BURIED ALIVE A Tale of These Days
BY ARNOLD BENNETT
To JOHN FREDERICK FARRAR M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. MY COLLABORATOR IN THIS AND MANY OTHER BOOKS A GRATEFUL EXPRESSION OF OLD-ESTABLISHED REGARD
I. THE PUCE DRESSING-GOWN
II. A PAIL
III. THE PHOTOGRAPH
IV. A SCOOP
V. ALICE ON HOTELS
VI. A PUTNEY MORNING
VII. THE CONFESSION
VIII. AN INVASION
IX. A GLOSSY MALE
X. THE SECRET
XI. AN ESCAPE
XII. ALICE'S PERFORMANCES
The Puce Dressing-gown
The peculiar angle of the earth's axis to the plane of the ecliptic— that angle which is chiefly responsible for our geography and therefore for our history—had caused the phenomenon known in London as summer. The whizzing globe happened to have turned its most civilized face away from the sun, thus producing night in Selwood Terrace, South Kensington. In No. 91 Selwood Terrace two lights, on the ground-floor and on the first-floor, were silently proving that man's ingenuity can outwit nature's. No. 91 was one of about ten thousand similar houses between South Kensington Station and North End Road. With its grimy stucco front, its cellar kitchen, its hundred stairs and steps, its perfect inconvenience, and its conscience heavy with the doing to death of sundry general servants, it uplifted tin chimney-cowls to heaven and gloomily awaited the day of judgment for London houses, sublimely ignoring the axial and orbital velocities of the earth and even the reckless flight of the whole solar system through space. You felt that No. 91 was unhappy, and that it could only be rendered happy by a 'To let' standard in its front patch and a 'No bottles' card in its cellar-windows. It possessed neither of these specifics. Though of late generally empty, it was never untenanted. In the entire course of its genteel and commodious career it had never once been to let.
Go inside, and breathe its atmosphere of a bored house that is generally empty yet never untenanted. All its twelve rooms dark and forlorn, save two; its cellar kitchen dark and forlorn; just these two rooms, one on the top of the other like boxes, pitifully struggling against the inveterate gloom of the remaining ten! Stand in the dark hall and get this atmosphere into your lungs.
The principal, the startling thing in the illuminated room on the ground-floor was a dressing-gown, of the colour, between heliotrope and purple, known to a previous generation as puce; a quilted garment stuffed with swansdown, light as hydrogen—nearly, and warm as the smile of a kind heart; old, perhaps, possibly worn in its outlying regions and allowing fluffs of feathery white to escape through its satin pores; but a dressing-gown to dream of. It dominated the unkempt, naked apartment, its voluptuous folds glittering crudely under the sun-replacing oil lamp which was set on a cigar-box on the stained deal table. The oil lamp had a glass reservoir, a chipped chimney, and a cardboard shade, and had probably cost less than a florin; five florins would have purchased the table; and all the rest of the furniture, including the arm-chair in which the dressing-gown reclined, a stool, an easel, three packets of cigarettes and a trouser-stretcher, might have been replaced for another ten florins. Up in the corners of the ceiling, obscure in the eclipse of the cardboard shade, was a complicated system of cobwebs to match the dust on the bare floor.
Within the dressing-gown there was a man. This man had reached the interesting age. I mean the age when you think you have shed all the illusions of infancy, when you think you understand life, and when you are often occupied in speculating upon the delicious surprises which existence may hold for you; the age, in sum, that is the most romantic and tender of all ages—for a male. I mean the age of fifty. An age absurdly misunderstood by all those who have not reached it! A thrilling age! Appearances are tragically deceptive.
The inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown had a short greying beard and moustache; his plenteous hair was passing from pepper into salt; there were many minute wrinkles in the hollows between his eyes and the fresh crimson of his cheeks; and the eyes were sad; they were very sad. Had he stood erect and looked perpendicularly down, he would have perceived, not his slippers, but a protuberant button of the dressing-gown. Understand me: I conceal nothing; I admit the figures written in the measurement-book of his tailor. He was fifty. Yet, like most men of fifty, he was still very young, and, like most bachelors of fifty, he was rather helpless. He was quite sure that he had not had the best of luck. If he had excavated his soul he would have discovered somewhere in its deeps a wistful, appealing desire to be taken care of, to be sheltered from the inconveniences and harshness of the world. But he would not have admitted the discovery. A bachelor of fifty cannot be expected to admit that he resembles a girl of nineteen. Nevertheless it is a strange fact that the resemblance between the heart of an experienced, adventurous bachelor of fifty and the simple heart of a girl of nineteen is stronger than girls of nineteen imagine; especially when the bachelor of fifty is sitting solitary and unfriended at two o'clock in the night, in the forlorn atmosphere of a house that has outlived its hopes. Bachelors of fifty alone will comprehend me.
It has never been decided what young girls do meditate upon when they meditate; young girls themselves cannot decide. As a rule the lonely fancies of middle-aged bachelors are scarcely less amenable to definition. But the case of the inhabitant of the puce dressing-gown was an exception to the rule. He knew, and he could have said, precisely what he was thinking about. In that sad hour and place, his melancholy thoughts were centred upon the resplendent, unique success in life of a gifted and glorious being known to nations and newspapers as Priam Farll.
Riches and Renown
In the days when the New Gallery was new, a picture, signed by the unknown name of Priam Farll, was exhibited there, and aroused such terrific interest that for several months no conversation among cultured persons was regarded as complete without some reference to it. That the artist was a very great painter indeed was admitted by every one; the only question which cultured persons felt it their duty to settle was whether he was the greatest painter that ever lived or merely the greatest painter since Velasquez. Cultured persons might have continued to discuss that nice point to the present hour, had it not leaked out that the picture had been refused by the Royal Academy. The culture of London then at once healed up its strife and combined to fall on the Royal Academy as an institution which had no right to exist. The affair even got into Parliament and occupied three minutes of the imperial legislature. Useless for the Royal Academy to argue that it had overlooked the canvas, for its dimensions were seven feet by five; it represented a policeman, a simple policeman, life-size, and it was not merely the most striking portrait imaginable, but the first appearance of the policeman in great art; criminals, one heard, instinctively fled before it. No! The Royal Academy really could not argue that the work had been overlooked. And in truth the Royal Academy did not argue accidental negligence. It did not argue about its own right to exist. It did not argue at all. It blandly went on existing, and taking about a hundred and fifty pounds a day in shillings at its polished turnstiles. No details were obtainable concerning Priam Farll, whose address was Poste Restante, St. Martin's-le-Grand. Various collectors, animated by deep faith in their own judgment and a sincere desire to encourage British art, were anxious to purchase the picture for a few pounds, and these enthusiasts were astonished and pained to learn that Priam Farll had marked a figure of L1,000—the price of a rare postage stamp.
In consequence the picture was not sold; and after an enterprising journal had unsuccessfully offered a reward for the identification of the portrayed policeman, the matter went gently to sleep while the public employed its annual holiday as usual in discussing the big gooseberry of matrimonial relations.
Every one naturally expected that in the following year the mysterious Priam Farll would, in accordance with the universal rule for a successful career in British art, contribute another portrait of another policeman to the New Gallery—and so on for about twenty years, at the end of which period England would have learnt to recognize him as its favourite painter of policemen. But Priam Farll contributed nothing to the New Gallery. He had apparently forgotten the New Gallery: which was considered to be ungracious, if not ungrateful, on his part. Instead, he adorned the Paris salon with a large seascape showing penguins in the foreground. Now these penguins became the penguins of the continental year; they made penguins the fashionable bird in Paris, and also (twelve months later) in London. The French Government offered to buy the picture on behalf of the Republic at its customary price of five hundred francs, but Priam Farll sold it to the American connoisseur Whitney C. Whitt for five thousand dollars. Shortly afterwards he sold the policeman, whom he had kept by him, to the same connoisseur for ten thousand dollars. Whitney C. Whitt was the expert who had paid two hundred thousand dollars for a Madonna and St. Joseph, with donor, of Raphael. The enterprising journal before mentioned calculated that, counting the space actually occupied on the canvas by the policeman, the daring connoisseur had expended two guineas per square inch on the policeman.
At which stage the vast newspaper public suddenly woke up and demanded with one voice:
"Who is this Priam Farll?"
Though the query remained unanswered, Priam Farll's reputation was henceforward absolutely assured, and this in spite of the fact that he omitted to comply with the regulations ordained by English society for the conduct of successful painters. He ought, first, to have taken the elementary precaution of being born in the United States. He ought, after having refused all interviews for months, to have ultimately granted a special one to a newspaper with the largest circulation. He ought to have returned to England, grown a mane and a tufted tail, and become the king of beasts; or at least to have made a speech at a banquet about the noble and purifying mission of art. Assuredly he ought to have painted the portrait of his father or grandfather as an artisan, to prove that he was not a snob. But no! Not content with making each of his pictures utterly different from all the others, he neglected all the above formalities—and yet managed to pile triumph on triumph. There are some men of whom it may be said that, like a punter on a good day, they can't do wrong. Priam Farll was one such. In a few years he had become a legend, a standing side-dish of a riddle. No one knew him; no one saw him; no one married him. Constantly abroad, he was ever the subject of conflicting rumours. Parfitts themselves, his London agents, knew naught of him but his handwriting—on the backs of cheques in four figures. They sold an average of five large and five small pictures for him every year. These pictures arrived out of the unknown and the cheques went into the unknown.
Young artists, mute in admiration before the masterpieces from his brush which enriched all the national galleries of Europe (save, of course, that in Trafalgar Square), dreamt of him, worshipped him, and quarrelled fiercely about him, as the very symbol of glory, luxury and flawless accomplishment, never conceiving him as a man like themselves, with boots to lace up, a palette to clean, a beating heart, and an instinctive fear of solitude.
