PEOPLE OF POSITION
PEOPLE OF POSITION
STANLEY PORTAL HYATT
Author of "Little Brown Brother," "End of the Road," etc.
With a Frontispiece by H. RICHARD BOEHM
NEW YORK WESSELS & BISSELL CO. 1910
COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY
WESSELS & BISSELL CO.
THE PREMIER PRESS NEW YORK
Grierson refilled the magazine of his rifle carefully—when you are dealing with South American patriots it is better to take no chances, even though the enemy has retreated—then he wiped a couple of half-dried blood spots off his cheek, and, after that, went over to where lay the body of the man from whom that same blood had spurted.
For a full minute he stood very still, gazing with sombre eyes at the kindly face which seemed to be smiling back at him even in death; then he knelt down, and, with infinite gentleness, smoothed the ruffled hair, arranged the collar so as to hide the bullet hole in the bronzed throat, and crossed the hands on the breast. When he got up again his face was twitching strangely, seeing which, the American officer, who had come up behind him, suddenly became busy with his men.
It was one of those stories which seldom get into the newspapers, possibly because they are so utterly unimportant in themselves—a ragged band of half-breeds robbing and murdering in the name of liberty; a landing party of marines from the nearest warship, which happened to be American; and a futile little fight ending, as usual, in the defeat of the brigands. Only this time, an Englishman, who had gone out with the marines, had been killed; and now Grierson, his friend, was trying to realise the fact.
"He was awfully good to me, the whitest man that ever stepped. I met him down the coast a year ago—my luck was right out—and he brought me along with him. I hadn't had a proper meal for days, much less a smoke, and he'd only my word for who I was. Yet he risked it, and I've been here ever since." Grierson, who had been walking in silence beside the marine officer, spoke suddenly.
The American nodded sympathetically. "It was hard luck to be killed by a rotten Dago outfit like that. Whenever you get a coloured man talking about liberty you know he's just prospecting round for a chance to break the Eighth Commandment."
Grierson muttered a curse; then, as if he wanted to confide in someone, possibly as a relief to his own feelings, "His partner will be here in a week's time; he was on his way already. When he comes I shall clear out and go home."
Captain Harben nodded again. "Meaning England?" he asked.
"Yes, England—London. I've had ten years knocking about the world—China, India, Australia, and all round this forsaken continent; and the sum total of what I've got to show for it is the fever and a couple of knife scars in my back—patriots again, one Hindu, one Peruvian. So I think I had better go home and begin afresh—if I can." And he gave a bitter little laugh.
The American glanced sharply at the tall, thin figure and haggard face. When they had started out that morning to drive the saviours of their country out of the spirit stores they were looting, Grierson had struck him as a keen youngster with a rather infectious laugh, and his appreciation had been increased by the way in which the other had dropped a running insurgent at four hundred yards' range; now, however, the captain found himself wondering whether, after all, it was not too late for his companion to talk of beginning life afresh.
At dinner that night he expressed his doubts to the Consul, who shook his head. "Locke, the man they killed to-day, told me young Grierson had been through a pretty rough time, touched rock bottom. He was going into the British Army, but had to throw it up, and went out to the Orient for some Company which failed soon after, leaving him stranded. Since then everything he had been in has turned out wrong; and now this has gone.... Queer how some men do get the cards dealt them that way.... He's clever, writes very well, and might have done something at it. Locke's death will be an ugly blow to him." Being a kindly man and none too successful himself, he sighed in sympathy, then mixed another whisky and soda, and passed on to official matters.
A little later Captain Harben harked back to the former question. "He's got plenty of pluck. He was all there when it came to a fight. I like him."
"So do I," the other answered, "only I guess pluck of that sort won't help him much in England, and you know, or at least I know, that a fellow who's knocked about a lot doesn't suit civilisation, or civilisation doesn't suit him—put it which way you like, the result is the same. His nerves go under, somehow, and it ends so," nodding towards the whisky bottle.
Meanwhile Grierson was sitting on the verandah of his dead employer's house staring out into the night, and trying to make plans for the future.
"Whatever happens, I don't mean to starve again," he muttered.
PEOPLE OF POSITION
Mrs. Marlow flicked a crumb off her dress with rather unnecessary care. "I've had a most annoying letter from Jimmy to-day. It came by the second post, after Henry had gone to the City, and quite upset me. His employer, Mr. Locke, has been killed in some disgraceful riot, and now Jimmy himself is coming home. Of course, in a way, I shall be glad to see him, and so will the rest of the family; but I know he's got no money, and no profession to fall back upon, and I cannot see what he is going to do for a living. If I asked him to do so, I have no doubt Henry would make a place for him in the office; but I am not going to have my husband burdened with my brother. Henry is too generous as it is; and the Stock Exchange is in such a fearful state now that it is difficult to make a bare living." She sighed heavily, and glanced round the expensively furnished drawing-room, as if wondering whether that abominable tendency towards suspicion on the part of the public, which was causing it to eschew all sorts of speculation, might not result in her losing the few luxuries she did possess.
Her visitor, Mrs. Grimmer, wife of the junior partner in the well-known City firm of Hornaday, Grimes, and Grimmer, dried fruit brokers, nodded with an affectation of sympathy which she did not feel—the Marlows had a touring car and a motor-brougham, whilst she had only a one-horse carriage—and held out her cup to be refilled. She had known her hostess for a good many years, over thirty in fact, ever since she and May Marlow, who was then May Grierson and had thick flaxen plaits tied with blue ribbon, had met at their first children's party. Walter Grierson, the eldest of the family, now a City solicitor, had been eleven at that time, whilst May had been seven and Ida five; but Jimmy had not arrived until three summers later.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Grierson belonged to eminently solid families, whose forebears for generations had looked to the City for their living. To them, the Square Mile stood for Respectability, just as the West End typified Laxity and Luxury; whilst outside these limits there was nothing but the Lower Classes. They ignored the Underworld, possibly because they knew nothing of it, more likely because it had no place in their Scheme of Things, the two main articles of their creed being that every man must choose an occupation early and abide by his choice, and that every good woman must stay at home. The logical result of these Grierson ancestors and their kind was the Victorian age, the exaltation of the Supremely Bad in Art and the Supremely Proper in mankind. Mrs. Grierson had been Victorian in the fullest sense of the word, and she had lived and died with all her principles intact, believing in the Evangelical Church, the respectability of wealth, and the evil tendencies of modern thought. On the other hand, some alien strain had crept into Mr. Grierson, and he had not accepted the family traditions in their entirety; in fact, both his own relatives and those of his wife had found much to criticise in his ideas. Had he been able to shake himself free of the family, he would have liked nothing better than to possess a ranch in America or a sheep station in New South Wales. All his life, he longed, in secret, for open air, and freedom, and the society of men whose interests did not stop at Temple Bar; but, in the end, Fate, in the form of a business bequeathed him by his father, sent him to the City, and he resolutely put his dreams on one side. The inevitable happened. He was essentially an honourable man, and, not understanding the meaning of Commercial Morality, he imagined that other men in the City were the same; consequently, he met the fate of he who of old went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, though there was no Samaritan to sympathise; rather otherwise, in fact, for his fellows shook their heads scornfully over his failure, whilst admiring the business capacity of those into whose hands his capital had passed.
The process of Mr. Grierson's ruin had been a comparatively slow one, the law requiring certain decencies to be observed in these matters; and his wife was dead, and his three elder children grown up and married, before the day when he discovered his own ruin, and took the quickest way out of the troubles of this world. He was mad, of course; everyone agreed on that point: not the least of the proofs being the fact that the only message he left was a letter for Jimmy, who was then at Sandhurst. The coroner had read the letter, and handed it back with a remark that it had no bearing whatsoever on the case; but no one else had seen it, nor had Jimmy given a hint of its contents to any of the family. It concerned him alone, he said. He would have to leave Sandhurst now and wanted to go abroad, and the others let him go, if not gladly, at least without any great regrets. They were all provided for; Walter was partner in a growing firm of solicitors; May had married Henry Marlow, a stockbroker; whilst Ida's husband was, if not actually in the City, at least very respectable, being a Northampton boot factor. They were very fond of Jimmy, genuinely fond of him, both from the purely correct point of view, as being their brother, and for his own happy disposition; but, none the less, there had always been a certain jealousy of their father's evident preference for him, a jealousy mingled with surprise, or even resentment, Jimmy being essentially unpractical, and almost unconventional. Moreover, they had never liked the idea of his going to Sandhurst. None of the family had been in the Service before; and it was a matter of common knowledge that no man could make financial headway in the Army. So, when, through Mr. Marlow's influence, the boy obtained a billet in China, the family heaved sighs of relief, and though, throughout the next ten years, his sisters kept up as regular a correspondence as his wanderings allowed, their home concerns and increasing families inevitably weakened their interest in him. They had their own circles, in which he had no part, though, on the other hand, when he did think of England, which was often during those years of hardship and disappointment, Jimmy always looked on them as essentially his own people, to whom, one day, he would return, having no one else....
Mrs. Grimmer sipped her tea slowly, and asked for further particulars concerning the absent wanderer.
"Does he say what he proposes to do?"
Mrs. Marlow shook her head. "No, only that he's sick of knocking about, and thinks he will try his luck at home. It's very selfish of him, because he has never been a credit to us; and, of course, naturally, everyone will know he's our brother."
"What has he done that wasn't—wasn't quite the thing?" the visitor asked.
Mrs. Marlow looked a little puzzled. "Well, I don't know that there's anything, exactly—at least that way. Only, Luke Chapman and her husband met him in Calcutta three years ago—Mr. Chapman has a branch there, you know—and Luke told me that he was doing nothing, and living at a queer sort of hotel, where ships' officers and those sort of people stay, not at all the thing. Then, you see, he's done no good. He's just as poor as when he went out ten years ago."
