ORPHEUS IN MAYFAIR AND OTHER STORIES AND SKETCHES
TO ETHEL SMYTH
Most of the stories and sketches in this book have appeared in the Morning Post. One of them was published in the Westminster Gazette. I have to thank the editors and proprietors concerned for their kindness in allowing me to republish them.
Orpheus in Mayfair The Cricket Match The Shadow of a Midnight Jean Francois The Flute of Chang Liang "What is Truth?" A Luncheon-Party Fete Galante The Garland The Spider's Web Edward II. At Berkeley Castle The Island The Man Who Gave Good Advice Russalka The Old Woman Dr. Faust's Last Day The Flute-Player's Story A Chinaman on Oxford Venus The Fire The Conqueror The Ikon The Thief The Star Chun Wa
ORPHEUS IN MAYFAIR
Heraclius Themistocles Margaritis was a professional musician. He was a singer and a composer of songs; he wrote poetry in Romaic, and composed tunes to suit rhymes. But it was not thus that he earned his daily bread, and he was poor, very poor. To earn his livelihood he gave lessons, music lessons during the day, and in the evening lessons in Greek, ancient and modern, to such people (and these were rare) who wished to learn these languages. He was a young man, only twenty-four, and he had married, before he came of age, an Italian girl called Tina. They had come to England in order to make their fortune. They lived in apartments in the Hereford Road, Bayswater.
They had two children, a little girl and a little boy; they were very much in love with each other, as happy as birds, and as poor as church mice. For Heraclius Themistocles got but few pupils, and although he had sung in public at one or two concerts, and had not been received unfavourably, he failed to obtain engagements to sing in private houses, which was his ambition. He hoped by this means to become well known, and then to be able to give recitals of his own where he would reveal to the world those tunes in which he knew the spirit of Hellas breathed. The whole desire of his life was to bring back and to give to the world the forgotten but undying Song of Greece. In spite of this, the modest advertisement which was to be found at concert agencies announcing that Mr. Heraclius Themistocles Margaritis was willing to attend evening parties and to give an exhibition of Greek music, ancient and modern, had as yet met with no response. After he had been a year in England the only steps towards making a fortune were two public performances at charity matinees, one or two pupils in pianoforte playing, and an occasional but rare engagement for stray pupils at a school of modern languages.
It was in the middle of the second summer after his arrival that an incident occurred which proved to be the turning point of his career. A London hostess was giving a party in honour of a foreign Personage. It had been intimated that some kind of music would be expected. The hostess had neither the means nor the desire to secure for her entertainment stars of the first magnitude, but she gathered together some lesser lights—a violinist, a pianist, and a singer of French drawing-room melodies. On the morning of the day on which her concert was to be given, the hostess received a telegram from the singer of French drawing-room melodies to say that she had got a bad cold, and could not possibly sing that night. The hostess was in despair, but a musical friend of hers came to the rescue, and promised to obtain for her an excellent substitute, a man who sang Greek songs.
* * * * *
When Margaritis received the telegram from Arkwright's Agency that he was to sing that night at A—— House, he was overjoyed, and could scarcely believe his eyes. He at once communicated the news to Tina, and they spent hours in discussing what songs he should sing, who the good fairy could have been who recommended him, and in building castles in the air with regard to the result of this engagement. He would become famous; they would have enough money to go to Italy for a holiday; he would give concerts; he would reveal to the modern world the music of Hellas.
About half-past four in the afternoon Margaritis went out to buy himself some respectable evening studs from a large emporium in the neighbourhood. When he returned, singing and whistling on the stairs for joy, he was met by Tina, who to his astonishment was quite pale, and he saw at a glance that something had happened.
"They've put me off!" he said. "Or it was a mistake. I knew it was too good to be true."
"It's not that," said Tina, "it's Carlo!" Carlo was their little boy, who was nearly four years old.
"What?" said Margaritis.
Tina dragged him into their little sitting-room. "He is ill," she said, "very ill, and I don't know what's the matter with him."
Margaritis turned pale. "Let me see him," he said. "We must get a doctor."
"The doctor is coming: I went for him at once," she said. And then they walked on tiptoe into the bedroom where Carlo was lying in his cot, tossing about, and evidently in a raging fever. Half an hour later the doctor came. Margaritis and Tina waited, silent and trembling with anxiety, while he examined the child. At last he came from the bedroom with a grave face. He said that the child was very seriously ill, but that if he got through the night he would very probably recover.
"I must send a telegram," said Margaritis to Tina. "I cannot possibly go." Tina squeezed his hand, and then with a brave smile she went back to the sick-room.
Margaritis took a telegraph form out of a shabby leather portfolio, sat down before the dining-table on which the cloth had been laid for tea (for the sitting-room was the dining-room also), and wrote out the telegram. And as he wrote his tears fell on the writing and smudged it. His grief overcame him, and he buried his face in his hands and sobbed. "What the Fates give with one hand," he thought to himself, "they take away with another!" Then he heard himself, he knew not why, invoking the gods of Greece, the ancient gods of Olympus, to help him. And at that moment the whole room seemed to be filled with a strange light, and he saw the wonderful figure of a man with a shining face and eyes that seemed infinitely sad and at the same time infinitely luminous. The figure held a lyre, and said to him in Greek:—
"It is well. All will be well. I will take your place at the concert!"
When the vision had vanished, the half written telegram on his table had disappeared also.
* * * * *
The party at A—— House that night was brilliant rather than large. In one of the drawing-rooms there was a piano, in front of which were six or seven rows of gilt chairs. The other rooms were filled with shifting groups of beautiful women, and men wearing orders and medals. There was a continuous buzz of conversation, except in the room where the music was going on; and even there in the background there was a subdued whispering. The violinist was playing some elaborate nothings, and displaying astounding facility, but the audience did not seem to be much interested, for when he stopped, after some faint applause, conversation broke loose like a torrent.
"I do hope," said some one to the lady next him, "that the music will be over soon. One gets wedged in here, one doesn't dare move, and one had to put up with having one's conversation spoilt and interrupted."
"It's an extraordinary thing," answered the lady, "that nobody dares give a party in London without some kind of entertainment. It is such a mistake!"
At that moment the fourth and last item on the programme began, which was called "Greek Songs by Heraclius Themistocles Margaritis."
"He certainly looks like a Greek," said the lady who had been talking; "in fact if his hair was cut he would be quite good-looking."
"It's not my idea of a Greek," whispered her neighbour. "He is too fair. I thought Greeks were dark."
"Hush!" said the lady, and the first song began. It was a strange thread of sound that came upon the ears of the listeners, rather high and piercing, and the accompaniment (Margaritis accompanied himself) was twanging and monotonous like the sound of an Indian tom-tom. The same phrase was repeated two or three times over, the melody seemed to consist of only a very few notes, and to come over and over again with extraordinary persistence. Then the music rose into a high shrill call and ended abruptly.
"What has happened?" asked the lady. "Has he forgotten the words?"
"I think the song is over," said the man. "That's one comfort at any rate. I hate songs which I can't understand."
But their comments were stopped by the beginning of another song. The second song was soft and very low, and seemed to be almost entirely on one note. It was still shorter than the first one, and ended still more abruptly.
"I don't believe he's a Greek at all," said the man. "His songs are just like the noise of bagpipes."
"I daresay he's a Scotch," said the lady. "Scotchmen are very clever. But I must say his songs are short."
An indignant "Hush!" from a musician with long hair who was sitting not far off heralded the beginning of the third song. It began on a high note, clear and loud, so that the audience was startled, and for a moment or two there was not a whisper to be heard in the drawing-room. Then it died away in a piteous wail like the scream of a sea-bird, and the high insistent note came back once more, and this process seemed to be repeated several times till the sad scream prevailed, and stopped suddenly. A little desultory clapping was heard, but it was instantly suppressed when the audience became aware that the song was not over.
"He's going on again," whispered the man. A low, long note was heard like the drone of a bee, which went on, sometimes rising and sometimes getting lower, like a strange throbbing sob; and then once more it ceased. The audience hesitated a moment, being not quite certain whether the music was really finished or not. Then when they saw Margaritis rise from the piano, some meagre well-bred applause was heard, and an immense sigh of relief. The people streamed into the other rooms, and the conversation became loud and general.
The lady who had talked went quickly into the next room to find out what was the right thing to say about the music, and if possible to get the opinion of a musician.
Sir Anthony Holdsworth, who had translated Pindar, was talking to Ralph Enderby, who had written a book on "Modern Greek Folk Lore."
"It hurts me," said Sir Anthony, "to hear ancient Greek pronounced like that. It is impossible to distinguish the words; besides which its wrong to pronounce ancient Greek like modern Greek. Did you understand it?"
"No," said Ralph Enderby, "I did not. If it is modern Greek it was certainly wrongly pronounced. I think the man must be singing some kind of Asiatic dialect—unless he's a fraud."
Hard by there was another group discussing the music: Blythe, the musical critic, and Lawson, who had the reputation of being a great connoisseur.
"He's distinctly clever," Blythe was saying; "the songs are amusing 'pastiches' of Eastern folk song."
"Yes, I think he's clever," said Lawson, "but there's nothing original in it, and besides, as I expect you noticed, two of the songs were gross plagiarisms of De Bussy."
"Clever, but not original," said the lady to herself. "That's it." And two hostesses who had overheard this conversation made up their minds to get Margaritis for their parties, for they scented the fact that he would ultimately be talked about. But most of the people did not discuss the music at all.
