congregation of
broken-hearted adorers sorrowing for his departure would be inhuman.
The Rev. Augustus tried to think of passages that might be selected,
altered. There were none. From beginning to end it contained not a
single sentence capable of being made to sound pleasant by any ingenuity
whatsoever.

The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe climbed slowly up the pulpit steps
without an idea in his head of what he was going to say. The sunlight
fell upon the upturned faces of a crowd that filled every corner of
the church. So happy, so buoyant a congregation the eyes of the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe had never till that day looked down upon. The
feeling came to him that he did not want to leave them. That they
did not wish him to go, could he doubt? Only by regarding them as a
collection of the most shameless hypocrites ever gathered together
under one roof. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe dismissed the passing
suspicion as a suggestion of the Evil One, folded the neatly-written
manuscript that lay before him on the desk, and put it aside. He had
no need of a farewell sermon. The arrangements made could easily be
altered. The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe spoke from his pulpit for the
first time an impromptu.

The Rev. Augustus Cracklethorpe wished to acknowledge himself in the
wrong. Foolishly founding his judgment upon the evidence of a few
men, whose names there would be no need to mention, members of
the congregation who, he hoped, would one day be sorry for the
misunderstandings they had caused, brethren whom it was his duty
to forgive, he had assumed the parishioners of St. Jude’s,
Wychwood-on-the-Heath, to have taken a personal dislike to him. He
wished to publicly apologize for the injustice he had unwittingly done
to their heads and to their hearts. He now had it from their own lips
that a libel had been put upon them. So far from their wishing his
departure, it was self-evident that his going would inflict upon them
a great sorrow. With the knowledge he now possessed of the respect—one
might almost say the veneration—with which the majority of that
congregation regarded him—knowledge, he admitted, acquired somewhat
late—it was clear to him he could still be of help to them in their
spiritual need. To leave a flock so devoted would stamp him as an
unworthy shepherd. The ceaseless stream of regrets at his departure that
had been poured into his ear during the last four days he had decided
at the last moment to pay heed to. He would remain with them—on one
condition.

There quivered across the sea of humanity below him a movement that
might have suggested to a more observant watcher the convulsive
clutchings of some drowning man at some chance straw. But the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe was thinking of himself.

The parish was large and he was no longer a young man. Let them provide
him with a conscientious and energetic curate. He had such a one in his
mind’s eye, a near relation of his own, who, for a small stipend that
was hardly worth mentioning, would, he knew it for a fact, accept the
post. The pulpit was not the place in which to discuss these matters,
but in the vestry afterwards he would be pleased to meet such members of
the congregation as might choose to stay.

The question agitating the majority of the congregation during the
singing of the hymn was the time it would take them to get outside
the church. There still remained a faint hope that the Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe, not obtaining his curate, might consider it due to his
own dignity to shake from his feet the dust of a parish generous in
sentiment, but obstinately close-fisted when it came to putting its
hands into its pockets.

But for the parishioners of St. Jude’s that Sunday was a day of
misfortune. Before there could be any thought of moving, the Rev.
Augustus raised his surpliced arm and begged leave to acquaint them with
the contents of a short note that had just been handed up to him. It
would send them all home, he felt sure, with joy and thankfulness in
their hearts. An example of Christian benevolence was among them that
did honour to the Church.

Here a retired wholesale clothier from the East-end of London—a short,
tubby gentleman who had recently taken the Manor House—was observed to
turn scarlet.

A gentleman hitherto unknown to them had signalled his advent among them
by an act of munificence that should prove a shining example to all rich
men. Mr. Horatio Copper—the reverend gentleman found some difficulty,
apparently, in deciphering the name.

«Cooper-Smith, sir, with an hyphen,» came in a thin whisper, the voice
of the still scarlet-faced clothier.

Mr. Horatio Cooper-Smith, taking—the Rev. Augustus felt confident—a
not unworthy means of grappling to himself thus early the hearts of his
fellow-townsmen, had expressed his desire to pay for the expense of a
curate entirely out of his own pocket. Under these circumstances,
there would be no further talk of a farewell between the Rev. Augustus
Cracklethorpe and his parishioners. It would be the hope of the Rev.
Augustus Cracklethorpe to live and die the pastor of St. Jude’s.

A more solemn-looking, sober congregation than the congregation that
emerged that Sunday morning from St. Jude’s in Wychwood-on-the-Heath had
never, perhaps, passed out of a church door.

«He’ll have more time upon his hands,» said Mr. Biles, retired wholesale
ironmonger and junior churchwarden, to Mrs. Biles, turning the corner
of Acacia Avenue—»he’ll have more time to make himself a curse and a
stumbling-block.»

«And if this ‘near relation’ of his is anything like him—»

«Which you may depend upon it is the Case, or he’d never have thought of
him,» was the opinion of Mr. Biles.

«I shall give that Mrs. Pennycoop,» said Mrs. Biles, «a piece of my mind
when I meet her.»

But of what use was that?

Jerome K. Jerome John Ingerfield and Other Stories скачать бесплатно

Здесь вы сможете бесплатно прочитать книгу: Jerome K. Jerome «John Ingerfield and Other Stories».

TO THE GENTLE READER;
also
TO THE GENTLE CRITIC.

Once upon a time, I wrote a little story of a woman who was crushed to
death by a python. A day or two after its publication, a friend stopped
me in the street. «Charming little story of yours,» he said, «that about
the woman and the snake; but it’s not as funny as some of your things!»
The next week, a newspaper, referring to the tale, remarked, «We have
heard the incident related before with infinitely greater humour.»

With this—and many similar experiences—in mind, I wish distinctly to
state that «John Ingerfield,» «The Woman of the Saeter,» and
«Silhouettes,» are not intended to be amusing. The two other
items—»Variety Patter,» and «The Lease of the Cross Keys»—I give over
to the critics of the new humour to rend as they will; but «John
Ingerfield,» «The Woman of the Saeter,» and «Silhouettes,» I repeat, I
should be glad if they would judge from some other standpoint than that
of humour, new or old.

IN REMEMBRANCE OF JOHN INGERFIELD, AND OF ANNE, HIS WIFE
A STORY OF OLD LONDON, IN TWO CHAPTERS

CHAPTER I.

If you take the Underground Railway to Whitechapel Road (the East
station), and from there take one of the yellow tramcars that start from
that point, and go down the Commercial Road, past the George, in front of
which starts—or used to stand—a high flagstaff, at the base of which
sits—or used to sit—an elderly female purveyor of pigs’ trotters at
three-ha’pence apiece, until you come to where a railway arch crosses the
road obliquely, and there get down and turn to the right up a narrow,
noisy street leading to the river, and then to the right again up a still
narrower street, which you may know by its having a public-house at one
corner (as is in the nature of things) and a marine store-dealer’s at the
other, outside which strangely stiff and unaccommodating garments of
gigantic size flutter ghost-like in the wind, you will come to a dingy
railed-in churchyard, surrounded on all sides by cheerless, many-peopled
houses. Sad-looking little old houses they are, in spite of the tumult
of life about their ever open doors. They and the ancient church in
their midst seem weary of the ceaseless jangle around them. Perhaps,
standing there for so many years, listening to the long silence of the
dead, the fretful voices of the living sound foolish in their ears.

Peering through the railings on the side nearest the river, you will see
beneath the shadow of the soot-grimed church’s soot-grimed porch—that
is, if the sun happen, by rare chance, to be strong enough to cast any
shadow at all in that region of grey light—a curiously high and narrow
headstone that once was white and straight, not tottering and bent with
age as it is now. There is upon this stone a carving in bas-relief, as
you will see for yourself if you will make your way to it through the
gateway on the opposite side of the square. It represents, so far as can
be made out, for it is much worn by time and dirt, a figure lying on the
ground with another figure bending over it, while at a little distance
stands a third object. But this last is so indistinct that it might be
almost anything, from an angel to a post.

And below the carving are the words (already half obliterated) that I
have used for the title of this story.

Should you ever wander of a Sunday morning within sound of the cracked
bell that calls a few habit-bound, old-fashioned folk to worship within
those damp-stained walls, and drop into talk with the old men who on such
days sometimes sit, each in his brass-buttoned long brown coat, upon the
low stone coping underneath those broken railings, you might hear this
tale from them, as I did, more years ago than I care to recollect.

But lest you do not choose to go to all this trouble, or lest the old men
who could tell it you have grown tired of all talk, and are not to be
roused ever again into the telling of tales, and you yet wish for the
story, I will here set it down for you.

But I cannot recount it to you as they told it to me, for to me it was
only a tale that I heard and remembered, thinking to tell it again for
profit, while to them it was a thing that had been, and the threads of it
were interwoven with the woof of their own life. As they talked, faces
that I did not see passed by among the crowd and turned and looked at
them, and voices that I did not hear spoke to them below the clamour of
the street, so that through their thin piping voices there quivered the
deep music of life and death, and my tale must be to theirs but as a
gossip’s chatter to the story of him whose breast has felt the press of
battle.

* * * * *

John Ingerfield, oil and tallow refiner, of Lavender Wharf, Limehouse,
comes of a hard-headed, hard-fisted stock. The first of the race that
the eye of Record, piercing the deepening mists upon the centuries behind
her, is able to discern with any clearness is a long-haired, sea-bronzed
personage, whom men call variously Inge or Unger. Out of the wild North
Sea he has come. Record observes him, one of a small, fierce group,
standing on the sands of desolate Northumbria, staring landward, his
worldly wealth upon his back. This consists of a two-handed battle-axe,
value perhaps some forty stycas in the currency of the time. A careful
man, with business capabilities, may, however, manipulate a small capital
to great advantage. In what would appear, to those accustomed to our
slow modern methods, an incredibly short space of time, Inge’s two-handed
battle-axe has developed into wide lands and many head of cattle; which
latter continue to multiply with a rapidity beyond the dreams of present-
day breeders. Inge’s descendants would seem to have inherited the genius
of their ancestor, for they prosper and their worldly goods increase.
They are a money-making race. In all times, out of all things, by all
means, they make money. They fight for money, marry for money, live for
money, are ready to die for money.

In the days when the most saleable and the highest priced article in the
markets of Europe was a strong arm and a cool head, then each Ingerfield
(as «Inge,» long rooted in Yorkshire soil, had grown or been corrupted
to) was a soldier of fortune, and offered his strong arm and his cool
head to the highest bidder. They fought for their price, and they took
good care that they obtained their price; but, the price settled, they
fought well, for they were staunch men and true, according to their
lights, though these lights may have been placed somewhat low down, near
the earth.

Then followed the days when the chief riches of the world lay tossed for
daring hands to grasp upon the bosom of the sea, and the sleeping spirit
of the old Norse Rover stirred in their veins, and the lilt of a wild sea-
song they had never heard kept ringing in their ears; and they built them
ships and sailed for the Spanish Main, and won much wealth, as was their
wont.

Later on, when Civilisation began to lay down and enforce sterner rules
for the game of life, and peaceful methods promised to prove more
profitable than violent, the Ingerfields became traders and merchants of
grave mien and sober life; for their ambition from generation to
generation remains ever the same, their various callings being but means
to an end.

A hard, stern race of men they would seem to have been, but just—so far
as they understood justice. They have the reputation of having been good
husbands, fathers, and masters; but one cannot help thinking of them as
more respected than loved.

They were men to exact the uttermost farthing due to them, yet not
without a sense of the thing due from them, their own duty and
responsibility—nay, not altogether without their moments of heroism,
which is the duty of great men. History relates how a certain Captain
Ingerfield, returning with much treasure from the West Indies—how
acquired it were, perhaps, best not to inquire too closely—is overhauled
upon the high seas by King’s frigate. Captain of King’s frigate sends
polite message to Captain Ingerfield requesting him to be so kind as to
promptly hand over a certain member of his ship’s company, who, by some
means or another, has made himself objectionable to King’s friends, in
order that he (the said objectionable person) may be forthwith hanged
from the yard-arm.

Captain Ingerfield returns polite answer to Captain of King’s frigate
that he (Captain Ingerfield) will, with much pleasure, hang any member of
his ship’s company that needs hanging, but that neither the King of
England nor any one else on God Almighty’s sea is going to do it for him.
Captain of King’s frigate sends back word that if objectionable person be
not at once given up he shall be compelled with much regret to send
Ingerfield and his ship to the bottom of the Atlantic. Replies Captain
Ingerfield, «That is just what he will have to do before I give up one of
my people,» and fights the big frigate—fights it so fiercely that after
three hours Captain of King’s frigate thinks it will be good to try
argument again, and sends therefore a further message, courteously
acknowledging Captain Ingerfield’s courage and skill, and suggesting
that, he having done sufficient to vindicate his honour and renown, it
would be politic to now hand over the unimportant cause of contention,
and so escape with his treasure.

«Tell your Captain,» shouts back this Ingerfield, who has discovered
there are sweeter things to fight for than even money, «that the _Wild
Goose_ has flown the seas with her belly full of treasure before now, and
will, if it be God’s pleasure, so do again, but that master and man in
her sail together, fight together, and die together.»

Whereupon King’s frigate pounds away more vigorously than ever, and
succeeds eventually in carrying out her threat. Down goes the _Wild
Goose_, her last chase ended—down she goes with a plunge, spit foremost
with her colours flying; and down with her goes every man left standing
on her decks; and at the bottom of the Atlantic they lie to this day,
master and man side by side, keeping guard upon their treasure.

Which incident, and it is well authenticated, goes far to prove that the
Ingerfields, hard men and grasping men though they be—men caring more
for the getting of money than for the getting of love—loving more the
cold grip of gold than the grip of kith or kin, yet bear buried in their
hearts the seeds of a nobler manhood, for which, however, the barren soil
of their ambition affords scant nourishment.

The John Ingerfield of this story is a man very typical of his race. He
has discovered that the oil and tallow refining business, though not a
pleasant one, is an exceedingly lucrative one. These are the good days
when George the Third is king, and London is rapidly becoming a city of
bright night. Tallow and oil and all materials akin thereto are in ever-
growing request, and young John Ingerfield builds himself a large
refining house and warehouse in the growing suburb of Limehouse, which
lies between the teeming river and the quiet fields, gathers many people
round about him, puts his strong heart into his work, and prospers.

All the days of his youth he labours and garners, and lays out and
garners yet again. In early middle age he finds himself a wealthy man.
The chief business of life, the getting of money, is practically done;
his enterprise is firmly established, and will continue to grow with ever
less need of husbandry. It is time for him to think about the secondary
business of life, the getting together of a wife and home, for the
Ingerfields have ever been good citizens, worthy heads of families,
openhanded hosts, making a brave show among friends and neighbours.

John Ingerfield, sitting in his stiff, high-backed chair, in his stiffly,
but solidly, furnished dining-room, above his counting-house, sipping
slowly his one glass of port, takes counsel with himself.

What shall she be?

He is rich, and can afford a good article. She must be young and
handsome, fit to grace the fine house he will take for her in fashionable
Bloomsbury, far from the odour and touch of oil and tallow. She must be
well bred, with a gracious, noble manner, that will charm his guests and
reflect honour and credit upon himself; she must, above all, be of good
family, with a genealogical tree sufficiently umbrageous to hide Lavender
Wharf from the eyes of Society.

What else she may or may not be he does not very much care. She will, of
course, be virtuous and moderately pious, as it is fit and proper that
women should be. It will also be well that her disposition be gentle and
yielding, but that is of minor importance, at all events so far as he is
concerned: the Ingerfield husbands are not the class of men upon whom
wives vent their tempers.

Having decided in his mind _what_ she shall be, he proceeds to discuss
with himself _who_ she shall be. His social circle is small.
Methodically, in thought, he makes the entire round of it, mentally
scrutinising every maiden that he knows. Some are charming, some are
fair, some are rich; but no one of them approaches near to his carefully
considered ideal.

He keeps the subject in his mind, and muses on it in the intervals of
business. At odd moments he jots down names as they occur to him upon a
slip of paper, which he pins for the purpose on the inside of the cover
of his desk. He arranges them alphabetically, and when it is as complete
as his memory can make it, he goes critically down the list, making a few
notes against each. As a result, it becomes clear to him that he must
seek among strangers for his wife.

He has a friend, or rather an acquaintance, an old school-fellow, who has
developed into one of those curious social flies that in all ages are to
be met with buzzing contentedly within the most exclusive circles, and
concerning whom, seeing that they are neither rare nor rich, nor
extraordinarily clever nor well born, one wonders «how the devil they got
there!» Meeting this man by chance one afternoon, he links his arm in
his and invites him home to dinner.

So soon as they are left alone, with the walnuts and wine between them,
John Ingerfield says, thoughtfully cracking a hard nut between his
fingers—

«Will, I’m going to get married.»

«Excellent idea—delighted to hear it, I’m sure,» replies Will, somewhat
less interested in the information than in the delicately flavoured
Madeira he is lovingly sipping. «Who’s the lady?»

«I don’t know, yet,» is John Ingerfield’s answer.

His friend glances slyly at him over his glass, not sure whether he is
expected to be amused or sympathetically helpful.

«I want you to find one for me.»

Will Cathcart puts down his glass and stares at his host across the
table.

«Should be delighted to help you, Jack,» he stammers, in an alarmed
tone—»‘pon my soul I should; but really don’t know a damned woman I
could recommend—’pon my soul I don’t.»

«You must see a good many: I wish you’d look out for one that you _could_
recommend.»

«Certainly I will, my dear Jack!» answers the other, in a relieved voice.
«Never thought about ‘em in that way before. Daresay I shall come across
the very girl to suit you. I’ll keep my eyes open and let you know.»

«I shall be obliged to you if you will,» replies John Ingerfield,
quietly; «and it’s your turn, I think, to oblige me, Will. I have
obliged you, if you recollect.»

«Shall never forget it, my dear Jack,» murmurs Will, a little uneasily.
«It was uncommonly good of you. You saved me from ruin, Jack: shall
think about it to my dying day—’pon my soul I shall.»

«No need to let it worry you for so long a period as that,» returns John,
with the faintest suspicion of a smile playing round his firm mouth. «The
bill falls due at the end of next month. You can discharge the debt
then, and the matter will be off your mind.»

Will finds his chair growing uncomfortable under him, while the Madeira
somehow loses its flavour. He gives a short, nervous laugh.

«By Jove,» he says: «so soon as that? The date had quite slipped my
memory.»

«Fortunate that I reminded you,» says John, the smile round his lips
deepening.

Will fidgets on his seat. «I’m afraid, my dear Jack,» he says, «I shall
have to get you to renew it, just for a month or two,—deuced awkward
thing, but I’m remarkably short of money this year. Truth is, I can’t
get what’s owing to myself.»

«That’s very awkward, certainly,» replies his friend, «because I am not
at all sure that I shall be able to renew it.»

Will stares at him in some alarm. «But what am I to do if I hav’n't the
money?»

John Ingerfield shrugs his shoulders.

«You don’t mean, my dear Jack, that you would put me in prison?»

«Why not? Other people have to go there who can’t pay their debts.»

Will Cathcart’s alarm grows to serious proportions. «But our
friendship,» he cries, «our—»

«My dear Will,» interrupts the other, «there are few friends I would lend
three hundred pounds to and make no effort to get it back. You,
certainly, are not one of them.»

«Let us make a bargain,» he continues. «Find me a wife, and on the day
of my marriage I will send you back that bill with, perhaps, a couple of
hundred added. If by the end of next month you have not introduced me to
a lady fit to be, and willing to be, Mrs. John Ingerfield, I shall
decline to renew it.»

John Ingerfield refills his own glass and hospitably pushes the bottle
towards his guest—who, however, contrary to his custom, takes no notice
of it, but stares hard at his shoe-buckles.

«Are you serious?» he says at length.

«Quite serious,» is the answer. «I want to marry. My wife must be a
lady by birth and education. She must be of good family—of family
sufficiently good, indeed, to compensate for the refinery. She must be
young and beautiful and charming. I am purely a business man. I want a
woman capable of conducting the social department of my life. I know of
no such lady myself. I appeal to you, because you, I know, are intimate
with the class among whom she must be sought.»

«There may be some difficulty in persuading a lady of the required
qualifications to accept the situation,» says Cathcart, with a touch of
malice.

«I want you to find one who will,» says John Ingerfield.

Early in the evening Will Cathcart takes leave of his host, and departs
thoughtful and anxious; and John Ingerfield strolls contemplatively up
and down his wharf, for the smell of oil and tallow has grown to be very
sweet to him, and it is pleasant to watch the moonbeams shining on the
piled-up casks.

Six weeks go by. On the first day of the seventh John takes Will
Cathcart’s acceptance from its place in the large safe, and lays it in
the smaller box beside his desk, devoted to more pressing and immediate
business. Two days later Cathcart picks his way across the slimy yard,
passes through the counting-house, and enters his friend’s inner sanctum,
closing the door behind him.

He wears a jubilant air, and slaps the grave John on the back. «I’ve got
her, Jack,» he cries. «It’s been hard work, I can tell you: sounding
suspicious old dowagers, bribing confidential servants, fishing for
information among friends of the family. By Jove, I shall be able to
join the Duke’s staff as spy-in-chief to His Majesty’s entire forces
after this!»

«What is she like?» asks John, without stopping his writing.

«Like! My dear Jack, you’ll fall over head and ears in love with her the
moment you see her. A little cold, perhaps, but that will just suit
you.»

«Good family?» asks John, signing and folding the letter he has finished.

«So good that I was afraid at first it would be useless thinking of her.
But she’s a sensible girl, no confounded nonsense about her, and the
family are poor as church mice. In fact—well, to tell the truth, we
have become most excellent friends, and she told me herself frankly that
she meant to marry a rich man, and didn’t much care whom.»

«That sounds hopeful,» remarks the would-be bridegroom, with his peculiar
dry smile: «when shall I have the pleasure of seeing her?»

«I want you to come with me to-night to the Garden,» replies the other;
«she will be in Lady Heatherington’s box, and I will introduce you.»

So that evening John Ingerfield goes to Covent Garden Theatre, with the
blood running a trifle quicker in his veins, but not much, than would be
the case were he going to the docks to purchase tallow—examines,
covertly, the proposed article from the opposite side of the house, and
approves her—is introduced to her, and, on closer inspection, approves
her still more—receives an invitation to visit—visits frequently, and
each time is more satisfied of the rarity, serviceableness, and quality
of the article.

If all John Ingerfield requires for a wife is a beautiful social machine,
surely here he has found his ideal. Anne Singleton, only daughter of
that persistently unfortunate but most charming of baronets, Sir Harry
Singleton (more charming, it is rumoured, outside his family circle than
within it), is a stately graceful, high-bred woman. Her portrait, by
Reynolds, still to be seen above the carved wainscoting of one of the old
City halls, shows a wonderfully handsome and clever face, but at the same
time a wonderfully cold and heartless one. It is the face of a woman
half weary of, half sneering at the world. One reads in old family
letters, whereof the ink is now very faded and the paper very yellow,
long criticisms of this portrait. The writers complain that if the
picture is at all like her she must have greatly changed since her
girlhood, for they remember her then as having a laughing and winsome
expression.

They say—they who knew her in after-life—that this earlier face came
back to her in the end, so that the many who remembered opening their
eyes and seeing her bending down over them could never recognise the
portrait of the beautiful sneering lady, even when they were told whom it
represented.

But at the time of John Ingerfield’s strange wooing she was the Anne
Singleton of Sir Joshua’s portrait, and John Ingerfield liked her the
better that she was.

He had no feeling of sentiment in the matter himself, and it simplified
the case that she had none either. He offered her a plain bargain, and
she accepted it. For all he knew or cared, her attitude towards this
subject of marriage was the usual one assumed by women. Very young girls
had their heads full of romantic ideas. It was better for her and for
him that she had got rid of them.

«Ours will be a union founded on good sense,» said John Ingerfield.

«Let us hope the experiment will succeed,» said Anne Singleton.

 

CHAPTER II.

But the experiment does not succeed. The laws of God decree that man
shall purchase woman, that woman shall give herself to man, for other
coin than that of good sense. Good sense is not a legal tender in the
marriage mart. Men and women who enter therein with only sense in their
purse have no right to complain if, on reaching home, they find they have
concluded an unsatisfactory bargain.

John Ingerfield, when he asked Anne Singleton to be his wife, felt no
more love for her than he felt for any of the other sumptuous household
appointments he was purchasing about the same time, and made no pretence
of doing so. Nor, had he done so, would she have believed him; for Anne
Singleton has learned much in her twenty-two summers and winters, and
knows that love is only a meteor in life’s sky, and that the true
lodestar of this world is gold. Anne Singleton has had her romance and
buried it deep down in her deep nature and over its grave, to keep its
ghost from rising, has piled the stones of indifference and contempt, as
many a woman has done before and since. Once upon a time Anne Singleton
sat dreaming out a story. It was a story old as the hills—older than
some of them—but to her, then, it was quite new and very wonderful. It
contained all the usual stock material common to such stories: the lad
and the lass, the plighted troth, the richer suitors, the angry parents,
the love that was worth braving all the world for. One day into this
dream there fell from the land of the waking a letter, a poor, pitiful
letter: «You know I love you and only you,» it ran; «my heart will always
be yours till I die. But my father threatens to stop my allowance, and,
as you know, I have nothing of my own except debts. Some would call her
handsome, but how can I think of her beside you? Oh, why was money ever
let to come into the world to curse us?» with many other puzzling
questions of a like character, and much severe condemnation of Fate and
Heaven and other parties generally, and much self-commiseration.

Anne Singleton took long to read the letter. When she had finished it,
and had read it through again, she rose, and, crushing it her hand, flung
it in the fire with a laugh, and as the flame burnt up and died away felt
that her life had died with it, not knowing that bruised hearts can heal.

So when John Ingerfield comes wooing, and speaks to her no word of love
but only of money, she feels that here at last is a genuine voice that
she can trust. Love of the lesser side of life is still left to her. It
will be pleasant to be the wealthy mistress of a fine house, to give
great receptions, to exchange the secret poverty of home for display and
luxury. These things are offered to her on the very terms she would have
suggested herself. Accompanied by love she would have refused them,
knowing she could give none in return.

But a woman finds it one thing not to desire affection and another thing
not to possess it. Day by day the atmosphere of the fine house in
Bloomsbury grows cold and colder about her heart. Guests warm it at
times for a few hours, then depart, leaving it chillier than before.

For her husband she attempts to feel indifference, but living creatures
joined together cannot feel indifference for each other. Even two dogs
in a leash are compelled to think of one another. A man and wife must
love or hate, like or dislike, in degree as the bond connecting them is
drawn tight or allowed to hang slack. By mutual desire their chains of
wedlock have been fastened as loosely as respect for security will
permit, with the happy consequence that her aversion to him does not
obtrude itself beyond the limits of politeness.

Her part of the contract she faithfully fulfils, for the Singletons also
have their code of honour. Her beauty, her tact, her charm, her
influence, are devoted to his service—to the advancement of his
position, the furtherance of his ambition. Doors that would otherwise
remain closed she opens to him. Society, that would otherwise pass by
with a sneer, sits round his table. His wishes and pleasures are hers.
In all things she yields him wifely duty, seeks to render herself
agreeable to him, suffers in silence his occasional caresses. Whatever
was implied in the bargain, that she will perform to the letter.

He, on his side, likewise performs his part with businesslike
conscientiousness—nay, seeing that the pleasing of her brings no
personal gratification to himself—not without generosity. He is ever
thoughtful of and deferential to her, awarding her at all times an
unvarying courteousness that is none the less sincere for being studied.
Her every expressed want is gratified, her every known distaste
respected. Conscious of his presence being an oppression to her, he is
even careful not to intrude it upon her oftener than is necessary.

At times he asks himself, somewhat pertinently, what he has gained by
marriage—wonders whether this social race was quite the most interesting
game he could have elected to occupy his leisure—wonders whether, after
all, he would not have been happier over his counting-house than in these
sumptuous, glittering rooms, where he always seems, and feels himself to
be, the uninvited guest.

The only feeling that a closer intimacy has created in him for his wife
is that of indulgent contempt. As there is no equality between man and
woman, so there can be no respect. She is a different being. He must
either look up to her as superior to himself, or down upon her as
inferior. When a man does the former he is more or less in love, and
love to John Ingerfield is an unknown emotion. Her beauty, her charm,
her social tact—even while he makes use of them for his own purposes, he
despises as the weapons of a weak nature.

So in their big, cold mansion John Ingerfield and Anne, his wife, sit far
apart, strangers to one another, neither desiring to know the other
nearer.

About his business he never speaks to her, and she never questions him.
To compensate for the slight shrinkage of time he is able to devote to
it, he becomes more strict and exacting; grows a harsher master to his
people, a sterner creditor, a greedier dealer, squeezing the uttermost
out of every one, feverish to grow richer, so that he may spend more upon
the game that day by day he finds more tiresome and uninteresting.

And the piled-up casks upon his wharves increase and multiply; and on the
dirty river his ships and barges lie in ever-lengthening lines; and round
his greasy cauldrons sweating, witch-like creatures swarm in ever-denser
numbers, stirring oil and tallow into gold.

Until one summer, from its nest in the far East, there flutters westward
a foul thing. Hovering over Limehouse suburb, seeing it crowded and
unclean, liking its fetid smell, it settles down upon it.

Typhus is the creature’s name. At first it lurks there unnoticed,
battening upon the rich, rank food it finds around it, until, grown too
big to hide longer, it boldly shows its hideous head, and the white face
of Terror runs swiftly through alley and street, crying as it runs,
forces itself into John Ingerfield’s counting-house, and tells its tale.
John Ingerfield sits for a while thinking. Then he mounts his horse and
rides home at as hard a pace as the condition of the streets will allow.
In the hall he meets Anne going out, and stops her.

«Don’t come too near me,» he says quietly. «Typhus fever has broken out
at Limehouse, and they say one can communicate it, even without having it
oneself. You had better leave London for a few weeks. Go down to your
father’s: I will come and fetch you when it is all over.»

He passes her, giving her a wide berth, and goes upstairs, where he
remains for some minutes in conversation with his valet. Then, coming
down, he remounts and rides off again.

After a little while Anne goes up into his room. His man is kneeling in
the middle of the floor, packing a valise.

«Where are you to take it?» she asks.

«Down to the wharf, ma’am,» answers the man: «Mr. Ingerfield is going to
be there for a day or two.»

Then Anne sits in the great empty drawing-room, and takes _her_ turn at
thinking.

John Ingerfield finds, on his return to Limehouse, that the evil has
greatly increased during the short time he has been away. Fanned by fear
and ignorance, fed by poverty and dirt, the scourge is spreading through
the district like a fire. Long smouldering in secret, it has now burst
forth at fifty different points at once. Not a street, not a court but
has its «case.» Over a dozen of John’s hands are down with it already.
Two more have sunk prostrate beside their work within the last hour. The
panic grows grotesque. Men and women tear their clothes off, looking to
see if they have anywhere upon them a rash or a patch of mottled skin,
find that they have, or imagine that they have, and rush, screaming, half-
undressed, into the street. Two men, meeting in a narrow passage, both
rush back, too frightened to pass each other. A boy stoops down and
scratches his leg—not an action that under ordinary circumstances would
excite much surprise in that neighbourhood. In an instant there is a
wild stampede from the room, the strong trampling on the weak in their
eagerness to escape.

These are not the days of organised defence against disease. There are
kind hearts and willing hands in London town, but they are not yet
closely enough banded together to meet a swift foe such as this. There
are hospitals and charities galore, but these are mostly in the City,
maintained by the City Fathers for the exclusive benefit of poor citizens
and members of the guilds. The few free hospitals are already
over-crowded and ill-prepared. Squalid, outlying Limehouse, belonging to
nowhere, cared for by nobody, must fight for itself.

John Ingerfield calls the older men together, and with their help
attempts to instil some sense and reason into his terrified people.
Standing on the step of his counting-house, and addressing as many of
them as are not too scared to listen, he tells them of the danger of fear
and of the necessity for calmness and courage.

«We must face and fight this thing like men,» he cries, in that deep, din-
conquering voice that has served the Ingerfields in good stead on many a
steel-swept field, on many a storm-struck sea; «there must be no cowardly
selfishness, no faint-hearted despair. If we’ve got to die we’ll die;
but please God we’ll live. Anyhow, we will stick together, and help each
other. I mean to stop here with you, and do what I can for you. None of
my people shall want.»

John Ingerfield ceases, and as the vibrations of his strong tones roll
away a sweet voice from beside him rises clear and firm:—

«I have come down to be with you also, and to help my husband. I shall
take charge of the nursing and tending of your sick, and I hope I shall
be of some real use to you. My husband and I are so sorry for you in
your trouble. I know you will be brave and patient. We will all do our
best, and be hopeful.»

He turns, half expecting to see only the empty air and to wonder at the
delirium in his brain. She puts her hand in his, and their eyes meet;
and in that moment, for the first time in their lives, these two see one
another.

They speak no word. There is no opportunity for words. There is work to
be done, and done quickly, and Anne grasps it with the greed of a woman
long hungry for the joy of doing. As John watches her moving swiftly and
quietly through the bewildered throng, questioning, comforting, gently
compelling, the thought comes to him, Ought he to allow her to be here,
risking her life for his people? followed by the thought, How is he going
to prevent it? For in this hour the knowledge is born within him that
Anne is not his property; that he and she are fellow hands taking their
orders from the same Master; that though it be well for them to work
together and help each other, they must not hinder one another.

As yet John does not understand all this. The idea is new and strange to
him. He feels as the child in a fairy story on suddenly discovering that
the trees and flowers has he passed by carelessly a thousand times can
think and talk. Once he whispers to her of the labour and the danger,
but she answers simply, «They are my people too, John: it is my work»;
and he lets her have her way.

Anne has a true woman’s instinct for nursing, and her strong sense stands
her in stead of experience. A glance into one or two of the squalid dens
where these people live tells her that if her patients are to be saved
they must be nursed away from their own homes; and she determines to
convert the large counting-house—a long, lofty room at the opposite end
of the wharf to the refinery—into a temporary hospital. Selecting some
seven or eight of the most reliable women to assist her, she proceeds to
prepare it for its purpose. Ledgers might be volumes of poetry, bills of
lading mere street ballads, for all the respect that is shown to them.
The older clerks stand staring aghast, feeling that the end of all things
is surely at hand, and that the universe is rushing down into space,
until, their idleness being detected, they are themselves promptly
impressed for the sacrilegious work, and made to assist in the demolition
of their own temple.

Anne’s commands are spoken very sweetly, and are accompanied by the
sweetest of smiles; but they are nevertheless commands, and somehow it
does not occur to any one to disobey them. John—stern, masterful,
authoritative John, who has never been approached with anything more
dictatorial than a timid request since he left Merchant Taylors’ School
nineteen years ago, who would have thought that something had suddenly
gone wrong with the laws of Nature if he had been—finds himself hurrying
along the street on his way to a druggist’s shop, slackens his pace an
instant to ask himself why and wherefore he is doing so, recollects that
he was told to do so and to make haste back, marvels who could have dared
to tell him to do anything and to make haste back, remembers that it was
Anne, is not quite sure what to think about it, but hurries on. He
«makes haste back,» is praised for having been so quick, and feels
pleased with himself; is sent off again in another direction, with
instructions what to say when he gets there. He starts off (he is
becoming used to being ordered about now). Halfway there great alarm
seizes him, for on attempting to say over the message to himself, to be
sure that he has it quite right, he discovers he has forgotten it. He
pauses, nervous and excited; cogitates as to whether it will be safe for
him to concoct a message of his own, weighs anxiously the
chances—supposing that he does so—of being found out. Suddenly, to his
intense surprise and relief, every word of what he was told to say comes
back to him; and he hastens on, repeating it over and over to himself as
he walks, lest it should escape him again.

And then a few hundred yards farther on there occurs one of the most
extraordinary events that has ever happened in that street before or
since: John Ingerfield laughs.

John Ingerfield, of Lavender Wharf, after walking two-thirds of Creek
Lane, muttering to himself with his eyes on the ground, stops in the
middle of the road and laughs; and one small boy, who tells the story to
his dying day, sees him and hears him, and runs home at the top of his
speed with the wonderful news, and is conscientiously slapped by his
mother for telling lies.

All that day Anne works like a heroine, John helping her, and
occasionally getting in the way. By night she has her little hospital
prepared and three beds already up and occupied; and, all now done that
can be done, she and John go upstairs to his old rooms above the counting-
house.

John ushers her into them with some misgiving, for by contrast with the
house at Bloomsbury they are poor and shabby. He places her in the arm-
chair near the fire, begging her to rest quiet, and then assists his old
housekeeper, whose wits, never of the strongest, have been scared by the
day’s proceeding, to lay the meal.

Anne’s eyes follow him as he moves about the room. Perhaps here, where
all the real part of his life has been passed, he is more his true self
than amid the unfamiliar surroundings of fashion; perhaps this simpler
frame shows him to greater advantage; but Anne wonders how it is she has
never noticed before that he is a well-set, handsome man. Nor, indeed,
is he so very old-looking. Is it a trick of the dim light, or what? He
looks almost young. But why should he not look young, seeing he is only
thirty-six, and at thirty-six a man is in his prime? Anne wonders why
she has always thought of him as an elderly person.

A portrait of one of John’s ancestors hangs over the great mantelpiece—of
that sturdy Captain Ingerfield who fought the King’s frigate rather than
give up one of his people. Anne glances from the dead face to the living
and notes the strong likeness between them. Through her half-closed eyes
she sees the grim old captain hurling back his message of defiance, and
his face is the face she saw a few hours ago, saying, «I mean to stop
here with you and do what I can for you. None of my people shall want.»

John is placing a chair for her at the table, and the light from the
candles falls upon him. She steals another glance at his face—a strong,
stern, handsome face, capable of becoming a noble face. Anne wonders if
it has ever looked down tenderly at anyone; feels a sudden fierce pain at
the thought; dismisses the thought as impossible; wonders, nevertheless,
how tenderness would suit it; thinks she would like to see a look of
tenderness upon it, simply out of curiosity; wonders if she ever will.

She rouses herself from her reverie as John, with a smile, tells her
supper is ready, and they seat themselves opposite each other, an odd air
of embarrassment pervading.