"So he's done no harm and no good. Then you can keep an open mind about him, May. Meanwhile, if I were you, I should try and find him a wife with money. He's sure to be interesting, you know. Men who travel usually are. Let me know when he comes back, as I should like to meet him again. Well, good-bye, dear, and don't worry too much about your black sheep. The colour may come off, or you may be able to get him whitewashed."
"Edith Grimmer was very flippant about it," Mrs. Marlow complained to her husband that evening, after she had shown him Jimmy's letter and had heard his remarks thereon. "I didn't like her tone at all. She has grown rather coarse lately, since they have got into that new set. They dine in town a good deal now, and I'm sure they can't afford it. She's taken to smoking cigarettes, too."
Her husband, a small man with a waxed moustache and the most perfect fitting clothes, frowned heavily. There had been girls, in fact there were still some, who might blow whole clouds of cigarette smoke in his face and only evoke a laugh from him; but they had nothing to do with his home life. Where the latter was concerned, he was very careful; and he fully agreed with May's prejudices. Such things injured one's position in the neighbourhood. "Edith is a very foolish woman," he said severely. "And Grimmer is little more sensible. He was talking a great deal of nonsense about South African mines when we were coming down in the train this evening. Crossley and Merchant were in the carriage, and I am sure they were pleased when I took him up sharply. I do not know whether he is aware that I was interested in the promotion of the Umchabeze Gold Dredging Syndicate; if so, his remarks were positively insulting. It seems he lost money over it. So did other people; but I can't help that." He threw his cigar end into the fire with a rather vicious gesture.
His wife came across to his chair, put her hands on his shoulders, and kissed him gently on the forehead. "Never mind, dear. You mustn't let these silly people annoy you. I'm sorry now I worried you to-night about my brother, Jimmy. I might have left it until the morning, when you weren't tired."
He drew her face down to his and returned her kiss. She was perfectly content for him to be away all day, even for several days when he went golfing, and he was content to go; yet, in a sense, they were lovers still, after the fashion of those whose way through life has been easy.
"You were quite right to mention it, dear," he said. "Of course we must do what we can for him, have him to stay here when he lands, and so on. I daresay he will be quite presentable, after all. Why, a man I know at the club, Heydon, Amos Heydon, was in the East for twelve years, in a bank I think, and you would never imagine he had been out of the City. He's got all our ways."
Mrs. Marlow sighed. "I hope you're right, Henry. You usually are, and you've had so much experience. But I wish we knew what he intended to do for a living. He is thirty now, or nearly that, and ought to be in a better position. The whole thing is most annoying. I must take care he does not tell the children stories which will make them dream at nights—Harold is sure to ask him for some, and you know what a memory the boy has. Then, too, we don't want Jimmy proposing to any of the nice girls we know, like Laura Stephens or May Cutler; for then we should have to confess that he had no means of any sort, and it would be horribly humiliating. See how well those young Cutlers have got on in their father's office. Of course, Edith Grimmer knows that Jimmy is a failure; but she won't talk about it."
Yet, at that very moment, Mrs. Grimmer was retailing the story of May's troubles to her husband and a couple of guests who had been dining with them.
"Jimmy always was a nice boy, not a bit of a prig. But he's not what you can call a success; and I fancy the Marlows won't want to exhibit him. Still, I shall have him to dinner and get some nice girls to meet him."
Grimmer laughed. He had not forgotten what had passed between Marlow and himself in the train, and he was far from forgiving his loss over the gold dredging syndicate. "Have him by all means, Edith, if you think it will annoy those people. Besides, a Grierson who was interesting would be quite a show animal."
Jimmy Grierson landed in England a broken man. What was almost worse, he was aware of the fact, and, whilst he resented the way in which Fate had dealt with him, he had no great hopes of altering things. He had drifted so long that, somehow, he supposed he must go on drifting. John Locke had stopped the process for a time, and given him something to stick to, something worth doing; but a bullet from an old Remington in the hands of a ragged Dago, a bullet probably aimed at someone else, had sent him adrift again. True, that same Dago had gone, a few seconds later, to whatever place there is reserved for his kind; but that did not alter matters; it avenged, perhaps, but it could not bring back, the one man besides his father for whom Jimmy had ever cared, who had ever understood him, and, therefore, been able to keep him from drifting.
His decision to return to England had been taken on the spur of the moment, without reflection; but he held to it, because no other course seemed to offer any better prospects. He knew, perfectly well, that Locke's partner would not want to keep him on, and he shrank from the ordeal of searching for employment again. He had been through it so often before; and he had learnt, long since, that the man on the spot only gets the temporary billets; the permanent staff is always recruited at home. Moreover, he had the fevers of half a dozen different countries in his system, and the shock of Locke's death brought at least one of them to the surface. Two Dagos helped him on board ship, a wreck, and though, physically, he was much stronger at the end of the voyage, his nerves were far from being right.
London extended its welcome to him in the form of a drenching rain, and he shivered a little under the thin, ready-made overcoat he had bought from a German store on the Coast.
He had hoped that one of the family would have met the boat train, and carried him off to a real home; but, though there had been a welcoming hand for most of his fellow passengers, he, himself, scanned the crowd in vain for a familiar face. Even those who had come across the ocean with him seemed to forget him the moment they got out on to the platform. He became the stranger at once; so he stood to one side until they had all departed, feeling horribly alone. Still, he was home at last, in his own country, and he tried to work up a proper sense of elation as he waited in the station entrance, watching a porter hoisting his battered trunks on to a cab.
It was already evening, and the stream of people was flowing inwards through the gates of the terminus, London's workers returning to those dreary rows of villas in the suburbs, which, probably, seemed delightfully peaceful, almost rural, by comparison with the noise and grime of the City. Some were closing dripping umbrellas; others, having no umbrellas, shook the rain out of the brims of theirs hats, and turned down their soaking coat-collars as they came under shelter. All looked more or less draggled and weary; yet you could see that they were on their way to their own houses, where there would be someone to welcome them, someone who had been waiting for them. Suddenly all Jimmy's sense of loneliness came back, and he shivered again as the cab splashed out of the muddy station yard, towards the hotel to which he had told his people to address their letters.
There was a letter from each of his sisters awaiting him, and he tore them open more eagerly than was his wont. Ida, writing from her home in Northampton, invited him to come down for a week at some vague future date; one of the children was unwell, and until it recovered it was impossible to fix a day. Still, they would be delighted to see him again. Her letters always had a note of stiffness in them, which was purely unintentional, or rather, purely natural, reflecting the one salient point in her character.
May's letter began with an apology. They were so sorry they could not ask him down that night; but they had a large dinner party on, and he would have made an odd man. Doubtless, too, he would be tired after his journey and disinclined for such a function. The following day, however, they would be glad to have him. It was forty minutes' run from Victoria Station, and she would send the car to meet him at the other end.
Jimmy thrust the letters into his pocket, and followed his luggage up to his room, which was a perfect example of its kind, containing the irreducible minimum of furniture an hotel guest could require, and having, as its sole wall decoration, a notice imploring you to switch out the electric light when you did not actually require it. He was disappointed, though not annoyed. The excuses appeared genuine, if rather inadequate and he never suspected that May had spent the afternoon in a distressing state of anxiety lest he should change his mind, and, instead of going to the hotel, come straight down in time for dinner.
"There is no telling what he may be like," she said to her sister-in-law, who was staying in the house. "We must see him first before we introduce him to people here. Why, he may not even possess a dress suit."
Jimmy dined in the hotel. The dining-room was very empty, and he had a corner of it all to himself, a miserable contrast to the cheerful, crowded saloon of the mail steamer he had quitted that morning. He ate very little, and would not wait for coffee. He felt he must get outside that gloomy barn of the hostelry, must go where there was life and movement, and, and if he could find it, society.
The rain had ceased, and, as he came out of the dull side street into the Strand, he experienced for the first time that strange thrill, excitement, anticipation, almost exhilaration, which only the returned wanderer who comes back to the Greatest of Cities after years of absence, can know. When he had driven up to the hotel, the day population had been hurrying home through the downpour; now, though the street and the pavements were still glistening with the wet, and there was another deluge to come, London, the night side of London, was out as if there was no such things as rain and mud and sodden footwear.
Jimmy stood a couple of minutes, watching it, taking it all in, as though he had never seen it before. A policeman on point duty eyed him curiously, yet with no hint of suspicion. Most men, and practically every woman, remembered Jimmy's face when they met him a second time. He was not handsome, far from it; but, in some indefinable way, his grey eyes suggested sympathy, whilst the poise of his head spoke of determination verging on obstinacy.
He was looking at the scene as a whole, rather than at individuals, and the policeman remarked, with a kind of grim satisfaction, that he let the women pass him unnoticed. Even when one turned back at the next corner and repassed him slowly, he seemed not to see her. Just as he was turning away, however, a girl's face did catch his eye, and, unconsciously, he stopped again. She was coming out of a restaurant a few yards away, accompanied by a man in evening dress, though she herself was in an ordinary walking costume. Tall and very graceful, with dark eyes and a perfect profile, she formed a curious contrast to her short and rather stout companion. It was only a question of a minute before they got into a waiting hansom and driven away; but, somehow, the incident worried Jimmy. He wondered who she was, what she was, and was so preoccupied with her that as he walked on eastwards, he hardly noticed that he left the Strand, with its life and hurry, for the comparative quietude of Fleet Street by night. He had come out of the hotel intending to have a drink at the first likely-looking bar he came to; but he was half-way between the Griffin and Ludgate Circus before he remembered he was thirsty.