Finally there came to him the paramount distinction, the last proof that he was appreciated. The press actually fell into the habit of mentioning his name without explanatory comment. Exactly as it does not write "Mr. A.J. Balfour, the eminent statesman," or "Sarah Bernhardt, the renowned actress," or "Charles Peace, the historic murderer," but simply "Mr. A.J. Balfour," "Sarah Bernhardt" or "Charles Peace"; so it wrote simply "Mr. Priam Farll." And no occupant of a smoker in a morning train ever took his pipe out of his mouth to ask, "What is the johnny?" Greater honour in England hath no man. Priam Farll was the first English painter to enjoy this supreme social reward.
And now he was inhabiting the puce dressing-gown.
The Dreadful Secret
A bell startled the forlorn house; its loud old-fashioned jangle came echoingly up the basement stairs and struck the ear of Priam Farll, who half rose and then sat down again. He knew that it was an urgent summons to the front door, and that none but he could answer it; and yet he hesitated.
Leaving Priam Farll, the great and wealthy artist, we return to that far more interesting person, Priam Farll the private human creature; and come at once to the dreadful secret of his character, the trait in him which explained the peculiar circumstances of his life.
As a private human creature, he happened to be shy.
He was quite different from you or me. We never feel secret qualms at the prospect of meeting strangers, or of taking quarters at a grand hotel, or of entering a large house for the first time, or of walking across a room full of seated people, or of dismissing a servant, or of arguing with a haughty female aristocrat behind a post-office counter, or of passing a shop where we owe money. As for blushing or hanging back, or even looking awkward, when faced with any such simple, everyday acts, the idea of conduct so childish would not occur to us. We behave naturally under all circumstances—for why should a sane man behave otherwise? Priam Farll was different. To call the world's attention visually to the fact of his own existence was anguish to him. But in a letter he could be absolutely brazen. Give him a pen and he was fearless.
Now he knew that he would have to go and open the front door. Both humanity and self-interest urged him to go instantly. For the visitant was assuredly the doctor, come at last to see the sick man lying upstairs. The sick man was Henry Leek, and Henry Leek was Priam Farll's bad habit. While somewhat of a rascal (as his master guessed), Leek was a very perfect valet. Like you and me, he was never shy. He always did the natural thing naturally. He had become, little by little, indispensable to Priam Farll, the sole means of living communication between Priam Farll and the universe of men. The master's shyness, resembling a deer's, kept the pair almost entirely out of England, and, on their continuous travels, the servant invariably stood between that sensitive diffidence and the world. Leek saw every one who had to be seen, and did everything that involved personal contacts. And, being a bad habit, he had, of course, grown on Priam Farll, and thus, year after year, for a quarter of a century, Farll's shyness, with his riches and his glory, had increased. Happily Leek was never ill. That is to say, he never had been ill, until this day of their sudden incognito arrival in London for a brief sojourn. He could hardly have chosen a more inconvenient moment; for in London of all places, in that inherited house in Selwood Terrace which he so seldom used, Priam Farll could not carry on daily life without him. It really was unpleasant and disturbing in the highest degree, this illness of Leek's. The fellow had apparently caught cold on the night-boat. He had fought the approaches of insidious disease for several hours, going forth to make purchases and incidentally consulting a doctor; and then, without warning, in the very act of making up Farll's couch, he had abandoned the struggle, and, since his own bed was not ready, he had taken to his master's. He always did the natural thing naturally. And Farll had been forced to help him to undress!
From this point onwards Priam Farll, opulent though he was and illustrious, had sunk to a tragic impotence. He could do nothing for himself; and he could do nothing for Leek, because Leek refused both brandy and sandwiches, and the larder consisted solely of brandy and sandwiches. The man lay upstairs there, comatose, still, silent, waiting for the doctor who had promised to pay an evening visit. And the summer day had darkened into the summer night.
The notion of issuing out into the world and personally obtaining food for himself or aid for Leek, did genuinely seem to Priam Farll an impossible notion; he had never done such things. For him a shop was an impregnable fort garrisoned by ogres. Besides, it would have been necessary to 'ask,' and 'asking' was the torture of tortures. So he had wandered, solicitous and helpless, up and down the stairs, until at length Leek, ceasing to be a valet and deteriorating into a mere human organism, had feebly yet curtly requested to be just let alone, asserting that he was right enough. Whereupon the envied of all painters, the symbol of artistic glory and triumph, had assumed the valet's notorious puce dressing-gown and established himself in a hard chair for a night of discomfort.
The bell rang once more, and there was a sharp impressive knock that reverberated through the forlorn house in a most portentous and terrifying manner. It might have been death knocking. It engendered the horrible suspicion, "Suppose he's seriously ill?" Priam Farll sprang up nervously, braced to meet ringers and knockers.
Cure for Shyness
On the other side of the door, dressed in frock coat and silk hat, there stood hesitating a tall, thin, weary man who had been afoot for exactly twenty hours, in pursuit of his usual business of curing imaginary ailments by means of medicine and suggestion, and leaving real ailments to nature aided by coloured water. His attitude towards the medical profession was somewhat sardonic, partly because he was convinced that only the gluttony of South Kensington provided him with a livelihood, but more because his wife and two fully-developed daughters spent too much on their frocks. For years, losing sight of the fact that he was an immortal soul, they had been treating him as a breakfast-in-the-slot machine: they put a breakfast in the slot, pushed a button of his waistcoat, and drew out banknotes. For this, he had neither partner, nor assistant, nor carriage, nor holiday: his wife and daughters could not afford him these luxuries. He was able, conscientious, chronically tired, bald and fifty. He was also, strange as it may seem, shy; though indeed he had grown used to it, as a man gets used to a hollow tooth or an eel to skinning. No qualities of the young girl's heart about the heart of Dr. Cashmore! He really did know human nature, and he never dreamt of anything more paradisaical than a Sunday Pullman escapade to Brighton.
Priam Farll opened the door which divided these two hesitating men, and they saw each other by the light of the gas lamp (for the hall was in darkness).
"This Mr. Farll's?" asked Dr. Cashmore, with the unintentional asperity of shyness.
As for Priam, the revelation of his name by Leek shocked him almost into a sweat. Surely the number of the house should have sufficed.
"Yes," he admitted, half shy and half vexed. "Are you the doctor?"
Dr. Cashmore stepped into the obscurity of the hall.
"How's the invalid going on?"
"I can scarcely tell you," said Priam. "He's in bed, very quiet."
"That's right," said the doctor. "When he came to my surgery this morning I advised him to go to bed."
Then followed a brief awkward pause, during which Priam Farll coughed and the doctor rubbed his hands and hummed a fragment of melody.
"By Jove!" the thought flashed through the mind of Farll. "This chap's shy, I do believe!"
And through the mind of the doctor, "Here's another of 'em, all nerves!"
They both instantly, from sheer good-natured condescension the one to the other, became at ease. It was as if a spring had been loosed. Priam shut the door and shut out the ray of the street lamp.
"I'm afraid there's no light here," said he.
"I'll strike a match," said the doctor.
"Thanks very much," said Priam.
The flare of a wax vesta illumined the splendours of the puce dressing-gown. But Dr. Cashmore did not blench. He could flatter himself that in the matter of dressing-gowns he had nothing to learn.
"By the way, what's wrong with him, do you think?" Priam Farll inquired in his most boyish voice.
"Don't know. Chill! He had a loud cardiac murmur. Might be anything. That's why I said I'd call anyhow to-night. Couldn't come any sooner. Been on my feet since six o'clock this morning. You know what it is—G.P.'s day."
He smiled grimly in his fatigue.
"It's very good of you to come," said Priam Farll with warm, vivacious sympathy. He had an astonishing gift for imaginatively putting himself in the place of other people.
"Not at all!" the doctor muttered. He was quite touched. To hide the fact that he was touched he struck a second match. "Shall we go upstairs?"
In the bedroom a candle was burning on a dusty and empty dressing-table. Dr. Cashmore moved it to the vicinity of the bed, which was like an oasis of decent arrangement in the desert of comfortless chamber; then he stooped to examine the sick valet.
"He's shivering!" exclaimed the doctor softly.
Henry Leek's skin was indeed bluish, though, besides blankets, there was a considerable apparatus of rugs on the bed, and the night was warm. His ageing face (for he was the third man of fifty in that room) had an anxious look. But he made no movement, uttered no word, at sight of the doctor; just stared, dully. His own difficult breathing alone seemed to interest him.
"Any women up?"
The doctor turned suddenly and fiercely on Priam Farll, who started.
"There's only ourselves in the house," he replied.
A person less experienced than Dr. Cashmore in the secret strangenesses of genteel life in London might have been astonished by this information. But Dr. Cashmore no more blenched now than he had blenched at the puce garment.
"Well, hurry up and get some hot water," said he, in a tone dictatorial and savage. "Quick, now! And brandy! And more blankets! Now don't stand there, please! Here! I'll go with you to the kitchen. Show me!" He snatched up the candle, and the expression of his features said, "I can see you're no good in a crisis."
"It's all up with me, doctor," came a faint whisper from the bed.
"So it is, my boy!" said the doctor under his breath as he tumbled downstairs in the wake of Priam Farll. "Unless I get something hot into you!"
Master and Servant
"Will there have to be an inquest?" Priam Farll asked at 6 a.m.
He had collapsed in the hard chair on the ground-floor. The indispensable Henry Leek was lost to him for ever. He could not imagine what would happen to his existence in the future. He could not conceive himself without Leek. And, still worse, the immediate prospect of unknown horrors of publicity in connection with the death of Leek overwhelmed him.
"No!" said the doctor, cheerfully. "Oh no! I was present. Acute double pneumonia! Sometimes happens like that! I can give a certificate. But of course you will have to go to the registrar's and register the death."
