NOT GEORGE WASHINGTON An Autobiographical Novel
by P. G. Wodehouse and Herbert Westbrook
Miss Margaret Goodwin's Narrative
1. James Arrives 2. James Sets Out 3. A Harmless Deception
James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative
1. The Invasion of Bohemia 2. I Evacuate Bohemia 3. The Orb 4. Julian Eversleigh 5. The Column 6. New Year's Eve 7. I Meet Mr. Thomas Blake 8. I Meet the Rev. John Hatton 9. Julian Learns My Secret 10. Tom Blake Again 11. Julian's Idea 12. The First Ghost 13. The Second Ghost 14. The Third Ghost 15. Eva Eversleigh 16. I Tell Julian
Sidney Price's Narrative
17. A Ghostly Gathering 18. One in the Eye 19. In the Soup 20. Norah Wins Home
Julian Eversleigh's Narrative
21. The Transposition of Sentiment 22. A Chat with James 23. In a Hansom
Narrative Resumed by James Orlebar Cloyster
24. A Rift in the Clouds 25. Briggs to the Rescue 26. My Triumph
Miss Margaret Goodwin's Narrative
I am Margaret Goodwin. A week from today I shall be Mrs. James Orlebar Cloyster.
It is just three years since I first met James. We made each other's acquaintance at half-past seven on the morning of the 28th of July in the middle of Fermain Bay, about fifty yards from the shore.
Fermain Bay is in Guernsey. My home had been with my mother for many years at St. Martin's in that island. There we two lived our uneventful lives until fate brought one whom, when first I set my eyes on him, I knew I loved.
Perhaps it is indiscreet of me to write that down. But what does it matter? It is for no one's reading but my own. James, my fianc, is not peeping slyly over my shoulder as I write. On the contrary, my door is locked, and James is, I believe, in the smoking-room of his hotel at St. Peter's Port.
At that time it had become my habit to begin my day by rising before breakfast and taking a swim in Fermain Bay, which lies across the road in front of our cottage. The practice—I have since abandoned it—was good for the complexion, and generally healthy. I had kept it up, moreover, because I had somehow cherished an unreasonable but persistent presentiment that some day Somebody (James, as it turned out) would cross the pathway of my maiden existence. I told myself that I must be ready for him. It would never do for him to arrive, and find no one to meet him.
On the 28th of July I started off as usual. I wore a short tweed skirt, brown stockings—my ankles were, and are, good—a calico blouse, and a red tam-o'-shanter. Ponto barked at my heels. In one hand I carried my blue twill bathing-gown. In the other a miniature alpenstock. The sun had risen sufficiently to scatter the slight mist of the summer morning, and a few flecked clouds were edged with a slender frame of red gold.
Leisurely, and with my presentiment strong upon me, I descended the steep cliffside to the cave on the left of the bay, where, guarded by the faithful Ponto, I was accustomed to disrobe; and soon afterwards I came out, my dark hair over my shoulders and blue twill over a portion of the rest of me, to climb out to the point of the projecting rocks, so that I might dive gracefully and safely into the still blue water.
I was a good swimmer. I reached the ridge on the opposite side of the bay without fatigue, not changing from a powerful breast-stroke. I then sat for a while at the water's edge to rest and to drink in the thrilling glory of what my heart persisted in telling me was the morning of my life.
And then I saw Him.
Not distinctly, for he was rowing a dinghy in my direction, and consequently had his back to me.
In the stress of my emotions and an aggravation of modesty, I dived again. With an intensity like that of a captured conger I yearned to be hidden by the water. I could watch him as I swam, for, strictly speaking, he was in my way, though a little farther out to sea than I intended to go. As I drew near, I noticed that he wore an odd garment like a dressing-gown. He had stopped rowing.
I turned upon my back for a moment's rest, and, as I did so, heard a cry. I resumed my former attitude, and brushed the salt water from my eyes.
The dinghy was wobbling unsteadily. The dressing-gown was in the bows; and he, my sea-god, was in the water. Only for a second I saw him. Then he sank.
How I blessed the muscular development of my arms.
I reached him as he came to the surface.
"That's twice," he remarked contemplatively, as I seized him by the shoulders.
"Be brave," I said excitedly; "I can save you."
"I should be most awfully obliged," he said.
"Do exactly as I tell you."
"I say," he remonstrated, "you're not going to drag me along by the roots of my hair, are you?"
The natural timidity of man is, I find, attractive.
I helped him to the boat, and he climbed in. I trod water, clinging with one hand to the stern.
"Allow me," he said, bending down.
"No, thank you," I replied.
"Thank you very much, but I think I will stay where I am."
"But you may get cramp. By the way—I'm really frightfully obliged to you for saving my life—I mean, a perfect stranger—I'm afraid it's quite spoiled your dip."
"Not at all," I said politely. "Did you get cramp?"
"A twinge. It was awfully kind of you."
"Not at all."
Then there was a rather awkward silence.
"Is this your first visit to Guernsey?" I asked.
"Yes; I arrived yesterday. It's a delightful place. Do you live here?"
"Yes; that white cottage you can just see through the trees."
"I suppose I couldn't give you a tow anywhere?"
"No; thank you very much. I will swim back."
Another constrained silence.
"Are you ever in London, Miss——?"
"Goodwin. Oh, yes; we generally go over in the winter, Mr.——"
"Cloyster. Really? How jolly. Do you go to the theatre much?"
"Oh, yes. We saw nearly everything last time we were over."
There was a third silence. I saw a remark about the weather trembling on his lip, and, as I was beginning to feel the chill of the water a little, I determined to put a temporary end to the conversation.
"I think I will be swimming back now," I said.
"You're quite sure I can't give you a tow?"
"Quite, thanks. Perhaps you would care to come to breakfast with us, Mr. Cloyster? I know my mother would be glad to see you."
"It is very kind of you. I should be delighted. Shall we meet on the beach?"
I swam off to my cave to dress.
Breakfast was a success, for my mother was a philosopher. She said very little, but what she did say was magnificent. In her youth she had moved in literary circles, and now found her daily pleasure in the works of Schopenhauer, Kant, and other Germans. Her lightest reading was Sartor Resartus, and occasionally she would drop into Ibsen and Maeterlinck, the asparagus of her philosophic banquet. Her chosen mode of thought, far from leaving her inhuman or intolerant, gave her a social distinction which I had inherited from her. I could, if I had wished it, have attended with success the tea-drinkings, the tennis-playings, and the clair-and-lemonade dances to which I was frequently invited. But I always refused. Nature was my hostess. Nature, which provided me with balmy zephyrs that were more comforting than buttered toast; which set the race of the waves to the ridges of Fermain, where arose no shrill, heated voice crying, "Love—forty"; which decked foliage in more splendid sheen than anything the local costumier could achieve, and whose poplars swayed more rhythmically than the dancers of the Assembly Rooms.
The constraint which had been upon us during our former conversation vanished at breakfast. We were both hungry, and we had a common topic. We related our story of the sea in alternate sentences. We ate and we talked, turn and turn about. My mother listened. To her the affair, compared with the tremendous subjects to which she was accustomed to direct her mind, was broad farce. James took it with an air of restrained amusement. I, seriously.
Tentatively, I diverged from this subject towards other and wider fields. Impressions of Guernsey, which drew from him his address, at the St. Peter's Port Hotel. The horrors of the sea passage from Weymouth, which extorted a comment on the limitations of England. England. London. Kensington. South Kensington. The Gunton-Cresswells? Yes, yes! Extraordinary. Curious coincidence. Excursus on smallness of world. Queer old gentleman, Mr. Gunton-Cresswell. He is, indeed. Quite one of the old school. Oh, quite. Still wears that beaver hat? Does he really? Yes. Ha, ha! Yes.
Here the humanising influence of the Teutonic school of philosophic analysis was demonstrated by my mother's action. Mr. Cloyster, she said, must reconcile himself to exchanging his comfortable rooms at the St. Peter's Port—("I particularly dislike half-filled hotel life, Mrs. Goodwin")—for the shelter of our cottage. He accepted. He was then "warned" that I was chef at the cottage. Mother gave him "a chance to change his mind." Something was said about my saving life and destroying digestion. He went to collect his things in an ecstasy of merriment.
At this point I committed an indiscretion which can only be excused by the magnitude of the occasion.
My mother had retired to her favourite bow-window where, by a tour de force on the part of the carpenter, a system of low, adjustable bookcases had been craftily constructed in such a way that when she sat in her window-seat they jutted in a semicircle towards her hand.
James, whom I had escorted down the garden path, had left me at the little wooden gate and had gone swinging down the road. I, shielded from outside observation (if any) by a line of lilacs, gazed rapturously at his retreating form. The sun was high in the sky now. It was a perfect summer's day. Birds were singing. Their notes blended with the gentle murmur of the sea on the beach below. Every fibre of my body was thrilling with the magic of the morning.