"Hullo, Grierson, my best of piracy experts. So you've come to Fleet Street at last, as I always said you would. Sneddon, let me introduce Mr. Grierson, an old colleague of mine on a short-lived paper in Shanghai. He knows more Chinese pirates than any man I ever met, not to mention gunrunners and opium smugglers; and he's perfectly invaluable to fill a column when the news has run short." The speaker, a man of about Jimmy's own age, with a keen, smooth-shaven face and restless eyes, shook hands heartily, and ordered another round of drinks.
At the sound of his voice, Jimmy's face lit up with genuine pleasure. He had known Douglas Kelly well on the China Coast, when the other was editing a local paper for a starvation wage, and, as Kelly said, he had written him many a column to fill up space with when both copy and advertisements were short. The British and American community, being absorbed in trade, and knowing nothing of literature, and often very little of the English language, as is the way of its kind, had failed to see the genius under the wild and not too temperate exterior, and had frowned on the young editor as a rather scandalous person entirely devoid of commercial instincts; but Jimmy had always stood by him, and when a sudden access of wealth, in the form of a draft for sixty pounds for a series of short stories in an American magazine, had enabled Kelly to say good-bye both to the China Coast and to his creditors, Grierson has regretted him as much, or even more, than had the latter.
"So you've come to Fleet Street, at last," Kelly repeated. "I knew you would. And I suppose you are going to enter into competition with me. I believe you are the one man of whom I am really afraid."
Jimmy laughed. "I only landed to-day, and I wandered down here by chance. As for writing, I have done very little since I saw you off on that tramp steamer. There were two or three acquaintances of yours watching the mail boat next day on the chance of finding you."
"Herbst, I suppose, and the other squarehead from the hotel—what was his name?—oh, Heine, and that uncleanly Greek tailor. They were a dull lot, and I've forgotten them long ago. Tell me about yourself. Where have you been?"
"India, Australia, and the Dago Republics, where I saw the beginning and the end of various presidents. I made a couple of trips on a blockade runner, and went on a hidden treasure hunt. It sounds all right, thrilling and exciting, yet, when I size it up in my own mind, it comes down to a record of fever and disappointment; with a few purple patches which were so good that, somehow, they seem to have come out of another man's book, instead of being my own experiences."
Kelly stared into his glass. "I know," he said very quietly. "I know the game, though I got out of it sooner than you did, being wiser, as I always told you I was. I suppose you know I'm famous?"
Jimmy smiled; long ago, Douglas Kelly had explained to him his theory of self-advertisement, how, once he was strong enough to do so, he intended to go in for a regular system of blatant, unblushing egotism, which would pay equally little regard to the feelings of others and to the recognised canons of veracity. Now, it was evident that he was translating his theory into practice.
"Even in the Dago countries we used to get papers containing articles of yours," Jimmy said. "And I saw a review of one of your books. Did you put some of our old friends of the China Coast into them?"
Douglas Kelly shook his head emphatically. "They weren't even worth satirising. They might take it as flattery if I remembered their very existence.... I've done what I said I would, Grierson. I'm making a thousand a year now." He turned to his companion. "Sneddon, you might go back to the office, and see if there's anything doing. If anyone wants me, say I'm busy"; then when the other had gone, "How are things with you, Jimmy?" he asked bluntly.
Jimmy laughed a little awkwardly. "Well, they shot my last employer, who was also my best friend, out there; and I came home because I thought it might change the luck."
"So you're broke, just as I used to be?"
"No, not exactly. I've got a few pounds left; but I've nothing to do, and I don't know what to turn my hand to—that's all." Jimmy answered, then as Kelly dived into his pocket and produced a cheque book, he flushed quickly, "No, old man. If I want that, I'll come to you; but I don't want it yet. Thanks very much, though."
Kelly shrugged his shoulders. "You're quite a change. It's generally the other way round. Men ask me for money, and I do the refusing." Usually, his expression was hard, almost cynical, but as he looked at Jimmy it softened, and he seemed to grow years younger. He was back again on the China Coast, in the days when success was a thing of the future, and therefore greatly to be prized. "You'll do well, Grierson, you've got it in you, just as I had. And, after all, London is the one place, the only market worth bringing your stuff to."
"I will admit I had thought of writing, but I know how hard it is to get a start, and——" Jimmy began; but Kelly cut him short.
"Rot! It's hard for the ruck, for the ninety and nine, who, after all, ought to find it impossible, not merely hard. But it's different for you and me, Jimmy Grierson, because we're not in the ruck. Of course you'll write, for it's in you, and you would be a fool to try anything else. You won't jump into a job right away; and you'll have to fight as I fought. I started as a sub-editor on three pounds a week, correcting the grammar in the copy of men who were getting five times that amount—but I can get you a start of sorts, right away. Come around now to the Record office, and I'll introduce you to Dodgson, the editor, a perfectly uninspired person, who ought to have been a grocer's assistant and have sung in a chapel choir. But he has the grace to realise his limitations, and take my advice. It will mean two guineas every now and then for a Page Four article—a thousand words, you know."
Jimmy finished off his drink and stood up. He was beginning to understand that, after all, there was an element of sane, cool common sense behind Kelly's blatant self-assertiveness. It might irritate what the other called the "ruck," but it also cowed them, and they got out of his path; moreover, there was always the undeniable fact that the man had genius of no common order. Jimmy had been perfectly sincere when he said he had not come home intending to make his living by his pen. He had thought of doing so, certainly, or rather had longed to do so; but, like most amateurs, he had been deterred by what he had heard of the difficulties, and had put the idea on one side. Now, however, the proposition had come to him in a concrete form, from a man who had succeeded, a man, moreover, who knew his capacity, and was able to judge his prospects of success. After all, it was only part of that game of drift which he had been playing for the last ten years; and the new phase had this advantage—he might be able to make use of what he had learned during the previous stages of his drifting. So he followed Douglas Kelly out into Fleet Street, then down one of the narrow alleys, to the Herald office.
The main entrance to the Record building, that through which the general public enters, when it wishes to pay for advertisements, or consult the files, or order back numbers, has a rather gorgeous swing door and a quite gorgeous door-keeper in uniform with no less than four medal ribbons on his breast; but all this is closed in by an iron grille when normal people leave the City, and the staff has to enter through a small door at the back, which is guarded by an old and surly porter, over the window of whose box hangs a peremptory and uncleanly notice forbidding anyone to smoke in the building.
Douglas Kelly ignored both the porter and the notice, and went straight up to the second floor, where, after a moment's parley with a weary-looking secretary, he and Jimmy were admitted to the editor's room.
Somehow, Jimmy had always pictured the editor of a great daily as a plethoric person with keen eyes, and a background of leather-bound volumes; but this one was thin and insignificant; there was not a single book in his room, and, at the first glance, Jimmy was inclined to believe that his friend had been right when he spoke of the editor singing in a chapel choir. Yet, after Kelly had introduced him briefly, as an old colleague, and Dodgson had put a few curt questions, Grierson began to change his mind.
Jimmy could talk well. He had, in an unusual degree, the art of putting things vividly and crisply, and he possessed an extraordinary memory for those little details which give actuality to the picture. When he described the shooting of a presidential candidate, Dodgson could see the man with his grimy hands and torn collar, crumpling up as the volley from the firing party caught him. The editor himself had never come in contact with crude realities such as this—a London County Councillor escaping by a hair's breadth from a fully-deserved conviction for corruption over a tramway contract was the nearest approach he had witnessed—but he understood the value of Jimmy's reminiscences, and, without a moment's hesitation, he asked him for an article, hinting plainly that, if the written matter were as good as his spoken words, the paper would be glad of many others.
Jimmy left the room with an unwonted sense of elation. Kelly had withdrawn immediately he had introduced his friend, but he was waiting in the doorway. "Well, what did you do?" he asked.
"He's going to give me a chance," Jimmy answered. Kelly nodded. "Of course he will. He must. I introduced you. Don't you realise, James Grierson, that I am a man they dare not offend, because the great fool-public wants stuff with my signature; and, if the Record upset me, I could go across the road to the Herald and, perhaps, get a bigger salary? It's all a game of bluff, as I told you years ago in that fan-tan shop in Shanghai. I know you won't bluff through as I have done, because you have a streak of—what shall I call it?—early Victorian modesty, in you; but still you will come out on top, because you've got brains, instead of the whisky-soaked sponge which occupies the space behind the brow of the average Fleet Street man."
"I shouldn't think you're very popular in Fleet Street," Jimmy remarked grimly.
Douglas Kelly shrugged his shoulders. "The ruck would dislike me anyway, because I know more than it does. Still, it need not worry. I am going to quit journalism, and go in for fiction soon, as you will do in due course.... What's the time?" They had come out into Fleet Street again, and he glanced upwards at the Telegraph's clock. "Half-past ten. It's too late to take you down to stay at my place, as I can't telephone to my wife. So I may as well stay in town. We'll wander round a bit, and after closing time, I'll take you up to one of my clubs."
"Your wife. So you're married?" Jimmy smiled, as though at some recollection. "You seem to have done pretty well all round; whilst I am still where I was."
The other took him up sharply, "Still where you were. Why, you've got your head full of copy, and you're right at your market, instead of being on that forsaken China Coast. Well, let's have a drink here for a start."
Jimmy awoke in the morning with a slight headache, and a fixed determination not to go out again with Douglas Kelly. True, it had cost him nothing, Kelly having carried him from one club to another, cashing a cheque at each, and spending the proceeds with such freedom as to evoke a protest from his guest.
"I want to impress you," Kelly had retorted. "I want to show you how well I've done. I always do the same when I get hold of any of you fellows from out there. Yet," he paused and looked at the other keenly, "you're such a queer beggar, that I don't suppose you are impressed. I needn't have tried it on you, after all," but, none the less, he had declined to let his companion go, and it had been past three when a sleepy night porter admitted Jimmy to the hotel, Kelly having declared his intention of taking a room at the club they had visited last.
