THE IDLER MAGAZINE. AN ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY.
EDITED BY JEROME K. JEROME & ROBERT BARR.
VOL. III. FEBRUARY TO JULY, 1893.
XIII. FEB. 1893.
LONDON: CHATTO & WINDUS, 214, PICCADILLY. 1893.
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CHEATING THE GALLOWS. BY I. ZANGWILL.
MY FIRST NOVEL.—THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT. BY MISS M. E. BRADDON.
NOVEL NOTES. BY JEROME K. JEROME.
THE SKATER. BY WILLIAM CANTON.
MY SERVANT ANDREAS. BY ARCHIBALD FORBES.
TOLD BY THE COLONEL.— X. A MATRIMONIAL ROMANCE. BY W. L. ALDEN.
"LIONS IN THEIR DENS."— II. GEORGE GROSSMITH AND THE HUMOUR OF HIM. BY RAYMOND BLATHWAYT.
A BLIND BEGGARMAN. BY FRANK MATHEW.
CHURCH AND STAGE.—A REVIEW OF HENRY IRVING. BY THE REV. DR. JOSEPH PARKER.
THAT BEAST BEAUTY. BY KIRBY HARE.
PEOPLE I HAVE NEVER MET.—MRS. HUMPHRY WARD. BY SCOTT RANKIN.
THE IDLERS CLUB Is Love a Practical Reality or a Pleasing Fiction?
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CHEATING THE GALLOWS.
BY I. ZANGWILL.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY GEO. HUTCHINSON.
They say that a union of opposites makes the happiest marriage, and perhaps it is on the same principle that men who chum are always so oddly assorted. You shall find a man of letters sharing diggings with an auctioneer, and a medical student pigging with a stockbroker's clerk. Perhaps each thus escapes the temptation to talk "shop" in his hours of leisure, while he supplements his own experiences of life by his companion's.
There could not be an odder couple than Tom Peters and Everard G. Roxdal—the contrast began with their names, and ran through the entire chapter. They had a bedroom and a sitting-room in common, but it would not be easy to find what else. To his landlady, worthy Mrs. Seacon, Tom Peters's profession was a little vague, but everybody knew that Roxdal was the manager of the City and Suburban Bank, and it puzzled her to think why a bank manager should live with such a seedy-looking person, who smoked clay pipes and sipped whiskey and water all the evening when he was at home. For Roxdal was as spruce and erect as his fellow-lodger was round-shouldered and shabby; he never smoked, and he confined himself to a small glass of claret at dinner.
It is possible to live with a man and see very little of him. Where each of the partners lives his own life in his own way, with his own circle of friends and external amusements, days may go by without the men having five minutes together. Perhaps this explains why these partnerships jog along so much more peaceably than marriages, where the chain is drawn so much tighter, and galls the partners rather than links them. Diverse, however, as were the hours and habits of the chums, they often breakfasted together, and they agreed in one thing—they never stayed out at night. For the rest Peters sought his diversions in the company of journalists, and frequented debating rooms, where he propounded the most iconoclastic views; while Roxdal had highly respectable houses open to him in the suburbs, and was, in fact, engaged to be married to Clara Newell, the charming daughter of a retired corn merchant, a widower with no other child.
Clara naturally took up a good deal of Roxdal's time, and he often dressed to go to the play with her, while Peters stayed at home in a faded dressing-gown and loose slippers. Mrs. Seacon liked to see gentlemen about the house in evening dress, and made comparisons not favourable to Peters. And this in spite of the fact that he gave her infinitely less trouble than the younger man. It was Peters who first took the apartments, and it was characteristic of his easy-going temperament that he was so openly and naively delighted with the view of the Thames obtainable from the bedroom window, that Mrs. Seacon was emboldened to ask twenty-five per cent. more than she had intended. She soon returned to her normal terms, however, when his friend Roxdal called the next day to inspect the rooms, and overwhelmed her with a demonstration of their numerous shortcomings. He pointed out that their being on the ground floor was not an advantage, but a disadvantage, since they were nearer the noises of the street—in fact, the house being a corner one, the noises of two streets. Roxdal continued to exhibit the same finicking temperament in the petty details of the menage. His shirt fronts were never sufficiently starched, nor his boots sufficiently polished. Tom Peters, having no regard for rigid linen, was always good-tempered and satisfied, and never acquired the respect of his landlady. He wore blue check shirts and loose ties even on Sundays. It is true he did net go to church, but slept on till Roxdal returned from morning service, and even then it was difficult to get him out of bed, or to make him hurry up his toilette operations. Often the mid-day meal would be smoking on the table while Peters would smoke in the bed, and Roxdal, with his head thrust through the folding doors that separated the bedroom from the sitting-room, would be adjuring the sluggard to arise and shake off his slumbers, and threatening to sit down without him, lest the dinner be spoilt. In revenge, Tom was usually up first on week-days, sometimes at such unearthly hours that Polly had not yet removed the boots from outside the bedroom door, and would bawl down to the kitchen for his shaving water. For Tom, lazy and indolent as he was, shaved with the unfailing regularity of a man to whom shaving has become an instinct. If he had not kept fairly regular hours, Mrs. Seacon would have set him down as an actor, so clean shaven was he. Roxdal did not shave. He wore a full beard, and, being a fine figure of a man to boot, no uneasy investor could look upon him without being reassured as to the stability of the bank he managed so successfully. And thus the two men lived in an economical comradeship, all the firmer, perhaps, for their mutual incongruities.