Through the kindly branches of the lilac I watched him, and then, as though in obedience to the primaeval call of that July sunshine, I stood on tiptoe, and blew him a kiss.
I realised in an instant what I had done. Fool that I had been. The bow-window!
I was rigid with discomfiture. My mother's eyes were on the book she held. And yet a faint smile seemed to hover round her lips. I walked in silence to where she sat at the open window.
She looked up. Her smile was more pronounced.
"Margie," she said.
"The hedonism of Voltaire is the indictment of an honest bore."
She then resumed her book.
JAMES SETS OUT (Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative continued)
Those August days! Have there been any like them before? I realise with difficulty that the future holds in store for me others as golden.
The island was crammed with trippers. They streamed in by every boat. But James and I were infinitely alone. I loved him from the first, from the moment when he had rowed out of the unknown into my life, clad in a dressing-gown. I like to think that he loved me from that moment, too. But, if he did, the knowledge that he did came to him only after a certain delay. It was my privilege to watch this knowledge steal gradually but surely upon him.
We were always together; and as the days passed by he spoke freely of himself and his affairs, obeying unconsciously the rudder of my tactful inquisitiveness. By the end of the first week I knew as much about him as he did himself.
It seemed that a guardian—an impersonal sort of business man with a small but impossible family—was the most commanding figure in his private life. As for his finances, five-and-forty sovereigns, the remnant of a larger sum which had paid for his education at Cambridge, stood between him and the necessity of offering for hire a sketchy acquaintance with general literature and a third class in the classical tripos.
He had come to Guernsey to learn by personal observation what chances tomato growing held out to a young man in a hurry to get rich.
"Tomato growing?" I echoed dubiously. And then, to hide a sense of bathos, "People have made it pay. Of course, they work very hard."
"M'yes," said James without much enthusiasm.
"But I fancy," I added, "the life is not at all unpleasant."
At this point embarrassment seemed to engulf James. He blushed, swallowed once or twice in a somewhat convulsive manner, and stammered.
Then he made his confession guiltily.
I was not to suppose that his aims ceased with the attainment of a tomato-farm. The nurture of a wholesome vegetable occupied neither the whole of his ambitions nor even the greater part of them. To write—the agony with which he throatily confessed it!—to be swept into the maelstrom of literary journalism, to be en rapport with the unslumbering forces of Fleet Street—those were the real objectives of James Orlebar Cloyster.
"Of course, I mean," he said, "I suppose it would be a bit of a struggle at first, if you see what I mean. What I mean to say is, rejected manuscripts, and so on. But still, after a bit, once get a footing, you know—I should like to have a dash at it. I mean, I think I could do something, you know."
"Of course you could," I said.
"I mean, lots of men have, don't you know."
"There's plenty of room at the top," I said.
He seemed struck with this remark. It encouraged him.
He had had his opportunity of talking thus of himself during our long rambles out of doors. They were a series of excursions which he was accustomed to describe as hunting expeditions for the stocking of our larder.
Thus James would announce at breakfast that prawns were the day's quarry, and the foreshore round Cobo Bay the hunting-ground. And to Cobo, accordingly, we would set out. This prawn-yielding area extends along the coast on the other side of St. Peter's Port, where two halts had to be made, one at Madame Garnier's, the confectioners, the other at the library, to get fiction, which I never read. Then came a journey on the top of the antediluvian horse-tram, a sort of diligence on rails; and then a whole summer's afternoon among the prawns. Cobo is an expanse of shingle, dotted with seaweed and rocks; and Guernsey is a place where one can take off one's shoes and stockings on the slightest pretext. We waded hither and thither with the warm brine lapping unchecked over our bare legs. We did not use our nets very industriously, it is true; but our tongues were seldom still. The slow walk home was a thing to be looked forward to. Ah! those memorable homecomings in the quiet solemnity of that hour, when a weary sun stoops, one can fancy with a sigh of pleasure, to sink into the bosom of the sea!
Prawn-hunting was agreeably varied by fish-snaring, mussel-stalking, and mushroom-trapping—sports which James, in his capacity of Head Forester, included in his venery.
For mushroom-trapping an early start had to be made—usually between six and seven. The chase took us inland, until, after walking through the fragrant, earthy lanes, we turned aside into dewy meadows, where each blade of grass sparkled with a gem of purest water. Again the necessity of going barefoot. Breakfast was late on these mornings, my mother whiling away the hours of waiting with a volume of Diogenes Laertius in the bow-window. She would generally open the meal with the remark that Anaximander held the primary cause of all things to be the Infinite, or that it was a favourite expression of Theophrastus that time was the most valuable thing a man could spend. When breakfast was announced, one of the covers concealed the mushrooms, which, under my superintendence, James had done his best to devil. A quiet day followed, devoted to sedentary recreation after the labours of the run.
The period which I have tried to sketch above may be called the period of good-fellowship. Whatever else love does for a woman, it makes her an actress. So we were merely excellent friends till James's eyes were opened. When that happened, he abruptly discarded good-fellowship. I, on the other hand, played it the more vigorously. The situation was mine.
Our day's run became the merest shadow of a formality. The office of Head Forester lapsed into an absolute sinecure. Love was with us—triumphant, and no longer to be skirted round by me; fresh, electric, glorious in James.
We talked—we must have talked. We moved. Our limbs performed their ordinary, daily movements. But a golden haze hangs over that second period. When, by the strongest effort of will, I can let my mind stand by those perfect moments, I seem to hear our voices, low and measured. And there are silences, fond in themselves and yet more fondly interrupted by unspoken messages from our eyes. What we really said, what we actually did, where precisely we two went, I do not know. We were together, and the blur of love was about us. Always the blur. It is not that memory cannot conjure up the scene again. It is not that the scene is clouded by the ill-proportion of a dream. No. It is because the dream is brought to me by will and not by sleep. The blur recurs because the blur was there. A love vast as ours is penalised, as it were, by this blur, which is the hall-mark of infinity.
In mighty distances, whether from earth to heaven, whether from 5245 Gerrard to 137 Glasgow, there is always that awful, that disintegrating blur.
A third period succeeded. I may call it the affectionately practical period. Instantly the blur vanishes. We were at our proper distance from the essence of things, and though infinity is something one yearns for passionately, one's normal condition has its meed of comfort. I remember once hearing a man in a Government office say that the pleasantest moment of his annual holiday was when his train rolled back into Paddington Station. And he was a man, too, of a naturally lazy disposition.
It was about the middle of this third period, during a mushroom-trapping ramble, that the idea occurred to us, first to me, then—after reflection—to James, that mother ought to be informed how matters stood between us.
We went into the house, hand-in-hand, and interviewed her.
She was in the bow-window, reading a translation of The Deipnosophists of Athenaeus.
"Good morning," she said, looking at her watch. "It is a little past our usual breakfast time, Margie, I think?"
"We have been looking for mushrooms, mother."
"Every investigation, says Athenaeus, which is guided by principles of Nature fixes its ultimate aim entirely on gratifying the stomach. Have you found any mushrooms?"
"Heaps, Mrs. Goodwin," said James.
"Mother," I said, "we want to tell you something."
"The fact is, Mrs. Goodwin——"
"We are engaged."
My mother liked James.
"Margie," she once said to me, "there is good in Mr. Cloyster. He is not for ever offering to pass me things." Time had not caused her to modify this opinion. She received our news calmly, and inquired into James's means and prospects. James had forty pounds and some odd silver. I had nothing.
The key-note of my mother's contribution to our conference was, "Wait."
"You are both young," she said.
She then kissed me, smiled contemplatively at James, and resumed her book.
When we were alone, "My darling," said James, "we must wait. Tomorrow I catch the boat for Weymouth. I shall go straight to London. My first manuscript shall be in an editor's hands on Wednesday morning. I will go, but I will come back."
I put my arms round his neck.
"My love," I said, "I trust you. Go. Always remember that I know you will succeed."
I kissed him.
"And when you have succeeded, come back."
A HARMLESS DECEPTION (Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative continued)
They say that everyone is capable of one novel. And, in my opinion, most people could write one play.
Whether I wrote mine in an inspiration of despair, I cannot say. I wrote it.
Three years had passed, and James was still haggling with those who buy men's brains. His earnings were enough just to keep his head above water, but not enough to make us two one.
Perhaps, because everything is clear and easy for us now, I am gradually losing a proper appreciation of his struggle. That should never be. He did not win. But he did not lose; which means nearly as much. For it is almost less difficult to win than not to lose, so my mother has told me, in modern journalistic London. And I know that he would have won. The fact that he continued the fight as he did was in itself a pledge of ultimate victory. What he went through while trying with his pen to make a living for himself and me I learned from his letters.