Day by day their work grows harder; day by day the foe grows stronger,
fiercer, more all-conquering; and day by day, fighting side by side
against it, John Ingerfield and Anne, his wife, draw closer to each
other. On the battle-field of life we learn the worth of strength. Anne
feels it good, when growing weary, to glance up and find him near her;
feels it good, amid the troubled babel round her, to hear the deep,
strong music of his voice.

And John, watching Anne’s fair figure moving to and fro among the
stricken and the mourning; watching her fair, fluttering hands, busy with
their holy work, her deep, soul-haunting eyes, changeful with the light
and shade of tenderness; listening to her sweet, clear voice, laughing
with the joyous, comforting the comfortless, gently commanding, softly
pleading, finds creeping into his brain strange new thoughts concerning
women—concerning this one woman in particular.

One day, rummaging over an old chest, he comes across a coloured picture-
book of Bible stories. He turns the torn pages fondly, remembering the
Sunday afternoons of long ago. At one picture, wherein are represented
many angels, he pauses; for in one of the younger angels of the group—one
not quite so severe of feature as her sisters—he fancies he can trace
resemblance to Anne. He lingers long over it. Suddenly there rushes
through his brain the thought, How good to stoop and kiss the sweet feet
of such a woman! and, thinking it, he blushes like a boy.

So from the soil of human suffering spring the flowers of human love and
joy, and from the flowers there fall the seeds of infinite pity for human
pain, God shaping all things to His ends.

Thinking of Anne, John’s face grows gentler, his hand kinder; dreaming of
him, her heart grows stronger, deeper, fuller. Every available room in
the warehouse has been turned into a ward, and the little hospital is
open free to all, for John and Anne feel that the whole world are their
people. The piled-up casks are gone—shipped to Woolwich and Gravesend,
bundled anywhere out of the way, as though oil and tallow and the gold
they can be stirred into were matters of small moment in this world, not
to be thought of beside such a thing as the helping of a human brother in
sore strait.

All the labour of the day seems light to them, looking forward to the
hour when they sit together in John’s old shabby dining-room above the
counting-house. Yet a looker-on might imagine such times dull to them;
for they are strangely shy of one another, strangely sparing of
words—fearful of opening the flood-gates of speech, feeling the pressure
of the pent-up thought.

One evening, John, throwing out words, not as a sop to the necessity for
talk, but as a bait to catch Anne’s voice, mentions girdle-cakes,
remembers that his old housekeeper used to be famous for the making of
them, and wonders if she has forgotten the art.

Anne, answering tremulously, as though girdle-cakes were a somewhat
delicate topic, claims to be a successful amateur of them herself. John,
having been given always to understand that the talent for them was
exceedingly rare, and one usually hereditary, respectfully doubts Anne’s
capabilities, deferentially suggesting that she is thinking of scones.
Anne indignantly repudiates the insinuation, knows quite well the
difference between girdle-cakes and scones, offers to prove her powers by
descending into the kitchen and making some then and there, if John will
accompany her and find the things for her.

John accepts the challenge, and, guiding Anne with one shy, awkward hand,
while holding aloft a candle in the other, leads the way. It is past ten
o’clock, and the old housekeeper is in bed. At each creaking stair they
pause, to listen if the noise has awakened her; then, finding all silent,
creep forward again, with suppressed laughter, wondering with alarm, half
feigned, half real, what the prim, methodical dame would say were she to
come down and catch them.

They reach the kitchen, thanks more to the suggestions of a friendly cat
than to John’s acquaintanceship with the geography of his own house; and
Anne rakes together the fire and clears the table for her work. What
possible use John is to her—what need there was for her stipulating that
he should accompany her, Anne might find it difficult, if examined, to
explain satisfactorily. As for his «finding the things» for her, he has
not the faintest notion where they are, and possesses no natural aptitude
for discovery. Told to find flour, he industriously searches for it in
the dresser drawers; sent for the rolling-pin—the nature and
characteristics of rolling-pins being described to him for his
guidance—he returns, after a prolonged absence, with the copper stick.
Anne laughs at him; but really it would seem as though she herself were
almost as stupid, for not until her hands are covered with flour does it
occur to her that she has not taken that preliminary step in all cooking
operations of rolling up her sleeves.

She holds out her arms to John, first one and then the other, asking him
sweetly if he minds doing it for her. John is very slow and clumsy, but
Anne stands very patient. Inch by inch he peels the black sleeve from
the white round arm. Hundreds of times must he have seen those fair
arms, bare to the shoulder, sparkling with jewels; but never before has
he seen their wondrous beauty. He longs to clasp them round his neck,
yet is fearful lest his trembling fingers touching them as he performs
his tantalising task may offend her. Anne thanks him, and apologises for
having given him so much trouble, and he murmurs some meaningless reply,
and stands foolishly silent, watching her.

Anne seems to find one hand sufficient for her cake-making, for the other
rests idly on the table—very near to one of John’s, as she would see
were not her eyes so intent upon her work. How the impulse came to him,
where he—grave, sober, business-man John—learnt such story-book ways
can never be known; but in one instant he is down on both knees,
smothering the floury hand with kisses, and the next moment Anne’s arms
are round his neck and her lips against his, and the barrier between them
is swept away, and the deep waters of their love rush together.

With that kiss they enter a new life whereinto one may not follow them.
One thinks it must have been a life made strangely beautiful by
self-forgetfulness, strangely sweet by mutual devotion—a life too ideal,
perhaps, to have remained for long undimmed by the mists of earth.

They who remember them at that time speak of them in hushed tones, as one
speaks of visions. It would almost seem as though from their faces in
those days there shone a radiance, as though in their voices dwelt a
tenderness beyond the tenderness of man.

They seem never to rest, never to weary. Day and night, through that
little stricken world, they come and go, bearing healing and peace, till
at last the plague, like some gorged beast of prey, slinks slowly back
towards its lair, and men raise their heads and breathe.

One afternoon, returning from a somewhat longer round than usual, John
feels a weariness creeping into his limbs, and quickens his step, eager
to reach home and rest. Anne, who has been up all the previous night, is
asleep, and not wishing to disturb her, he goes into the dining-room and
sits down in the easy chair before the fire. The room strikes cold. He
stirs the logs, but they give out no greater heat. He draws his chair
right in front of them, and sits leaning over them with his feet on the
hearth and his hands outstretched towards the blaze; yet he still
shivers.

Twilight fills the room and deepens into dusk. He wonders listlessly how
it is that Time seems to be moving with such swift strides. After a
while he hears a voice close to him, speaking in a slow, monotonous
tone—a voice curiously familiar to him, though he cannot tell to whom it
belongs. He does not turn his head, but sits listening to it drowsily.
It is talking about tallow: one hundred and ninety-four casks of tallow,
and they must all stand one inside the other. It cannot be done, the
voice complains pathetically. They will not go inside each other. It is
no good pushing them. See! they only roll out again.

The voice grows wearily fretful. Oh! why do they persist when they see
it is impossible? What fools they all are!

Suddenly he recollects the voice, and starts up and stares wildly about
him, trying to remember where he is. With a fierce straining of his will
he grips the brain that is slipping away from him, and holds it. As soon
as he feels sure of himself he steals out of the room and down the
stairs.

In the hall he stands listening; the house is very silent. He goes to
the head of the stairs leading to the kitchen and calls softly to the old
housekeeper, and she comes up to him, panting and grunting as she climbs
each step. Keeping some distance from her, he asks in a whisper where
Anne is. The woman answers that she is in the hospital.

«Tell her I have been called away suddenly on business,» he says,
speaking in quick, low tones: «I shall be away for some days. Tell her
to leave here and return home immediately. They can do without her here
now. Tell her to go back home at once. I will join her there.»

He moves toward the door but stops and faces round again.

«Tell her I beg and entreat her not to stop in this place an hour longer.
There is nothing to keep her now. It is all over: there is nothing that
cannot be done by any one. Tell her she must go home—this very night.
Tell her if she loves me to leave this place at once.»

The woman, a little bewildered by his vehemence, promises, and disappears
down the stairs. He takes his hat and cloak from the chair on which he
had thrown them, and turns once more to cross the hall. As he does so,
the door opens and Anne enters.

He darts back into the shadow, squeezing himself against the wall. Anne
calls to him laughingly, then, as he does not answer, with a frightened
accent:

«John,—John, dear. Was not that you? Are not you there?»

He holds his breath, and crouches still closer into the dark corner; and
Anne, thinking she must have been mistaken in the dim light, passes him
and goes upstairs.

Then he creeps stealthily to the door, lets himself out and closes it
softly behind him.

After the lapse of a few minutes the old housekeeper plods upstairs and
delivers John’s message. Anne, finding it altogether incomprehensible,
subjects the poor dame to severe examination, but fails to elicit
anything further. What is the meaning of it? What «business» can have
compelled John, who for ten weeks has never let the word escape his lips,
to leave her like this—without a word! without a kiss! Then suddenly
she remembers the incident of a few moments ago, when she had called to
him, thinking she saw him, and he did not answer; and the whole truth
strikes her full in the heart.

She refastens the bonnet-strings she has been slowly untying, and goes
down and out into the wet street.

She makes her way rapidly to the house of the only doctor resident in the
neighbourhood—a big, brusque-mannered man, who throughout these terrible
two months has been their chief stay and help. He meets her on her
entrance with an embarrassed air that tells its own tale, and at once
renders futile his clumsy attempts at acting:—

How should he know where John is? Who told her John had the fever—a
great, strong, hulking fellow like that? She has been working too hard,
and has got fever on the brain. She must go straight back home, or she
will be having it herself. She is more likely to take it than John.

Anne, waiting till he has finished jerking out sentences while stamping
up and down the room, says gently, taking no notice of his denials,—»If
you will not tell me I must find out from some one else—that is all.»
Then, her quick eyes noting his momentary hesitation, she lays her little
hand on his rough paw, and, with the shamelessness of a woman who loves
deeply, wheedles everything out of him that he has promised to keep
secret.

He stops her, however, as she is leaving the room. «Don’t go in to him
now,» he says; «he will worry about you. Wait till to-morrow.»

So, while John lies counting endless casks of tallow, Anne sits by his
side, tending her last «case.»

Often in his delirium he calls her name, and she takes his fevered hand
in hers and holds it, and he falls asleep.

Each morning the doctor comes and looks at him, asks a few questions and
gives a few commonplace directions, but makes no comment. It would be
idle his attempting to deceive her.

The days move slowly through the darkened room. Anne watches his thin
hands grow thinner, his sunken eyes grow bigger; yet remains strangely
calm, almost contented.

Very near the end there comes an hour when John wakes as from a dream,
and remembers all things clearly.

He looks at her half gratefully, half reproachfully.

«Anne, why are you here?» he asks, in a low, laboured voice. «Did they
not give you my message?»

For answer she turns her deep eyes upon him.

«Would you have gone away and left me here to die?» she questions him,
with a faint smile.

She bends her head down nearer to him, so that her soft hair falls about
his face.

«Our lives were one, dear,» she whispers to him. «I could not have lived
without you; God knew that. We shall be together always.»

She kisses him, and laying his head upon her breast, softly strokes it as
she might a child’s; and he puts his weak arms around her.

Later on she feels them growing cold about her, and lays him gently back
upon the bed, looks for the last time into his eyes, then draws the lids
down over them.

His people ask that they may bury him in the churchyard hard by, so that
he may always be among them; and, Anne consenting, they do all things
needful with their own hands, wishful that no unloving labour may be
mingled with their work. They lay him close to the porch, where, going
in and out the church, their feet will pass near to him; and one among
them who is cunning with the graver’s chisel shapes the stone.

At the head he carves in bas-relief the figure of the good Samaritan
tending the brother fallen by the way, and underneath the letters, «In
Remembrance of John Ingerfield.»

He thinks to put a verse of Scripture immediately after; but the gruff
doctor says, «Better leave a space, in case you want to add another
name.»

So the stone remains a little while unfinished; till the same hand carves
thereon, a few weeks later, «And of Anne, his Wife.»

 

THE WOMAN OF THE SAETER.

Wild-reindeer stalking is hardly so exciting a sport as the evening’s
verandah talk in Norroway hotels would lead the trustful traveller to
suppose. Under the charge of your guide, a very young man with the
dreamy, wistful eyes of those who live in valleys, you leave the
farmstead early in the forenoon, arriving towards twilight at the
desolate hut which, for so long as you remain upon the uplands, will be
your somewhat cheerless headquarters.

Next morning, in the chill, mist-laden dawn, you rise; and, after a
breakfast of coffee and dried fish, shoulder your Remington, and step
forth silently into the raw, damp air; the guide locking the door behind
you, the key grating harshly in the rusty lock.

For hour after hour you toil over the steep, stony ground, or wind
through the pines, speaking in whispers, lest your voice reach the quick
ears of your prey, that keeps its head ever pressed against the wind.
Here and there, in the hollows of the hills lie wide fields of snow, over
which you pick your steps thoughtfully, listening to the smothered
thunder of the torrent, tunnelling its way beneath your feet, and
wondering whether the frozen arch above it be at all points as firm as is
desirable. Now and again, as in single file you walk cautiously along
some jagged ridge, you catch glimpses of the green world, three thousand
feet below you; though you gaze not long upon the view, for your
attention is chiefly directed to watching the footprints of the guide,
lest by deviating to the right or left you find yourself at one stride
back in the valley—or, to be more correct, are found there.

These things you do, and as exercise they are healthful and invigorating.
But a reindeer you never see, and unless, overcoming the prejudices of
your British-bred conscience, you care to take an occasional pop at a
fox, you had better have left your rifle at the hut, and, instead, have
brought a stick which would have been helpful. Notwithstanding which the
guide continues sanguine, and in broken English, helped out by stirring
gesture, tells of the terrible slaughter generally done by sportsmen
under his superintendence, and of the vast herds that generally infest
these fields; and when you grow sceptical upon the subject of Reins he
whispers alluringly of Bears.

Once in a way you will come across a track, and will follow it
breathlessly for hours, and it will lead to a sheer precipice. Whether
the explanation is suicide, or a reprehensible tendency on the part of
the animal towards practical joking, you are left to decide for yourself.
Then, with many rough miles between you and your rest, you abandon the
chase.

But I speak from personal experience merely.

All day long we had tramped through the pitiless rain, stopping only for
an hour at noon to eat some dried venison and smoke a pipe beneath the
shelter of an overhanging cliff. Soon afterwards Michael knocked over a
ryper (a bird that will hardly take the trouble to hop out of your way)
with his gun-barrel, which incident cheered us a little; and, later on,
our flagging spirits were still further revived by the discovery of
apparently very recent deer-tracks. These we followed, forgetful, in our
eagerness, of the lengthening distance back to the hut, of the fading
daylight, of the gathering mist. The track led us higher and higher,
farther and farther into the mountains, until on the shores of a desolate
rock-bound vand it abruptly ended, and we stood staring at one another,
and the snow began to fall.

Unless in the next half-hour we could chance upon a saeter, this meant
passing the night upon the mountain. Michael and I looked at the guide;
but though, with characteristic Norwegian sturdiness, he put a bold face
upon it, we could see that in that deepening darkness he knew no more
than we did. Wasting no time on words, we made straight for the nearest
point of descent, knowing that any human habitation must be far below us.

Down we scrambled, heedless of torn clothes and bleeding hands, the
darkness pressing closer round us. Then suddenly it became black—black
as pitch—and we could only hear each other. Another step might mean
death. We stretched out our hands, and felt each other. Why we spoke in
whispers, I do not know, but we seemed afraid of our own voices. We
agreed there was nothing for it but to stop where we were till morning,
clinging to the short grass; so we lay there side by side, for what may
have been five minutes or may have been an hour. Then, attempting to
turn, I lost my grip and rolled. I made convulsive efforts to clutch the
ground, but the incline was too steep. How far I fell I could not say,
but at last something stopped me. I felt it cautiously with my foot: it
did not yield, so I twisted myself round and touched it with my hand. It
seemed planted firmly in the earth. I passed my arm along to the right,
then to the left. I shouted with joy. It was a fence.

Rising and groping about me, I found an opening, and passed through, and
crept forward with palms outstretched until I touched the logs of a hut;
then, feeling my way round, discovered the door, and knocked. There came
no response, so I knocked louder; then pushed, and the heavy woodwork
yielded, groaning. But the darkness within was even darker than the
darkness without. The others had contrived to crawl down and join me.
Michael struck a wax vesta and held it up, and slowly the room came out
of the darkness and stood round us.

Then something rather startling happened. Giving one swift glance about
him, our guide uttered a cry, and rushed out into the night. We followed
to the door, and called after him, but only a voice came to us out of the
blackness, and the only words that we could catch, shrieked back in
terror, were: «_Saetervronen_! _Saetervronen_!» («The woman of the
saeter»).

«Some foolish superstition about the place, I suppose,» said Michael. «In
these mountain solitudes men breed ghosts for company. Let us make a
fire. Perhaps, when he sees the light, his desire for food and shelter
may get the better of his fears.»

We felt about in the small enclosure round the house, and gathered
juniper and birch-twigs, and kindled a fire upon the open stove built in
the corner of the room. Fortunately, we had some dried reindeer and
bread in our bag, and on that and the ryper and the contents of our
flasks we supped. Afterwards, to while away the time, we made an
inspection of the strange eyrie we had lighted on.

It was an old log-built saeter. Some of these mountain farmsteads are as
old as the stone ruins of other countries. Carvings of strange beasts
and demons were upon its blackened rafters, and on the lintel, in runic
letters, ran this legend: «Hund builded me in the days of Haarfager.» The
house consisted of two large apartments. Originally, no doubt, these had
been separate dwellings standing beside one another, but they were now
connected by a long, low gallery. Most of the scanty furniture was
almost as ancient as the walls themselves, but many articles of a
comparatively recent date had been added. All was now, however, rotting
and falling into decay.

The place appeared to have been deserted suddenly by its last occupants.
Household utensils lay as they were left, rust and dirt encrusted on
them. An open book, limp and mildewed, lay face downwards on the table,
while many others were scattered about both rooms, together with much
paper, scored with faded ink. The curtains hung in shreds about the
windows; a woman’s cloak, of an antiquated fashion, drooped from a nail
behind the door. In an oak chest we found a tumbled heap of yellow
letters. They were of various dates, extending over a period of four
months; and with them, apparently intended to receive them, lay a large
envelope, inscribed with an address in London that has since disappeared.

Strong curiosity overcoming faint scruples, we read them by the dull glow
of the burning juniper twigs, and, as we lay aside the last of them,
there rose from the depths below us a wailing cry, and all night long it
rose and died away, and rose again, and died away again; whether born of
our brain or of some human thing, God knows.

And these, a little altered and shortened, are the letters:—

_Extract from first letter_:

«I cannot tell you, my dear Joyce, what a haven of peace this place is
to me after the racket and fret of town. I am almost quite recovered
already, and am growing stronger every day; and, joy of joys, my brain
has come back to me, fresher and more vigorous, I think, for its
holiday. In this silence and solitude my thoughts flow freely, and
the difficulties of my task are disappearing as if by magic. We are
perched upon a tiny plateau halfway up the mountain. On one side the
rock rises almost perpendicularly, piercing the sky; while on the
other, two thousand feet below us, the torrent hurls itself into the
black waters of the fiord. The house consists of two rooms—or,
rather, it is two cabins connected by a passage. The larger one we
use as a living room, and the other is our sleeping apartment. We
have no servant, but do everything for ourselves. I fear sometimes
Muriel must find it lonely. The nearest human habitation is eight
miles away, across the mountain, and not a soul comes near us. I
spend as much time as I can with her, however, during the day, and
make up for it by working at night after she has gone to sleep; and
when I question her, she only laughs, and answers that she loves to
have me all to herself. (Here you will smile cynically, I know, and
say, ‘Humph, I wonder will she say the same when they have been
married six years instead of six months.’) At the rate I am working
now I shall have finished my first volume by the spring, and then, my
dear fellow, you must try and come over, and we will walk and talk
together ‘amid these storm-reared temples of the gods.’ I have felt a
new man since I arrived here. Instead of having to ‘cudgel my
brains,’ as we say, thoughts crowd upon me. This work will make my
name.»

_Part of the third letter_, _the second being mere talk about the book_
(_a history apparently_) _that the man was writing_:

«MY DEAR JOYCE,—I have written you two letters—this will make the
third—but have been unable to post them. Every day I have been
expecting a visit from some farmer or villager, for the Norwegians are
kindly people towards strangers—to say nothing of the inducements of
trade. A fortnight having passed, however, and the commissariat
question having become serious, I yesterday set out before dawn, and
made my way down to the valley; and this gives me something to tell
you. Nearing the village, I met a peasant woman. To my intense
surprise, instead of returning my salutation, she stared at me, as if
I were some wild animal, and shrank away from me as far as the width
of the road would permit. In the village the same experience awaited
me. The children ran from me, the people avoided me. At last a grey-
haired old man appeared to take pity on me, and from him I learnt the
explanation of the mystery. It seems there is a strange superstition
attaching to this house in which we are living. My things were
brought up here by the two men who accompanied me from Drontheim, but
the natives are afraid to go near the place, and prefer to keep as far
as possible from any one connected with it.

«The story is that the house was built by one Hund, ‘a maker of runes’
(one of the old saga writers, no doubt), who lived here with his young
wife. All went peacefully until, unfortunately for him, a certain maiden
stationed at a neighbouring saeter grew to love him.

«Forgive me if I am telling you what you know, but a ‘saeter’ is the name
given to the upland pastures to which, during the summer, are sent the
cattle, generally under the charge of one or more of the maids. Here for
three months these girls will live in their lonely huts, entirely shut
off from the world. Customs change little in this land. Two or three
such stations are within climbing distance of this house, at this day,
looked after by the farmers’ daughters, as in the days of Hund, ‘maker of
runes.’

«Every night, by devious mountain paths, the woman would come and tap
lightly at Hund’s door. Hund had built himself two cabins, one behind
the other (these are now, as I think I have explained to you, connected
by a passage); the smaller one was the homestead; in the other he carved
and wrote, so that while the young wife slept the ‘maker of runes’ and
the saeter woman sat whispering.

«One night, however, the wife learnt all things, but said no word. Then,
as now, the ravine in front of the enclosure was crossed by a slight
bridge of planks, and over this bridge the woman of the saeter passed and
repassed each night. On a day when Hund had gone down to fish in the
fiord, the wife took an axe, and hacked and hewed at the bridge, yet it
still looked firm and solid; and that night, as Hund sat waiting in his
workshop, there struck upon his ears a piercing cry, and a crashing of
logs and rolling rock, and then again the dull roaring of the torrent far
below.

«But the woman did not die unavenged; for that winter a man, skating far
down the fiord, noticed a curious object embedded in the ice; and when,
stooping, he looked closer, he saw two corpses, one gripping the other by
the throat, and the bodies were the bodies of Hund and his young wife.

«Since then, they say, the woman of the saeter haunts Hund’s house, and
if she sees a light within she taps upon the door, and no man may keep
her out. Many, at different times, have tried to occupy the house, but
strange tales are told of them. ‘Men do not live at Hund’s saeter,’ said
my old grey-haired friend, concluding his tale,—’they die there.’

«I have persuaded some of the braver of the villagers to bring what
provisions and other necessaries we require up to a plateau about a mile
from the house and leave them there. That is the most I have been able
to do. It comes somewhat as a shock to one to find men and women—fairly
educated and intelligent as many of them are—slaves to fears that one
would expect a child to laugh at. But there is no reasoning with
superstition.»

_Extract from the same letter_, _but from a part seemingly written a day
or two later_:

«At home I should have forgotten such a tale an hour after I had heard
it, but these mountain fastnesses seem strangely fit to be the last
stronghold of the supernatural. The woman haunts me already. At
night instead of working, I find myself listening for her tapping at
the door; and yesterday an incident occurred that makes me fear for my
own common sense. I had gone out for a long walk alone, and the
twilight was thickening into darkness as I neared home. Suddenly
looking up from my reverie, I saw, standing on a knoll the other side
of the ravine, the figure of a woman. She held a cloak about her
head, and I could not see her face. I took off my cap, and called out
a good-night to her, but she never moved or spoke. Then—God knows
why, for my brain was full of other thoughts at the time—a clammy
chill crept over me, and my tongue grew dry and parched. I stood
rooted to the spot, staring at her across the yawning gorge that
divided us; and slowly she moved away, and passed into the gloom, and
I continued my way. I have said nothing to Muriel, and shall not. The
effect the story has had upon myself warns me not to do so.»

_From a letter dated eleven days later_:

«She has come. I have known she would, since that evening I saw her
on the mountain; and last night she came, and we have sat and looked
into each other’s eyes. You will say, of course, that I am mad—that
I have not recovered from my fever—that I have been working too
hard—that I have heard a foolish tale, and that it has filled my
overstrung brain with foolish fancies: I have told myself all that.
But the thing came, nevertheless—a creature of flesh and blood? a
creature of air? a creature of my own imagination?—what matter? it
was real to me.

«It came last night, as I sat working, alone. Each night I have
waited for it, listened for it—longed for it, I know now. I heard
the passing of its feet upon the bridge, the tapping of its hand upon
the door, three times—tap, tap, tap. I felt my loins grow cold, and
a pricking pain about my head; and I gripped my chair with both hands,
and waited, and again there came the tapping—tap, tap, tap. I rose
and slipped the bolt of the door leading to the other room, and again
I waited, and again there came the tapping—tap, tap, tap. Then I
opened the heavy outer door, and the wind rushed past me, scattering
my papers, and the woman entered in, and I closed the door behind her.
She threw her hood back from her head, and unwound a kerchief from
about her neck, and laid it on the table. Then she crossed and sat
before the fire, and I noticed her bare feet were damp with the night
dew.

«I stood over against her and gazed at her, and she smiled at me—a
strange, wicked smile, but I could have laid my soul at her feet. She
never spoke or moved, and neither did I feel the need of spoken words,
for I understood the meaning of those upon the Mount when they said,
‘Let us make here tabernacles: it is good for us to be here.’

«How long a time passed thus I do not know, but suddenly the woman
held her hand up, listening, and there came a faint sound from the
other room. Then swiftly she drew her hood about her face and passed
out, closing the door softly behind her; and I drew back the bolt of
the inner door and waited, and hearing nothing more, sat down, and
must have fallen asleep in my chair.

«I awoke, and instantly there flashed through my mind the thought of
the kerchief the woman had left behind her, and I started from my
chair to hide it. But the table was already laid for breakfast, and
my wife sat with her elbows on the table and her head between her
hands, watching me with a look in her eyes that was new to me.

«She kissed me, though her lips were cold; and I argued to myself that
the whole thing must have been a dream. But later in the day, passing
the open door when her back was towards me, I saw her take the
kerchief from a locked chest and look at it.

«I have told myself it must have been a kerchief of her own, and that
all the rest has been my imagination; that, if not, then my strange
visitant was no spirit, but a woman; and that, if human thing knows
human thing, it was no creature of flesh and blood that sat beside me
last night. Besides, what woman would she be? The nearest saeter is
a three-hours’ climb to a strong man, and the paths are dangerous even
in daylight: what woman would have found them in the night? What
woman would have chilled the air around her, and have made the blood
flow cold through all my veins? Yet if she come again I will speak to
her. I will stretch out my hand and see whether she be mortal thing
or only air.»

_The fifth letter_:

«MY DEAR JOYCE,—Whether your eyes will ever see these letters is
doubtful. From this place I shall never send them. They would read
to you as the ravings of a madman. If ever I return to England I may
one day show them to you, but when I do it will be when I, with you,
can laugh over them. At present I write them merely to hide
away,—putting the words down on paper saves my screaming them aloud.

«She comes each night now, taking the same seat beside the embers, and
fixing upon me those eyes, with the hell-light in them, that burn into
my brain; and at rare times she smiles, and all my being passes out of
me, and is hers. I make no attempt to work. I sit listening for her
footsteps on the creaking bridge, for the rustling of her feet upon
the grass, for the tapping of her hand upon the door. No word is
uttered between us. Each day I say: ‘When she comes to-night I will
speak to her. I will stretch out my hand and touch her.’ Yet when
she enters, all thought and will goes out from me.

«Last night, as I stood gazing at her, my soul filled with her
wondrous beauty as a lake with moonlight, her lips parted, and she
started from her chair; and, turning, I thought I saw a white face
pressed against the window, but as I looked it vanished. Then she
drew her cloak about her, and passed out. I slid back the bolt I
always draw now, and stole into the other room, and, taking down the
lantern, held it above the bed. But Muriel’s eyes were closed as if
in sleep.»

_Extract from the sixth letter_:

«It is not the night I fear, but the day. I hate the sight of this
woman with whom I live, whom I call ‘wife.’ I shrink from the blow of
her cold lips, the curse of her stony eyes. She has seen, she has
learnt; I feel it, I know it. Yet she winds her arms around my neck,
and calls me sweetheart, and smoothes my hair with her soft, false
hands. We speak mocking words of love to one another, but I know her
cruel eyes are ever following me. She is plotting her revenge, and I
hate her, I hate her, I hate her!»

_Part of the seventh letter_:

«This morning I went down to the fiord. I told her I should not be
back until the evening. She stood by the door watching me until we
were mere specks to one another, and a promontory of the mountain shut
me from view. Then, turning aside from the track, I made my way,
running and stumbling over the jagged ground, round to the other side
of the mountain, and began to climb again. It was slow, weary work.
Often I had to go miles out of my road to avoid a ravine, and twice I
reached a high point only to have to descend again. But at length I
crossed the ridge, and crept down to a spot from where, concealed, I
could spy upon my own house. She—my wife—stood by the flimsy
bridge. A short hatchet, such as butchers use, was in her hand. She
leant against a pine trunk, with her arm behind her, as one stands
whose back aches with long stooping in some cramped position; and even
at that distance I could see the cruel smile about her lips.

«Then I recrossed the ridge, and crawled down again, and, waiting
until evening, walked slowly up the path. As I came in view of the
house she saw me, and waved her handkerchief to me, and in answer I
waved my hat, and shouted curses at her that the wind whirled away
into the torrent. She met me with a kiss, and I breathed no hint to
her that I had seen. Let her devil’s work remain undisturbed. Let it
prove to me what manner of thing this is that haunts me. If it be a
spirit, then the bridge wilt bear it safely; if it be woman—

«But I dismiss the thought. If it be human thing, why does it sit
gazing at me, never speaking? why does my tongue refuse to question
it? why does all power forsake me in its presence, so that I stand as
in a dream? Yet if it be spirit, why do I hear the passing of her
feet? and why does the night-rain glisten on her hair?

«I force myself back into my chair. It is far into the night, and I
am alone, waiting, listening. If it be spirit, she will come to me;
and if it be woman, I shall hear her cry above the storm—unless it be
a demon mocking me.

«I have heard the cry. It rose, piercing and shrill, above the storm,
above the riving and rending of the bridge, above the downward
crashing of the logs and loosened stones. I hear it as I listen now.
It is cleaving its way upward from the depths below. It is wailing
through the room as I sit writing.

«I have crawled upon my belly to the utmost edge of the still standing
pier, until I could feel with my hand the jagged splinters left by the
fallen planks, and have looked down. But the chasm was full to the
brim with darkness. I shouted, but the wind shook my voice into
mocking laughter. I sit here, feebly striking at the madness that is
creeping nearer and nearer to me. I tell myself the whole thing is
but the fever in my brain. The bridge was rotten. The storm was
strong. The cry is but a single one among the many voices of the
mountain. Yet still I listen; and it rises, clear and shrill, above
the moaning of the pines, above the sobbing of the waters. It beats
like blows upon my skull, and I know that she will never come again.»

_Extract from the last letter_:

«I shall address an envelope to you, and leave it among these letters.
Then, should I never come back, some chance wanderer may one day find
and post them to you, and you will know.

«My books and writings remain untouched. We sit together of a
night—this woman I call ‘wife’ and I—she holding in her hands some
knitted thing that never grows longer by a single stitch, and I with a
volume before me that is ever open at the same page. And day and
night we watch each other stealthily, moving to and fro about the
silent house; and at times, looking round swiftly, I catch the smile
upon her lips before she has time to smooth it away.

«We speak like strangers about this and that, making talk to hide our
thoughts. We make a pretence of busying ourselves about whatever will
help us to keep apart from one another.

«At night, sitting here between the shadows and the dull glow of the
smouldering twigs, I sometimes think I hear the tapping I have learnt
to listen for, and I start from my seat, and softly open the door and
look out. But only the Night stands there. Then I close-to the
latch, and she—the living woman—asks me in her purring voice what
sound I heard, hiding a smile as she stoops low over her work; and I
answer lightly, and, moving towards her, put my arm about her, feeling
her softness and her suppleness, and wondering, supposing I held her
close to me with one arm while pressing her from me with the other,
how long before I should hear the cracking of her bones.

«For here, amid these savage solitudes, I also am grown savage. The
old primeval passions of love and hate stir within me, and they are
fierce and cruel and strong, beyond what you men of the later ages
could understand. The culture of the centuries has fallen from me as
a flimsy garment whirled away by the mountain wind; the old savage
instincts of the race lie bare. One day I shall twine my fingers
about her full white throat, and her eyes will slowly come towards me,
and her lips will part, and the red tongue creep out; and backwards,
step by step, I shall push her before me, gazing the while upon her
bloodless face, and it will be my turn to smile. Backwards through
the open door, backwards along the garden path between the juniper
bushes, backwards till her heels are overhanging the ravine, and she
grips life with nothing but her little toes, I shall force her, step
by step, before me. Then I shall lean forward, closer, closer, till I
kiss her purpling lips, and down, down, down, past the startled sea-
birds, past the white spray of the foss, past the downward peeping
pines, down, down, down, we will go together, till we find the thing
that lies sleeping beneath the waters of the fiord.»

With these words ended the last letter, unsigned. At the first streak of
dawn we left the house, and, after much wandering, found our way back to
the valley. But of our guide we heard no news. Whether he remained
still upon the mountain, or whether by some false step he had perished
upon that night, we never learnt.

 

VARIETY PATTER.

My first appearance at a Music Hall was in the year one thousand eight
hundred and s—. Well, I would rather not mention the exact date. I
was fourteen at the time. It was during the Christmas holidays, and my
aunt had given me five shillings to go and see Phelps—I think it was
Phelps—in _Coriolanus_—I think it was _Coriolanus_. Anyhow, it was to
see a high-class and improving entertainment, I know.

I suggested that I should induce young Skegson, who lived in our road, to
go with me. Skegson is a barrister now, and could not tell you the
difference between a knave of clubs and a club of knaves. A few years
hence he will, if he works hard, be innocent enough for a judge. But at
the period of which I speak he was a red-haired boy of worldly tastes,
notwithstanding which I loved him as a brother. My dear mother wished to
see him before consenting to the arrangement, so as to be able to form
her own opinion as to whether he was a fit and proper companion for me;
and, accordingly, he was invited to tea. He came, and made a most
favourable impression upon both my mother and my aunt. He had a way of
talking about the advantages of application to study in early life, and
the duties of youth towards those placed in authority over it, that won
for him much esteem in grown-up circles. The spirit of the Bar had
descended upon Skegson at a very early period of his career.

My aunt, indeed, was so much pleased with him that she gave him two
shillings towards his own expenses («sprung half a dollar» was how he
explained the transaction when we were outside), and commended me to his
especial care.

Skegson was very silent during the journey. An idea was evidently
maturing in his mind. At the Angel he stopped and said: «Look here, I’ll
tell you what we’ll do. Don’t let’s go and see that rot. Let’s go to a
Music Hall.»

I gasped for breath. I had heard of Music Halls. A stout lady had
denounced them across our dinner table on one occasion—fixing the while
a steely eye upon her husband, who sat opposite and seemed
uncomfortable—as low, horrid places, where people smoked and drank, and
wore short skirts, and had added an opinion that they ought to be put
down by the police—whether the skirts or the halls she did not explain.
I also recollected that our charwoman, whose son had lately left London
for a protracted stay in Devonshire, had, in conversation with my mother,
dated his downfall from the day when he first visited one of these
places; and likewise that Mrs. Philcox’s nursemaid, upon her confessing
that she had spent an evening at one with her young man, had been called
a shameless hussy, and summarily dismissed as being no longer a fit
associate for the baby.

But the spirit of lawlessness was strong within me in those days, so that
I hearkened to the voice of Skegson, the tempter, and he lured my feet
from the paths that led to virtue and Sadler’s Wells, and we wandered
into the broad and crowded ways that branch off from the Angel towards
Merry Islington.

Skegson insisted that we should do the thing in style, so we stopped at a
shop near the Agricultural Hall and purchased some big cigars. A huge
card in the window claimed for these that they were «the most
satisfactory twopenny smokes in London.» I smoked two of them during the
evening, and never felt more satisfied—using the word in its true sense,
as implying that a person has had enough of a thing, and does not desire
any more of it, just then—in all my life. Where we went, and what we
saw, my memory is not very clear upon. We sat at a little marble table.
I know it was marble because it was so hard, and cool to the head. From
out of the smoky mist a ponderous creature of strange, undefined shape
floated heavily towards us, and deposited a squat tumbler in front of me
containing a pale yellowish liquor, which subsequent investigation has
led me to believe must have been Scotch whisky. It seemed to me then the
most nauseous stuff I had ever swallowed. It is curious to look back and
notice how one’s tastes change.

I reached home very late and very sick. That was my first dissipation,
and, as a lesson, it has been of more practical use to me than all the
good books and sermons in the world could have been. I can remember to
this day standing in the middle of the room in my night-shirt, trying to
catch my bed as it came round.

Next morning I confessed everything to my mother, and, for several months
afterwards, was a reformed character. Indeed, the pendulum of my
conscience swung too far the other way, and I grew exaggeratedly
remorseful and unhealthily moral.

There was published in those days, for the edification of young people, a
singularly pessimistic periodical, entitled _The Children’s Band of Hope
Review_. It was a magazine much in favour among grown-up people, and a
bound copy of Vol. IX. had lately been won by my sister as a prize for
punctuality (I fancy she must have exhausted all the virtue she ever
possessed, in that direction, upon the winning of that prize. At all
events, I have noticed no ostentatious display of the quality in her
later life.) I had formerly expressed contempt for this book, but now,
in my regenerate state, I took a morbid pleasure in poring over its
denunciations of sin and sinners. There was one picture in it that
appeared peculiarly applicable to myself. It represented a gaudily
costumed young man, standing on the topmost of three steep steps, smoking
a large cigar. Behind him was a very small church, and below, a bright
and not altogether uninviting looking hell. The picture was headed «The
Three Steps to Ruin,» and the three stairs were labelled respectively
«Smoking,» «Drinking,» «Gambling.» I had already travelled two-thirds of
the road! Was I going all the way, or should I be able to retrace those
steps? I used to lie awake at night and think about it till I grew half
crazy. Alas! since then I have completed the descent, so where my future
will be spent I do not care to think.