Jimmy drew up his blind to find the sun shining in a cloudless sky, and his spirits went up at once. As a result of the deluge of the night before, London looked almost clean and bright, and he began to wonder at his depression of the previous evening. After all, it was very good to be home again, and, thanks to Kelly, he had already made a small start, which might lead to much bigger things. Kelly, himself, had arrived in England with nothing, an unknown man.
From Kelly, his mind worked backwards to the girl he had seen enter the cab. It was curious how her face seemed fixed in his memory. The thought of her, and of her possible story, worried him all the time he was shaving, and he found himself wishing he had never noticed her. Somehow, he did not like the look of her companion, who seemed to treat her with a very perfunctory sort of courtesy, verging on familiarity, or even contempt. He was still thinking of her when he went down to breakfast; but the sight of a copy of the Record, the first real English daily he had seen for many years, a paper, moreover, which wanted him to write for it, changed the current of his thoughts, and he forgot all about the girl.
Dodgson had told him there was no hurry for the article, any time within the next week or so would do, and he, himself, knew that it would be impossible to write in the dreary atmosphere of the hotel; so he decided to go down to the City and call on his brother, Walter. There was no one else he wanted to see in town. All his former acquaintances had dropped clean out of his life, or, rather, he had dropped out of theirs; and, probably, he could not have found one of them, even had he wished to do so, which was not the case. He was a very lonely man, he told himself; and yet he did not feel bitter about that fact as he had done on the previous night; his meeting with Kelly, and the new hope with which the other had infused him, had changed his views greatly. Now, it seemed as if he had a prospect of doing something definite, of starting on a new career, his success in which would depend entirely on his own exertions.
Walter Grierson was a short, clean-shaven man with a decidedly pompous manner. He had been very successful in his profession, owing to his energy, rather than to his mental capacity, and he regarded unsuccessful men as little better than criminals. His whole outlook on life was severe, except in his own home, where he was a generous husband and indulgent father. Never having been tempted himself, he had no sympathy with those who fell, being quite unable to understand them. Steadiness was the virtue he most admired in younger men, meaning by that term the capacity for choosing and sticking to an orthodox method of livelihood and for maintaining an unwavering respectability of conduct. Jimmy's career, the wanderings from one country to another, the continual changes of occupation, had been a very real grief to him, violating as it did every canon of his creed. No one could call his brother steady.
Walter Grierson was engaged when Jimmy called, and the visitor spent half an hour glancing round the gloomy office, and wondering how anyone could be content to spend his days in such a place. He wanted to smoke, but something in the attitude of the clerks restrained him, and he put his cigarette case back into his pocket. He was not sure about the three younger ones, whether they would be scandalised, or whether the smell of the tobacco would arouse cruel longings which could not be satisfied until the too-brief luncheon hour came round; but there was no mistaking the reprobation in the old managing clerk's face. Even their richest clients knew better than to disturb the microbes on the upper shelves with their smoke. Those same clients were all City men, dignified, and understanding the ways of the City, which are very different from those of San Francisco or Johannesburg. In London, it is only foreigners and green-fruit brokers and such like doubtful people, with neither self-respect nor position to maintain, who break the City's law. Stockbrokers are, of course, men apart from the rest. They draw most of their customers from a class which knows nothing of business; and must therefore be humoured; moreover, a little eccentricity, a lightheartedness, verging at times on the clownish, is useful, for, if duly reported, it procures the Stock Exchange a free advertisement in the Press. Even Mr. Marlow had been known to play football with a silk hat and wave a little Union Jack, when the news of a British victory, which meant an improvement in the Market, was recorded in a special edition. But his brother-in-law, Walter Grierson, had never done any of these things, having neither the need, nor the desire, for advertisement. Jimmy did not know the City, but he knew a good deal of mankind, and he gleaned something of the spirit and traditions of that office, as his eyes wandered from the rows of black, shiny deed boxes to the equally shiny pate of the managing clerk, and then to the drab-looking girl typist, pale-faced and narrow-chested, who seemed to finger the key-board as though the maddening click of her abominable machine had killed any individuality she might once have had, and turned her into a mere part of the mechanism of the City. The one spot of colour in the office was an insurance company's calendar, and, even on that, the design was crude and the inscription little more than a dull list of figures. Jimmy sighed, pitying them all. He did not know that those who have never experienced the crude things of life seldom have any desire for them. Being prosaic, they are satisfied with prosaic surroundings, which is a fortunate thing in an essentially prosaic age. There is very little room for romance in a world which gauges success by the measure of a reputed bank balance.
At last, the client, who proved to have side whiskers and an ivory-handled umbrella, took his departure, and Walter Grierson came out in his wake. The solicitor greeted Jimmy, if not warmly, at least sincerely; then sat down and slowly took stock of the returned wanderer.
"You look better than I expected from what May told me you had said in your last letter. Yes, you look decidedly better. Still, you have changed a great deal, changed in many ways." He adjusted his gold-rimmed pince-nez, in order to make a closer scrutiny.
Jimmy laughed. "Well, you must remember, it's ten years since you saw me last, and I wasn't very old then. You, yourself, look exactly the same. I should have known you anywhere. How are Janet and the children?"
Walter Grierson's face brightened perceptibly. He was a family man above everything, and he gave his brother very full details. "Let me see, you've never seen George and Christine, have you?" he asked at the end of the recital.
Jimmy shook his head. "No, I have seven or eight unknown nephews and nieces to inspect, or I'm not sure that it isn't nine. I've rather lost count."
The elder man frowned slightly; it was not quite the thing to refer to members of the family in that flippant way. Surely Jimmy could recollect the number of his sister's children. He gave the tally of the latter, with their names and ages, and with guarded comments on their peculiarities, from which Jimmy gathered that they were decidedly inferior to the little Walter Griersons. And after that there came a pause, short in duration, certainly, but very significant. After ten years' separation the brothers had exhausted their subjects of mutual interest in little over ten minutes.
Jimmy fingered the cigarette case in his pocket, knowing the consolation and the wisdom to be found in tobacco; but he did not like to produce it, and he had already noted that Walter's room was innocent of any ash-tray; so, instead, he racked his brains for a new topic of conversation. At last:
"You're the sole partner here now, aren't you?" he asked.
Walter nodded. "Yes, Jardine died three years back, and I don't want anyone else till I can take in Ralph, my eldest boy. He has a nasty cold, or you would have seen him in the office." He shook his head, as though at the thought of the dangerous after-effects of colds, and it struck Jimmy that, for a man of forty-three or forty-four, Walter was very old and stuffy. He, himself, often felt old and more than a little weary, but in quite another way. He was not snuffly and solemn in consequence; it was only that he knew his youth was slipping from him fast, perhaps had already slipped from him, as is the case with every European who stays too long in countries made for the coloured man, and it irritated him to think that, if success ever did come to him, it would probably be when he had lost the capacity for enjoyment.
"Have you made any plans for your future movements?" Walter asked suddenly.
Jimmy started. "Well, yes—at least, last night I met an old friend of mine, and he advised me to go in for writing. I've done a bit of it, of course, and this man, Douglas Kelly—I expect you know his name." Walter shook his head; he never read anything except the Times. "He's a man who's made a big hit, and he knows what I can do. So I think of taking his advice. The Record has already asked me for an article."
Once more, Walter Grierson frowned, and then he sighed. The only journalists he had ever met had been connected with financial papers, and his negotiations with them had taught him the subtleties of scientific blackmail. Being a man of little imagination, though of retentive memory, he judged the whole profession by the two or three members of it, or rather pseudo-members, he had been unfortunate enough to encounter professionally.
"I am sorry to hear your decision, Jimmy," he said. "Very sorry, indeed. You will find it a most precarious way of life, and it will bring you into contact with highly undesirable people. I had hoped, we had all hoped, that now you had returned you would settle down to something steady. Personally, I think you will be making a great mistake. But I suppose you know your own business best." He shook his head, as though, in his own mind, he was quite sure Jimmy did not know anything of the sort.
Then, once more, there was an awkward pause, and it was a relief to both of the brothers when the junior clerk came in with a card in his hand. Walter Grierson glanced at the name, then got up. "I am sorry, Jimmy; but this is a man with whom I had made an appointment. I would ask you to lunch with me, but there is more than a probability of my having to take him out. You must come down and stay with us soon. Janet told me to give you her love, and ask you to fix a date. I am very glad you called. Give my love to May when you see her to-night. And, Jimmy," he hesitated a little, "of course it is not for me to advise you; but I do wish you would reconsider that decision of yours. It's a most precarious calling, most precarious, and, I am afraid, one full of temptations." There was perfectly genuine concern in his voice, and yet, within a couple of minutes, Jimmy and his affairs were clean out of his mind, and he was deep in the business of his client.
Jimmy lighted a cigarette on the landing outside his brother's office; but neither the tobacco, nor the drink he had a few minutes later, could alleviate his sense of disappointment. He was a very lonely man.
The Marlow motor-car, large and luxurious, with red panels and an expensive alien chauffeur, met Jimmy at the station. Mrs. Marlow hurried down to the hall as she heard the throbbing of the engine outside the front door, and greeted her brother with emotion which verged on tears.
"I am very glad to see you again, Jimmy, dear," she said, kissing him a second time. "And Henry, too, is delighted to have you. Of course, you have grown a great deal older, but I don't know that you have changed very much." She scrutinised his face, then noted, with something akin to dismay, that his clothes, though well cut, were neither new nor fashionable.
Jimmy, on his part, was trying to readjust his ideas. He had been picturing May as still rather rosy and inclined to plumpness, essentially suggestive of good nature and repose; now, he saw her thin, almost angular, a little hard of feature, though retaining some of her good looks. In his calculations, he had forgotten the four children she had brought into the world since he had seen her last.