Even without an inquest, he saw that the affair would be unthinkably distressing. He felt that it would kill him, and he put his hand to his face.
"Where are Mr. Farll's relatives to be found?" the doctor asked.
"Mr. Farll's relatives?" Priam Farll repeated without comprehending.
Then he understood. Dr. Cashmore thought that Henry Leek's name was Farll! And all the sensitive timidity in Priam Farll's character seized swiftly at the mad chance of escape from any kind of public appearance as Priam Farll. Why should he not let it be supposed that he, and not Henry Leek, had expired suddenly in Selwood Terrace at 5 a.m. He would be free, utterly free!
"Yes," said the doctor. "They must be informed, naturally."
Priam's mind ran rapidly over the catalogue of his family. He could think of no one nearer than a certain Duncan Farll, a second cousin.
"I don't think he had any," he replied in a voice that trembled with excitement at the capricious rashness of what he was doing. "Perhaps there were distant cousins. But Mr. Farll never talked of them."
Which was true.
He could scarcely articulate the words 'Mr Farll.' But when they were out of his mouth he felt that the deed was somehow definitely done.
The doctor gazed at Priam's hands, the rough, coarsened hands of a painter who is always messing in oils and dust.
"Pardon me," said the doctor. "I presume you are his valet—or—"
"Yes," said Priam Farll.
That set the seal.
"What was your master's full name?" the doctor demanded.
And Priam Farll shivered.
"Priam Farll," said he weakly.
"Not the—?" loudly exclaimed the doctor, whom the hazards of life in London had at last staggered.
"Well, well!" The doctor gave vent to his feelings. The truth was that this particular hazard of life in London pleased him, flattered him, made him feel important in the world, and caused him to forget his fatigue and his wrongs.
He saw that the puce dressing-gown contained a man who was at the end of his tether, and with that good nature of his which no hardships had been able to destroy, he offered to attend to the preliminary formalities. Then he went.
A Month's Wages
Priam Farll had no intention of falling asleep; his desire was to consider the position which he had so rashly created for himself; but he did fall asleep—and in the hard chair! He was awakened by a tremendous clatter, as if the house was being bombarded and there were bricks falling about his ears. When he regained all his senses this bombardment resolved itself into nothing but a loud and continued assault on the front door. He rose, and saw a frowsy, dishevelled, puce-coloured figure in the dirty mirror over the fireplace. And then, with stiff limbs, he directed his sleepy feet towards the door.
Dr. Cashmore was at the door, and still another man of fifty, a stern-set, blue-chinned, stoutish person in deep and perfect mourning, including black gloves.
This person gazed coldly at Priam Farll.
"Ah!" ejaculated the mourner.
And stepped in, followed by Dr. Cashmore.
In achieving the inner mat the mourner perceived a white square on the floor. He picked it up and carefully examined it, and then handed it to Priam Farll.
"I suppose this is for you," said he.
Priam, accepting the envelope, saw that it was addressed to "Henry Leek, Esq., 91 Selwood Terrace, S.W.," in a woman's hand.
"It is for you, isn't it?" pursued the mourner in an inflexible voice.
"Yes," said Priam.
"I am Mr. Duncan Farll, a solicitor, a cousin of your late employer," the metallic voice continued, coming through a set of large, fine, white teeth. "What arrangements have you made during the day?"
Priam stammered: "None. I've been asleep."
"You aren't very respectful," said Duncan Farll.
So this was his second cousin, whom he had met, once only, as a boy! Never would he have recognized Duncan. Evidently it did not occur to Duncan to recognize him. People are apt to grow unrecognizable in the course of forty years.
Duncan Farll strode about the ground-floor of the house, and on the threshold of each room ejaculated "Ah!" or "Ha!" Then he and the doctor went upstairs. Priam remained inert, and excessively disturbed, in the hall.
At length Duncan Farll descended.
"Come in here, Leek," said Duncan.
And Priam meekly stepped after him into the room where the hard chair was. Duncan Farll took the hard chair.
"What are your wages?"
Priam sought to remember how much he had paid Henry Leek.
"A hundred a year," said he.
"Ah! A good wage. When were you last paid?"
Priam remembered that he had paid Leek two days ago.
"The day before yesterday," said he.
"I must say again you are not very respectful," Duncan observed, drawing forth his pocket-book. "However, here is L8 7s., a month's wages in lieu of notice. Put your things together, and go. I shall have no further use for you. I will make no observations of any kind. But be good enough to dress—it is three o'clock—and leave the house at once. Let me see your box or boxes before you go."
When, an hour later, in the gloaming, Priam Farll stood on the wrong side of his own door, with Henry Leek's heavy kit-bag and Henry Leek's tin trunk flanking him on either hand, he saw that events in his career were moving with immense rapidity. He had wanted to be free, and free he was. Quite free! But it appeared to him very remarkable that so much could happen, in so short a time, as the result of a mere momentary impulsive prevarication.
* * * * *
Sticking out of the pocket of Leek's light overcoat was a folded copy of the Daily Telegraph. Priam Farll was something of a dandy, and like all right-thinking dandies and all tailors, he objected to the suave line of a garment being spoilt by a free utilization of pockets. The overcoat itself, and the suit beneath, were quite good; for, though they were the property of the late Henry Leek, they perfectly fitted Priam Farll and had recently belonged to him, Leek having been accustomed to clothe himself entirely from his master's wardrobe. The dandy absently drew forth the Telegraph, and the first thing that caught his eye was this: "A beautiful private hotel of the highest class. Luxuriously furnished. Visitor's comfort studied. Finest position in London. Cuisine a speciality. Quiet. Suitable for persons of superior rank. Bathroom. Electric light. Separate tables. No irritating extras. Single rooms from 2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly. 250 Queen's Gate." And below this he saw another piece of news: "Not a boarding-house. A magnificent mansion. Forty bedrooms by Waring. Superb public saloons by Maple. Parisian chef. Separate tables. Four bathrooms. Card-room, billiard-room, vast lounge. Young, cheerful, musical society. Bridge (small). Special sanitation. Finest position in London. No irritating extras. Single rooms from 2-1/2 guineas, double from 4 guineas weekly. Phone 10,073 Western. Trefusis Mansion, W."
At that moment a hansom cab came ambling down Selwood Terrace.
Impulsively he hailed it.
"'Ere, guv'nor," said the cabman, seeing with an expert eye that Priam Farll was unaccustomed to the manipulation of luggage. "Give this 'ere Hackenschmidt a copper to lend ye a hand. You're only a light weight."
A small and emaciated boy, with the historic remains of a cigarette in his mouth, sprang like a monkey up the steps, and, not waiting to be asked, snatched the trunk from Priam's hands. Priam gave him one of Leek's sixpences for his feats of strength, and the boy spat generously on the coin, at the same time, by a strange skill, clinging to the cigarette with his lower lip. Then the driver lifted the reins with a noble gesture, and Priam had to be decisive and get into the cab.
"250 Queen's Gate," said he.
As, keeping his head to one side to avoid the reins, he gave the direction across the roof of the cab to the attentive cocked ear of the cabman, he felt suddenly that he had regained his nationality, that he was utterly English, in an atmosphere utterly English. The hansom was like home after the wilderness.
He had chosen 250 Queen's Gate because it appeared the abode of tranquillity and discretion. He felt that he might sink into 250 Queen's Gate as into a feather bed. The other palace intimidated him. It recalled the terrors of a continental hotel. In his wanderings he had suffered much from the young, cheerful and musical society of bright hotels, and bridge (small) had no attraction for him.
As the cab tinkled through canyons of familiar stucco, he looked further at the Telegraph. He was rather surprised to find more than a column of enticing palaces, each in the finest position in London; London, in fact, seemed to be one unique, glorious position. And it was so welcome, so receptive, so wishful to make a speciality of your comfort, your food, your bath, your sanitation! He remembered the old boarding-houses of the eighties. Now all was changed, for the better. The Telegraph was full of the better, crammed and packed with tight columns of it. The better burst aspiringly from the tops of columns on the first page and outsoared the very title of the paper. He saw there, for instance, to the left of the title, a new, refined tea-house in Piccadilly Circus, owned and managed by gentlewomen, where you had real tea and real bread-and butter and real cakes in a real drawing-room. It was astounding.
The cab stopped.
"Is this it?" he asked the driver.
"This is 250, sir."
And it was. But it did not resemble even a private hotel. It exactly resembled a private house, narrow and tall and squeezed in between its sister and its brother. Priam Farll was puzzled, till the solution occurred to him. "Of course," he said to himself. "This is the quietude, the discretion. I shall like this." He jumped down.
"I'll keep you," he threw to the cabman, in the proper phrase (which he was proud to recall from his youth), as though the cabman had been something which he had ordered on approval.
There were two bell-knobs. He pulled one, and waited for the portals to open on discreet vistas of luxurious furniture. No response! Just as he was consulting the Telegraph to make sure of the number, the door silently swung back, and disclosed the figure of a middle-aged woman in black silk, who regarded him with a stern astonishment.
"Is this——?" he began, nervous and abashed by her formidable stare.
"Were you wanting rooms?" she asked.
"Yes," said he. "I was. If I could just see——"
"Will you come in?" she said. And her morose face, under stringent commands from her brain, began an imitation of a smile which, as an imitation, was wonderful. It made you wonder how she had ever taught her face to do it.
Priam Farll found himself blushing on a Turkey carpet, and a sort of cathedral gloom around him. He was disconcerted, but the Turkey carpet assured him somewhat. As his eyes grew habituated to the light he saw that the cathedral was very narrow, and that instead of the choir was a staircase, also clothed in Turkey carpet. On the lowest step reposed an object whose nature he could not at first determine.