Another picture in the book that troubled me was the frontispiece. This
was a highly-coloured print, illustrating the broad and narrow ways. The
narrow way led upward past a Sunday-school and a lion to a city in the
clouds. This city was referred to in the accompanying letterpress as a
place of «Rest and Peace,» but inasmuch as the town was represented in
the illustration as surrounded by a perfect mob of angels, each one
blowing a trumpet twice his own size, and obviously blowing it for all he
was worth, a certain confusion of ideas would seem to have crept into the
allegory.

The other path—the «broad way»—which ended in what at first glance
appeared to be a highly successful display of fireworks, started from the
door of a tavern, and led past a Music Hall, on the steps of which stood
a gentleman smoking a cigar. All the wicked people in this book smoked
cigars—all except one young man who had killed his mother and died
raving mad. He had gone astray on short pipes.

This made it uncomfortably clear to me which direction I had chosen, and
I was greatly alarmed, until, on examining the picture more closely, I
noticed, with much satisfaction, that about midway the two paths were
connected by a handy little bridge, by the use of which it seemed
feasible, starting on the one path and ending up on the other, to combine
the practical advantages of both roads. From subsequent observation I
have come to the conclusion that a good many people have made a note of
that little bridge.

My own belief in the possibility of such convenient compromise must, I
fear, have led to an ethical relapse, for there recurs to my mind a
somewhat painful scene of a few months’ later date, in which I am seeking
to convince a singularly unresponsive landed proprietor that my presence
in his orchard is solely and entirely due to my having unfortunately lost
my way.

It was not until I was nearly seventeen that the idea occurred to me to
visit a Music Hall again. Then, having regard to my double capacity of
«Man About Town» and journalist (for I had written a letter to _The Era_,
complaining of the way pit doors were made to open, and it had been
inserted), I felt I had no longer any right to neglect acquaintanceship
with so important a feature in the life of the people. Accordingly, one
Saturday night, I wended my way to the «Pav.»; and there the first person
that I ran against was my uncle. He laid a heavy hand upon my shoulder,
and asked me, in severe tones, what I was doing there. I felt this to be
an awkward question, for it would have been useless trying to make him
understand my real motives (one’s own relations are never sympathetic),
and I was somewhat nonplussed for an answer, until the reflection
occurred to me: What was _he_ doing there? This riddle I, in my turn,
propounded to him, with the result that we entered into treaty, by the
terms of which it was agreed that no future reference should be made to
the meeting by either of us—especially not in the presence of my
aunt—and the compact was ratified according to the usual custom, my
uncle paying the necessary expenses.

In those days, we sat, some four or six of us, round a little table, on
which were placed our drinks. Now we have to balance them upon a narrow
ledge; and ladies, as they pass, dip the ends of their cloaks into them,
and gentlemen stir them up for us with the ferrules of their umbrellas,
or else sweep them off into our laps with their coat tails, saying as
they do so, «Oh, I beg your pardon.»

Also, in those days, there were «chairmen»—affable gentlemen, who would
drink anything at anybody’s expense, and drink any quantity of it, and
never seem to get any fuller. I was introduced to a Music Hall chairman
once, and when I said to him, «What is your drink?» he took up the «list
of beverages» that lay before him, and, opening it, waved his hand
lightly across its entire contents, from clarets, past champagnes and
spirits, down to liqueurs. «That’s my drink, my boy,» said he. There
was nothing narrow-minded or exclusive about his tastes.

It was the chairman’s duty to introduce the artists. «Ladies and
gentlemen,» he would shout, in a voice that united the musical
characteristics of a foghorn and a steam saw, «Miss ‘Enerietta
Montressor, the popular serio-comic, will now happear.» These
announcements were invariably received with great applause by the
chairman himself, and generally with chilling indifference by the rest of
the audience.

It was also the privilege of the chairman to maintain order, and
reprimand evil-doers. This he usually did very effectively, employing
for the purpose language both fit and forcible. One chairman that I
remember seemed, however, to be curiously deficient in the necessary
qualities for this part of his duty. He was a mild and sleepy little
man, and, unfortunately, he had to preside over an exceptionally rowdy
audience at a small hall in the South-East district. On the night that I
was present, there occurred a great disturbance. «Joss Jessop, the
Monarch of Mirth,» a gentleman evidently high in local request was, for
some reason or other, not forthcoming, and in his place the management
proposed to offer a female performer on the zithern, one Signorina
Ballatino.

The little chairman made the announcement in a nervous, deprecatory tone,
as if he were rather ashamed of it himself. «Ladies and gentlemen,» he
began,—the poor are staunch sticklers for etiquette: I overheard a small
child explaining to her mother one night in Three Colts Street,
Limehouse, that she could not get into the house because there was a
«lady» on the doorstep, drunk,—»Signorina Ballatino, the
world-renowned—»

Here a voice from the gallery requested to know what had become of «Old
Joss,» and was greeted by loud cries of «‘Ear, ‘ear.»

The chairman, ignoring the interruption, continued:

«—the world-renowned performer on the zither—»

«On the whoter?» came in tones of plaintive inquiry from the back of the
hall.

«_Hon_ the zither,» retorted the chairman, waxing mildly indignant; he
meant zithern, but he called it a zither. «A hinstrument well-known to
anybody as ‘as ‘ad any learning.»

This sally was received with much favour, and a gentleman who claimed to
be acquainted with the family history of the interrupter begged the
chairman to excuse that ill-bred person on the ground that his mother
used to get drunk with the twopence a week and never sent him to school.

Cheered by this breath of popularity, our little president endeavoured to
complete his introduction of the Signorina. He again repeated that she
was the world-renowned performer on the zithern; and, undeterred by the
audible remark of a lady in the pit to the effect that she’d «never ‘eard
on ‘er,» added:

«She will now, ladies and gentlemen, with your kind permission, give you
examples of the—»

«Blow yer zither!» here cried out the gentleman who had started the
agitation; «we want Joss Jessop.»

This was the signal for much cheering and shrill whistling, in the midst
of which a wag with a piping voice suggested as a reason for the
favourite’s non-appearance that he had not been paid his last week’s
salary.

A temporary lull occurred at this point; and the chairman, seizing the
opportunity to complete his oft-impeded speech, suddenly remarked, «songs
of the Sunny South»; and immediately sat down and began hammering upon
the table.

Then Signora Ballatino, clothed in the costume of the Sunny South, where
clothes are less essential than in these colder climes, skipped airily
forward, and was most ungallantly greeted with a storm of groans and
hisses. Her beloved instrument was unfeelingly alluded to as a pie-dish,
and she was advised to take it back and get the penny on it. The
chairman, addressed by his Christian name of «Jimmee,» was told to lie
down and let her sing him to sleep. Every time she attempted to start
playing, shouts were raised for Joss.

At length the chairman, overcoming his evident disinclination to take any
sort of hand whatever in the game, rose and gently hinted at the
desirability of silence. The suggestion not meeting with any support, he
proceeded to adopt sterner measures. He addressed himself personally to
the ringleader of the rioters, the man who had first championed the cause
of the absent Joss. This person was a brawny individual, who, judging
from appearances, followed in his business hours the calling of a
coalheaver. «Yes, sir,» said the chairman, pointing a finger towards
him, where he sat in the front row of the gallery; «you, sir, in the
flannel shirt. I can see you. Will you allow this lady to give her
entertainment?»

«No,» answered he of the coalheaving profession, in stentorian tones.

«Then, sir,» said the little chairman, working himself up into a state
suggestive of Jove about to launch a thunderbolt—»then, sir, all I can
say is that you are no gentleman.»

This was a little too much, or rather a good deal too little, for the
Signora Ballatino. She had hitherto been standing in a meek attitude of
pathetic appeal, wearing a fixed smile of ineffable sweetness but she
evidently felt that she could go a bit farther than that herself, even if
she was a lady. Calling the chairman «an old messer,» and telling him
for Gawd’s sake to shut up if that was all he could do for his living,
she came down to the front, and took the case into her own hands.

She did not waste time on the rest of the audience. She went direct for
that coalheaver, and thereupon ensued a slanging match the memory of
which sends a trill of admiration through me even to this day. It was a
battle worthy of the gods. He was a heaver of coals, quick and ready
beyond his kind. During many years sojourn East and South, in the course
of many wanderings from Billingsgate to Limehouse Hole, from Petticoat
Lane to Whitechapel Road; out of eel-pie shop and penny gaff; out of
tavern and street, and court and doss-house, he had gathered together
slang words and terms and phrases, and they came back to him now, and he
stood up against her manfully.

But as well might the lamb stand up against the eagle, when the shadow of
its wings falls across the green pastures, and the wind flies before its
dark oncoming. At the end of two minutes he lay gasping, dazed, and
speechless.

Then she began.

She announced her intention of «wiping down the bloomin’ ‘all» with him,
and making it respectable; and, metaphorically speaking, that is what she
did. Her tongue hit him between the eyes, and knocked him down and
trampled on him. It curled round and round him like a whip, and then it
uncurled and wound the other way. It seized him by the scruff of his
neck, and tossed him up into the air, and caught him as he descended, and
flung him to the ground, and rolled him on it. It played around him like
forked lightning, and blinded him. It danced and shrieked about him like
a host of whirling fiends, and he tried to remember a prayer, and could
not. It touched him lightly on the sole of his foot and the crown of his
head, and his hair stood up straight, and his limbs grew stiff. The
people sitting near him drew away, not feeling it safe to be near, and
left him alone, surrounded by space, and language.

It was the most artistic piece of work of its kind that I have ever
heard. Every phrase she flung at him seemed to have been woven on
purpose to entangle him and to embrace in its choking folds his people
and his gods, to strangle with its threads his every hope, ambition, and
belief. Each term she put upon him clung to him like a garment, and
fitted him without a crease. The last name that she called him one felt
to be, until one heard the next, the one name that he ought to have been
christened by.

For five and three-quarter minutes by the clock she spoke, and never for
one instant did she pause or falter; and in the whole of that onslaught
there was only one weak spot.

That was when she offered to make a better man than he was out of a Guy
Fawkes and a lump of coal. You felt that one lump of coal would not have
been sufficient.

At the end, she gathered herself together for one supreme effort, and
hurled at him an insult so bitter with scorn so sharp with insight into
his career and character, so heavy with prophetic curse, that strong men
drew and held their breath while it passed over them, and women hid their
faces and shivered.

Then she folded her arms, and stood silent; and the house, from floor to
ceiling, rose and cheered her until there was no more breath left in its
lungs.

In that one night she stepped from oblivion into success. She is now a
famous «artiste.»

But she does not call herself Signora Ballatino, and she does not play
upon the zithern. Her name has a homelier sound, and her speciality is
the delineation of coster character.

 

SILHOUETTES.

I fear I must be of a somewhat gruesome turn of mind. My sympathies are
always with the melancholy side of life and nature. I love the chill
October days, when the brown leaves lie thick and sodden underneath your
feet, and a low sound as of stifled sobbing is heard in the damp
woods—the evenings in late autumn time, when the white mist creeps
across the fields, making it seem as though old Earth, feeling the night
air cold to its poor bones, were drawing ghostly bedclothes round its
withered limbs. I like the twilight of the long grey street, sad with
the wailing cry of the distant muffin man. One thinks of him, as,
strangely mitred, he glides by through the gloom, jangling his harsh
bell, as the High Priest of the pale spirit of Indigestion, summoning the
devout to come forth and worship. I find a sweetness in the aching
dreariness of Sabbath afternoons in genteel suburbs—in the evil-laden
desolateness of waste places by the river, when the yellow fog is
stealing inland across the ooze and mud, and the black tide gurgles
softly round worm-eaten piles.

I love the bleak moor, when the thin long line of the winding road lies
white on the darkening heath, while overhead some belated bird, vexed
with itself for being out so late, scurries across the dusky sky,
screaming angrily. I love the lonely, sullen lake, hidden away in
mountain solitudes. I suppose it was my childhood’s surroundings that
instilled in me this affection for sombre hues. One of my earliest
recollections is of a dreary marshland by the sea. By day, the water
stood there in wide, shallow pools. But when one looked in the evening
they were pools of blood that lay there.

It was a wild, dismal stretch of coast. One day, I found myself there
all alone—I forget how it came about—and, oh, how small I felt amid the
sky and the sea and the sandhills! I ran, and ran, and ran, but I never
seemed to move; and then I cried, and screamed, louder and louder, and
the circling seagulls screamed back mockingly at me. It was an «unken»
spot, as they say up North.

In the far back days of the building of the world, a long, high ridge of
stones had been reared up by the sea, dividing the swampy grassland from
the sand. Some of these stones—»pebbles,» so they called them round
about—were as big as a man, and many as big as a fair-sized house; and
when the sea was angry—and very prone he was to anger by that lonely
shore, and very quick to wrath; often have I known him sink to sleep with
a peaceful smile on his rippling waves, to wake in fierce fury before the
night was spent—he would snatch up giant handfuls of these pebbles and
fling and toss them here and there, till the noise of their rolling and
crashing could be heard by the watchers in the village afar off.

«Old Nick’s playing at marbles to-night,» they would say to one another,
pausing to listen. And then the women would close tight their doors, and
try not to hear the sound.

Far out to sea, by where the muddy mouth of the river yawned wide, there
rose ever a thin white line of surf, and underneath those crested waves
there dwelt a very fearsome thing, called the Bar. I grew to hate and be
afraid of this mysterious Bar, for I heard it spoken of always with bated
breath, and I knew that it was very cruel to fisher folk, and hurt them
so sometimes that they would cry whole days and nights together with the
pain, or would sit with white scared faces, rocking themselves to and
fro.

Once when I was playing among the sandhills, there came by a tall, grey
woman, bending beneath a load of driftwood. She paused when nearly
opposite to me, and, facing seaward, fixed her eyes upon the breaking
surf above the Bar. «Ah, how I hate the sight of your white teeth!» she
muttered; then turned and passed on.

Another morning, walking through the village, I heard a low wailing come
from one of the cottages, while a little farther on a group of women were
gathered in the roadway, talking. «Ay,» said one of them, «I thought the
Bar was looking hungry last night.»

So, putting one and the other together, I concluded that the «Bar» must
be an ogre, such as a body reads of in books, who lived in a coral castle
deep below the river’s mouth, and fed upon the fishermen as he caught
them going down to the sea or coming home.

From my bedroom window, on moonlight nights, I could watch the silvery
foam, marking the spot beneath where he lay hid; and I would stand on tip-
toe, peering out, until at length I would come to fancy I could see his
hideous form floating below the waters. Then, as the little white-sailed
boats stole by him, tremblingly, I used to tremble too, lest he should
suddenly open his grim jaws and gulp them down; and when they had all
safely reached the dark, soft sea beyond, I would steal back to the
bedside, and pray to God to make the Bar good, so that he would give up
eating the poor fishermen.

Another incident connected with that coast lives in my mind. It was the
morning after a great storm—great even for that stormy coast—and the
passion-worn waters were still heaving with the memory of a fury that was
dead. Old Nick had scattered his marbles far and wide, and there were
rents and fissures in the pebbly wall such as the oldest fisherman had
never known before. Some of the hugest stones lay tossed a hundred yards
away, and the waters had dug pits here and there along the ridge so deep
that a tall man might stand in some of them, and yet his head not reach
the level of the sand.

Round one of these holes a small crowd was pressing eagerly, while one
man, standing in the hollow, was lifting the few remaining stones off
something that lay there at the bottom. I pushed my way between the
straggling legs of a big fisher lad, and peered over with the rest. A
ray of sunlight streamed down into the pit, and the thing at the bottom
gleamed white. Sprawling there among the black pebbles it looked like a
huge spider. One by one the last stones were lifted away, and the thing
was left bare, and then the crowd looked at one another and shivered.

«Wonder how he got there,» said a woman at length; «somebody must ha’
helped him.»

«Some foreign chap, no doubt,» said the man who had lifted off the
stones; «washed ashore and buried here by the sea.»

«What, six foot below the water-mark, wi’ all they stones atop of him?»
said another.

«That’s no foreign chap,» cried a grizzled old woman, pressing forward.
«What’s that that’s aside him?»

Some one jumped down and took it from the stone where it lay glistening,
and handed it up to her, and she clutched it in her skinny hand. It was
a gold earring, such as fishermen sometimes wear. But this was a
somewhat large one, and of rather unusual shape.

«That’s young Abram Parsons, I tell ‘ee, as lies down there,» cried the
old creature, wildly. «I ought to know. I gave him the pair o’ these
forty year ago.»

It may be only an idea of mine, born of after brooding upon the scene. I
am inclined to think it must be so, for I was only a child at the time,
and would hardly have noticed such a thing. But it seems to my
remembrance that as the old crone ceased, another woman in the crowd
raised her eyes slowly, and fixed them on a withered, ancient man, who
leant upon a stick, and that for a moment, unnoticed by the rest, these
two stood looking strangely at each other.

From these sea-scented scenes, my memory travels to a weary land where
dead ashes lie, and there is blackness—blackness everywhere. Black
rivers flow between black banks; black, stunted trees grow in black
fields; black withered flowers by black wayside. Black roads lead from
blackness past blackness to blackness; and along them trudge black,
savage-looking men and women; and by them black, old-looking children
play grim, unchildish games.

When the sun shines on this black land, it glitters black and hard; and
when the rain falls a black mist rises towards heaven, like the hopeless
prayer of a hopeless soul.

By night it is less dreary, for then the sky gleams with a lurid light,
and out of the darkness the red flames leap, and high up in the air they
gambol and writhe—the demon spawn of that evil land, they seem.

Visitors who came to our house would tell strange tales of this black
land, and some of the stories I am inclined to think were true. One man
said he saw a young bull-dog fly at a boy and pin him by the throat. The
lad jumped about with much sprightliness, and tried to knock the dog
away. Whereupon the boy’s father rushed out of the house, hard by, and
caught his son and heir roughly by the shoulder. «Keep still, thee young
—, can’t ‘ee!» shouted the man angrily; «let ‘un taste blood.»

Another time, I heard a lady tell how she had visited a cottage during a
strike, to find the baby, together with the other children, almost dying
for want of food. «Dear, dear me!» she cried, taking the wee wizened
mite from the mother’s arms, «but I sent you down a quart of milk,
yesterday. Hasn’t the child had it?»

«Theer weer a little coom, thank ‘ee kindly, ma’am,» the father took upon
himself to answer; «but thee see it weer only just enow for the poops.»

We lived in a big lonely house on the edge of a wide common. One night,
I remember, just as I was reluctantly preparing to climb into bed, there
came a wild ringing at the gate, followed by a hoarse, shrieking cry, and
then a frenzied shaking of the iron bars.

Then hurrying footsteps sounded through the house, and the swift opening
and closing of doors; and I slipped back hastily into my knickerbockers
and ran out. The women folk were gathered on the stairs, while my father
stood in the hall, calling to them to be quiet. And still the wild
ringing of the bell continued, and, above it, the hoarse, shrieking cry.

My father opened the door and went out, and we could hear him striding
down the gravel path, and we clung to one another and waited.

After what seemed an endless time, we heard the heavy gate unbarred, and
quickly clanged to, and footsteps returning on the gravel. Then the door
opened again, and my father entered, and behind him a crouching figure
that felt its way with its hands as it crept along, as a blind man might.
The figure stood up when it reached the middle of the hall, and mopped
its eyes with a dirty rag that it carried in its hand; after which it
held the rag over the umbrella-stand and wrung it out, as washerwomen
wring out clothes, and the dark drippings fell into the tray with a dull,
heavy splut.

My father whispered something to my mother, and she went out towards the
back; and, in a little while, we heard the stamping of hoofs—the angry
plunge of a spur-startled horse—the rhythmic throb of the long, straight
gallop, dying away into the distance.

My mother returned and spoke some reassuring words to the servants. My
father, having made fast the door and extinguished all but one or two of
the lights, had gone into a small room on the right of the hall; the
crouching figure, still mopping that moisture from its eyes, following
him. We could hear them talking there in low tones, my father
questioning, the other voice thick and interspersed with short panting
grunts.

We on the stairs huddled closer together, and, in the darkness, I felt my
mother’s arm steal round me and encompass me, so that I was not afraid.
Then we waited, while the silence round our frightened whispers thickened
and grew heavy till the weight of it seemed to hurt us.

At length, out of its depths, there crept to our ears a faint murmur. It
gathered strength like the sound of the oncoming of a wave upon a stony
shore, until it broke in a Babel of vehement voices just outside. After
a few moments, the hubbub ceased, and there came a furious ringing—then
angry shouts demanding admittance.

Some of the women began to cry. My father came out into the hall,
closing the room door behind him, and ordered them to be quiet, so
sternly that they were stunned into silence. The furious ringing was
repeated; and, this time, threats mingled among the hoarse shouts. My
mother’s arm tightened around me, and I could hear the beating of her
heart.

The voices outside the gate sank into a low confused mumbling. Soon they
died away altogether, and the silence flowed back.

My father turned up the hall lamp, and stood listening.

Suddenly, from the back of the house, rose the noise of a great crashing,
followed by oaths and savage laughter.

My father rushed forward, but was borne back; and, in an instant, the
hall was full of grim, ferocious faces. My father, trembling a little
(or else it was the shadow cast by the flickering lamp), and with lips
tight pressed, stood confronting them; while we women and children, too
scared to even cry, shrank back up the stairs.

What followed during the next few moments is, in my memory, only a
confused tumult, above which my father’s high, clear tones rise every now
and again, entreating, arguing, commanding. I see nothing distinctly
until one of the grimmest of the faces thrusts itself before the others,
and a voice which, like Aaron’s rod, swallows up all its fellows, says in
deep, determined bass, «Coom, we’ve had enow chatter, master. Thee mun
give ‘un up, or thee mun get out o’ th’ way an’ we’ll search th’ house
for oursel’.»

Then a light flashed into my father’s eyes that kindled something inside
me, so that the fear went out of me, and I struggled to free myself from
my mother’s arm, for the desire stirred me to fling myself down upon the
grimy faces below, and beat and stamp upon them with my fists. Springing
across the hall, he snatched from the wall where it hung an ancient club,
part of a trophy of old armour, and planting his back against the door
through which they would have to pass, he shouted, «Then be damned to you
all, he’s in this room! Come and fetch him out.»

(I recollect that speech well. I puzzled over it, even at that time,
excited though I was. I had always been told that only low, wicked
people ever used the word «damn,» and I tried to reconcile things, and
failed.)

The men drew back and muttered among themselves. It was an ugly-looking
weapon, studded with iron spikes. My father held it secured to his hand
by a chain, and there was an ugly look about him also, now, that gave his
face a strange likeness to the dark faces round him.

But my mother grew very white and cold, and underneath her breath she
kept crying, «Oh, will they never come—will they never come?» and a
cricket somewhere about the house began to chirp.

Then all at once, without a word, my mother flew down the stairs, and
passed like a flash of light through the crowd of dusky figures. How she
did it I could never understand, for the two heavy bolts had both been
drawn, but the next moment the door stood wide open; and a hum of voices,
cheery with the anticipation of a period of perfect bliss, was borne in
upon the cool night air.

My mother was always very quick of hearing.

* * * * *

Again, I see a wild crowd of grim faces, and my father’s, very pale,
amongst them. But this time the faces are very many, and they come and
go like faces in a dream. The ground beneath my feet is wet and sloppy,
and a black rain is falling. There are women’s faces in the crowd, wild
and haggard, and long skinny arms stretch out threateningly towards my
father, and shrill, frenzied voices call out curses on him. Boys’ faces
also pass me in the grey light, and on some of them there is an impish
grin.

I seem to be in everybody’s way; and to get out of it, I crawl into a
dark, draughty corner and crouch there among cinders. Around me, great
engines fiercely strain and pant like living things fighting beyond their
strength. Their gaunt arms whirl madly above me, and the ground rocks
with their throbbing. Dark figures flit to and fro, pausing from time to
time to wipe the black sweat from their faces.

The pale light fades, and the flame-lit night lies red upon the land. The
flitting figures take strange shapes. I hear the hissing of wheels, the
furious clanking of iron chains, the hoarse shouting of many voices, the
hurrying tread of many feet; and, through all, the wailing and weeping
and cursing that never seem to cease. I drop into a restless sleep, and
dream that I have broken a chapel window, stone-throwing, and have died
and gone to hell.

At length, a cold hand is laid upon my shoulder, and I awake. The wild
faces have vanished and all is silent now, and I wonder if the whole
thing has been a dream. My father lifts me into the dog-cart, and we
drive home through the chill dawn.

My mother opens the door softly as we alight. She does not speak, only
looks her question. «It’s all over, Maggie,» answers my father very
quietly, as he takes off his coat and lays it across a chair; «we’ve got
to begin the world afresh.»

My mother’s arms steal up about his neck; and I, feeling heavy with a
trouble I do not understand, creep off to bed.

 

THE LEASE OF THE «CROSS KEYS.»

This story is about a shop: many stories are. One Sunday evening this
Bishop had to preach a sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The occasion was
a very special and important one, and every God-fearing newspaper in the
kingdom sent its own special representative to report the proceedings.

Now, of the three reporters thus commissioned, one was a man of
appearance so eminently respectable that no one would have thought of
taking him for a journalist. People used to put him down for a County
Councillor or an Archdeacon at the very least. As a matter of fact,
however, he was a sinful man, with a passion for gin. He lived at Bow,
and, on the Sabbath in question, he left his home at five o’clock in the
afternoon, and started to walk to the scene of his labours. The road
from Bow to the City on a wet and chilly Sunday evening is a cheerless
one; who can blame him if on his way he stopped once or twice to comfort
himself with «two» of his favourite beverage? On reaching St. Paul’s he
found he had twenty minutes to spare—just time enough for one final
«nip.» Half way down a narrow court leading out of the Churchyard he
found a quiet little hostelry, and, entering the private bar, whispered
insinuatingly across the counter:

«Two of gin hot, if you please, my dear.»

His voice had the self-satisfied meekness of the successful ecclesiastic,
his bearing suggested rectitude tempered by desire to avoid observation.
The barmaid, impressed by his manner and appearance, drew the attention
of the landlord to him. The landlord covertly took stock of so much of
him as could be seen between his buttoned-up coat and his drawn-down hat,
and wondered how so bland and innocent-looking a gentleman came to know
of gin.

A landlord’s duty, however, is not to wonder, but to serve. The gin was
given to the man, and the man drank it. He liked it. It was good gin:
he was a connoisseur, and he knew. Indeed, so good did it seem to him
that he felt it would be a waste of opportunity not to have another
twopen’orth. Therefore he had a second «go»; maybe a third. Then he
returned to the Cathedral, and sat himself down with his notebook on his
knee and waited.

As the service proceeded there stole over him that spirit of indifference
to all earthly surroundings that religion and drink are alone able to
bestow. He heard the good Bishop’s text and wrote it down. Then he
heard the Bishop’s «sixthly and lastly,» and took that down, and looked
at his notebook and wondered in a peaceful way what had become of the
«firstly» to «fifthly» inclusive. He sat there wondering until the
people round him began to get up and move away, whereupon it struck him
swiftly and suddenly that be had been asleep, and had thereby escaped the
main body of the discourse.

What on earth was he to do? He was representing one of the leading
religious papers. A full report of the sermon was wanted that very
night. Seizing the robe of a passing wandsman, he tremulously inquired
if the Bishop had yet left the Cathedral. The wandsman answered that he
had not, but that he was just on the point of doing so.

«I must see him before he goes!» exclaimed the reporter, excitedly.

«You can’t,» replied the wandsman. The journalist grew frantic.

«Tell him,» he cried, «a penitent sinner desires to speak with him about
the sermon he has just delivered. To-morrow it will be too late.»

The wandsman was touched; so was the Bishop. He said he would see the
poor fellow.

As soon as the door was shut the man, with tears in his eyes, told the
Bishop the truth—leaving out the gin. He said that he was a poor man,
and not in good health, that he had been up half the night before, and
had walked all the way from Bow that evening. He dwelt on the disastrous
results to himself and his family should he fail to obtain a report of
the sermon. The Bishop felt sorry for the man. Also, he was anxious
that his sermon should be reported.

«Well, I trust it will be a warning to you against going to sleep in
church,» he said, with an indulgent smile. «Luckily, I have brought my
notes with me, and if you will promise to be very careful of them, and to
bring them back to me the first thing in the morning, I will lend them to
you.»

With this, the Bishop opened and handed to the man a neat little black
leather bag, inside which lay a neat little roll of manuscript.

«Better take the bag to keep it in,» added the Bishop. «Be sure and let
me have them both back early to-morrow.»

The reporter, when he examined the contents of the bag under a lamp in
the Cathedral vestibule, could hardly believe his good fortune. The
careful Bishop’s notes were so full and clear that for all practical
purposes they were equal to a report. His work was already done. He
felt so pleased with himself that he determined to treat himself to
another «two» of gin, and, with this intent, made his way across to the
little «public» before-mentioned.

«It’s really excellent gin you sell here,» he said to the barmaid when he
had finished; «I think, my dear, I’ll have just one more.»

At eleven the landlord gently but firmly insisted on his leaving, and he
went, assisted, as far as the end of the court, by the potboy. After he
was gone, the landlord noticed a neat little black bag on the seat where
he had been lying. Examining it closely, he discovered a brass plate
between the handles, and upon the brass plate were engraved the owner’s
name and title. Opening the bag, the landlord saw a neat little roll of
manuscript, and across a corner of the manuscript was written the
Bishop’s name and address.

The landlord blew a long, low whistle, and stood with his round eyes wide
open gazing down at the open bag. Then he put on his hat and coat, and
taking the bag, went out down the court, chuckling hugely as he walked.
He went straight to the house of the Resident Canon and rang the bell.

«Tell Mr. —,» he said to the servant, «that I must see him to-night. I
wouldn’t disturb him at this late hour if it wasn’t something very
important.»

The landlord was ushered up. Closing the door softly behind him, he
coughed deferentially.

«Well, Mr. Peters» (I will call him «Peters»), said the Canon, «what is
it?»

«Well, sir,» said Mr. Peters, slowly and deliberately, «it’s about that
there lease o’ mine. I do hope you gentlemen will see your way to makin’
it twenty-one year instead o’ fourteen.»

«God bless the man!» cried the Canon, jumping up indignantly, «you don’t
mean to say you’ve come to me at eleven o’clock on a Sunday night to talk
about your lease?»

«Well, not entirely, sir,» answered Peters, unabashed; «there’s another
little thing I wished to speak to you about, and that’s this»—saying
which, he laid the Bishop’s bag before the Canon and told his story.

The Canon looked at Mr. Peters, and Mr. Peters looked at the Canon.

«There must be some mistake,» said the Canon.

«There’s no mistake,» said the landlord. «I had my suspicions when I
first clapped eyes on him. I seed he wasn’t our usual sort, and I seed
how he tried to hide his face. If he weren’t the Bishop, then I don’t
know a Bishop when I sees one, that’s all. Besides, there’s his bag, and
there’s his sermon.»

Mr. Peters folded his arms and waited. The Canon pondered. Such things
had been known to happen before in Church history. Why not again?

«Does any one know of this besides yourself?» asked the Canon.

«Not a livin’ soul,» replied Mr. Peters, «as yet.»

«I think—I think, Mr. Peters,» said the Canon, «that we may be able to
extend your lease to twenty-one years.»

«Thank you kindly, sir,» said the landlord, and departed. Next morning
the Canon waited on the Bishop and laid the bag before him.

«Oh,» said the Bishop cheerfully, «he’s sent it back by you, has he?»

«He has, sir,» replied the Canon; «and thankful I am that it was to me he
brought it. It is right,» continued the Canon, «that I should inform
your lordship that I am aware of the circumstances under which it left
your hands.»

The Canon’s eye was severe, and the Bishop laughed uneasily.

«I suppose it wasn’t quite the thing for me to do,» he answered
apologetically; «but there, all’s well that ends well,» and the Bishop
laughed.

This stung the Canon. «Oh, sir,» he exclaimed, with a burst of fervour,
«in Heaven’s name—for the sake of our Church, let me entreat—let me
pray you never to let such a thing occur again.»

The Bishop turned upon him angrily.

«Why, what a fuss you make about a little thing!» he cried; then, seeing
the look of agony upon the other’s face, he paused.

«How did you get that bag?» he asked.

«The landlord of the Cross Keys brought it me,» answered the Canon; «you
left it there last night.»

The Bishop gave a gasp, and sat down heavily. When he recovered his
breath, he told the Canon the real history of the case; and the Canon is
still trying to believe it.

Jerome K. Jerome Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) скачать бесплатно

Здесь вы сможете бесплатно прочитать книгу: Jerome K. Jerome «Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)».

<<<Начало

Halliford and Shepperton are both pretty little spots where they touch
the river; but there is nothing remarkable about either of them. There
is a tomb in Shepperton churchyard, however, with a poem on it, and I was
nervous lest Harris should want to get out and fool round it. I saw him
fix a longing eye on the landing-stage as we drew near it, so I managed,
by an adroit movement, to jerk his cap into the water, and in the
excitement of recovering that, and his indignation at my clumsiness, he
forgot all about his beloved graves.

At Weybridge, the Wey (a pretty little stream, navigable for small boats
up to Guildford, and one which I have always been making up my mind to
explore, and never have), the Bourne, and the Basingstoke Canal all enter
the Thames together. The lock is just opposite the town, and the first
thing that we saw, when we came in view of it, was George’s blazer on one
of the lock gates, closer inspection showing that George was inside it.

Montmorency set up a furious barking, I shrieked, Harris roared; George
waved his hat, and yelled back. The lock-keeper rushed out with a drag,
under the impression that somebody had fallen into the lock, and appeared
annoyed at finding that no one had.

George had rather a curious oilskin-covered parcel in his hand. It was
round and flat at one end, with a long straight handle sticking out of
it.

«What’s that?» said Harris — «a frying-pan?»

«No,» said George, with a strange, wild look glittering in his eyes;
«they are all the rage this season; everybody has got them up the river.
It’s a banjo.»

«I never knew you played the banjo!» cried Harris and I, in one breath.

«Not exactly,» replied George: «but it’s very easy, they tell me; and
I’ve got the instruction book!»

 

CHAPTER IX.

GEORGE IS INTRODUCED TO WORK. — HEATHENISH INSTINCTS OF TOW-LINES. -
UNGRATEFUL CONDUCT OF A DOUBLE-SCULLING SKIFF. — TOWERS AND TOWED. — A
USE DISCOVERED FOR LOVERS. — STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF AN ELDERLY LADY. -
MUCH HASTE, LESS SPEED. — BEING TOWED BY GIRLS: EXCITING SENSATION. — THE
MISSING LOCK OR THE HAUNTED RIVER. — MUSIC. — SAVED!

WE made George work, now we had got him. He did not want to work, of
course; that goes without saying. He had had a hard time in the City, so
he explained. Harris, who is callous in his nature, and not prone to
pity, said:

«Ah! and now you are going to have a hard time on the river for a change;
change is good for everyone. Out you get!»

He could not in conscience — not even George’s conscience — object,
though he did suggest that, perhaps, it would be better for him to stop
in the boat, and get tea ready, while Harris and I towed, because getting
tea was such a worrying work, and Harris and I looked tired. The only
reply we made to this, however, was to pass him over the tow-line, and he
took it, and stepped out.

There is something very strange and unaccountable about a tow-line. You
roll it up with as much patience and care as you would take to fold up a
new pair of trousers, and five minutes afterwards, when you pick it up,
it is one ghastly, soul-revolting tangle.

I do not wish to be insulting, but I firmly believe that if you took an
average tow-line, and stretched it out straight across the middle of a
field, and then turned your back on it for thirty seconds, that, when you
looked round again, you would find that it had got itself altogether in a
heap in the middle of the field, and had twisted itself up, and tied
itself into knots, and lost its two ends, and become all loops; and it
would take you a good half-hour, sitting down there on the grass and
swearing all the while, to disentangle it again.

That is my opinion of tow-lines in general. Of course, there may be
honourable exceptions; I do not say that there are not. There may be
tow-lines that are a credit to their profession — conscientious,
respectable tow-lines — tow-lines that do not imagine they are crochet-
work, and try to knit themselves up into antimacassars the instant they
are left to themselves. I say there MAY be such tow-lines; I sincerely
hope there are. But I have not met with them.

This tow-line I had taken in myself just before we had got to the lock.
I would not let Harris touch it, because he is careless. I had looped it
round slowly and cautiously, and tied it up in the middle, and folded it
in two, and laid it down gently at the bottom of the boat. Harris had
lifted it up scientifically, and had put it into George’s hand. George
had taken it firmly, and held it away from him, and had begun to unravel
it as if he were taking the swaddling clothes off a new-born infant; and,
before he had unwound a dozen yards, the thing was more like a badly-made
door-mat than anything else.

It is always the same, and the same sort of thing always goes on in
connection with it. The man on the bank, who is trying to disentangle
it, thinks all the fault lies with the man who rolled it up; and when a
man up the river thinks a thing, he says it.

«What have you been trying to do with it, make a fishing-net of it?
You’ve made a nice mess you have; why couldn’t you wind it up properly,
you silly dummy?» he grunts from time to time as he struggles wildly with
it, and lays it out flat on the tow-path, and runs round and round it,
trying to find the end.

On the other hand, the man who wound it up thinks the whole cause of the
muddle rests with the man who is trying to unwind it.

«It was all right when you took it!» he exclaims indignantly. «Why don’t
you think what you are doing? You go about things in such a slap-dash
style. You’d get a scaffolding pole entangled you would!»

And they feel so angry with one another that they would like to hang each
other with the thing.

Ten minutes go by, and the first man gives a yell and goes mad, and
dances on the rope, and tries to pull it straight by seizing hold of the
first piece that comes to his hand and hauling at it. Of course, this
only gets it into a tighter tangle than ever. Then the second man climbs
out of the boat and comes to help him, and they get in each other’s way,
and hinder one another. They both get hold of the same bit of line, and
pull at it in opposite directions, and wonder where it is caught. In the
end, they do get it clear, and then turn round and find that the boat has
drifted off, and is making straight for the weir.