May asked him a number of questions about himself, his health, and his doings, hardly waiting for his answers before passing on to something, fresh, and hardly listening when she did allow him time to reply; then—
"I'll take you up to your room," she said. "Your trunks have gone up already. I have had to give you one of the smaller spare rooms, because my sister-in-law will be back to-night—you remember Laura, of course—and there may be someone else coming to-morrow." At the door of his room she paused. "Dinner is at half-past seven. We always dress, but don't you trouble, if you would rather not, or, or——" She stammered a little.
Jimmy understood. "I always retained my suit through all my ups and downs," he said with a smile. "It is the one absolute essential. It will get you credit when nothing else will. Many a time I have gone to an hotel with only the suit and a lot of old newspapers in my trunk, and not five dollars in my pocket."
Mrs. Marlow did not smile. Instead, she looked as she felt, shocked and pained; and as she went downstairs she was casting round for some scheme to stop Jimmy's flow of reminiscences. It would never do for him to talk in that way before people like the Graylings or the Bashfords; whilst, if the servants were to hear him, it would be all round the neighbourhood in a couple of days that Mrs. Marlow's brother was, or had been, a penniless adventurer.
Jimmy did not come down till the dinner gong went; consequently, after he had shaken hands with Henry Marlow, they went straight into the dining-room, and May lost her chance of saying anything.
Marlow himself was hungry and ate heartily, and the guest was distinctly tired, thanks to Douglas Kelly; as a result, there was little said during the first three courses, except by Mrs. Marlow, who gave her husband a full account of all her own and the children's doings for that day, and the names of the people on whom she had called, and of other visitors whom she had met at their houses. Once or twice she tried to include Jimmy in the conversation, by asking if he did not remember this one or that, friends she had known before she was married; but, in every case, they were merely names to him; they had all been grown up when he was still at school, and now, after having forgotten their very existence for ten years, he could not feel the slightest interest in them.
After a while, Marlow, having taken the edge off his appetite, asked him a few questions about his wanderings, but paid little heed to his answers. Even when Jimmy told, in his essentially picturesque way, the story of John Locke's death, his brother-in-law merely remarked that such things were never allowed to occur in the British Empire, though, doubtless, they were to be expected under governments which had injured the market so greatly in the past by repudiating their bargains. Their debased silver currency and their worthless paper money were an absolute scandal, he added.
May, on her part, gave a little gasp when told of the end of Locke's slayer; then, looking up, and seeing the parlour-maid standing open-mouthed, with a sauce-boat balanced on a tray at a most dangerous angle, she felt it was time to intervene.
"Please don't give us any more horrors, Jimmy. We are not used to them here. Mary," severely, to the parlour-maid, "the master's plate."
Jimmy flushed and said no more; and, apparently, they were perfectly content that it should be so, for the subject of his travels dropped, and was not resumed, either then or afterwards. He saw that they were not interested, even though they were his own people; and he listened in silence when his sister went back to the apparently inexhaustible subject of their friends. Certainly, whilst they sat smoking after dinner, Henry Marlow did ask his guest some more questions, a great many more in fact, and listened with considerable attention to the replies; but, as Jimmy noted with a kind of grim amusement, they were all of an impersonal nature, having reference solely to mining conditions in South American states. Jimmy's own experiences at the hands of Dago patriots left his brother-in-law unmoved, being things which belonged rather to books, and certainly had no part in the lives of people of position; but the effect of those same patriots' doings on the development of the country, and, consequently, on the profits of British Enterprise, aroused his bitterest wrath. Once, some years before, he had lost over a thousand pounds through a new president revoking a lead-mining concession which his predecessor had granted; and, that predecessor having been sent where neither letters nor writs could reach him, none of the purchase money had been recovered despite the efforts of the Foreign Office. Mr. Marlow, himself, had never forgiven either the Dagos or the diplomatists, especially as the concession had eventually gone to a German firm, which had made a clear half-million out of it; and he argued, not without reason, that the most effective form of negotiation would have been a whiff of grapeshot, or its modern equivalent, from the guns of a British cruiser.
Jimmy listened patiently to the grievance, which took some time in the telling, involving, as it did, full details of the careers and financial standing of the directors of the ill-fated company, men of position and weight in the City, who deserved very different treatment.
"Disgraceful business, disgraceful," Henry added. "To think that the British Government should allow us to be robbed by a snuff-coloured rascal like that. Did you ever come across him?"
"Who? President Montez?" Jimmy laughed apologetically. "I'm very sorry; but I helped him with that revolution. I was pretty hard up at the time, and I knew something about field guns, so they gave me a job."
Mr. Marlow apparently saw nothing at which to laugh; in fact, he frowned slightly. He held rather strong views on the subject of law and order; moreover, there were people who would be very ready to sneer if they heard Jimmy's story of the affair. But his chief thought was, as usual, for his wife, who would be annoyed were she to learn the part Jimmy had played.
"I shouldn't tell May, if I were you," he said. "In fact, I don't think I should tell anyone. You see, it's not—what shall I say?—quite the thing to be mixed up in those affairs, and it would stand in your light over here, socially as well as from a practical point of view. You understand?"
Jimmy nodded; at least he was beginning to understand.
May was doing some fancy work when they joined her in the drawing-room; but she glanced up with a smile as Jimmy entered, and told him to take the chair next to hers. After all, he looked presentable, this brother of hers, at any rate, in evening dress, a little thin for his height and rather yellow in the face perhaps, but still there was about him a certain indefinable air of distinction which most men she knew lacked. There were girls who might even call him handsome. As she thought of that, her mouth hardened momentarily. She must guard against any folly of that sort by not introducing him in dangerous quarters until he was in a very much better position financially. The last thought suggested a question she had been intending to ask him at the first opportunity.
"What are you thinking of doing now, Jimmy? I suppose you still intend to remain at home?"
Henry Marlow muttered something about the evening paper. He was always tactful where his wife was concerned, and this was a Grierson concern, in which he might seem an intruder. May would tell him anything there was to tell later.
Jimmy, remembering Walter's reception of his news, hesitated slightly. The assurance with which Douglas Kelly's words had filled him was oozing out rather rapidly. It was one thing to decide on a literary career when one was in a Bohemian club and the time was long after midnight; but, somehow, in an essentially staid drawing-room, where there was more than a hint of Victorian influence in the furniture, and with a sense of a heavy dinner still oppressing him, matters seemed different. After all, it was only natural that it should be so. He was a Grierson, with a veneration for conventions in his blood, and, in the appropriate surroundings, the force, so long latent as to be practically forgotten, began to make itself felt, not very strongly, perhaps, but still the fact remained that it was there. Just as his father had given in at last, and gone to the City, so, for a moment, it seemed to Jimmy that he must go. But then he remembered Walter's office, where you could not smoke, and the only spot of colour was that inartistic insurance calendar with its grim lists of figures.
"I'm going to write," he said, "or at least try to write. I think I can make a living at it. It's worth trying. There's nothing else, you see," he added, a little lamely.
May stopped in the middle of a stitch, and stared at him with something akin to dismay. She remembered an article of his she had once read, unsigned to be sure, and only in an obscure Hong Kong paper, but so painfully outspoken that she had shown it to no one, not even to her husband; and then rose up before her the vision of him writing similar articles for London journals, and of the world, her world, knowing him to be the author. She recognised her brother's cleverness, and it never entered into her head to doubt that he could get his work into print; she knew nothing of the financial side of journalism, and, for the moment, what had formerly seemed the all-important question, Jimmy's method of livelihood, was thrust into the background, owing to her fear that he would do something to compromise both himself and his family.
Yet, the idea had taken her so greatly by surprise that at first she did not know what to say. She was not afraid of offending Jimmy or of hurting his feelings. To her, he was still a boy, who would; or at least should, listen to her advice.
"Surely you don't mean that, Jimmy," she began. "I never dreamt of your contemplating such a thing; and I shall be very sorry if you go on with it. I am certain you will do yourself a lot of harm, for I know from your letters that you have picked up a number of curious, and even improper, ideas. We are all aware that there is a low public taste which likes these things; but there are already more than enough writers providing them. We had hoped that when you came home you would settle down to regular work of some sort."
Jimmy had coloured a little. "What sort?" he asked quietly.
It was May's turn to flush; she did not quite like his tone, and, moreover, she had no answer ready. "Some business, of course," she answered tartly. "You have no profession. Henry has promised to see if any of his friends have vacancies in their offices. I suppose you have saved enough to keep you for a little while?"
Her brother got up rather suddenly. He had been alone so long, playing a lone hand, that he had forgotten the great unwritten law of the Family Inquisition, whose main clause is that the common rules of courtesy do not apply when two of the same blood meet; but still, he recognised the genuine kindness underlying the inquiry, and stifled his resentment, which May would not have understood, because she and Walter and Ida were in the habit of asking each other similar blunt questions.
"For a short time," he answered. "Enough for a week or two, and a friend on the Press has put me in the way of getting one commission already. As for a City office, I couldn't stand it for a day."
Mrs. Marlow put another stitch in her fancy work, then pulled her thread a little viciously, breaking it. "Well, I hope you will be careful, and not write anything we need feel ashamed of. Remember, that though you may have no position to lose, we have one."
"You needn't be afraid of that, May." There was a suspicion of scorn, and more than a suspicion of anger, in his voice. "It doesn't make much difference if I don't write under my own name, so long as I can get the dollars, which are what I'm out for."
Mrs. Marlow gave in with a sigh. After all, so long as he kept the family name out of print, there would not be much harm done; and it was a relief to find that he looked at matters from a practical point of view. Of course, he ought to have accepted Henry's assistance and gone into the City; but if he would not do so, as seemed to be the case, it was some consolation to find that he was apparently anxious to make money in other ways.