"Would it be for long?" the lips opposite him muttered cautiously.
His reply—the reply of an impulsive, shy nature—was to rush out of the palace. He had identified the object on the stairs. It was a slop-pail with a wrung cloth on its head.
He felt profoundly discouraged and pessimistic. All his energy had left him. London had become hard, hostile, cruel, impossible. He longed for Leek with a great longing.
An hour later, having at the kind suggestion of the cabman deposited Leek's goods at the cloak-room of South Kensington Station, he was wandering on foot out of old London into the central ring of new London, where people never do anything except take the air in parks, lounge in club-windows, roll to and fro in peculiar vehicles that have ventured out without horses and are making the best of it, buy flowers and Egyptian cigarettes, look at pictures, and eat and drink. Nearly all the buildings were higher than they used to be, and the street wider; and at intervals of a hundred yards or so cranes that rent the clouds and defied the law of gravity were continually swinging bricks and marble into the upper layers of the air. Violets were on sale at every corner, and the atmosphere was impregnated with an intoxicating perfume of methylated spirits. Presently he arrived at an immense arched facade bearing principally the legend 'Tea,' and he saw within hundreds of persons sipping tea; and next to that was another arched facade bearing principally the word 'Tea,' and he saw within more hundreds sipping tea; and then another; and then another; and then suddenly he came to an open circular place that seemed vaguely familiar.
"By Jove!" he said. "This is Piccadilly Circus!"
And just at that moment, over a narrow doorway, he perceived the image of a green tree, and the words, 'The Elm Tree.' It was the entrance to the Elm Tree Tea Rooms, so well spoken of in the Telegraph. In certain ways he was a man of advanced and humane ideas, and the thought of delicately nurtured needy gentlewomen bravely battling with the world instead of starving as they used to starve in the past, appealed to his chivalry. He determined to assist them by taking tea in the advertised drawing-room. Gathering together his courage, he penetrated into a corridor lighted by pink electricity, and then up pink stairs. A pink door stopped him at last. It might have hid mysterious and questionable things, but it said laconically 'Push,' and he courageously pushed... He was in a kind of boudoir thickly populated with tables and chairs. The swift transmigration from the blatant street to a drawing-room had a startling effect on him: it caused him to whip off his hat as though his hat had been red hot. Except for two tall elegant creatures who stood together at the other end of the boudoir, the chairs and tables had the place to themselves. He was about to stammer an excuse and fly, when one of the gentlewomen turned her eye on him for a moment, and so he sat down. The gentlewomen then resumed their conversation. He glanced cautiously about him. Elm-trees, firmly rooted in a border of Indian matting, grew round all the walls in exotic profusion, and their topmost branches splashed over on to the ceiling. A card on the trunk of a tree, announcing curtly, "Dogs not allowed," seemed to enhearten him. After a pause one of the gentlewomen swam haughtily towards him and looked him between the eyes. She spoke no word, but her firm, austere glance said:
"Now, out with it, and see you behave yourself!"
He had been ready to smile chivalrously. But the smile was put to sudden death.
"Some tea, please," he said faintly, and his intimidated tone said, "If it isn't troubling you too much."
"What do you want with it?" asked the gentlewoman abruptly, and as he was plainly at a loss she added, "Crumpets or tea-cake?"
"Tea-cake," he replied, though he hated tea-cake. But he was afraid.
"You've escaped this time," said the drapery of her muslins as she swam from his sight. "But no nonsense while I'm away!"
When she sternly and mutely thrust the refection before him, he found that everything on the table except the tea-cakes and the spoon was growing elm-trees.
After one cup and one slice, when the tea had become stewed and undrinkable, and the tea-cake a material suitable for the manufacture of shooting boots, he resumed, at any rate partially, his presence of mind, and remembered that he had done nothing positively criminal in entering the boudoir or drawing-room and requesting food in return for money. Besides, the gentlewomen were now pretending to each other that he did not exist, and no other rash persons had been driven by hunger into the virgin forest of elm-trees. He began to meditate, and his meditations taking—for him—an unusual turn, caused him surreptitiously to examine Henry Leek's pocket-book (previously only known to him by sight). He had not for many years troubled himself concerning money, but the discovery that, when he had paid for the deposit of luggage at the cloak-room, a solitary sovereign rested in the pocket of Leek's trousers, had suggested to him that it would be advisable sooner or later to consider the financial aspect of existence.
There were two banknotes for ten pounds each in Leek's pocket-book; also five French banknotes of a thousand francs each, and a number of Italian banknotes of small denominations: the equivalent of two hundred and thirty pounds altogether, not counting a folded inch-rule, some postage stamps, and a photograph of a pleasant-faced woman of forty or so. This sum seemed neither vast nor insignificant to Priam Farll. It seemed to him merely a tangible something which would enable him to banish the fiscal question from his mind for an indefinite period. He scarcely even troubled to wonder what Leek was doing with over two years of Leek's income in his pocket-book. He knew, or at least he with certainty guessed, that Leek had been a rascal. Still, he had had a sort of grim, cynical affection for Leek. And the thought that Leek would never again shave him, nor tell him in accents that brooked no delay that his hair must be cut, nor register his luggage and secure his seat on long-distance expresses, filled him with very real melancholy. He did not feel sorry for Leek, nor say to himself "Poor Leek!" Nobody who had had the advantage of Leek's acquaintance would have said "Poor Leek!" For Leek's greatest speciality had always been the speciality of looking after Leek, and wherever Leek might be it was a surety that Leek's interests would not suffer. Therefore Priam Farll's pity was mainly self-centred.
And though his dignity had been considerably damaged during the final moments at Selwood Terrace, there was matter for congratulation. The doctor, for instance, had shaken hands with him at parting; had shaken hands openly, in the presence of Duncan Farll: a flattering tribute to his personality. But the chief of Priam Farll's satisfactions in that desolate hour was that he had suppressed himself, that for the world he existed no more. I shall admit frankly that this satisfaction nearly outweighed his grief. He sighed—and it was a sigh of tremendous relief. For now, by a miracle, he would be free from the menace of Lady Sophia Entwistle. Looking back in calmness at the still recent Entwistle episode in Paris—the real originating cause of his sudden flight to London—he was staggered by his latent capacity for downright, impulsive foolishness. Like all shy people he had fits of amazing audacity—and his recklessness usually took the form of making himself agreeable to women whom he encountered in travel (he was much less shy with women than with men). But to propose marriage to a weather-beaten haunter of hotels like Lady Sophia Entwistle, and to reveal his identity to her, and to allow her to accept his proposal—the thing had been unimaginably inept!
And now he was free, for he was dead.
He was conscious of a chill in the spine as he dwelt on the awful fate which he had escaped. He, a man of fifty, a man of set habits, a man habituated to the liberty of the wild stag, to bow his proud neck under the solid footwear of Lady Sophia Entwistle!
Yes, there was most decidedly a silver lining to the dark cloud of Leek's translation to another sphere of activity.
In replacing the pocket-book his hand encountered the letter which had arrived for Leek in the morning. Arguing with himself whether he ought to open it, he opened it. It ran: "Dear Mr. Leek, I am so glad to have your letter, and I think the photograph is most gentlemanly. But I do wish you would not write with a typewriter. You don't know how this affects a woman, or you wouldn't do it. However, I shall be so glad to meet you now, as you suggest. Suppose we go to Maskelyne and Cook's together to-morrow afternoon (Saturday). You know it isn't the Egyptian Hall any more. It is in St. George's Hall, I think. But you will see it in the Telegraph; also the time. I will be there when the doors open. You will recognize me from my photograph; but I shall wear red roses in my hat. So au revoir for the present. Yours sincerely, Alice Challice. P.S.—There are always a lot of dark parts at Maskelyne and Cook's. I must ask you to behave as a gentleman should. Excuse me. I merely mention it in case.—A. C."
Infamous Leek! Here was at any rate one explanation of a mysterious little typewriter which the valet had always carried, but which Priam had left at Selwood Terrace.
Priam glanced at the photograph in the pocket-book; and also, strange to say, at the Telegraph.
A lady with three children burst into the drawing-room, and instantly occupied the whole of it; the children cried "Mathaw!" "Mathah!" "Mathaw!" in shrill tones of varied joy. As one of the gentlewomen passed near him, he asked modestly—
"How much, please?"
She dropped a flake of paper on to his table without arresting her course, and said warningly:
"You pay at the desk."
When he hit on the desk, which was hidden behind a screen of elm-trees, he had to face a true aristocrat—and not in muslins, either. If the others were the daughters of earls, this was the authentic countess in a tea-gown.
He put down Leek's sovereign.
"Haven't you anything smaller?" snapped the countess.
"I'm sorry I haven't," he replied.
She picked up the sovereign scornfully, and turned it over.
"It's very awkward," she muttered.
Then she unlocked two drawers, and unwillingly gave him eighteen and sixpence in silver and copper, without another word and without looking at him.
"Thank you," said he, pocketing it nervously.
And, amid reiterated cries of "Mathah!" "Mathaw!" "Mathah!" he hurried away, unregarded, unregretted, splendidly repudiated by these delicate refined creatures who were struggling for a livelihood in a great city.
"I suppose you are Mr. Leek, aren't you?" a woman greeted him as he stood vaguely hesitant outside St. George's Hall, watching the afternoon audience emerge. He started back, as though the woman with her trace of Cockney accent had presented a revolver at his head. He was very much afraid. It may reasonably be asked what he was doing up at St. George's Hall. The answer to this most natural question touches the deepest springs of human conduct. There were two men in Priam Farll. One was the shy man, who had long ago persuaded himself that he actually preferred not to mix with his kind, and had made a virtue of his cowardice. The other was a doggish, devil-may-care fellow who loved dashing adventures and had a perfect passion for free intercourse with the entire human race. No. 2 would often lead No. 1 unsuspectingly forward to a difficult situation from which No. 1, though angry and uncomfortable, could not retire.
