HENRY SETON MERRIMAN
"'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays: Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays, And one by one back in the Closet lays"
I. IN ST. JACOB STRAAT
II. WORK OK PLAY?
III. BEGINNING AT HOME
IV. A NEW DISCIPLE
V. OUT OF EGYPT
VI. ON THE DUNES
VIII. THE SEAMY SIDE
IX. A SHADOW FROM THE PAST
X. DEEPER WATER
XI. IN THE OUDE WEG
XIII. THE MAKING OF A MAN
XV. PLAIN SPEAKING
XVII. PLAIN SPEAKING
XVIII. A COMPLICATION
XX. FROM THE PAST
XXI. A COMBINED FORCE
XXIII. A REINFORCEMENT
XXIV. A BRIGHT AND SHINING LIGHT
XXV. CLEARING THE AIR
XXVI. THE ULTIMATUM
XXVIII. WITH CARE
XXIX. A LESSON
XXX. ON THE QUEEN'S CANAL
XXXI. AT THE CORNER
XXXII. ROUND THE CORNER
IN ST. JACOB STRAAT.
"The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life."
"It is the Professor von Holzen," said a stout woman who still keeps the egg and butter shop at the corner of St. Jacob Straat in The Hague; she is a Jewess, as, indeed, are most of the denizens of St. Jacob Straat and its neighbour, Bezem Straat, where the fruit-sellers live—"it is the Professor von Holzen, who passes this way once or twice a week. He is a good man."
"His coat is of a good cloth," answered her customer, a young man with a melancholy dark eye and a racial appreciation of the material things of this world.
Some say that it is not wise to pass through St. Jacob Straat or Bezem Straat alone and after nightfall, for there are lurking forms within the doorways, and shuffling feet may be heard in the many passages. During the daytime the passer-by will, if he looks up quickly enough, see furtive faces at the windows, of men, and more especially of women, who never seem to come abroad, but pass their lives behind those unwashed curtains, with carefully closed windows, and in an atmosphere which may be faintly imagined by a glance at the wares in the shop below. The pavement of St. Jacob Straat is also pressed into the service of that commerce in old metal and damaged domestic utensils which seems to enable thousands of the accursed people to live and thrive according to their lights. It will be observed that the vendors, with a knowledge of human nature doubtless bred of experience, only expose upon the pavement articles such as bedsteads, stoves, and other heavy ware which may not be snatched up by the fleet of foot. Within the shops are crowded clothes and books and a thousand miscellaneous effects of small value. A hush seems to hang over this street. Even the children, white-faced and melancholy, with deep expressionless eyes and drooping noses, seem to have realized too soon the gravity of life, and rarely indulge in games.
He whom the butter-merchant described as Professor von Holzen passed quickly along the middle of the street, with an air suggesting a desire to attract as little attention as possible. He was a heavy-shouldered man with a bad mouth—a greedy mouth, one would think—and mild eyes. The month was September, and the professor wore a thin black overcoat closely buttoned across his broad chest. He carried a pair of slate-coloured gloves and an umbrella. His whole appearance bespoke learning and middle-class respectability. It is, after all, no use being learned without looking learned, and Professor von Holzen took care to dress according to his station in life. His attitude towards the world seemed to say, "Leave me alone and I will not trouble you," which is, after all, as satisfactory an attitude as may be desired. It is, at all events, better than the common attitude of the many, that says, "Let us exchange confidences," leading to the barter of two valueless commodities.
The professor stopped at the door of No. 15, St. Jacob Straat—one of the oldest houses in this old street—and slowly lighted a cigar. There is a shop on the ground-floor of No. 15, where ancient pieces of stove-pipe and a few fire-irons are exposed for sale. Von Holzen, having pushed open the door, stood waiting at the foot of a narrow and grimy staircase. He knew that in such a shop in such a quarter of the town there is always a human spider lurking in the background, who steals out upon any human fly that may pause to look at the wares.
This spider presently appeared—a wizened woman with a face like that of a witch. Von Holzen pointed upward to the room above them. She shook her head regretfully.
"Still alive," she said.
And the professor turned toward the stair, but paused at the bottom step.
"Here," he said, extending his fingers. "Some milk. How much has he had?"
"Two jugs," she replied, "and three jugs of water. One would say he has a fire inside him."
"So he has," said the professor, with a grim smile, as he went upstairs. He ascended slowly, puffing out the smoke of his cigar before him with a certain skill, so that his progress was a form of fumigation. The fear of infection is the only fear to which men will own, and it is hard to understand why this form of cowardice should be less despicable than others. Von Holzen was a German, and that nation combines courage with so deep a caution that mistaken persons sometimes think the former adjunct lacking. The mark of a wound across his cheek told that in his student days this man had, after due deliberation, considered it necessary to fight. Some, looking at Von Holzen's face, might wonder what mark the other student bore as a memento of that encounter.
Von Holzen pushed open a door that stood ajar at the head of the stair, and went slowly into the room, preceded by a puff of smoke. The place was not full of furniture, properly speaking, although it was littered with many household effects which had no business in a bedroom. It was, indeed, used as a storehouse for such wares as the proprietor of the shop only offered to a chosen few. The atmosphere of the room must have been a very Tower of Babel, where strange foreign bacilli from all parts of the world rose up and wrangled in the air.
Upon a sham Empire table, tres antique, near the window, stood three water-jugs and a glass of imitation Venetian work. A yellow hand stretching from a dark heap of bedclothes clutched the glass and held it out, empty, when Von Holzen came into the room.
"I have sent for milk," said the professor, smoking hard, and heedful not to look too closely into the dark corner where the bed was situated.
"You are kind," said a voice, and it was impossible to guess whether its tone was sarcastic or grateful.
Von Holzen looked at the empty water-jugs with a smile, and shrugged his shoulders. His intention had perhaps been a kind one. A bad mouth usually indicates a soft heart.
"It is because you have something to gain," said the hollow voice from the bed.
"I have something to gain, but I can do without it," replied Von Holzen, turning to the door and taking a jug of milk from the hand of a child waiting there.
"And the change," he said sharply.
The child laughed cunningly, and held out two small copper coins of the value of half a cent.
Von Holzen filled the tumbler and handed it to the sick man, who a moment later held it out empty.
"You may have as much as you like," said Von Holzen, kindly.
"Will it keep me alive?"
"Nothing can do that, my friend," answered Von Holzen. He looked down at the yellow face peering at him from the darkness. It seemed to be the face of a very aged man, with eyes wide open and blood-shot. A thickness of speech was accounted for by the absence of teeth.
The man laughed gleefully. "All the same, I have lived longer than any of them," he said. How many of us pride ourselves upon possessing an advantage which others never covet!
"Yes," answered Von Holzen, gravely. "How old are you?"
"Nearly thirty-five," was the answer.
Von Holzen nodded, and, turning on his heel, looked thoughtfully out of the window. The light fell full on his face, which would have been a fine one were the mouth hidden. The eyes were dark and steady. A high forehead looked higher by reason of a growth of thick hair standing nearly an inch upright from the scalp, like the fur of a beaver in life, without curl or ripple. The chin was long and pointed. A face, this, that any would turn to look at again. One would think that such a man would get on in the world. But none may judge of another in this respect. It is a strange fact that intimacy with any who has made for himself a great name leads to the inevitable conclusion that he is unworthy of it.
"Wonderful!" murmured Von Holzen—"wonderful! Nearly thirty-five!" And it was hard to say what his thoughts really were. The only sound that came from the bed was the sound of drinking.
"And I know more about the trade than any, for I was brought up to it from boyhood," said the dying man, with an uncanny bravado. "I did not wait until I was driven to it, like most."
"Yes, you were skilful, as I have been told."
"Not all skill—not all skill," piped the metallic voice, indistinctly. "There was knowledge also."
Von Holzen, standing with his hands in the pockets of his thin overcoat, shrugged his shoulders. They had arrived by an oft-trodden path to an ancient point of divergence. Presently Von Holzen turned and went towards the bed. The yellow hand and arm lay stretched out across the table, and Holzen's finger softly found the pulse.
"You are weaker," he said. "It is only right that I should tell you."
The man did not answer, but lay back, breathing quickly. Something seemed to catch in his throat. Von Holzen went to the door, and furtive steps moved away down the dark staircase.
"Go," he said authoritatively, "for the doctor, at once." Then he came back towards the bed. "Will you take my price?" he said to its occupant. "I offer it to you for the last time."
"A thousand gulden?"
"It is too little money," replied the dying man. "Make it twelve hundred."
Von Holzen turned away to the window again thoughtfully. A silence seemed to have fallen over the busy streets, to fill the untidy room. The angel of death, not for the first time, found himself in company with the greed of men.
"I will do that," said Von Holzen at length, "as you are dying."
"Have you the money with you?"
"Ah!" said the dying man, regretfully. It was only natural, perhaps, that he was sorry that he had not asked more. "Sit down," he said, "and write."
Von Holzen did as he was bidden. He had also a pocket-book and pencil in readiness. Slowly, as if drawing from the depths of a long-stored memory, the dying man dictated a prescription in a mixture of dog-Latin and Dutch, which his hearer seemed to understand readily enough. The money, in dull-coloured notes, lay on the table before the writer. The prescription was a long one, covering many pages of the note-book, and the particulars as to preparation and temperature of the various liquid ingredients filled up another two pages.
"There," said the dying man at length, "I have treated you fairly. I have told you all I know. Give me the money."
Von Holzen crossed the room and placed the notes within the yellow fingers, which closed over them.
"Ah," said the recipient, "I have had more than that in my hand. I was rich once, and I spent it all in Amsterdam. Now read over your writing. I will treat you fairly."
Von Holzen stood by the window and read aloud from his book.
"Yes," said the other. "One sees that you took your diploma at Leyden. You have made no mistake."