But when she talked the matter over with her husband after Jimmy had gone up to bed, Henry Marlow shook his head. His opinions coincided exactly with those of Walter Grierson. "A most precarious occupation," he said, "and one which I should certainly not allow our boys to take up. It's a great pity, as I believe I could have got him into Foulger's office—Foulger and Hilmon, you know, the jobbers."
Upstairs, Jimmy was smoking and staring into his fire. Somehow, he felt very disappointed, as though he had been working on a false assumption, and must readjust his ideas and then start afresh. He was little more at home than he had been the previous night in the hotel.
The hours of Jimmy's stay with the Marlows dragged by slowly. The children, four boys, proved uninteresting in the extreme, whilst between himself and Laura Marlow, May's sister-in-law, there was little in common. Two other guests, an elderly aunt and uncle of Henry's, arrived in time for dinner on the second night, and Jimmy retired more and more into the background, or, rather, he found himself in the background by a kind of natural sequence. No one wanted to put him there; in fact, both his brother-in-law and his sister were kindness itself; but he was the outsider in the party, sharing none of the interests of the others.
He had been invited for a week, at least, longer if possible; yet at the end of three days he was longing for an excuse to get back to town, where he intended to take rooms; but no excuse presented itself, and so he stayed on, spending most of his time in the billiard-room, a part of the house seldom used in the daytime, writing, or trying to write, some of the articles which Douglas Kelly had suggested. He had sent his copy in to the Record, and each morning, immediately after breakfast, he strolled down to the little news agent's shop to buy a copy of the paper—Mr. Marlow took no halfpenny journals—but when Sunday came round it had not appeared.
The Marlows were regular church-goers, at least Mrs. Marlow was, and her husband always accompanied her when he was not away at the seaside, golfing. May took her religion as part of her settled order of existence. She had been bred up in it, and she would have resented any attack on it as fiercely as she would have resented the abolition of class distinctions. She believed in it, and, in a sense, she loved it; but, with the one exception of her father's tragic death, her way through life had been so smooth that she had never felt the need of its consolations, and, consequently, had never analysed it in any way. Doubt had never entered into her mind, because her creed seemed to suit her circumstances so admirably. The well-dressed congregation, the well-trained choir, the cushioned seats and reserved pews, the suave, optimistic rector, and deferential curates—these were all part of a nicely balanced state of society which kept motor-cars, or at least broughams, and paid its tradesmen's bills by cheque on the first of the month.
Henry Marlow seldom, if ever, gave the matter a thought; but he subscribed generously when asked by the rector, and he kept the Ten Commandments scrupulously, so far as his home life was concerned. He respected the Church, as something which stood for solidity and the security of property, like Consols and the Mansion House, and he regarded Dissenters in much the same light as he did outside brokers, as persons who should be watched by the police. He did not try to worship both God and Mammon simultaneously; but, wholly unconsciously, he divided his life into two parts, that which he spent in the City, and that which he spent outside the Square Mile, and so avoided the difficulty.
Jimmy, on the other hand, had heard very few services during the last ten years, and of those the majority had been read by a layman, and had begun with the words "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord." Lack of opportunity had kept him from attending in the first case, and, after a while, having lost the habit of his boyhood, he had ceased to think of taking such opportunities as did offer.
"I think it must be five years at least since I went to anything but a funeral service," he remarked to May, as they walked towards the big red-brick church.
Mrs. Marlow threw a swift glance over her shoulder, fearing her other guests, who were following, might have heard. "Hush, Jimmy," she said. "It sounds so bad. Never say that again, especially before the servants. The rector's housemaid is sister to my parlour-maid, and it would be sure to get round to him. Of course, I know you have been in wild places where there were no churches, and we understand, but others might not. And all our friends are Church-people."
Jimmy dropped the subject, and a few minutes later he was following her rustling skirts up the broad centre aisle to the pew four rows back from the pulpit. He wished it had not been so far forward, because the worshippers interested him, if only by reason of their sameness of type. You could see they were all people of position, with regular incomes and hereditary political convictions, solid people of that slow-moving, tenacious class which is the real backbone of the country, holding, as it does, the greater part of the wealth, and producing, often by a kind of apparent accident, the greater part of the intellect.
Jimmy belonged to them by birth, and yet, as he sat amongst them, listening to the lisping voice of the senior curate, he found it hard to realise the fact. He tried his best to follow the service, to keep his mind on it, but, somehow, the whole atmosphere seemed wrong. The church was a modern one, the work of a famous architect, and, therefore, grossly inartistic, lacking every feature which makes for solemnity and beauty. The detail was coarse and roughly finished, the red-brick walls, as always, an offence to the eye; big texts seemed to squirm, like semi-paralysed eels, over the chancel arch and round the East window. The latter, off which Jimmy could hardly take his eyes, was a veritable triumph of the Victorian tradition. Its colouring was gruesome, its design grotesque; and yet it was a source of great pride to the congregation as a whole, having been put in to the memory of a banker who had left nearly a million. They no more dreamed of doubting its artistic merits than they did of questioning the religion it was supposed in some vague way to typify.
The singing was good, the sermon grammatical and well delivered, and yet Jimmy left the church with a feeling of dissatisfaction. He had expected that this, his first service in England after ten years, would have carried him back to the days when he knew nothing of the Tree of Knowledge; but, instead of that, it had made no appeal to him. Its poetry was destroyed by the hideousness of the surroundings; whilst even the glorious words of the Benediction seemed but a perfunctory dismissal, giving the congregation leave to hasten away to the heavy dinners which were awaiting it at home.
He was very silent on his way back, thinking of the past, and he was only recalled to the present when May, seeing him producing his cigarette case, thought it time to speak.
"Jimmy," she said, rather severely, "it is hardly correct to smoke on your way home from church. People notice that sort of thing so much."
Her brother coloured, and thrust the case back into his pocket. A minute later, he heard his sister's name spoken, and a tall, well-dressed woman hurried up from behind.
"I have been trying to overtake you for the last five minutes, May," she said. "Only you have been walking as if you were very, very hungry," then, disregarding Mrs. Marlow's little snort of annoyance, she turned to Jimmy, "Don't you remember me, Jimmy—Mr. Grierson I suppose I ought to say—I'm Ethel Grimmer, Ethel Jardine that was."
Jimmy laughed and took the outstretched hand.
"Of course I remember you now; but when I saw you in church where I could only catch your profile obliquely, I was not quite sure who you were. I didn't know you lived down here."
Mrs. Grimmer laughed too, but mentally she registered another grievance against May. So this Jimmy Grierson, who dressed quite decently after all, and had a distinctly interesting face, was to be kept in the background.
"I suppose you and May have found so much to talk about," she said. "I'm sure you must, after being apart all these years, and you have such a lot to tell." She was a handsome woman with fine eyes, and she knew how to use them. "When May has done with you, or rather when she can spare you for an hour or two, you must come and see us—Jimmy." She blushed a little. "When will you let him come, May? How would dinner on Tuesday do? I know you and Henry are going to the Foulgers' that night, and this poor boy will be alone."
May bit her lip to repress an exclamation of annoyance. She did not want Jimmy to go to the Grimmers', but it was impossible to deny the engagement with the Foulgers, and equally impossible to say that Jimmy was going there with her—Ethel Grimmer knew how many people the Foulger dining table would seat; so she gave in, and Jimmy arranged to go, showing rather more eagerness over his acceptance than May considered necessary. Indeed, she remarked so much to her husband whilst she was taking off her hat; then a sudden thought struck her, and she paused, with her fingers still grasping a half-withdrawn hatpin.
"Henry, do you remember what a silly fuss Ethel used to make over Jimmy, just before he went abroad, how they used to go cycling together. Of course, she's years older than he is, but still——"
Marlow nodded solemnly; he had never really liked the Grimmers, and he knew that, several times lately, Ethel had gone out of her way to annoy his wife, whilst Grimmer himself had behaved like a fool over the Gold Dredging Company, actually hinting that, because they knew each other socially, he ought to have been warned when the thing was going wrong. As if sentiment of that sort could be allowed to intrude on business. Billy Grimmer had been in the City over twenty years, and it was quite time he knew its ways.
"Ethel is a vain, flighty woman," Marlow said, in reply to his wife's remark. "She likes to have young men like Jimmy trailing after her; and Grimmer only laughs. I suppose it's what they call being 'smart.' Pity he doesn't put a little more smartness into his business affairs." He chuckled slightly at the recollection of the dredging shares, which had been some of those he, himself, had received as vendor. "Still, Jimmy is old enough to take care of himself now," he went on, "and, after all, he will be going back to town a day or two later."
But May shook her head. "I must warn him not to talk too much—he seems terribly indiscreet—and I think I shall give him a plain hint about falling in love, and so on. From what Ethel said the other day, she is quite capable of getting some silly girls with money to meet him."
Meanwhile, Jimmy was staring out of the window of the billiard-room, and smiling a little grimly at the memories which his meeting with Mrs. Grimmer had reawakened. They had been very great friends in his Sandhurst days, although she was several years his senior; and, for a month or two after his departure from England, he had slept with her photo under his pillow, and tried to imagine her warm farewell kisses on his lips; and then, somehow, the photo had got mislaid, and the other recollections had begun to lose their actuality, and when, a year later, he had received the news of her engagement, he had written her a hearty, and perfectly sincere, letter of congratulation. It would be distinctly amusing to meet her under the new conditions, and see how much she was disposed to remember.
On Tuesday morning Jimmy opened the Record as usual at page 4, and the first thing that caught his eye was his own article. He glanced down it quickly, with an unusual sense of exaltation: never before had anything of his appeared in a great London daily; and the Record's circulation ran to a considerable fraction of a million. There was no one with him to whom he could show it; but he was passing an hotel, the "Railway Tavern," and he turned in at the door, to celebrate his luck, and read his work through quietly.