"London," he wrote, "is not paved with gold; but in literary fields there are nuggets to be had by the lightest scratching. And those nuggets are plays. A successful play gives you money and a name automatically. What the ordinary writer makes in a year the successful dramatist receives, without labour, in a fortnight." He went on to deplore his total lack of dramatic intuition. "Some men," he said, "have some of the qualifications while falling short of the others. They have a sense of situation without the necessary tricks of technique. Or they sacrifice plot to atmosphere, or atmosphere to plot. I, worse luck, have not one single qualification. The nursing of a climax, the tremendous omissions in the dialogue, the knack of stage characterisation—all these things are, in some inexplicable way, outside me."
It was this letter that set me thinking. Ever since James had left the island, I had been chafing at the helplessness of my position. While he toiled in London, what was I doing? Nothing. I suppose I helped him in a way. The thought of me would be with him always, spurring him on to work, that the time of our separation might be less. But it was not enough. I wanted to be doing something.... And it was during these restless weeks that I wrote my play.
I think nothing will ever erase from my mind the moment when the central idea of The Girl who Waited came to me. It was a boisterous October evening. The wind had been rising all day. Now the branches of the lilac were dancing in the rush of the storm, and far out in the bay one could see the white crests of the waves gleaming through the growing darkness. We had just finished tea. The lamp was lit in our little drawing-room, and on the sofa, so placed that the light fell over her left shoulder in the manner recommended by oculists, sat my mother with Schopenhauer's Art of Literature. Ponto slept on the rug.
Something in the unruffled peace of the scene tore at my nerves. I have seldom felt so restless. It may have been the storm that made me so. I think myself that it was James's letter. The boat had been late that morning, owing to the weather, and I had not received the letter till after lunch. I listened to the howl of the wind, and longed to be out in it.
My mother looked at me over her book.
"You are restless, Margie," she said. "There is a volume of Marcus Aurelius on the table beside you, if you care to read."
"No, thank you, mother," I said. "I think I shall go for a walk."
"Wrap up well, my dear," she replied.
She then resumed her book.
I went out of our little garden, and stood on the cliff. The wind flew at me like some wild thing. Spray stung my face. I was filled with a wild exhilaration.
And then the idea came to me. The simplest, most dramatic idea. Quaint, whimsical, with just that suggestion of pathos blended with it which makes the fortunes of a play. The central idea, to be brief, of The Girl who Waited.
Of my Maenad tramp along the cliff-top with my brain afire, and my return, draggled and dripping, an hour late for dinner; of my writing and re-writing, of my tears and black depression, of the pens I wore out and the quires of paper I spoiled, and finally of the ecstasy of the day when the piece began to move and the characters to live, I need not speak. Anyone who has ever written will know the sensations. James must have gone through a hundred times what I went through once. At last, at long last, the play was finished.
For two days I gloated alone over the great pile of manuscript.
Then I went to my mother.
My diffidence was exquisite. It was all I could do to tell her the nature of my request, when I spoke to her after lunch. At last she understood that I had written a play, and wished to read it to her. She took me to the bow-window with gentle solicitude, and waited for me to proceed.
At first she encouraged me, for I faltered over my opening words. But as I warmed to my work, and as my embarrassment left me, she no longer spoke. Her eyes were fixed intently upon the blue space beyond the lilac.
I read on and on, till at length my voice trailed over the last line, rose gallantly at the last fence, the single word Curtain, and abruptly broke. The strain had been too much for me.
Tenderly my mother drew me to the sofa; and quietly, with closed eyelids, I lay there until, in the soft cool of the evening, I asked for her verdict.
Seeing, as she did instantly, that it would be more dangerous to deny my request than to accede to it, she spoke.
"That there is an absence, my dear Margie, of any relationship with life, that not a single character is in any degree human, that passion and virtue and vice and real feeling are wanting—this surprises me more than I can tell you. I had expected to listen to a natural, ordinary, unactable episode arranged more or less in steichomuthics. There is no work so scholarly and engaging as the amateur's. But in your play I am amazed to find the touch of the professional and experienced playwright. Yes, my dear, you have proved that you happen to possess the quality—one that is most difficult to acquire—of surrounding a situation which is improbable enough to be convincing with that absurdly mechanical conversation which the theatre-going public demands. As your mother, I am disappointed. I had hoped for originality. As your literary well-wisher, I stifle my maternal feelings and congratulate you unreservedly."
I thanked my mother effusively. I think I cried a little.
She said affectionately that the hour had been one of great interest to her, and she added that she would be glad to be consulted with regard to the steps I contemplated taking in my literary future.
She then resumed her book.
I went to my room and re-read the last letter I had had from James.
The Barrel Club, Covent Garden, London.
MY DARLING MARGIE,—I am writing this line simply and solely for the selfish pleasure I gain from the act of writing to you. I know everything will come right some time or other, but at present I am suffering from a bad attack of the blues. I am like a general who has planned out a brilliant attack, and realises that he must fail for want of sufficient troops to carry a position, on the taking of which the whole success of the assault depends. Briefly, my position is like this. My name is pretty well known in a small sort of way among editors and the like as that of a man who can turn out fairly good stuff. Besides this, I have many influential friends. You see where this brings me? I am in the middle of my attacking movement, and I have not been beaten back; but the key to the enemy's position is still uncaptured. You know what this key is from my other letters. It's the stage. Ah, Margie, one acting play! Only one! It would mean everything. Apart from the actual triumph and the direct profits, it would bring so much with it. The enemy's flank would be turned, and the rest of the battle would become a mere rout. I should have an accepted position in the literary world which would convert all the other avenues to wealth on which I have my eye instantly into royal roads. Obstacles would vanish. The fact that I was a successful playwright would make the acceptance of the sort of work I am doing now inevitable, and I should get paid ten times as well for it. And it would mean—well, you know what it would mean, don't you? Darling Margie, tell me again that I have your love, that the waiting is not too hard, that you believe in me. Dearest, it will come right in the end. Nothing can prevent that. Love and the will of a man have always beaten Time and Fate. Write to me, dear.
Ever your devoted James.
How utterly free from thought of self! His magnificent loyalty forgot the dreadful tension of his own great battle, and pictured only the tedium of waiting which it was my part to endure.
I finished my letter to James very late that night. It was a very long and explanatory letter, and it enclosed my play.
The main point I aimed at was not to damp his spirits. He would, I knew well, see that the play was suitable for staging. He would, in short, see that I, an inexperienced girl, had done what he, a trained professional writer, had failed to do. Lest, therefore, his pique should kill admiration and pleasure when he received my work, I wrote as one begging a favour. "Here," I said, "we have the means to achieve all we want. Do not—oh, do not—criticise. I have written down the words. But the conception is yours. The play was inspired by you. But for you I should never have begun it. Take my play, James; take it as your own. For yours it is. Put your name to it, and produce it, if you love me, under your own signature. If this hurts your pride, I will word my request differently. You alone are able to manage the business side of the production. You know the right men to go to. To approach them on behalf of a stranger's work is far less likely to lead to success. I have assumed, you will see, that the play is certain to be produced. But that will only be so if you adopt it as your own. Claim the authorship, and all will be well."
Much more I wrote to James in the same strain; and my reward came next day in the shape of a telegram: "Accept thankfully.—Cloyster."
Of the play and its reception by the public there is no need to speak. The criticisms were all favourable.
Neither the praise of the critics nor the applause of the public aroused any trace of jealousy in James. Their unanimous note of praise has been a source of pride to him. He is proud—ah, joy!—that I am to be his wife.
I have blotted the last page of this commonplace love-story of mine.
The moon has come out from behind a cloud, and the whole bay is one vast sheet of silver. I could sit here at my bedroom window and look at it all night. But then I should be sure to oversleep myself and be late for breakfast. I shall read what I have written once more, and then I shall go to bed.
I think I shall wear my white muslin tomorrow.
(End of Miss Margaret Goodwin's narrative.)
James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative
THE INVASION OF BOHEMIA
It is curious to reflect that my marriage (which takes place today week) destroys once and for all my life's ambition. I have never won through to the goal I longed for, and now I never shall.
Ever since I can remember I have yearned to be known as a Bohemian. That was my ambition. I have ceased to struggle now. Married Bohemians live in Oakley Street, King's Road, Chelsea. We are to rent a house in Halkett Place.
Three years have passed since the excellent, but unsteady, steamship Ibex brought me from Guernsey to Southampton. It was a sleepy, hot, and sticky wreck that answered to the name of James Orlebar Cloyster that morning; but I had my first youth and forty pounds, so that soap and water, followed by coffee and an omelette, soon restored me.