A WOMAN'S INSTINCT.
It was on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of October, ten days after Roxdal had settled in his new rooms, that Clara Newell paid her first visit to him there. She enjoyed a good deal of liberty, and did not mind accepting his invitation to tea. The corn merchant, himself indifferently educated, had an exaggerated sense of the value of culture, and so Clara, who had artistic tastes without much actual talent, had gone in for painting, and might be seen, in pretty toilettes, copying pictures in the Museum. At one time it looked as if she might be reduced to working seriously at her art, for Satan, who finds mischief still for idle hands to do, had persuaded her father to embark the fruits of years of toil in bubble companies. However, things turned out not so bad as they might have been, a little was saved from the wreck, and the appearance of a suitor, in the person of Everard G. Roxdal, ensured her a future of competence, if not of the luxury she had been entitled to expect. She had a good deal of affection for Everard, who was unmistakably a clever man, as well as a good-looking one. The prospect seemed fair and cloudless. Nothing presaged the terrible storm that was about to break over these two lives. Nothing had ever for a moment come to vex their mutual contentment, till this Sunday afternoon. The October sky, blue and sunny, with an Indian summer sultriness, seemed an exact image of her life, with its aftermath of a happiness that had once seemed blighted.
Everard had always been so attentive, so solicitous, that she was as much surprised as chagrined to find that he had apparently forgotten the appointment. Hearing her astonished interrogation of Polly in the passage, Tom shambled from the sitting-room in his loose slippers and his blue check shirt, with his eternal clay pipe in his mouth, and informed her that Roxdal had gone out suddenly earlier in the afternoon.
"G-g-one out," stammered poor Clara; all confused. "But he asked me to come to tea."
"Oh, you're Miss Newell, I suppose," said Tom.
"Yes, I am Miss Newell."
"He has told me a great deal about you, but I wasn't able honestly to congratulate him on his choice till now."
Clara blushed uneasily under the compliment, and under the ardour of his admiring gaze. Instinctively she distrusted the man. The very first tones of his deep bass voice gave her a peculiar shudder. And then his impoliteness in smoking that vile clay was so gratuitous.
"Oh, then you must be Mr. Peters," she said in return. "He has often spoken to me of you."
"Ah!" said Tom, laughingly, "I suppose he's told you all my vices. That accounts for your not being surprised at my Sunday attire."
She smiled a little, showing a row of pearly teeth. "Everard ascribes to you all the virtues," she said.
"Now that's what I call a friend!" he cried, ecstatically. "But won't you come in? He must be back in a moment. He surely would not break an appointment with you." The admiration latent in the accentuation of the last pronoun was almost offensive.
She shook her head. She had a just grievance against Everard, and would punish him by going away indignantly.
"Do let me give you a cup of tea," Tom pleaded. "You must be awfully thirsty this sultry weather. There! I will make a bargain with you! If you will come in now, I promise to clear out the moment Everard returns, and not spoil your tete-a-tete." But Clara was obstinate; she did not at all relish this man's society, and besides, she was not going to throw away her grievance against Everard. "I know Everard will slang me dreadfully when he comes in if I let you go," Tom urged. "Tell me at least where he can find you."
"I am going to take the 'bus at Charing Cross, and I'm going straight home," Clara announced determinedly. She put up her parasol in a pet, and went up the street into the Strand. A cold shadow seemed to have fallen over all things. But just as she was getting into the 'bus, a hansom dashed down Trafalgar Square, and a well-known voice hailed her. The hansom stopped, and Everard got out and held out his hand.
"I'm so glad you're a bit late," he said. "I was called out unexpectedly, and have been trying to rush back in time. You wouldn't have found me if you had been punctual. But I thought," he added, laughing, "I could rely on you as a woman."
"I was punctual," Clara said angrily. "I was not getting out of this 'bus, as you seem to imagine, but into it, and was going home."