This really happened once to my own knowledge. It was up by Boveney, one
rather windy morning. We were pulling down stream, and, as we came round
the bend, we noticed a couple of men on the bank. They were looking at
each other with as bewildered and helplessly miserable expression as I
have ever witnessed on any human countenance before or since, and they
held a long tow-line between them. It was clear that something had
happened, so we eased up and asked them what was the matter.

«Why, our boat’s gone off!» they replied in an indignant tone. «We just
got out to disentangle the tow-line, and when we looked round, it was
gone!»

And they seemed hurt at what they evidently regarded as a mean and
ungrateful act on the part of the boat.

We found the truant for them half a mile further down, held by some
rushes, and we brought it back to them. I bet they did not give that
boat another chance for a week.

I shall never forget the picture of those two men walking up and down the
bank with a tow-line, looking for their boat.

One sees a good many funny incidents up the river in connection with
towing. One of the most common is the sight of a couple of towers,
walking briskly along, deep in an animated discussion, while the man in
the boat, a hundred yards behind them, is vainly shrieking to them to
stop, and making frantic signs of distress with a scull. Something has
gone wrong; the rudder has come off, or the boat-hook has slipped
overboard, or his hat has dropped into the water and is floating rapidly
down stream.

He calls to them to stop, quite gently and politely at first.

«Hi! stop a minute, will you?» he shouts cheerily. «I’ve dropped my hat
over-board.»

Then: «Hi! Tom — Dick! can’t you hear?» not quite so affably this time.

Then: «Hi! Confound YOU, you dunder-headed idiots! Hi! stop! Oh you -

After that he springs up, and dances about, and roars himself red in the
face, and curses everything he knows. And the small boys on the bank
stop and jeer at him, and pitch stones at him as he is pulled along past
them, at the rate of four miles an hour, and can’t get out.

Much of this sort of trouble would be saved if those who are towing would
keep remembering that they are towing, and give a pretty frequent look
round to see how their man is getting on. It is best to let one person
tow. When two are doing it, they get chattering, and forget, and the
boat itself, offering, as it does, but little resistance, is of no real
service in reminding them of the fact.

As an example of how utterly oblivious a pair of towers can be to their
work, George told us, later on in the evening, when we were discussing
the subject after supper, of a very curious instance.

He and three other men, so he said, were sculling a very heavily laden
boat up from Maidenhead one evening, and a little above Cookham lock they
noticed a fellow and a girl, walking along the towpath, both deep in an
apparently interesting and absorbing conversation. They were carrying a
boat-hook between them, and, attached to the boat-hook was a tow-line,
which trailed behind them, its end in the water. No boat was near, no
boat was in sight. There must have been a boat attached to that tow-line
at some time or other, that was certain; but what had become of it, what
ghastly fate had overtaken it, and those who had been left in it, was
buried in mystery. Whatever the accident may have been, however, it had
in no way disturbed the young lady and gentleman, who were towing. They
had the boat-hook and they had the line, and that seemed to be all that
they thought necessary to their work.

George was about to call out and wake them up, but, at that moment, a
bright idea flashed across him, and he didn’t. He got the hitcher
instead, and reached over, and drew in the end of the tow-line; and they
made a loop in it, and put it over their mast, and then they tidied up
the sculls, and went and sat down in the stern, and lit their pipes.

And that young man and young woman towed those four hulking chaps and a
heavy boat up to Marlow.

George said he never saw so much thoughtful sadness concentrated into one
glance before, as when, at the lock, that young couple grasped the idea
that, for the last two miles, they had been towing the wrong boat.
George fancied that, if it had not been for the restraining influence of
the sweet woman at his side, the young man might have given way to
violent language.

The maiden was the first to recover from her surprise, and, when she did,
she clasped her hands, and said, wildly:

«Oh, Henry, then WHERE is auntie?»

«Did they ever recover the old lady?» asked Harris.

George replied he did not know.

Another example of the dangerous want of sympathy between tower and towed
was witnessed by George and myself once up near Walton. It was where the
tow-path shelves gently down into the water, and we were camping on the
opposite bank, noticing things in general. By-and-by a small boat came
in sight, towed through the water at a tremendous pace by a powerful
barge horse, on which sat a very small boy. Scattered about the boat, in
dreamy and reposeful attitudes, lay five fellows, the man who was
steering having a particularly restful appearance.

«I should like to see him pull the wrong line,» murmured George, as they
passed. And at that precise moment the man did it, and the boat rushed
up the bank with a noise like the ripping up of forty thousand linen
sheets. Two men, a hamper, and three oars immediately left the boat on
the larboard side, and reclined on the bank, and one and a half moments
afterwards, two other men disembarked from the starboard, and sat down
among boat-hooks and sails and carpet-bags and bottles. The last man
went on twenty yards further, and then got out on his head.

This seemed to sort of lighten the boat, and it went on much easier, the
small boy shouting at the top of his voice, and urging his steed into a
gallop. The fellows sat up and stared at one another. It was some
seconds before they realised what had happened to them, but, when they
did, they began to shout lustily for the boy to stop. He, however, was
too much occupied with the horse to hear them, and we watched them,
flying after him, until the distance hid them from view.

I cannot say I was sorry at their mishap. Indeed, I only wish that all
the young fools who have their boats towed in this fashion — and plenty
do — could meet with similar misfortunes. Besides the risk they run
themselves, they become a danger and an annoyance to every other boat
they pass. Going at the pace they do, it is impossible for them to get
out of anybody else’s way, or for anybody else to get out of theirs.
Their line gets hitched across your mast, and overturns you, or it
catches somebody in the boat, and either throws them into the water, or
cuts their face open. The best plan is to stand your ground, and be
prepared to keep them off with the butt-end of a mast.

Of all experiences in connection with towing, the most exciting is being
towed by girls. It is a sensation that nobody ought to miss. It takes
three girls to tow always; two hold the rope, and the other one runs
round and round, and giggles. They generally begin by getting themselves
tied up. They get the line round their legs, and have to sit down on the
path and undo each other, and then they twist it round their necks, and
are nearly strangled. They fix it straight, however, at last, and start
off at a run, pulling the boat along at quite a dangerous pace. At the
end of a hundred yards they are naturally breathless, and suddenly stop,
and all sit down on the grass and laugh, and your boat drifts out to mid-
stream and turns round, before you know what has happened, or can get
hold of a scull. Then they stand up, and are surprised.

«Oh, look!» they say; «he’s gone right out into the middle.»

They pull on pretty steadily for a bit, after this, and then it all at
once occurs to one of them that she will pin up her frock, and they ease
up for the purpose, and the boat runs aground.

You jump up, and push it off, and you shout to them not to stop.

«Yes. What’s the matter?» they shout back.

«Don’t stop,» you roar.

«Don’t what?»

«Don’t stop — go on — go on!»

«Go back, Emily, and see what it is they want,» says one; and Emily comes
back, and asks what it is.

«What do you want?» she says; «anything happened?»

» No,» you reply, «it’s all right; only go on, you know — don’t stop.»

«Why not?»

«Why, we can’t steer, if you keep stopping. You must keep some way on
the boat.»

«Keep some what?»

«Some way — you must keep the boat moving.»

«Oh, all right, I’ll tell `em. Are we doing it all right?»

«Oh, yes, very nicely, indeed, only don’t stop.»

«It doesn’t seem difficult at all. I thought it was so hard.»

«Oh, no, it’s simple enough. You want to keep on steady at it, that’s
all.»

«I see. Give me out my red shawl, it’s under the cushion.»

You find the shawl, and hand it out, and by this time another one has
come back and thinks she will have hers too, and they take Mary’s on
chance, and Mary does not want it, so they bring it back and have a
pocket-comb instead. It is about twenty minutes before they get off
again, and, at the next corner, they see a cow, and you have to leave the
boat to chivy the cow out of their way.

There is never a dull moment in the boat while girls are towing it.

George got the line right after a while, and towed us steadily on to
Penton Hook. There we discussed the important question of camping. We
had decided to sleep on board that night, and we had either to lay up
just about there, or go on past Staines. It seemed early to think about
shutting up then, however, with the sun still in the heavens, and we
settled to push straight on for Runnymead, three and a half miles
further, a quiet wooded part of the river, and where there is good
shelter.

We all wished, however, afterward that we had stopped at Penton Hook.
Three or four miles up stream is a trifle, early in the morning, but it
is a weary pull at the end of a long day. You take no interest in the
scenery during these last few miles. You do not chat and laugh. Every
half-mile you cover seems like two. You can hardly believe you are only
where you are, and you are convinced that the map must be wrong; and,
when you have trudged along for what seems to you at least ten miles, and
still the lock is not in sight, you begin to seriously fear that somebody
must have sneaked it, and run off with it.

I remember being terribly upset once up the river (in a figurative sense,
I mean). I was out with a young lady — cousin on my mother’s side — and
we were pulling down to Goring. It was rather late, and we were anxious
to get in — at least SHE was anxious to get in. It was half-past six
when we reached Benson’s lock, and dusk was drawing on, and she began to
get excited then. She said she must be in to supper. I said it was a
thing I felt I wanted to be in at, too; and I drew out a map I had with
me to see exactly how far it was. I saw it was just a mile and a half to
the next lock — Wallingford — and five on from there to Cleeve.

«Oh, it’s all right!» I said. «We’ll be through the next lock before
seven, and then there is only one more;» and I settled down and pulled
steadily away.

We passed the bridge, and soon after that I asked if she saw the lock.
She said no, she did not see any lock; and I said, «Oh!» and pulled on.
Another five minutes went by, and then I asked her to look again.

«No,» she said; «I can’t see any signs of a lock.»

«You — you are sure you know a lock, when you do see one?» I asked
hesitatingly, not wishing to offend her.

The question did offend her, however, and she suggested that I had better
look for myself; so I laid down the sculls, and took a view. The river
stretched out straight before us in the twilight for about a mile; not a
ghost of a lock was to be seen.

«You don’t think we have lost our way, do you?» asked my companion.

I did not see how that was possible; though, as I suggested, we might
have somehow got into the weir stream, and be making for the falls.

This idea did not comfort her in the least, and she began to cry. She
said we should both be drowned, and that it was a judgment on her for
coming out with me.

It seemed an excessive punishment, I thought; but my cousin thought not,
and hoped it would all soon be over.

I tried to reassure her, and to make light of the whole affair. I said
that the fact evidently was that I was not rowing as fast as I fancied I
was, but that we should soon reach the lock now; and I pulled on for
another mile.

Then I began to get nervous myself. I looked again at the map. There
was Wallingford lock, clearly marked, a mile and a half below Benson’s.
It was a good, reliable map; and, besides, I recollected the lock myself.
I had been through it twice. Where were we? What had happened to us? I
began to think it must be all a dream, and that I was really asleep in
bed, and should wake up in a minute, and be told it was past ten.

I asked my cousin if she thought it could be a dream, and she replied
that she was just about to ask me the same question; and then we both
wondered if we were both asleep, and if so, who was the real one that was
dreaming, and who was the one that was only a dream; it got quite
interesting.

I still went on pulling, however, and still no lock came in sight, and
the river grew more and more gloomy and mysterious under the gathering
shadows of night, and things seemed to be getting weird and uncanny. I
thought of hobgoblins and banshees, and will-o’-the-wisps, and those
wicked girls who sit up all night on rocks, and lure people into whirl-
pools and things; and I wished I had been a better man, and knew more
hymns; and in the middle of these reflections I heard the blessed strains
of «He’s got `em on,» played, badly, on a concertina, and knew that we
were saved.

I do not admire the tones of a concertina, as a rule; but, oh! how
beautiful the music seemed to us both then — far, far more beautiful than
the voice of Orpheus or the lute of Apollo, or anything of that sort
could have sounded. Heavenly melody, in our then state of mind, would
only have still further harrowed us. A soul-moving harmony, correctly
performed, we should have taken as a spirit-warning, and have given up
all hope. But about the strains of «He’s got `em on,» jerked
spasmodically, and with involuntary variations, out of a wheezy
accordion, there was something singularly human and reassuring.

The sweet sounds drew nearer, and soon the boat from which they were
worked lay alongside us.

It contained a party of provincial `Arrys and `Arriets, out for a
moonlight sail. (There was not any moon, but that was not their fault.)
I never saw more attractive, lovable people in all my life. I hailed
them, and asked if they could tell me the way to Wallingford lock; and I
explained that I had been looking for it for the last two hours.

«Wallingford lock!» they answered. «Lor’ love you, sir, that’s been done
away with for over a year. There ain’t no Wallingford lock now, sir.
You’re close to Cleeve now. Blow me tight if `ere ain’t a gentleman been
looking for Wallingford lock, Bill!»

I had never thought of that. I wanted to fall upon all their necks and
bless them; but the stream was running too strong just there to allow of
this, so I had to content myself with mere cold-sounding words of
gratitude.

We thanked them over and over again, and we said it was a lovely night,
and we wished them a pleasant trip, and, I think, I invited them all to
come and spend a week with me, and my cousin said her mother would be so
pleased to see them. And we sang the soldiers’ chorus out of FAUST, and
got home in time for supper, after all.

 

CHAPTER X.

OUR FIRST NIGHT. — UNDER CANVAS. — AN APPEAL FOR HELP. — CONTRARINESS OF
TEA-KETTLES, HOW TO OVERCOME. — SUPPER. — HOW TO FEEL VIRTUOUS. — WANTED!
A COMFORTABLY-APPOINTED, WELL-DRAINED DESERT ISLAND, NEIGHBOURHOOD OF
SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN PREFERRED. — FUNNY THING THAT HAPPENED TO GEORGE’S
FATHER. — A RESTLESS NIGHT.

HARRIS and I began to think that Bell Weir lock must have been done away
with after the same manner. George had towed us up to Staines, and we
had taken the boat from there, and it seemed that we were dragging fifty
tons after us, and were walking forty miles. It was half-past seven when
we were through, and we all got in, and sculled up close to the left
bank, looking out for a spot to haul up in.

We had originally intended to go on to Magna Charta Island, a sweetly
pretty part of the river, where it winds through a soft, green valley,
and to camp in one of the many picturesque inlets to be found round that
tiny shore. But, somehow, we did not feel that we yearned for the
picturesque nearly so much now as we had earlier in the day. A bit of
water between a coal-barge and a gas-works would have quite satisfied us
for that night. We did not want scenery. We wanted to have our supper
and go to bed. However, we did pull up to the point — «Picnic Point,» it
is called — and dropped into a very pleasant nook under a great elm-tree,
to the spreading roots of which we fastened the boat.

Then we thought we were going to have supper (we had dispensed with tea,
so as to save time), but George said no; that we had better get the
canvas up first, before it got quite dark, and while we could see what we
were doing. Then, he said, all our work would be done, and we could sit
down to eat with an easy mind.

That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had bargained
for. It looked so simple in the abstract. You took five iron arches,
like gigantic croquet hoops, and fitted them up over the boat, and then
stretched the canvas over them, and fastened it down: it would take quite
ten minutes, we thought.

That was an under-estimate.

We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets placed for
them. You would not imagine this to be dangerous work; but, looking back
now, the wonder to me is that any of us are alive to tell the tale. They
were not hoops, they were demons. First they would not fit into their
sockets at all, and we had to jump on them, and kick them, and hammer at
them with the boat-hook; and, when they were in, it turned out that they
were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and they had to come
out again.

But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and struggled with
them for five minutes, when they would jump up suddenly, and try and
throw us into the water and drown us. They had hinges in the middle,
and, when we were not looking, they nipped us with these hinges in
delicate parts of the body; and, while we were wrestling with one side of
the hoop, and endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty, the other side
would come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the head.

We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done was to
arrange the covering over them. George unrolled it, and fastened one end
over the nose of the boat. Harris stood in the middle to take it from
George and roll it on to me, and I kept by the stern to receive it. It
was a long time coming down to me. George did his part all right, but it
was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.

How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself; but by
some mysterious process or other he succeeded, after ten minutes of
superhuman effort, in getting himself completely rolled up in it. He was
so firmly wrapped round and tucked in and folded over, that he could not
get out. He, of course, made frantic struggles for freedom — the
birthright of every Englishman, — and, in doing so (I learned this
afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at Harris,
began to struggle too, and got himself entangled and rolled up.

I knew nothing about all this at the time. I did not understand the
business at all myself. I had been told to stand where I was, and wait
till the canvas came to me, and Montmorency and I stood there and waited,
both as good as gold. We could see the canvas being violently jerked and
tossed about, pretty considerably; but we supposed this was part of the
method, and did not interfere.

We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath it, and we
guessed that they were finding the job rather troublesome, and concluded
that we would wait until things had got a little simpler before we joined
in.

We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and more
involved, until, at last, George’s head came wriggling out over the side
of the boat, and spoke up.

It said:

«Give us a hand here, can’t you, you cuckoo; standing there like a
stuffed mummy, when you see we are both being suffocated, you dummy!»

I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and undid them; not
before it was time, either, for Harris was nearly black in the face.

It took us half an hour’s hard labour, after that, before it was properly
up, and then we cleared the decks, and got out supper. We put the kettle
on to boil, up in the nose of the boat, and went down to the stern and
pretended to take no notice of it, but set to work to get the other
things out.

That is the only way to get a kettle to boil up the river. If it sees
that you are waiting for it and are anxious, it will never even sing.
You have to go away and begin your meal, as if you were not going to have
any tea at all. You must not even look round at it. Then you will soon
hear it sputtering away, mad to be made into tea.

It is a good plan, too, if you are in a great hurry, to talk very loudly
to each other about how you don’t need any tea, and are not going to have
any. You get near the kettle, so that it can overhear you, and then you
shout out, «I don’t want any tea; do you, George?» to which George shouts
back, «Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll have lemonade instead — tea’s so
indigestible.» Upon which the kettle boils over, and puts the stove out.

We adopted this harmless bit of trickery, and the result was that, by the
time everything else was ready, the tea was waiting. Then we lit the
lantern, and squatted down to supper.

We wanted that supper.

For five-and-thirty minutes not a sound was heard throughout the length
and breadth of that boat, save the clank of cutlery and crockery, and the
steady grinding of four sets of molars. At the end of five-and-thirty
minutes, Harris said, «Ah!» and took his left leg out from under him and
put his right one there instead.

Five minutes afterwards, George said, «Ah!» too, and threw his plate out
on the bank; and, three minutes later than that, Montmorency gave the
first sign of contentment he had exhibited since we had started, and
rolled over on his side, and spread his legs out; and then I said, «Ah!»
and bent my head back, and bumped it against one of the hoops, but I did
not mind it. I did not even swear.

How good one feels when one is full — how satisfied with ourselves and
with the world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear
conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does
the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.
One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested
meal — so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive
organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so.
It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it
says, «Work!» After beefsteak and porter, it says, «Sleep!» After a cup
of tea (two spoonsful for each cup, and don’t let it stand more than
three minutes), it says to the brain, «Now, rise, and show your strength.
Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and
into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-
like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes
of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!»

After hot muffins, it says, «Be dull and soulless, like a beast of the
field — a brainless animal, with listless eye, unlit by any ray of fancy,
or of hope, or fear, or love, or life.» And after brandy, taken in
sufficient quantity, it says, «Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that
your fellow-men may laugh — drivel in folly, and splutter in senseless
sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor man whose wit and will are
drowned, like kittens, side by side, in half an inch of alcohol.»

We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after
morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach,
and diet it with care and judgment. Then virtue and contentment will
come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own; and
you will be a good citizen, a loving husband, and a tender father — a
noble, pious man.

Before our supper, Harris and George and I were quarrelsome and snappy
and ill-tempered; after our supper, we sat and beamed on one another, and
we beamed upon the dog, too. We loved each other, we loved everybody.
Harris, in moving about, trod on George’s corn. Had this happened before
supper, George would have expressed wishes and desires concerning
Harris’s fate in this world and the next that would have made a
thoughtful man shudder.

As it was, he said: «Steady, old man; `ware wheat.»

And Harris, instead of merely observing, in his most unpleasant tones,
that a fellow could hardly help treading on some bit of George’s foot, if
he had to move about at all within ten yards of where George was sitting,
suggesting that George never ought to come into an ordinary sized boat
with feet that length, and advising him to hang them over the side, as he
would have done before supper, now said: «Oh, I’m so sorry, old chap; I
hope I haven’t hurt you.»

And George said: «Not at all;» that it was his fault; and Harris said no,
it was his.

It was quite pretty to hear them.

We lit our pipes, and sat, looking out on the quiet night, and talked.

George said why could not we be always like this — away from the world,
with its sin and temptation, leading sober, peaceful lives, and doing
good. I said it was the sort of thing I had often longed for myself; and
we discussed the possibility of our going away, we four, to some handy,
well-fitted desert island, and living there in the woods.

Harris said that the danger about desert islands, as far as he had heard,
was that they were so damp: but George said no, not if properly drained.

And then we got on to drains, and that put George in mind of a very funny
thing that happened to his father once. He said his father was
travelling with another fellow through Wales, and, one night, they
stopped at a little inn, where there were some other fellows, and they
joined the other fellows, and spent the evening with them.

They had a very jolly evening, and sat up late, and, by the time they
came to go to bed, they (this was when George’s father was a very young
man) were slightly jolly, too. They (George’s father and George’s
father’s friend) were to sleep in the same room, but in different beds.
They took the candle, and went up. The candle lurched up against the
wall when they got into the room, and went out, and they had to undress
and grope into bed in the dark. This they did; but, instead of getting
into separate beds, as they thought they were doing, they both climbed
into the same one without knowing it — one getting in with his head at
the top, and the other crawling in from the opposite side of the compass,
and lying with his feet on the pillow.

There was silence for a moment, and then George’s father said:

«Joe!»

«What’s the matter, Tom?» replied Joe’s voice from the other end of the
bed.

«Why, there’s a man in my bed,» said George’s father; «here’s his feet on
my pillow.»

«Well, it’s an extraordinary thing, Tom,» answered the other; «but I’m
blest if there isn’t a man in my bed, too!»

«What are you going to do?» asked George’s father.

«Well, I’m going to chuck him out,» replied Joe.

«So am I,» said George’s father, valiantly.

There was a brief struggle, followed by two heavy bumps on the floor, and
then a rather doleful voice said:

«I say, Tom!»

«Yes!»

«How have you got on?»

«Well, to tell you the truth, my man’s chucked me out.»

«So’s mine! I say, I don’t think much of this inn, do you?»

«What was the name of that inn?» said Harris.

«The Pig and Whistle,» said George. «Why?»

«Ah, no, then it isn’t the same,» replied Harris.

«What do you mean?» queried George.

«Why it’s so curious,» murmured Harris, «but precisely that very same
thing happened to MY father once at a country inn. I’ve often heard him
tell the tale. I thought it might have been the same inn.»

We turned in at ten that night, and I thought I should sleep well, being
tired; but I didn’t. As a rule, I undress and put my head on the pillow,
and then somebody bangs at the door, and says it is half-past eight: but,
to-night, everything seemed against me; the novelty of it all, the
hardness of the boat, the cramped position (I was lying with my feet
under one seat, and my head on another), the sound of the lapping water
round the boat, and the wind among the branches, kept me restless and
disturbed.

I did get to sleep for a few hours, and then some part of the boat which
seemed to have grown up in the night — for it certainly was not there
when we started, and it had disappeared by the morning — kept digging
into my spine. I slept through it for a while, dreaming that I had
swallowed a sovereign, and that they were cutting a hole in my back with
a gimlet, so as to try and get it out. I thought it very unkind of them,
and I told them I would owe them the money, and they should have it at
the end of the month. But they would not hear of that, and said it would
be much better if they had it then, because otherwise the interest would
accumulate so. I got quite cross with them after a bit, and told them
what I thought of them, and then they gave the gimlet such an
excruciating wrench that I woke up.

The boat seemed stuffy, and my head ached; so I thought I would step out
into the cool night-air. I slipped on what clothes I could find about -
some of my own, and some of George’s and Harris’s — and crept under the
canvas on to the bank.

It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk, and left the quiet earth
alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush,
while we her children slept, they were talking with her, their sister -
conversing of mighty mysteries in voices too vast and deep for childish
human ears to catch the sound.

They awe us, these strange stars, so cold, so clear. We are as children
whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the god they
have been taught to worship but know not; and, standing where the echoing
dome spans the long vista of the shadowy light, glance up, half hoping,
half afraid to see some awful vision hovering there.

And yet it seems so full of comfort and of strength, the night. In its
great presence, our small sorrows creep away, ashamed. The day has been
so full of fret and care, and our hearts have been so full of evil and of
bitter thoughts, and the world has seemed so hard and wrong to us. Then
Night, like some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our
fevered head, and turns our little tear-stained faces up to hers, and
smiles; and, though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and
lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone.

Sometimes, our pain is very deep and real, and we stand before her very
silent, because there is no language for our pain, only a moan. Night’s
heart is full of pity for us: she cannot ease our aching; she takes our
hand in hers, and the little world grows very small and very far away
beneath us, and, borne on her dark wings, we pass for a moment into a
mightier Presence than her own, and in the wondrous light of that great
Presence, all human life lies like a book before us, and we know that
Pain and Sorrow are but the angels of God.

Only those who have worn the crown of suffering can look upon that
wondrous light; and they, when they return, may not speak of it, or tell
the mystery they know.

Once upon a time, through a strange country, there rode some goodly
knights, and their path lay by a deep wood, where tangled briars grew
very thick and strong, and tore the flesh of them that lost their way
therein. And the leaves of the trees that grew in the wood were very
dark and thick, so that no ray of light came through the branches to
lighten the gloom and sadness.

And, as they passed by that dark wood, one knight of those that rode,
missing his comrades, wandered far away, and returned to them no more;
and they, sorely grieving, rode on without him, mourning him as one dead.

Now, when they reached the fair castle towards which they had been
journeying, they stayed there many days, and made merry; and one night,
as they sat in cheerful ease around the logs that burned in the great
hall, and drank a loving measure, there came the comrade they had lost,
and greeted them. His clothes were ragged, like a beggar’s, and many sad
wounds were on his sweet flesh, but upon his face there shone a great
radiance of deep joy.

And they questioned him, asking him what had befallen him: and he told
them how in the dark wood he had lost his way, and had wandered many days
and nights, till, torn and bleeding, he had lain him down to die.

Then, when he was nigh unto death, lo! through the savage gloom there
came to him a stately maiden, and took him by the hand and led him on
through devious paths, unknown to any man, until upon the darkness of the
wood there dawned a light such as the light of day was unto but as a
little lamp unto the sun; and, in that wondrous light, our way-worn
knight saw as in a dream a vision, and so glorious, so fair the vision
seemed, that of his bleeding wounds he thought no more, but stood as one
entranced, whose joy is deep as is the sea, whereof no man can tell the
depth.

And the vision faded, and the knight, kneeling upon the ground, thanked
the good saint who into that sad wood had strayed his steps, so he had
seen the vision that lay there hid.

And the name of the dark forest was Sorrow; but of the vision that the
good knight saw therein we may not speak nor tell.

 

CHAPTER XI.

HOW GEORGE, ONCE UPON A TIME, GOT UP EARLY IN THE MORNING. — GEORGE,
HARRIS, AND MONTMORENCY DO NOT LIKE THE LOOK OF THE COLD WATER. — HEROISM
AND DETERMINATION ON THE PART OF J. — GEORGE AND HIS SHIRT: STORY WITH A
MORAL. — HARRIS AS COOK. — HISTORICAL RETROSPECT, SPECIALLY INSERTED FOR
THE USE OF SCHOOLS.

I WOKE at six the next morning; and found George awake too. We both
turned round, and tried to go to sleep again, but we could not. Had
there been any particular reason why we should not have gone to sleep
again, but have got up and dressed then and there, we should have dropped
off while we were looking at our watches, and have slept till ten. As
there was no earthly necessity for our getting up under another two hours
at the very least, and our getting up at that time was an utter
absurdity, it was only in keeping with the natural cussedness of things
in general that we should both feel that lying down for five minutes more
would be death to us.

George said that the same kind of thing, only worse, had happened to him
some eighteen months ago, when he was lodging by himself in the house of
a certain Mrs. Gippings. He said his watch went wrong one evening, and
stopped at a quarter-past eight. He did not know this at the time
because, for some reason or other, he forgot to wind it up when he went
to bed (an unusual occurrence with him), and hung it up over his pillow
without ever looking at the thing.

It was in the winter when this happened, very near the shortest day, and
a week of fog into the bargain, so the fact that it was still very dark
when George woke in the morning was no guide to him as to the time. He
reached up, and hauled down his watch. It was a quarter-past eight.

«Angels and ministers of grace defend us!» exclaimed George; «and here
have I got to be in the City by nine. Why didn’t somebody call me? Oh,
this is a shame!» And he flung the watch down, and sprang out of bed,
and had a cold bath, and washed himself, and dressed himself, and shaved
himself in cold water because there was not time to wait for the hot, and
then rushed and had another look at the watch.

Whether the shaking it had received in being thrown down on the bed had
started it, or how it was, George could not say, but certain it was that
from a quarter-past eight it had begun to go, and now pointed to twenty
minutes to nine.

George snatched it up, and rushed downstairs. In the sitting-room, all
was dark and silent: there was no fire, no breakfast. George said it was
a wicked shame of Mrs. G., and he made up his mind to tell her what he
thought of her when he came home in the evening. Then he dashed on his
great-coat and hat, and, seizing his umbrella, made for the front door.
The door was not even unbolted. George anathematized Mrs. G. for a lazy
old woman, and thought it was very strange that people could not get up
at a decent, respectable time, unlocked and unbolted the door, and ran
out.

He ran hard for a quarter of a mile, and at the end of that distance it
began to be borne in upon him as a strange and curious thing that there
were so few people about, and that there were no shops open. It was
certainly a very dark and foggy morning, but still it seemed an unusual
course to stop all business on that account. HE had to go to business:
why should other people stop in bed merely because it was dark and foggy!

At length he reached Holborn. Not a shutter was down! not a bus was
about! There were three men in sight, one of whom was a policeman; a
market-cart full of cabbages, and a dilapidated looking cab. George
pulled out his watch and looked at it: it was five minutes to nine! He
stood still and counted his pulse. He stooped down and felt his legs.
Then, with his watch still in his hand, he went up to the policeman, and
asked him if he knew what the time was.

«What’s the time?» said the man, eyeing George up and down with evident
suspicion; «why, if you listen you will hear it strike.»

George listened, and a neighbouring clock immediately obliged.

«But it’s only gone three!» said George in an injured tone, when it had
finished.

«Well, and how many did you want it to go?» replied the constable.

«Why, nine,» said George, showing his watch.

«Do you know where you live?» said the guardian of public order,
severely.

George thought, and gave the address.

«Oh! that’s where it is, is it?» replied the man; «well, you take my
advice and go there quietly, and take that watch of yours with you; and
don’t let’s have any more of it.»

And George went home again, musing as he walked along, and let himself
in.

At first, when he got in, he determined to undress and go to bed again;
but when he thought of the redressing and re-washing, and the having of
another bath, he determined he would not, but would sit up and go to
sleep in the easy-chair.

But he could not get to sleep: he never felt more wakeful in his life; so
he lit the lamp and got out the chess-board, and played himself a game of
chess. But even that did not enliven him: it seemed slow somehow; so he
gave chess up and tried to read. He did not seem able to take any sort
of interest in reading either, so he put on his coat again and went out
for a walk.

It was horribly lonesome and dismal, and all the policemen he met
regarded him with undisguised suspicion, and turned their lanterns on him
and followed him about, and this had such an effect upon him at last that
he began to feel as if he really had done something, and he got to
slinking down the by-streets and hiding in dark doorways when he heard
the regulation flip-flop approaching.

Of course, this conduct made the force only more distrustful of him than
ever, and they would come and rout him out and ask him what he was doing
there; and when he answered, «Nothing,» he had merely come out for a
stroll (it was then four o’clock in the morning), they looked as though
they did not believe him, and two plain-clothes constables came home with
him to see if he really did live where he had said he did. They saw him
go in with his key, and then they took up a position opposite and watched
the house.

He thought he would light the fire when he got inside, and make himself
some breakfast, just to pass away the time; but he did not seem able to
handle anything from a scuttleful of coals to a teaspoon without dropping
it or falling over it, and making such a noise that he was in mortal fear
that it would wake Mrs. G. up, and that she would think it was burglars
and open the window and call «Police!» and then these two detectives
would rush in and handcuff him, and march him off to the police-court.

He was in a morbidly nervous state by this time, and he pictured the
trial, and his trying to explain the circumstances to the jury, and
nobody believing him, and his being sentenced to twenty years’ penal
servitude, and his mother dying of a broken heart. So he gave up trying
to get breakfast, and wrapped himself up in his overcoat and sat in the
easy-chair till Mrs. G came down at half-past seven.

He said he had never got up too early since that morning: it had been
such a warning to him.

We had been sitting huddled up in our rugs while George had been telling
me this true story, and on his finishing it I set to work to wake up
Harris with a scull. The third prod did it: and he turned over on the
other side, and said he would be down in a minute, and that he would have
his lace-up boots. We soon let him know where he was, however, by the
aid of the hitcher, and he sat up suddenly, sending Montmorency, who had
been sleeping the sleep of the just right on the middle of his chest,
sprawling across the boat.

Then we pulled up the canvas, and all four of us poked our heads out over
the off-side, and looked down at the water and shivered. The idea,
overnight, had been that we should get up early in the morning, fling off
our rugs and shawls, and, throwing back the canvas, spring into the river
with a joyous shout, and revel in a long delicious swim. Somehow, now
the morning had come, the notion seemed less tempting. The water looked
damp and chilly: the wind felt cold.

«Well, who’s going to be first in?» said Harris at last.

There was no rush for precedence. George settled the matter so far as he
was concerned by retiring into the boat and pulling on his socks.
Montmorency gave vent to an involuntary howl, as if merely thinking of
the thing had given him the horrors; and Harris said it would be so
difficult to get into the boat again, and went back and sorted out his
trousers.

I did not altogether like to give in, though I did not relish the plunge.
There might be snags about, or weeds, I thought. I meant to compromise
matters by going down to the edge and just throwing the water over
myself; so I took a towel and crept out on the bank and wormed my way
along on to the branch of a tree that dipped down into the water.

It was bitterly cold. The wind cut like a knife. I thought I would not
throw the water over myself after all. I would go back into the boat and
dress; and I turned to do so; and, as I turned, the silly branch gave
way, and I and the towel went in together with a tremendous splash, and I
was out mid-stream with a gallon of Thames water inside me before I knew
what had happened.

«By Jove! old J.’s gone in,» I heard Harris say, as I came blowing to the
surface. «I didn’t think he’d have the pluck to do it. Did you?»

«Is it all right?» sung out George.

«Lovely,» I spluttered back. «You are duffers not to come in. I
wouldn’t have missed this for worlds. Why won’t you try it? It only
wants a little determination.»

But I could not persuade them.

Rather an amusing thing happened while dressing that morning. I was very
cold when I got back into the boat, and, in my hurry to get my shirt on,
I accidentally jerked it into the water. It made me awfully wild,
especially as George burst out laughing. I could not see anything to
laugh at, and I told George so, and he only laughed the more. I never
saw a man laugh so much. I quite lost my temper with him at last, and I
pointed out to him what a drivelling maniac of an imbecile idiot he was;
but he only roared the louder. And then, just as I was landing the
shirt, I noticed that it was not my shirt at all, but George’s, which I
had mistaken for mine; whereupon the humour of the thing struck me for
the first time, and I began to laugh. And the more I looked from
George’s wet shirt to George, roaring with laughter, the more I was
amused, and I laughed so much that I had to let the shirt fall back into
the water again.

«Ar’n't you — you — going to get it out?» said George, between his
shrieks.

I could not answer him at all for a while, I was laughing so, but, at
last, between my peals I managed to jerk out:

«It isn’t my shirt — it’s YOURS!»

I never saw a man’s face change from lively to severe so suddenly in all
my life before.

«What!» he yelled, springing up. «You silly cuckoo! Why can’t you be
more careful what you’re doing? Why the deuce don’t you go and dress on
the bank? You’re not fit to be in a boat, you’re not. Gimme the
hitcher.»

I tried to make him see the fun of the thing, but he could not. George
is very dense at seeing a joke sometimes.

Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast. He
said he would cook them. It seemed, from his account, that he was very
good at doing scrambled eggs. He often did them at picnics and when out
on yachts. He was quite famous for them. People who had once tasted his
scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any
other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get
them.

It made our mouths water to hear him talk about the things, and we handed
him out the stove and the frying-pan and all the eggs that had not
smashed and gone over everything in the hamper, and begged him to begin.

He had some trouble in breaking the eggs — or rather not so much trouble
in breaking them exactly as in getting them into the frying-pan when
broken, and keeping them off his trousers, and preventing them from
running up his sleeve; but he fixed some half-a-dozen into the pan at
last, and then squatted down by the side of the stove and chivied them
about with a fork.

It seemed harassing work, so far as George and I could judge. Whenever
he went near the pan he burned himself, and then he would drop everything
and dance round the stove, flicking his fingers about and cursing the
things. Indeed, every time George and I looked round at him he was sure
to be performing this feat. We thought at first that it was a necessary
part of the culinary arrangements.

We did not know what scrambled eggs were, and we fancied that it must be
some Red Indian or Sandwich Islands sort of dish that required dances and
incantations for its proper cooking. Montmorency went and put his nose
over it once, and the fat spluttered up and scalded him, and then he
began dancing and cursing. Altogether it was one of the most interesting
and exciting operations I have ever witnessed. George and I were both
quite sorry when it was over.

The result was not altogether the success that Harris had anticipated.
There seemed so little to show for the business. Six eggs had gone into
the frying-pan, and all that came out was a teaspoonful of burnt and
unappetizing looking mess.

Harris said it was the fault of the frying-pan, and thought it would have
gone better if we had had a fish-kettle and a gas-stove; and we decided
not to attempt the dish again until we had those aids to housekeeping by
us.