Thus it was No. 2 who with the most casual air had wandered up Regent Street, drawn by the slender chance of meeting a woman with red roses in her hat; and it was No. 1 who had to pay the penalty. Nobody could have been more astonished than No. 2 at the fulfillment of No. 2's secret yearning for novelty. But the innocent sincerity of No. 2's astonishment gave no aid to No. 1.
Farll raised his hat, and at the same moment perceived the roses. He might have denied the name of Leek and fled, but he did not. Though his left leg was ready to run, his right leg would not stir.
Then he was shaking hands with her. But how had she identified him?
"I didn't really expect you," said the lady, always with a slight Cockney accent. "But I thought how silly it would be for me to miss the vanishing trick just because you couldn't come. So in I went, by myself."
"Why didn't you expect me?" he asked diffidently.
"Well," she said, "Mr. Farll being dead, I knew you'd have a lot to do, besides being upset like."
"Oh yes," he said quickly, feeling that he must be more careful; for he had quite forgotten that Mr. Farll was dead. "How did you know?"
"How did I know!" she cried. "Well, I like that! Look anywhere! It's all over London, has been these six hours." She pointed to a ragged man who was wearing an orange-coloured placard by way of apron. On the placard was printed in large black letters: "Sudden death of Priam Farll in London. Special Memoir." Other ragged men, also wearing aprons, but of different colours, similarly proclaimed by their attire that Priam Farll was dead. And people crowding out of St. George's Hall were continually buying newspapers from these middlemen of tidings.
He blushed. It was singular that he could have walked even half-an-hour in Central London without noticing that his own name flew in the summer breeze of every street. But so it had been. He was that sort of man. Now he understood how Duncan Farll had descended upon Selwood Terrace.
"You don't mean to say you didn't see those posters?" she demanded.
"I didn't," he said simply.
"That shows how you must have been thinking!" said she. "Was he a good master?"
"Yes, very good," said Priam Farll with conviction.
"I see you're not in mourning."
"No. That is——"
"I don't hold with mourning myself," she proceeded. "They say it's to show respect. But it seems to me that if you can't show your respect without a pair of black gloves that the dye's always coming off... I don't know what you think, but I never did hold with mourning. It's grumbling against Providence, too! Not but what I think there's a good deal too much talk about Providence. I don't know what you think, but——"
"I quite agree with you," he said, with a warm generous smile which sometimes rushed up and transformed his face before he was aware of the occurrence.
And she smiled also, gazing at him half confidentially. She was a little woman, stoutish—indeed, stout; puffy red cheeks; a too remarkable white cotton blouse; and a crimson skirt that hung unevenly; grey cotton gloves; a green sunshade; on the top of all this the black hat with red roses. The photograph in Leek's pocket-book must have been taken in the past. She looked quite forty-five, whereas the photograph indicated thirty-nine and a fraction. He gazed down at her protectively, with a good-natured appreciative condescension.
"I suppose you'll have to be going back again soon, to arrange things like," she said. It was always she who kept the conversation afloat.
"No," he said. "I've finished there. They've dismissed me."
He shook his head.
"I hope you made them pay you your month," said she firmly.
He was glad to be able to give a satisfactory answer.
After a pause she resumed bravely:
"So Mr. Farll was one of these artists? At least so I see according to the paper."
"It's a very funny business," she said. "But I suppose there's some of them make quite a nice income out of it. You ought to know about that, being in it, as it were."
Never in his life had he conversed on such terms with such a person as Mrs. Alice Challice. She was in every way a novelty for him—in clothes, manners, accent, deportment, outlook on the world and on paint. He had heard and read of such beings as Mrs. Alice Challice, and now he was in direct contact with one of them. The whole affair struck him as excessively odd, as a mad escapade on his part. Wisdom in him deemed it ridiculous to prolong the encounter, but shy folly could not break loose. Moreover she possessed the charm of her novelty; and there was that in her which challenged the male in him.
"Well," she said, "I suppose we can't stand here for ever!"
The crowd had frittered itself away, and an attendant was closing and locking the doors of St. George's Hall. He coughed.
"It's a pity it's Saturday and all the shops closed. But anyhow suppose we walk along Oxford Street all the same? Shall we?" This from her.
"By all means."
"Now there's one thing I should like to say," she murmured with a calm smile as they moved off. "You've no occasion to be shy with me. There's no call for it. I'm just as you see me."
"Shy!" he exclaimed, genuinely surprised. "Do I seem shy to you?" He thought he had been magnificently doggish.
"Oh, well," she said. "That's all right, then, if you aren't. I should take it as a poor compliment, being shy with me. Where do you think we can have a good talk? I'm free for the evening. I don't know about you."
Her eyes questioned his.
At a late hour, they were entering, side by side, a glittering establishment whose interior seemed to be walled chiefly in bevelled glass, so that everywhere the curious observer saw himself and twisted fractions of himself. The glass was relieved at frequent intervals by elaborate enamelled signs which repeated, 'No gratuities.' It seemed that the directors of the establishment wished to make perfectly clear to visitors that, whatever else they might find, they must on no account expect gratuities.
"I've always wanted to come here," said Mrs. Alice Challice vivaciously, glancing up at Priam Farll's modest, middle-aged face.
Then, after they had successfully passed through a preliminary pair of bevelled portals, a huge man dressed like a policeman, and achieving a very successful imitation of a policeman, stretched out his hand, and stopped them.
"In line, please," he said.
"I thought it was a restaurant, not a theatre," Priam whispered to Mrs. Challice.
"So it is a restaurant," said his companion. "But I hear they're obliged to do like this because there's always such a crowd. It's very 'andsome, isn't it?"
He agreed that it was. He felt that London had got a long way in front of him and that he would have to hurry a great deal before he could catch it up.
At length another imitation of a policeman opened more doors and, with other sinners, they were released from purgatory into a clattering paradise, which again offered everything save gratuities. They were conducted to a small table full of dirty plates and empty glasses in a corner of the vast and lofty saloon. A man in evening dress whose eye said, "Now mind, no insulting gratuities!" rushed past the table and in one deft amazing gesture swept off the whole of its contents and was gone with them. It was an astounding feat, and when Priam recovered from his amazement he fell into another amazement on discovering that by some magic means the man in evening dress had insinuated a gold-charactered menu into his hands. This menu was exceedingly long—it comprised everything except gratuities—and, evidently knowing from experience that it was not a document to be perused and exhausted in five minutes, the man in evening dress took care not to interrupt the studies of Priam Farll and Alice Challice during a full quarter of an hour. Then he returned like a bolt, put them through an examination in the menu, and fled, and when he was gone they saw that the table was set with a clean cloth and instruments and empty glasses. A band thereupon burst into gay strains, like the band at a music-hall after something very difficult on the horizontal bar. And it played louder and louder; and as it played louder, so the people talked louder. And the crash of cymbals mingled with the crash of plates, and the altercations of knives and forks with the shrill accents of chatterers determined to be heard. And men in evening dress (a costume which seemed to be forbidden to sitters at tables) flitted to and fro with inconceivable rapidity, austere, preoccupied conjurers. And from every marble wall, bevelled mirror, and Doric column, there spoke silently but insistently the haunting legend, 'No gratuities.'
Thus Priam Farll began his first public meal in modern London. He knew the hotels; he knew the restaurants, of half-a-dozen countries, but he had never been so overwhelmed as he was here. Remembering London as a city of wooden chop-houses, he could scarcely eat for the thoughts that surged through his brain.
"Isn't it amusing?" said Mrs. Challice benignantly, over a glass of lager. "I'm so glad you brought me here. I've always wanted to come."
And then, a few minutes afterwards, she was saying, against the immense din—
"You know, I've been thinking for years of getting married again. And if you really are thinking of getting married, what are you to do? You may sit in a chair and wait till eggs are sixpence a dozen, and you'll be no nearer. You must do something. And what is there except a matrimonial agency? I say—what's the matter with a matrimonial agency, anyhow? If you want to get married, you want to get married, and it's no use pretending you don't. I do hate pretending, I do. No shame in wanting to get married, is there? I think a matrimonial agency is a very good, useful thing. They say you're swindled. Well, those that are deserve to be. You can be swindled without a matrimonial agency, seems to me. Not that I've ever been. Plain common-sense people never are. No, if you ask me, matrimonial agencies are the most sensible things—after dress-shields—that's ever been invented. And I'm sure if anything comes of this, I shall pay the fees with the greatest pleasure. Now don't you agree with me?"
The whole mystery stood explained.
"Absolutely!" he said.
And felt the skin creeping in the small of his back.
* * * * *
From the moment of Mrs. Challice's remarks in favour of matrimonial agencies Priam Farll's existence became a torture to him. She was what he had always been accustomed to think of as "a very decent woman"; but really...! The sentence is not finished because Priam never finished it in his own mind. Fifty times he conducted the sentence as far as 'really,' and there it dissolved into an uncomfortable cloud.
"I suppose we shall have to be going," said she, when her ice had been eaten and his had melted.
"Yes," said he, and added to himself, "But where?"
However, it would be a relief to get out of the restaurant, and he called for the bill.
While they were waiting for the bill the situation grew more strained. Priam was aware of a desire to fling down sovereigns on the table and rush wildly away. Even Mrs. Challice, vaguely feeling this, had a difficulty in conversing.
"You are like your photograph!" she remarked, glancing at his face which—it should be said—had very much changed within half-an-hour. He had a face capable of a hundred expressions per day. His present expression was one of his anxious expressions, medium in degree. It can be figured in the mask of a person who is locked up in an iron strongroom, and, feeling ill at ease, notices that the walls are getting red-hot at the corners.