The journey to Waterloo gave me opportunity for tobacco and reflection.
What chiefly exercised me, I remember, was the problem whether it was possible to be a Bohemian, and at the same time to be in love. Bohemia I looked on as a region where one became inevitably entangled with women of unquestionable charm, but doubtful morality. There were supper parties.... Festive gatherings in the old studio.... Babette.... Lucille.... The artists' ball.... Were these things possible for a man with an honest, earnest, whole-hearted affection?
The problem engaged me tensely till my ticket was collected at Vauxhall. Just there the solution came. I would be a Bohemian, but a misogynist. People would say, "Dear old Jimmy Cloyster. How he hates women!" It would add to my character a pleasant touch of dignity and reserve which would rather accentuate my otherwise irresponsible way of living.
Little did the good Bohemians of the metropolis know how keen a recruit the boat train was bringing to them.
* * * * *
As a pied—terre I selected a cheap and dingy hotel in York Street, and from this base I determined to locate my proper sphere.
Chelsea was the first place that occurred to me. There was St. John's Wood, of course, but that was such a long way off. Chelsea was comparatively near to the heart of things, and I had heard that one might find there artistic people whose hand-to-mouth, Saturnalian existence was redolent of that exquisite gaiety which so attracted my own casual temperament.
Sallying out next morning into the brilliant sunshine and the dusty rattle of York Street, I felt a sense of elation at the thought that the time for action had come. I was in London. London! The home of the fragrant motor-omnibus and the night-blooming Hooligan. London, the battlefield of the literary aspirant since Caxton invented the printing press. It seemed to me, as I walked firmly across Westminster Bridge, that Margie gazed at me with the lovelight in her eyes, and that a species of amorous telepathy from Guernsey was girding me for the fight.
Manresa Road I had once heard mentioned as being the heart of Bohemian Chelsea. To Manresa Road, accordingly, I went, by way of St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace Road, and Lower Sloane Street. Thence to Sloane Square. Here I paused, for I knew that I had reached the last outpost of respectable, inartistic London.
"How sudden," I soliloquised, "is the change. Here I am in Sloane Square, regular, business-like, and unimaginative; while, a few hundred yards away, King's Road leads me into the very midst of genius, starvation, and possibly Free Love."
Sloane Square, indeed, gave me the impression, not so much of a suburb as of the suburban portion of a great London railway terminus. It was positively pretty. People were shopping with comparative leisure, omnibus horses were being rubbed down and watered on the west side of the Square, out of the way of the main stream of traffic. A postman, clearing the letter-box at the office, stopped his work momentarily to read the contents of a postcard. For the moment I understood Caesar's feelings on the brink of the Rubicon, and the emotions of Cortes "when with eagle eyes he stared at the Pacific." I was on the threshold of great events. Behind me was orthodox London; before me the unknown.
It was distinctly a Caesarian glance, full of deliberate revolt, that I bestowed upon the street called Sloane; that clean, orderly thoroughfare which leads to Knightsbridge, and thence either to the respectabilities of Kensington or the plush of Piccadilly.
Setting my hat at a wild angle, I stepped with a touch of abandon along the King's Road to meet the charming, impoverished artists whom our country refuses to recognise.
My first glimpse of the Manresa Road was, I confess, a complete disappointment. Never was Bohemianism more handicapped by its setting than that of Chelsea, if the Manresa Road was to be taken as a criterion. Along the uninviting uniformity of this street no trace of unorthodoxy was to be seen. There came no merry, roystering laughter from attic windows. No talented figures of idle geniuses fetched pints of beer from the public-house at the corner. No one dressed in an ancient ulster and a battered straw hat and puffing enormous clouds of blue smoke from a treasured clay pipe gazed philosophically into space from a doorway. In point of fact, save for a most conventional butcher-boy, I was alone in the street.
Then the explanation flashed upon me. I had been seen approaching. The word had been passed round. A stranger! The clique resents intrusion. It lies hid. These gay fellows see me all the time, and are secretly amused. But they do not know with whom they have to deal. I have come to join them, and join them I will. I am not easily beaten. I will outlast them. The joke shall be eventually against them, at some eccentric supper. I shall chaff them about how they tried to elude me, and failed.
The hours passed. Still no Bohemians. I began to grow hungry. I sprang on to a passing 'bus. It took me to Victoria. I lunched at the Shakespeare Hotel, smoked a pipe, and went out into the sunlight again. It had occurred to me that night was perhaps the best time for trapping my shy quarry. Possibly the revels did not begin in Manresa Road till darkness had fallen. I spent the afternoon and evening in the Park, dined at Lyons' Popular Caf (it must be remembered that I was not yet a Bohemian, and consequently owed no deference to the traditions of the order); and returned at nine o'clock to the Manresa Road. Once more I drew blank. A barrel-organ played cake-walk airs in the middle of the road, but it played to an invisible audience. No bearded men danced can-cans around it, shouting merry jests to one another. Solitude reigned.
I wait. The duel continues. What grim determination, what perseverance can these Bohemians put into a mad jest! I find myself thinking how much better it would be were they to apply to their Art the same earnestness and fixity of purpose which they squander on a practical joke.
Evening fell. Blinds began to be drawn down. Lamps were lit behind them, one by one. Despair was gnawing at my heart, but still I waited.
Then, just as I was about to retire defeated, I was arrested by the appearance of a house numbered 93A.
At the first-floor window sat a man. He was writing. I could see his profile, his long untidy hair. I understood in a moment. This was no ordinary writer. He was one of those Bohemians whose wit had been exercised upon me so successfully. He was a literary man, and though he enjoyed the sport as much as any of the others he was under the absolute necessity of writing his copy up to time. Unobserved by his gay comrades, he had slipped away to his work. They were still watching me; but he, probably owing to a contract with some journal, was obliged to give up his share in their merriment and toil with his pen.
His pen fascinated me. I leaned against the railings of the house opposite, enthralled. Ever and anon he seemed to be consulting one or other of the books of reference piled up on each side of him. Doubtless he was preparing a scholarly column for a daily paper. Presently a printer's devil would arrive, clamouring for his "copy." I knew exactly the sort of thing that happened. I had read about it in novels.
How unerring is instinct, if properly cultivated. Hardly had the clocks struck twelve when the emissaries—there were two of them, which showed the importance of their errand—walked briskly to No. 93A, and knocked at the door.
The writer heard the knock. He rose hurriedly, and began to collect his papers. Meanwhile, the knocking had been answered from within by the shooting of bolts, noises that were followed by the apparition of a female head.
A few brief questions and the emissaries entered. A pause.
The litterateur is warning the menials that their charge is sacred; that the sheets he has produced are impossible to replace. High words. Abrupt re-opening of the front door. Struggling humanity projected on to the pavement. Three persons—my scribe in the middle, an emissary on either side—stagger strangely past me. The scribe enters the purple night only under the stony compulsion of the emissaries.
What does this mean?
I have it. The emissaries have become over-anxious. They dare not face the responsibility of conveying the priceless copy to Fleet Street. They have completely lost their nerve. They insist upon the author accompanying them to see with his own eyes that all is well. They do not wish Posterity to hand their names down to eternal infamy as "the men who lost Blank's manuscript."
So, greatly against his will, he is dragged off.
My vigil is rewarded. No. 93A harbours a Bohemian. Let it be inhabited also by me.
I stepped across, and rang the bell.
The answer was a piercing scream.
"Ah, ha!" I said to myself complacently, "there are more Bohemians than one, then, in this house."
The female head again appeared.
"Not another? Oh, sir, say there ain't another wanted," said the head in a passionate Cockney accent.
"That is precisely what there is," I replied. "I want——"
"For something moderate."
"Well, that's a comfort in a wiy. Which of 'em is it you want? The first-floor back?"
"I have no doubt the first-floor back would do quite well."
My words had a curious effect. She scrutinised me suspiciously.
"Ho!" she said, with a sniff; "you don't seem to care much which it is you get."
"I don't," I said, "not particularly."
"Look 'ere," she exclaimed, "you jest 'op it. See? I don't want none of your 'arf-larks here, and, what's more, I won't 'ave 'em. I don't believe you're a copper at all."
"I'm not. Far from it."
"Then what d'yer mean coming 'ere saying you want my first-floor back?"
"But I do. Or any other room, if that is occupied."
"'Ow! Room? Why didn't yer siy so? You'll pawdon me, sir, if I've said anything 'asty-like. I thought—but my mistake."
"Not at all. Can you let me have a room? I notice that the gentleman whom I have just seen——"
She cut me short. I was about to explain that I was a Bohemian, too.