The sun had got more powerful by the time we had finished breakfast, and
the wind had dropped, and it was as lovely a morning as one could desire.
Little was in sight to remind us of the nineteenth century; and, as we
looked out upon the river in the morning sunlight, we could almost fancy
that the centuries between us and that ever-to-be-famous June morning of
1215 had been drawn aside, and that we, English yeomen’s sons in homespun
cloth, with dirk at belt, were waiting there to witness the writing of
that stupendous page of history, the meaning whereof was to be translated
to the common people some four hundred and odd years later by one Oliver
Cromwell, who had deeply studied it.

It is a fine summer morning — sunny, soft, and still. But through the
air there runs a thrill of coming stir. King John has slept at Duncroft
Hall, and all the day before the little town of Staines has echoed to the
clang of armed men, and the clatter of great horses over its rough
stones, and the shouts of captains, and the grim oaths and surly jests of
bearded bowmen, billmen, pikemen, and strange-speaking foreign spearmen.

Gay-cloaked companies of knights and squires have ridden in, all travel-
stained and dusty. And all the evening long the timid townsmen’s doors
have had to be quick opened to let in rough groups of soldiers, for whom
there must be found both board and lodging, and the best of both, or woe
betide the house and all within; for the sword is judge and jury,
plaintiff and executioner, in these tempestuous times, and pays for what
it takes by sparing those from whom it takes it, if it pleases it to do
so.

Round the camp-fire in the market-place gather still more of the Barons’
troops, and eat and drink deep, and bellow forth roystering drinking
songs, and gamble and quarrel as the evening grows and deepens into
night. The firelight sheds quaint shadows on their piled-up arms and on
their uncouth forms. The children of the town steal round to watch them,
wondering; and brawny country wenches, laughing, draw near to bandy ale-
house jest and jibe with the swaggering troopers, so unlike the village
swains, who, now despised, stand apart behind, with vacant grins upon
their broad, peering faces. And out from the fields around, glitter the
faint lights of more distant camps, as here some great lord’s followers
lie mustered, and there false John’s French mercenaries hover like
crouching wolves without the town.

And so, with sentinel in each dark street, and twinkling watch-fires on
each height around, the night has worn away, and over this fair valley of
old Thame has broken the morning of the great day that is to close so big
with the fate of ages yet unborn.

Ever since grey dawn, in the lower of the two islands, just above where
we are standing, there has been great clamour, and the sound of many
workmen. The great pavilion brought there yester eve is being raised,
and carpenters are busy nailing tiers of seats, while `prentices from
London town are there with many-coloured stuffs and silks and cloth of
gold and silver.

And now, lo! down upon the road that winds along the river’s bank from
Staines there come towards us, laughing and talking together in deep
guttural bass, a half-a-score of stalwart halbert-men — Barons’ men,
these — and halt at a hundred yards or so above us, on the other bank,
and lean upon their arms, and wait.

And so, from hour to hour, march up along the road ever fresh groups and
bands of armed men, their casques and breastplates flashing back the long
low lines of morning sunlight, until, as far as eye can reach, the way
seems thick with glittering steel and prancing steeds. And shouting
horsemen are galloping from group to group, and little banners are
fluttering lazily in the warm breeze, and every now and then there is a
deeper stir as the ranks make way on either side, and some great Baron on
his war-horse, with his guard of squires around him, passes along to take
his station at the head of his serfs and vassals.

And up the slope of Cooper’s Hill, just opposite, are gathered the
wondering rustics and curious townsfolk, who have run from Staines, and
none are quite sure what the bustle is about, but each one has a
different version of the great event that they have come to see; and some
say that much good to all the people will come from this day’s work; but
the old men shake their heads, for they have heard such tales before.

And all the river down to Staines is dotted with small craft and boats
and tiny coracles — which last are growing out of favour now, and are
used only by the poorer folk. Over the rapids, where in after years trim
Bell Weir lock will stand, they have been forced or dragged by their
sturdy rowers, and now are crowding up as near as they dare come to the
great covered barges, which lie in readiness to bear King John to where
the fateful Charter waits his signing.

It is noon, and we and all the people have been waiting patient for many
an hour, and the rumour has run round that slippery John has again
escaped from the Barons’ grasp, and has stolen away from Duncroft Hall
with his mercenaries at his heels, and will soon be doing other work than
signing charters for his people’s liberty.

Not so! This time the grip upon him has been one of iron, and he has
slid and wriggled in vain. Far down the road a little cloud of dust has
risen, and draws nearer and grows larger, and the pattering of many hoofs
grows louder, and in and out between the scattered groups of drawn-up
men, there pushes on its way a brilliant cavalcade of gay-dressed lords
and knights. And front and rear, and either flank, there ride the yeomen
of the Barons, and in the midst King John.

He rides to where the barges lie in readiness, and the great Barons step
forth from their ranks to meet him. He greets them with a smile and
laugh, and pleasant honeyed words, as though it were some feast in his
honour to which he had been invited. But as he rises to dismount, he
casts one hurried glance from his own French mercenaries drawn up in the
rear to the grim ranks of the Barons’ men that hem him in.

Is it too late? One fierce blow at the unsuspecting horseman at his
side, one cry to his French troops, one desperate charge upon the unready
lines before him, and these rebellious Barons might rue the day they
dared to thwart his plans! A bolder hand might have turned the game even
at that point. Had it been a Richard there! the cup of liberty might
have been dashed from England’s lips, and the taste of freedom held back
for a hundred years.

But the heart of King John sinks before the stern faces of the English
fighting men, and the arm of King John drops back on to his rein, and he
dismounts and takes his seat in the foremost barge. And the Barons
follow in, with each mailed hand upon the sword-hilt, and the word is
given to let go.

Slowly the heavy, bright-decked barges leave the shore of Runningmede.
Slowly against the swift current they work their ponderous way, till,
with a low grumble, they grate against the bank of the little island that
from this day will bear the name of Magna Charta Island. And King John
has stepped upon the shore, and we wait in breathless silence till a
great shout cleaves the air, and the great cornerstone in England’s
temple of liberty has, now we know, been firmly laid.

 

CHAPTER XII.

HENRY VIII. AND ANNE BOLEYN. — DISADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN SAME HOUSE WITH
PAIR OF LOVERS. — A TRYING TIME FOR THE ENGLISH NATION. — A NIGHT SEARCH
FOR THE PICTURESQUE. — HOMELESS AND HOUSELESS. — HARRIS PREPARES TO DIE.
- AN ANGEL COMES ALONG. — EFFECT OF SUDDEN JOY ON HARRIS. — A LITTLE
SUPPER. — LUNCH. — HIGH PRICE FOR MUSTARD. — A FEARFUL BATTLE. -
MAIDENHEAD. — SAILING. — THREE FISHERS. — WE ARE CURSED.

I WAS sitting on the bank, conjuring up this scene to myself, when George
remarked that when I was quite rested, perhaps I would not mind helping
to wash up; and, thus recalled from the days of the glorious past to the
prosaic present, with all its misery and sin, I slid down into the boat
and cleaned out the frying-pan with a stick of wood and a tuft of grass,
polishing it up finally with George’s wet shirt.

We went over to Magna Charta Island, and had a look at the stone which
stands in the cottage there and on which the great Charter is said to
have been signed; though, as to whether it really was signed there, or,
as some say, on the other bank at «Runningmede,» I decline to commit
myself. As far as my own personal opinion goes, however, I am inclined
to give weight to the popular island theory. Certainly, had I been one
of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades
the advisability of our getting such a slippery customer as King John on
to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks.

There are the ruins of an old priory in the grounds of Ankerwyke House,
which is close to Picnic Point, and it was round about the grounds of
this old priory that Henry VIII. is said to have waited for and met Anne
Boleyn. He also used to meet her at Hever Castle in Kent, and also
somewhere near St. Albans. It must have been difficult for the people of
England in those days to have found a spot where these thoughtless young
folk were NOT spooning.

Have you ever been in a house where there are a couple courting? It is
most trying. You think you will go and sit in the drawing-room, and you
march off there. As you open the door, you hear a noise as if somebody
had suddenly recollected something, and, when you get in, Emily is over
by the window, full of interest in the opposite side of the road, and
your friend, John Edward, is at the other end of the room with his whole
soul held in thrall by photographs of other people’s relatives.

«Oh!» you say, pausing at the door, «I didn’t know anybody was here.»

«Oh! didn’t you?» says Emily, coldly, in a tone which implies that she
does not believe you.

You hang about for a bit, then you say:

«It’s very dark. Why don’t you light the gas?»

John Edward says, «Oh!» he hadn’t noticed it; and Emily says that papa
does not like the gas lit in the afternoon.

You tell them one or two items of news, and give them your views and
opinions on the Irish question; but this does not appear to interest
them. All they remark on any subject is, «Oh!» «Is it?» «Did he?»
«Yes,» and «You don’t say so!» And, after ten minutes of such style of
conversation, you edge up to the door, and slip out, and are surprised to
find that the door immediately closes behind you, and shuts itself,
without your having touched it.

Half an hour later, you think you will try a pipe in the conservatory.
The only chair in the place is occupied by Emily; and John Edward, if the
language of clothes can be relied upon, has evidently been sitting on the
floor. They do not speak, but they give you a look that says all that
can be said in a civilised community; and you back out promptly and shut
the door behind you.

You are afraid to poke your nose into any room in the house now; so,
after walking up and down the stairs for a while, you go and sit in your
own bedroom. This becomes uninteresting, however, after a time, and so
you put on your hat and stroll out into the garden. You walk down the
path, and as you pass the summer-house you glance in, and there are those
two young idiots, huddled up into one corner of it; and they see you, and
are evidently under the idea that, for some wicked purpose of your own,
you are following them about.

«Why don’t they have a special room for this sort of thing, and make
people keep to it?» you mutter; and you rush back to the hall and get
your umbrella and go out.

It must have been much like this when that foolish boy Henry VIII. was
courting his little Anne. People in Buckinghamshire would have come upon
them unexpectedly when they were mooning round Windsor and Wraysbury, and
have exclaimed, «Oh! you here!» and Henry would have blushed and said,
«Yes; he’d just come over to see a man;» and Anne would have said, «Oh,
I’m so glad to see you! Isn’t it funny? I’ve just met Mr. Henry VIII.
in the lane, and he’s going the same way I am.»

Then those people would have gone away and said to themselves: «Oh! we’d
better get out of here while this billing and cooing is on. We’ll go
down to Kent.»

And they would go to Kent, and the first thing they would see in Kent,
when they got there, would be Henry and Anne fooling round Hever Castle.

«Oh, drat this!» they would have said. «Here, let’s go away. I can’t
stand any more of it. Let’s go to St. Albans — nice quiet place, St.
Albans.»

And when they reached St. Albans, there would be that wretched couple,
kissing under the Abbey walls. Then these folks would go and be pirates
until the marriage was over.

From Picnic Point to Old Windsor Lock is a delightful bit of the river.
A shady road, dotted here and there with dainty little cottages, runs by
the bank up to the «Bells of Ouseley,» a picturesque inn, as most up-
river inns are, and a place where a very good glass of ale may be drunk -
so Harris says; and on a matter of this kind you can take Harris’s word.
Old Windsor is a famous spot in its way. Edward the Confessor had a
palace here, and here the great Earl Godwin was proved guilty by the
justice of that age of having encompassed the death of the King’s
brother. Earl Godwin broke a piece of bread and held it in his hand.

«If I am guilty,» said the Earl, «may this bread choke me when I eat it!»

Then he put the bread into his mouth and swallowed it, and it choked him,
and he died.

After you pass Old Windsor, the river is somewhat uninteresting, and does
not become itself again until you are nearing Boveney. George and I
towed up past the Home Park, which stretches along the right bank from
Albert to Victoria Bridge; and as we were passing Datchet, George asked
me if I remembered our first trip up the river, and when we landed at
Datchet at ten o’clock at night, and wanted to go to bed.

I answered that I did remember it. It will be some time before I forget
it.

It was the Saturday before the August Bank Holiday. We were tired and
hungry, we same three, and when we got to Datchet we took out the hamper,
the two bags, and the rugs and coats, and such like things, and started
off to look for diggings. We passed a very pretty little hotel, with
clematis and creeper over the porch; but there was no honeysuckle about
it, and, for some reason or other, I had got my mind fixed on
honeysuckle, and I said:

«Oh, don’t let’s go in there! Let’s go on a bit further, and see if
there isn’t one with honeysuckle over it.»

So we went on till we came to another hotel. That was a very nice hotel,
too, and it had honey-suckle on it, round at the side; but Harris did not
like the look of a man who was leaning against the front door. He said
he didn’t look a nice man at all, and he wore ugly boots: so we went on
further. We went a goodish way without coming across any more hotels,
and then we met a man, and asked him to direct us to a few.

He said:

«Why, you are coming away from them. You must turn right round and go
back, and then you will come to the Stag.»

We said:

«Oh, we had been there, and didn’t like it — no honeysuckle over it.»

«Well, then,» he said, «there’s the Manor House, just opposite. Have you
tried that?»

Harris replied that we did not want to go there — didn’t like the looks
of a man who was stopping there — Harris did not like the colour of his
hair, didn’t like his boots, either.

«Well, I don’t know what you’ll do, I’m sure,» said our informant;
«because they are the only two inns in the place.»

«No other inns!» exclaimed Harris.

«None,» replied the man.

«What on earth are we to do?» cried Harris.

Then George spoke up. He said Harris and I could get an hotel built for
us, if we liked, and have some people made to put in. For his part, he
was going back to the Stag.

The greatest minds never realise their ideals in any matter; and Harris
and I sighed over the hollowness of all earthly desires, and followed
George.

We took our traps into the Stag, and laid them down in the hall.

The landlord came up and said:

«Good evening, gentlemen.»

«Oh, good evening,» said George; «we want three beds, please.»

«Very sorry, sir,» said the landlord; «but I’m afraid we can’t manage
it.»

«Oh, well, never mind,» said George, «two will do. Two of us can sleep
in one bed, can’t we?» he continued, turning to Harris and me.

Harris said, «Oh, yes;» he thought George and I could sleep in one bed
very easily.

«Very sorry, sir,» again repeated the landlord: «but we really haven’t
got a bed vacant in the whole house. In fact, we are putting two, and
even three gentlemen in one bed, as it is.»

This staggered us for a bit.

But Harris, who is an old traveller, rose to the occasion, and, laughing
cheerily, said:

«Oh, well, we can’t help it. We must rough it. You must give us a
shake-down in the billiard-room.»

«Very sorry, sir. Three gentlemen sleeping on the billiard-table
already, and two in the coffee-room. Can’t possibly take you in to-
night.»

We picked up our things, and went over to the Manor House. It was a
pretty little place. I said I thought I should like it better than the
other house; and Harris said, «Oh, yes,» it would be all right, and we
needn’t look at the man with the red hair; besides, the poor fellow
couldn’t help having red hair.

Harris spoke quite kindly and sensibly about it.

The people at the Manor House did not wait to hear us talk. The landlady
met us on the doorstep with the greeting that we were the fourteenth
party she had turned away within the last hour and a half. As for our
meek suggestions of stables, billiard-room, or coal-cellars, she laughed
them all to scorn: all these nooks had been snatched up long ago.

Did she know of any place in the whole village where we could get shelter
for the night?

«Well, if we didn’t mind roughing it — she did not recommend it, mind -
but there was a little beershop half a mile down the Eton road — »

We waited to hear no more; we caught up the hamper and the bags, and the
coats and rugs, and parcels, and ran. The distance seemed more like a
mile than half a mile, but we reached the place at last, and rushed,
panting, into the bar.

The people at the beershop were rude. They merely laughed at us. There
were only three beds in the whole house, and they had seven single
gentlemen and two married couples sleeping there already. A kind-hearted
bargeman, however, who happened to be in the tap-room, thought we might
try the grocer’s, next door to the Stag, and we went back.

The grocer’s was full. An old woman we met in the shop then kindly took
us along with her for a quarter of a mile, to a lady friend of hers, who
occasionally let rooms to gentlemen.

This old woman walked very slowly, and we were twenty minutes getting to
her lady friend’s. She enlivened the journey by describing to us, as we
trailed along, the various pains she had in her back.

Her lady friend’s rooms were let. From there we were recommended to No.
27. No. 27 was full, and sent us to No. 32, and 32 was full.

Then we went back into the high road, and Harris sat down on the hamper
and said he would go no further. He said it seemed a quiet spot, and he
would like to die there. He requested George and me to kiss his mother
for him, and to tell all his relations that he forgave them and died
happy.

At that moment an angel came by in the disguise of a small boy (and I
cannot think of any more effective disguise an angel could have assumed),
with a can of beer in one hand, and in the other something at the end of
a string, which he let down on to every flat stone he came across, and
then pulled up again, this producing a peculiarly unattractive sound,
suggestive of suffering.

We asked this heavenly messenger (as we discovered him afterwards to be)
if he knew of any lonely house, whose occupants were few and feeble (old
ladies or paralysed gentlemen preferred), who could be easily frightened
into giving up their beds for the night to three desperate men; or, if
not this, could he recommend us to an empty pigstye, or a disused
limekiln, or anything of that sort. He did not know of any such place -
at least, not one handy; but he said that, if we liked to come with him,
his mother had a room to spare, and could put us up for the night.

We fell upon his neck there in the moonlight and blessed him, and it
would have made a very beautiful picture if the boy himself had not been
so over-powered by our emotion as to be unable to sustain himself under
it, and sunk to the ground, letting us all down on top of him. Harris
was so overcome with joy that he fainted, and had to seize the boy’s
beer-can and half empty it before he could recover consciousness, and
then he started off at a run, and left George and me to bring on the
luggage.

It was a little four-roomed cottage where the boy lived, and his mother -
good soul! — gave us hot bacon for supper, and we ate it all — five
pounds — and a jam tart afterwards, and two pots of tea, and then we went
to bed. There were two beds in the room; one was a 2ft. 6in. truckle
bed, and George and I slept in that, and kept in by tying ourselves
together with a sheet; and the other was the little boy’s bed, and Harris
had that all to himself, and we found him, in the morning, with two feet
of bare leg sticking out at the bottom, and George and I used it to hang
the towels on while we bathed.

We were not so uppish about what sort of hotel we would have, next time
we went to Datchet.

To return to our present trip: nothing exciting happened, and we tugged
steadily on to a little below Monkey Island, where we drew up and
lunched. We tackled the cold beef for lunch, and then we found that we
had forgotten to bring any mustard. I don’t think I ever in my life,
before or since, felt I wanted mustard as badly as I felt I wanted it
then. I don’t care for mustard as a rule, and it is very seldom that I
take it at all, but I would have given worlds for it then.

I don’t know how many worlds there may be in the universe, but anyone who
had brought me a spoonful of mustard at that precise moment could have
had them all. I grow reckless like that when I want a thing and can’t
get it.

Harris said he would have given worlds for mustard too. It would have
been a good thing for anybody who had come up to that spot with a can of
mustard, then: he would have been set up in worlds for the rest of his
life.

But there! I daresay both Harris and I would have tried to back out of
the bargain after we had got the mustard. One makes these extravagant
offers in moments of excitement, but, of course, when one comes to think
of it, one sees how absurdly out of proportion they are with the value of
the required article. I heard a man, going up a mountain in Switzerland,
once say he would give worlds for a glass of beer, and, when he came to a
little shanty where they kept it, he kicked up a most fearful row because
they charged him five francs for a bottle of Bass. He said it was a
scandalous imposition, and he wrote to the TIMES about it.

It cast a gloom over the boat, there being no mustard. We ate our beef
in silence. Existence seemed hollow and uninteresting. We thought of
the happy days of childhood, and sighed. We brightened up a bit,
however, over the apple-tart, and, when George drew out a tin of pine-
apple from the bottom of the hamper, and rolled it into the middle of the
boat, we felt that life was worth living after all.

We are very fond of pine-apple, all three of us. We looked at the
picture on the tin; we thought of the juice. We smiled at one another,
and Harris got a spoon ready.

Then we looked for the knife to open the tin with. We turned out
everything in the hamper. We turned out the bags. We pulled up the
boards at the bottom of the boat. We took everything out on to the bank
and shook it. There was no tin-opener to be found.

Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the
knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the
scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out. While they were dressing
their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of
the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat
and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over,
uninjured, and broke a teacup.

Then we all got mad. We took that tin out on the bank, and Harris went
up into a field and got a big sharp stone, and I went back into the boat
and brought out the mast, and George held the tin and Harris held the
sharp end of his stone against the top of it, and I took the mast and
poised it high up in the air, and gathered up all my strength and brought
it down.

It was George’s straw hat that saved his life that day. He keeps that
hat now (what is left of it), and, of a winter’s evening, when the pipes
are lit and the boys are telling stretchers about the dangers they have
passed through, George brings it down and shows it round, and the
stirring tale is told anew, with fresh exaggerations every time.

Harris got off with merely a flesh wound.

After that, I took the tin off myself, and hammered at it with the mast
till I was worn out and sick at heart, whereupon Harris took it in hand.

We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every
form known to geometry — but we could not make a hole in it. Then George
went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so
unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away
the mast. Then we all three sat round it on the grass and looked at it.

There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a
mocking grin, and it drove us furious, so that Harris rushed at the
thing, and caught it up, and flung it far into the middle of the river,
and as it sank we hurled our curses at it, and we got into the boat and
rowed away from the spot, and never paused till we reached Maidenhead.

Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant. It is the haunt of the
river swell and his overdressed female companion. It is the town of
showy hotels, patronised chiefly by dudes and ballet girls. It is the
witch’s kitchen from which go forth those demons of the river — steam-
launches. The LONDON JOURNAL duke always has his «little place» at
Maidenhead; and the heroine of the three-volume novel always dines there
when she goes out on the spree with somebody else’s husband.

We went through Maidenhead quickly, and then eased up, and took leisurely
that grand reach beyond Boulter’s and Cookham locks. Clieveden Woods
still wore their dainty dress of spring, and rose up, from the water’s
edge, in one long harmony of blended shades of fairy green. In its
unbroken loveliness this is, perhaps, the sweetest stretch of all the
river, and lingeringly we slowly drew our little boat away from its deep
peace.

We pulled up in the backwater, just below Cookham, and had tea; and, when
we were through the lock, it was evening. A stiffish breeze had sprung
up — in our favour, for a wonder; for, as a rule on the river, the wind
is always dead against you whatever way you go. It is against you in the
morning, when you start for a day’s trip, and you pull a long distance,
thinking how easy it will be to come back with the sail. Then, after
tea, the wind veers round, and you have to pull hard in its teeth all the
way home.

When you forget to take the sail at all, then the wind is consistently in
your favour both ways. But there! this world is only a probation, and
man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.

This evening, however, they had evidently made a mistake, and had put the
wind round at our back instead of in our face. We kept very quiet about
it, and got the sail up quickly before they found it out, and then we
spread ourselves about the boat in thoughtful attitudes, and the sail
bellied out, and strained, and grumbled at the mast, and the boat flew.

I steered.

There is no more thrilling sensation I know of than sailing. It comes as
near to flying as man has got to yet — except in dreams. The wings of
the rushing wind seem to be bearing you onward, you know not where. You
are no longer the slow, plodding, puny thing of clay, creeping tortuously
upon the ground; you are a part of Nature! Your heart is throbbing
against hers! Her glorious arms are round you, raising you up against
her heart! Your spirit is at one with hers; your limbs grow light! The
voices of the air are singing to you. The earth seems far away and
little; and the clouds, so close above your head, are brothers, and you
stretch your arms to them.

We had the river to ourselves, except that, far in the distance, we could
see a fishing-punt, moored in mid-stream, on which three fishermen sat;
and we skimmed over the water, and passed the wooded banks, and no one
spoke.

I was steering.

As we drew nearer, we could see that the three men fishing seemed old and
solemn-looking men. They sat on three chairs in the punt, and watched
intently their lines. And the red sunset threw a mystic light upon the
waters, and tinged with fire the towering woods, and made a golden glory
of the piled-up clouds. It was an hour of deep enchantment, of ecstatic
hope and longing. The little sail stood out against the purple sky, the
gloaming lay around us, wrapping the world in rainbow shadows; and,
behind us, crept the night.

We seemed like knights of some old legend, sailing across some mystic
lake into the unknown realm of twilight, unto the great land of the
sunset.

We did not go into the realm of twilight; we went slap into that punt,
where those three old men were fishing. We did not know what had
happened at first, because the sail shut out the view, but from the
nature of the language that rose up upon the evening air, we gathered
that we had come into the neighbourhood of human beings, and that they
were vexed and discontented.

Harris let the sail down, and then we saw what had happened. We had
knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs into a general heap at
the bottom of the boat, and they were now slowly and painfully sorting
themselves out from each other, and picking fish off themselves; and as
they worked, they cursed us — not with a common cursory curse, but with
long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the
whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included
all our relations, and covered everything connected with us — good,
substantial curses.

Harris told them they ought to be grateful for a little excitement,
sitting there fishing all day, and he also said that he was shocked and
grieved to hear men their age give way to temper so.

But it did not do any good.

George said he would steer, after that. He said a mind like mine ought
not to be expected to give itself away in steering boats — better let a
mere commonplace human being see after that boat, before we jolly well
all got drowned; and he took the lines, and brought us up to Marlow.

And at Marlow we left the boat by the bridge, and went and put up for the
night at the «Crown.»

 

CHAPTER XIII.

MARLOW. — BISHAM ABBEY. — THE MEDMENHAM MONKS. — MONTMORENCY THINKS HE
WILL MURDER AN OLD TOM CAT. — BUT EVENTUALLY DECIDES THAT HE WILL LET IT
LIVE. — SHAMEFUL CONDUCT OF A FOX TERRIER AT THE CIVIL SERVICE STORES. -
OUR DEPARTURE FROM MARLOW. — AN IMPOSING PROCESSION. — THE STEAM LAUNCH,
USEFUL RECEIPTS FOR ANNOYING AND HINDERING IT. — WE DECLINE TO DRINK THE
RIVER. — A PEACEFUL DOG. — STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF HARRIS AND A PIE.

MARLOW is one of the pleasantest river centres I know of. It is a
bustling, lively little town; not very picturesque on the whole, it is
true, but there are many quaint nooks and corners to be found in it,
nevertheless — standing arches in the shattered bridge of Time, over
which our fancy travels back to the days when Marlow Manor owned Saxon
Algar for its lord, ere conquering William seized it to give to Queen
Matilda, ere it passed to the Earls of Warwick or to worldly-wise Lord
Paget, the councillor of four successive sovereigns.

There is lovely country round about it, too, if, after boating, you are
fond of a walk, while the river itself is at its best here. Down to
Cookham, past the Quarry Woods and the meadows, is a lovely reach. Dear
old Quarry Woods! with your narrow, climbing paths, and little winding
glades, how scented to this hour you seem with memories of sunny summer
days! How haunted are your shadowy vistas with the ghosts of laughing
faces! how from your whispering leaves there softly fall the voices of
long ago!

From Marlow up to Sonning is even fairer yet. Grand old Bisham Abbey,
whose stone walls have rung to the shouts of the Knights Templars, and
which, at one time, was the home of Anne of Cleves and at another of
Queen Elizabeth, is passed on the right bank just half a mile above
Marlow Bridge. Bisham Abbey is rich in melodramatic properties. It
contains a tapestry bed-chamber, and a secret room hid high up in the
thick walls. The ghost of the Lady Holy, who beat her little boy to
death, still walks there at night, trying to wash its ghostly hands clean
in a ghostly basin.

Warwick, the king-maker, rests there, careless now about such trivial
things as earthly kings and earthly kingdoms; and Salisbury, who did good
service at Poitiers. Just before you come to the abbey, and right on the
river’s bank, is Bisham Church, and, perhaps, if any tombs are worth
inspecting, they are the tombs and monuments in Bisham Church. It was
while floating in his boat under the Bisham beeches that Shelley, who was
then living at Marlow (you can see his house now, in West street),
composed THE REVOLT OF ISLAM.

By Hurley Weir, a little higher up, I have often thought that I could
stay a month without having sufficient time to drink in all the beauty of
the scene. The village of Hurley, five minutes’ walk from the lock, is
as old a little spot as there is on the river, dating, as it does, to
quote the quaint phraseology of those dim days, «from the times of King
Sebert and King Offa.» Just past the weir (going up) is Danes’ Field,
where the invading Danes once encamped, during their march to
Gloucestershire; and a little further still, nestling by a sweet corner
of the stream, is what is left of Medmenham Abbey.

The famous Medmenham monks, or «Hell Fire Club,» as they were commonly
called, and of whom the notorious Wilkes was a member, were a fraternity
whose motto was «Do as you please,» and that invitation still stands over
the ruined doorway of the abbey. Many years before this bogus abbey,
with its congregation of irreverent jesters, was founded, there stood
upon this same spot a monastery of a sterner kind, whose monks were of a
somewhat different type to the revellers that were to follow them, five
hundred years afterwards.

The Cistercian monks, whose abbey stood there in the thirteenth century,
wore no clothes but rough tunics and cowls, and ate no flesh, nor fish,
nor eggs. They lay upon straw, and they rose at midnight to mass. They
spent the day in labour, reading, and prayer; and over all their lives
there fell a silence as of death, for no one spoke.

A grim fraternity, passing grim lives in that sweet spot, that God had
made so bright! Strange that Nature’s voices all around them — the soft
singing of the waters, the whisperings of the river grass, the music of
the rushing wind — should not have taught them a truer meaning of life
than this. They listened there, through the long days, in silence,
waiting for a voice from heaven; and all day long and through the solemn
night it spoke to them in myriad tones, and they heard it not.

From Medmenham to sweet Hambledon Lock the river is full of peaceful
beauty, but, after it passes Greenlands, the rather uninteresting looking
river residence of my newsagent — a quiet unassuming old gentleman, who
may often be met with about these regions, during the summer months,
sculling himself along in easy vigorous style, or chatting genially to
some old lock-keeper, as he passes through — until well the other side of
Henley, it is somewhat bare and dull.

We got up tolerably early on the Monday morning at Marlow, and went for a
bathe before breakfast; and, coming back, Montmorency made an awful ass
of himself. The only subject on which Montmorency and I have any serious
difference of opinion is cats. I like cats; Montmorency does not.

When I meet a cat, I say, «Poor Pussy!» and stop down and tickle the side
of its head; and the cat sticks up its tail in a rigid, cast-iron manner,
arches its back, and wipes its nose up against my trousers; and all is
gentleness and peace. When Montmorency meets a cat, the whole street
knows about it; and there is enough bad language wasted in ten seconds to
last an ordinarily respectable man all his life, with care.

I do not blame the dog (contenting myself, as a rule, with merely
clouting his head or throwing stones at him), because I take it that it
is his nature. Fox-terriers are born with about four times as much
original sin in them as other dogs are, and it will take years and years
of patient effort on the part of us Christians to bring about any
appreciable reformation in the rowdiness of the fox-terrier nature.

I remember being in the lobby of the Haymarket Stores one day, and all
round about me were dogs, waiting for the return of their owners, who
were shopping inside. There were a mastiff, and one or two collies, and
a St. Bernard, a few retrievers and Newfoundlands, a boar-hound, a French
poodle, with plenty of hair round its head, but mangy about the middle; a
bull-dog, a few Lowther Arcade sort of animals, about the size of rats,
and a couple of Yorkshire tykes.

There they sat, patient, good, and thoughtful. A solemn peacefulness
seemed to reign in that lobby. An air of calmness and resignation — of
gentle sadness pervaded the room.

Then a sweet young lady entered, leading a meek-looking little fox-
terrier, and left him, chained up there, between the bull-dog and the
poodle. He sat and looked about him for a minute. Then he cast up his
eyes to the ceiling, and seemed, judging from his expression, to be
thinking of his mother. Then he yawned. Then he looked round at the
other dogs, all silent, grave, and dignified.

He looked at the bull-dog, sleeping dreamlessly on his right. He looked
at the poodle, erect and haughty, on his left. Then, without a word of
warning, without the shadow of a provocation, he bit that poodle’s near
fore-leg, and a yelp of agony rang through the quiet shades of that
lobby.

The result of his first experiment seemed highly satisfactory to him, and
he determined to go on and make things lively all round. He sprang over
the poodle and vigorously attacked a collie, and the collie woke up, and
immediately commenced a fierce and noisy contest with the poodle. Then
Foxey came back to his own place, and caught the bull-dog by the ear, and
tried to throw him away; and the bull-dog, a curiously impartial animal,
went for everything he could reach, including the hall-porter, which gave
that dear little terrier the opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted fight
of his own with an equally willing Yorkshire tyke.

Anyone who knows canine nature need hardly, be told that, by this time,
all the other dogs in the place were fighting as if their hearths and
homes depended on the fray. The big dogs fought each other
indiscriminately; and the little dogs fought among themselves, and filled
up their spare time by biting the legs of the big dogs.

The whole lobby was a perfect pandemonium, and the din was terrific. A
crowd assembled outside in the Haymarket, and asked if it was a vestry
meeting; or, if not, who was being murdered, and why? Men came with
poles and ropes, and tried to separate the dogs, and the police were sent
for.

And in the midst of the riot that sweet young lady returned, and snatched
up that sweet little dog of hers (he had laid the tyke up for a month,
and had on the expression, now, of a new-born lamb) into her arms, and
kissed him, and asked him if he was killed, and what those great nasty
brutes of dogs had been doing to him; and he nestled up against her, and
gazed up into her face with a look that seemed to say: «Oh, I’m so glad
you’ve come to take me away from this disgraceful scene!»

She said that the people at the Stores had no right to allow great savage
things like those other dogs to be put with respectable people’s dogs,
and that she had a great mind to summon somebody.

Such is the nature of fox-terriers; and, therefore, I do not blame
Montmorency for his tendency to row with cats; but he wished he had not
given way to it that morning.

We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High
Street a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began
to trot across the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy — the cry of a
stern warrior who sees his enemy given over to his hands — the sort of
cry Cromwell might have uttered when the Scots came down the hill — and
flew after his prey.

His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more
disreputable-looking cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears,
and a fairly appreciable proportion of its nose. It was a long, sinewy-
looking animal. It had a calm, contented air about it.

Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour;
but the cat did not hurry up — did not seem to have grasped the idea that
its life was in danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be
assassin was within a yard of it, and then it turned round and sat down
in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency with a gentle,
inquiring expression, that said:

«Yes! You want me?»

Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look
of that cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He
stopped abruptly, and looked back at Tom.

Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as
follows:-

THE CAT: «Can I do anything for you?»

MONTMORENCY: «No — no, thanks.»

THE CAT: «Don’t you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you
know.»

MONTMORENCY (BACKING DOWN THE HIGH STREET): «Oh, no — not at all -
certainly — don’t you trouble. I — I am afraid I’ve made a mistake. I
thought I knew you. Sorry I disturbed you.»

THE CAT: «Not at all — quite a pleasure. Sure you don’t want anything,
now?»

MONTMORENCY (STILL BACKING): «Not at all, thanks — not at all — very kind
of you. Good morning.»

THE CAT: «Good-morning.»

Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what
he calls his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up
an unimportant position in the rear.

To this day, if you say the word «Cats!» to Montmorency, he will visibly
shrink and look up piteously at you, as if to say:

«Please don’t.»

We did our marketing after breakfast, and revictualled the boat for three
days. George said we ought to take vegetables — that it was unhealthy
not to eat vegetables. He said they were easy enough to cook, and that
he would see to that; so we got ten pounds of potatoes, a bushel of peas,
and a few cabbages. We got a beefsteak pie, a couple of gooseberry
tarts, and a leg of mutton from the hotel; and fruit, and cakes, and
bread and butter, and jam, and bacon and eggs, and other things we
foraged round about the town for.

Our departure from Marlow I regard as one of our greatest successes. It
was dignified and impressive, without being ostentatious. We had
insisted at all the shops we had been to that the things should be sent
with us then and there. None of your «Yes, sir, I will send them off at
once: the boy will be down there before you are, sir!» and then fooling
about on the landing-stage, and going back to the shop twice to have a
row about them, for us. We waited while the basket was packed, and took
the boy with us.

We went to a good many shops, adopting this principle at each one; and
the consequence was that, by the time we had finished, we had as fine a
collection of boys with baskets following us around as heart could
desire; and our final march down the middle of the High Street, to the
river, must have been as imposing a spectacle as Marlow had seen for many
a long day.

The order of the procession was as follows:-

Montmorency, carrying a stick.
Two disreputable-looking curs, friends of Montmorency’s.
George, carrying coats and rugs, and smoking a short pipe.
Harris, trying to walk with easy grace,
while carrying a bulged-out Gladstone bag in one hand
and a bottle of lime-juice in the other.
Greengrocer’s boy and baker’s boy,
with baskets.
Boots from the hotel, carrying hamper.
Confectioner’s boy, with basket.
Grocer’s boy, with basket.
Long-haired dog.
Cheesemonger’s boy, with basket.
Odd man carrying a bag.
Bosom companion of odd man, with his hands in his pockets,
smoking a short clay.
Fruiterer’s boy, with basket.
Myself, carrying three hats and a pair of boots,
and trying to look as if I didn’t know it.
Six small boys, and four stray dogs.

When we got down to the landing-stage, the boatman said:

«Let me see, sir; was yours a steam-launch or a house-boat?»

On our informing him it was a double-sculling skiff, he seemed surprised.

We had a good deal of trouble with steam launches that morning. It was
just before the Henley week, and they were going up in large numbers;
some by themselves, some towing houseboats. I do hate steam launches: I
suppose every rowing man does. I never see a steam launch but I feel I
should like to lure it to a lonely part of the river, and there, in the
silence and the solitude, strangle it.

There is a blatant bumptiousness about a steam launch that has the knack
of rousing every evil instinct in my nature, and I yearn for the good old
days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them
with a hatchet and a bow and arrows. The expression on the face of the
man who, with his hands in his pockets, stands by the stern, smoking a
cigar, is sufficient to excuse a breach of the peace by itself; and the
lordly whistle for you to get out of the way would, I am confident,
ensure a verdict of «justifiable homicide» from any jury of river men.

They used to HAVE to whistle for us to get out of their way. If I may do
so, without appearing boastful, I think I can honestly say that our one
small boat, during that week, caused more annoyance and delay and
aggravation to the steam launches that we came across than all the other
craft on the river put together.

«Steam launch, coming!» one of us would cry out, on sighting the enemy in
the distance; and, in an instant, everything was got ready to receive
her. I would take the lines, and Harris and George would sit down beside
me, all of us with our backs to the launch, and the boat would drift out
quietly into mid-stream.