"Like my photograph?" he exclaimed, astonished that he should resemble Leek's photograph.
"Yes," she asseverated stoutly. "I knew you at once. Especially by the nose."
"Have you got it here?" he asked, interested to see what portrait of Leek had a nose like his own.
And she pulled out of her handbag a photograph, not of Leek, but of Priam Farll. It was an unmounted print of a negative which he and Leek had taken together for the purposes of a pose in a picture, and it had decidedly a distinguished appearance. But why should Leek dispatch photographs of his master to strange ladies introduced through a matrimonial agency? Priam Farll could not imagine—unless it was from sheer unscrupulous, careless bounce.
She gazed at the portrait with obvious joy.
"Now, candidly, don't you think it's very, very good?" she demanded.
"I suppose it is," he agreed. He would probably have given two hundred pounds for the courage to explain to her in a few well-chosen words that there had been a vast mistake, a huge impulsive indiscretion. But two hundred thousand pounds would not have bought that courage.
"I love it," she ejaculated fervently—with heat, and yet so nicely! And she returned the photograph to her little bag.
She lowered her voice.
"You haven't told me whether you were ever married. I've been waiting for that."
He blushed. She was disconcertingly personal.
"No," he said.
"And you've always lived like that, alone like; no home; travelling about; no one to look after you, properly?" There was distress in her voice.
He nodded. "One gets accustomed to it."
"Oh yes," she said. "I can understand that."
"No responsibilities," he added.
"No. I can understand all that." Then she hesitated. "But I do feel so sorry for you... all these years!"
And her eyes were moist, and her tone was so sincere that Priam Farll found it quite remarkably affecting. Of course she was talking about Henry Leek, the humble valet, and not about Leek's illustrious master. But Priam saw no difference between his lot and that of Leek. He felt that there was no essential difference, and that, despite Leek's multiple perfections as a valet, he never had been looked after—properly. Her voice made him feel just as sorry for himself as she was sorry for him; it made him feel that she had a kind heart, and that a kind heart was the only thing on earth that really mattered. Ah! If Lady Sophia Entwistle had spoken to him in such accents...!
The bill came. It was so small that he was ashamed to pay it. The suppression of gratuities enabled the monarch of this bevelled palace to offer a complete dinner for about the same price as a thimbleful of tea and ten drachms of cake a few yards away. Happily the monarch, foreseeing his shame, had arranged a peculiar method of payment through a little hole, where the receiver could see nothing but his blushing hands. As for the conjurers in evening dress, they apparently never soiled themselves by contact with specie.
Outside on the pavement, he was at a loss what to do. You see, he was entirely unfamiliar with Mrs. Challice's code of etiquette.
"Would you care to go to the Alhambra or somewhere?" he suggested, having a notion that this was the correct thing to say to a lady whose presence near you was directly due to her desire for marriage.
"It's very good of you," said she. "But I'm sure you only say it out of kindness—because you're a gentleman. It wouldn't be quite nice for you to go to a music-hall to-night. I know I said I was free for the evening, but I wasn't thinking. It wasn't a hint—no, truly! I think I shall go home—and perhaps some other——"
"I shall see you home," said he quickly. Impulsive, again!
"Would you really like to? Can you?" In the bluish glare of an electricity that made the street whiter than day, she blushed. Yes, she blushed like a girl.
She led him up a side-street where was a kind of railway station unfamiliar to Priam Farll's experience, tiled like a butcher's shop and as clean as Holland. Under her direction he took tickets for a station whose name he had never heard of, and then they passed through steel railings which clacked behind them into a sort of safe deposit, from which the only emergence was a long dim tunnel. Painted hands, pointing to the mysterious word 'lifts,' waved you onwards down this tunnel. "Hurry up, please," came a voice out of the spectral gloom. Mrs. Challice thereupon ran. Now up the tunnel, opposing all human progress there blew a steady trade-wind of tremendous force. Immediately Priam began to run the trade-wind removed his hat, which sailed buoyantly back towards the street. He was after it like a youth of twenty, and he recaptured it. But when he reached the extremity of the tunnel his amazed eyes saw nothing but a great cage of human animals pressed tightly together behind bars. There Was a click, and the whole cage sank from his sight into the earth.
He felt that there was more than he had dreamt of in the city of miracles. In a couple of minutes another cage rose into the tunnel at a different point, vomited its captives and descended swiftly again with Priam and many others, and threw him and the rest out into a white mine consisting of numberless galleries. He ran about these interminable galleries underneath London, at the bidding of painted hands, for a considerable time, and occasionally magic trains without engines swept across his vision. But he could not find even the spirit of Mrs. Alice Challice in this nether world.
On letter-paper headed "Grand Babylon Hotel, London," he was writing in a disguised backward hand a note to the following effect: "Duncan Farll, Esq. Sir,—If any letters or telegrams arrive for me at Selwood Terrace, be good enough to have them forwarded to me at once to the above address.—Yours truly, H. Leek." It cost him something to sign the name of the dead man; but he instinctively guessed that Duncan Farll might be a sieve which (owing to its legal-mindedness) would easily get clogged up even by a slight suspicion. Hence, in order to be sure of receiving a possible letter or telegram from Mrs. Challice, he must openly label himself as Henry Leek. He had lost Mrs. Challice; there was no address on her letter; he only knew that she lived at or near Putney, and the sole hope of finding her again lay in the fact that she had the Selwood Terrace address. He wanted to find her again; he desired that ardently, if merely to explain to her that their separation was due to a sudden caprice of his hat, and that he had searched for her everywhere in the mine, anxiously, desperately. She would surely not imagine that he had slipped away from her on purpose? No! And yet, if incapable of such an enormity, why had she not waited for him on one of the platforms? However, he hoped for the best. The best was a telegram; the second-best a letter. On receipt of which he would fly to her to explain.... And besides, he wanted to see her—simply. Her answer to his suggestion of a music-hall, and the tone of it, had impressed him. And her remark, "I do feel so sorry for you all these years," had—well, somewhat changed his whole outlook on life. Yes, he wanted to see her in order to satisfy himself that he had her respect. A woman impossible socially, a woman with strange habits and tricks of manner (no doubt there were millions such); but a woman whose respect one would not forfeit without a struggle!
He had been pushed to an extremity, forced to act with swiftness, upon losing her. And he had done the thing that comes most naturally to a life-long traveller. He had driven to the best hotel in the town. (He had seen in a flash that the idea of inhabiting any private hotel whatever was a silly idea.) And now he was in a large bedroom over-looking the Thames—a chamber with a writing-desk, a sofa, five electric lights, two easy-chairs, a telephone, electric bells, and a massive oak door with a lock and a key in the lock; in short, his castle! An enterprise of some daring to storm the castle: but he had stormed it. He had registered under the name of Leek, a name sufficiently common not to excite remark, and the floor-valet had proved to be an admirable young man. He trusted to the floor-valet and to the telephone for avoiding any rough contact with the world. He felt comparatively safe now; the entire enormous hotel was a nest for his shyness, a conspiracy to keep him in cotton-wool. He was an autocratic number, absolute ruler over Room 331, and with the right to command the almost limitless resources of the Grand Babylon for his own private ends.
As he sealed the envelope he touched a bell.
The valet entered.
"You've got the evening papers?" asked Priam Farll.
"Yes, sir." The valet put a pile of papers respectfully on the desk.
"All of them?"
"Thanks. Well, it's not too late to have a messenger, is it?"
"Oh no, sir." ("'Too late' in the Grand Babylon, oh Czar!" said the valet's shocked tone.)
"Then please get a messenger to take this letter, at once."
"In a cab, sir?"
"Yes, in a cab. I don't know whether there will be an answer. He will see. Then let him call at the cloak-room at South Kensington Station and get my luggage. Here's the ticket."
"Thank you, sir."
"I can rely on you to see that he goes at once?"
"You can, sir," said the valet, in such accents as carry absolute conviction.
"Thank you. That will do, I think."
The man retired, and the door was closed by an expert in closing doors, one who had devoted his life to the perfection of detail in valetry.
He lay on the sofa at the foot of the bed, with all illumination extinguished save one crimson-shaded light immediately above him. The evening papers—white, green, rose, cream, and yellow—shared his couch. He was about to glance at the obituaries; to glance at them in a careless, condescending way, just to see the sort of thing that journalists had written of him. He knew the value of obituaries; he had often smiled at them. He knew also the exceeding fatuity of art criticism, which did not cause him even to smile, being simply a bore. He recollected, further, that he was not the first man to read his own obituary; the adventure had happened to others; and he could recall how, on his having heard that owing to an error it had happened to the great so-and-so, he, in his quality of philosopher, had instantly decided what frame of mind the great so-and-so ought to have assumed for the perusal of his biography. He carefully and deliberately adopted that frame of mind now. He thought of Marcus Aurelius on the futility of fame; he remembered his life-long attitude of gentle, tired scorn for the press; he reflected with wise modesty that in art nothing counts but the work itself, and that no quantity of inept chatter could possibly affect, for good or evil, his value, such as it might be, to the world.
Then he began to open the papers.
The first glimpse of their contents made him jump. In fact, the physical result of it was quite extraordinary. His temperature increased. His heart became audible. His pulse quickened. And there was a tingling as far off as his toes. He had felt, in a dim, unacknowledged way, that he must be a pretty great painter. Of course his prices were notorious. And he had guessed, though vaguely, that he was the object of widespread curiosity. But he had never compared himself with Titanic figures on the planet. It had always seemed to him that his renown was different from other renowns, less—somehow unreal and make-believe. He had never imaginatively grasped, despite prices and public inquisitiveness, that he too was one of the Titanic figures. He grasped it now. The aspect of the papers brought it home to him with tremendous force.