Von Holzen closed the book and replaced it in his pocket. His face bore no sign of exultation. His somewhat phlegmatic calm successfully concealed the fact that he had at last obtained information which he had long sought. A cart rattled past over the cobble-stones, making speech inaudible for the moment. The man moved uneasily on the bed. Von Holzen went towards him and poured out more milk. Instead of reaching out for it, the sick man's hand lay on the coverlet. The notes were tightly held by three fingers; the free finger and the thumb picked at the counterpane. Von Holzen bent over the bed and examined the face. The sick man's eyes were closed. Suddenly he spoke in a mumbling voice—"And now that you have what you want, you will go."
"No," answered Von Holzen, in a kind voice, "I will not do that. I will stay with you if you do not want to be left alone. You are brave, at all events. I shall be horribly afraid when it comes to my turn to die."
"You would not be afraid if you had lived a life such as mine. Death cannot be worse, at all events." And the man laughed contentedly enough, as one who, having passed through evil days, sees the end of them at last.
Von Holzen made no answer. He went to the window and opened it, letting in the air laden with the clean scent of burning peat, which makes the atmosphere of The Hague unlike that of any other town; for here is a city with the smell of a village in its busy streets. The German scientist stood looking out, and into the room came again that strange silence. It was an odd room in which to die, for every article in it was what is known as an antiquity; and although some of these relics of the past had been carefully manufactured in a back shop in Bezem Straat, others were really of ancient date. The very glass from which the dying man drank his milk dated from the glorious days of Holland when William the Silent pitted his Northern stubbornness and deep diplomacy against the fire and fanaticism of Alva. Many objects in the room had a story, had been in the daily use of hands long since vanished, could tell the history of half a dozen human lives lived out and now forgotten. The air itself smelt of age and mouldering memories.
Von Holzen came towards the bed without speaking, and stood looking down. Never a talkative man, he was now further silenced by the shadow that lay over the stricken face of his companion. The sick man was breathing very slowly. He glanced at Von Holzen for a moment, and then returned to the dull contemplation of the opposite wall. Quite suddenly his breath caught. There were long pauses during which he seemed to cease to breathe. Then at length followed a pause which merged itself gently into eternity.
Von Holzen waited a few minutes, and then bent over the bed and softly unclasped the dead man's hand, taking from it the crumpled notes. Mechanically he counted them, twelve hundred gulden in all, and restored them to the pocket from which he had taken them half an hour earlier.
He walked to the window and waited. When at length the district doctor arrived, Von Holzen turned to greet him with a stiff bow.
"I am afraid, Herr Doctor," he said, in German, "You are too late."
WORK OR PLAY?
"Get work, get work; Be sure 'tis better than what you work to get."
Two men were driving in a hansom cab westward through Cockspur Street. One, a large individual of a bovine placidity, wore the Queen's uniform, and carried himself with a solid dignity faintly suggestive of a lighthouse. The other, a narrower man, with a keen, fair face and eyes that had an habitual smile, wore another uniform—that of society. He was well dressed, and, what is rarer carried his fine clothes with such assurance that their fineness seemed not only natural but indispensable.
"Sic transit the glory of this world," he was saying. At this moment three men on the pavement—the usual men on the pavement at such times—turned and looked into the cab.
"'Ere's White!" cried one of them. "White—dash his eyes! Brayvo! brayvo, White!"
And all three raised a shout which seemed to be taken up vaguely in various parts of Trafalgar Square, and finally died away in the distance.
"That is it," said the young man in the frock-coat; "that is the glory of this world. Listen to it passing away. There is a policeman touching his helmet. Ah, what a thing it is to be Major White—to-day! To morrow—bonjour la gloire"
Major White, who had dropped his single eye-glass a minute earlier, sat squarely looking out upon the world with a mild surprise. The eye from which the glass had fallen was even more surprised than the other. But this, it seemed, was a man upon whom the passing world made, as a rule, but a passing impression. His attitude towards it was one of dense tolerance. He was, in fact, one of those men who usually allow their neighbours to live in a fool's-paradise, based upon the assumption of a blindness or a stupidity or an indifference, which may or may not be justified by subsequent events.
This was, as Tony Cornish, his companion, had hinted, the White of the moment. Just as the reader may be the Jones or the Tomkins of the moment if his soul thirst for glory. Crime and novel-writing are the two broad roads to notoriety, but Major White had practiced neither felony nor fiction. He had merely attended to his own and his country's business in a solid, common-sense way in one of those obscure and tight places into which the British officer frequently finds himself forced by the unwieldiness of the empire or the indiscretion of an effervescent press.
That he had extricated himself and his command from the tight place, with much glory to themselves and an increased burden to the cares of the Colonial Office, was a fact which a grateful country was at this moment doing its best to recognize. That the authorities and those who knew him could not explain how he had done it any more than he himself could, was another fact which troubled him as little. Major White was wise in that he did not attempt to explain.
"That sort of thing," he said, "generally comes right in the end." And the affair may thus be consigned to that pigeon-hole of the past in which are filed for future reference cases where brilliant men have failed and unlikely ones have covered themselves with sudden and transient glory.
There had been a review of the troops that had taken part in a short and satisfactory expedition of which, by what is usually called a lucky chance, White found himself the hero. He was not of the material of which heroes are made; but that did not matter. The world will take a man and make a hero of him without pausing to inquire of what stuff he may be. Nay, more, it will take a man's name and glorify it without so much as inquiring to what manner of person the name belongs.
Tony Cornish, who went everywhere and saw everything, was of course present at the review, and knew all the best people there. He passed from carriage to carriage in his smart way, saying the right thing to the right people in the right words, failing to see the wrong people quite in the best manner, and conscious of the fact that none could surpass him. Then suddenly, roused to a higher manhood by the tramp of steady feet, by the sight of his lifelong friend White riding at the head of his tanned warriors, this social success forgot himself. He waved his silk hat and shouted himself hoarse, as did the honest plumber at his side.
"That's better work than yours nor mine, mister," said the plumber, when the troops were gone; and Tony admitted, with his ready smile, that it was so. A few minutes later Tony found Major White solemnly staring at a small crowd, which as solemnly stared back at him, on the pavement in front of the Horse Guards.
"Here, I have a cab waiting for me," he had said; and White followed him with a mildly bewildered patience, pushing his way gently through the crowd as through a herd of oxen.
He made no comment, and if he heard sundry whispers of "That's 'im," he was not unduly elated. In the cab he sat bolt upright, looking as if his tunic was too tight, as in all probability it was. The day was hot, and after a few jerks he extracted a pocket-handkerchief from his sleeve.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Well, I was going to Cambridge Terrace. Joan sent me a card this morning saying that she wanted to see me," explained Tony Cornish. He was a young man who seemed always busy. His long thin legs moved quickly, he spoke quickly, and had a rapid glance. There was a suggestion of superficial haste about him. For an idle man, he had remarkably little time on his hands.
White took up his eye-glass, examined it with short-sighted earnestness, and screwed it solemnly into his eye.
"Cambridge Terrace?" he said, and stared in front of him.
"Yes. Have you seen the Ferribys since your glorious return to these—er—shores?" As he spoke, Cornish gave only half of his attention. He knew so many people that Piccadilly was a work of considerable effort, and it is difficult to bow gracefully from a hansom cab.
"Can't say I have."
"Then come in and see them now. We shall find only Joan at home, and she will not mind your fine feathers or the dust and circumstance of war upon your boots. Lady Ferriby will be sneaking about in the direction of Edgware Road—fish is nearly two pence a pound cheaper there, I understand. My respected uncle is sure to be sunning his waistcoat in Piccadilly. Yes, there he is. Isn't he splendid? How do, uncle?" and Cornish waved a grey Suede glove with a gay nod.
"How are the Ferribys?" inquired Major White, who belonged to the curt school.
"Oh, they seem to be well. Uncle is full of that charity which at all events has its headquarters in the home counties. Aunt—well, aunt is saving money."
"And Miss Ferriby?" inquired White, looking straight in front of him.
Cornish glanced quickly at his companion. "Oh, Joan?" he answered. "She is all right. Full of energy, you know—all the fads in their courses."
"You get 'em too."
"Oh yes; I get them too. Buttonholes come and buttonholes go. Have you noticed it? They get large. Neapolitan violets all over your left shoulder one day, and no flowers at all the week after." Cornish spoke with a gravity befitting the subject. He was, it seemed a student of human nature in his way. "Of course," he added, laying an impressive forefinger on White's gold-laced cuff, "it would never do if the world remained stationary."
"Never," said the major, darkly. "Never."
They were talking to pass the time. Joan Ferriby had come between them, as a woman is bound to come between two men sooner or later. Neither knew what the other thought of Joan Ferriby, or if he thought of her at all. Women, it is to be believed, have a pleasant way of mentioning the name of a man with such significance that one of their party changes colour. When next she meets that man she does it again, and perhaps he sees it, and perhaps his vanity, always on the alert, magnifies that unfortunate blush. And they are married, and live unhappily ever afterwards. And—let us hope there is a hell for gossips. But men are different in their procedure. They are awkward and gauche. They talk of newspaper matters, and on the whole there is less harm done.
The hansom cab containing these two men pulled up jerkily at the door of No. 9, Cambridge Terrace. Tony Cornish hurried to the door, and rang the bell as if he knew it well. Major White followed him stiffly. They were ushered into a library on the ground floor, and were there received by a young lady, who, pen in hand, sat at a large table littered with newspaper wrappers.
"I am addressing the Haberdashers' Assistants," she said, "but I am very glad to see you."
Miss Joan Ferriby was one of those happy persons who never know a doubt. One must, it seems, be young to enjoy this nineteenth-century immunity. One must be pretty—it is, at all events, better to be pretty—and one must dress well. A little knowledge of the world, a decisive way of stating what pass at the moment for facts, a quick manner of speaking—and the rest comes tout seul. This cocksureness is in the atmosphere of the day, just as fainting and curls and an appealing helplessness were in the atmosphere of an earlier Victorian period.
Miss Ferriby stood, pen in hand, and laughed at the confusion on the table in front of her. She was eminently practical, and quite without that self-consciousness which in a bygone day took the irritating form of coyness. Major White, with whom she shook hands en camarade, gazed at her solemnly.