"My darling!" he cried remorsefully. "A thousand apologies." The regret on his handsome face soothed her. He took the rose he was wearing in the button-hole of his fashionably-cut coat and gave it to her.
"Why were you so cruel?" he murmured, as she nestled against him in the hansom. "Think of my despair if I had come home to hear you had come and gone. Why didn't you wait a moment?"
A shudder traversed her frame. "Not with that man, Peters!" she murmured.
"Not with that man, Peters!" he echoed sharply. "What is the matter with Peters?"
"I don't know," she said. "I don't like him."
"Clara," he said, half sternly, half cajolingly, "I thought you were above these feminine weaknesses; you are punctual, strive also to be reasonable. Tom is my best friend. From boyhood we have been always together. There is nothing Tom would not do for me, or I for Tom. You must like him, Clara; you must, if only for my sake."
"I'll try," Clara promised, and then he kissed her in gratitude and broad daylight.
"You'll be very nice to him at tea, won't you?" he said anxiously. "I shouldn't like you two to be bad friends."
"I don't want to be bad friends," Clara protested; "only the moment I saw him a strange repulsion and mistrust came over me."
"You are quite wrong about him—quite wrong," he assured her earnestly. "When you know him better, you'll find him the best of fellows. Oh, I know," he said suddenly, "I suppose he was very untidy, and you women go so much by appearances!"
"Not at all," Clara retorted. "'Tis you men who go by appearances."
"Yes, you do. That's why you care for me," he said, smiling.
She assured him it wasn't, and she didn't care for him so much as he plumed himself, but he smiled on. His smile died away, however, when he entered his rooms and found Tom nowhere.
"I daresay you've made him run about hunting for me," he grumbled.
"Perhaps he knew I'd come back, and went away to leave us together," she answered. "He said he would when you came."
"And yet you say you don't like him!"
She smiled reassuringly. Inwardly, however, she felt pleased at the man's absence.
POLLY RECEIVES A PROPOSAL.
If Clara Newell could have seen Tom Peters carrying on with Polly in the passage, she might have felt justified in her prejudice against him. It must be confessed, though, that Everard also carried on with Polly. Alas! it is to be feared that men are much of a muchness where women are concerned; shabby men and smart men, bank managers and journalists, bachelors and semi-detached bachelors. Perhaps it was a mistake after all to say the chums had nothing patently in common. Everard, I am afraid, kissed Polly rather more often than Clara, and although it was because he respected her less, the reason would perhaps not have been sufficiently consoling to his affianced wife. For Polly was pretty, especially on alternate Sunday afternoons, and when at ten p.m. she returned from her outings, she was generally met in the passage by one or other of the men. Polly liked to receive the homage of real gentlemen, and set her white cap at all indifferently. Thus, just before Clara knocked on that memorable Sunday afternoon, Polly, being confined to the house by the unwritten code regulating the lives of servants, was amusing herself by flirting with Peters.
"You are fond of me a little bit," the graceless Tom whispered, "aren't you?"
"You know I am, sir," Polly replied.
"You don't care for anyone else in the house?"
"Oh no, sir, and never let anyone kiss me but you. I wonder how it is, sir?" Polly replied ingenuously.
"Give me another," Tom answered.
She gave him another, and tripped to the door to answer Clara's knock.
And that very evening, when Clara was gone and Tom still out, Polly turned without the faintest atom of scrupulosity, or even jealousy, to the more fascinating Roxdal, and accepted his amorous advances. If it would seem at first sight that Everard had less excuse for such frivolity than his friend, perhaps the seriousness he showed in this interview may throw a different light upon the complex character of the man.
"You're quite sure you don't care for anyone but me?" he asked earnestly.
"Of course not, sir!" Polly replied indignantly. "How could I?"
"But you care for that soldier I saw you out with last Sunday?"
"Oh no, sir, he's only my young man," she said apologetically.
"Would you give him up?" he hissed suddenly.
Polly's pretty face took a look of terror. "I couldn't, sir! He'd kill me. He's such a jealous brute, you've no idea."
"Yes, but suppose I took you away from here?" he whispered eagerly. "Somewhere where he couldn't find you—South America, Africa, somewhere thousands of miles across the seas."
"Oh, sir, you frighten me!" whispered Polly, cowering before his ardent eyes, which shone in the dimly-lit passage.
"Would you come with me?" he hissed. She did not answer; she shook herself free and ran into the kitchen, trembling with a vague fear.
One morning, earlier than his earliest hour of demanding his shaving water, Tom rang the bell violently and asked the alarmed Polly what had become of Mr. Roxdal.
"How should I know, sir?" she gasped. "Ain't he been in, sir?"