Special large type! Titles stretching across two columns! Black borders round the pages! "Death of England's greatest painter." "Sudden death of Priam Farll." "Sad death of a great genius." "Puzzling career prematurely closed." "Europe in mourning." "Irreparable loss to the world's art." "It is with the most profound regret." "Our readers will be shocked." "The news will come as a personal blow to every lover of great painting." So the papers went on, outvying each other in enthusiastic grief.
He ceased to be careless and condescending to them. The skin crept along his spine. There he lay, solitary, under the crimson glow, locked in his castle, human, with the outward semblance of a man like other men, and yet the cities of Europe were weeping for him. He heard them weeping. Every lover of great painting was under a sense of personal bereavement. The very voice of the world was hushed. After all, it was something to have done your best; after all, good stuff was appreciated by the mass of the race. The phenomena presented by the evening papers was certainly prodigious, and prodigiously affecting. Mankind was unpleasantly stunned by the report of his decease. He forgot that Mrs. Challice, for instance, had perfectly succeeded in hiding her grief for the irreparable loss, and that her questions about Priam Farll had been almost perfunctory. He forgot that he had witnessed absolutely no sign of overwhelming sorrow, or of any degree of sorrow, in the thoroughfares of the teeming capital, and that the hotels did not resound to sobbing. He knew only that all Europe was in mourning!
"I suppose I was rather wonderful—am, I mean"—he said to himself, dazed and happy. Yes, happy. "The fact is, I've got so used to my own work that perhaps I don't think enough of it." He said this as modestly as he could.
There was no question now of casually glancing at the obituaries. He could not miss a single line, a single word. He even regretted that the details of his life were so few and unimportant. It seemed to him that it was the business of the journalists to have known more, to have displayed more enterprise in acquiring information. Still, the tone was right. The fellows meant well, at any rate. His eyes encountered nothing but praise. Indeed the press of London had yielded itself up to an encomiastic orgy. His modesty tried to say that this was slightly overdone; but his impartiality asked, "Really, what could they say against me?" As a rule unmitigated praise was nauseous but here they were undoubtedly genuine, the fellows; their sentences rang true!
Never in his life had he been so satisfied with the scheme of the universe! He was nearly consoled for the dissolution of Leek.
When, after continued reading, he came across a phrase which discreetly insinuated, apropos of the policeman and the penguins, that capriciousness in the choice of subject was perhaps a pose with him, the accusation hurt.
"Pose!" he inwardly exclaimed. "What a lie! The man's an ass!"
And he resented the following remark which concluded a 'special memoir' extremely laudatory in matter and manner, by an expert whose books he had always respected: "However, contemporary judgments are in the large majority of cases notoriously wrong, and it behooves us to remember this in choosing a niche for our idol. Time alone can settle the ultimate position of Priam Farll."
Useless for his modesty to whisper to him that contemporary judgments were notoriously wrong. He did not like it. It disturbed him. There were exceptions to every rule. And if the connoisseur meant anything at all, he was simply stultifying the rest of the article. Time be d——d!
He had come nearly to the last line of the last obituary before he was finally ruffled. Most of the sheets, in excusing the paucity of biographical detail, had remarked that Priam Farll was utterly unknown to London society, of a retiring disposition, hating publicity, a recluse, etc. The word "recluse" grated on his sensitiveness a little; but when the least important of the evening papers roundly asserted it to be notorious that he was of extremely eccentric habits, he grew secretly furious. Neither his modesty nor his philosophy was influential enough to restore him to complete calm.
Eccentric! He! What next? Eccentric, indeed!
Now, what conceivable justification———?
The Ruling Classes
Between a quarter-past and half-past eleven he was seated alone at a small table in the restaurant of the Grand Babylon. He had had no news of Mrs. Challice; she had not instantly telegraphed to Selwood Terrace, as he had wildly hoped. But in the boxes of Henry Leek, safely retrieved by the messenger from South Kensington Station, he had discovered one of his old dress-suits, not too old, and this dress-suit he had donned. The desire to move about unknown in the well-clad world, the world of the frequenters of costly hotels, the world to which he was accustomed, had overtaken him. Moreover, he felt hungry. Hence he had descended to the famous restaurant, whose wide windows were flung open to the illuminated majesty of the Thames Embankment. The pale cream room was nearly full of expensive women, and expending men, and silver-chained waiters whose skilled, noiseless, inhuman attentions were remunerated at the rate of about four-pence a minute. Music, the midnight food of love, floated scarce heard through the tinted atmosphere. It was the best imitation of Roman luxury that London could offer, and after Selwood Terrace and the rackety palace of no gratuities, Priam Farll enjoyed it as one enjoys home after strange climes.
Next to his table was an empty table, set for two, to which were presently conducted, with due state, a young man, and a magnificent woman whose youth was slipping off her polished shoulders like a cloak. Priam Farll then overheard the following conversation:—
Man: Well, what are you going to have?
Woman: But look here, little Charlie, you can't possibly afford to pay for this!
Man: Never said I could. It's the paper that pays. So go ahead.
Woman: Is Lord Nasing so keen as all that?
Man: It isn't Lord Nasing. It's our brand new editor specially imported from Chicago.
Woman: Will he last?
Man: He'll last a hundred nights, say as long as the run of your piece. Then he'll get six months' screw and the boot.
Woman: How much is six months' screw?
Man: Three thousand.
Woman: Well, I can hardly earn that myself.
Man: Neither can I. But then you see we weren't born in Chicago.
Woman: I've been offered a thousand dollars a week to go there, anyhow.
Man: Why didn't you tell me that for the interview? I've spent two entire entr'actes in trying to get something interesting out of you, and there you go and keep a thing like that up your sleeve. It's not fair to an old and faithful admirer. I shall stick it in. Poulet chasseur?
Woman: Oh no! Couldn't dream of it. Didn't you know I was dieting? Nothing saucy. No sugar. No bread. No tea. Thanks to that I've lost nearly a stone in six months. You know I was getting enormous.
Man: Let me put that in, eh?
Woman: Just try, and see what happens to you!
Man: Well, shall we say a lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? I'm dieting, too.
Waiter: Lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? Yes, sir.
Woman: You aren't very gay.
Man: Gay! You don't know all the yearnings of my soul. Don't imagine that because I'm a special of the Record I haven't got a soul.
Woman: I suppose you've been reading that book, Omar Khayyam, that every one's talking about. Isn't that what it's called?
Man: Has Omar Khayyam reached the theatrical world? Well, there's no doubt the earth does move, after all.
Woman: A little more soda, please. And just a trifle less impudence. What book ought one to be reading, then?
Man: Socialism's the thing just now. Read Wells on Socialism. It'll be all over the theatrical world in a few years' time.
Woman: No fear! I can't bear Wells. He's always stirring up the dregs. I don't mind froth, but I do draw the line at dregs. What's the band playing? What have you been doing to-day? Is this lettuce? No, no! No bread. Didn't you hear me tell you?
Man: I've been busy with the Priam Farll affair.
Woman: Priam Farll?
Man: Yes. Painter. You know.
Woman: Oh yes. Him! I saw it on the posters. He's dead, it seems. Anything mysterious?
Man: You bet! Very odd! Frightfully rich, you know! Yet he died in a wretched hovel of a place down off the Fulham Road. And his valet's disappeared. We had the first news of the death, through our arrangement with all the registrars' clerks in London. By the bye, don't give that away—it's our speciality. Nasing sent me off at once to write up the story.
Man: The particulars. We always call it a story in Fleet Street.
Woman: What a good name! Well, did you find out anything interesting?
Man: Not very much. I saw his cousin, Duncan Farll, a money-lending lawyer in Clement's Lane—he only heard of it because we telephoned to him. But the fellow would scarcely tell me anything at all.
Woman: Really! I do hope there's something terrible.
Woman: So that I can go to the inquest or the police court or whatever it is. That's why I always keep friendly with magistrates. It's so frightfully thrilling, sitting on the bench with them.
Man: There won't be any inquest. But there's something queer in it. You see, Priam Farll was never in England. Always abroad; at those foreign hotels, wandering up and down.
Woman (after a pause): I know.
Man: What do you know?
Woman: Will you promise not to chatter?
Woman: I met him once at an hotel at Ostend. He—well, he wanted most tremendously to paint my portrait. But I wouldn't let him.
Man: Why not?
Woman: If you knew what sort of man he was you wouldn't ask.
Man: Oh! But look here, I say! You must let me use that in my story. Tell me all about it.
Woman: Not for worlds.
Man: He—he made up to you?
Priam Farll (to himself): What a barefaced lie! Never was at Ostend in my life.
Man: Can't I use it if I don't print your name—just say a distinguished actress.
Woman: Oh yes, you can do that. You might say, of the musical comedy stage.
Man: I will. I'll run something together. Trust me. Thanks awfully.
At this point a young and emaciated priest passed up the room.
Woman: Oh! Father Luke, is that you? Do come and sit here and be nice. This is Father Luke Widgery—Mr. Docksey, of the Record.
Woman: Now, Father Luke, I've just got to come to your sermon to-morrow. What's it about?
Priest: Modern vice.
Woman: How charming! I read the last one—it was lovely.
Priest: Unless you have a ticket you'll never be able to get in.
Woman: But I must get in. I'll come to the vestry door, if there is a vestry door at St. Bede's.
Priest: It's impossible. You've no idea of the crush. And I've no favourites.
Woman: Oh yes, you have! You have me.
Priest: In my church, fashionable women must take their chance with the rest.
Woman: How horrid you are.
Priest: Perhaps. I may tell you, Miss Cohenson, that I've seen two duchesses standing at the back of the aisle of St. Bede's, and glad to be.
Woman: But I shan't flatter you by standing at the back of your aisle, and you needn't think it. Haven't I given you a box before now?