"Who are the Haberdashers' Assistants?" he asked.
Miss Ferriby sat down with a grave face. "Oh, it is a splendid charity," she answered. "Tony will tell you all about it. It is an association of which the object is to induce people to give up riding on Saturday afternoons, and to lend their bicycles to haberdashers' assistants who cannot afford to buy them for themselves. Papa is patron."
Cornish looked quickly from one to the other. He had always felt that Major White was not quite of the world in which Joan and be moved. The major came into it at times, looked around him, and then moved away again into another world, less energetic, less advanced, less rapid in its changes. Cornish had never sought to interest his friend in sundry good works in which Joan, for instance, was interested, and which formed a delightful topic for conversation at teatime.
"It is so splendid," said Joan, gathering up her papers, "to feel that one is really doing something."
And she looked up into White's face with an air of grave enthusiasm which made him drop his eye-glass.
"Oh yes," he answered, rather vaguely.
Cornish had already seated himself at the table, and was folding the addressed newspaper wrappers over circulars printed on thick note-paper. This seemed a busy world into which White had stepped. He looked rather longingly at the newspaper wrappers and the circulars, and then lapsed into the contemplation of Joan's neat fingers as she too fell to the work.
"We saw all about you," said the girl, in her bright, decisive way, "in the newspapers. Papa read it aloud. He is always reading things aloud now, out of the Times. He thinks it is good practice for the platform, I am sure. We were all"—she paused and banged her energetic fist down upon a pile of folded circulars which seemed to require further pressure—"very proud, you know, to know you."
"Good Lord!" ejaculated White, fervently.
"Well, why not?" asked Miss Ferriby, looking up. She had expressive eyes, and they now flashed almost angrily. "All English people——" she began, and broke off suddenly, throwing aside the papers and rising quickly to her feet. Her eyes were fixed on White's tunic. "Is that a medal?" she asked, hurrying towards him. "Oh, how splendid! Look, Tony, look! A medal! Is it"—she paused, looking at it closely—"is it—the Victoria Cross?" she asked, and stood looking from one man to the other, her eyes glistening with something more than excitement.
"Um—yes," admitted White.
Tony Cornish had risen to his feet also. He held out his hand.
"I did not know that," he said.
There was a pause. Tony and Joan returned to their circulars in an odd silence. The Haberdashers' Assistants seemed suddenly to have diminished in importance.
"By-the-by," said Joan Ferriby at length, "papa wants to see you, Tony. He has a new scheme. Something very large and very important. The only question is whether it is not too large. It is not only in England, but in other countries. A great international affair. Some distressed manufacturers or something. I really do not quite know. That Mr. Roden—you remember?—has been to see him about it."
Cornish nodded in his quick way. "I remember Roden," he answered. "The man you met at Hombourg. Tall dark man with a tired manner."
"Yes," answered Joan. "He has been to see papa several times. Papa is just as busy as ever with his charities," she continued, addressing White. "And I believe he wants you to help him in this one." "Me?" said White, nervously. "Oh, I'm no good. I should not know a haberdasher's assistant if I saw him."
"Oh, but this is not the Haberdashers' Assistants," laughed Joan. "It is something much more important than that. The Haberdashers' Assistants are only——"
"Pour passer le temps," suggested Cornish, gaily.
"No, of course not. But papa is really rather anxious about this. He says it is much the most important thing he has ever had to do with—and that is saying a good deal, you know. I wish I could remember the name of it, and of those poor unfortunate people who make it—whatever it is. It is some stuff, you know, and sounds sticky. Papa has so many charities, and such long names to them. Aunt Susan says it is because he was so wild in his youth—but one cannot believe that. Would you think that papa had been wild in his youth—to look at him now?"
"Lord, no!" ejaculated White, with pious solidity, throwing back his shoulders with an air that seemed to suggest a readiness to fight any man who should hint at such a thing, and he waved the mere thought aside with a ponderous gesture of the hand.
Joan had, however, already turned to another matter. She was consulting a diary bound in dark blue morocco.
"Let me see, now," she said. "Papa told me to make an appointment with you. When can you come?"
Cornish produced a minute engagement-book, and these two busy people put their heads together in the search for a disengaged moment. Not only in mind, but in face and manner, they slightly resembled each other, and might, by the keen-sighted, have been set down at once as cousins. Both were fair and slightly made, both were quick and clever. Both faced the world with an air of energetic intelligence that bespoke their intention of making a mark upon it. Both were liable to be checked in a moment of earnest endeavour by a sudden perception of the humorous, which liability rendered them somewhat superficial, and apt of it lightly from one thought to another.
"I wish I could remember the name of papa's new scheme," said Joan, as she bade them good-bye. When they were in the cab she ran to the door. "I remember," she cried. "I remember now. It is malgamite."
BEGINNING AT HOME.
"Charity creates much of the misery it relieves, but it does not relieve all the misery it creates."
Charity, as all the world knows, should begin at an "at home." Lord Ferriby knew as well as any that there are men, and perhaps even women, who will give largely in order that their names may appear largely and handsomely in the select subscription lists. He also knew that an invitation card in the present is as sure a bait as the promise of bliss hereafter. So Lady Ferriby announced by card (in an open envelope with a halfpenny stamp) that she should be "at home" to certain persons on a certain evening. And the good and the great flocked to Cambridge Terrace. The good and great are, one finds, a little mixed, from a social point of view.
There were present at Lady Ferriby's, for instance, a number of ministers, some cabinet, others dissenting. Here, a man leaning against the wall wore a blue ribbon across his shirt front. There, another, looking bigger and more self-confident, had no shirt front at all. His was the cheap distinction of unsuitable clothes.
"Ha! Miss Ferriby, glad to see you," he said as he entered, holding out a hand which had the usual outward signs of industrial honesty.
Joan shook the hand frankly, and its possessor passed on.
"Is that the gas-man?" inquired Major White, gravely. He had been standing beside her ever since his arrival, seeking, it seemed, the protection of one who understood these social functions. It is to be presumed that the major was less bewildered than he looked.
"Hush!" And Joan said something hurriedly in White's large ear. "Everybody has him," she concluded; and the explanation brought certain calm into the mildly surprised eye behind the eye-glass. White recognized the phrase and its conclusive contemporary weight.
"Here's a flat-backed man!" he exclaimed, with a ring of relief. "Been drilled, this man. Gad! He's proud!" added the major, as the new-comer passed Joan with rather a cold bow.
"Oh, that's the detective," explained Joan. "So many people, you know; and so mixed. Everybody has them. Here's Tony—at last."
Tony Cornish was indeed making his way through the crowd towards them. He shook hands with a bishop as he elbowed a path across the room, and did it with the pious face of a self-respecting curate. The next minute he was prodding a sporting baronet in the ribs at the precise moment when that nobleman reached the point of his little story and on the precise rib where he expected to be prodded. It is always wise to do the expected.
At the sight of Tony Cornish, Joan's face became grave, and she turned towards him with her little frown of preoccupation, such as one might expect to find upon the face of a woman concerned in the great movements of the day. But before Tony reached her the expression changed to a very feminine and even old-fashioned one of annoyance.
"Oh, here comes mother!" she said, looking beyond Cornish, who was indeed being pursued by a wizened little old lady.
Lady Ferriby, it seemed, was not enjoying herself. She glanced suspiciously from one face to another, as if she was seeking a friend without any great hope of finding one. Perhaps, like many another, she looked upon the world from that point Of view.
Cornish hurried up and shook hands. "Plenty of people," he said.
"Oh yes," answered Joan, earnestly. "It only shows that there is, after all, a great deal of good in human nature, that in such a movement as this rich and poor, great and small, are all equal."
Cornish nodded in his quick sympathetic way, accepting as we all accept the social statements of the day, which are oft repeated and never weighed. Then he turned to White and tapped that soldier's arm emphatically.
"Way to get on nowadays," he said, "is to be prominent in some great movement for benefiting mankind." Joan heard the words, and, turning, looked at Cornish with a momentary doubt.
"And I mean to get on in the world, my dear Joan," he said, with a gravity which quite altered his keen, fair face. It passed off instantly, as if swept away by the ready smile which came again. A close observer might have begun to wonder under which mask lay the real Tony Cornish.
Major White looked stolidly at his friend. His face, on the contrary never changed.
Lady Ferriby joined them at this moment—a silent, querulous-looking woman in black silk and priceless lace, who, despite her white hair and wrinkled face, yet wore her clothes with that carefulness which commands respect from high and low alike. The world was afraid of Lady Ferriby, and had little to say to her. It turned aside, as a rule, when she approached. And when she had passed on with her suspicious glance, her bent and shaking head, it whispered that there walked a woman with a romantic past. It is, moreover, to be hoped that the younger portion of Lady Ferriby's world took heed of this catlike, lonely woman, and recognized the melancholy fact that it is unwise to form a romantic attachment in the days of one's youth.
"Tony," said her ladyship, "they have eaten all the sandwiches."
And there was something in her voice, in her manner of touching Tony Cornish's arm with her fan that suggested in a far-off, cold way that this social butterfly had reached one of the still strings of her heart. Who knows? There may have been, in those dim days when Lady Ferriby had played her part in the romantic story which all hinted at and none knew, another such as Tony Cornish—gay and debonair, careless, reckless, and yet endowed with the power of making some poor woman happy.
"My dear aunt," replied Cornish, with a levity with which none other ever dared to treat her, "the benevolent are always greedy. And each additional virtue—temperance, loving-kindness, humility—only serves to dull the sense of humour and add to the appetite. Give them biscuits, aunt."
And offering her his arm, he good-naturedly led her to the refreshment-room to investigate the matter. As she passed through the crowded rooms, she glanced from face to face with her quick, seeking look. She cordially disliked all these people. And their principal crime was that they ate and drank. For Lady Ferriby was a miser.
At the upper end of the room a low platform served as a safe retreat for sleepy chaperons on such occasions as the annual Ferriby ball. To-night there were no chaperons. Is not charity the safest as well as the most lenient of these? And does her wing not cover a multitude of indiscretions?