As soon as the music had stopped, James Reddaway, who was a Member of Parliament, left the house and went home. He was engrossed in politics, and had little time at his disposal for anything else. As soon as he got home he went up to his wife's bedroom; she had not been able to go to the party owing to a sudden attack of neuralgia. She asked him to tell her all about it.
"Well," he said, "there were the usual people there, and there was some music: some violin and piano playing, to which I didn't listen. After that a man sang some Greek songs, and a curious thing happened to me. When it began I felt my head swimming, and then I entirely lost account of my surroundings. I forgot the party, the drawing-room and the people, and I seemed to be sitting on the rocks of a cliff near a small bay; in front of me was the sea: it was a kind of blue green, but far more blue or at least of quite a different kind of blue than any I have seen. It was transparent, and the sky above it was like a turquoise. Behind me the cliff merged into a hill which was covered with red and white flowers, as bright as a Persian carpet. On the beach in front, a tall man was standing, wading in the water, little bright waves sparkling round his feet. He was tall and dark, and he was spearing a lot of little silver fish which were lying on the sand with a small wooden trident; and somewhere behind me a voice was singing. I could not see where it came from, but it was wonderfully soft and delicious, and a lot of wild bees came swarming over the flowers, and a green lizard came right up close to me, and the air was burning hot, and there was a smell of thyme and mint in it. And then the song stopped, and I came to myself, and I was back again in the drawing-room. Then when the man began to sing again, I again lost consciousness, and I seemed to be in a dark orchard on a breathless summer night. And somewhere near me there was a low white house with an opening which might have been a window, shrouded by creepers and growing things. And in it there was a faint light. And from the house came the sound of a sad love-song; and although I had never heard the song before I understood it, and it was about the moon and the Pleiads having set, and the hour passing, and the voice sang, 'But I sleep alone!' And this was repeated over and over again, and it was the saddest and most beautiful thing I had ever heard. And again it stopped, and I was back again in the drawing-room. Then when the singer began his third song I felt cold all over, and at the same time half suffocated, as people say they feel when they are nearly drowning. I realised that I was in a huge, dark, empty space, and round me and far off in front of me were vague shadowy forms; and in the distance there was something which looked like two tall thrones, pillared and dim. And on one of the thrones there was the dark form of a man, and on the other a woman like a queen, pale as marble, and unreal as a ghost, with great grey eyes that shone like moons. In front of them was another form, and he was singing a song, and the song was so sad and so beautiful that tears rolled down the shadowy cheeks of the ghosts in front of me. And all at once the singer gave a great cry of joy, and something white and blinding flashed past me and disappeared, and he with it. But I remained in the same place with the dark ghosts far off in front of me. And I seemed to be there an eternity till I heard a cry of desperate pain and anguish, and the white form flashed past me once more, and vanished, and with it the whole thing, and I was back again in the drawing-room, and I felt faint and giddy, and could not stay there any longer."
THE CRICKET MATCH AN INCIDENT AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL
To Winston Churchill
It was a Saturday afternoon in June. St. James's School was playing a cricket match against Chippenfield's. The whole school, which consisted of forty boys, with the exception of the eleven who were playing in the match, were gathered together near the pavilion on the steep, grassy bank which faced the cricket ground. It was a swelteringly hot day. One of the masters was scoring in the pavilion; two of the boys sat under the post and board where the score was recorded in big white figures painted on the black squares. Most of the boys were sitting on the grass in front of the pavilion.
St. James's won the toss and went in first. After scoring 5 for the first wicket they collapsed; in an hour and five minutes their last wicket fell. They had only made 27 runs. Fortune was against St. James's that day. Hitchens, their captain, in whom the school confidently trusted, was caught out in his first over. And Wormald and Bell minor, their two best men, both failed to score.
Then Chippenfield's went in. St. James's fast bowlers, Blundell and Anderson minor, seemed unable to do anything against the Chippenfield's batsmen. The first wicket went down at 70.
The boys who were looking on grew listless: three of them, Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, wandered off from the pavilion further up the slope of the hill, where there was a kind of wooden scaffolding raised for letting off fireworks on the 5th of November. The headmaster, who was a fanatical Conservative, used to burn on that anniversary effigies of Liberal politicians such as Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Chamberlain, who was at that time a Radical; while the boys whose politics were Conservative, and who formed the vast majority, cheered, and kicked the Liberals, of whom there were only eight.
Smith, Gordon, and Hart minor, three little boys aged about eleven, were in the third division of the school. They were not in the eleven, nor had they any hopes of ever attaining that glory, which conferred the privilege of wearing white flannel instead of grey flannel trousers, and a white flannel cap with a red Maltese cross on it. To tell the truth, the spectacle of this seemingly endless game, in which they did not have even the satisfaction of seeing their own side victorious, began to weigh on their spirits.
They climbed up on to the wooden scaffolding and organised a game of their own, an utterly childish game, which consisted of one boy throwing some dried horse chestnuts from the top of the scaffolding into the mouth of the boy at the bottom. They soon became engrossed in their occupation, and were thoroughly enjoying themselves, when one of the masters, Mr. Whitehead by name, came towards them with a face like thunder, biting his knuckles, a thing which he did when he was very angry.
"Go indoors at once," he said. "Go up to the third division school-room and do two hours' work. You can copy out the Greek irregular verbs."
The boys, taken completely by surprise, but accepting this decree as they accepted everything else, because it never occurred to them it could be otherwise, trotted off, not very disconsolate, to the school-room. It was very hot out of doors; it was cool in the third division school-room.
They got out their steel pens, their double-lined copy books, and began mechanically copying out the Greek irregular verbs, with which they were so superficially familiar, and from which they were so fundamentally divorced.
"Whitey," said Gordon, "was in an awful wax!"
"I don't care," said Smith. "I'd just as soon sit here as look on at that beastly match."
"But why," said Hart, "have we got to do two hours' work?"
"Oh," said Gordon, "he's just in a wax, that's all."
And the matter was not further discussed. At six o'clock the boys had tea. The cricket match had, of course, resulted in a crushing and overwhelming defeat for St. James's. The rival eleven had been asked to tea; there were cherries for tea in their honour.
When Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor entered the dining-room they at once perceived that an atmosphere of gloom and menacing storm was overhanging the school. Their spirits had hitherto been unflagging; they sat next to each other at the tea-table, but no sooner had they sat down than they were seized by that terrible, uncomfortable feeling so familiar to schoolboys, that something unpleasant was impending, some crime, some accusation; some doom, the nature of which they could not guess, was lying in ambush. This was written on the headmaster's face. The headmaster sat at a square table in the centre of the dining-room. The boys sat round on the further side of three tables which formed the three sides of the square room.
The meal passed in gloomy silence. Gordon, Smith and Hart began a fitful conversation, but a message was immediately passed up to them from Mr. Whitehead, who sat at the bottom of one of the tables, to stop talking. At the end of tea the guests filed out of the room.
The headmaster stood up and rapped on his table with a knife.
"The whole school," he said, "will come to the library in ten minutes' time."
The boys left the dining-room. They began to whisper to one another with bated breath. "What's the matter?" And the boys of the second division shook their heads ominously, and pointing to Gordon, Smith, and Hart, said: "You're in for it this time!" The boys of the first division were too important to take any notice of the rest of the school, and retired to the first division school-room in dignified silence.
Ten minutes later the whole school was assembled in the library, from which one flight of stairs led to the upper storeys. The staircase was shrouded from view by a dark curtain hanging from a Gothic arch; it was through this curtain that the headmaster used dramatically to appear on important occasions, and it was up this staircase that boys guilty of cardinal offences were led off to corporal punishment.
The boys waited in breathless silence. Acute suspense was felt by the whole school, but by none so keenly as by Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor. These three little boys felt perfectly sick with fear of the unknown and the terror of having in some unknown way made themselves responsible for the calamity which would perhaps vitally affect the whole school.
Presently a rustle was heard, and the headmaster swept down the staircase and through the curtain, robed in the black silk gown of an LL.D. He stood at a high desk which was placed opposite the staircase in front of the boys, who sat, in the order of their divisions, on rows of chairs. The three assistant masters walked in from a side door, also in their gowns, and took seats to the right and left of the headmaster's desk. There was a breathless silence.
The headmaster began to speak in grave and icily cold tones; his face was contracted by a permanent frown.
"I had thought," he said, "that there were in this school some boys who had a notion of gentlemanly behaviour, manly conduct, and common decency. I see that I was mistaken. The behaviour of certain of you to-day—I will not mention them because of their exceeding shame, but you will all know whom I mean. . . ." At this moment all the boys turned round and looked hard at Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, who blushed scarlet, and whose eyes filled with tears. . . . "The less said about the matter the better," continued the headmaster, "but I confess that it is difficult for me to understand how any one, however young, can be so hardened and so wanton as to behave in the callous and indecent way in which certain of you—I need not mention who—have behaved to-day. You have disgraced the school in the eyes of strangers; you have violated the laws of hospitality and courtesy; you have shown that in St. James's there is not a gleam of patriotism, not a spark of interest in the school, not a touch of that ordinary common English manliness, that sense for the interests of the school and the community which makes Englishmen what they are. The boys who have been most guilty in this matter have already been punished, and I do not propose to punish them further; but I had intended to take the whole school for an expedition to the New Forest next week. That expedition will be put off: in fact it will never take place. Only the eleven shall go, and I trust that another time the miserable idlers and loafers who have brought this shame, this disgrace on the school, who have no self-respect and no self-control, who do not know how to behave like gentlemen, who are idle, vulgar and depraved, will learn by this lesson to mend their ways and to behave better in the future. But I am sorry to say that it is not only the chief offenders, who, as I have already said, have been punished, who are guilty in the matter. Many of the other boys, although they did not descend to the depths of vulgar behaviour reached by the culprits I have mentioned, showed a considerable lack of patriotism by their apathy and their lack of attention while the cricket match was proceeding this afternoon. I can only hope this may be a lesson to you all; but while I trust the chief offenders will feel specially uncomfortable, I wish to impress upon you that you are all, with the exception of the eleven, in a sense guilty."