"'E's gorn for a stroll, sir. I expec' him back every moment. 'E's forgot 'is latchkey. Thet's why I'm sitting up for 'im. Mrs. Driver my name is, sir. That's my name, and well known in the neighbour'ood."
Mrs. Driver spoke earnestly, but breathlessly.
"I do not contemplate asking you, Mrs. Driver, to give me the apartments already engaged by the literary gentleman——"
"Yes, sir," she interpolated, "that's wot 'e wos, I mean is. A literary gent."
"But have you not another room vacant?"
"The second-floor back, sir. Very comfortable, nice room, sir. Shady in the morning, and gets the setting sun."
Had the meteorological conditions been adverse to the point of malignancy, I should have closed with her terms. Simple agreements were ratified then and there by the light of a candle in the passage, and I left the house, promising to "come in" in the course of the following afternoon.
I EVACUATE BOHEMIA (James Orlebar Cloister's narrative continued)
The three weeks which I spent at No. 93A mark an epoch in my life. It was during that period that I came nearest to realising my ambition to be a Bohemian; and at the end of the third week, for reasons which I shall state, I deserted Bohemia, firmly and with no longing, lingering glance behind, and settled down to the prosaic task of grubbing earnestly for money.
The second-floor back had a cupboard of a bedroom leading out of it. Even I, desirous as I was of seeing romance in everything, could not call my lodgings anything but dingy, dark, and commonplace. They were just like a million other of London's mean lodgings. The window looked out over a sea of backyards, bounded by tall, depressing houses, and intersected by clothes-lines. A cats' club (social, musical, and pugilistic) used to meet on the wall to the right of my window. One or two dissipated trees gave the finishing touch of gloom to the scene. Nor was the interior of the room more cheerful. The furniture had been put in during the reign of George III, and last dusted in that of William and Mary. A black horse-hair sofa ran along one wall. There was a deal table, a chair, and a rickety bookcase. It was a room for a realist to write in; and my style, such as it was, was bright and optimistic.
Once in, I set about the task of ornamenting my abode with much vigour. I had my own ideas of mural decoration. I papered the walls with editorial rejection forms, of which I was beginning to have a representative collection. Properly arranged, these look very striking. There is a good deal of variety about them. The ones I liked best were those which I received, at the rate of three a week, bearing a very pleasing picture, in green, of the publishing offices at the top of the sheet of note-paper. Scattered about in sufficient quantities, these lend an air of distinction to a room. Pearson's Magazine also supplies a taking line in rejection forms. Punch's I never cared for very much. Neat, I grant you; but, to my mind, too cold. I like a touch of colour in a rejection form.
In addition to these, I purchased from the grocer at the corner a collection of pictorial advertisements. What I had really wanted was the theatrical poster, printed and signed by well-known artists. But the grocer didn't keep them, and I was impatient to create my proper atmosphere. My next step was to buy a corncob pipe and a quantity of rank, jet-black tobacco. I hated both, and kept them more as ornaments than for use.
Then, having hacked my table about with a knife and battered it with a poker till it might have been the table of a shaggy and unrecognised genius, I settled down to work.
I was not a brilliant success. I had that "little knowledge" which is held to be such a dangerous thing. I had not plunged into the literary profession without learning a few facts about it. I had read nearly every journalistic novel and "Hints on Writing for the Papers" book that had ever been published. In theory I knew all that there was to be known about writing. Now, all my authorities were very strong on one point. "Write," they said, very loud and clear, "not what you like, but what editors like." I smiled to myself when I started. I felt that I had stolen a march on my rivals. "All round me," I said to myself, "are young authors bombarding editors with essays on Lucretius, translations of Martial, and disquisitions on Ionic comedy. I know too much for that. I work on a different plan." "Study the papers, and see what they want," said my authorities. I studied the papers. Some wanted one thing, apparently, others another. There was one group of three papers whose needs seemed to coincide, and I could see an article rejected by one paper being taken by another. This offered me a number of chances instead of one. I could back my MSS. to win or for a place. I began a serious siege of these three papers.
By the end of the second week I had had "Curious Freaks of Eccentric Testators," "Singular Scenes in Court," "Actors Who Have Died on the Stage," "Curious Scenes in Church," and seven others rejected by all three. Somehow this sort of writing is not so easy as it looks. A man who was on the staff of a weekly once told me that he had had two thousand of these articles printed since he started—poor devil. He had the knack. I could never get it. I sent up fifty-three in all in the first year of my literary life, and only two stuck. I got fifteen shillings from one periodical for "Men Who Have Missed Their Own Weddings," and, later, a guinea from the same for "Single Day Marriages." That paper has a penchant for the love-interest. Yet when I sent it my "Duchesses Who Have Married Dustmen," it came back by the early post next day. That was to me the worst part of those grey days. I had my victories, but they were always followed by a series of defeats. I would have a manuscript accepted by an editor. "Hullo," I would say, "here's the man at last, the Editor-Who-Believes-In-Me. Let the thing go on." I would send him off another manuscript. He would take it. Victory, by Jove! Then—wonk! Back would come my third effort with the curtest of refusals. I always imagined editors in those days to be pettish, whimsical men who amused themselves by taking up a beginner, and then, wearying of the sport, dropped him back into the slime from which they had picked him.
In the intervals of articles I wrote short stories, again for the same three papers. As before, I studied these papers carefully to see what they wanted; then worked out a mechanical plot, invariably with a quarrel in the first part, an accident, and a rescue in the middle, and a reconciliation at the end—told it in a style that makes me hot all over when I think of it, and sent it up, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope in case of rejection. A very useful precaution, as it always turned out.
It was the little knowledge to which I have referred above which kept my walls so thickly covered with rejection forms. I was in precisely the same condition as a man who has been taught the rudiments of boxing. I knew just enough to hamper me, and not enough to do me any good. If I had simply blundered straight at my work and written just what occurred to me in my own style, I should have done much better. I have a sense of humour. I deliberately stifled it. For it I substituted a grisly kind of playfulness. My hero called my heroine "little woman," and the concluding passage where he kissed her was written in a sly, roguish vein, for which I suppose I shall have to atone in the next world. Only the editor of the Colney Hatch Argus could have accepted work like mine. Yet I toiled on.
It was about the middle of my third week at No. 93A that I definitely decided to throw over my authorities, and work by the light of my own intelligence.
Nearly all my authorities had been very severe on the practice of verse-writing. It was, they asserted, what all young beginners tried to do, and it was the one thing editors would never look at. In the first ardour of my revolt I determined to do a set of verses.
It happened that the weather had been very bad for the last few days. After a month and a half of sunshine the rain had suddenly begun to fall. I took this as my topic. It was raining at the time. I wrote a satirical poem, full of quaint rhymes.
I had always had rather a turn for serious verse. It struck me that the rain might be treated poetically as well as satirically. That night I sent off two sets of verses to a daily and an evening paper. Next day both were in print, with my initials to them.
I began to see light.
"Verse is the thing," I said. "I will reorganise my campaign. First the skirmishers, then the real attack. I will peg along with verses till somebody begins to take my stories and articles."
I felt easier in my mind than I had felt for some time. A story came back by the nine o'clock post from a monthly magazine (to which I had sent it from mere bravado), but the thing did not depress me. I got out my glue-pot and began to fasten the rejection form to the wall, whistling a lively air as I did so.
While I was engaged in this occupation there was a testy rap at the door, and Mrs. Driver appeared. She eyed my manoeuvres with the rejection form with a severe frown. After a preliminary sniff she embarked upon a rapid lecture on what she called my irregular and untidy habits. I had turned her second-floor back, she declared, into a pig-stye.
"Sech a litter," she said.
"But," I protested, "this is a Bohemian house, is it not?"
She appeared so shocked—indeed, so infuriated, that I dared not give her time to answer.
"The gentleman below, he's not very tidy," I added diplomatically.
"Wot gent below?" said Mrs. Driver.
I reminded her of the night of my arrival.
"Oh, 'im," she said, shaken. "Well, 'e's not come back."
"Mrs. Driver," I said sternly, "you said he'd gone out for a stroll. I refuse to believe that any man would stroll for three weeks."
"So I did say it," was the defiant reply. "I said it so as you shouldn't be put off coming. You looked a steady young feller, and I wanted a let. Wish I'd told you the truth, if it 'ad a-stopped you."
"What is the truth?"
"'E was a wrong 'un, 'e wos. Writing begging letters to parties as was a bit soft, that wos 'is little gime. But 'e wos a bit too clever one day, and the coppers got 'im. Now you know!"
Mrs. Driver paused after this outburst, and allowed her eye to wander slowly and ominously round my walls.
I was deeply moved. My one link with Bohemia had turned out a fraud.
Mrs. Driver's voice roused me from my meditations.