On would come the launch, whistling, and on we would go, drifting. At
about a hundred yards off, she would start whistling like mad, and the
people would come and lean over the side, and roar at us; but we never
heard them! Harris would be telling us an anecdote about his mother, and
George and I would not have missed a word of it for worlds.

Then that launch would give one final shriek of a whistle that would
nearly burst the boiler, and she would reverse her engines, and blow off
steam, and swing round and get aground; everyone on board of it would
rush to the bow and yell at us, and the people on the bank would stand
and shout to us, and all the other passing boats would stop and join in,
till the whole river for miles up and down was in a state of frantic
commotion. And then Harris would break off in the most interesting part
of his narrative, and look up with mild surprise, and say to George:

«Why, George, bless me, if here isn’t a steam launch!»

And George would answer:

«Well, do you know, I THOUGHT I heard something!»

Upon which we would get nervous and confused, and not know how to get the
boat out of the way, and the people in the launch would crowd round and
instruct us:

«Pull your right — you, you idiot! back with your left. No, not YOU -
the other one — leave the lines alone, can’t you — now, both together.
NOT THAT way. Oh, you — !»

Then they would lower a boat and come to our assistance; and, after
quarter of an hour’s effort, would get us clean out of their way, so that
they could go on; and we would thank them so much, and ask them to give
us a tow. But they never would.

Another good way we discovered of irritating the aristocratic type of
steam launch, was to mistake them for a beanfeast, and ask them if they
were Messrs. Cubit’s lot or the Bermondsey Good Templars, and could they
lend us a saucepan.

Old ladies, not accustomed to the river, are always intensely nervous of
steam launches. I remember going up once from Staines to Windsor — a
stretch of water peculiarly rich in these mechanical monstrosities — with
a party containing three ladies of this description. It was very
exciting. At the first glimpse of every steam launch that came in view,
they insisted on landing and sitting down on the bank until it was out of
sight again. They said they were very sorry, but that they owed it to
their families not to be fool-hardy.

We found ourselves short of water at Hambledon Lock; so we took our jar
and went up to the lock-keeper’s house to beg for some.

George was our spokesman. He put on a winning smile, and said:

«Oh, please could you spare us a little water?»

«Certainly,» replied the old gentleman; «take as much as you want, and
leave the rest.»

«Thank you so much,» murmured George, looking about him. «Where — where
do you keep it?»

«It’s always in the same place my boy,» was the stolid reply: «just
behind you.»

«I don’t see it,» said George, turning round.

«Why, bless us, where’s your eyes?» was the man’s comment, as he twisted
George round and pointed up and down the stream. «There’s enough of it
to see, ain’t there?»

«Oh!» exclaimed George, grasping the idea; «but we can’t drink the river,
you know!»

«No; but you can drink SOME of it,» replied the old fellow. «It’s what
I’ve drunk for the last fifteen years.»

George told him that his appearance, after the course, did not seem a
sufficiently good advertisement for the brand; and that he would prefer
it out of a pump.

We got some from a cottage a little higher up. I daresay THAT was only
river water, if we had known. But we did not know, so it was all right.
What the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over.

We tried river water once, later on in the season, but it was not a
success. We were coming down stream, and had pulled up to have tea in a
backwater near Windsor. Our jar was empty, and it was a case of going
without our tea or taking water from the river. Harris was for chancing
it. He said it must be all right if we boiled the water. He said that
the various germs of poison present in the water would be killed by the
boiling. So we filled our kettle with Thames backwater, and boiled it;
and very careful we were to see that it did boil.

We had made the tea, and were just settling down comfortably to drink it,
when George, with his cup half-way to his lips, paused and exclaimed:

«What’s that?»

«What’s what?» asked Harris and I.

«Why that!» said George, looking westward.

Harris and I followed his gaze, and saw, coming down towards us on the
sluggish current, a dog. It was one of the quietest and peacefullest
dogs I have ever seen. I never met a dog who seemed more contented -
more easy in its mind. It was floating dreamily on its back, with its
four legs stuck up straight into the air. It was what I should call a
full-bodied dog, with a well-developed chest. On he came, serene,
dignified, and calm, until he was abreast of our boat, and there, among
the rushes, he eased up, and settled down cosily for the evening.

George said he didn’t want any tea, and emptied his cup into the water.
Harris did not feel thirsty, either, and followed suit. I had drunk half
mine, but I wished I had not.

I asked George if he thought I was likely to have typhoid.

He said: «Oh, no;» he thought I had a very good chance indeed of escaping
it. Anyhow, I should know in about a fortnight, whether I had or had
not.

We went up the backwater to Wargrave. It is a short cut, leading out of
the right-hand bank about half a mile above Marsh Lock, and is well worth
taking, being a pretty, shady little piece of stream, besides saving
nearly half a mile of distance.

Of course, its entrance is studded with posts and chains, and surrounded
with notice boards, menacing all kinds of torture, imprisonment, and
death to everyone who dares set scull upon its waters — I wonder some of
these riparian boors don’t claim the air of the river and threaten
everyone with forty shillings fine who breathes it — but the posts and
chains a little skill will easily avoid; and as for the boards, you
might, if you have five minutes to spare, and there is nobody about, take
one or two of them down and throw them into the river.

Half-way up the backwater, we got out and lunched; and it was during this
lunch that George and I received rather a trying shock.

Harris received a shock, too; but I do not think Harris’s shock could
have been anything like so bad as the shock that George and I had over
the business.

You see, it was in this way: we were sitting in a meadow, about ten yards
from the water’s edge, and we had just settled down comfortably to feed.
Harris had the beefsteak pie between his knees, and was carving it, and
George and I were waiting with our plates ready.

«Have you got a spoon there?» says Harris; «I want a spoon to help the
gravy with.»

The hamper was close behind us, and George and I both turned round to
reach one out. We were not five seconds getting it. When we looked
round again, Harris and the pie were gone!

It was a wide, open field. There was not a tree or a bit of hedge for
hundreds of yards. He could not have tumbled into the river, because we
were on the water side of him, and he would have had to climb over us to
do it.

George and I gazed all about. Then we gazed at each other.

«Has he been snatched up to heaven?» I queried.

«They’d hardly have taken the pie too,» said George.

There seemed weight in this objection, and we discarded the heavenly
theory.

«I suppose the truth of the matter is,» suggested George, descending to
the commonplace and practicable, «that there has been an earthquake.»

And then he added, with a touch of sadness in his voice: «I wish he
hadn’t been carving that pie.»

With a sigh, we turned our eyes once more towards the spot where Harris
and the pie had last been seen on earth; and there, as our blood froze in
our veins and our hair stood up on end, we saw Harris’s head — and
nothing but his head — sticking bolt upright among the tall grass, the
face very red, and bearing upon it an expression of great indignation!

George was the first to recover.

«Speak!» he cried, «and tell us whether you are alive or dead — and where
is the rest of you?»

«Oh, don’t be a stupid ass!» said Harris’s head. «I believe you did it
on purpose.»

«Did what?» exclaimed George and I.

» Why, put me to sit here — darn silly trick! Here, catch hold of the
pie.»

And out of the middle of the earth, as it seemed to us, rose the pie -
very much mixed up and damaged; and, after it, scrambled Harris -
tumbled, grubby, and wet.

He had been sitting, without knowing it, on the very verge of a small
gully, the long grass hiding it from view; and in leaning a little back
he had shot over, pie and all.

He said he had never felt so surprised in all his life, as when he first
felt himself going, without being able to conjecture in the slightest
what had happened. He thought at first that the end of the world had
come.

Harris believes to this day that George and I planned it all beforehand.
Thus does unjust suspicion follow even the most blameless for, as the
poet says, «Who shall escape calumny?»

Who, indeed!

 

CHAPTER XIV.

WARGRAVE. — WAXWORKS. — SONNING. — OUR STEW. — MONTMORENCY IS SARCASTIC.
- FIGHT BETWEEN MONTMORENCY AND THE TEA-KETTLE. — GEORGE’S BANJO STUDIES.
- MEET WITH DISCOURAGEMENT. — DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF THE MUSICAL
AMATEUR. — LEARNING TO PLAY THE BAGPIPES. — HARRIS FEELS SAD AFTER
SUPPER. — GEORGE AND I GO FOR A WALK. — RETURN HUNGRY AND WET. — THERE IS
A STRANGENESS ABOUT HARRIS. — HARRIS AND THE SWANS, A REMARKABLE STORY. -
HARRIS HAS A TROUBLED NIGHT.

WE caught a breeze, after lunch, which took us gently up past Wargrave
and Shiplake. Mellowed in the drowsy sunlight of a summer’s afternoon,
Wargrave, nestling where the river bends, makes a sweet old picture as
you pass it, and one that lingers long upon the retina of memory.

The «George and Dragon» at Wargrave boasts a sign, painted on the one
side by Leslie, R.A., and on the other by Hodgson of that ilk. Leslie
has depicted the fight; Hodgson has imagined the scene, «After the Fight»
- George, the work done, enjoying his pint of beer.

Day, the author of SANDFORD AND MERTON, lived and — more credit to the
place still — was killed at Wargrave. In the church is a memorial to
Mrs. Sarah Hill, who bequeathed 1 pound annually, to be divided at
Easter, between two boys and two girls who «have never been undutiful to
their parents; who have never been known to swear or to tell untruths, to
steal, or to break windows.» Fancy giving up all that for five shillings
a year! It is not worth it.

It is rumoured in the town that once, many years ago, a boy appeared who
really never had done these things — or at all events, which was all that
was required or could be expected, had never been known to do them — and
thus won the crown of glory. He was exhibited for three weeks afterwards
in the Town Hall, under a glass case.

What has become of the money since no one knows. They say it is always
handed over to the nearest wax-works show.

Shiplake is a pretty village, but it cannot be seen from the river, being
upon the hill. Tennyson was married in Shiplake Church.

The river up to Sonning winds in and out through many islands, and is
very placid, hushed, and lonely. Few folk, except at twilight, a pair or
two of rustic lovers, walk along its banks. `Arry and Lord Fitznoodle
have been left behind at Henley, and dismal, dirty Reading is not yet
reached. It is a part of the river in which to dream of bygone days, and
vanished forms and faces, and things that might have been, but are not,
confound them.

We got out at Sonning, and went for a walk round the village. It is the
most fairy-like little nook on the whole river. It is more like a stage
village than one built of bricks and mortar. Every house is smothered in
roses, and now, in early June, they were bursting forth in clouds of
dainty splendour. If you stop at Sonning, put up at the «Bull,» behind
the church. It is a veritable picture of an old country inn, with green,
square courtyard in front, where, on seats beneath the trees, the old men
group of an evening to drink their ale and gossip over village politics;
with low, quaint rooms and latticed windows, and awkward stairs and
winding passages.

We roamed about sweet Sonning for an hour or so, and then, it being too
late to push on past Reading, we decided to go back to one of the
Shiplake islands, and put up there for the night. It was still early
when we got settled, and George said that, as we had plenty of time, it
would be a splendid opportunity to try a good, slap-up supper. He said
he would show us what could be done up the river in the way of cooking,
and suggested that, with the vegetables and the remains of the cold beef
and general odds and ends, we should make an Irish stew.

It seemed a fascinating idea. George gathered wood and made a fire, and
Harris and I started to peel the potatoes. I should never have thought
that peeling potatoes was such an undertaking. The job turned out to be
the biggest thing of its kind that I had ever been in. We began
cheerfully, one might almost say skittishly, but our light-heartedness
was gone by the time the first potato was finished. The more we peeled,
the more peel there seemed to be left on; by the time we had got all the
peel off and all the eyes out, there was no potato left — at least none
worth speaking of. George came and had a look at it — it was about the
size of a pea-nut. He said:

«Oh, that won’t do! You’re wasting them. You must scrape them.»

So we scraped them, and that was harder work than peeling. They are such
an extraordinary shape, potatoes — all bumps and warts and hollows. We
worked steadily for five-and-twenty minutes, and did four potatoes. Then
we struck. We said we should require the rest of the evening for
scraping ourselves.

I never saw such a thing as potato-scraping for making a fellow in a
mess. It seemed difficult to believe that the potato-scrapings in which
Harris and I stood, half smothered, could have come off four potatoes.
It shows you what can be done with economy and care.

George said it was absurd to have only four potatoes in an Irish stew, so
we washed half-a-dozen or so more, and put them in without peeling. We
also put in a cabbage and about half a peck of peas. George stirred it
all up, and then he said that there seemed to be a lot of room to spare,
so we overhauled both the hampers, and picked out all the odds and ends
and the remnants, and added them to the stew. There were half a pork pie
and a bit of cold boiled bacon left, and we put them in. Then George
found half a tin of potted salmon, and he emptied that into the pot.

He said that was the advantage of Irish stew: you got rid of such a lot
of things. I fished out a couple of eggs that had got cracked, and put
those in. George said they would thicken the gravy.

I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I
remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great
interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and
thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-
rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his
contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a
genuine desire to assist, I cannot say.

We had a discussion as to whether the rat should go in or not. Harris
said that he thought it would be all right, mixed up with the other
things, and that every little helped; but George stood up for precedent.
He said he had never heard of water-rats in Irish stew, and he would
rather be on the safe side, and not try experiments.

Harris said:

«If you never try a new thing, how can you tell what it’s like? It’s men
such as you that hamper the world’s progress. Think of the man who first
tried German sausage!»

It was a great success, that Irish stew. I don’t think I ever enjoyed a
meal more. There was something so fresh and piquant about it. One’s
palate gets so tired of the old hackneyed things: here was a dish with a
new flavour, with a taste like nothing else on earth.

And it was nourishing, too. As George said, there was good stuff in it.
The peas and potatoes might have been a bit softer, but we all had good
teeth, so that did not matter much: and as for the gravy, it was a poem -
a little too rich, perhaps, for a weak stomach, but nutritious.

We finished up with tea and cherry tart. Montmorency had a fight with
the kettle during tea-time, and came off a poor second.

Throughout the trip, he had manifested great curiosity concerning the
kettle. He would sit and watch it, as it boiled, with a puzzled
expression, and would try and rouse it every now and then by growling at
it. When it began to splutter and steam, he regarded it as a challenge,
and would want to fight it, only, at that precise moment, some one would
always dash up and bear off his prey before he could get at it.

To-day he determined he would be beforehand. At the first sound the
kettle made, he rose, growling, and advanced towards it in a threatening
attitude. It was only a little kettle, but it was full of pluck, and it
up and spit at him.

«Ah! would ye!» growled Montmorency, showing his teeth; «I’ll teach ye to
cheek a hard-working, respectable dog; ye miserable, long-nosed, dirty-
looking scoundrel, ye. Come on!»

And he rushed at that poor little kettle, and seized it by the spout.

Then, across the evening stillness, broke a blood-curdling yelp, and
Montmorency left the boat, and did a constitutional three times round the
island at the rate of thirty-five miles an hour, stopping every now and
then to bury his nose in a bit of cool mud.

From that day Montmorency regarded the kettle with a mixture of awe,
suspicion, and hate. Whenever he saw it he would growl and back at a
rapid rate, with his tail shut down, and the moment it was put upon the
stove he would promptly climb out of the boat, and sit on the bank, till
the whole tea business was over.

George got out his banjo after supper, and wanted to play it, but Harris
objected: he said he had got a headache, and did not feel strong enough
to stand it. George thought the music might do him good — said music
often soothed the nerves and took away a headache; and he twanged two or
three notes, just to show Harris what it was like.

Harris said he would rather have the headache.

George has never learned to play the banjo to this day. He has had too
much all-round discouragement to meet. He tried on two or three
evenings, while we were up the river, to get a little practice, but it
was never a success. Harris’s language used to be enough to unnerve any
man; added to which, Montmorency would sit and howl steadily, right
through the performance. It was not giving the man a fair chance.

«What’s he want to howl like that for when I’m playing?» George would
exclaim indignantly, while taking aim at him with a boot.

«What do you want to play like that for when he is howling?» Harris would
retort, catching the boot. «You let him alone. He can’t help howling.
He’s got a musical ear, and your playing MAKES him howl.»

So George determined to postpone study of the banjo until he reached
home. But he did not get much opportunity even there. Mrs. P. used to
come up and say she was very sorry — for herself, she liked to hear him -
but the lady upstairs was in a very delicate state, and the doctor was
afraid it might injure the child.

Then George tried taking it out with him late at night, and practising
round the square. But the inhabitants complained to the police about it,
and a watch was set for him one night, and he was captured. The evidence
against him was very clear, and he was bound over to keep the peace for
six months.

He seemed to lose heart in the business after that. He did make one or
two feeble efforts to take up the work again when the six months had
elapsed, but there was always the same coldness — the same want of
sympathy on the part of the world to fight against; and, after awhile, he
despaired altogether, and advertised the instrument for sale at a great
sacrifice — «owner having no further use for same» — and took to learning
card tricks instead.

It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would
think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a
man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t!

I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and
you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend
with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive
what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against
the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the
subject.

My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to
give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously
inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day
like that.

So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to
bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People,
going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all
over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed
at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had
heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the
murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of
the corpse.

So they let him practise in the day-time, in the back-kitchen with all
the doors shut; but his more successful passages could generally be heard
in the sitting-room, in spite of these precautions, and would affect his
mother almost to tears.

She said it put her in mind of her poor father (he had been swallowed by
a shark, poor man, while bathing off the coast of New Guinea — where the
connection came in, she could not explain).

Then they knocked up a little place for him at the bottom of the garden,
about quarter of a mile from the house, and made him take the machine
down there when he wanted to work it; and sometimes a visitor would come
to the house who knew nothing of the matter, and they would forget to
tell him all about it, and caution him, and he would go out for a stroll
round the garden and suddenly get within earshot of those bagpipes,
without being prepared for it, or knowing what it was. If he were a man
of strong mind, it only gave him fits; but a person of mere average
intellect it usually sent mad.

There is, it must be confessed, something very sad about the early
efforts of an amateur in bagpipes. I have felt that myself when
listening to my young friend. They appear to be a trying instrument to
perform upon. You have to get enough breath for the whole tune before
you start — at least, so I gathered from watching Jefferson.

He would begin magnificently with a wild, full, come-to-the-battle sort
of a note, that quite roused you. But he would get more and more piano
as he went on, and the last verse generally collapsed in the middle with
a splutter and a hiss.

You want to be in good health to play the bagpipes.

Young Jefferson only learnt to play one tune on those bagpipes; but I
never heard any complaints about the insufficiency of his repertoire -
none whatever. This tune was «The Campbells are Coming, Hooray -
Hooray!» so he said, though his father always held that it was «The Blue
Bells of Scotland.» Nobody seemed quite sure what it was exactly, but
they all agreed that it sounded Scotch.

Strangers were allowed three guesses, and most of them guessed a
different tune each time.

Harris was disagreeable after supper, — I think it must have been the
stew that had upset him: he is not used to high living, — so George and I
left him in the boat, and settled to go for a mouch round Henley. He
said he should have a glass of whisky and a pipe, and fix things up for
the night. We were to shout when we returned, and he would row over from
the island and fetch us.

«Don’t go to sleep, old man,» we said as we started.

«Not much fear of that while this stew’s on,» he grunted, as he pulled
back to the island.

Henley was getting ready for the regatta, and was full of bustle. We met
a goodish number of men we knew about the town, and in their pleasant
company the time slipped by somewhat quickly; so that it was nearly
eleven o’clock before we set off on our four-mile walk home — as we had
learned to call our little craft by this time.

It was a dismal night, coldish, with a thin rain falling; and as we
trudged through the dark, silent fields, talking low to each other, and
wondering if we were going right or not, we thought of the cosy boat,
with the bright light streaming through the tight-drawn canvas; of Harris
and Montmorency, and the whisky, and wished that we were there.

We conjured up the picture of ourselves inside, tired and a little
hungry; of the gloomy river and the shapeless trees; and, like a giant
glow-worm underneath them, our dear old boat, so snug and warm and
cheerful. We could see ourselves at supper there, pecking away at cold
meat, and passing each other chunks of bread; we could hear the cheery
clatter of our knives, the laughing voices, filling all the space, and
overflowing through the opening out into the night. And we hurried on to
realise the vision.

We struck the tow-path at length, and that made us happy; because prior
to this we had not been sure whether we were walking towards the river or
away from it, and when you are tired and want to go to bed uncertainties
like that worry you. We passed Skiplake as the clock was striking the
quarter to twelve; and then George said, thoughtfully:

«You don’t happen to remember which of the islands it was, do you?»

«No,» I replied, beginning to grow thoughtful too, «I don’t. How many
are there?»

«Only four,» answered George. «It will be all right, if he’s awake.»

«And if not?» I queried; but we dismissed that train of thought.

We shouted when we came opposite the first island, but there was no
response; so we went to the second, and tried there, and obtained the
same result.

«Oh! I remember now,» said George; «it was the third one.»

And we ran on hopefully to the third one, and hallooed.

No answer!

The case was becoming serious. it was now past midnight. The hotels at
Skiplake and Henley would be crammed; and we could not go round, knocking
up cottagers and householders in the middle of the night, to know if they
let apartments! George suggested walking back to Henley and assaulting a
policeman, and so getting a night’s lodging in the station-house. But
then there was the thought, «Suppose he only hits us back and refuses to
lock us up!»

We could not pass the whole night fighting policemen. Besides, we did
not want to overdo the thing and get six months.

We despairingly tried what seemed in the darkness to be the fourth
island, but met with no better success. The rain was coming down fast
now, and evidently meant to last. We were wet to the skin, and cold and
miserable. We began to wonder whether there were only four islands or
more, or whether we were near the islands at all, or whether we were
anywhere within a mile of where we ought to be, or in the wrong part of
the river altogether; everything looked so strange and different in the
darkness. We began to understand the sufferings of the Babes in the
Wood.

Just when we had given up all hope — yes, I know that is always the time
that things do happen in novels and tales; but I can’t help it. I
resolved, when I began to write this book, that I would be strictly
truthful in all things; and so I will be, even if I have to employ
hackneyed phrases for the purpose.

It WAS just when we had given up all hope, and I must therefore say so.
Just when we had given up all hope, then, I suddenly caught sight, a
little way below us, of a strange, weird sort of glimmer flickering among
the trees on the opposite bank. For an instant I thought of ghosts: it
was such a shadowy, mysterious light. The next moment it flashed across
me that it was our boat, and I sent up such a yell across the water that
made the night seem to shake in its bed.

We waited breathless for a minute, and then — oh! divinest music of the
darkness! — we heard the answering bark of Montmorency. We shouted back
loud enough to wake the Seven Sleepers — I never could understand myself
why it should take more noise to wake seven sleepers than one — and,
after what seemed an hour, but what was really, I suppose, about five
minutes, we saw the lighted boat creeping slowly over the blackness, and
heard Harris’s sleepy voice asking where we were.

There was an unaccountable strangeness about Harris. It was something
more than mere ordinary tiredness. He pulled the boat against a part of
the bank from which it was quite impossible for us to get into it, and
immediately went to sleep. It took us an immense amount of screaming and
roaring to wake him up again and put some sense into him; but we
succeeded at last, and got safely on board.

Harris had a sad expression on him, so we noticed, when we got into the
boat. He gave you the idea of a man who had been through trouble. We
asked him if anything had happened, and he said-

«Swans!»

It seemed we had moored close to a swan’s nest, and, soon after George
and I had gone, the female swan came back, and kicked up a row about it.
Harris had chivied her off, and she had gone away, and fetched up her old
man. Harris said he had had quite a fight with these two swans; but
courage and skill had prevailed in the end, and he had defeated them.

Half-an-hour afterwards they returned with eighteen other swans! It must
have been a fearful battle, so far as we could understand Harris’s
account of it. The swans had tried to drag him and Montmorency out of
the boat and drown them; and he had defended himself like a hero for four
hours, and had killed the lot, and they had all paddled away to die.

«How many swans did you say there were?» asked George.

«Thirty-two,» replied Harris, sleepily.

«You said eighteen just now,» said George.

«No, I didn’t,» grunted Harris; «I said twelve. Think I can’t count?»

What were the real facts about these swans we never found out. We
questioned Harris on the subject in the morning, and he said, «What
swans?» and seemed to think that George and I had been dreaming.

Oh, how delightful it was to be safe in the boat, after our trials and
fears! We ate a hearty supper, George and I, and we should have had some
toddy after it, if we could have found the whisky, but we could not. We
examined Harris as to what he had done with it; but he did not seem to
know what we meant by «whisky,» or what we were talking about at all.
Montmorency looked as if he knew something, but said nothing.

I slept well that night, and should have slept better if it had not been
for Harris. I have a vague recollection of having been woke up at least
a dozen times during the night by Harris wandering about the boat with
the lantern, looking for his clothes. He seemed to be worrying about his
clothes all night.

Twice he routed up George and myself to see if we were lying on his
trousers. George got quite wild the second time.

«What the thunder do you want your trousers for, in the middle of the
night?» he asked indignantly. «Why don’t you lie down, and go to sleep?»

I found him in trouble, the next time I awoke, because he could not find
his socks; and my last hazy remembrance is of being rolled over on my
side, and of hearing Harris muttering something about its being an
extraordinary thing where his umbrella could have got to.

 

CHAPTER XV.

HOUSEHOLD DUTIES. — LOVE OF WORK. — THE OLD RIVER HAND, WHAT HE DOES AND
WHAT HE TELLS YOU HE HAS DONE. — SCEPTICISM OF THE NEW GENERATION. -
EARLY BOATING RECOLLECTIONS. — RAFTING. — GEORGE DOES THE THING IN STYLE.
- THE OLD BOATMAN, HIS METHOD. — SO CALM, SO FULL OF PEACE. — THE
BEGINNER. — PUNTING. — A SAD ACCIDENT. — PLEASURES OF FRIENDSHIP. -
SAILING, MY FIRST EXPERIENCE. — POSSIBLE REASON WHY WE WERE NOT DROWNED.

WE woke late the next morning, and, at Harris’s earnest desire, partook
of a plain breakfast, with «non dainties.» Then we cleaned up, and put
everything straight (a continual labour, which was beginning to afford me
a pretty clear insight into a question that had often posed me — namely,
how a woman with the work of only one house on her hands manages to pass
away her time), and, at about ten, set out on what we had determined
should be a good day’s journey.

We agreed that we would pull this morning, as a change from towing; and
Harris thought the best arrangement would be that George and I should
scull, and he steer. I did not chime in with this idea at all; I said I
thought Harris would have been showing a more proper spirit if he had
suggested that he and George should work, and let me rest a bit. It
seemed to me that I was doing more than my fair share of the work on this
trip, and I was beginning to feel strongly on the subject.

It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It
is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates
me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the
idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.

You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a
passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an
inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by
me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a
finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now
and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of
preservation than I do.

But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for
more than my proper share.

But I get it without asking for it — at least, so it appears to me — and
this worries me.

George says he does not think I need trouble myself on the subject. He
thinks it is only my over-scrupulous nature that makes me fear I am
having more than my due; and that, as a matter of fact, I don’t have half
as much as I ought. But I expect he only says this to comfort me.

In a boat, I have always noticed that it is the fixed idea of each member
of the crew that he is doing everything. Harris’s notion was, that it
was he alone who had been working, and that both George and I had been
imposing upon him. George, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea of
Harris’s having done anything more than eat and sleep, and had a cast-
iron opinion that it was he — George himself — who had done all the
labour worth speaking of.

He said he had never been out with such a couple of lazily skulks as
Harris and I.

That amused Harris.

«Fancy old George talking about work!» he laughed; «why, about half-an-
hour of it would kill him. Have you ever seen George work?» he added,
turning to me.

I agreed with Harris that I never had — most certainly not since we had
started on this trip.

«Well, I don’t see how YOU can know much about it, one way or the other,»
George retorted on Harris; «for I’m blest if you haven’t been asleep half
the time. Have you ever seen Harris fully awake, except at meal-time?»
asked George, addressing me.

Truth compelled me to support George. Harris had been very little good
in the boat, so far as helping was concerned, from the beginning.

«Well, hang it all, I’ve done more than old J., anyhow,» rejoined Harris.

«Well, you couldn’t very well have done less,» added George.

«I suppose J. thinks he is the passenger,» continued Harris.

And that was their gratitude to me for having brought them and their
wretched old boat all the way up from Kingston, and for having
superintended and managed everything for them, and taken care of them,
and slaved for them. It is the way of the world.

We settled the present difficulty by arranging that Harris and George
should scull up past Reading, and that I should tow the boat on from
there. Pulling a heavy boat against a strong stream has few attractions
for me now. There was a time, long ago, when I used to clamour for the
hard work: now I like to give the youngsters a chance.

I notice that most of the old river hands are similarly retiring,
whenever there is any stiff pulling to be done. You can always tell the
old river hand by the way in which he stretches himself out upon the
cushions at the bottom of the boat, and encourages the rowers by telling
them anecdotes about the marvellous feats he performed last season.

«Call what you’re doing hard work!» he drawls, between his contented
whiffs, addressing the two perspiring novices, who have been grinding
away steadily up stream for the last hour and a half; «why, Jim Biffles
and Jack and I, last season, pulled up from Marlow to Goring in one
afternoon — never stopped once. Do you remember that, Jack?»

Jack, who has made himself a bed up in the prow of all the rugs and coats
he can collect, and who has been lying there asleep for the last two
hours, partially wakes up on being thus appealed to, and recollects all
about the matter, and also remembers that there was an unusually strong
stream against them all the way — likewise a stiff wind.

«About thirty-four miles, I suppose, it must have been,» adds the first
speaker, reaching down another cushion to put under his head.

» No — no; don’t exaggerate, Tom,» murmurs Jack, reprovingly; «thirty-
three at the outside.»

And Jack and Tom, quite exhausted by this conversational effort, drop off
to sleep once more. And the two simple-minded youngsters at the sculls
feel quite proud of being allowed to row such wonderful oarsmen as Jack
and Tom, and strain away harder than ever.

When I was a young man, I used to listen to these tales from my elders,
and take them in, and swallow them, and digest every word of them, and
then come up for more; but the new generation do not seem to have the
simple faith of the old times. We — George, Harris, and myself — took a
«raw’un» up with us once last season, and we plied him with the customary
stretchers about the wonderful things we had done all the way up.

We gave him all the regular ones — the time-honoured lies that have done
duty up the river with every boating-man for years past — and added seven
entirely original ones that we had invented for ourselves, including a
really quite likely story, founded, to a certain extent, on an all but
true episode, which had actually happened in a modified degree some years
ago to friends of ours — a story that a mere child could have believed
without injuring itself, much.

And that young man mocked at them all, and wanted us to repeat the feats
then and there, and to bet us ten to one that we didn’t.

We got to chatting about our rowing experiences this morning, and to
recounting stories of our first efforts in the art of oarsmanship. My
own earliest boating recollection is of five of us contributing
threepence each and taking out a curiously constructed craft on the
Regent’s Park lake, drying ourselves subsequently, in the park-keeper’s
lodge.

After that, having acquired a taste for the water, I did a good deal of
rafting in various suburban brickfields — an exercise providing more
interest and excitement than might be imagined, especially when you are
in the middle of the pond and the proprietor of the materials of which
the raft is constructed suddenly appears on the bank, with a big stick in
his hand.

Your first sensation on seeing this gentleman is that, somehow or other,
you don’t feel equal to company and conversation, and that, if you could
do so without appearing rude, you would rather avoid meeting him; and
your object is, therefore, to get off on the opposite side of the pond to
which he is, and to go home quietly and quickly, pretending not to see
him. He, on the contrary is yearning to take you by the hand, and talk
to you.

It appears that he knows your father, and is intimately acquainted with
yourself, but this does not draw you towards him. He says he’ll teach
you to take his boards and make a raft of them; but, seeing that you know
how to do this pretty well already, the offer, though doubtless kindly
meant, seems a superfluous one on his part, and you are reluctant to put
him to any trouble by accepting it.

His anxiety to meet you, however, is proof against all your coolness, and
the energetic manner in which he dodges up and down the pond so as to be
on the spot to greet you when you land is really quite flattering.

If he be of a stout and short-winded build, you can easily avoid his
advances; but, when he is of the youthful and long-legged type, a meeting
is inevitable. The interview is, however, extremely brief, most of the
conversation being on his part, your remarks being mostly of an
exclamatory and mono-syllabic order, and as soon as you can tear yourself
away you do so.

I devoted some three months to rafting, and, being then as proficient as
there was any need to be at that branch of the art, I determined to go in
for rowing proper, and joined one of the Lea boating clubs.

Being out in a boat on the river Lea, especially on Saturday afternoons,
soon makes you smart at handling a craft, and spry at escaping being run
down by roughs or swamped by barges; and it also affords plenty of
opportunity for acquiring the most prompt and graceful method of lying
down flat at the bottom of the boat so as to avoid being chucked out into
the river by passing tow-lines.

But it does not give you style. It was not till I came to the Thames
that I got style. My style of rowing is very much admired now. People
say it is so quaint.

George never went near the water until he was sixteen. Then he and eight
other gentlemen of about the same age went down in a body to Kew one
Saturday, with the idea of hiring a boat there, and pulling to Richmond
and back; one of their number, a shock-headed youth, named Joskins, who
had once or twice taken out a boat on the Serpentine, told them it was
jolly fun, boating!

The tide was running out pretty rapidly when they reached the landing-
stage, and there was a stiff breeze blowing across the river, but this
did not trouble them at all, and they proceeded to select their boat.

There was an eight-oared racing outrigger drawn up on the stage; that was
the one that took their fancy. They said they’d have that one, please.
The boatman was away, and only his boy was in charge. The boy tried to
damp their ardour for the outrigger, and showed them two or three very
comfortable-looking boats of the family-party build, but those would not
do at all; the outrigger was the boat they thought they would look best
in.

So the boy launched it, and they took off their coats and prepared to
take their seats. The boy suggested that George, who, even in those
days, was always the heavy man of any party, should be number four.
George said he should be happy to be number four, and promptly stepped
into bow’s place, and sat down with his back to the stern. They got him
into his proper position at last, and then the others followed.

A particularly nervous boy was appointed cox, and the steering principle
explained to him by Joskins. Joskins himself took stroke. He told the
others that it was simple enough; all they had to do was to follow him.

They said they were ready, and the boy on the landing stage took a boat-
hook and shoved him off.

What then followed George is unable to describe in detail. He has a
confused recollection of having, immediately on starting, received a
violent blow in the small of the back from the butt-end of number five’s
scull, at the same time that his own seat seemed to disappear from under
him by magic, and leave him sitting on the boards. He also noticed, as a
curious circumstance, that number two was at the same instant lying on
his back at the bottom of the boat, with his legs in the air, apparently
in a fit.

They passed under Kew Bridge, broadside, at the rate of eight miles an
hour. Joskins being the only one who was rowing. George, on recovering
his seat, tried to help him, but, on dipping his oar into the water, it
immediately, to his intense surprise, disappeared under the boat, and
nearly took him with it.

And then «cox» threw both rudder lines over-board, and burst into tears.

How they got back George never knew, but it took them just forty minutes.
A dense crowd watched the entertainment from Kew Bridge with much
interest, and everybody shouted out to them different directions. Three
times they managed to get the boat back through the arch, and three times
they were carried under it again, and every time «cox» looked up and saw
the bridge above him he broke out into renewed sobs.

George said he little thought that afternoon that he should ever come to
really like boating.

Harris is more accustomed to sea rowing than to river work, and says
that, as an exercise, he prefers it. I don’t. I remember taking a small
boat out at Eastbourne last summer: I used to do a good deal of sea
rowing years ago, and I thought I should be all right; but I found I had
forgotten the art entirely. When one scull was deep down underneath the
water, the other would be flourishing wildly about in the air. To get a
grip of the water with both at the same time I had to stand up. The
parade was crowded with nobility and gentry, and I had to pull past them
in this ridiculous fashion. I landed half-way down the beach, and
secured the services of an old boatman to take me back.

I like to watch an old boatman rowing, especially one who has been hired
by the hour. There is something so beautifully calm and restful about
his method. It is so free from that fretful haste, that vehement
striving, that is every day becoming more and more the bane of
nineteenth-century life. He is not for ever straining himself to pass
all the other boats. If another boat overtakes him and passes him it
does not annoy him; as a matter of fact, they all do overtake him and
pass him — all those that are going his way. This would trouble and
irritate some people; the sublime equanimity of the hired boatman under
the ordeal affords us a beautiful lesson against ambition and uppishness.

Plain practical rowing of the get-the-boat-along order is not a very
difficult art to acquire, but it takes a good deal of practice before a
man feels comfortable, when rowing past girls. It is the «time» that
worries a youngster. «It’s jolly funny,» he says, as for the twentieth
time within five minutes he disentangles his sculls from yours; «I can
get on all right when I’m by myself!»

To see two novices try to keep time with one another is very amusing.
Bow finds it impossible to keep pace with stroke, because stroke rows in
such an extraordinary fashion. Stroke is intensely indignant at this,
and explains that what he has been endeavouring to do for the last ten
minutes is to adapt his method to bow’s limited capacity. Bow, in turn,
then becomes insulted, and requests stroke not to trouble his head about
him (bow), but to devote his mind to setting a sensible stroke.

«Or, shall I take stroke?» he adds, with the evident idea that that would
at once put the whole matter right.

They splash along for another hundred yards with still moderate success,
and then the whole secret of their trouble bursts upon stroke like a
flash of inspiration.

«I tell you what it is: you’ve got my sculls,» he cries, turning to bow;
«pass yours over.»

«Well, do you know, I’ve been wondering how it was I couldn’t get on with
these,» answers bow, quite brightening up, and most willingly assisting
in the exchange. «NOW we shall be all right.»

But they are not — not even then. Stroke has to stretch his arms nearly
out of their sockets to reach his sculls now; while bow’s pair, at each
recovery, hit him a violent blow in the chest. So they change back
again, and come to the conclusion that the man has given them the wrong
set altogether; and over their mutual abuse of this man they become quite
friendly and sympathetic.

George said he had often longed to take to punting for a change. Punting
is not as easy as it looks. As in rowing, you soon learn how to get
along and handle the craft, but it takes long practice before you can do
this with dignity and without getting the water all up your sleeve.