With these words the headmaster swept out of the room.
The boys dispersed in whispering groups. Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, when they attempted to speak, were met with stony silence; they were boycotted and cut by the remaining boys.
Gordon and Smith slept in two adjoining cubicles, and in a third adjoining cubicle was an upper division boy called Worthing. That night, after they had gone to bed, Gordon asked Worthing whether, among all the guilty, one just man had not been found.
"Surely," he said, "Campbell minor, who put up the score during the cricket match, was attentive right through the game, and wouldn't he be allowed to go to the New Forest with the eleven?"
"No," said Worthing, "he whistled twice."
"Oh!" said Gordon, "I didn't know that. Of course, he can't go!"
THE SHADOW OF A MIDNIGHT A GHOST STORY
It was nine o'clock in the evening. Sasha, the maid, had brought in the samovar and placed it at the head of the long table. Marie Nikolaevna, our hostess, poured out the tea. Her husband was playing Vindt with his daughter, the doctor, and his son-in-law in another corner of the room. And Jameson, who had just finished his Russian lesson—he was working for the Civil Service examination—was reading the last number of the Rouskoe Slovo.
"Have you found anything interesting, Frantz Frantzovitch?" said Marie Nikolaevna to Jameson, as she handed him a glass of tea.
"Yes, I have," answered the Englishman, looking up. His eyes had a clear dreaminess about them, which generally belongs only to fanatics or visionaries, and I had no reason to believe that Jameson, who seemed to be common sense personified, was either one or the other. "At least," he continued, "it interests me. And it's odd—very odd."
"What is it?" asked Marie Nikolaevna.
"Well, to tell you what it is would mean a long story which you wouldn't believe," said Jameson; "only it's odd—very odd."
"Tell us the story," I said.
"As you won't believe a word of it," Jameson repeated, "it's not much use my telling it."
We insisted on hearing the story, so Jameson lit a cigarette, and began:—
"Two years ago," he said, "I was at Heidelberg, at the University, and I made friends with a young fellow called Braun. His parents were German, but he had lived five or six years in America, and he was practically an American. I made his acquaintance by chance at a lecture, when I first arrived, and he helped me in a number of ways. He was an energetic and kind-hearted fellow, and we became great friends. He was a student, but he did not belong to any Korps or Bursenschaft, he was working hard then. Afterwards he became an engineer. When the summer Semester came to an end, we both stayed on at Heidelberg. One day Braun suggested that we should go for a walking tour and explore the country. I was only too pleased, and we started. It was glorious weather, and we enjoyed ourselves hugely. On the third night after we had started we arrived at a village called Salzheim. It was a picturesque little place, and there was a curious old church in it with some interesting tombs and relics of the Thirty Years War. But the inn where we put up for the night was even more picturesque than the church. It had been a convent for nuns, only the greater part of it had been burnt, and only a quaint gabled house, and a kind of tower covered with ivy, which I suppose had once been the belfry, remained. We had an excellent supper and went to bed early. We had been given two bedrooms, which were airy and clean, and altogether we were satisfied. My bedroom opened into Braun's, which was beyond it, and had no other door of its own. It was a hot night in July, and Braun asked me to leave the door open. I did—we opened both the windows. Braun went to bed and fell asleep almost directly, for very soon I heard his snores.
"I had imagined that I was longing for sleep, but no sooner had I got into bed than all my sleepiness left me. This was odd, because we had walked a good many miles, and it had been a blazing hot day, and up till then I had slept like a log the moment I got into bed. I lit a candle and began reading a small volume of Heine I carried with me. I heard the clock strike ten, and then eleven, and still I felt that sleep was out of the question. I said to myself: 'I will read till twelve and then I will stop.' My watch was on a chair by my bedside, and when the clock struck eleven I noticed that it was five minutes slow, and set it right. I could see the church tower from my window, and every time the clock struck—and it struck the quarters—the noise boomed through the room.
"When the clock struck a quarter to twelve I yawned for the first time, and I felt thankful that sleep seemed at last to be coming to me. I left off reading, and taking my watch in my hand I waited for midnight to strike. This quarter of an hour seemed an eternity. At last the hands of my watch showed that it was one minute to twelve. I put out my candle and began counting sixty, waiting for the clock to strike. I had counted a hundred and sixty, and still the clock had not struck. I counted up to four hundred; then I thought I must have made a mistake. I lit my candle again, and looked at my watch: it was two minutes past twelve. And still the clock had not struck!
"A curious uncomfortable feeling came over me, and I sat up in bed with my watch in my hand and longed to call Braun, who was peacefully snoring, but I did not like to. I sat like this till a quarter past twelve; the clock struck the quarter as usual. I made up my mind that the clock must have struck twelve, and that I must have slept for a minute—at the same time I knew I had not slept—and I put out my candle. I must have fallen asleep almost directly.
"The next thing I remember was waking with a start. It seemed to me that some one had shut the door between my room and Braun's. I felt for the matches. The match-box was empty. Up to that moment—I cannot tell why—something—an unaccountable dread—had prevented me looking at the door. I made an effort and looked. It was shut, and through the cracks and through the keyhole I saw the glimmer of a light. Braun had lit his candle. I called him, not very loudly: there was no answer. I called again more loudly: there was still no answer.
"Then I got out of bed and walked to the door. As I went, it was gently and slightly opened, just enough to show me a thin streak of light. At that moment I felt that some one was looking at me. Then it was instantly shut once more, as softly as it had been opened. There was not a sound to be heard. I walked on tiptoe towards the door, but it seemed to me that I had taken a hundred years to cross the room. And when at last I reached the door I felt I could not open it. I was simply paralysed with fear. And still I saw the glimmer through the key-hole and the cracks.
"Suddenly, as I was standing transfixed with fright in front of the door, I heard sounds coming from Braun's room, a shuffle of footsteps, and voices talking low but distinctly in a language I could not understand. It was not Italian, Spanish, nor French. The voices grew all at once louder; I heard the noise of a struggle and a cry which ended in a stifled groan, very painful and horrible to hear. Then, whether I regained my self-control, or whether it was excess of fright which prompted me, I don't know, but I flew to the door and tried to open it. Some one or something was pressing with all its might against it. Then I screamed at the top of my voice, and as I screamed I heard the cock crow.
"The door gave, and I almost fell into Braun's room. It was quite dark. But Braun was waked by my screams and quietly lit a match. He asked me gently what on earth was the matter. The room was empty and everything was in its place. Outside the first greyness of dawn was in the sky.
"I said I had had a nightmare, and asked him if he had not had one as well; but Braun said he had never slept better in his life.
"The next day we went on with our walking tour, and when we got back to Heidelberg Braun sailed for America. I never saw him again, although we corresponded frequently, and only last week I had a letter from him, dated Nijni Novgorod, saying he would be at Moscow before the end of the month.
"And now I suppose you are all wondering what this can have to do with anything that's in the newspaper. Well, listen," and he read out the following paragraph from the Rouskoe Slovo:—
"Samara, II, ix. In the centre of the town, in the Hotel —, a band of armed swindlers attacked a German engineer named Braun and demanded money. On his refusal one of the robbers stabbed Braun with a knife. The robbers, taking the money which was on him, amounting to 500 roubles, got away. Braun called for assistance, but died of his wounds in the night. It appears that he had met the swindlers at a restaurant."
"Since I have been in Russia," Jameson added, "I have often thought that I knew what language it was that was talked behind the door that night in the inn at Salzheim, but now I know it was Russian."
Jean Francois was a vagabond by nature, a balladmonger by profession. Like many poets in many times, he found that the business of writing verse was more amusing than lucrative; and he was constrained to supplement the earnings of his pen and his guitar by other and more profitable work. He had run away from what had been his home at the age of seven (he was a foundling, and his adopted father was a shoe-maker), without having learnt a trade. When the necessity arose he decided to supplement the art of balladmongering by that of stealing. He was skilful in both arts: he wrote verse, sang ballads, picked pockets (in the city), and stole horses (in the country) with equal facility and success. Some of his verse has reached posterity, for instance the "Ballads du Paradis Peint," which he wrote on white vellum, and illustrated himself with illuminations in red, blue and gold, for the Dauphin. It ends thus in the English version of a Balliol scholar:—
Prince, do not let your nose, your Royal nose, Your large Imperial nose get out of joint; Forbear to criticise my perfect prose— Painting on vellum is my weakest point.
Again, the ballade of which the "Envoi" runs:—
Prince, when you light your pipe with radium spills, Especially invented for the King— Remember this, the worst of human ills: Life without matches is a dismal thing,
is, in reality, only a feeble adaptation of his "Priez pour feu le vrai tresor de vie."