Upon this platform there now appeared, amid palms and chrysanthemums, a long, rotund man like a bolster. He held a paper in his hand and wore a platform smile. His attitude was that of one who hesitated to demand silence from so well-bred a throng. His high, narrow forehead shone in the light of the candelabra. This was Lord Ferriby—a man whose best friend did his best for him in describing him as well-meaning. He gave a cough which had sufficient significance in it to command a momentary quiet. During the silence, a well-dressed parson stood on tiptoe and whispered something in Lord Ferriby's ear. The suggestion, whatever it may have been, was negated by the speaker on receipt of a warning shake of the head from Joan.
"Er—ladies and gentlemen," said Lord Ferriby, and gained the necessary silence. "Er—you all know the purpose of our meeting here to-night. You all know that Lady Ferriby and myself are much honoured by your presence here. And—er—I am sure——" He did not, however, appear to be quite sure, for he consulted his paper, and the colonial bishop near the yellow chrysanthemums said, "Hear, hear!"
"And I am sure that we are, one and all, actuated by a burning desire to relieve the terrible distress which has been going on unknown to us in our very midst."
"He has missed out half a page," said Joan to Major White, who somehow found himself at her side again.
"This is no place, and we have at the moment no time, to go into the details of the manufacture of malgamite. Suffice it to say, that such a—er—composition exists, and that it is a necessity in the manufacture of paper. Now, ladies and gentlemen, the painful fact has been brought to light by my friend Mr. Roden——" His lordship paused, and looked round with a half-fledged bow, but failed to find Roden.
"By—er—Mr. Roden that the manufacture of malgamite is one of the deadliest of industries. In fact, the makers of malgamite, and fortunately they are comparatively few in number, stricken as they are by a corroding disease, occupy in our midst the—er—place of the lepers of the Bible."
Here Lord Ferriby bowed affably to the bishop, as if to say, "And that is where you come in."
"We—er—live in an age," went on Lord Ferriby—and the practical Joan nodded her head to indicate that he was on the right track now—"when charity is no longer a matter of sentiment, but rather a very practical and forcible power in the world. We do not ask your assistance in a vague and visionary crusade against suffering. We ask you to help us in the development of a definite scheme for the amelioration of the condition of our fellow-beings."
Lord Ferriby spoke not with the ease of long practice, but with the assurance of one accustomed to being heard with patience. He now waited for the applause to die away.
"Who put him up to it?" Major White asked Joan.
"Mr. Roden wrote the speech, and I taught it to papa," was the answer.
At this moment Cornish hurried up in his busy way. Indeed, these people seemed to have little time on their hands. They belonged to a generation which is much addicted to unnecessary haste.
"Seen Roden?" he asked, addressing his question to Joan and her companion jointly.
"Never in my life," answered Major White. "Is he worth seeing?"
But Cornish hurried away again. Lord Ferriby was still speaking, but he seemed to have lost the ear of his audience, and had lapsed into generalities. A few who were near the platform listened attentively enough. Some who hoped that they were to be asked to speak applauded hurriedly and finally whenever the speaker paused to take breath.
The world is full of people who will not give their money, but offer readily enough what they call their "time" to a good cause. Lord Ferriby was lavish with his "time," and liked to pass it in hearing the sound of his own voice. Every social circle has its talkers, who hang upon each other's periods in expectance of the moment when they can successfully push in their own word. Lord Ferriby, looking round upon faces well known to him, saw half a dozen men who spoke upon all occasions with a sublime indifference to the fact that they knew nothing of the subject in hand. With the least encouragement any one of them would have stepped on to the platform bubbling over with eloquence. Lord Ferriby was quite clever enough to perceive the danger. He must go on talking until Roden was found. Had not the pushing parson already intimated in a whisper that he had a few earnest thoughts in his mind which he would be glad to get off?
Lord Ferriby knew those earnest thoughts, and their inevitable tendency to send the audience to the refreshment-room, where, as Lady Ferriby's husband, he suspected poverty in the land.
"Is not Mr. Cornish going to speak?" a young lady eagerly inquired of Joan. She was a young lady who wore spectacles and scorned a fringe—a dangerous course of conduct for any young woman to follow. But she made up for natural and physical deficiencies by an excess of that zeal which Talleyrand deplored.
"I think not," answered Joan. "He never speaks in public, you know."
"I wonder why?" said the young lady, sharply and rather angrily.
Joan shrugged her shoulders and laughed. She sometimes wondered why herself, but Tony had never satisfied her curiosity. The young lady moved away and talked to others of the same matter. There were quite a number of people in the room who wanted to know why Tony Cornish did not speak, and wished he would. The way to rule the world is to make it want something, and keep it wanting.
"I make so bold as to hope," Lord Ferriby was saying, "that when sufficient publicity has been given to our scheme we shall be able to raise the necessary funds. In the fulness of this hope, I have ventured to jot down the names of certain gentlemen who have been kind enough to assume the trusteeship. I propose, therefore, that the trustees of the Malgamite Fund shall be—er—myself——"
Like a practiced speaker, Lord Ferriby paused for the applause which duly followed. And certain elderly gentlemen, who had been young when Marmaduke Ferriby was young, looked with much interest at the pictures on the wall. That Lord Ferriby should assume the directorship of a great charity was to send that charity on its way rejoicing. He stood smiling benevolently and condescendingly down upon the faces turned towards him, and rejoiced inwardly over these glorious obsequies of a wild and deplorable past.
"Mr. Anthony Cornish," he read out, and applause made itself heard again.
And the listeners turned round and stared at that hero, whom they discovered calmly and stolidly entrenched behind the eye-glass, his broad, tanned face surmounting a shirt front of abnormal width.
"Herr von Holzen."
No one seemed to know Herr von Holzen, or to care much whether he existed or not.
"And—my—er—friend—the originator of this great scheme—the man whom we all look up to as the benefactor of a most miserable class of men—Mr. Percy Roden."
Lord Ferriby meant the listeners to applaud, and they did so, although they had never heard the name before. He folded the paper held in his hand, and indicated by his manner that he had for the moment nothing more to say. From his point of advantage he scanned the whole length of the large room, evidently seeking some one. Anthony Cornish had been the second name mentioned, and the majority hoped that it was he who was to speak next. They anticipated that he, at all events, would be lively, and in addition to this recommendation there hovered round his name that mysterious charm which is in itself a subtle form of notoriety. People said of Tony Cornish that he would get on in the world; and upon this slender ladder he had attained social success.
But Cornish was not in the room, and after waiting a few moments, Lord Ferriby came down from the platform, and joined some of the groups of persons in the large room. For already the audience was breaking up into small parties, and the majority, it is to be feared, were by now talking of other matters. In these days we cannot afford to give sufficient time to any one object to do that object or ourselves any lasting good.
Presently there was a stir at the door, and Cornish entered the large room, followed leisurely by a tired-looking man, for whom the idlers near the doorway seemed instinctively to make way. This man was tall, square-shouldered, and loose of limb. He had smooth dark hair, and carried his head thrown rather back from the neck. His eyes were dark, and the fact that a considerable line of white was visible beneath the pupil imparted to his whole being an air of physical delicacy suggestive of a constant feeling of fatigue.
"Who is this?" asked Major White, aroused to a sense of stolid curiosity which few of his fellow-men had the power of awakening.
"Oh, that," said Joan, looking towards the door—"that is Mr. Percy Roden."
A NEW DISCIPLE.
"Pour etre heureux, il ne faut avoir rien a oublier."
There is in the atmosphere of the Hotel of the Vieux Doelen at The Hague something as old-world, as quiet and peaceful, as there is in the very name of this historic house. The stairs are softly carpeted; the great rooms are hung with tapestry, and otherwise decorated in a massive and somewhat gloomy style, little affected in the newer caravanserais. The house itself, more than three hundred years old, is of dark red brick with facings of stone, long since worn by wind and weather. The windows are enormous, and would appear abnormal in any other city but this. The Hotel of the Old Shooting gallery stands on the Toornoifeld and the unobservant may pass by without distinguishing it from the private houses on either side. This, indeed, is not so much a house of hasty rest for the passing traveler as it is a halting-place for that great army which is ever moving quietly on and on through the cities of the Old World—the corps diplomatique—the army whose greatest victory is peace. The traveller passing a night or two at the hotel may well be faintly surprised at the atmosphere in which he finds himself. If he be what is called a practical man, he will probably shake his head forebodingly over the prospects of the proprietor. There seems, indeed, to be a singular dearth of visitors. The winding stairs are nearly always deserted. The salon is empty. There are no sounds of life, no trunks in the hall, and no idlers at the door. And yet at the hour of the table d'hote quiet doors are opened, and quiet men emerge from rooms that seemed before to be uninhabited. They are mostly smooth-haired men with a pensive reserve of manner, a certain polished cosmopolitan air, and the inevitable frock-coat. They bow gravely to each other, and seat themselves at separate tables. As often as not they produce books or newspapers, and read during the solemn meal. It is as well to watch these men and take note of them. Many of them are grey-headed. No one of them is young. But they are beginners, mere apprentices, at a very difficult trade, and in the days to come they will have the making of the history of Europe. For these men are attaches and secretaries of embassies. They will talk to you in almost any European tongue you may select, but they are not communicative persons.