One young man I knew had a very sad accident happen to him the first time
he went punting. He had been getting on so well that he had grown quite
cheeky over the business, and was walking up and down the punt, working
his pole with a careless grace that was quite fascinating to watch. Up
he would march to the head of the punt, plant his pole, and then run
along right to the other end, just like an old punter. Oh! it was grand.

And it would all have gone on being grand if he had not unfortunately,
while looking round to enjoy the scenery, taken just one step more than
there was any necessity for, and walked off the punt altogether. The
pole was firmly fixed in the mud, and he was left clinging to it while
the punt drifted away. It was an undignified position for him. A rude
boy on the bank immediately yelled out to a lagging chum to «hurry up and
see real monkey on a stick.»

I could not go to his assistance, because, as ill-luck would have it, we
had not taken the proper precaution to bring out a spare pole with us. I
could only sit and look at him. His expression as the pole slowly sank
with him I shall never forget; there was so much thought in it.

I watched him gently let down into the water, and saw him scramble out,
sad and wet. I could not help laughing, he looked such a ridiculous
figure. I continued to chuckle to myself about it for some time, and
then it was suddenly forced in upon me that really I had got very little
to laugh at when I came to think of it. Here was I, alone in a punt,
without a pole, drifting helplessly down mid-stream — possibly towards a
weir.

I began to feel very indignant with my friend for having stepped
overboard and gone off in that way. He might, at all events, have left
me the pole.

I drifted on for about a quarter of a mile, and then I came in sight of a
fishing-punt moored in mid-stream, in which sat two old fishermen. They
saw me bearing down upon them, and they called out to me to keep out of
their way.

«I can’t,» I shouted back.

«But you don’t try,» they answered.

I explained the matter to them when I got nearer, and they caught me and
lent me a pole. The weir was just fifty yards below. I am glad they
happened to be there.

The first time I went punting was in company with three other fellows;
they were going to show me how to do it. We could not all start
together, so I said I would go down first and get out the punt, and then
I could potter about and practice a bit until they came.

I could not get a punt out that afternoon, they were all engaged; so I
had nothing else to do but to sit down on the bank, watching the river,
and waiting for my friends.

I had not been sitting there long before my attention became attracted to
a man in a punt who, I noticed with some surprise, wore a jacket and cap
exactly like mine. He was evidently a novice at punting, and his
performance was most interesting. You never knew what was going to
happen when he put the pole in; he evidently did not know himself.
Sometimes he shot up stream and sometimes he shot down stream, and at
other times he simply spun round and came up the other side of the pole.
And with every result he seemed equally surprised and annoyed.

The people about the river began to get quite absorbed in him after a
while, and to make bets with one another as to what would be the outcome
of his next push.

In the course of time my friends arrived on the opposite bank, and they
stopped and watched him too. His back was towards them, and they only
saw his jacket and cap. From this they immediately jumped to the
conclusion that it was I, their beloved companion, who was making an
exhibition of himself, and their delight knew no bounds. They commenced
to chaff him unmercifully.

I did not grasp their mistake at first, and I thought, «How rude of them
to go on like that, with a perfect stranger, too!» But before I could
call out and reprove them, the explanation of the matter occurred to me,
and I withdrew behind a tree.

Oh, how they enjoyed themselves, ridiculing that young man! For five
good minutes they stood there, shouting ribaldry at him, deriding him,
mocking him, jeering at him. They peppered him with stale jokes, they
even made a few new ones and threw at him. They hurled at him all the
private family jokes belonging to our set, and which must have been
perfectly unintelligible to him. And then, unable to stand their brutal
jibes any longer, he turned round on them, and they saw his face!

I was glad to notice that they had sufficient decency left in them to
look very foolish. They explained to him that they had thought he was
some one they knew. They said they hoped he would not deem them capable
of so insulting any one except a personal friend of their own.

Of course their having mistaken him for a friend excused it. I remember
Harris telling me once of a bathing experience he had at Boulogne. He
was swimming about there near the beach, when he felt himself suddenly
seized by the neck from behind, and forcibly plunged under water. He
struggled violently, but whoever had got hold of him seemed to be a
perfect Hercules in strength, and all his efforts to escape were
unavailing. He had given up kicking, and was trying to turn his thoughts
upon solemn things, when his captor released him.

He regained his feet, and looked round for his would-be murderer. The
assassin was standing close by him, laughing heartily, but the moment he
caught sight of Harris’s face, as it emerged from the water, he started
back and seemed quite concerned.

«I really beg your pardon,» he stammered confusedly, «but I took you for
a friend of mine!»

Harris thought it was lucky for him the man had not mistaken him for a
relation, or he would probably have been drowned outright.

Sailing is a thing that wants knowledge and practice too — though, as a
boy, I did not think so. I had an idea it came natural to a body, like
rounders and touch. I knew another boy who held this view likewise, and
so, one windy day, we thought we would try the sport. We were stopping
down at Yarmouth, and we decided we would go for a trip up the Yare. We
hired a sailing boat at the yard by the bridge, and started off. «It’s
rather a rough day,» said the man to us, as we put off: «better take in a
reef and luff sharp when you get round the bend.»

We said we would make a point of it, and left him with a cheery «Good-
morning,» wondering to ourselves how you «luffed,» and where we were to
get a «reef» from, and what we were to do with it when we had got it.

We rowed until we were out of sight of the town, and then, with a wide
stretch of water in front of us, and the wind blowing a perfect hurricane
across it, we felt that the time had come to commence operations.

Hector — I think that was his name — went on pulling while I unrolled the
sail. It seemed a complicated job, but I accomplished it at length, and
then came the question, which was the top end?

By a sort of natural instinct, we, of course, eventually decided that the
bottom was the top, and set to work to fix it upside-down. But it was a
long time before we could get it up, either that way or any other way.
The impression on the mind of the sail seemed to be that we were playing
at funerals, and that I was the corpse and itself was the winding-sheet.

When it found that this was not the idea, it hit me over the head with
the boom, and refused to do anything.

«Wet it,» said Hector; «drop it over and get it wet.»

He said people in ships always wetted the sails before they put them up.
So I wetted it; but that only made matters worse than they were before.
A dry sail clinging to your legs and wrapping itself round your head is
not pleasant, but, when the sail is sopping wet, it becomes quite vexing.

We did get the thing up at last, the two of us together. We fixed it,
not exactly upside down — more sideways like — and we tied it up to the
mast with the painter, which we cut off for the purpose.

That the boat did not upset I simply state as a fact. Why it did not
upset I am unable to offer any reason. I have often thought about the
matter since, but I have never succeeded in arriving at any satisfactory
explanation of the phenomenon.

Possibly the result may have been brought about by the natural obstinacy
of all things in this world. The boat may possibly have come to the
conclusion, judging from a cursory view of our behaviour, that we had
come out for a morning’s suicide, and had thereupon determined to
disappoint us. That is the only suggestion I can offer.

By clinging like grim death to the gunwale, we just managed to keep
inside the boat, but it was exhausting work. Hector said that pirates
and other seafaring people generally lashed the rudder to something or
other, and hauled in the main top-jib, during severe squalls, and thought
we ought to try to do something of the kind; but I was for letting her
have her head to the wind.

As my advice was by far the easiest to follow, we ended by adopting it,
and contrived to embrace the gunwale and give her her head.

The boat travelled up stream for about a mile at a pace I have never
sailed at since, and don’t want to again. Then, at a bend, she heeled
over till half her sail was under water. Then she righted herself by a
miracle and flew for a long low bank of soft mud.

That mud-bank saved us. The boat ploughed its way into the middle of it
and then stuck. Finding that we were once more able to move according to
our ideas, instead of being pitched and thrown about like peas in a
bladder, we crept forward, and cut down the sail.

We had had enough sailing. We did not want to overdo the thing and get a
surfeit of it. We had had a sail — a good all-round exciting,
interesting sail — and now we thought we would have a row, just for a
change like.

We took the sculls and tried to push the boat off the mud, and, in doing
so, we broke one of the sculls. After that we proceeded with great
caution, but they were a wretched old pair, and the second one cracked
almost easier than the first, and left us helpless.

The mud stretched out for about a hundred yards in front of us, and
behind us was the water. The only thing to be done was to sit and wait
until someone came by.

It was not the sort of day to attract people out on the river, and it was
three hours before a soul came in sight. It was an old fisherman who,
with immense difficulty, at last rescued us, and we were towed back in an
ignominious fashion to the boat-yard.

What between tipping the man who had brought us home, and paying for the
broken sculls, and for having been out four hours and a half, it cost us
a pretty considerable number of weeks’ pocket-money, that sail. But we
learned experience, and they say that is always cheap at any price.

 

CHAPTER XVI.

READING. — WE ARE TOWED BY STEAM LAUNCH. — IRRITATING BEHAVIOUR OF SMALL
BOATS. — HOW THEY GET IN THE WAY OF STEAM LAUNCHES. — GEORGE AND HARRIS
AGAIN SHIRK THEIR WORK. — RATHER A HACKNEYED STORY. — STREATLEY AND
GORING.

WE came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal
here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading. The town
itself is a famous old place, dating from the dim days of King Ethelred,
when the Danes anchored their warships in the Kennet, and started from
Reading to ravage all the land of Wessex; and here Ethelred and his
brother Alfred fought and defeated them, Ethelred doing the praying and
Alfred the fighting.

In later years, Reading seems to have been regarded as a handy place to
run down to, when matters were becoming unpleasant in London. Parliament
generally rushed off to Reading whenever there was a plague on at
Westminster; and, in 1625, the Law followed suit, and all the courts were
held at Reading. It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary
plague now and then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the
Parliament.

During the Parliamentary struggle, Reading was besieged by the Earl of
Essex, and, a quarter of a century later, the Prince of Orange routed
King James’s troops there.

Henry I. lies buried at Reading, in the Benedictine abbey founded by him
there, the ruins of which may still be seen; and, in this same abbey,
great John of Gaunt was married to the Lady Blanche.

At Reading lock we came up with a steam launch, belonging to some friends
of mine, and they towed us up to within about a mile of Streatley. It is
very delightful being towed up by a launch. I prefer it myself to
rowing. The run would have been more delightful still, if it had not
been for a lot of wretched small boats that were continually getting in
the way of our launch, and, to avoid running down which, we had to be
continually easing and stopping. It is really most annoying, the manner
in which these rowing boats get in the way of one’s launch up the river;
something ought to done to stop it.

And they are so confoundedly impertinent, too, over it. You can whistle
till you nearly burst your boiler before they will trouble themselves to
hurry. I would have one or two of them run down now and then, if I had
my way, just to teach them all a lesson.

The river becomes very lovely from a little above Reading. The railway
rather spoils it near Tilehurst, but from Mapledurham up to Streatley it
is glorious. A little above Mapledurham lock you pass Hardwick House,
where Charles I. played bowls. The neighbourhood of Pangbourne, where
the quaint little Swan Inn stands, must be as familiar to the HABITUES of
the Art Exhibitions as it is to its own inhabitants.

My friends’ launch cast us loose just below the grotto, and then Harris
wanted to make out that it was my turn to pull. This seemed to me most
unreasonable. It had been arranged in the morning that I should bring
the boat up to three miles above Reading. Well, here we were, ten miles
above Reading! Surely it was now their turn again.

I could not get either George or Harris to see the matter in its proper
light, however; so, to save argument, I took the sculls. I had not been
pulling for more than a minute or so, when George noticed something black
floating on the water, and we drew up to it. George leant over, as we
neared it, and laid hold of it. And then he drew back with a cry, and a
blanched face.

It was the dead body of a woman. It lay very lightly on the water, and
the face was sweet and calm. It was not a beautiful face; it was too
prematurely aged-looking, too thin and drawn, to be that; but it was a
gentle, lovable face, in spite of its stamp of pinch and poverty, and
upon it was that look of restful peace that comes to the faces of the
sick sometimes when at last the pain has left them.

Fortunately for us — we having no desire to be kept hanging about
coroners’ courts — some men on the bank had seen the body too, and now
took charge of it from us.

We found out the woman’s story afterwards. Of course it was the old, old
vulgar tragedy. She had loved and been deceived — or had deceived
herself. Anyhow, she had sinned — some of us do now and then — and her
family and friends, naturally shocked and indignant, had closed their
doors against her.

Left to fight the world alone, with the millstone of her shame around her
neck, she had sunk ever lower and lower. For a while she had kept both
herself and the child on the twelve shillings a week that twelve hours’
drudgery a day procured her, paying six shillings out of it for the
child, and keeping her own body and soul together on the remainder.

Six shillings a week does not keep body and soul together very unitedly.
They want to get away from each other when there is only such a very
slight bond as that between them; and one day, I suppose, the pain and
the dull monotony of it all had stood before her eyes plainer than usual,
and the mocking spectre had frightened her. She had made one last appeal
to friends, but, against the chill wall of their respectability, the
voice of the erring outcast fell unheeded; and then she had gone to see
her child — had held it in her arms and kissed it, in a weary, dull sort
of way, and without betraying any particular emotion of any kind, and had
left it, after putting into its hand a penny box of chocolate she had
bought it, and afterwards, with her last few shillings, had taken a
ticket and come down to Goring.

It seemed that the bitterest thoughts of her life must have centred about
the wooded reaches and the bright green meadows around Goring; but women
strangely hug the knife that stabs them, and, perhaps, amidst the gall,
there may have mingled also sunny memories of sweetest hours, spent upon
those shadowed deeps over which the great trees bend their branches down
so low.

She had wandered about the woods by the river’s brink all day, and then,
when evening fell and the grey twilight spread its dusky robe upon the
waters, she stretched her arms out to the silent river that had known her
sorrow and her joy. And the old river had taken her into its gentle
arms, and had laid her weary head upon its bosom, and had hushed away the
pain.

Thus had she sinned in all things — sinned in living and in dying. God
help her! and all other sinners, if any more there be.

Goring on the left bank and Streatley on the right are both or either
charming places to stay at for a few days. The reaches down to
Pangbourne woo one for a sunny sail or for a moonlight row, and the
country round about is full of beauty. We had intended to push on to
Wallingford that day, but the sweet smiling face of the river here lured
us to linger for a while; and so we left our boat at the bridge, and went
up into Streatley, and lunched at the «Bull,» much to Montmorency’s
satisfaction.

They say that the hills on each ride of the stream here once joined and
formed a barrier across what is now the Thames, and that then the river
ended there above Goring in one vast lake. I am not in a position either
to contradict or affirm this statement. I simply offer it.

It is an ancient place, Streatley, dating back, like most river-side
towns and villages, to British and Saxon times. Goring is not nearly so
pretty a little spot to stop at as Streatley, if you have your choice;
but it is passing fair enough in its way, and is nearer the railway in
case you want to slip off without paying your hotel bill.

 

CHAPTER XVII.

WASHING DAY. — FISH AND FISHERS. — ON THE ART OF ANGLING. — A
CONSCIENTIOUS FLY-FISHER. — A FISHY STORY.

WE stayed two days at Streatley, and got our clothes washed. We had
tried washing them ourselves, in the river, under George’s
superintendence, and it had been a failure. Indeed, it had been more
than a failure, because we were worse off after we had washed our clothes
than we were before. Before we had washed them, they had been very, very
dirty, it is true; but they were just wearable. AFTER we had washed them
- well, the river between Reading and Henley was much cleaner, after we
had washed our clothes in it, than it was before. All the dirt contained
in the river between Reading and Henley, we collected, during that wash,
and worked it into our clothes.

The washerwoman at Streatley said she felt she owed it to herself to
charge us just three times the usual prices for that wash. She said it
had not been like washing, it had been more in the nature of excavating.

We paid the bill without a murmur.

The neighbourhood of Streatley and Goring is a great fishing centre.
There is some excellent fishing to be had here. The river abounds in
pike, roach, dace, gudgeon, and eels, just here; and you can sit and fish
for them all day.

Some people do. They never catch them. I never knew anybody catch
anything, up the Thames, except minnows and dead cats, but that has
nothing to do, of course, with fishing! The local fisherman’s guide
doesn’t say a word about catching anything. All it says is the place is
«a good station for fishing;» and, from what I have seen of the district,
I am quite prepared to bear out this statement.

There is no spot in the world where you can get more fishing, or where
you can fish for a longer period. Some fishermen come here and fish for
a day, and others stop and fish for a month. You can hang on and fish
for a year, if you want to: it will be all the same.

The ANGLER’S GUIDE TO THE THAMES says that «jack and perch are also to be
had about here,» but there the ANGLER’S GUIDE is wrong. Jack and perch
may BE about there. Indeed, I know for a fact that they are. You can
SEE them there in shoals, when you are out for a walk along the banks:
they come and stand half out of the water with their mouths open for
biscuits. And, if you go for a bathe, they crowd round, and get in your
way, and irritate you. But they are not to be «had» by a bit of worm on
the end of a hook, nor anything like it — not they!

I am not a good fisherman myself. I devoted a considerable amount of
attention to the subject at one time, and was getting on, as I thought,
fairly well; but the old hands told me that I should never be any real
good at it, and advised me to give it up. They said that I was an
extremely neat thrower, and that I seemed to have plenty of gumption for
the thing, and quite enough constitutional laziness. But they were sure
I should never make anything of a fisherman. I had not got sufficient
imagination.

They said that as a poet, or a shilling shocker, or a reporter, or
anything of that kind, I might be satisfactory, but that, to gain any
position as a Thames angler, would require more play of fancy, more power
of invention than I appeared to possess.

Some people are under the impression that all that is required to make a
good fisherman is the ability to tell lies easily and without blushing;
but this is a mistake. Mere bald fabrication is useless; the veriest
tyro can manage that. It is in the circumstantial detail, the
embellishing touches of probability, the general air of scrupulous -
almost of pedantic — veracity, that the experienced angler is seen.

Anybody can come in and say, «Oh, I caught fifteen dozen perch yesterday
evening;» or «Last Monday I landed a gudgeon, weighing eighteen pounds,
and measuring three feet from the tip to the tail.»

There is no art, no skill, required for that sort of thing. It shows
pluck, but that is all.

No; your accomplished angler would scorn to tell a lie, that way. His
method is a study in itself.

He comes in quietly with his hat on, appropriates the most comfortable
chair, lights his pipe, and commences to puff in silence. He lets the
youngsters brag away for a while, and then, during a momentary lull, he
removes the pipe from his mouth, and remarks, as he knocks the ashes out
against the bars:

«Well, I had a haul on Tuesday evening that it’s not much good my telling
anybody about.»

«Oh! why’s that?» they ask.

«Because I don’t expect anybody would believe me if I did,» replies the
old fellow calmly, and without even a tinge of bitterness in his tone, as
he refills his pipe, and requests the landlord to bring him three of
Scotch, cold.

There is a pause after this, nobody feeling sufficiently sure of himself
to contradict the old gentleman. So he has to go on by himself without
any encouragement.

«No,» he continues thoughtfully; «I shouldn’t believe it myself if
anybody told it to me, but it’s a fact, for all that. I had been sitting
there all the afternoon and had caught literally nothing — except a few
dozen dace and a score of jack; and I was just about giving it up as a
bad job when I suddenly felt a rather smart pull at the line. I thought
it was another little one, and I went to jerk it up. Hang me, if I could
move the rod! It took me half-an-hour — half-an-hour, sir! — to land
that fish; and every moment I thought the line was going to snap! I
reached him at last, and what do you think it was? A sturgeon! a forty
pound sturgeon! taken on a line, sir! Yes, you may well look surprised -
I’ll have another three of Scotch, landlord, please.»

And then he goes on to tell of the astonishment of everybody who saw it;
and what his wife said, when he got home, and of what Joe Buggles thought
about it.

I asked the landlord of an inn up the river once, if it did not injure
him, sometimes, listening to the tales that the fishermen about there
told him; and he said:

«Oh, no; not now, sir. It did used to knock me over a bit at first, but,
lor love you! me and the missus we listens to `em all day now. It’s what
you’re used to, you know. It’s what you’re used to.»

I knew a young man once, he was a most conscientious fellow, and, when he
took to fly-fishing, he determined never to exaggerate his hauls by more
than twenty-five per cent.

«When I have caught forty fish,» said he, «then I will tell people that I
have caught fifty, and so on. But I will not lie any more than that,
because it is sinful to lie.»

But the twenty-five per cent. plan did not work well at all. He never
was able to use it. The greatest number of fish he ever caught in one
day was three, and you can’t add twenty-five per cent. to three — at
least, not in fish.

So he increased his percentage to thirty-three-and-a-third; but that,
again, was awkward, when he had only caught one or two; so, to simplify
matters, he made up his mind to just double the quantity.

He stuck to this arrangement for a couple of months, and then he grew
dissatisfied with it. Nobody believed him when he told them that he only
doubled, and he, therefore, gained no credit that way whatever, while his
moderation put him at a disadvantage among the other anglers. When he
had really caught three small fish, and said he had caught six, it used
to make him quite jealous to hear a man, whom he knew for a fact had only
caught one, going about telling people he had landed two dozen.

So, eventually, he made one final arrangement with himself, which he has
religiously held to ever since, and that was to count each fish that he
caught as ten, and to assume ten to begin with. For example, if he did
not catch any fish at all, then he said he had caught ten fish — you
could never catch less than ten fish by his system; that was the
foundation of it. Then, if by any chance he really did catch one fish,
he called it twenty, while two fish would count thirty, three forty, and
so on.

It is a simple and easily worked plan, and there has been some talk
lately of its being made use of by the angling fraternity in general.
Indeed, the Committee of the Thames Angler’s Association did recommend
its adoption about two years ago, but some of the older members opposed
it. They said they would consider the idea if the number were doubled,
and each fish counted as twenty.

If ever you have an evening to spare, up the river, I should advise you
to drop into one of the little village inns, and take a seat in the tap-
room. You will be nearly sure to meet one or two old rod-men, sipping
their toddy there, and they will tell you enough fishy stories, in half
an hour, to give you indigestion for a month.

George and I — I don’t know what had become of Harris; he had gone out
and had a shave, early in the afternoon, and had then come back and spent
full forty minutes in pipeclaying his shoes, we had not seen him since -
George and I, therefore, and the dog, left to ourselves, went for a walk
to Wallingford on the second evening, and, coming home, we called in at a
little river-side inn, for a rest, and other things.

We went into the parlour and sat down. There was an old fellow there,
smoking a long clay pipe, and we naturally began chatting.

He told us that it had been a fine day to-day, and we told him that it
had been a fine day yesterday, and then we all told each other that we
thought it would be a fine day to-morrow; and George said the crops
seemed to be coming up nicely.

After that it came out, somehow or other, that we were strangers in the
neighbourhood, and that we were going away the next morning.

Then a pause ensued in the conversation, during which our eyes wandered
round the room. They finally rested upon a dusty old glass-case, fixed
very high up above the chimney-piece, and containing a trout. It rather
fascinated me, that trout; it was such a monstrous fish. In fact, at
first glance, I thought it was a cod.

«Ah!» said the old gentleman, following the direction of my gaze, «fine
fellow that, ain’t he?»

«Quite uncommon,» I murmured; and George asked the old man how much he
thought it weighed.

«Eighteen pounds six ounces,» said our friend, rising and taking down his
coat. «Yes,» he continued, «it wur sixteen year ago, come the third o’
next month, that I landed him. I caught him just below the bridge with a
minnow. They told me he wur in the river, and I said I’d have him, and
so I did. You don’t see many fish that size about here now, I’m
thinking. Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.»

And out he went, and left us alone.

We could not take our eyes off the fish after that. It really was a
remarkably fine fish. We were still looking at it, when the local
carrier, who had just stopped at the inn, came to the door of the room
with a pot of beer in his hand, and he also looked at the fish.

«Good-sized trout, that,» said George, turning round to him.

«Ah! you may well say that, sir,» replied the man; and then, after a pull
at his beer, he added, «Maybe you wasn’t here, sir, when that fish was
caught?»

«No,» we told him. We were strangers in the neighbourhood.

«Ah!» said the carrier, «then, of course, how should you? It was nearly
five years ago that I caught that trout.»

«Oh! was it you who caught it, then?» said I.

«Yes, sir,» replied the genial old fellow. «I caught him just below the
lock — leastways, what was the lock then — one Friday afternoon; and the
remarkable thing about it is that I caught him with a fly. I’d gone out
pike fishing, bless you, never thinking of a trout, and when I saw that
whopper on the end of my line, blest if it didn’t quite take me aback.
Well, you see, he weighed twenty-six pound. Good-night, gentlemen, good-
night.»

Five minutes afterwards, a third man came in, and described how he had
caught it early one morning, with bleak; and then he left, and a stolid,
solemn-looking, middle-aged individual came in, and sat down over by the
window.

None of us spoke for a while; but, at length, George turned to the new
comer, and said:

«I beg your pardon, I hope you will forgive the liberty that we — perfect
strangers in the neighbourhood — are taking, but my friend here and
myself would be so much obliged if you would tell us how you caught that
trout up there.»

«Why, who told you I caught that trout!» was the surprised query.

We said that nobody had told us so, but somehow or other we felt
instinctively that it was he who had done it.

«Well, it’s a most remarkable thing — most remarkable,» answered the
stolid stranger, laughing; «because, as a matter of fact, you are quite
right. I did catch it. But fancy your guessing it like that. Dear me,
it’s really a most remarkable thing.»

And then he went on, and told us how it had taken him half an hour to
land it, and how it had broken his rod. He said he had weighed it
carefully when he reached home, and it had turned the scale at thirty-
four pounds.

He went in his turn, and when he was gone, the landlord came in to us.
We told him the various histories we had heard about his trout, and he
was immensely amused, and we all laughed very heartily.

«Fancy Jim Bates and Joe Muggles and Mr. Jones and old Billy Maunders all
telling you that they had caught it. Ha! ha! ha! Well, that is good,»
said the honest old fellow, laughing heartily. «Yes, they are the sort
to give it ME, to put up in MY parlour, if THEY had caught it, they are!
Ha! ha! ha!»

And then he told us the real history of the fish. It seemed that he had
caught it himself, years ago, when he was quite a lad; not by any art or
skill, but by that unaccountable luck that appears to always wait upon a
boy when he plays the wag from school, and goes out fishing on a sunny
afternoon, with a bit of string tied on to the end of a tree.

He said that bringing home that trout had saved him from a whacking, and
that even his school-master had said it was worth the rule-of-three and
practice put together.

He was called out of the room at this point, and George and I again
turned our gaze upon the fish.

It really was a most astonishing trout. The more we looked at it, the
more we marvelled at it.

It excited George so much that he climbed up on the back of a chair to
get a better view of it.

And then the chair slipped, and George clutched wildly at the trout-case
to save himself, and down it came with a crash, George and the chair on
top of it.

«You haven’t injured the fish, have you?» I cried in alarm, rushing up.

«I hope not,» said George, rising cautiously and looking about.

But he had. That trout lay shattered into a thousand fragments — I say a
thousand, but they may have only been nine hundred. I did not count
them.

We thought it strange and unaccountable that a stuffed trout should break
up into little pieces like that.

And so it would have been strange and unaccountable, if it had been a
stuffed trout, but it was not.

That trout was plaster-of-Paris.

 

CHAPTER XVIII.

LOCKS. — GEORGE AND I ARE PHOTOGRAPHED. — WALLINGFORD. — DORCHESTER. -
ABINGDON. — A FAMILY MAN. — A GOOD SPOT FOR DROWNING. — A DIFFICULT BIT
OF WATER. — DEMORALIZING EFFECT OF RIVER AIR.

WE left Streatley early the next morning, and pulled up to Culham, and
slept under the canvas, in the backwater there.

The river is not extraordinarily interesting between Streatley and
Wallingford. From Cleve you get a stretch of six and a half miles
without a lock. I believe this is the longest uninterrupted stretch
anywhere above Teddington, and the Oxford Club make use of it for their
trial eights.

But however satisfactory this absence of locks may be to rowing-men, it
is to be regretted by the mere pleasure-seeker.

For myself, I am fond of locks. They pleasantly break the monotony of
the pull. I like sitting in the boat and slowly rising out of the cool
depths up into new reaches and fresh views; or sinking down, as it were,
out of the world, and then waiting, while the gloomy gates creak, and the
narrow strip of day-light between them widens till the fair smiling river
lies full before you, and you push your little boat out from its brief
prison on to the welcoming waters once again.

They are picturesque little spots, these locks. The stout old lock-
keeper, or his cheerful-looking wife, or bright-eyed daughter, are
pleasant folk to have a passing chat with. * You meet other boats there,
and river gossip is exchanged. The Thames would not be the fairyland it
is without its flower-decked locks.

* Or rather WERE. The Conservancy of late seems to have constituted
itself into a society for the employment of idiots. A good many of the
new lock-keepers, especially in the more crowded portions of the river,
are excitable, nervous old men, quite unfitted for their post.

Talking of locks reminds me of an accident George and I very nearly had
one summer’s morning at Hampton Court.

It was a glorious day, and the lock was crowded; and, as is a common
practice up the river, a speculative photographer was taking a picture of
us all as we lay upon the rising waters.

I did not catch what was going on at first, and was, therefore, extremely
surprised at noticing George hurriedly smooth out his trousers, ruffle up
his hair, and stick his cap on in a rakish manner at the back of his
head, and then, assuming an expression of mingled affability and sadness,
sit down in a graceful attitude, and try to hide his feet.

My first idea was that he had suddenly caught sight of some girl he knew,
and I looked about to see who it was. Everybody in the lock seemed to
have been suddenly struck wooden. They were all standing or sitting
about in the most quaint and curious attitudes I have ever seen off a
Japanese fan. All the girls were smiling. Oh, they did look so sweet!
And all the fellows were frowning, and looking stern and noble.

And then, at last, the truth flashed across me, and I wondered if I
should be in time. Ours was the first boat, and it would be unkind of me
to spoil the man’s picture, I thought.

So I faced round quickly, and took up a position in the prow, where I
leant with careless grace upon the hitcher, in an attitude suggestive of
agility and strength. I arranged my hair with a curl over the forehead,
and threw an air of tender wistfulness into my expression, mingled with a
touch of cynicism, which I am told suits me.

As we stood, waiting for the eventful moment, I heard someone behind call
out:

«Hi! look at your nose.»

I could not turn round to see what was the matter, and whose nose it was
that was to be looked at. I stole a side-glance at George’s nose! It
was all right — at all events, there was nothing wrong with it that could
be altered. I squinted down at my own, and that seemed all that could be
expected also.

«Look at your nose, you stupid ass!» came the same voice again, louder.

And then another voice cried:

«Push your nose out, can’t you, you — you two with the dog!»

Neither George nor I dared to turn round. The man’s hand was on the cap,
and the picture might be taken any moment. Was it us they were calling
to? What was the matter with our noses? Why were they to be pushed out!

But now the whole lock started yelling, and a stentorian voice from the
back shouted:

«Look at your boat, sir; you in the red and black caps. It’s your two
corpses that will get taken in that photo, if you ain’t quick.»

We looked then, and saw that the nose of our boat had got fixed under the
woodwork of the lock, while the in-coming water was rising all around it,
and tilting it up. In another moment we should be over. Quick as
thought, we each seized an oar, and a vigorous blow against the side of
the lock with the butt-ends released the boat, and sent us sprawling on
our backs.

We did not come out well in that photograph, George and I. Of course, as
was to be expected, our luck ordained it, that the man should set his
wretched machine in motion at the precise moment that we were both lying
on our backs with a wild expression of «Where am I? and what is it?» on
our faces, and our four feet waving madly in the air.

Our feet were undoubtedly the leading article in that photograph.
Indeed, very little else was to be seen. They filled up the foreground
entirely. Behind them, you caught glimpses of the other boats, and bits
of the surrounding scenery; but everything and everybody else in the lock
looked so utterly insignificant and paltry compared with our feet, that
all the other people felt quite ashamed of themselves, and refused to
subscribe to the picture.

The owner of one steam launch, who had bespoke six copies, rescinded the
order on seeing the negative. He said he would take them if anybody
could show him his launch, but nobody could. It was somewhere behind
George’s right foot.

There was a good deal of unpleasantness over the business. The
photographer thought we ought to take a dozen copies each, seeing that
the photo was about nine-tenths us, but we declined. We said we had no
objection to being photo’d full-length, but we preferred being taken the
right way up.

Wallingford, six miles above Streatley, is a very ancient town, and has
been an active centre for the making of English history. It was a rude,
mud-built town in the time of the Britons, who squatted there, until the
Roman legions evicted them; and replaced their clay-baked walls by mighty
fortifications, the trace of which Time has not yet succeeded in sweeping
away, so well those old-world masons knew how to build.

But Time, though he halted at Roman walls, soon crumbled Romans to dust;
and on the ground, in later years, fought savage Saxons and huge Danes,
until the Normans came.

It was a walled and fortified town up to the time of the Parliamentary
War, when it suffered a long and bitter siege from Fairfax. It fell at
last, and then the walls were razed.

From Wallingford up to Dorchester the neighbourhood of the river grows
more hilly, varied, and picturesque. Dorchester stands half a mile from
the river. It can be reached by paddling up the Thame, if you have a
small boat; but the best way is to leave the river at Day’s Lock, and
take a walk across the fields. Dorchester is a delightfully peaceful old
place, nestling in stillness and silence and drowsiness.

Dorchester, like Wallingford, was a city in ancient British times; it was
then called Caer Doren, «the city on the water.» In more recent times
the Romans formed a great camp here, the fortifications surrounding which
now seem like low, even hills. In Saxon days it was the capital of
Wessex. It is very old, and it was very strong and great once. Now it
sits aside from the stirring world, and nods and dreams.

Round Clifton Hampden, itself a wonderfully pretty village, old-
fashioned, peaceful, and dainty with flowers, the river scenery is rich
and beautiful. If you stay the night on land at Clifton, you cannot do
better than put up at the «Barley Mow.» It is, without exception, I
should say, the quaintest, most old-world inn up the river. It stands on
the right of the bridge, quite away from the village. Its low-pitched
gables and thatched roof and latticed windows give it quite a story-book
appearance, while inside it is even still more once-upon-a-timeyfied.

It would not be a good place for the heroine of a modern novel to stay
at. The heroine of a modern novel is always «divinely tall,» and she is
ever «drawing herself up to her full height.» At the «Barley Mow» she
would bump her head against the ceiling each time she did this.

It would also be a bad house for a drunken man to put up at. There are
too many surprises in the way of unexpected steps down into this room and
up into that; and as for getting upstairs to his bedroom, or ever finding
his bed when he got up, either operation would be an utter impossibility
to him.

We were up early the next morning, as we wanted to be in Oxford by the
afternoon. It is surprising how early one can get up, when camping out.
One does not yearn for «just another five minutes» nearly so much, lying
wrapped up in a rug on the boards of a boat, with a Gladstone bag for a
pillow, as one does in a featherbed. We had finished breakfast, and were
through Clifton Lock by half-past eight.

From Clifton to Culham the river banks are flat, monotonous, and
uninteresting, but, after you get through Culhalm Lock — the coldest and
deepest lock on the river — the landscape improves.

At Abingdon, the river passes by the streets. Abingdon is a typical
country town of the smaller order — quiet, eminently respectable, clean,
and desperately dull. It prides itself on being old, but whether it can
compare in this respect with Wallingford and Dorchester seems doubtful.
A famous abbey stood here once, and within what is left of its sanctified
walls they brew bitter ale nowadays.

In St. Nicholas Church, at Abingdon, there is a monument to John
Blackwall and his wife Jane, who both, after leading a happy married
life, died on the very same day, August 21, 1625; and in St. Helen’s
Church, it is recorded that W. Lee, who died in 1637, «had in his
lifetime issue from his loins two hundred lacking but three.» If you
work this out you will find that Mr. W. Lee’s family numbered one hundred
and ninety-seven. Mr. W. Lee — five times Mayor of Abingdon — was, no
doubt, a benefactor to his generation, but I hope there are not many of
his kind about in this overcrowded nineteenth century.

From Abingdon to Nuneham Courteney is a lovely stretch. Nuneham Park is
well worth a visit. It can be viewed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The
house contains a fine collection of pictures and curiosities, and the
grounds are very beautiful.

The pool under Sandford lasher, just behind the lock, is a very good
place to drown yourself in. The undercurrent is terribly strong, and if
you once get down into it you are all right. An obelisk marks the spot
where two men have already been drowned, while bathing there; and the
steps of the obelisk are generally used as a diving-board by young men
now who wish to see if the place really IS dangerous.

Iffley Lock and Mill, a mile before you reach Oxford, is a favourite
subject with the river-loving brethren of the brush. The real article,
however, is rather disappointing, after the pictures. Few things, I have
noticed, come quite up to the pictures of them, in this world.

We passed through Iffley Lock at about half-past twelve, and then, having
tidied up the boat and made all ready for landing, we set to work on our
last mile.

Between Iffley and Oxford is the most difficult bit of the river I know.
You want to be born on that bit of water, to understand it. I have been
over it a fairish number of times, but I have never been able to get the
hang of it. The man who could row a straight course from Oxford to
Iffley ought to be able to live comfortably, under one roof, with his
wife, his mother-in-law, his elder sister, and the old servant who was in
the family when he was a baby.

First the current drives you on to the right bank, and then on to the
left, then it takes you out into the middle, turns you round three times,
and carries you up stream again, and always ends by trying to smash you
up against a college barge.

Of course, as a consequence of this, we got in the way of a good many
other boats, during the mile, and they in ours, and, of course, as a
consequence of that, a good deal of bad language occurred.

I don’t know why it should be, but everybody is always so exceptionally
irritable on the river. Little mishaps, that you would hardly notice on
dry land, drive you nearly frantic with rage, when they occur on the
water. When Harris or George makes an ass of himself on dry land, I
smile indulgently; when they behave in a chuckle-head way on the river, I
use the most blood-curdling language to them. When another boat gets in
my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.

The mildest tempered people, when on land, become violent and blood-
thirsty when in a boat. I did a little boating once with a young lady.
She was naturally of the sweetest and gentlest disposition imaginable,
but on the river it was quite awful to hear her.

«Oh, drat the man!» she would exclaim, when some unfortunate sculler
would get in her way; «why don’t he look where he’s going?»

And, «Oh, bother the silly old thing!» she would say indignantly, when
the sail would not go up properly. And she would catch hold of it, and
shake it quite brutally.

Yet, as I have said, when on shore she was kind-hearted and amiable
enough.