The barmaid, who was polishing her spirit measures, looked at him curiously. "You seem mighty pleased about something," she said at last, perhaps a little resentfully, as though feeling that her own rather, full-blown charms deserved more attention than the paper.
Jimmy glanced up with a smile. "There's an article of mine here," he said, holding out the sheet.
The girl knit her brow and spelled out the heading. "My! Is that your writing? What's it all about. Anything spicy?" But, though she was regarding him with more interest than before, she made no attempt to read his work.
Jimmy finished his drink and folded up the paper. Somehow, at the second reading, it had not seemed so good. There were at least two clumsy sentences, and the fool of a printer had chopped out half a dozen commas. He could see now where he could have made several improvements, and he had little doubt that Dodgson would see too, and, perhaps, reckon him a careless workman. He had yet to learn how much, or how little, the public recks of either grammar or punctuation, how it prefers semi-truths tempered by split infinitives to facts stated in balanced prose.
As he came out of the hotel, his mind was full of the career which seemed to lie ahead of him, and he did not notice Laura Marlow walking up the other side of the road; but Miss Marlow saw him, saw too where he had been, and duly reported the fact to May when she returned to the house.
Jimmy found his sister in her boudoir, busy with her tradesmen's books, searching for the errors which certainly would have been there had the butcher and the baker and the grocer not learned long since that Mrs. Marlow was in the habit of checking her accounts, a habit which they viewed with a mixture of scorn and wrath, tempered by not a little fear. They regarded her much as a municipal politician regards a chartered accountant; but they knew it was useless to add up two and five as eight, or to charge for fresh butter when cooking butter had been ordered. May allowed no one to rob her husband, even of a halfpenny. They called her a hard woman, and said many bitter things about her as they foregathered outside the chapel after service; but, none the less, they supplied her with far better goods than those they sent to Mrs. Grimmer, who paid her bills spasmodically, without attempting to check them.
May glanced at the paper her brother held out, but she did not attempt to take it. "I will read it by and by, when I've time," she said; then she noticed his name below the heading and frowned. "I thought you were going to write under an assumed name," she added.
Jimmy coloured slightly. "I've changed my mind," he said, rather shortly. "I don't see why I should disguise myself. It's nothing to be ashamed of, as you'll see if you read it."
His sister sighed and picked up her pencil again. "I must get on with these tiresome tradesmen's books. Oh, don't leave that paper there, Jimmy." He had put it down on the table. "There's so much litter about already. I'll ask you for it later."
Jimmy picked up the Record again and left the room without another word. His sister's apparent lack of interest hurt him more than he cared to acknowledge, even to himself; and his sense of grievance deepened as the day went by without her making any other reference to his article. Yet, after lunch, she found time to put in an hour studying a children's fashion paper with the greatest attention. He had the cutting from the Record in his pocket-book, ready for her or any of the other guests to see, but it remained there until the evening, and when he dressed to go to the Grimmers' he left it behind deliberately. He was not going to risk another snub.
On entering the Grimmer drawing-room, however, Ethel met him with a copy of the paper in her hand.
"Billy just brought this home from town," she said. "A man showed it to him in the train. I like it very much indeed, and so does my husband." She paused and gave a little laugh. "It's awfully nice of you to come, Jimmy, and—and, not be jealous or anything silly. Still, that was all years ago, wasn't it?"
"You look just the same," he answered, smiling back at her.
She laughed again, flattered, and yet relieved at his tone—some men do remember such a stupidly long time, and she had half feared lest her guest might be one of them. "Now you are being silly," she answered, lightly. "I am sure May wouldn't approve of that. But I know you're going to be good, and, as a reward, I've got two very nice girls for you to meet. Ah, here's Billy." Then she introduced the two men, adding, "Billy knows all about you already."
The nice girls proved to be respectively Miss Farlow, the daughter of the rector, and Miss Barton, whose mother had a large house next to that of the Marlows, for whom she entertained that measure of good will which usually exists between near neighbours; but, none the less, she was very pleasant to Jimmy, knowing nothing of his financial position. Young men were by no means plentiful in the neighbourhood.
The rector, too, was pleasant, for very similar reasons, although, as a matter of fact, he was affable to all his parishioners and their relatives. There were no poor amongst his flock, no self-evident black sheep, and, consequently, he was able to know every member of his congregation socially, which, as he was never tired of repeating, was most comforting to a conscientious man.
Mrs. Grimmer, having secured Jimmy, did not mean to allow his light to remain hidden, as May apparently intended it should be; consequently, dinner had scarcely begun before she started to draw him out scientifically, and, after the dullness of the last few days, her guest was not loath to talk. He was always interesting, but this time he was almost brilliant; and when Ethel gave the signal to the other ladies, she left the room feeling that she had scored greatly over Mrs. Marlow, who would now have to explain why she had kept this distinctly interesting brother in the background. Grimmer, too, was pleased, foreseeing a chance of annoying Marlow in the train by bringing up the subject of Jimmy's adventures.
Ethel managed to keep her guest until the others had gone, and even then she did not seem inclined to let him go.
"Stay and have a whisky and soda and another cigar with Billy. I know you would like one, and I'm quite sure it won't hurt that fat butler of May's to sit up an extra half-hour to let you in. I don't suppose May has given you a latchkey."
Jimmy shook his head at the latter suggestion, then followed her into the smoking-room.
"I think I shall have a cigarette, too, Billy," she said to her husband, after she had settled her rather elaborate draperies into a big leather chair, "only you mustn't tell May, Jimmy. I am quite sure she never smoked. I didn't myself until this husband of mine taught me." She took a few whiffs, then, "Which did you like best?" she asked, suddenly. "Mary Barton will have the most money; but Vera Farlow is the better looking, and, they say, her father will probably be a bishop some day. You see, he has private means, and married an earl's granddaughter."
Her guest parried the question, a little awkwardly; whereupon Mrs. Grimmer, seeing his embarrassment, let the matter drop, and went on to ask about his plans for the future. "I wonder you don't live with some of your own people," she said, when he told her of his intention to take rooms. "But, still, I suppose it would be dull for you. What do you say, Billy?... You must come down here for a week-end as soon as you can find time."
It was an hour later when Jimmy left; and the fat butler had already finished the bottle of port and gone to sleep, with the result that only at the third ringing of the bell did he awaken and stumble upstairs to the front door. Jimmy was feeling more than ever disappointed at the attitude of his own people, more than ever ready to disregard both their wishes and their advice. After all, Ethel Grimmer had far more brains and sympathy than May; whilst Grimmer, though not over-brilliant, was more interesting than Henry Marlow. He woke up next morning with his sense of grievance still unabated; and his disappointment changed to something very like anger when May called him into her boudoir after breakfast, and proceeded to cross-examine him as to whom he had met at the Grimmers'.
"I hope you will remember these people are all our friends, even more than they are Ethel's, Jimmy," she said severely, "and I trust you will not let Ethel fill your head with her own silly ideas about getting married and so on. Both Mrs. Barton and Mrs. Farlow will only allow their girls to marry men of means and position."
"And you mean that I have neither." Her brother laughed bitterly. "Good heavens, May, do you think I came home to get married, and live on a stodgy father-in-law? I've got plenty of other things to think about." But although he brushed the matter aside scornfully, May's words remained in his memory. Only men of means and position were wanted in their circle.
Jimmy's original intention had been to take a couple of rooms of which Douglas Kelly had told him. They were somewhere in that queer maze of little streets and courts which lies at the back of Fleet Street, and would have suited him admirably. But May had objected strongly to the idea. No one they knew had ever dwelt in such a quarter; and both she and Henry agreed that it was not the thing for any young man, especially for a young man of Jimmy's temperament, to live in a place where nobody would know what he was doing, or what hours he kept. So she had written to a former maid of hers, who had married and settled in a South London suburb, and arranged for her to board and lodge Jimmy for a fixed weekly sum.
Jimmy had given in reluctantly, though he had not shown his reluctance openly. Abroad, he had gone his own way, doing just as it seemed good to him; but in England it was different. He was not afraid of his own people; but he was anxious not to shock them in any way; and, at the same time, contact with them had brought back much of his respect for those conventions which had governed his boyhood. He was a Bohemian by habit, and largely so by nature, yet when he was amongst those who lived settled lives their influence and example seemed to revive some latent instinct of staid respectability within himself, and, to a certain extent, he came to see things with their eyes. True, the phase passed quickly, so quickly that often during the ensuing months his own people wondered whether he were not a hypocrite. They were used to men with fixed temperaments, men you could rely upon to maintain a suitable standard of propriety. The other kinds they ignored socially, as they certainly would have ignored Jimmy, had he not been of their own blood; but they belonged to a class which reckons family as second only to property, which, though it may quarrel with its relations, always remembers the relationship, and the sacred right of interference which relationship gives.
Jimmy's new lodgings were half an hour's journey from the City. You reached them by means of an uncleanly train, whose driver seemed to be perpetually on the look-out for an excuse to stop with a jolt. You got out—usually ten minutes late—at a smoke-grimed station, and emerged into a wide thoroughfare, lined on either side with shops of the margarine-and-spot-cash variety, and horrible with the screeching and rattling of gigantic municipal trams, which appeared to run solely for the pleasure of the motorman and conductor. The third turning on the right and then the second on the left brought you to Mrs. Benn's house, semidetached and severe looking, with heavy curtains and a brass plate on a front door bearing the single word "Apartments."
Jimmy groaned inwardly as the cab drew up at the little iron gate, and he wished, once more, that he had not given way to his sister. A band, obviously the product of a happy and musical Fatherland, was just packing up its music stands some fifty yards lower down the street; whilst, as he mounted the steps of the house, two Dagos appeared round the next corner, trundling a piano organ, on the top of which was seated what was apparently a small and long-tailed relative of their own. His rooms, however—two on the first floor—though small, were quite cheerful for their kind, whilst the meat tea, which the landlady presently brought up, was distinctly promising.