During the winter—the gay season at The Hague—there are usually a certain number of residents in the hotel. At the time with which we are dealing, Mrs. Vansittart was staying there, alone with her maid. Mrs. Vansittart was in the habit of dining at the small table near the stove—a gorgeous erection of steel and brass, which stands nearly in the centre of the smaller dining-room used in winter. Mrs. Vansittart seemed, moreover, to be quite at home in the hotel, and exchanged bows with a few of the gentlemen of the corps diplomatique. She was a graceful, dark-haired woman, with deep brown eyes that looked upon the world without much interest. This was not, one felt, a woman to lavish her attention or her thoughts upon a toy spaniel, as do so many ladies travelling alone with their maids in Continental hotels. Perhaps this woman of thirty-five years or so preferred to be frankly bored, rather than set up for herself a shivering four-legged object in life. Perhaps she was not bored at all. One never knows. The gentlemen from the embassies glanced at her over their books or their newspapers, and wondered who and what she might be. They knew, at all events, that she took no interest in those affairs of the great world which rumble on night and day without rest, with spasmodic bursts of clumsy haste, and with a never-failing possibility of surprise in their movements. This was no political woman, whatever else she might be. She would talk in quite a number of languages of such matters as the opera, a new book, or an old picture, and would then relapse again into a sort of waiting silence. At thirty-five it is perhaps not well to wait too patiently for those things that make a woman's life worth living. Mrs. Vansittart had not the air, however, of one who would wait indefinitely.
When Mr. Percy Roden arrived at the hotel, he was assigned, at the hour of table d'hote, a small table between those occupied respectively by Mrs. Vansittart and the secretary of the Belgian Embassy. Some subtle sense conveyed to Percy Roden that he had aroused Mrs. Vansittart's interest—the sense called vanity, perhaps, which conveys so much to young men, and so much that is erroneous. On the second evening, therefore, when he had returned from a busy day in the neighbourhood of Scheveningen, Roden half looked for the bow which was half accorded to him. That evening Mrs. Vansittart spoke to the waiter in English, which was obviously her native language, and Roden overheard. After dinner Mrs. Vansittart lingered in the salon and a woman, had such been present, would have perceived that she made it easy for Roden to pause in passing and offer her his English newspaper, which had arrived by the evening post. The subtle is so often the obvious that to be unobservant is a social duty.
"Thank you," she replied. "I like newspapers. Although I have not been in England for years, I still take an interest in the affairs of my country."
Her manner was easy and natural, without that taint of a too sudden familiarity which is characteristic of the present generation. We are apt to allow ourselves to feel too much at home.
"I, on the contrary," replied Roden, with his tired air, "have never till now been out of England or English-speaking colonies."
His voice had a hollow sound. Although he was tall and broad-shouldered, his presence had no suggestion of strength. Mrs. Vansittart looked at him quickly as she took the newspaper from his hand. She had clever, speculative eyes, and was obviously wondering why he had gone to the colonies and why he had returned thence. So many sail to those distant havens of the unsuccessful under one cloud and return under another, that it seems wiser to remain stationary and snatch what passing sunshine there may be. Roden had not a colonial manner. He was well dressed. He was, in fact, the sort of man who would pass in any society. And it is probable that Mrs. Vansittart summed him up in her quick mind with perfect success. Despite our clothes, despite our airs and graces, we mostly appear to be exactly what we are. Mrs. Vansittart, who knew the world and men, did not need to be informed by Percy Roden that he was unacquainted with the Continent. Comparing him with the other men passing through the salon to their rooms or their club, it became apparent that he had one sort of stiffness which they had not, and lacked another sort of stiffness which grows upon those who live and take their meals in public places. Mrs. Vansittart could probably have made a fair guess at the sort of education Percy Roden had received. For a man carries his school mark through life with him.
"Ah," she said, taking the newspaper and glancing at it with just sufficient interest to prolong the conversation, "then you do not know The Hague. It is a place that grows upon one. It is one of the social capitals of the world. Vienna, St. Petersburg, Paris, are the others. Madrid, Berlin, New York, are—nowhere."
She laughed, bowed with a little half—foreign gesture of thanks, and left him—left him, moreover, with the desire to see more of her. It seemed that she knew the secret of that other worldling, Tony Cornish, that the way to rule men is to make them want something and keep them wanting. As Roden passed through the hall he paused, and entered into conversation with the hall porter. During the course of this talk he made some small inquiries respecting Mrs. Vansittart. That lady had no need to make inquiries respecting Roden. Has it not been stated that she was travelling with her maid?
"I see," she said, when she saw him again the next day after dinner in the salon, "that your great philanthropic scheme is now an established fact. I have taken a great interest in its progress, and of course know the names of some who are associated with you in it."
Roden laughed indifferently, well pleased to be recognized. His notoriety was new enough and narrow enough to please him still. There is no man so much at the mercy of his own vanity as he who enjoys a limited notoriety.
"Yes," he answered, "we have got it into shape. Do you know Lord Ferriby?"
"No," answered Mrs. Vansittart, slowly, "I have not that pleasure.
"Oh, Ferriby is a good enough fellow," said Roden, kindly; and Mrs. Vansittart gave a little nod as she looked at him. Roden had drawn forward a chair, and she sat down, after a moment's hesitation, in front of the open fire.
"So I have always heard," she answered, "and a great philanthropist."
"Oh—yes." Roden paused and took a chair. "Oh yes; but Tony Cornish is our right-hand man. The people seem to place greater faith in him than they do in Lord Ferriby. When it is Cornish who asks, they give readily enough. He is business-like and quick, and that always tells in the long run."
Percy Roden seemed disposed to be communicative, and Mrs. Vansittart's attitude was distinctly encouraging. She leant sideways on the arm of her chair, and looked at her companion with speculation in her intelligent eyes. She was perhaps reflecting that this was not the sort of man one usually finds engaged in philanthropic enterprise. It is likely that her thoughts were of this nature, and were, as thoughts so often are, transmitted silently to her companion's mind, for he proceeded, unasked, to explain.
"It is not, properly speaking, a charity, you know," he said. "It is more in the nature of a trade union. This is a practical age, Mrs. Vansittart, and it is necessary that charity should keep pace with the march of progress and be self-supporting."
There was a faint suggestion of glibness in his manner. It was probable that he had made use of the same arguments before.
"And who else is associated with you in this great enterprise?" asked the lady, keeping him with the cleverness of her sex upon the subject in which he was obviously deeply interested. The shrewdest women usually treat men thus, and they generally know what subject interests a man most—namely, himself.
"Herr von Holzen is the most important person," replied Roden.
"Ah!" said Mrs. Vansittart, looking into the fire; "and who is Herr von Holzen?"
Roden paused for a moment, and the lady, looking half indifferently into the fire, noticed the hesitation.
"Oh, he is a scientist—a professor at one of the universities over here, I believe. At all events, he is a, very clever fellow—analytical chemist and all that, you know. It is he who has made the discovery upon which we are working. He has always been interested in malgamite, and he has now found out how it may be manufactured without injury to the workers. Malgamite, you understand, is an essential in the manufacture of paper, and the world will never require less paper than it does now, but more. Look at the tons that pass through the post-offices daily. Paper-making is one of the great industries of the world, and without malgamite, paper cannot be made at a profit to-day."
Roden seemed to have his subject at his fingers' ends, and if he spoke without enthusiasm, the reason was probably that he had so often said the same thing before.
"I am much interested," said Mrs. Vansittart, in her half-foreign way, which was rather pleasing. "Tell me more about it."
"The malgamite makers," went on Roden, willingly enough, "are fortunately but few in numbers and they are experts. They are to be found in twos and threes in manufacturing cities—Amsterdam, Gothenburg, Leith, New York, and even Barcelona. Of course there are a number in England. Our scheme, briefly, is to collect these men together, to build a manufactory and houses for them—to form them, in fact, into a close corporation, and then supply the world with malgamite."
"It is a great scheme, Mr. Roden."
"Yes, it is a great scheme; and it is, I think, laid upon the right lines. These people require to be saved from themselves. As they now exist, they are well paid. They are engaged in a deadly industry, and know it. There is nothing more demoralizing to human nature than this knowledge. They have a short and what they take to be a merry life." The tired—looking man paused and spread out his hands in a gesture of careless scorn. He had almost allowed himself to lapse into enthusiasm. "There is no reason," he went on, "why they should not become a happy and respectable community. The first thing we shall have to teach them is that their industry is comparatively harmless, as it will undoubtedly be with Von Holzen's new process. The rest will, I think, come naturally. Altered circumstances will alter the people themselves."
"And where do you intend to build this manufactory?" inquired Mrs. Vansittart, to whom was vouch-safed that rare knowledge of the fine line that is to be drawn between a kindly interest and a vulgar curiosity. The two are nearer than is usually suspected.
"Here in Holland," was the reply. "I have almost decided on the spot—on the dunes to the north of Scheveningen. That is why I am staying at The Hague. There are many reasons why this coast is suitable. We shall be in touch with the canal system, and we shall have a direct outfall to the sea for our refuse, which is necessary. I shall have to live in The Hague—my sister and I."
"Ah! You have a sister?" said Mrs. Vansittart, turning in her chair and looking at him. A woman's interest in a man's undertaking is invariably centred upon that point where another woman comes into it.
"Yes; Dorothy is unmarried."
Mrs. Vansittart gave several quick little nods of the head.
"I am wondering two things," she said—"whether she is like you, and whether she is interested in this scheme. But I am wondering more than that. Is she pretty, Mr. Roden?"
"Yes, I think she is pretty."
"I am glad of that. I like girls to be pretty. It makes their lives so much more interesting—to the onlooker, bien entendu, but not to themselves. The happiest women I have known have been the plain ones. But perhaps your sister will be pretty and happy too. That would be so nice, and so very rare, Mr. Roden. I shall look forward to making her acquaintance. I live in The Hague, you know. I have a house in Park Straat, and I am only at this hotel while the painters are in possession. You will allow me to call on your sister when she joins you?"
"We shall be most gratified," said Roden.
Mrs. Vansittart had risen with a little glance at the clock, and her companion rose also. "I am greatly interested in your scheme," she said. "Much more than I can tell you. It is so refreshing to find charity in such close connection with practical common sense. I think you are doing a great work, Mr. Roden."
"I do what I can," he replied, with a bow.
"And Mr. Von Holzen," inquired Mrs. Vansittart, stopping for a moment as she moved towards the doorway, which is large and hung with curtains—"does Mr. Von Holzen work from purely philanthropic motives also?"
"Well—yes, I think so. Though, of course, he, like myself, will be paid a salary. Perhaps, however, he is more interested in malgamite from a scientific point of view."