"I must arst you to be good enough, if you please, kindly to remove those there bits of paper."
She pointed to the rejection forms.
I hesitated. I felt that it was a thing that ought to be broken gently.
"The fact is, Mrs. Driver," I said, "and no one can regret it more deeply than I do—the fact is, they're stuck on with glue."
Two minutes later I had received my marching orders, and the room was still echoing with the slam of the door as it closed behind the indignant form of my landlady.
THE ORB (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
The problem of lodgings in London is an easy one to a man with an adequate supply of money in his pocket. The only difficulty is to select the most suitable, to single out from the eager crowd the ideal landlady.
Evicted from No. 93A, it seemed to me that I had better abandon Bohemia; postpone my connection with that land of lotus-eaters for the moment, while I provided myself with the means of paying rent and buying dinners. Farther down the King's Road there were comfortable rooms to be had for a moderate sum per week. They were prosaic, but inexpensive. I chose Walpole Street. A fairly large bed-sitting room was vacant at No. 23. I took it, and settled down seriously to make my writing pay.
There were advantages in Walpole Street which Manresa Road had lacked. For one thing, there was more air, and it smelt less than the Manresa Road air. Walpole Street is bounded by Burton Court, where the Household Brigade plays cricket, and the breezes from the river come to it without much interruption. There was also more quiet. No. 23 is the last house in the street, and, even when I sat with my window open, the noise of traffic from the King's Road was faint and rather pleasant. It was an excellent spot for a man who meant to work. Except for a certain difficulty in getting my landlady and her daughters out of the room when they came to clear away my meals and talk about the better days they had seen, and a few imbroglios with the eight cats which infested the house, it was the best spot, I think, that I could have chosen.
Living a life ruled by the strictest economy, I gradually forged ahead. Verse, light and serious, continued my long suit. I generally managed to place two of each brand a week; and that meant two guineas, sometimes more. One particularly pleasing thing about this verse-writing was that there was no delay, as there was with my prose. I would write a set of verses for a daily paper after tea, walk to Fleet Street with them at half-past six, thus getting a little exercise; leave them at the office; and I would see them in print in the next morning's issue. Payment was equally prompt. The rule was, Send in your bill before five on Wednesday, and call for payment on Friday at seven. Thus I had always enough money to keep me going during the week.
In addition to verses, I kept turning out a great quantity of prose, fiction, and otherwise, but without much success. The visits of the postmen were the big events of the day at that time. Before I had been in Walpole Street a week I could tell by ear the difference between a rejected manuscript and an ordinary letter. There is a certain solid plop about the fall of the former which not even a long envelope full of proofs can imitate successfully.
I worked extraordinarily hard at that time. All day, sometimes. The thought of Margie waiting in Guernsey kept me writing when I should have done better to have taken a rest. My earnings were small in proportion to my labour. The guineas I made, except from verse, were like the ounce of gold to the ton of ore. I no longer papered the walls with rejection forms; but this was from choice, not from necessity. I had plenty of material, had I cared to use it.
I made a little money, of course. My takings for the first month amounted to 9 10s. I notched double figures in the next with ll 1s. 6d. Then I dropped to 7 0s. 6d. It was not starvation, but it was still more unlike matrimony.
But at the end of the sixth month there happened to me what, looking back, I consider to be the greatest piece of good fortune of my life. I received a literary introduction. Some authorities scoff at literary introductions. They say that editors read everything, whether they know the author or not. So they do; and, if the work is not good, a letter to the editor from a man who once met his cousin at a garden-party is not likely to induce him to print it. There is no journalistic "ring" in the sense in which the word is generally used; but there are undoubtedly a certain number of men who know the ropes, and can act as pilots in a strange sea; and an introduction brings one into touch with them. There is a world of difference between contributing blindly work which seems suitable to the style of a paper and sending in matter designed to attract the editor personally.
Mr. Macrae, whose pupil I had been at Cambridge, was the author of my letter of introduction. At St. Gabriel's, Mr. Macrae had been a man for whom I entertained awe and respect. Likes and dislikes in connection with one's tutor seemed outside the question. Only a chance episode had shown me that my tutor was a mortal with a mortal's limitations. We were bicycling together one day along the Trumpington Road, when a form appeared, coming to meet us. My tutor's speech grew more and more halting as the form came nearer. At last he stopped talking altogether, and wobbled in his saddle. The man bowed to him, and, as if he had won through some fiery ordeal, he shot ahead like a gay professional rider. When I drew level with him, he said, "That, Mr. Cloyster, is my tailor."
Mr. Macrae was typical of the University don who is Scotch. He had married the senior historian of Newnham. He lived (and still lives) by proxy. His publishers order his existence. His honeymoon had been placed at the disposal of these gentlemen, and they had allotted to that period an edition of Aristotle's Ethics. Aristotle, accordingly, received the most scholarly attention from the recently united couple somewhere on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. All the reviews were satisfactory.
In my third year at St. Gabriel's it was popularly supposed that Master Pericles Aeschylus, Mr. Macrae's infant son, was turned to correct my Latin prose, though my Iambics were withheld from him at the request of the family doctor.
The letter which Pericles Aeschylus's father had addressed to me was one of the pleasantest surprises I have ever had. It ran as follows:
St. Gabriel's College, Cambridge.
MY DEAR CLOYSTER,—The divergence of our duties and pleasures during your residence here caused us to see but little of each other. Would it had been otherwise! And too often our intercourse had—on my side—a distinctly professional flavour. Your attitude towards your religious obligations was, I fear, something to seek. Indeed, the line, "Pastor deorum cultor et infrequens," might have been directly inspired by your views on the keeping of Chapels. On the other hand, your contributions to our musical festivities had the true Aristophanes panache.
I hear you are devoting yourself to literature, and I beg that you will avail yourself of the enclosed note, which is addressed to a personal friend of mine.
Believe me, Your well-wisher, David Ossian Macrae.
The enclosure bore this inscription:
CHARLES FERMIN, ESQ., Offices of the Orb, Strand, London.
I had received the letter at breakfast. I took a cab, and drove straight to the Orb.
A painted hand, marked "Editorial," indicated a flight of stairs. At the top of these I was confronted by a glass door, beyond which, entrenched behind a desk, sat a cynical-looking youth. A smaller boy in the background talked into a telephone. Both were giggling. On seeing me the slightly larger of the two advanced with a half-hearted attempt at solemnity, though unable to resist a Parthian shaft at his companion, who was seized on the instant with a paroxysm of suppressed hysteria.
My letter was taken down a mysterious stone passage. After some waiting the messenger returned with the request that I would come back at eleven, as Mr. Fermin would be very busy till then.
I went out into the Strand, and sought a neighbouring hostelry. It was essential that I should be brilliant at the coming interview, if only spirituously brilliant; and I wished to remove a sensation of stomachic emptiness, such as I had been wont to feel at school when approaching the headmaster's study.
At eleven I returned, and asked again for Mr. Fermin; and presently he appeared—a tall, thin man, who gave one the impression of being in a hurry. I knew him by reputation as a famous quarter-miler. He had been president of the O.U.A.C. some years back. He looked as if at any moment he might dash off in any direction at quarter-mile pace.
We shook hands, and I tried to look intelligent.
"Sorry to have to keep you waiting," he said, as we walked to his club; "but we are always rather busy between ten and eleven, putting the column through. Gresham and I do 'On Your Way,' you know. The last copy has to be down by half-past ten."
We arrived at the Club, and sat in a corner of the lower smoking-room.
"Macrae says that you are going in for writing. Of course, I'll do anything I can, but it isn't easy to help a man. As it happens, though, I can put you in the way of something, if it's your style of work. Do you ever do verse?"
I felt like a batsman who sees a slow full-toss sailing through the air.
"It's the only thing I can get taken," I said. "I've had quite a lot in the Chronicle and occasional bits in other papers."
He seemed relieved.
"Oh, that's all right, then," he said. "You know 'On Your Way.' Perhaps you'd care to come in and do that for a bit? It's only holiday work, but it'll last five weeks. And if you do it all right I can get you the whole of the holiday work on the column. That comes to a good lot in the year. We're always taking odd days off. Can you come up at a moment's notice?"
"Easily," I said.
"Then, you see, if you did that you would drop into the next vacancy on the column. There's no saying when one may occur. It's like the General Election. It may happen tomorrow, or not for years. Still, you'd be on the spot in case."
"It's awfully good of you."
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, I was rather in difficulties about getting a holiday man. I'm off to Scotland the day after tomorrow, and I had to find a sub. Well, then, will you come in on Monday?"
"You've had no experience of newspaper work, have you?"