But although Jean Francois was not unknown during his lifetime, and although, as his verse testifies, he knew his name would live among those of the enduring poets after his death, his life was one of rough hardship, brief pleasures, long anxieties, and constant uncertainty. Sometimes for a few days at a time he would live in riotous luxury, but these rare epochs would immediately be succeeded by periods of want bordering on starvation. Besides which he was nearly always in peril of his life; the shadow of the gallows darkened his merriment, and the thought of the wheel made bitter his joy. Yet in spite of this hazardous and harassing life, in spite of the sharp and sudden transitions in his career, in spite of the menace of doom, the hint of the wheel and the gallows, his fund of joy remained undiminished, and this we see in his verse, which reflects with equal vividness his alternate moods of infinite enjoyment and unmitigated despair. For instance, the only two triolets which have survived from his "Trente deux Triolets joyeux and tristes" are an example of his twofold temperament. They run thus in the literal and exact translations of them made by an eminent official:—
I wish I was dead, And lay deep in the grave. I've a pain in my head, I wish I was dead. In a coffin of lead— With the Wise and the Brave— I wish I was dead, And lay deep in the grave.
This passionate utterance immediately preceded, in the original text, the following verses in which his buoyant spirits rise once more to the surface:—
Thank God I'm alive In the light of the Sun! It's a quarter to five; Thank God I'm alive! Now the hum of the hive Of the world has begun, Thank God I'm alive In the light of the Sun!
A more plaintive, in fact a positively wistful note, which is almost incongruous amongst the definite and sharply defined moods of Jean Francois, is struck in the sonnet of which only the first line has reached us: "I wish I had a hundred thousand pounds." ("Voulentiers serais pauvre avec dix mille escus.") But in nearly all his verse, whether joyous as in the "Chant de vin et vie," or gloomy as in the "Ballade des Treize Pendus," there is a curious recurrent aspiration towards a warm fire, a sure and plentiful supper, a clean bed, and a long, long sleep. Whether Jean Francois moped or made merry, and in spite of the fact that he enjoyed his roving career and would not have exchanged it for the throne of an Emperor or the money-bags of Croesus, there is no doubt that he experienced the burden of an immense fatigue. He was never quite warm enough; always a little hungry; and never got as much sleep as he desired. A place where he could sleep his fill represented the highest joys of Heaven to him; and he looked forward to Death as a traveller looks forward to a warm inn where (its terrible threshold once passed), a man can sleep the clock round. Witness the sonnet which ends (the translation is mine):—
For thou has never turned A stranger from thy gates or hast denied, O hospitable Death, a place to rest.
And it is of his death and not of his life or works which I wish to tell, for it was singular. He died on Christmas Eve, 1432. The winter that year in the north of France was, as is well known, terrible for its severe cold. The rich stayed at home, the poor died, and the unfortunate third estate of gipsies, balladmongers, tinkers, tumblers, and thieves had no chance of displaying their dexterity. In fact, they starved. Ever since the 1st of December Jean Francois had been unable to make a silver penny either by his song or his sleight of hand. Christmas was drawing near, and he was starving; and this was especially bitter to him, as it was his custom (for he was not only a lover of good cheer, but a good Catholic and a strict observer of fasts and feasts) to keep the great day of Christendom fittingly. This year he had nothing to keep it with. Luck seemed to be against him; for three days before Christmas he met in a dark side street of the town the rich and stingy Sieur de Ranquet. He picked the pocket of that nobleman, but owing to the extreme cold his fingers faltered, and he was discovered. He ran like a hare and managed easily enough to outstrip the miser, and to conceal himself in a den where he was well known. But unfortunately the matter did not end there. The Sieur de Ranquet was influential at Court; he was implacable as well as avaricious, and his disposition positively forbade him to forgive any one who had nearly picked his pocket. Besides which he knew that Jean had often stolen his horses. He made a formal complaint at high quarters, and a warrant was issued against Jean, offering a large sum in silver coin to the man who should bring him, alive or dead, to justice.
Now the police were keenly anxious to make an end of Jean. They knew he was guilty of a hundred thefts, but such was his skill that they had never been able to convict him; he had often been put in prison, but he had always been released for want of evidence. This time no mistake was possible. So Jean, aware of the danger, fled from the city and sought a gipsy encampment in a neighbouring forest, where he had friends. These gipsy friends of his were robbers, outlaws, murderers and horse-stealers all of them, and hardened criminals; they called themselves gipsies, but it was merely a courtesy title.
On Christmas Eve—it was snowing hard—Jean was walking through the forest towards the town, ready for a desperate venture, for in the camp they were starving, and he was sick almost to death of his hunted, miserable life. As he plunged through the snow he heard a moan, and he saw a child sitting at the roots of a tall tree crying. He asked what was the matter. The child—it was a little boy about five years old—said that it had run away from home because its nurse had beaten it, and had lost its way.
"Where do you live?" asked Jean.
"My father is the Sieur de Ranquet," said the child.
At that moment Jean heard the shouts of his companions in the distance.
"I want to go home," said the little boy quietly. "You must take me home," and he put his hand into Jean's hand and looked up at him and smiled.
Jean thought for a moment. The boy was richly dressed; he had a large ruby cross hanging from a golden collar worth many hundred gold pieces. Jean knew well what would happen if his gipsy companions came across the child. They would kill it instantly.
"All right," said Jean, "climb on my back."
The little boy climbed on to his back, and Jean trudged through the snow. In an hour's time they reached the Sieur de Ranquet's castle; the place was alive with bustling men and flaring torches, for the Sieur's heir had been missed.
The Sieur looked at Jean and recognised him immediately. Jean was a public character, and especially well known to the Sieur de Ranquet. A few words were whispered. The child was sent to bed, and the archers civilly lead Jean to his dungeon. Jean was tired and sleepy. He fell asleep at once on the straw. They told him he would have to get up early the next morning, in time for a long, cold journey. The gallows, they added, would be ready.
But in the night Jean dreamed a dream: he saw a child in glittering clothes and with a shining face who came into the dungeon and broke the bars.
The child said: "I am little St. Nicholas, the children's friend, and I think you are tired, so I'm going to take you to a quiet place."
Jean followed the child, who led him by the hand till they came to a nice inn, very high up on the top of huge mountains. There was a blazing log fire in the room, a clean warm bed, and the windows opened on a range of snowy mountains, bright as diamonds. And the stars twinkled in the sky like the candles of a Christmas tree.
"You can go to bed here," said St. Nicholas, "nobody will disturb you, and when you do wake you will be quite happy and rested. Good-night, Jean." And he went away.
* * * * *
The next day in the dawn, when the archers came to fetch Jean, they found he was fast asleep. They thought it was almost a pity to wake him, because he looked so happy and contented in his sleep; but when they tried they found it was impossible.
THE FLUTE OF CHANG LIANG
To P. Kershaw
The village was called Moe-tung. It was on the edge of the big main road which leads from Liao-yang to Ta-shi-chiao. It consisted of a few baked mud-houses, a dilapidated temple, a wall, a clump of willows, and a pond. One of the houses I knew well; in its square open yard, in which the rude furniture of toil lay strewn about, I had halted more than once for my midday meal, when riding from Liao-yang to the South. I had been entertained there by the owner of the house, a brawny husbandman and his fat brown children, and they had given me eggs and Indian corn. Now it was empty; the house was deserted; the owner, his wife and his children, had all gone, to the city probably, to seek shelter. We occupied the house; and the Cossacks at once made a fire with the front door and any fragments of wood they could find. The house was converted into a stable and a kitchen, and the officers' quarters were established in another smaller building across the road, on the edge of a great plain, which was bright green with the standing giant millet.
This smaller cottage had an uncultivated garden in front of it, and a kind of natural summer-house made by the twining of a pumpkin plant which spread its broad leaves over some stakes. We lay down to rest in this garden. About five miles to the north of us was the town of Liao-yang; to the east in the distance was a range of pale blue hills, and immediately in front of us to the south, and scarcely a mile off, was the big hill of Sho-shantze. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and we had been on the move since two o'clock in the morning. The Cossacks brought us tea and pancakes, and presently news came from the town that the big battle would be fought the next day: the big battle; the real battle, which had been expected for so long and which had been constantly put off. There was a complete stillness everywhere. The officers unpacked their valises and their camp-beds. Every one arranged his bed and his goods in his chosen place, and it seemed as if we had merely begun once more to settle down for a further period of siesta in the long picnic which had been going on for the last two months. Nobody was convinced in spite of the authentic news which we had received, that the Japanese would attack the next day.
The sunset faded into a twilight of delicious summer calm.
From the hills in the east came the noise of a few shots fired by the batteries there, and a captive balloon soared slowly, like a soap-bubble, into the eastern sky. I walked into the village; here and there fires were burning, and I was attracted by the sight of the deserted temple in which the wooden painted gods were grinning, bereft of their priest and of their accustomed dues. I sat down on the mossy steps of the little wooden temple, and somewhere, either from one of the knolls hard by or from one of the houses, came the sound of a flute, or rather of some primitive wooden pipe, which repeated over and over again a monotonous and piercingly sad little tune. I wondered whether it was one of the soldiers playing, but I decided this could not be the case, as the tune was more eastern than any Russian tune. On the other hand, it seemed strange that any Chinaman should be about. The tune continued to break the perfect stillness with its iterated sadness, and a vague recollection came into my mind of a Chinese legend or poem I had read long ago in London, about a flute-player called Chang Liang. But I could not bring my memory to work; its tired wheels all seemed to be buzzing feebly in different directions, and my thoughts came like thistledown and seemed to elude all efforts of concentration. And so I capitulated utterly to my drowsiness, and fell asleep as I sat on the steps of the temple.