"Ah, yes, from a scientific point of view, of course. Good night, Mr. Roden."
And she left him.
OUT OF EGYPT.
"Un esclave est moins celui qu'on vend que celui qui se donne"
A sea fog was blowing across the smooth surface of the Maas where that river is broad and shallow, and a steamer anchored in the channel, grim and motionless, gave forth a grunt of warning from time to time, while a boy with mittened hands rang the bell hung high on the forecastle with a dull monotony. The wind blowing from the south-east drove before it the endless fog which hummed through the rigging, and hung there in little icicles that pointed to leeward. On the bridge of the steamer, looking like a huge woollen barrel surmounted by a comforter and a cap with ear-flaps, the Dutch pilot stood philosophically at his post. Near him the captain, mindful of the company's time-tables, walked with a quick, impatient step. The fog was blowing past at the rate of four or five miles an hour, but the supply of it, emanating from the low lands bordering the Scheldt, seemed to be inexhaustible. This fog, indeed, blows across Holland nearly the whole winter.
The steamer's deck was covered with ice, over which sand had been strewn. The passengers were below in the warm saloon. Only the blue-faced boy at the bell on the forecastle was on the main-deck. At times one of the watch hurried from the galley to the forecastle with a pannikin of steaming coffee. The vessel had been anchored since daybreak and the sound of other bells and other whistles far and near told that she was not alone in these waters. The distant boom of a steamer creeping cautiously down from Rotterdam seemed to promise that farther inland the fog was thinner. A silence, broken only by the whisper of the wind through the rigging, reigned over all, so that men listened with anticipations of relief for the sound of answering bells. The sky at length grew a little lighter, and presently gaps made their appearance in the fog, allowing peeps over the green and still water.
The captain and the pilot exchanged a few words—the very shortest of consultations. They had been on the bridge together all night, and had said all that there was to be said about wind and weather. The captain gave a sharp order in his gruff voice, and, as if by magic, the watch on deck appeared from all sides. The chief officer emerged from his cabin beneath the wheel-house, and went forward into the fog, turning up his collar. Presently the jerk and clink of the steam-winch told that the anchor was being got home. The fog had been humoured for six hours, and the time had now come to move on through thick or thin. What should Berlin, Petersburg, Vienna, know of a fog on the Maas? And there were mails and passengers on board this steamer. The clink of the winch brought one of these on deck. Within the high collar of his fur coat, beneath the brim of a felt hat pulled well down, the keen; fair face of Mr. Anthony Cornish came peering up the gangway to the upper bridge. He exchanged a nod with the captain and the pilot; for with these he had already been in conversation at the breakfast-table. He took his station on the bridge behind them, with his hands deep in the pockets of his loose coat, a cigarette between his lips. A shout from the forecastle soon intimated that the anchor was up, and the captain gave the order to the boy at the engine-room telegraph. Through the fog the forms of the three men on the look-out on the forecastle were dimly discernible. The great steamer crept cautiously forward into the fog. The second mate, with his hand on the whistle-line, blared out his warning note every half-minute. A dim shadow loomed up on the port-side, which presently took the form of a great steamer at anchor, and was left behind with a ringing bell and a booming whistle. Another shadow turned out to be a pilot-cutter, and the Dutch pilot exchanged a shouted consultation with an invisible person whom he called "Thou," and who replied to the imperfectly heard questions with the words, "South East." This shadow also was left behind, faintly calling, "South East," "South East."
"It is a white buoy that I seek," said the pilot, turning to those on the bridge behind him, his jolly red face puckered with anxiety. And quite suddenly the second officer, a bright-red Scotchman with little blue eyes like tempered gimlets, threw out a red hand and pointing finger.
"There she rides," he said. "There she rides; staar boarrrd your hellum!"
And a full thirty seconds elapsed before any other eyes could pierce that gloom and perceive a great white buoy bowing solemnly towards the steamer like a courtier bidding a sovereign welcome. One voice had seemed to be gradually dominating the din of the many warning whistles that sounded ahead, astern, and all around the steamer. This voice, like that of a strong man knowing his own mind in an assembly of excited and unstable counsellors, had long been raised with a persistence which at last seemed to command all others, and the steamer moved steadily towards it; for it was the siren fog-horn at the pier-head. At one moment it seemed to be quite near, and at the next far away; for the ears, unaided by the eyes, can but imperfectly focus sound or measure its distance.
"At last!" said the captain, suddenly, the anxiety wiped away from his face as if by magic. "At last, I hear the cranes aworking on the quay."
The purser had come to the bridge, and now approached Cornish.
"Are you going to land them at the Hook or take them on to Rotterdam, sir?" he asked.
"Oh, land 'em at the Hook," replied Cornish, readily. "Have you fed them?"
"Yes, sir. They have had their breakfast—such as it is. Poor eaters I call them, sir."
"Yes." said Cornish, turning and looking at his burly interlocutor. "Yes, I do not suppose they eat much."
The purser shrugged his shoulders, and turned his attention to other affairs, thoughtfully. The little, beacon at the head of the pier had suddenly loomed out of the fog not fifty yards away—a very needle in a pottle of hay, which the cunning of the pilot had found.
"Who are they, at any rate—these hundred and twenty ghosts of men?" asked the sailor, abruptly.
"They are malgamite workers," answered Cornish, cheerily. "And I am going to make men of them—not ghosts."
The purser looked at him, laughed in rather a puzzled way, and quitted the bridge. Cornish remained there, taking a quick, intelligent interest in the manoeuvres by which the great steamer was being brought alongside the quay. He seemed to have already forgotten the hundred and twenty men in the second-class cabin. His touch was indeed hopelessly light. He understood how it was that the steamer was made to obey, but he could not himself have brought her alongside. Cornish was a true son of a generation which understands much of many things, but not quite sufficient of any one.
He stood at the upper end of the gangway as the malgamite workers filed off—a sorry crew, narrow-chested, hollow-eyed, with that half-hopeless, half-reckless air that tells of a close familiarity with disease and death. He nodded to them airily as they passed him. Some of them took the trouble to answer his salutation, others seemed indifferent. A few glanced at him with a sort of dull wonder. And indeed this man was not of the material of which great philanthropists are made. He was cheerful and heedless, shallow and superficial.
"Get 'em into the train," he said to an official at his side; and then, seeing that he had not been understood, gave the order glibly enough in another language.
The ill-clad travellers shuffled up the gangway and through the custom-house. Few seemed to take an interest in their surroundings. They exchanged no comments, but walked side by side in silence —dumb and driven animals. Some of them bore signs of disease. A few stumbled as they went. One or two were half blind, with groping hands. That they were of different nationalities was plain enough. Here a Jew from Vienna, with the fear of the Judenhetze in his eyes, followed on the heels of a tow-headed giant from Stockholm. A cunning cockney touched his hat as he passed, and rather ostentatiously turned to help a white-haired little Italian over the inequalities of the gangway. One thing only they had in common—their deadly industry. One shadow lay over them all—the shadow of death. A momentary gravity passed across Cornish's face. These men were as far removed from him as the crawling beetle is from the butterfly. Who shall say, however, that the butterfly sees nothing but the flowers?
As they passed him, some of them edged away with a dull humility for fear their poor garments should touch his fur coat. One, carrying a bird-cage, half paused, with a sort of pride, that Cornish might obtain a fuller view of a depressed canary. The malgamite workers of this winter's morning on the pier of Hoek were not the interesting industrials of Lady Ferriby's drawing-room. There their lives had been spoken of as short and merry. Here the merriment was scarcely perceptible. The mystery of the dangerous industries is one of those mysteries of human nature which cannot be explained by even the youngest of novelists. That dangerous industries exist we all know and deplore. That the supply of men and women ready to take employment in such industries is practically inexhaustible is a fact worth at least a moment's attention.
Cornish made the necessary arrangements with the railway officials, and carefully counted his charges, who were already seated in the carriages reserved for them. He must at all events be allowed the virtues of a generation which is eminently practical and capable of overcoming the small difficulties of everyday life. He was quick to decide and prompt to act.
Then he seated himself in a carriage alone, with a sigh of relief at the thought that in a few days he would be back in London. His responsibility ended at The Hague, where he was to hand over the malgamite workers to the care of Roden and Von Holzen. They were rather a depressing set of men, and Holland, as seen from the carriage window—a snow-clad plain intersected by frozen ditches and canals—was no more enlivening. The temperature was deadly cold; the dull houses were rime-covered and forbidding. The malgamite makers had been gathered together from all parts of the world in a home specially organized for them in London. A second detachment was awaiting their orders at Hamburg. But the principal workers were these now placed under Cornish's care.
During the days of their arrival, when they had to be met and housed and cared for, the visionary part of this great scheme had slowly faded before a somewhat grim reality. Joan Ferriby had found the malgamite workers less picturesque than she had anticipated.
"If they only washed," she had confided to Major White, "I am sure they would be easier to deal with." And after talking French very vivaciously and boldly with a man from Lyons, she hurried back to the West End, and to the numerous engagements which naturally take up much of one's time when Lent is approaching, and dilatory hospitality is stirred up by the startling collapse of the Epiphany Sundays.
Here, however, were the malgamite workers and they had to be dealt with. It was not quite what many had anticipated, perhaps, and Cornish was looking forward with undisguised pleasure to the moment when he could rid himself of these persons whom Joan had gaily designated as "rather gruesome," and whom he frankly recognized as sordid and uninteresting. He did not even look, as Joan had looked, to the wives and children who were to follow as likely to prove more picturesque and engaging.
The train made its way cautiously over the fog-ridden plain, and Cornish shivered as he looked out of the window. "Schiedam," the porters called. This, Schiedam? A mere village, and yet the name was so familiar. The world seemed suddenly to have grown small and sordid. A few other stations with historic names, and then The Hague.
Cornish quitted his carriage, and found himself shaking hands with Roden, who was awaiting him on the platform, clad in a heavy fur coat. Roden looked clever and capable—cleverer and more capable than Cornish had even suspected—and the organization seemed perfect. The reserved carriages had been in readiness at the Hook. The officials were prepared.