"Well, all the work at the Orb's done between nine and eleven. You must be there at nine sharp. Literally sharp, I mean. Not half-past. And you'd better do some stuff overnight for the first week or so. You'll find working in the office difficult till you get used to it. Of course, though, you'll always have Gresham there, so there's no need to get worried. He can fill the column himself, if he's pushed. Four or five really good paragraphs a day and an occasional set of verses are all he'll want from you."
"On Monday, then. Nine sharp. Good-bye."
I walked home along Piccadilly with almost a cake-walk stride. At last I was in the inner circle.
An Orb cart passed me. I nodded cheerfully to the driver. He was one of Us.
JULIAN EVERSLEIGH (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
I determined to celebrate the occasion by dining out, going to a theatre, and having supper afterwards, none of which things were ordinarily within my means. I had not been to a theatre since I had arrived in town; and, except on Saturday nights, I always cooked my own dinner, a process which was cheap, and which appealed to the passion for Bohemianism which I had not wholly cast out of me.
The morning paper informed me that there were eleven musical comedies, three Shakespeare plays, a blank verse drama, and two comedies ("last weeks") for me to choose from. I bought a stall at the Briggs Theatre. Stanley Briggs, who afterwards came to bulk large in my small world, was playing there in a musical comedy which had had even more than the customary musical-comedy success.
London by night had always had an immense fascination for me. Coming out of the restaurant after supper, I felt no inclination to return to my lodgings, and end the greatest night of my life tamely with a book and a pipe. Here was I, a young man, fortified by an excellent supper, in the heart of Stevenson's London. Why should I have no New Arabian Night adventure? I would stroll about for half an hour, and give London a chance of living up to its reputation.
I walked slowly along Piccadilly, and turned up Rupert Street. A magic name. Prince Florizel of Bohemia had ended his days there in his tobacconist's divan. Mr. Gilbert's Policeman Forth had been discovered there by the men of London at the end of his long wanderings through Soho. Probably, if the truth were known, Rudolf Rassendyl had spent part of his time there. It could not be that Rupert Street would send me empty away.
My confidence was not abused. Turning into Rupert Court, a dark and suggestive passage some short distance up the street on the right, I found a curious little comedy being played.
A door gave on to the deserted passageway, and on each side of it stood a man—the lurcher type of man that is bred of London streets. The door opened inwards. Another man stepped out. The hands of one of the lurchers flew to the newcomer's mouth. The hands of the other lurcher flew to the newcomer's pockets.
At that moment I advanced.
The lurchers vanished noiselessly and instantaneously.
Their victim held out his hand.
"Come in, won't you?" he said, smiling sleepily at me.
I followed him in, murmuring something about "caught in the act."
He repeated the phrase as we went upstairs.
"'Caught in the act.' Yes, they are ingenious creatures. Let me introduce myself. My name is Julian Eversleigh. Sit down, won't you? Excuse me for a moment."
He crossed to a writing-table.
Julian Eversleigh inhabited a single room of irregular shape. It was small, and situated immediately under the roof. One side had a window which overlooked Rupert Court. The view from it was, however, restricted, because the window was inset, so that the walls projecting on either side prevented one seeing more than a yard or two of the court.
The room contained a hammock, a large tin bath, propped up against the wall, a big wardrobe, a couple of bookcases, a deal writing-table—at which the proprietor was now sitting with a pen in his mouth, gazing at the ceiling—and a divan-like formation of rugs and cube sugar boxes.
The owner of this mixed lot of furniture wore a very faded blue serge suit, the trousers baggy at the knees and the coat threadbare at the elbows. He had the odd expression which green eyes combined with red hair give a man.
"Caught in the act," he was murmuring. "Caught in the act."
The phrase seemed to fascinate him.
I had established myself on the divan, and was puffing at a cigar, which I had bought by way of setting the coping-stone on my night's extravagance, before he got up from his writing.
"Those fellows," he said, producing a bottle of whisky and a syphon from one of the lower drawers of the wardrobe, "did me a double service. They introduced me to you—say when—and they gave me——"
"But how did it happen?" I asked.
"Quite simple," he answered. "You see, my friends, when they call on me late at night, can't get in by knocking at the front door. It is a shop-door, and is locked early. Vancott, my landlord, is a baker, and, as he has to be up making muffins somewhere about five in the morning—we all have our troubles—he does not stop up late. So people who want me go into the court, and see whether my lamp is burning by the window. If it is, they stand below and shout, 'Julian,' till I open the door into the court. That's what happened tonight. I heard my name called, went down, and walked into the arms of the enterprising gentlemen whom you chanced to notice. They must have been very hungry, for even if they had carried the job through they could not have expected to make their fortunes. In point of fact, they would have cleared one-and-threepence. But when you're hungry you can see no further than the pit of your stomach. Do you know, I almost sympathise with the poor brutes. People sometimes say to me, 'What are you?' I have often half a mind to reply, 'I have been hungry.' My stars, be hungry once, and you're educated, if you don't die of it, for a lifetime."
This sort of talk from a stranger might have been the prelude to an appeal for financial assistance.
He dissipated that half-born thought.
"Don't be uneasy," he said; "you have not been lured up here by the ruse of a clever borrower. I can do a bit of touching when in the mood, mind you, but you're safe. You are here because I see that you are a pleasant fellow."
"Thank you," I said.
"Besides," he continued, "I am not hungry at present. In fact, I shall never be hungry again."
"You're lucky," I remarked.
"I am. I am the fortunate possessor of the knack of writing advertisements."
"Indeed," I said, feeling awkward, for I saw that I ought to be impressed.
"Ah!" he said, laughing outright. "You're not impressed in the least, really. But I'll ask you to consider what advertisements mean. First, they are the life-essence of every newspaper, every periodical, and every book."
"Practically, yes. Most books contain some latent support of a fashion in clothes or food or drink, or of some pleasant spot or phase of benevolence or vice, all of which form the interest of one or other of the sections of society, which sections require publicity at all costs for their respective interests."
I was about to probe searchingly into so optimistic a view of modern authorship, but he stalled me off by proceeding rapidly with his discourse.
"Apart, however, from the less obvious modes of advertising, you'll agree that this is the age of all ages for the man who can write puffs. 'Good wine needs no bush' has become a trade paradox, 'Judge by appearances,' a commercial platitude. The man who is ambitious and industrious turns his trick of writing into purely literary channels, and becomes a novelist. The man who is not ambitious and not industrious, and who does not relish the prospect of becoming a loafer in Strand wine-shops, writes advertisements. The gold-bearing area is always growing. It's a Tom Tiddler's ground. It is simply a question of picking up the gold and silver. The industrious man picks up as much as he wants. Personally, I am easily content. An occasional nugget satisfies me. Here's tonight's nugget, for instance."
I took the paper he handed to me. It bore the words:
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
CAUGHT IN THE ACT of drinking Skeffington's Sloe Gin, a man will always present a happy and smiling appearance. Skeffington's Sloe Gin adds a crowning pleasure to prosperity, and is a consolation in adversity. Of all Grocers.
"Skeffington's," he said, "pay me well. I'm worth money to them, and they know it. At present they are giving me a retainer to keep my work exclusively for them. The stuff they have put on the market is neither better nor worse than the average sloe gin. But my advertisements have given it a tremendous vogue. It is the only brand that grocers stock. Since I made the firm issue a weekly paper called Skeffington's Poultry Farmer, free to all country customers, the consumption of sloe gin has been enormous among agriculturists. My idea, too, of supplying suburban buyers gratis with a small drawing-book, skeleton illustrations, and four coloured chalks, has made the drink popular with children. You must have seen the poster I designed. There's a reduced copy behind you. The father of a family is unwrapping a bottle of Skeffington's Sloe Gin. His little ones crowd round him, laughing and clapping their hands. The man's wife is seen peeping roguishly in through the door. Beneath is the popular catch-phrase, "Ain't mother going to 'ave none?"
"You're a genius," I cried.
"Hardly that," he said. "At least, I have no infinite capacity for taking pains. I am one of Nature's slackers. Despite my talent for drawing up advertisements, I am often in great straits owing to my natural inertia and a passionate love of sleep. I sleep on the slightest provocation or excuse. I will back myself to sleep against anyone in the world, no age, weight, or colour barred. You, I should say, are of a different temperament. More energetic. The Get On or Get Out sort of thing. The Young Hustler."
"Rather," I replied briskly, "I am in love."
"So am I," said Julian Eversleigh. "Hopelessly, however. Give us a match."
After that we confirmed our friendship by smoking a number of pipes together.
THE COLUMN (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
After the first week "On Your Way," on the Orb, offered hardly any difficulty. The source of material was the morning papers, which were placed in a pile on our table at nine o'clock. The halfpenny papers were our principal support. Gresham and I each took one, and picked it clean. We attended first to the Subject of the Day. This was generally good for two or three paragraphs of verbal fooling. There was a sort of tradition that the first half-dozen paragraphs should be topical. The rest might be topical or not, as occasion served.