I thought I had been sleeping for a long time and had woken before the dawn: the earth was misty, although the moon was shining; and I was no longer in the temple, but back once more at the edge of the plain. "They must have fetched me back while I slept," I thought to myself. But when I looked round I saw no trace of the officers, nor of the Cossacks, nor of the small house and the garden, and, stranger still, the millet had been reaped and the plain was covered with low stubble, and on it were pitched some curiously-shaped tents, which I saw were guarded by soldiers. But these soldiers were Chinamen, and yet unlike any Chinamen I had ever seen; for some of them carried halberds, the double-armed halberds of the period of Charles I., and others, halberds with a crescent on one side, like those which were used in the days of Henry VII. And I then noticed that a whole multitude of soldiers were lying asleep on the ground, armed with two-edged swords and bows and arrows. And their clothes seemed unfamiliar and brighter than the clothes which Chinese soldiers wear nowadays.
As I wondered what all this meant, a note of music came stealing through the night, and at first it seemed to be the same tune as I heard in the temple before I dropped off to sleep; but presently I was sure that this was a mistake, for the sound was richer and more mellow, and like that of a bell, only of an enchanted bell, such as that which is fabled to sound beneath the ocean. And the music seemed to rise and fall, to grow clear and full, and just as it was floating nearer and nearer, it died away in a sigh: but as it did so the distant hills seemed to catch it and to send it back in the company of a thousand echoes, till the whole night was filled and trembling with an unearthly chorus. The sleeping soldiers gradually stirred and sat listening spellbound to the music. And in the eyes of the sentries, who were standing as motionless as bronze statues in front of the tents, I could see the tears glistening. And the whole of the sleeping army awoke from its slumber and listened to the strange sound. From the tents came men in glittering silks (the Generals, I supposed) and listened also. The soldiers looked at each other and said no word. And then all at once, as though obeying some silent word of command given by some unseen captain, one by one they walked away over the plain, leaving their tents behind them. They all marched off into the east, as if they were following the music into the heart of the hills, and soon, of all that great army which had been gathered together on the plain, not one man was left. Then the music changed and seemed to grow different and more familiar, and with a start I became aware that I had been asleep and dreaming, and that I was sitting on the temple steps once more in the twilight, and that not far off, round a fire, some soldiers were singing. It was a dream, and my sleep could not have been a long one, for it was still twilight and the darkness had not yet come.
Fully awake now, I remembered clearly the old legend which had haunted me, and had taken shape in my dream. It was that of an army which on the night before the battle had heard the flute of Chang Liang. By his playing he had brought before the rude soldiers the far-off scenes of their childhood, which they had not looked upon for years—the sights and sounds of their homes, the faces and the spots which were familiar to them and dear. And they, as they heard this music, and felt these memories well up in their hearts, were seized with a longing and a desire for home so potent and so imperative that one by one they left the battlefield in silence, and when the enemy came at the dawn, they found the plain deserted and empty, for in one minute the flute of Chang Liang had stolen the hearts of eight thousand men.
And I felt certain that I had heard the flute of Chang Liang this night and that the soldiers had heard it too; for now round a fire a group of them were listening to the song of one of their comrades, a man from the south, who was singing of the quiet waters of the Don, and of a Cossack who had come back to his native land after many days and found his true love wedded to another. I felt it was the flute of Chang Liang which had prompted the southerner to sing, and without doubt the men saw before them the great moon shining over the broad village street in the dark July and August nights, and heard the noise of dancing and song and the cheerful rhythmic accompaniment of the concertina. Or (if they came from the south) they saw the smiling thatched farms, whitewashed, or painted in light green distemper, with vines growing on their walls; or again, they felt the smell of the beanfields in June, and saw in their minds' eye the panorama of the melting snows, when at a fairy touch the long winter is defeated, the meadows are flooded, and the trees seem to float about in the shining water like shapes invoked by a wizard. They saw these things and yearned towards them with all their hearts, here in this uncouth country where they were to fight a strange people for some unaccountable reason. But Chang Liang had played his flute to them in vain. It was in vain that he had tried to lure them back to their homes, and in vain that he had melted their hearts with the memories of their childhood. For the battle began at dawn the next morning, and when the enemy attacked they found an army there to meet them; and the battle lasted for two days on this very spot; and many of the men to whom Chang Liang had brought back through his flute the sights and the sounds of their childhood, were fated never to hear again those familiar sounds, nor to see the land and the faces which they loved.
"WHAT IS TRUTH?"
To E. I. Huber
Sitting opposite me in the second-class carriage of the express train which was crawling at a leisurely pace from Moscow to the south was a little girl who looked as if she were about twelve years old, with her mother. The mother was a large fair-haired person, with a good-natured expression. They had a dog with them, and the little girl, whose whole face twitched every now and then from St. Vitus' dance, got out at nearly every station to buy food for the dog. On the same side of the carriage, in the opposite corner, another lady (thin, fair, and wearing a pince-nez) was reading the newspaper. She and the mother of the child soon made friends over the dog. That is to say, the dog made friends with the strange lady and was reproved by its mistress, and the strange lady said: "Please don't scold him. He is not in the least in my way, and I like dogs." They then began to talk.
The large lady was going to the country. She and her daughter had been ordered to go there by the doctor. She had spent six weeks in Moscow under medical treatment, and they had now been told to finish this cure with a thorough rest in the country air. The thin lady asked her the name of her doctor, and before ascertaining what was the disease in question, recommended another doctor who had cured a friend of hers, almost as though by miracle, of heart disease. The large lady seemed interested and wrote down the direction of the marvellous physician. She was herself suffering, she said, from a nervous illness, and her daughter had St. Vitus' dance. They were so far quite satisfied with their doctor. They talked for some time exclusively about medical matters, comparing notes about doctors, diseases, and remedies. The thin lady said she had been cured of all her ills by aspirin and cinnamon.
In the course of the conversation the stout lady mentioned her husband, who, it turned out, was the head of the gendarmerie in a town in Siberia, not far from Irkutsk. This seemed to interest the thin lady immensely. She at once asked what were his political views, and what she herself thought about politics.
The large lady seemed to be reluctant to talk politics and evaded the questions for some time, but after much desultory conversation, which always came back to the same point, she said:—
"My husband is a Conservative; they call him a 'Black Hundred,' but it's most unfair and untrue, because he is a very good man and very just. He has his own opinions and he is sincere. He does not believe in the revolution or in the revolutionaries. He took the oath to serve the Emperor when everything went quietly and well, and now, although I have often begged him to leave the Service, he says it would be very wrong to leave just because it is dangerous. 'I have taken the oath,' he says, 'and I must keep it.'"
Here she stopped, but after some further questions on the part of the thin lady, she said: "I never had time or leisure to think of these questions. I was married when I was sixteen. I have had eight children, and they all died one after the other except this one, who was the eldest. I used to see political exiles and prisoners, and I used to feel sympathy for them. I used to hear about people being sent here and there, and sometimes I used to go down on my knees to my husband to do what he could for them, but I never thought about there being any particular idea at the back of all this." Then after a short pause she added: "It first dawned on me at Moscow. It was after the big strike, and I was on my way home. I had been staying with some friends in the country, and I happened by chance to see the funeral of that man Bauman, the doctor, who was killed. I was very much impressed when I saw that huge procession go past, all the men singing the funeral march, and I understood that Bauman himself had nothing to do with it. Who cared about Bauman? But I understood that he was a symbol. I saw that there must be a big idea which moves all these people to give up everything, to go to prison, to kill, and be killed. I understood this for the first time at that funeral. I cried when the crowd went past. I understood there was a big idea, a great cause behind it all. Then I went home.
"There were disorders in Siberia: you know in Siberia we are much freer than you are. There is only one society. The officials, the political people, revolutionaries, exiles, everybody, in fact, all meet constantly. I used to go to political meetings, and to see and talk with the Liberal and revolutionary leaders. Then I began to be disappointed because what had always struck me as unjust was that one man, just because he happened to be, say, Ivan Pavlovitch, should be able to rule over another man who happened to be, say, Ivan Ivanovitch. And now that these Republics were being made, it seemed that the same thing was beginning all over again—that all the places of authority were being seized and dealt out amongst another lot of people who were behaving exactly like those who had authority before. The arbitrary authority was there just the same, only it had changed hands, and this puzzled me very much, and I began to ask myself, 'Where is the truth?'"
"What did your husband think?" asked the thin lady.
"My husband did not like to talk about these things," she answered. "He says, 'I am in the Service, and I have to serve. It is not my business to have opinions.'"
"But all those Republics didn't last very long," rejoined the thin lady.
"No," continued the other; "we never had a Republic, and after a time they arrested the chief agitator, who was the soul of the revolutionary movement in our town, a wonderful orator. I had heard him speak several times and been carried away. When he was arrested I saw him taken to prison, and he said 'Good-bye' to the people, and bowed to them in the street in such an exaggerated theatrical way that I was astonished and felt uncomfortable. Here, I thought, is a man who can sacrifice himself for an idea, and who seemed to be thoroughly sincere, and yet he behaves theatrically and poses as if he were not sincere. I felt more puzzled than ever, and I asked my husband to let me go and see him in prison. I thought that perhaps after talking to him I could solve the riddle, and find out once for all who was right and who was wrong. My husband let me go, and I was admitted into his cell.