"I have omnibuses and carts for them and their luggage," were the first words that Roden spoke.
Cornish instinctively placed himself under Roden's orders. The man had risen immensely in his estimation since the arrival in London of the first malgamite maker. The grim reality of the one had enhanced the importance of the other. Cornish had been engaged in so many charities pour rire that the seriousness of this undertaking was apt to exaggerate itself in his mind—if, indeed, the seriousness of anything dwelt there at all.
"I counted them all over at the Hook," he said. "One hundred and twenty—pretty average scoundrels."
"Yes; they are not much to look at," answered Roden.
And the two men stood side by side watching the malgamite workers, who now quitted the train and stood huddled together in a dull apathy on the roomy platform.
"But you will soon get them into shape, no doubt," said Cornish, with characteristic optimism. He was essentially of a class that has always some one at hand to whom to relegate tasks which it could do more effectually and more quickly for itself. The secret of human happiness is to be dependent upon as few human beings as possible.
"Oh yes! We shall soon get them into shape—the sea air and all that, you know."
Roden looked at his proteges with large, sad eyes, in which there was alike no enthusiasm and no spark of human kindness. Cornish wondered vaguely what he was thinking about. The thoughts were certainly tinged with pessimism, and lacked entirely the blindness of an enthusiasm by which men are urged to endeavour great things for the good of the masses, and to make, as far as a practical human perception may discern, huge and hideous mistakes.
"Von Holzen is down below," said Roden, at length. "As soon as he comes up we will draft them off in batches of ten, and pack them into the omnibuses. The luggage can follow. Ah! Here comes Von Holzen. You don't know him, do you?"
"No; I don't know him."
They both went forward to meet a man of medium height, with square shoulders, and a still, clean-shaven face. Otto von Holzen raised his hat, and remained bare-headed while he shook hands.
"The introduction is unnecessary," he said. "We have worked together for many months—you on the other side of the North Sea, and I on this. And now we have, at all events, something to show for our work."
He had a quick, foreign manner, with a kind smile, and certain vivacity.
This was a different sort of man to Roden—quicker to feel for others, to understand others; capable of greater good, and possibly of greater evil. He glanced at Cornish, nodded sympathetically, and then turned to look at the malgamite makers. These, standing in a group on the platform, holding in their hands their poor belongings, returned the gaze with interest. The train which had brought them steamed out of the station, leaving the malgamite makers gazing in a dull wonder at the three men into whose hands they had committed their lives.
ON THE DUNES.
"L'indifference est le sommeil du coeur."
The village of Scheveningen, as many know, is built on the sand dunes, and only sheltered from the ocean by a sea-wall. A new Scheveningen has sprung up on this sea-wall—a mere terrace of red brick houses, already faded and weather-worn, which stare forlornly at the shallow sea. Inland, except where building enterprise has constructed roads and built villas are sand dunes. To the south, beyond the lighthouse, are sand dunes. To the north, more especially and most emphatically, are sand dunes as far as the eye may see. This tract of country is a very desert, where thin maritime grasses are shaken by the wind, where suggestive spars lie bleaching, where the sand, driven before the breeze like snow, travels to and fro through all the ages.
This afternoon, the dunes presented as forlorn an appearance as it is possible in one's gloomiest moments to conceive. The fog had, indeed, lifted a little, but a fine rain now drove before the wind, freezing as it fell, so that the earth was covered by a thin sheet of ice. The short January day was drawing to its close.
To the north of the waterworks, three hundred yards away from that solitary erection, the curious may find to-day a few low buildings clustering round a water-tower. These buildings are of wood, with roofs of corrugated iron; and when they were newly constructed, not so many years ago, presented a gay enough appearance, with their green shutters and ornamental eaves. The whole was enclosed in a fence of corrugated iron, and approached by a road not too well constructed on its sandy bed.
"We do not want the place to become the object of an excursion for tourists to The Hague," said Roden to Cornish, as they approached the malgamite works in a closed carriage.
Cornish looked out of the window and made no remark. So far as he could see on all sides, there was nothing but sand-hills and grey grass. The road was a narrow one, and led only to the little cluster of houses within the fence. It was a lonely spot, cut off from all communication with the outer world. Men might pass within a hundred yards and never know that the malgamite works existed. The carriage drove through the high gateway into the enclosure. There were a number of cottages, two long, low buildings, and the water-tower.
"You see," said Roden, "we have plenty of room to increase our accommodation when there is need of it. But we must go slowly and feel our way. It would never do to fail. We have accommodation here for a couple of hundred workers and their families; but in time we shall have five hundred of them in here—all the malgamite workers in the world."
He broke off with a laugh, and looked round him. There was a ring in his voice suggestive of a keen excitement. Could Percy Roden, after all, be an enthusiast? Cornish glanced at him uneasily. In Cornish's world sincere enthusiasm was so rare that it was never well received.
Roden's manner changed again, however, and he explained the plan of the little village with his usual half-indifferent air.
"These two buildings are the factories," he said. "In them three hundred men can work at once. There we shall build sheds for the storage of the raw material. Here we shall erect a warehouse. But I do not anticipate that we shall ever have much malgamite on our hands. We shall turn over our money very quickly."
Cornish listened with the respectful attention which business details receive nowadays from those whose birth and education unfit them for such pursuits. It was obvious that he did not fully understand the terms of which Roden made use; but he tapped his smart boot with his cane, gave a quick nod of the head, and looked intelligently around him. He had a certain respect for Percy Roden, while that philanthropist did not perhaps appear quite at his best in his business moments.
"And do you—and that foreign individual, Mr. Von Holzen—live inside this—zareba?" he asked.
"No; Von Holzen lives as yet in Scheveningen, in a hotel there. And I have taken a small villa on the dunes, with my sister to keep house for me."
"Ah! I did not know you had a sister," said Cornish, still looking about him with intelligent ignorance. "Does she take an interest in the malgamite scheme?"
"Only so far as it affects me," replied Roden. "She is a good sister to me. The house is between the waterworks and the steam-tram station. We will call in on our way back, if you care to."
"I should like nothing better," replied Cornish, conventionally, and they continued their inspection of the little colony. The arrangements were as simple as they were effective. Either Roden or Von Holzen certainly possessed the genius of organization. In one of the cottages a cold collation was set out on two long tables. There was a choice of wines, and notably some bottles of champagne on a side table.
"For the journalists," explained Roden. "I have a number of them coming this afternoon to witness the arrival of the first batch of malgamite makers. There is nothing like judicious advertisement. We have invited a number of newspaper correspondents. We give them champagne and pay their expenses. If you will be a little friendly, they would like it immensely. They, of course, know who you are. A little flattery, you understand."
"Flattery and champagne," laughed Cornish—"the two principal ingredients of popularity."
"I have here a number of photographs," continued Roden, "taken by a good man in the neighbourhood. He has thrown in a view of the sea at the back, you see. It is not there; but he has put in the sky and sea from another plate, he tells me, to make a good picture of it. We shall send them to the principal illustrated papers."
"And I suppose," said Cornish, with his gay laugh, "that some of the journalists will throw in background also."
"Of course," answered Roden, gravely. "And the sentimentalists will be satisfied. The sentimentalists never stop at providing necessaries; they want to pamper. It will please them immensely to think that the malgamite makers, who have been collected from the slums of the world, have a sea view and every modern luxury."
"We must humour them," said Cornish, practically. "We should not get far without them."
At this moment the sound of wheels made them both turn towards the entrance. It was an omnibus—the best omnibus with the finest horses—which brought the journalists. These gentlemen now descended from the vehicle and came towards the cottage, where Cornish and Roden awaited them. They were what is euphemistically called a little mixed. Some were too well dressed, others too badly. But all carried themselves with an air that bespoke a consciousness of greatness not unmingled with good-fellowship. The leader, a stout man, shook hands affably with Cornish, who assumed his best and most gracious manner.
"Aha! Here we are," he said, rubbing his hands together and looking at the champagne.
Then somehow Cornish came to the front and Roden retired into the background. It was Cornish who opened the champagne and poured it into their glasses. It was Cornish who made the best jokes, and laughed the loudest at the journalistic quips fired off by his companions. Cornish seemed to understand the guests better than did Roden, who was inclined to be stiff towards them. Those who are assured of their position are not always thinking about it. Men who stand much upon their dignity have not, as a rule, much else to stand upon.
"Here's to you, sir," cried the stout newspaper man, with upraised glass and a heart full of champagne. "Here's to you—whoever you are. And now to business. Perhaps you'll trot us round the works."
This Cornish did with much success. He then stood beside the correspondents while the malgamite workers descended from the omnibus and took possession of their new quarters. He provided the journalists with photographs and a short printed account of the malgamite trade, which had been prepared by Von Holzen. It was finally Cornish who packed them into the omnibus in high good humour, and sent them back to The Hague.
"Do not forget the sentiment," he called out after them. "Remember it is a charity."
The malgamite workers were left to the care of Von Holzen, who had made all necessary preparations for their reception.
"You are a cleverer man than I thought you," said Roden to Cornish, as they walked over the dunes together in the dusk towards the Rodens' house. And it was difficult to say whether Roden was pleased or not. He did not speak much during the walk, and was evidently wrapped in deep thought.
Cornish was light and inconsequent as usual. "We shall soon raise more money," he said. "We shall have malgamite balls, and malgamite bazaars, malgamite balloon ascents if that is not flying too high."
The Villa des Dunes stands, as its name implies, among the sand hills, facing south and west. It is upon an elevation, and therefore enjoys a view of the sea, and, inland, of the spires of The Hague. The garden is an old one, and there are quiet nooks in it where the trees have grown to a quite respectable stature. Holland is so essentially a tidy country that nothing old or moss-grown is tolerated. One wonders where all the rubbish of the centuries has been hidden; for all the ruins have been decently cleared away and cities that teem with historical interest seem, with a few exceptions, to have been built last year. The garden of the Villa des Dunes was therefore more remarkable for cleanliness than luxuriance. The house itself was uninteresting, and resembled a thousand others on the coast in that it was more comfortable than it looked. A suggestion of warmth and lamp-light filtered through the drawn curtains.