The air of the river has a demoralising effect upon one’s temper, and
this it is, I suppose, which causes even barge men to be sometimes rude
to one another, and to use language which, no doubt, in their calmer
moments they regret.

 

CHAPTER XIX.

OXFORD. — MONTMORENCY’S IDEA OF HEAVEN. — THE HIRED UP-RIVER BOAT, ITS
BEAUTIES AND ADVANTAGES. — THE «PRIDE OF THE THAMES.» — THE WEATHER
CHANGES. — THE RIVER UNDER DIFFERENT ASPECTS. — NOT A CHEERFUL EVENING. -
YEARNINGS FOR THE UNATTAINABLE. — THE CHEERY CHAT GOES ROUND. — GEORGE
PERFORMS UPON THE BANJO. — A MOURNFUL MELODY. — ANOTHER WET DAY. -
FLIGHT. — A LITTLE SUPPER AND A TOAST.

WE spent two very pleasant days at Oxford. There are plenty of dogs in
the town of Oxford. Montmorency had eleven fights on the first day, and
fourteen on the second, and evidently thought he had got to heaven.

Among folk too constitutionally weak, or too constitutionally lazy,
whichever it may be, to relish up-stream work, it is a common practice to
get a boat at Oxford, and row down. For the energetic, however, the up-
stream journey is certainly to be preferred. It does not seem good to be
always going with the current. There is more satisfaction in squaring
one’s back, and fighting against it, and winning one’s way forward in
spite of it — at least, so I feel, when Harris and George are sculling
and I am steering.

To those who do contemplate making Oxford their starting-place, I would
say, take your own boat — unless, of course, you can take someone else’s
without any possible danger of being found out. The boats that, as a
rule, are let for hire on the Thames above Marlow, are very good boats.
They are fairly water-tight; and so long as they are handled with care,
they rarely come to pieces, or sink. There are places in them to sit
down on, and they are complete with all the necessary arrangements — or
nearly all — to enable you to row them and steer them.

But they are not ornamental. The boat you hire up the river above Marlow
is not the sort of boat in which you can flash about and give yourself
airs. The hired up-river boat very soon puts a stop to any nonsense of
that sort on the part of its occupants. That is its chief — one may say,
its only recommendation.

The man in the hired up-river boat is modest and retiring. He likes to
keep on the shady side, underneath the trees, and to do most of his
travelling early in the morning or late at night, when there are not many
people about on the river to look at him.

When the man in the hired up-river boat sees anyone he knows, he gets out
on to the bank, and hides behind a tree.

I was one of a party who hired an up-river boat one summer, for a few
days’ trip. We had none of us ever seen the hired up-river boat before;
and we did not know what it was when we did see it.

We had written for a boat — a double sculling skiff; and when we went
down with our bags to the yard, and gave our names, the man said:

«Oh, yes; you’re the party that wrote for a double sculling skiff. It’s
all right. Jim, fetch round THE PRIDE OF THE THAMES.»

The boy went, and re-appeared five minutes afterwards, struggling with an
antediluvian chunk of wood, that looked as though it had been recently
dug out of somewhere, and dug out carelessly, so as to have been
unnecessarily damaged in the process.

My own idea, on first catching sight of the object, was that it was a
Roman relic of some sort, — relic of WHAT I do not know, possibly of a
coffin.

The neighbourhood of the upper Thames is rich in Roman relics, and my
surmise seemed to me a very probable one; but our serious young man, who
is a bit of a geologist, pooh-poohed my Roman relic theory, and said it
was clear to the meanest intellect (in which category he seemed to be
grieved that he could not conscientiously include mine) that the thing
the boy had found was the fossil of a whale; and he pointed out to us
various evidences proving that it must have belonged to the preglacial
period.

To settle the dispute, we appealed to the boy. We told him not to be
afraid, but to speak the plain truth: Was it the fossil of a pre-Adamite
whale, or was it an early Roman coffin?

The boy said it was THE PRIDE OF THE THAMES.

We thought this a very humorous answer on the part of the boy at first,
and somebody gave him twopence as a reward for his ready wit; but when he
persisted in keeping up the joke, as we thought, too long, we got vexed
with him.

«Come, come, my lad!» said our captain sharply, «don’t let us have any
nonsense. You take your mother’s washing-tub home again, and bring us a
boat.»

The boat-builder himself came up then, and assured us, on his word, as a
practical man, that the thing really was a boat — was, in fact, THE boat,
the «double sculling skiff» selected to take us on our trip down the
river.

We grumbled a good deal. We thought he might, at least, have had it
whitewashed or tarred — had SOMETHING done to it to distinguish it from a
bit of a wreck; but he could not see any fault in it.

He even seemed offended at our remarks. He said he had picked us out the
best boat in all his stock, and he thought we might have been more
grateful.

He said it, THE PRIDE OF THE THAMES, had been in use, just as it now
stood (or rather as it now hung together), for the last forty years, to
his knowledge, and nobody had complained of it before, and he did not see
why we should be the first to begin.

We argued no more.

We fastened the so-called boat together with some pieces of string, got a
bit of wall-paper and pasted over the shabbier places, said our prayers,
and stepped on board.

They charged us thirty-five shillings for the loan of the remnant for six
days; and we could have bought the thing out-and-out for four-and-
sixpence at any sale of drift-wood round the coast.

The weather changed on the third day, — Oh! I am talking about our
present trip now, — and we started from Oxford upon our homeward journey
in the midst of a steady drizzle.

The river — with the sunlight flashing from its dancing wavelets, gilding
gold the grey-green beech- trunks, glinting through the dark, cool wood
paths, chasing shadows o’er the shallows, flinging diamonds from the
mill-wheels, throwing kisses to the lilies, wantoning with the weirs’
white waters, silvering moss-grown walls and bridges, brightening every
tiny townlet, making sweet each lane and meadow, lying tangled in the
rushes, peeping, laughing, from each inlet, gleaming gay on many a far
sail, making soft the air with glory — is a golden fairy stream.

But the river — chill and weary, with the ceaseless rain-drops falling on
its brown and sluggish waters, with a sound as of a woman, weeping low in
some dark chamber; while the woods, all dark and silent, shrouded in
their mists of vapour, stand like ghosts upon the margin; silent ghosts
with eyes reproachful, like the ghosts of evil actions, like the ghosts
of friends neglected — is a spirit-haunted water through the land of vain
regrets.

Sunlight is the life-blood of Nature. Mother Earth looks at us with such
dull, soulless eyes, when the sunlight has died away from out of her. It
makes us sad to be with her then; she does not seem to know us or to care
for us. She is as a widow who has lost the husband she loved, and her
children touch her hand, and look up into her eyes, but gain no smile
from her.

We rowed on all that day through the rain, and very melancholy work it
was. We pretended, at first, that we enjoyed it. We said it was a
change, and that we liked to see the river under all its different
aspects. We said we could not expect to have it all sunshine, nor should
we wish it. We told each other that Nature was beautiful, even in her
tears.

Indeed, Harris and I were quite enthusiastic about the business, for the
first few hours. And we sang a song about a gipsy’s life, and how
delightful a gipsy’s existence was! — free to storm and sunshine, and to
every wind that blew! — and how he enjoyed the rain, and what a lot of
good it did him; and how he laughed at people who didn’t like it.

George took the fun more soberly, and stuck to the umbrella.

We hoisted the cover before we had lunch, and kept it up all the
afternoon, just leaving a little space in the bow, from which one of us
could paddle and keep a look-out. In this way we made nine miles, and
pulled up for the night a little below Day’s Lock.

I cannot honestly say that we had a merry evening. The rain poured down
with quiet persistency. Everything in the boat was damp and clammy.
Supper was not a success. Cold veal pie, when you don’t feel hungry, is
apt to cloy. I felt I wanted whitebait and a cutlet; Harris babbled of
soles and white-sauce, and passed the remains of his pie to Montmorency,
who declined it, and, apparently insulted by the offer, went and sat over
at the other end of the boat by himself.

George requested that we would not talk about these things, at all events
until he had finished his cold boiled beef without mustard.

We played penny nap after supper. We played for about an hour and a
half, by the end of which time George had won fourpence — George always
is lucky at cards — and Harris and I had lost exactly twopence each.

We thought we would give up gambling then. As Harris said, it breeds an
unhealthy excitement when carried too far. George offered to go on and
give us our revenge; but Harris and I decided not to battle any further
against Fate.

After that, we mixed ourselves some toddy, and sat round and talked.
George told us about a man he had known, who had come up the river two
years ago and who had slept out in a damp boat on just such another night
as that was, and it had given him rheumatic fever, and nothing was able
to save him, and he had died in great agony ten days afterwards. George
said he was quite a young man, and was engaged to be married. He said it
was one of the saddest things he had ever known.

And that put Harris in mind of a friend of his, who had been in the
Volunteers, and who had slept out under canvas one wet night down at
Aldershot, «on just such another night as this,» said Harris; and he had
woke up in the morning a cripple for life. Harris said he would
introduce us both to the man when we got back to town; it would make our
hearts bleed to see him.

This naturally led to some pleasant chat about sciatica, fevers, chills,
lung diseases, and bronchitis; and Harris said how very awkward it would
be if one of us were taken seriously ill in the night, seeing how far
away we were from a doctor.

There seemed to be a desire for something frolicksome to follow upon this
conversation, and in a weak moment I suggested that George should get out
his banjo, and see if he could not give us a comic song.

I will say for George that he did not want any pressing. There was no
nonsense about having left his music at home, or anything of that sort.
He at once fished out his instrument, and commenced to play «Two Lovely
Black Eyes.»

I had always regarded «Two Lovely Black Eyes» as rather a commonplace
tune until that evening. The rich vein of sadness that George extracted
from it quite surprised me.

The desire that grew upon Harris and myself, as the mournful strains
progressed, was to fall upon each other’s necks and weep; but by great
effort we kept back the rising tears, and listened to the wild yearnful
melody in silence.

When the chorus came we even made a desperate effort to be merry. We re-
filled our glasses and joined in; Harris, in a voice trembling with
emotion, leading, and George and I following a few words behind:

«Two lovely black eyes;
Oh! what a surprise!
Only for telling a man he was wrong,
Two — »

There we broke down. The unutterable pathos of George’s accompaniment to
that «two» we were, in our then state of depression, unable to bear.
Harris sobbed like a little child, and the dog howled till I thought his
heart or his jaw must surely break.

George wanted to go on with another verse. He thought that when he had
got a little more into the tune, and could throw more «abandon,» as it
were, into the rendering, it might not seem so sad. The feeling of the
majority, however, was opposed to the experiment.

There being nothing else to do, we went to bed — that is, we undressed
ourselves, and tossed about at the bottom of the boat for some three or
four hours. After which, we managed to get some fitful slumber until
five a.m., when we all got up and had breakfast.

The second day was exactly like the first. The rain continued to pour
down, and we sat, wrapped up in our mackintoshes, underneath the canvas,
and drifted slowly down.

One of us — I forget which one now, but I rather think it was myself -
made a few feeble attempts during the course of the morning to work up
the old gipsy foolishness about being children of Nature and enjoying the
wet; but it did not go down well at all. That -

«I care not for the rain, not I!»

was so painfully evident, as expressing the sentiments of each of us,
that to sing it seemed unnecessary.

On one point we were all agreed, and that was that, come what might, we
would go through with this job to the bitter end. We had come out for a
fortnight’s enjoyment on the river, and a fortnight’s enjoyment on the
river we meant to have. If it killed us! well, that would be a sad thing
for our friends and relations, but it could not be helped. We felt that
to give in to the weather in a climate such as ours would be a most
disastrous precedent.

«It’s only two days more,» said Harris, «and we are young and strong. We
may get over it all right, after all.»

At about four o’clock we began to discuss our arrangements for the
evening. We were a little past Goring then, and we decided to paddle on
to Pangbourne, and put up there for the night.

«Another jolly evening!» murmured George.

We sat and mused on the prospect. We should be in at Pangbourne by five.
We should finish dinner at, say, half-past six. After that we could walk
about the village in the pouring rain until bed-time; or we could sit in
a dimly-lit bar-parlour and read the almanac.

«Why, the Alhambra would be almost more lively,» said Harris, venturing
his head outside the cover for a moment and taking a survey of the sky.

«With a little supper at the — * to follow,» I added, half unconsciously.

* A capital little out-of-the-way restaurant, in the neighbourhood of — ,
where you can get one of the best-cooked and cheapest little French
dinners or suppers that I know of, with an excellent bottle of Beaune,
for three-and-six; and which I am not going to be idiot enough to
advertise.

«Yes it’s almost a pity we’ve made up our minds to stick to this boat,»
answered Harris; and then there was silence for a while.

«If we HADN’T made up our minds to contract our certain deaths in this
bally old coffin,» observed George, casting a glance of intense
malevolence over the boat, «it might be worth while to mention that
there’s a train leaves Pangbourne, I know, soon after five, which would
just land us in town in comfortable time to get a chop, and then go on to
the place you mentioned afterwards.»

Nobody spoke. We looked at one another, and each one seemed to see his
own mean and guilty thoughts reflected in the faces of the others. In
silence, we dragged out and overhauled the Gladstone. We looked up the
river and down the river; not a soul was in sight!

Twenty minutes later, three figures, followed by a shamed-looking dog,
might have been seen creeping stealthily from the boat-house at the
«Swan» towards the railway station, dressed in the following neither neat
nor gaudy costume:

Black leather shoes, dirty; suit of boating flannels, very dirty; brown
felt hat, much battered; mackintosh, very wet; umbrella.

We had deceived the boatman at Pangbourne. We had not had the face to
tell him that we were running away from the rain. We had left the boat,
and all it contained, in his charge, with instructions that it was to be
ready for us at nine the next morning. If, we said — IF anything
unforeseen should happen, preventing our return, we would write to him.

We reached Paddington at seven, and drove direct to the restaurant I have
before described, where we partook of a light meal, left Montmorency,
together with suggestions for a supper to be ready at half-past ten, and
then continued our way to Leicester Square.

We attracted a good deal of attention at the Alhambra. On our presenting
ourselves at the paybox we were gruffly directed to go round to Castle
Street, and were informed that we were half-an-hour behind our time.

We convinced the man, with some difficulty, that we were NOT «the world-
renowned contortionists from the Himalaya Mountains,» and he took our
money and let us pass.

Inside we were a still greater success. Our fine bronzed countenances
and picturesque clothes were followed round the place with admiring gaze.
We were the cynosure of every eye.

It was a proud moment for us all.

We adjourned soon after the first ballet, and wended our way back to the
restaurant, where supper was already awaiting us.

I must confess to enjoying that supper. For about ten days we seemed to
have been living, more or less, on nothing but cold meat, cake, and bread
and jam. It had been a simple, a nutritious diet; but there had been
nothing exciting about it, and the odour of Burgundy, and the smell of
French sauces, and the sight of clean napkins and long loaves, knocked as
a very welcome visitor at the door of our inner man.

We pegged and quaffed away in silence for a while, until the time came
when, instead of sitting bolt upright, and grasping the knife and fork
firmly, we leant back in our chairs and worked slowly and carelessly -
when we stretched out our legs beneath the table, let our napkins fall,
unheeded, to the floor, and found time to more critically examine the
smoky ceiling than we had hitherto been able to do — when we rested our
glasses at arm’s-length upon the table, and felt good, and thoughtful,
and forgiving.

Then Harris, who was sitting next the window, drew aside the curtain and
looked out upon the street.

It glistened darkly in the wet, the dim lamps flickered with each gust,
the rain splashed steadily into the puddles and trickled down the water-
spouts into the running gutters. A few soaked wayfarers hurried past,
crouching beneath their dripping umbrellas, the women holding up their
skirts.

«Well,» said Harris, reaching his hand out for his glass, «we have had a
pleasant trip, and my hearty thanks for it to old Father Thames — but I
think we did well to chuck it when we did. Here’s to Three Men well out
of a Boat!»

And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering
out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the
toast.

Stephen King Boogeyman скачать бесплатно

Здесь вы можете бесплатно прочитать книгу: Stephen King «Boogeyman».

‘I came to you because I want to tell my story,’ the man on Dr Harper’s couch was saying. The man was Lester Billings from Waterbury, Connecticut. According to the history taken from Nurse Vickers, he was twenty-eight, employed by an industrial firm in New York, divorced, and the father of three children. All deceased.
‘I can’t go to a priest because I’m not a Catholic. I can’t go to a lawyer because I haven’t done anything to consult a lawyer about. All I did was kill my kids. One at a time. Killed them all.’
Dr Harper turned on the tape recorder.
Billings lay straight as a yardstick on the couch, not giving it an inch of himself. His feet protruded stiffly over the end. Picture of a man enduring necessary humiliation. His hands were folded corpselike on his chest. His face was carefully set.. He looked at the plain white composition ceiling as if seeing scenes and pictures played out there.
‘Do you mean you actually killed them, or -’
‘No.’ Impatient flick of the hand. ‘But I was responsible. Denny in 1967. Shirl in 1971. And Andy this year. I want to tell you about it.’
Dr Harper said nothing. He thought that Billings looked haggard and old. His hair was thinning, his complexion sallow. His eyes held all the miserable secrets of whisky.
‘They were murdered, see? Only no one believes that. If they would, things would be all right.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Because

Billings broke off and darted up on his elbows, staring across the room. ‘What’s that?’ he barked. His eyes had narrowed to black slots.
‘What’s what?’
‘That door.’
‘The closet,’ Dr Harper said. ‘Where I hang my coat and leave my overshoes.’
‘Open it. I want to see.’
Dr Harper got up wordlessly, crossed the room, and opened the closet. Inside, a tan raincoat hung on one of four or five hangers. Beneath that was a pair of shiny goloshes. The New York Times had been carefully tucked into one of them. That was all.
‘All right?’ Dr Harper said.
‘All right.’ Billings removed the props of his elbows and returned to his previous position.
‘You were saying,’ Dr Harper said as he went back to his chair, ‘that if the murder of your three children could be proved, all your troubles would be over. Why is that?’
‘I’d go to jail,’ Billings said immediately. ‘For life. And you can see into all the rooms in a jail. All the rooms.’ He smiled at nothing.
‘How were your children murdered?’
‘Don’t try to jerk it out of me!’
Billings twitched around and stared balefully at Harper.
‘I’ll tell you, don’t worry. I’m not one of your freaks strutting around and pretending to be Napoleon or explaining that I got hooked on heroin because my mother didn’t love me. I know you won’t believe me. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. Just to tell will be enough.’
‘All right.’ Dr Harper got out his pipe.
‘I married Rita in 1965 — I was twenty-one and she was eighteen. She was pregnant. That was Denny.’ His lips twisted in a rubbery, frightening grin that was gone in a wink. ‘I had to leave college and get a job, but I didn’t mind. I loved both of them. We were very happy.
‘Rita got pregnant just a little while after Denny was born, and Shirl came along in December of 1966. Andy came in the summer of 1969, and Denny was already dead by then. Andy was an accident. That’s what Rita said. She said sometimes that birth-control stuff doesn’t work. I think that it was more than an accident. Children tie a man down, you know. Women like that, especially when the man is brighter than they. Don’t you find that’s true?’
Harper grunted non-commitally.

‘It doesn’t matter, though. I loved him anyway.’ He said it almost vengefully, as if he had loved the child to spite his wife.
‘Who killed the children?’ Harper asked.
‘The boogeyman,’ Lester Billings answered immediately. ‘The boogeyman killed them all. Just came out of the closet and killed them.’ He twisted around and grinned. ‘You think I’m crazy, all right. It’s written all over you. But I don’t care. All I want to do is tell you and then get lost.’
‘I’m listening,’ Harper said.
‘It started when Denny was almost two and Shirl was just an infant. He started crying when Rita put him to bed. We had a two-bedroom place, see. Shirl slept in a crib in our room. At first I thought he was crying because he didn’t have a bottle to take to bed any more. Rita said don’t make an issue of it, let it go, let him have it and he’ll drop it on his own. But that’s the way kids start off bad. You get permissive with them, spoil them. Then they break your heart. Get some girl knocked up, you know, or start shooting dope. Or they get to be sissies. Can you imagine waking up some morning and finding your kid — your son — is a sissy?
‘After a while, though, when he didn’t stop, I started putting him to bed myself. And if he didn’t stop crying I’d give him a whack. Then Rita said he was saying «light» over and over again. Well, I didn’t know. Kids that little, how can you tell what they’re saying. Only a mother can tell.
‘Rita wanted to put in a nightlight. One of those wall-
plug things with Mickey Mouse or Huckleberry Hound or something on it. I wouldn’t let her. If a kid doesn’t get over being afraid of the dark when he’s little, he never gets over it.
‘Anyway, he died the summer after Shirl was born. I put him to bed that night and he started to cry right off. I heard what he said that time. He pointed right at the closet when he said it. «Boogeyman,» the kid says. «Boogeyman, Daddy.»

‘I turned off the light and went into our room and asked Rita why she wanted to teach the kid a word like that. I was tempted to slap her around a little, but I didn’t. She said she never taught him to say that. I called her a goddamn liar.
‘That was a bad summer for me, see. The only job I could get was loading Pepsi-Cola trucks in a warehouse, and I was tired all the time. Shirl would wake up and cry every night and Rita would pick her up and sniffle. I tell you, sometimes I felt like throwing them both out a window. Christ, kids drive you crazy sometimes. You could kill them.
‘Well, the kid woke me at three in the morning, right on schedule. I went to the bathroom, only a quarter awake, you know, and Rita asked me if I’d check on Denny. I told her to do it herself and went back to bed. I was almost asleep when she started to scream.
‘I got up and went in. The kid was dead on his back. Just as white as flour except for where the blood had. . . had sunk. Back of the legs, the head, the a-the buttocks. His eyes were open. That was the worst, you know. Wide open and glassy, like the eyes you see on a moosehead some guy put over his mantel. Like pictures you see of those gook kids over in Nam. But an American kid shouldn’t look like that. Dead on his back. Wearing diapers and rubber pants because he’d been wetting himself again the last couple of weeks. Awful, I loved that kid.’
Billings shook his head slowly, then offered the rubbery, frightening grin again. ‘Rita was screaming her head off.
She tried to pick Denny up and rock him, but I wouldn’t let her. The cops don’t like you to touch any of the evidence. I know that -’
‘Did you know it was the boogeyman then?’ Harper asked quietly.
‘Oh, no. Not then. But I did see one thing. It didn’t mean anything to me then, but my mind stored it away.’
‘What was that?’
‘The closet door was open. Not much. Just a crack. But I knew I left it shut, see. There’s dry-cleaning bags in there. 3 A kid messes around with one of those and bango. Asphyxiation. You know that?’
‘Yes. What happened then?’

Billings shrugged. ‘We planted him.’ He looked morbidly at his hands, which had thrown dirt on three tiny coffins.
‘Was there an inquest?’
‘Sure.’ Billings’s eyes flashed with sardonic brilliance.
‘So me back-country fuckhead with a stethoscope and a black bag full of Junior Mints and a sheepskin from some cow college. Crib death, he called it! You ever hear such a pile of yellow manure? The kid was three years old!’
‘Crib death is most common during the first year,’ Harper said carefully, ‘but that diagnosis has gone on death certificates for children up to age five for want of a better -’
Bulishit!’ Billings spat out violently.
Harper relit his pipe.

We moved Shirl into Denny’s old room a month after the funeral. Rita fought it tooth and nail, but I had the last word. It hurt me, of course it did. Jesus, I loved having the kid in with us. But you can’t get overprotective. You make a kid a cripple that way. When I was a kid my mom used to take me to the beach and then scream herself hoarse. «Don’t go out so far! Don’t go there! It’s got an undertow! You only ate an hour ago! Don’t go over your head!» Even to watch out for sharks, before God. So what happens? I can’t even go near the water now. It’s the truth. I get the cramps if I go near a beach. Rita got me to take her and the kids to Savin Rock once when Denny was alive. I got sick as a dog. I know, see? You can’t overprotect kids. And you can’t coddle yourself either. Life goes on. Shirl went right into Denny’s crib. We sent the old mattress to the dump, though. I didn’t want my girl to get any germs.
‘So a year goes by. And one night when I’m putting Shirl into her crib she starts to yowl and scream and cry. «Boogeyman, Daddy, boogeyman, boogeyman!»
‘That threw a jump into me. It was just like Denny. And I started to remember about that closet door, open just a crack when we found him. I wanted to take her into our room for the night.’
‘Did you?’
‘No.’ Billings regarded his hands and his face twitched. ‘How could I go to Rita and admit I was wrong? I had to be strong. She was always such a jellyfish. . . look how easy she went to bed with me when we weren’t married.’
Harper said, ‘On the other hand, look how easily you went to bed with her.’
Billings froze in the act of rearranging his hands and slowly turned his head to look at Harper. ‘Are you trying to be a wise guy?’
‘No, indeed,’ Harper said.
‘Then let me tell it my way,’ Billings snapped. ‘I came here to get this off my chest. To tell my story. I’m not going to talk about my sex life, if that’s what you expect. Rita and I had a very normal sex life, with none of that dirty stuff. I know it gives some people a charge to talk about that, but I’m not one of them.’

 

‘Okay,’ Harper said.
‘Okay,’ Billings echoed with uneasy arrogance. He seemed to have lost the thread of his thought, and his eyes wandered uneasily to the closet door, which was firmly shut.
‘Would you like that open?’ Harper asked.
‘No!’ Billings said quickly. He gave a nervous little laugh. ‘What do I want to look at your overshoes for?
‘The boogeyman got her, too,’ Billings said. He brushed at his forehead, as if sketching memories. ‘A month later. But something happened before that. I heard a noise in there one night. And then she screamed. I opened the door real quick — the hall light was on — and. . . she was sitting up in the crib crying and. . . something moved. Back in the shadows, by the closet. Something slithered.’

‘Was the closet door open?’
‘A little. Just a crack.’ Billings licked his lips. ‘Shirl was screaming about the boogeyman. And something else that sounded like «claws». Only she said «craws», you know. Little kids have trouble with that «I» sound. Rita ran upstairs and asked what the matter was. I said she got scared by the shadows of the branches moving on the ceiling.’
‘Crawset?’ Harper said.
‘Huh?’
‘Crawset . . . closet. Maybe she was trying to say «closet».’
‘Maybe,’ Billings said. ‘Maybe that was it. But I don’t think so.I think it was «claws».’ His eyes began seeking the closet door again. ‘Claws, long claws.’ His voice had sunk to a whisper.
‘Did you look in the closet?’
‘Y-yes.’ Billings’s hands were laced tightly across his chest, laced tightly enough to show a white moon at each knuckle.
‘Was there anything in there? Did you see the -’
‘I didn’t see anything!’ Billings screamed suddenly. And the words poured out, as if a black cork had been pulled from the bottom of his soul: ‘When she died I found her, see. And she was black. All black. She swallowed her own tongue and she was just as black as a nigger in a minstrel show and she was staring at me. Her eyes, they looked like those eyes you see on stuffed animals, all shiny and awful, like live marbles, and they were saying it got me, Daddy, you let it get me, you killed me, you helped it kill me.
His words trailed off. One single tear very large and silent, ran down the side of his cheek.
‘It was a brain convulsion, see? Kids get those sometimes. A bad signal from the brain. They had an autopsy at Hartford Receiving and they told us she choked on her tongue from the convulsion. And I had to go home alone because they kept Rita under sedation. She was out of her mind. I had to go back to that house all alone, and I know a kid don’t just get convulsions because their brain frigged up. You can scare a kid into convulsions. And I had to go back to the house where it was.’
He whispered, ‘I slept on the couch. With the light on.,
‘Did anything happen?’
‘I had a dream,’ Billings said. ‘I was in a dark room and there was something I couldn’t . . . couldn’t quite see, in the closet. It made a noise… a squishy noise. It reminded me of a comic book I read when I was a kid. Tales from the Crypt, you remember that? Christ! They had a guy named Graham Ingles; he could draw every god-awful thing in the world — and some out of it. Anyway, in this story this woman drowned her husband, see? Put cement blocks on his feet and dropped him into a quarry. Only he came back. ‘He was all rotted and black-green and the fish had eaten away one of his eyes and there was seaweed in his hair. He came back and killed her. And when I woke up in the middle of the night, I thought that would be leaning over me. With claws… long claws .
Dr Harper looked at the digital clock inset into his desk. Lester Billings had been speaking for nearly half an hour. He said, ‘When your wife came back home, what was her attitude towards you?’
‘She still loved me,’ Billings said with pride. ‘She still wanted to do what I told her. That’s the wife’s place, right? This women’s lib only makes sick people. The most important thing in life is for a person to know his place. His. his.. .uh.
‘Station in life?’

‘That’s it!’ Billings snapped his fingers. ‘That’s it exactly. And a wife should follow her husband. Oh, she was sort of colourless the first four or five months after — dragged around the house, didn’t sing, didn’t watch the TV, didn’t laugh. I knew she’d get over it. When they’re that little, you don’t get so attached to them. After a while you have to go to the bureau drawer and look at a picture to even remember exactly what they looked like.
‘She wanted another baby,’ he added darkly. ‘I told her it was a bad idea. Oh, not for ever, but for a while. I told her it was a time for us to get over things and begin to enjoy each other. We never had a chance to do that before. If you wanted to go to a movie, you had to hassle around for a baby-sitter. You couldn’t go into town to see the Mets unless her folks would take the kids, because my mom wouldn’t have anything to do with us. Denny was born too soon after we were married, see? She said Rita was just a tramp, a common little corner-walker. Corner-walker is what my mom always called them. Isn’t that a sketch? She sat me down once and told me diseases you can get if you went to a cor. . . to a prostitute. How your pri. . . your penis has just a little tiny sore on it one day and the next day it’s rotting right off. She wouldn’t even come to the wed-ding.’
Billings drummed his chest with his fingers.
‘Rita’s gynaecologist sold heron this thing called an IUD — interuterine device. Foolproof, the doctor said. He just sticks it up the woman’s . . . her place, and that’s it. If there’s anything in there, the egg can’t fertilize. You don’t even know it’s there.’ He smiled at the ceiling with dark sweetness. ‘No one knows if it’s there or not. And next year she’s pregnant again. Some foolproof.’
‘No birth-control method is perfect,’ Harper said. ‘The pill is only ninety-eight per cent. The IUD may be ejected by cramps, strong menstrual flow, and, in exceptional cases, by evacuation.’
‘Yeah. Or you can take it out.’
‘That’s possible.’
‘So what’s next? She’s knitting little things, singing in the shower, and eating pickles like crazy. Sitting on my lap and saying things about how it must have been God’s will. Piss.’
‘The baby came at the end of the year after Shirl’s death?’
‘That’s right. A boy. She named it Andrew Lester Billings. I didn’t want anything to do with it, at least at first. My motto was she screwed up, so let her take care of it. I know how that sounds but you have to remember that I’d been through a lot.
‘But I warmed up to him, you know it? He was the only one of the litter that looked like me, for one thing. Denny looked like his mother, and Shirl didn’t look like anybody, except maybe my Grammy Ann. But Andy was the spitting image of me.
‘I’d get to playing around with him in his playpen when I got home from work. He’d grab only my finger and smile and gurgle. Nine weeks old and the kid was grinning up at his old dad. You believe that?’
‘Then one night, here I am coming out of a drugstore with a mobile to hang over the kid’s crib. Me! Kids don’t appreciate presents until they’re old enough to say thank you, that was always my motto. But there I was, buying him silly crap and all at once I realize I love him the most of all. I had another job by then, a pretty good one, selling drill bits for Cluett and Sons. I did real well, and when Andy was one, we moved to Waterbury. The old place had too many bad memories.
‘And too many closets.
‘That next year was the best one for us. I’d give every finger on my right hand to have it back again. Oh, the war in Vietnam was still going on, and the hippies were still running around with no clothes on, and the niggers were yelling a lot, but none of that touched us. We were on a quiet street with nice neighbours. We were happy,’ he summed up simply. ‘I asked Rita once if she wasn’t worried. You know, bad luck comes in threes and all that. She said not for us. She said Andy was special. She said God had drawn a ring around him.’
Billings looked morbidly at the ceiling.
‘Last year wasn’t so good. Something about the house changed. I started keeping my boots in the hall because I didn’t like to open the closet door any more. I kept thinking: Well, what if it’s in there? All crouched down and ready to spring the second I open the door? And I’d started thinking I could hear squishy noises, as if something black and green and wet was moving around in there just a little.
‘Rita asked me if I was working too hard, and I started to snap at her, just like the old days. I got sick to rny stomach leaving them alone to go to work, but I was glad to get out. God help me, I was glad to get out. I started to think, see, that it lost us for a while when we moved. It had to hunt around, slinking through the streets at night and maybe creeping in the sewers. Smelling for us. It took a year, but it found us. It’s back. It wants Andy and it wants me. I started to think, maybe if you think of a thing long enough, and believe in it, it gets real. Maybe all the monsters we were scared of when we were kids, Frankenstein and Wolfman and Mummy, maybe they were real. Real enough to kill the kids that were supposed to have fallen into gravel pits or drowned in lakes or were just never found. Maybe . .
‘Are you backing away from something, Mr Billings?’
Billings was silent for a long time — two minutes clicked off the digital clock. Then he said abruptly: ‘Andy died in February. Rita wasn’t there. She got a call from her father. Her mother had been in a car crash the day after New Year’s and wasn’t expected to live. She took a bus back that night.
‘Her mother didn’t die, but she was on the critical list for a long time — two months. I had a very good woman who stayed with Andy days. We kept house nights. And closet doors kept coming open.’
Billings licked his lips. ‘The kid was sleeping in the room with me. It’s funny, too. Rita asked me once when he was two if I wanted to move him into another room. Spock or one of those other quacks claims it’s bad for kids to sleep with their parents, see? Supposed to give them traumas about sex and all that. But we never did it unless the kid was asleep. And I didn’t want to move him. I was afraid to, after Denny and Shirl.’

 

‘But you did move him, didn’t you?’ Dr Harper asked.
‘Yeah,’ Billings said. He smiled a sick, yellow smile. ‘I did.’
Silence again. Billings wrestled with it.

‘I had to!’ he barked finally. ‘I had to! It was all right when Rita was there, but when she was gone, it started to get bolder. It started . . .’ He rolled his eyes at Harper and bared his teeth in a savage grin. ‘Oh, you won’t believe it. I know what you think, just another goofy for your casebook, I know that, but you weren’t there, you lousy smug head-peeper.
‘One night every door in the house blew wide open. One morning I got up and found a trail of mud and filth across the hall between the coat closet and the front door. Was it going out? Coming in? I don’t know! Before Jesus, I just don’t know! Records all scratched up and covered with slime, mirrors broken . . . and the sounds . . . the sounds…
He ran a hand through his hair. ‘You’d wake up at three in the morning and look into the dark and at first you’d say, «It’s only the clock.» But underneath it you could hear something moving in a stealthy way. But not too stealthy, because it wanted you to hear it. A slimy sliding sound like something from the kitchen drain. Or a clicking sound, like claws being dragged lightly over the staircase banister. And you’d close your eyes, knowing that hearing it was bad, but if you saw it.
‘And always you’d be afraid that the noises might stop for a little while, and then there would be a laugh right over your face and breath of air like stale cabbage on your face, and then hands on your throat.’
Billings was pallid and trembling.
‘So I moved him. I knew it would go for him, see. Because he was weaker. And it did. That very first night he screamed in the middle of the night and finally, when I got up the cojones to go in, he was standing up in bed and screaming. «The boogeyman, Daddy. . . boogeyman.
wanna go wif Daddy, go wif Daddy.»‘
Billings’s voice had become a high treble, like a child’s. His eyes seemed to fill his entire face; he almost seemed to shrink on the couch.
‘But I couldn’t,’ the childish breaking treble continued, ‘I couldn’t. And an hour later there was a scream. An awful gurgling scream. And I knew how much I loved him because I ran, in, I didn’t even turn on the light, I ran, ran, ran, oh, Jesus God Mary, it had him; it was shaking him, shaking him just like a terrier shakes a piece of cloth and I could see something with awful slumped shoulders and a scarecrow head and I could smell something like a dead mouse in a pop bottle and I heard . .

He trailed off, and then his voice clicked back into an adult range. ‘I heard it when Andy’s neck broke.’ Billings’s voice was cool and dead. ‘It made a sound like ice cracking when you’re skating on a country pond in winter.’
‘Then what happened?’
‘Oh, I ran,’ Billings said in the same cool, dead voice. ‘I went to an all-night diner. How’s that for complete cowardice? Ran to an all-night diner and drank six cups of coffee. Then I went home. It was already dawn. I called the police even before I went upstairs. He was lying on the floor and staring at me. Accusing me. A tiny bit of blood had run out of one ear. Only a drop, really. And the closet door was open — but just a crack.’
The voice stopped. Harper looked at the digital clock. Fifty minutes had passed.
‘Make an appointment with the nurse,’ he said. ‘In fact, several of them. Tuesdays and Thursdays?’
‘I only came to tell my story,’ Billings said. ‘To get it off my chest. I lied to the police, see? Told them the kid must have tried to get out of his crib in the night and. . . they swallowed it. Course they did. That’s just what it looked like. Accidental, like the others. But Rita knew. Rita. finally. . . knew .
He covered his eyes with his right arm and began to weep.
‘Mr Billings, there is a great deal to talk about,’ Dr Harper said after a pause. ‘I believe we can remove some of the guilt you’ve been carrying, but first you have to want to get rid of it.’
‘Don’t you believe I do?’ Billings cried, removing his arm from his eyes. They were red, raw, wounded.
‘Not yet,’ Harper said quietly. ‘Tuesdays and Thursdays?’
After a long silence, Billings muttered, ‘Goddamn shrink. All right. All right.’
‘Make an appointment with the nurse, Mr Billings. And have a good day.’
Billings laughed emptily and walked out of the office quickly, without looking back.
The nurse’s station was empty. A small sign on the desk blotter said: ‘Back in a Minute.’
Billings turned and went back into the office. ‘Doctor, your nurse is -,
The room was empty.
But the closet door was open. Just a crack.
‘So nice,’ the voice from the closet said. ‘So nice.’ The words sounded as if they might have come through a mouthful of rotted seaweed.
Billings stood rooted to the spot as the closet door swung open. He dimly felt warmth at his crotch as he wet himself.
‘So nice,’ the boogeyman said as it shambled out. It still held its Dr Harper mask in one rotted, spade-claw hand.