"'You know who I am,' I said, 'since I am here, and I am admitted inside these locked doors?' He nodded. Then I asked him whether I could be of any use to him. He said that he had all that he wanted; and like this the ice was broken, and I asked him presently if he believed in the whole movement. He said that until the 17th of October, when the Manifesto had been issued, he had believed with all his soul in it; but the events of the last months had caused him to change his mind. He now thought that the work of his party, and, in fact, the whole movement, which had been going on for over fifty years, had really been in vain. 'We shall have,' he said, 'to begin again from the very beginning, because the Russian people are not ready for us yet, and probably another fifty years will have to go by before they are ready.'
"I left him very much perplexed. He was set free not long afterwards, in virtue of some manifesto, and because there had been no disorders in our town and he had not been the cause of any bloodshed. Soon after he came out of prison my husband met him, and he said to my husband: 'I suppose you will not shake hands with me?' And my husband replied: 'Because our views are different there is no reason why both of us should not be honest men,' and he shook hands with him."
The conversation now became a discussion about the various ideals of various people and parties holding different political views. The large lady kept on expressing the puzzled state of mind in which she was.
The whole conversation, of which I have given a very condensed report, was spread over a long time, and often interrupted. Later they reached the subject of political assassination, and the large lady said:—
"About two months after I came home that year, one day when I was out driving with my daughter in a sledge the revolutionaries fired six shots at us from revolvers. We were not hit, but one bullet went through the coachman's cap. Ever since then I have had nervous fits and my daughter has had St. Vitus' dance. We have to go to Moscow every year to be treated. And it is so difficult. I don't know how to manage. When I am at home I feel as if I ought to go, and when I am away I never have a moment's peace, because I cannot help thinking the whole time that my husband is in danger. A few weeks after they shot at us I met some of the revolutionary party at a meeting, and I asked them why they had shot at myself and my daughter. I could have understood it if they had shot at my husband. But why at us? He said: 'When the wood is cut down, the chips fly about.'[*] And now I don't know what to think about it all.
[*] A Russian proverb.
"Sometimes I think it is all a mistake, and I feel that the revolutionaries are posing and playing a part, and that so soon as they get the upper hand they will be as bad as what we have now; and then I say to myself, all the same they are acting in a cause, and it is a great cause, and they are working for liberty and for the people. And, then, would the people be better off if they had their way? The more I think of it the more puzzled I am. Who is right? Is my husband right? Are they right? Is it a great cause? How can they be wrong if they are imprisoned and killed for what they believe? Where is the truth, and what is truth?"
Mrs. Bergmann was a widow. She was American by birth and marriage, and English by education and habits. She was a fair, beautiful woman, with large eyes and a white complexion. Her weak point was ambition, and ambition with her took the form of luncheon-parties.
It was one summer afternoon that she was seized with the great idea of her life. It consisted in giving a luncheon-party which should be more original and amusing than any other which had ever been given in London. The idea became a mania. It left her no peace. It possessed her like venom or like madness. She could think of nothing else. She racked her brains in imagining how it could be done. But the more she was harassed by this aim the further off its realisation appeared to her to be. At last it began to weigh upon her. She lost her spirits and her appetite; her friends began to remark with anxiety on the change in her behaviour and in her looks. She herself felt that the situation was intolerable, and that success or suicide lay before her.
One evening towards the end of June, as she was sitting in her lovely drawing-room in her house in Mayfair, in front of her tea-table, on which the tea stood untasted, brooding over the question which unceasingly tormented her, she cried out, half aloud:—
"I'd sell my soul to the devil if he would give me what I wish."
At that moment the footman entered the room and said there was a gentleman downstairs who wished to speak with her.
"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Bergmann.
The footman said he had not caught the gentleman's name, and he handed her a card on a tray.
She took the card. On it was written:—
MR. NICHOLAS L. SATAN, I, Pandemonium Terrace, BURNING MARLE, HELL. Telephone, No. I Central.
"Show him up," said Mrs. Bergmann, quite naturally, as though she had been expecting the visitor. She wondered at her own behaviour, and seemed to herself to be acting inevitably, as one does in dreams.
Mr. Satan was shown in. He had a professional air about him, but not of the kind that suggests needy or even learned professionalism. He was dark; his features were sharp and regular, his eyes keen, his complexion pale, his mouth vigorous, and his chin prominent. He was well dressed in a frock coat, black tie, and patent leather boots. He would never have been taken for a conjurer or a shop-walker, but he might have been taken for a slightly depraved Art-photographer who had known better days. He sat down near the tea-table opposite Mrs. Bergmann, holding his top hat, which had a slight mourning band round it, in his hand.
"I understand, madam," he spoke with an even American intonation, "you wish to be supplied with a guest who will make all other luncheon-parties look, so to speak, like thirty cents."
"Yes, that is just what I want," answered Mrs. Bergmann, who continued to be surprised at herself.
"Well, I reckon there's no one living who'd suit," said Mr. Satan, "and I'd better supply you with a celebrity of a former generation." He then took out a small pocket-book from his coat pocket, and quickly turning over its leaves he asked in a monotonous tone: "Would you like a Philosopher? Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Aurelius, M.?"
"Oh! no," answered Mrs. Bergmann with decision, "they would ruin any luncheon."
"A Saint?" suggested Mr. Satan, "Antony, Ditto of Padua, Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm?"
"Good heavens, no," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"A Theologian, good arguer?" asked Mr. Satan, "Aquinas, T?"
"No," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann, "for heaven's sake don't always give me the A's, or we shall never get on to anything. You'll be offering me Adam and Abel next."
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Satan, "Latimer, Laud—Historic Interest, Church and Politics combined," he added quickly.
"I don't want a clergyman," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"Artist?" said Mr. Satan, "Andrea del Sarto, Angelo, M., Apelles?"
"You're going back to the A's," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann.
"Bellini, Benvenuto Cellini, Botticelli?" he continued imperturbably.
"What's the use of them when I can get Sargent every day?" asked Mrs. Bergmann.
"A man of action, perhaps? Alexander, Bonaparte, Caesar, J., Cromwell, O., Hannibal?"
"Too heavy for luncheon," she answered, "they would do for dinner."
"Plain statesman? Bismarck, Count; Chatham, Lord; Franklin, B; Richelieu, Cardinal."
"That would make the members of the Cabinet feel uncomfortable," she said.
"A Monarch? Alfred; beg pardon, he's an A. Richard III., Peter the Great, Louis XI., Nero?"
"No," said Mrs. Bergmann. "I can't have a Royalty. It would make it too stiff."
"I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a highwayman: Dick Turpin; or a housebreaker: Jack Sheppard or Charles Peace?"
"Oh! no," said Mrs. Bergmann, "they might steal the Sevres."
"A musician? Bach or Beethoven?" he suggested.
"He's getting into the B's now," thought Mrs. Bergmann. "No," she added aloud, "we should have to ask him to play, and he can't play Wagner, I suppose, and musicians are so touchy."
"I think I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a wit: Dr. Johnson, Sheridan, Sidney Smith?"
"We should probably find their jokes dull now," said Mrs. Bergmann, thoughtfully.
"Miscellaneous?" inquired Mr. Satan, and turning over several leaves of his notebook, he rattled out the following names: "Alcibiades, kind of statesman; Beau Brummel, fop; Cagliostro, conjurer; Robespierre, politician; Charles Stuart, Pretender; Warwick, King-maker; Borgia, A., Pope; Ditto, C., toxicologist; Wallenstein, mercenary; Bacon, Roger, man of science; Ditto, F., dishonest official; Tell, W., patriot; Jones, Paul, pirate; Lucullus, glutton; Simon Stylites, eccentric; Casanova, loose liver; Casabianca, cabin-boy; Chicot, jester; Sayers, T., prize-fighter; Cook, Captain, tourist; Nebuchadnezzar, food-faddist; Juan, D., lover; Froissart, war correspondent; Julian, apostate?"
"Don't you see," said Mrs. Bergmann, "we must have some one everybody has heard of?"
"David Garrick, actor and wit?" suggested Mr. Satan.
"It's no good having an actor nobody has seen act," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"What about a poet?" asked Mr. Satan, "Homer, Virgil, Dante, Byron, Shakespeare?"
"Shakespeare!" she cried out, "the very thing. Everybody has heard of Shakespeare, more or less, and I expect he'd get on with everybody, and wouldn't feel offended if I asked Alfred Austin or some other poet to meet him. Can you get me Shakespeare?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, "day and date?"
"It must be Thursday fortnight," said Mrs. Bergmann. "And what, ah—er—your terms?"
"The usual terms," he answered. "In return for supernatural service rendered you during your lifetime, your soul reverts to me at your death."
Mrs. Bergmann's brain began to work quickly. She was above all things a practical woman, and she immediately felt she was being defrauded.
"I cannot consent to such terms," she said. "Surely you recognise the fundamental difference between this proposed contract and those which you concluded with others—with Faust, for instance? They sold the full control of their soul after death on condition of your putting yourself at their entire disposal during the whole of their lifetime, whereas you ask me to do the same thing in return for a few hours' service. The proposal is preposterous."
Mr. Satan rose from his chair. "In that case, madam," he said, "I have the honour to wish you a good afternoon."
"Stop a moment," said Mrs. Bergmann, "I don't see why we shouldn't arrive at a compromise. I am perfectly willing that you should have the control over my soul for a limited number of years—I believe there are precedents for such a course—let us say a million years."