The column usually opened with a one-line pun—Gresham's invention.
Gresham was a man of unparalleled energy and ingenuity. He had created several of the typical characters who appeared from time to time in "On Your Way," as, for instance, Mrs. Jenkinson, our Mrs. Malaprop, and Jones junior, our "howler" manufacturing schoolboy. He was also a stout apostle of a mode of expression which he called "funny language." Thus, instead of writing boldly: "There is a rumour that——," I was taught to say, "It has got about that——." This sounds funnier in print, so Gresham said. I could never see it myself.
Gresham had a way of seizing on any bizarre incident reported in the morning papers, enfolding it in "funny language," adding a pun, and thus making it his own. He had a cunning mastery of periphrasis, and a telling command of adverbs.
Here is an illustration. An account was given one morning by the Central news of the breaking into of a house at Johnsonville (Mich.) by a negro, who had stolen a quantity of greenbacks. The thief, escaping across some fields, was attacked by a cow, which, after severely injuring the negro, ate the greenbacks.
Gresham's unacknowledged version of the episode ran as follows:
"The sleepy god had got the stranglehold on John Denville when Caesar Bones, a coloured gentleman, entered John's house at Johnsonville (Mich.) about midnight. Did the nocturnal caller disturb his slumbering host? No. Caesar Bones has the finer feelings. But as he was noiselessly retiring, what did he see? Why, a pile of greenbacks which John had thoughtlessly put away in a fire-proof safe."
To prevent the story being cut out by the editor, who revised all the proofs of the column, with the words "too long" scribbled against it, Gresham continued his tale in another paragraph.
"'Dis am berry insecure,' murmured the visitor to himself, transplanting the notes in a neighbourly way into his pocket. Mark the sequel. The noble Caesar met, on his homeward path, an irritable cudster. The encounter was brief. Caesar went weak in the second round, and took the count in the third. Elated by her triumph, and hungry from her exertions, the horned quadruped nosed the wad of paper money and daringly devoured it. Caesar has told the court that if he is convicted of felony, he will arraign the owner of the ostrich-like bovine on a charge of receiving stolen goods. The owner merely ejaculates 'Black male!'"
On his day Gresham could write the column and have a hundred lines over by ten o'clock. I, too, found plenty of copy as a rule, though I continued my practice of doing a few paragraphs overnight. But every now and then fearful days would come, when the papers were empty of material for our purposes, and when two out of every half-dozen paragraphs which we did succeed in hammering out were returned deleted on the editor's proof.
The tension at these times used to be acute. The head printer would send up a relay of small and grubby boys to remind us that "On Your Way" was fifty lines short. At ten o'clock he would come in person, and be plaintive.
Gresham, the old hand, applied to such occasions desperate remedies. He would manufacture out of even the most pointless item of news two paragraphs by adding to his first the words, "This reminds us of Mr. Punch's famous story." He would then go through the bound volumes of Punch—we had about a dozen in the room—with lightning speed until he chanced upon a more or less appropriate tag.
Those were mornings when verses would be padded out from three stanzas to five, Gresham turning them out under fifteen minutes. He had a wonderful facility for verse.
As a last expedient one fell back upon a standing column, a moth-eaten collection of alleged jests which had been set up years ago to meet the worst emergencies. It was, however, considered a confession of weakness and a degradation to use this column.
We had also in our drawer a book of American witticisms, published in New York. To cut one out, preface it with "A good American story comes to hand," and pin it on a slip was a pleasing variation of the usual mode of constructing a paragraph. Gresham and I each had our favourite method. Personally, I had always a partiality for dealing with "buffers." "The brakes refused to act, and the train struck the buffers at the end of the platform" invariably suggested that if elderly gentlemen would abstain from loitering on railway platforms, they would not get hurt in this way.
Gresham had a similar liking for "turns." "The performance at the Frivoli Music Hall was in full swing when the scenery was noticed to be on fire. The audience got a turn. An extra turn."
Julian Eversleigh, to whom I told my experiences on the Orb, said he admired the spirit with which I entered into my duties. He said, moreover, that I had a future before me, not only as a journalist, but as a writer.
Nor, indeed, could I help seeing for myself that I was getting on. I was making a fair income now, and had every prospect of making a much better one. My market was not restricted. Verses, articles, and fiction from my pen were being accepted with moderate regularity by many of the minor periodicals. My scope was growing distinctly wider. I found, too, that my work seemed to meet with a good deal more success when I sent it in from the Orb, with a letter to the editor on Orb notepaper.
Altogether, my five weeks on the Orb were invaluable to me. I ought to have paid rather than have taken payment for working on the column. By the time Fermin came back from Scotland to turn me out, I was a professional. I had learned the art of writing against time. I had learned to ignore noise, which, for a writer in London, is the most valuable quality of all. Every day at the Orb I had had to turn out my stuff with the hum of the Strand traffic in my ears, varied by an occasional barrel-organ, the whistling of popular songs by the printers, whose window faced ours, and the clatter of a typewriter in the next room. Often I had to turn out a paragraph or a verse while listening and making appropriate replies to some other member of the staff, who had wandered into our room to pass the time of day or read out a bit of his own stuff which had happened to please him particularly. All this gave me a power of concentration, without which writing is difficult in this city of noises.
The friendship I formed with Gresham too, besides being pleasant, was of infinite service to me. He knew all about the game. I followed his advice, and prospered. His encouragement was as valuable as his advice. He was my pilot, and saw me, at great trouble to himself, through the dangerous waters.
I foresaw that the future held out positive hope that my marriage with Margaret would become possible. And yet——
Pausing in the midst of my castle-building, I suffered a sense of revulsion. I had been brought up to believe that the only adjective that could be coupled with the noun "journalism" was "precarious." Was I not, as Gresham would have said, solving an addition sum in infantile poultry before their mother, the feathered denizen of the farmyard, had lured them from their shell? Was I not mistaking a flash in the pan for a genuine success?
These thoughts numbed my fingers in the act of writing to Margaret.
Instead, therefore, of the jubilant letter I had intended to send her, I wrote one of quite a different tone. I mentioned the arduous nature of my work. I referred to the struggle in which I was engaged. I indicated cleverly that I was a man of extraordinary courage battling with fate. I implied that I made just enough to live on.
It would have been cruel to arouse expectations which might never be fulfilled. In this letter, accordingly, and in subsequent letters, I rather went to the opposite extreme. Out of pure regard for Margaret, I painted my case unnecessarily black. Considerations of a similar nature prompted me to keep on my lodging in Walpole Street. I had two rooms instead of one, but they were furnished severely and with nothing but the barest necessaries.
I told myself through it all that I loved Margaret as dearly as ever. Yet there were moments, and they seemed to come more frequently as the days went on, when I found myself wondering. Did I really want to give up all this? The untidiness, the scratch meals, the nights with Julian? And, when I was honest, I answered, No.
Somehow Margaret seemed out of place in this new world of mine.
NEW YEAR'S EVE (James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)
The morning of New Year's Eve was a memorable one for me. My first novel was accepted. Not an ambitious volume. It was rather short, and the plot was not obtrusive. The sporting gentlemen who accepted it, however—Messrs. Prodder and Way—seemed pleased with it; though, when I suggested a sum in cash in advance of royalties, they displayed a most embarrassing coyness—and also, as events turned out, good sense.
I carried the good news to Julian, whom I found, as usual, asleep in his hammock. I had fallen into the habit of calling on him after my Orb work. He was generally sleepy when I arrived, at half-past eleven, and while we talked I used to make his breakfast act as a sort of early lunch for myself. He said that the people of the house had begun by trying to make the arrival of his breakfast coincide with the completion of his toilet; that this had proved so irksome that they had struck; and that finally it had been agreed on both sides that the meal should be put in his room at eleven o'clock, whether he was dressed or not. He said that he often saw his breakfast come in, and would drowsily determine to consume it hot. But he had never had the energy to do so. Once, indeed, he had mistaken the time, and had confidently expected that the morning of a hot breakfast had come at last. He was dressed by nine, and had sat for two hours gloating over the prospect of steaming coffee and frizzling bacon. On that particular morning, however, there had been some domestic tragedy—the firing of a chimney or the illness of a cook—and at eleven o'clock, not breakfast, but an apology for its absence had been brought to him. This embittered Julian. He gave up the unequal contest, and he has frequently confessed to me that cold breakfast is an acquired, yet not unpleasant, taste.
He woke up when I came in, and, after hearing my news and congratulating me, began to open the letters that lay on the table at his side.