He had no stuff of his own, beyond the clothes in his trunks, not even a book or a photograph; and during his wandering days the lack of such things had never struck him; but now he found himself registering a mental vow to buy some pictures as soon as possible, if only to have an excuse for banishing the German reproductions of mid-Victorian art which disfigured the walls of his sitting-room. The painters of the originals had all borne great names, or at least had been accounted great in their generation; but as he sat smoking after tea, and staring at these glazed abominations, he wondered who had been the greater sinner, the English artist or the Teutonic engraver; probably the former, he told himself, for, after all, the latter had only spoiled what detail there might have been; he had copied the smugness and the false sentiment, perhaps rejoiced in them as being essentially the products of Teutonic thought, but it had been the Englishman who had put that smugness on to the canvas in the first case.
Unfortunately, it was easier to want new pictures than to get them, even though they might cost but a few shillings apiece. Jimmy's total capital amounted to a bare fifteen pounds, and his means of subsistence so far appeared to consist of the introduction to Dodgson of the Record. Not that the fact troubled him greatly. A more sanguine man would have been haunted by the fear of his money giving out before any earnest of future success came to him; a less experienced man would never have dreamed of making the attempt at all; but Jimmy was used to being hard pressed for cash, and had learnt in a rough school not to expect very much. He was used to drifting, and, in any case, he had practically nothing to lose.
On the first morning Jimmy went out to have a look at the neighbourhood, but after an hour's walk he had seen enough to kill any desire he might have felt for further exploration. The whole district was prosaic and unlovely, saturated with the spirit of municipal government. There were rows and rows of jerry-built houses running at right angles to the High Street, houses with small rooms and big rates, occupied by tired-looking men who hurried to the station about half-past eight every morning, and did not get back again till after seven in the evening, when you would meet them walking homewards rather slowly, shuffling a little perhaps, as overworked clerks are prone to do, and still carrying the halfpenny paper which they had bought on their way to town. They had read every word in it, and their wives would be too busy, or too worn-out, to give it a glance; but still it had a value as fire-lighting material. Halfpennies were not negligible factors in those desirable villa residences. You could see that when the women folk went out to do their morning shopping. Some of them were flashily-smart, some, most perhaps, drab and weary like their husbands; but all had to pay cash to those prosperous tradesmen in the High Street, every one of whom looked like a councillor, or, at the very least, a guardian, having the air of growing rich at the expense of the multitude.
There seemed to be a council school, aggressive in its hideousness, up every second side street; the grinding whirr of the municipal trams was always in your ears, to remind you of the poverty of the neighbourhood in case our eyes should play you false, that worst form of poverty which has to wear a decent black suit and possesses the mockery of a vote; whilst the only alternative to the pavements—laid by a councillor-contractor, and kept in repair by means of a special rate—was the recreation ground, in which a plethoric and guardian-like official spent his days in keeping the embryo ratepayers off the sacrosanct municipal grass. You felt you were in the clutch of a horrible machine, or rather of two machines, unallied perhaps, yet very similar in operation, for both took as much as possible and grudged giving anything in return. From nine till six you were part of the mechanism of the City, wearing yourself out for the bare means of subsistence, often without the slightest hope of further advancement, always with the dread of dismissal as soon as your hair began to turn grey, when a younger, cheaper man, or a German volunteer, would take your place. There was nothing in the present, save the eternal necessity for economy; nothing in the future, save the fear of unemployment. At night, you returned home, to be gripped by the municipal Frankenstein's monster, which you and your fellows had helped to make. You were never free man, you never could be free; because in London the price of freedom is usually starvation for your children and prison for yourself, if you cannot satisfy the demands of the "Guardians of the Poor."
Jimmy smiled grimly to himself as he noted the new Town Hall. He had met a good many robber-politicians during his wanderings in the Dago Republics; but all of them had, at least, the saving grace of frankness. The aim and end of their policy was to arrive safely in Paris, with the contents of the national treasury as their baggage. They did not hunger after honours, such as knighthoods, or aspire to speak at Sunday afternoon gathering in pseudo-places of worship. Certainly, they told a number of flamboyant falsehoods before getting into office, but that was the only respect in which they copied civilised political methods; and they did run a risk from which their English counterparts would have shrunk in a cold sweat of fear. The price of failure was death.
The one tour of inspection satisfied Jimmy. He saw the tragedy underlying the lives of these people, saw it far more clearly, perhaps, than they did themselves, for he had known so many other phases, whilst they were inured to the drab monotony, most had been born to it, and so its full meaning was mercifully hidden from them. They would have waxed wrath at hearing it called a poor locality, in fact it was not one, being eminently respectable, as any house agent could tell you. Why, the late mayor, who died during his third term of office, had left nearly a hundred thousand pounds.
For three days Jimmy wrote steadily, doing no less than five articles of the type which the Record had accepted. One he sent to Dodgson, the others to papers which Douglas Kelly had mentioned, and then, suddenly, inspiration seemed to fail him. He could not write a line, could not even think of a subject; and, for a whole day, he felt something nearly akin to dismay. If his ideas ran out as quickly as this his prospects were small indeed; and when the postman brought back two of his manuscripts, with printed slips conveying the editor's thanks and regrets, he began to curse his own folly in ever coming home.
That evening, the craving for companionship he had felt in the hotel the night he landed came back to him again. He had spoken to no one, save his landlady, for the better part of a week, and the loneliness seemed unbearable. He sent his supper away, practically untasted, then, without giving Mrs. Benn a chance to come up and comment on the smallness of his appetite, took his hat and went out.
It was Early Closing Day, and the High Street was thronged, mainly with the liberated shop assistants. Jimmy walked slowly, and, owing perhaps to that fact, he got more than one glance, encouraging him to begin an acquaintance with young ladies in cheap and showy raiment. But none of them made the slightest appeal to him. He had no taste for an insipid flirtation with a girl who would probably play havoc with the aspirates. He had met many women far less innocent than these, and there had been more than one passage in his life which he did not recall with pride; and yet, withal, he was still fastidious where women were concerned. The only one who had interested him since his return home was the girl whom he had seen entering the cab in the Strand. Somehow, her face remained fixed in his memory, and many times since that evening he had found himself wondering who she was, what her story could be.
He walked down to the bottom of the High Street, to where the trams swerved round a corner with a whirr and a jolt into the domain of the next borough council. There was a large public house at that point, with much brass work and mahogany about its swing doors, and he turned in, not so much because he wanted anything to drink, but because it seemed the obvious alternative to the dreariness of his own rooms or the boredom of the street.
The presiding deity welcomed him with the smile she reserved for new customers. Trade was not very brisk in the saloon bar—there were eight other licensed houses in the street—and she tossed her peroxide-dyed curls and flashed her new teeth at him as she poured out his whisky.
"You look pretty doleful about something," she remarked.
Jimmy laughed. "I was till I came in here." Then he began to chat to her, about nothing in particular, and somehow the time passed so quickly that it was closing time before he took his leave. She had not interested him in the least; but she was someone to talk to, and the five or six drinks he had taken had cheered him up temporarily. It was only when he got out into the now-emptying street that he remembered that he had not got a latchkey.
Mrs. Benn was sitting up for him, and received him with a rather sour face.
"I didn't know you was going to be late, sir," she said severely. "Mrs. Marlow wrote that you would always be in in good time."
Jimmy muttered an apology and took his candle. On the top stair of the first flight he caught his foot in a loose piece of carpet, and stumbled, dropping the candlestick, which broke off at the base. In silence, Mrs. Benn fetched another, and handed it to him with an air of resignation, then, "You'll be sure and put it out safe, sir," she said.
Jimmy saw what was in her mind, and laughed, though there was a note of annoyance in his voice as he attempted to reassure her; but his annoyance would have changed to wrath had he known that the early post next morning carried a letter to May describing how he returned home the worse for liquor.
The morning post consisted of a manuscript returned from the Daily Herald. Jimmy tossed the package on to the side table, with an exclamation of disgust, not even troubling to ascertain if there were any enclosure beyond the ordinary printed slip. Then, suddenly, he decided to go up to town to see if he could find Douglas Kelly.
"Will you be late again, sir?" Mrs. Benn asked, severely.
"I think not," Jimmy answered, then, remembering his former experience with Kelly, he added, "still you might let me have a latchkey on the chance. I meant to have asked you for one before."
Mrs. Benn sighed, fumbled in a pocket, took a key off her own bunch, and handed it to her lodger with an air of resignation.
"Mrs. Marlow said as you would always be in early." She repeated her remark of the previous evening. "But if you are going to be late, sir, I must ask you to be very careful with the candle. One does read of such awful things, folks burnt in their beds. I'm sure I'm afraid to look at the papers in these days."
Jimmy tried to laugh, but the sound spoke of irritation rather than of amusement. "I don't think you need be afraid of me, Mrs. Benn, though I did twist my ankle on that loose piece of carpet last night."
The landlady sniffed, and descended to the basement, where she relieved her feelings, and conveyed a moral lesson, by smacking the head of her youngest son, who was not wearing his Band of Hope ribbon.
"Poor children, can't they keep sober without joining a temperance society?" a young lady lodger had once said, with a show of sympathy, and since then the badges had not been greatly in evidence; but now they should be brought out again as a rebuke to Mrs. Marlow's brother.
Jimmy went to the club which he knew Kelly used most, but the journalist was not there. The waiter on duty surveyed the caller critically through a window, then, having grown grey and wise in the ways of literary men, he decided that Jimmy was not a creditor, and volunteered some information. "Mr. Kelly's not been in yet, sir; but he's sure to come to get his letters. So you might call again."