Roden led the way into the house, admitting himself with a latch-key. "Dorothy," he cried, as soon as the door was closed behind them—the two tall men in their heavy coats almost filled the little hall—"Dorothy, where are you?"
The atmosphere of the house—that subtle odour which is characteristic of all dwellings—was pleasant. One felt that there were flowers in the rooms, and that tea was in course of preparation.
The door on the left-hand side of the hall was opened, and a small woman appeared there. She was essentially small—a little upright figure with bright brown hair, a good complexion, and gay, sparkling eyes.
"I have brought Mr. Cornish," explained Roden. "We are frozen, and want some tea."
Dorothy Roden came forward and shook hands with Cornish. She looked up at him, taking him all in, in one quick intuitive glance, from his smooth head to his neat boots.
"It is horribly cold," she said. One cannot always be original and sparkling, and it is wiser not to try too persistently. She turned and re-entered the drawing-room, with Cornish following her. The room itself was prettily furnished in the Dutch fashion, and there were flowers. Dorothy Roden's manner was that of a woman; no longer in her first girlhood, who had seen en and cities. She was better educated than her brother; she was probably cleverer. She had, at all events, the subtle air of self-restraint that marks those women whose lives are passed in the society of a man mentally inferior to themselves. Of course all women are in a sense doomed to this—according to their own thinking.
"Percy said that he would probably bring you in to tea," said Miss Roden, "and that probably you would be tired out."
"Thanks; I am not tired. We had a good passage, and everything has run as smoothly. Do you take an active interest in us?"
Miss Roden paused in the action of pouring out tea, and looked across at her interlocutor.
"Not an active one," she answered, with a momentary gravity; and, after a minute, glanced at Cornish's face again.
"It is going to be a big thing," he said enthusiastically. "My cousin Joan Ferriby is working hard at it in London. You do not know her, I suppose?"
"I was at school with Joan," replied Miss Roden, with her soft laugh.
"And we took a school-girl oath to write to each other every week when we parted. We kept it up—for a fortnight."
Cornish's smooth face betrayed no surprise; although he had concluded that Miss Roden was years older than Joan.
"Perhaps," he said, with ready tact, "you do not take an interest in the same things as Joan. In what may be called new things—not clothes, I mean. In factory girls' feather clubs, for instance, or haberdashers' assistants, or women's rights, or anything like that."
"No; I am not clever enough for anything like that. I am profoundly ignorant about women's rights, and do not even know what I want, or ought to want."
Roden, who had approached the table, laughed, and taking his tea, went and sat down near the fire. He, at all events, was tired and looked worn—as if his responsibilities were already beginning to weigh upon him. Cornish, too, had come forward, and, cup in hand, stood looking down at Miss Roden with a doubtful air.
"I always distrust women who say that," he said. "One naturally suspects them of having got what they want by some underhand means—and of having abandoned the rest of their sex. This is an age of amalgamation; is not that so, Roden?"
He turned and sat down near to Dorothy. Roden thus appealed to, made some necessary remark, and then lapsed into a thoughtful silence. It seemed that Cornish was quite capable, however, of carrying on the conversation by himself.
"Do you know nothing about your wrongs, either?" he asked Dorothy.
"Nothing," she replied. "I have not even the wit to know that I have any."
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "No wonder Joan ceased writing to you. You are a most suspicious case, Miss Roden. Of course you have righted your wrongs—sub rosa—and leave other women to manage their own affairs. That is what is called a blackleg. You are untrue to the Union. In these days we all belong to some cause or another. We cannot help it, and recent legislation adds daily to the difficulty. We must either be rich or poor. At present the only way to live at peace with one's poorer neighbours is to submit to a certain amount of robbery. But some day the classes must combine to make a stand against the masses. The masses are already combined. We must either be a man or a woman. Some day the men must combine against the women, who are already united behind a vociferous vanguard. May I have some more tea?"
"I am afraid I have been left behind in the general advance," said Miss Roden, taking his cup.
"I am afraid so. Of course I don't know where we are advancing to——" He paused and drank the tea slowly. "No one knows that," he added.
"Probably to a point where we shall all suddenly begin fighting for ourselves again."
"That is possible," he said gravely, setting down his cup. "And now I must find my way back to The Hague. Good night."
"He is clever," said Dorothy, when Roden returned after having shown Cornish the way.
"Yes," answered Roden, without enthusiasm.
"You do not seem to be pleased at the thought," she said carelessly.
"Oh—it will be all right! If his cleverness runs in the right direction."
"One may be so much a man of the world as to be nothing in the world."
Political Economy will some day have to recognize Philanthropy as a possible—nay, a certain stumbling-block in the world's progress towards that millennium when Supply and Demand shall sit down together in peace. Charity is certainly sowing seed into the ridges of time which will bear startling fruit in the future. For Charity does not hesitate to close up an industry or interfere with a trade that supplies thousands with their daily bread. Thus the Malgamite scheme so glibly inaugurated by Lord Ferriby in his drawing-room bore fruit within a week in a quarter to which probably few concerned had ever thought of casting an eye. The price of a high-class tinted paper fell in all the markets of the world. This paper could only be manufactured with a large addition of malgamite to its other components. In what may be called the prospectus of the Malgamite scheme it was stated that this great charity was inaugurated for the purpose of relieving the distress of the malgamiters—one of the industrial scandals of the day—by enabling these afflicted men to make their deadly product at a cheaper rate and without danger to themselves. This prospectus naturally came to the hands of those most concerned, namely, the manufacturers of coloured papers and the brokers who supply those manufacturers with their raw material.
Thus Lord Ferriby, beaming benignantly from a bower of chrysanthemums on a certain evening one winter not so many years ago, set rolling a small stone upon a steep hill. So, in fact, wags the world; and none of us may know when the echo of a careless word will cease vibrating in the hearts of some that hear.
The malgamite trade was what is called a close one—that is to say that this product passed out into the world through the hands of a few brokers and these brokers were powerless, in face of Lord Ferriby's announcement, to prevent the price of malgamite from falling. As this fell so fell the prices of the many kinds of paper which could not be manufactured without it. Thus indirectly, Lord Ferriby, with that obtuseness which very often finds itself in company with a highly developed philanthropy, touched the daily lives of thousands and thousands of people. And he did not know it. And Tony Cornish knew it not. And Joan and the subscribers never dreamt or thought of such a thing.
The paper market became what is called sensitive—that is to say, prices rose and fell suddenly without apparent reason. Some men made money and others lost it. Presently, however—that is to say, in the month of March—two months after Tony Cornish had safely conveyed his malgamite makers to their new home on the sand dunes of Scheveningen—the paper markets of the world began to settle down again, and steadier prices ruled. This could be traced—as all commercial changes may be traced—to the original flow at one of the fountain-heads of supply and demand. It arose from the simple fact that a broker in London had bought some of the new malgamite—the Scheveningen malgamite—and had issued it to his clients, who said that it was good. He had, moreover, bought it cheaper. In a couple of days all the world—all the world concerned in the matter—knew of it. Such is commerce at the end of the century.
And Cornish, casually looking in at the little office of the Malgamite Charity, where a German clerk recommended by Herr von Holzen kept the books of the scheme, found his table littered with telegrams. Tony Cornish had a reputation for being clever. He was, as a matter of fact, intelligent. The world nearly always mistakes intelligence for cleverness, just as it nearly always mistakes laughter for happiness. He was, however, clever enough to have found out during the last two months that the Malgamite scheme was a bigger thing than either he or his uncle had ever imagined.
Many questions had arisen during those two months of Cornish's honorary secretary ship of the charity which he had been unable to answer, and which he had been obliged to refer to Roden and Von Holzen. These had replied readily, and the matter as solved by them seemed simple enough. But each question seemed to have side issues—indeed, the whole scheme appeared suddenly to bristle with side issues, and Tony Cornish began to find himself getting really interested in something at last.
The telegrams were not alone upon his office table. There were letters as well. It was a nice little office, furnished by Joan with a certain originality which certainly made it different from any other office in Westminster. It had, moreover, the great recommendation of being above a Ladies' Tea Association, so that afternoon tea could be easily procured. The German clerk quite counted on receiving three half-holidays a week and Joan brought her friends to tea, and her mother to chaperon. These little tea-parties became quite notorious, and there was a question of a cottage piano, which was finally abandoned in favour of a banjo. It happened to be a wire-puzzle winter, and Cornish had the best collection of rings on impossible wire mazes, and glass beads strung upon intertwisted hooks, in Westminster, if not, indeed, in the whole of London. Then, of course, there were the committee meetings—that is to say, the meeting of the lady committees of the bazaar and ball sub-committees. The wire puzzles and the association tea were an immense feature of these.
Cornish was quite accustomed to finding a number of letters awaiting him, and had been compelled to buy a waste-paper basket of abnormal dimensions—so many moribund charities cast envious eyes upon the Malgamite scheme, and wondered how it was done, and, on the chance of it, offered Cornish honourable honorary posts. But the telegrams had been few, and nearly all from Roden. There was a letter from Roden this morning.
"DEAR CORNISH" (he wrote),—
"You will probably receive applications from malgamite workers in different parts of the world for permission to enter our works. Accept them all, and arrange for their enlistment as soon as possible.
"Yours in haste,
Percy Roden was usually in haste, and wrote a bad letter in a beautiful handwriting.
Cornish turned to the telegrams. They were one and all applications from malgamite makers—from Venice to Valparaiso—to be enrolled in the Scheveningen group. He was still reading them when Lord Ferriby came into the little office. His lordship was wearing a new fancy waistcoat. It was the month of April—the month assuredly of fancy waistcoats throughout all nature. Lord Ferriby was, as usual, rather pleased with himself. He had walked down Piccadilly with great effect, and a bishop had bowed to him, recognizing, in a sense, a lay bishop.