"Ten million," said Mr. Satan, quietly but firmly.
"In that case," answered Mrs. Bergmann, "we will take no notice of leap year, and we will count 365 days in every year."
"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, with an expression of somewhat ruffled dignity, "we always allow leap year, but, of course, thirteen years will count as twelve."
"Of course," said Mrs. Bergmann with equal dignity.
"Then perhaps you will not mind signing the contract at once," said Mr. Satan, drawing from his pocket a type-written page.
Mrs. Bergmann walked to the writing-table and took the paper from his hand.
"Over the stamp, please," said Mr. Satan.
"Must I—er—sign it in blood?" asked Mrs. Bergmann, hesitatingly.
"You can if you like," said Mr. Satan, "but I prefer red ink; it is quicker and more convenient."
He handed her a stylograph pen.
"Must it be witnessed?" she asked.
"No," he replied, "these kind of documents don't need a witness."
In a firm, bold handwriting Mrs. Bergmann signed her name in red ink across the sixpenny stamp. She half expected to hear a clap of thunder and to see Mr. Satan disappear, but nothing of the kind occurred. Mr. Satan took the document, folded it, placed it in his pocket-book, took up his hat and gloves, and said:
"Mr. William Shakespeare will call to luncheon on Thursday week. At what hour is the luncheon to be?"
"One-thirty," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"He may be a few minutes late," answered Mr. Satan. "Good afternoon, madam," and he bowed and withdrew.
Mrs. Bergmann chuckled to herself when she was alone. "I have done him," she thought to herself, "because ten million years in eternity is nothing. He might just as well have said one second as ten million years, since anything less than eternity in eternity is nothing. It is curious how stupid the devil is in spite of all his experience. Now I must think about my invitations."
The morning of Mrs. Bergmann's luncheon had arrived. She had asked thirteen men and nine women.
But an hour before luncheon an incident happened which nearly drove Mrs. Bergmann distracted. One of her guests, who was also one of her most intimate friends, Mrs. Lockton, telephoned to her saying she had quite forgotten, but she had asked on that day a man to luncheon whom she did not know, and who had been sent to her by Walford, the famous professor. She ended the message by saying she would bring the stranger with her.
"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Bergmann, not without intense irritation, meaning to put a veto on the suggestion.
"His name is——" and at that moment the telephone communication was interrupted, and in spite of desperate efforts Mrs. Bergmann was unable to get on to Mrs. Lockton again. She reflected that it was quite useless for her to send a message saying that she had no room at her table, because Angela Lockton would probably bring the stranger all the same. Then she further reflected that in the excitement caused by the presence of Shakespeare it would not really much matter whether there was a stranger there or not. A little before half-past one the guests began to arrive. Lord Pantry of Assouan, the famous soldier, was the first comer. He was soon followed by Professor Morgan, an authority on Greek literature; Mr. Peebles, the ex-Prime Minister; Mrs. Hubert Baldwin, the immensely popular novelist; the fascinating Mrs. Rupert Duncan, who was lending her genius to one of Ibsen's heroines at that moment; Miss Medea Tring, one of the latest American beauties; Corporal, the portrait-painter; Richard Giles, critic and man of letters; Hereward Blenheim, a young and rising politician, who before the age of thirty had already risen higher than most men of sixty; Sir Horace Silvester, K.C.M.G., the brilliant financier, with his beautiful wife Lady Irene; Professor Leo Newcastle, the eminent man of science; Lady Hyacinth Gloucester, and Mrs. Milden, who were well known for their beauty and charm; Osmond Hall, the paradoxical playwright; Monsieur Faubourg, the psychological novelist; Count Sciarra, an Italian nobleman, about fifty years old, who had written a history of the Popes, and who was now staying in London; Lady Herman, the beauty of a former generation, still extremely handsome; and Willmott, the successful actor-manager. They were all assembled in the drawing-room upstairs, talking in knots and groups, and pervaded by a feeling of pleasurable excitement and expectation, so much so that conversation was intermittent, and nearly everybody was talking about the weather. The Right Hon. John Lockton, the eminent lawyer, was the last guest to arrive.
"Angela will be here in a moment," he explained; "she asked me to come on first."
Mrs. Bergmann grew restless. It was half-past one, and no Shakespeare. She tried to make her guests talk, with indifferent success. The expectation was too great. Everybody was absorbed by the thought of what was going to happen next. Ten minutes passed thus, and Mrs. Bergmann grew more and more anxious.
At last the bell rang, and soon Mrs. Lockton walked upstairs, leading with her a quite insignificant, ordinary-looking, middle-aged, rather portly man with shiny black hair, bald on the top of his head, and a blank, good-natured expression.
"I'm so sorry to be so late, Louise, dear," she said. "Let me introduce Mr. —— to you." And whether she had forgotten the name or not, Mrs. Bergmann did not know or care at the time, but it was mumbled in such a manner that it was impossible to catch it. Mrs. Bergmann shook hands with him absent-mindedly, and, looking at the clock, saw that it was ten minutes to two.
"I have been deceived," she thought to herself, and anger rose in her breast like a wave. At the same time she felt the one thing necessary was not to lose her head, or let anything damp the spirits of her guests.
"We'll go down to luncheon directly," she said. "I'm expecting some one else, but he probably won't come till later." She led the way and everybody trooped downstairs to the dining-room, feeling that disappointment was in store for them. Mrs. Bergmann left the place on her right vacant; she did not dare fill it up, because in her heart of hearts she felt certain Shakespeare would arrive, and she looked forward to a coup de theatre, which would be quite spoilt if his place was occupied. On her left sat Count Sciarra; the unknown friend of Angela Lockton sat at the end of the table next to Willmott.
The luncheon started haltingly. Angela Lockton's friend was heard saying in a clear voice that the dust in London was very trying.
"Have you come from the country?" asked M. Faubourg. "I myself am just returned from Oxford, where I once more admired your admirable English lawns—vos pelouses seculaires."
"Yes," said the stranger, "I only came up to town to-day, because it seems indeed a waste and a pity to spend the finest time of the year in London."
Count Sciarra, who had not uttered a word since he had entered the house, turned to his hostess and asked her whom she considered, after herself, to be the most beautiful woman in the room, Lady Irene, Lady Hyacinth, or Mrs. Milden?
"Mrs. Milden," he went on, "has the smile of La Gioconda, and hands and hair for Leonardo to paint. Lady Gloucester," he continued, leaving out the Christian name, "is English, like one of Shakespeare's women, Desdemona or Imogen; and Lady Irene has no nationality, she belongs to the dream worlds of Shelley and D'Annunzio: she is the guardian Lady of Shelley's 'Sensitiva,' the vision of the lily. 'Quale un vaso liturgico d'argento.' And you, madame, you take away all my sense of criticism. 'Vous me troublez trop pour que je definisse votre genre de beaute.'"
Mrs. Milden was soon engaged in a deep tete-a-tete with Mr. Peebles, who was heard every now and then to say, "Quite, quite," Miss Tring was holding forth to Silvester on French sculpture, and Silvester now and again said: "Oh! really!" in the tone of intense interest which his friends knew indicated that he was being acutely bored. Lady Hyacinth was discussing Socialism with Osmond Hall, Lady Herman was discussing the theory of evolution with Professor Newcastle, Mrs. Lockton, the question of the French Church, with Faubourg; and Blenheim was discharging molten fragments of embryo exordiums and perorations on the subject of the stage to Willmott; in fact, there was a general buzz of conversation.
"Have you been to see Antony and Cleopatra?" asked Willmott of the stranger.
"Yes," said the neighbour, "I went last night; many authors have treated the subject, and the version I saw last night was very pretty. I couldn't get a programme so I didn't see who——"
"I think my version," interrupted Willmott, with pride, "is admitted to be the best."
"Ah! it is your version!" said the stranger. "I beg your pardon, I think you treated the subject very well."
"Yes," said Willmott, "it is ungrateful material, but I think I made something fine of it."
"No doubt, no doubt," said the stranger.
"Do tell us," Mrs. Baldwin was heard to ask M. Faubourg across the table, "what the young generation are doing in France? Who are the young novelists?"
"There are no young novelists worth mentioning," answered M. Faubourg.
Miss Tring broke in and said she considered "Le Visage Emerveille," by the Comtesse de Noailles, to be the most beautiful book of the century, with the exception, perhaps, of the "Tagebuch einer Verlorenen."
But from the end of the table Blenheim's utterance was heard preponderating over that of his neighbours. He was making a fine speech on the modern stage, comparing an actor-manager to Napoleon, and commenting on the campaigns of the latter in detail.
Quite heedless of this Mr. Willmott was carrying on an equally impassioned but much slower monologue on his conception of the character of Cyrano de Bergerac, which he said he intended to produce. "Cyrano," he said, "has been maligned by Coquelin. Coquelin is a great artist, but he did not understand Cyrano. Cyrano is a dreamer, a poet; he is a martyr of thought like Tolstoi, a sacrifice to wasted, useless action, like Hamlet; he is a Moliere come too soon, a Bayard come too late, a John the Baptist of the stage, calling out in vain in the wilderness—of bricks and mortar; he is misunderstood;—an enigma, an anachronism, a premature herald, a false dawn."