Priest: I only accepted the box as a matter of duty; it is part of my duty to go everywhere.
Man: Come with me, Miss Cohenson. I've got two tickets for the Record.
Woman: Oh, so you do send seats to the press?
Priest: The press is different. Waiter, bring me half a bottle of Heidsieck.
Waiter: Half a bottle of Heidsieck? Yes, sir.
Woman: Heidsieck. Well, I like that. We're dieting.
Priest: I don't like Heidsieck. But I'm dieting too. It's my doctor's orders. Every night before retiring. It appears that my system needs it. Maria Lady Rowndell insists on giving me a hundred a year to pay for it. It is her own beautiful way of helping the good cause. Ice, please, waiter. I've just been seeing her to-night. She's staying here for the season. Saves her a lot of trouble. She's very much cut up about the death of Priam Farll, poor thing! So artistic, you know! The late Lord Rowndell had what is supposed to be the finest lot of Farlls in England.
Man: Did you ever meet Priam Farll, Father Luke?
Priest: Never. I understand he was most eccentric. I hate eccentricity. I once wrote to him to ask him if he would paint a Holy Family for St. Bede's.
Man: And what did he reply?
Priest: He didn't reply. Considering that he wasn't even an R.A., I don't think that it was quite nice of him. However, Maria Lady Rowndell insists that he must be buried in Westminster Abbey. She asked me what I could do.
Woman: Buried in Westminster Abbey! I'd no idea he was so big as all that! Gracious!
Priest: I have the greatest confidence in Maria Lady Rowndell's taste, and certainly I bear no grudge. I may be able to arrange something. My uncle the Dean——
Man: Pardon me. I always understood that since you left the Church——
Priest: Since I joined the Church, you mean. There is but one.
Man: Church of England, I meant.
Man: Since you left the Church of England, there had been a breach between the Dean and yourself.
Priest: Merely religious. Besides my sister is the Dean's favourite niece. And I am her favourite brother. My sister takes much interest in art. She has just painted a really exquisite tea-cosy for me. Of course the Dean ultimately settles these questions of national funerals, Hence...
At this point the invisible orchestra began to play "God save the King."
Woman: Oh! What a bore!
Then nearly all the lights were extinguished.
Waiter: Please, gentlemen! Gentlemen, please!
Priest: You quite understand, Mr. Docksey, that I merely gave these family details in order to substantiate my statement that I may be able to arrange something. By the way, if you would care to have a typescript of my sermon to-morrow for the Record, you can have one by applying at the vestry.
Waiter: Please, gentlemen!
Man: So good of you. As regards the burial in Westminster Abbey, I think that the Record will support the project. I say I think.
Priest: Maria Lady Rowndell will be grateful.
Five-sixths of the remaining lights went out, and the entire company followed them. In the foyer there was a prodigious crush of opera cloaks, silk hats, and cigars, all jostling together. News arrived from the Strand that the weather had turned to rain, and all the intellect of the Grand Babylon was centred upon the British climate, exactly as if the British climate had been the latest discovery of science. As the doors swung to and fro, the stridency of whistles, the throbbing of motor-cars, and the hoarse cries of inhabitants of box seats mingled strangely with the delicate babble of the interior. Then, lo! as by magic, the foyer was empty save for the denizens of the hotel who could produce evidence of identity. It had been proved to demonstration, for the sixth time that week, that in the metropolis of the greatest of Empires there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Deeply affected by what he had overheard, Priam Farll rose in a lift and sought his bed. He perceived clearly that he had been among the governing classes of the realm.
* * * * *
Within less than twelve hours after that conversation between members of the governing classes at the Grand Babylon Hotel, Priam Farll heard the first deep-throated echoes of the voice of England on the question of his funeral. The voice of England issued on this occasion through the mouth of the Sunday News, a newspaper which belonged to Lord Nasing, the proprietor of the Daily Record. There was a column in the Sunday News, partly concerning the meeting of Priam Farll and a celebrated star of the musical comedy stage at Ostend. There was also a leading article, in which it was made perfectly clear that England would stand ashamed among the nations, if she did not inter her greatest painter in Westminster Abbey. Only the article, instead of saying Westminster Abbey, said National Valhalla. It seemed to make a point of not mentioning Westminster Abbey by name, as though Westminster Abbey had been something not quite mentionable, such as a pair of trousers. The article ended with the word 'basilica,' and by the time you had reached this majestic substantive, you felt indeed, with the Sunday News, that a National Valhalla without the remains of a Priam Farll inside it, would be shocking, if not inconceivable.
Priam Farll was extremely disturbed.
On Monday morning the Daily Record came nobly to the support of the Sunday News. It had evidently spent its Sunday in collecting the opinions of a number of famous men—including three M.P.'s, a banker, a Colonial premier, a K.C., a cricketer, and the President of the Royal Academy—as to whether the National Valhalla was or was not a suitable place for the repose of the remains of Priam Farll; and the unanimous reply was in the affirmative. Other newspapers expressed the same view. But there were opponents of the scheme. Some organs coldly inquired what Priam Farll had done for England, and particularly for the higher life of England. He had not been a moral painter like Hogarth or Sir Noel Paton, nor a worshipper of classic legend and beauty like the unique Leighton. He had openly scorned England. He had never lived in England. He had avoided the Royal Academy, honouring every country save his own. And was he such a great painter, after all? Was he anything but a clever dauber whose work had been forced into general admiration by the efforts of a small clique of eccentric admirers? Far be it from them, the organs, to decry a dead man, but the National Valhalla was the National Valhalla.... And so on.
The penny evening papers were pro-Farll, one of them furiously so. You gathered that if Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey the penny evening papers would, from mere disgust, wipe their boots on Dover cliffs and quit England eternally for some land where art was understood. You gathered, by nightfall, that Fleet Street must be a scene of carnage, full of enthusiasts cutting each other's throats for the sake of the honour of art. However, no abnormal phenomenon was superficially observable in Fleet Street; nor was martial law proclaimed at the Arts Club in Dover Street. London was impassioned by the question of Farll's funeral; a few hours would decide if England was to be shamed among the nations: and yet the town seemed to pursue its jog-trot way exactly as usual. The Gaiety Theatre performed its celebrated nightly musical comedy, "House Full"; and at Queen's Hall quite a large audience was collected to listen to a violinist aged twelve, who played like a man, though a little one, and whose services had been bought for seven years by a limited company.
The next morning the controversy was settled by one of the Daily Record's characteristic 'scoops.' In the nature of the case, such controversies, if they are not settled quickly, settle themselves quickly; they cannot be prolonged. But it was the Daily Record that settled this one. The Daily Record came out with a copy of the will of Priam Farll, in which, after leaving a pound a week for life to his valet, Henry Leek, Priam Farll bequeathed the remainder of his fortune to the nation for the building and up-keep of a Gallery of Great Masters. Priam Farll's own collection of great masters, gradually made by him in that inexpensive manner which is possible only to the finest connoisseurs, was to form the nucleus of the Gallery. It comprised, said the Record, several Rembrandts, a Velasquez, six Vermeers, a Giorgione, a Turner, a Charles, two Cromes, a Holbein. (After Charles the Record put a note of interrogation, itself being uncertain of the name.) The pictures were in Paris—had been for many years. The leading idea of the Gallery was that nothing not absolutely first-class should be admitted to it. The testator attached two conditions to the bequest. One was that his own name should be inscribed nowhere in the building, and the other was that none of his own pictures should be admitted to the gallery. Was not this sublime? Was not this true British pride? Was not this magnificently unlike the ordinary benefactor of his country? The Record was in a position to assert that Priam Farll's estate would amount to about a hundred and forty thousand pounds, in addition to the value of the pictures. After that, was anybody going to argue that he ought not to be buried in the National Valhalla, a philanthropist so royal and so proudly meek?
The opposition gave up.
Priam Farll grew more and more disturbed in his fortress at the Grand Babylon Hotel. He perfectly remembered making the will. He had made it about seventeen years before, after some champagne in Venice, in an hour of anger against some English criticisms of his work. Yes, English criticisms! It was his vanity that had prompted him to reply in that manner. Moreover, he was quite young then. He remembered the youthful glee with which he had appointed his next-of-kin, whoever they might be, executors and trustees of the will. He remembered his cruel joy in picturing their disgust at being compelled to carry out the terms of such a will. Often, since, he had meant to destroy the will; but carelessly he had always omitted to do so. And his collection and his fortune had continued to increase regularly and mightily, and now—well, there the thing was! Duncan Farll had found the will. And Duncan Farll would be the executor and trustee of that melodramatic testament.
He could not help smiling, serious as the situation was.
During that day the thing was settled; the authorities spoke; the word went forth. Priam Farll was to be buried in Westminster Abbey on the Thursday. The dignity of England among artistic nations had been saved, partly by the heroic efforts of the Daily Record, and partly by the will, which proved that after all Priam Farll had had the highest interests of his country at heart.
On the night between Tuesday and Wednesday Priam Farll had not a moment of sleep. Whether it was the deep-throated voice of England that had spoken, or merely the voice of the Dean's favourite niece—so skilled in painting tea-cosies—the affair was excessively serious. For the nation was preparing to inter in the National Valhalla the remains of just Henry Leek! Priam's mind had often a sardonic turn; he was assuredly capable of strange caprices: but even he could not permit an error so gigantic to continue. The matter must be rectified, and instantly! And he alone could rectify it. The strain on his shyness would be awful, would be scarcely endurable. Nevertheless he must act. Quite apart from other considerations, there was the consideration of that hundred and forty thousand pounds, which was his, and which he had not the slightest desire to leave to the British nation. And as for giving his beloved pictures to the race which adored Landseer, Edwin Long, and Leighton— the idea nauseated him.