Count Sciarra was engaged in a third monologue at the head of the table. He was talking at the same time to Mrs. Bergmann, Lady Irene, and Lady Hyacinth about the devil. "Ah que j'aime le diable!" he was saying in low, tender tones. "The devil who creates your beauty to lure us to destruction, the devil who puts honey into the voice of the siren, the dolce sirena—
"Che i marinari in mezzo il mar dismaga"
(and he hummed this line in a sing-song two or three times over)—"the devil who makes us dream and doubt, and who made life interesting by persuading Eve to eat the silver apple—what would life have been if she had not eaten the apple? We should all be in the silly trees of the Garden of Eden, and I should be sitting next to you" (he said to Mrs. Bergmann), "without knowing that you were beautiful; que vous etes belle et que vous etes desirable; que vous etes puissante et caline, que je fais naufrage dans une mer d'amour—e il naufragio m'e dolce in questo mare—en un mot, que je vous aime."
"Life outside the garden of Eden has many drawbacks," said Mrs. Bergmann, who, although she was inwardly pleased by Count Sciarra's remarks, saw by Lady Irene's expression that she thought he was mad.
"Aucun 'drawback,'" answered Sciarra, "n'egalerait celui de comtempler les divins contours feminins sans un frisson. Pensez donc si Madame Bergmann——"
"Count Sciarra," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann, terrified of what was coming next, "do tell me about the book you are writing on Venice."
Mrs. Lockton was at that moment discussing portraiture in novels with M. Faubourg, and during a pause Miss Tring was heard to make the following remark: "And is it true M. Faubourg, that 'Cecile' in 'La Mauvaise Bonte' is a portrait of some one you once loved and who treated you very badly?"
M. Faubourg, a little embarrassed, said that a creative artist made a character out of many originals.
Then, seeing that nobody was saying a word to his neighbour, he turned round and asked him if he had been to the Academy.
"Yes," answered the stranger; "it gets worse every year doesn't it?"
"But Mr. Corporal's pictures are always worth seeing," said Faubourg.
"I think he paints men better than women," said the stranger; "he doesn't flatter people, but of course his pictures are very clever."
At this moment the attention of the whole table was monopolised by Osmond Hall, who began to discuss the scenario of a new play he was writing. "My play," he began, "is going to be called 'The King of the North Pole.' I have never been to the North Pole, and I don't mean to go there. It's not necessary to have first-hand knowledge of technical subjects in order to write a play. People say that Shakespeare must have studied the law, because his allusions to the law are frequent and accurate. That does not prove that he knew law any more than the fact that he put a sea in Bohemia proves that he did not know geography. It proves he was a dramatist. He wanted a sea in Bohemia. He wanted lawyer's 'shop.' I should do just the same thing myself. I wrote a play about doctors, knowing nothing about medicine: I asked a friend to give me the necessary information. Shakespeare, I expect, asked his friends to give him the legal information he required."
Every allusion to Shakespeare was a stab to Mrs. Bergmann.
"Shakespeare's knowledge of the law is very thorough," broke in Lockton.
"Not so thorough as the knowledge of medicine which is revealed in my play," said Hall.
"Shakespeare knew law by intuition," murmured Willmott, "but he did not guess what the modern stage would make of his plays."
"Let us hope not," said Giles.
"Shakespeare," said Faubourg, "was a psychologue; he had the power, I cannot say it in English, de deviner ce qu'il ne savait pas en puisant dans le fond et le trefond de son ame."
"Gammon!" said Hall; "he had the power of asking his friends for the information he required."
"Do you really think," asked Giles, "that before he wrote 'Time delves the parallel on beauty's brow,' he consulted his lawyer as to a legal metaphor suitable for a sonnet?"
"And do you think," asked Mrs. Duncan, "that he asked his female relations what it would feel like to be jealous of Octavia if one happened to be Cleopatra?"
"Shakespeare was a married man," said Hall, "and if his wife found the MSS. of his sonnets lying about he must have known a jealous woman."
"Shakespeare evidently didn't trouble his friends for information on natural history, not for a playwright," said Hall. "I myself should not mind what liberty I took with the cuckoo, the bee, or even the basilisk. I should not trouble you for accurate information on the subject; I should not even mind saying the cuckoo lays eggs in its own nest if it suited the dramatic situation."
The whole of this conversation was torture to Mrs. Bergmann.
"Shakespeare," said Lady Hyacinth, "had a universal nature; one can't help thinking he was almost like God."
"That's what people will say of me a hundred years hence," said Hall; "only it is to be hoped they'll leave out the 'almost.'"
"Shakespeare understood love," said Lady Herman, in a loud voice; "he knew how a man makes love to a woman. If Richard III. had made love to me as Shakespeare describes him doing it, I'm not sure that I could have resisted him. But the finest of all Shakespeare's men is Othello. That's a real man. Desdemona was a fool. It's not wonderful that Othello didn't see through Iago; but Desdemona ought to have seen through him. The stupidest woman can see through a clever man like him; but, of course, Othello was a fool too."
"Yes," broke in Mrs. Lockton, "if Napoleon had married Desdemona he would have made Iago marry one of his sisters."
"I think Desdemona is the most pathetic of Shakespeare's heroines," said Lady Hyacinth; "don't you think so, Mr. Hall?"
"It's easy enough to make a figure pathetic, who is strangled by a nigger," answered Hall. "Now if Desdemona had been a negress Shakespeare would have started fair."
"If only Shakespeare had lived later," sighed Willmott, "and understood the condition of the modern stage, he would have written quite differently."
"If Shakespeare had lived now he would have written novels," said Faubourg.
"Yes," said Mrs. Baldwin, "I feel sure you are right there."
"If Shakespeare had lived now," said Sciarra to Mrs. Bergmann, "we shouldn't notice his existence; he would be just un monsieur comme tout le monde—like that monsieur sitting next to Faubourg," he added in a low voice.
"The problem about Shakespeare," broke in Hall, "is not how he wrote his plays. I could teach a poodle to do that in half an hour. But the problem is—What made him leave off writing just when he was beginning to know how to do it? It is as if I had left off writing plays ten years ago."
"Perhaps," said the stranger, hesitatingly and modestly, "he had made enough money by writing plays to retire on his earnings and live in the country."
Nobody took any notice of this remark.
"If Bacon was really the playwright," said Lockton, "the problem is a very different one."
"If Bacon had written Shakespeare's plays," said Silvester, "they wouldn't have been so bad."
"There seems to me to be only one argument," said Professor Morgan, "in favour of the Bacon theory, and that is that the range of mind displayed in Shakespeare's plays is so great that it would have been child's play for the man who wrote Shakespeare's plays to have written the works of Bacon."
"Yes," said Hall, "but because it would be child's play for the man who wrote my plays to have written your works and those of Professor Newcastle—which it would—it doesn't prove that you wrote my plays."
"Bacon was a philosopher," said Willmott, "and Shakespeare was a poet—a dramatic poet; but Shakespeare was also an actor, an actor-manager, and only an actor-manager could have written the plays."
"What do you think of the Bacon theory?" asked Faubourg of the stranger.
"I think," said the stranger, "that we shall soon have to say eggs and Shakespeare instead of eggs and Bacon."
This remark caused a slight shudder to pass through all the guests, and Mrs. Bergmann felt sorry that she had not taken decisive measures to prevent the stranger's intrusion.
"Shakespeare wrote his own plays," said Sciarra, "and I don't know if he knew law, but he knew le coeur de la femme. Cleopatra bids her slave find out the colour of Octavia's hair; that is just what my wife, my Angelica, would do if I were to marry some one in London while she was at Rome."
"Mr. Gladstone used to say," broke in Lockton, "that Dante was inferior to Shakespeare, because he was too great an optimist."
"Dante was not an optimist," said Sciarra, "about the future life of politicians. But I think they were both of them pessimists about man and both optimists about God."
"Shakespeare," began Blenheim; but he was interrupted by Mrs. Duncan who cried out:—
"I wish he were alive now and would write me a part, a real woman's part. The women have so little to do in Shakespeare's plays. There's Juliet; but one can't play Juliet till one's forty, and then one's too old to look fourteen. There's Lady Macbeth; but she's got nothing to do except walk in her sleep and say, 'Out, damned spot!' There were not actresses in his days, and of course it was no use writing a woman's part for a boy."
"You should have been born in France," said Faubourg, "Racine's women are created for you to play."
"Ah! you've got Sarah," said Mrs. Duncan, "you don't want anyone else."
"I think Racine's boring," said Mrs. Lockton, "he's so artificial."
"Oh! don't say that," said Giles, "Racine is the most exquisite of poets, so sensitive, so acute, and so harmonious."
"I like Rostand better," said Mrs. Lockton.
"Rostand!" exclaimed Miss Tring, in disgust, "he writes such bad verses—du caoutchouc—he's so vulgar."
"It is true," said Willmott, "he's an amateur. He has never written professionally for his bread but only for his pleasure."
"But in that sense," said Giles, "God is an amateur."
"I confess," said Peebles, "that I cannot appreciate French poetry. I can read Rousseau with pleasure, and Bossuet; but I cannot admire Corneille and Racine."
"Everybody writes plays now," said Faubourg, with a sigh.
"I have never written a play," said Lord Pantry.
"Nor I," said Lockton.
"But nearly everyone at this table has," said Faubourg. "Mrs. Baldwin has written 'Matilda,' Mr. Giles has written a tragedy called 'Queen Swaflod,' I wrote a play in my youth, my 'Le Menetrier de Parme'; I'm sure Corporal has written a play. Count Sciarra must have written several; have you ever written a play?" he said, turning to his neighbour, the stranger.