"Apparently not," Tom answered anxiously. "He never remains out. We have been here three weeks now, and I can't recall a single night he hasn't been home before twelve. I can't make it out." All enquiries proved futile. Mrs. Seacon reminded him of the thick fog that had come on suddenly the night before.
"What fog?" asked Tom.
"Lord! didn't you notice it, sir?"
"No, I came in early, smoked, read, and went to bed about eleven. I never thought of looking out of the window."
"It began about ten," said Mrs. Seacon, "and got thicker and thicker. I couldn't see the lights of the river from my bedroom. The poor gentleman has been and gone and walked into the water." She began to whimper.
"Nonsense, nonsense," said Tom, though his expression belied his words. "At the worst I should think he couldn't find his way home, and couldn't get a cab, so put up for the night at some hotel. I daresay it will be all right." He began to whistle as if in restored cheerfulness. At eight o'clock there came a letter for Roxdal, marked "immediate," but as he did not turn up for breakfast, Tom went round personally to the City and Suburban Bank. He waited half-an-hour there, but the manager did not make his appearance. Then he left the letter with the cashier and went away with anxious countenance.
That afternoon it was all over London that the manager of the City and Suburban had disappeared, and that many thousand pounds of gold and notes had disappeared with him.
Scotland Yard opened the letter marked "immediate," and noted that there had been a delay in its delivery, for the address had been obscure, and an official alteration had been made. It was written in a feminine hand and said: "On second thoughts I cannot accompany you. Do not try to see me again. Forget me. I shall never forget you."
There was no signature.
Clara Newell, distracted, disclaimed all knowledge of this letter. Polly deposed that the fugitive had proposed flight to her, and the routes to Africa and South America were especially watched. Some months passed without result. Tom Peters went about overwhelmed with grief and astonishment. The police took possession of all the missing man's effects. Gradually the hue and cry dwindled, died.
FAITH AND UNFAITH.
"At last we meet!" cried Tom Peters, while his face lit up in joy. "How are you, dear Miss Newell?" Clara greeted him coldly. Her face had an abiding pallor now. Her lover's flight and shame had prostrated her for weeks. Her soul was the arena of contending instincts. Alone of all the world she still believed in Everard's innocence, felt that there was something more than met the eye, divined some devilish mystery behind it all. And yet that damning letter from the anonymous lady shook her sadly. Then, too, there was the deposition of Polly. When she heard Peters's voice accosting her all her old repugnance resurged. It flashed upon her that this man—Roxdal's boon companion—must know far more than he had told to the police. She remembered how Everard had spoken of him, with what affection and confidence! Was it likely he was utterly ignorant of Everard's movements? Mastering her repugnance, she held out her hand. It might be well to keep in touch with him; he was possibly the clue to the mystery. She noticed he was dressed a shade more trimly, and was smoking a meerschaum. He walked along at her side, making no offer to put his pipe out.
"You have not heard from Everard?" he asked. She flushed. "Do you think I'm an accessory after the fact?" she cried.
"No, no," he said soothingly. "Pardon me, I was thinking he might have written—giving no exact address, of course. Men do sometimes dare to write thus to women. But, of course, he knows you too well—you would have put the police on his track."
"Certainly," she exclaimed, indignantly. "Even if he is innocent he must face the charge."
"Do you still entertain the possibility of his innocence?"
"I do," she said boldly, and looked him full in the face. His eyelids drooped with a quiver. "Don't you?"
"I have hoped against hope," he replied, in a voice faltering with emotion. "Poor old Everard! But I am afraid there is no room for doubt. Oh, this wicked curse of money—tempting the noblest and the best of us."
The weeks rolled on. Gradually she found herself seeing more and more of Tom Peters, and gradually, strange to say, he grew less repulsive. From the talks they had together, she began to see that there was really no reason to put faith in Everard; his criminality, his faithlessness, were too flagrant. Gradually she grew ashamed of her early mistrust of Peters; remorse bred esteem, and esteem ultimately ripened into feelings so warm, that when Tom gave freer vent to the love that had been visible to Clara from the first, she did not repulse him.
It is only in books that love lives for ever. Clara, so her father thought, showed herself a sensible girl in plucking out an unworthy affection and casting it from her heart. He invited the new lover to his house, and took to him at once. Roxdal's somewhat supercilious manner had always jarred upon the unsophisticated corn merchant. With Tom the old man got on much better. While evidently quite as well informed and cultured as his whilom friend, Tom knew how to impart his superior knowledge with the accent on the knowledge rather than on the superiority, while he had the air of gaining much information in return. Those who are most conscious of defects of early education are most resentful of other people sharing their consciousness Moreover, Tom's bonhomie was far more to the old fellow's liking than the studied politeness of his predecessor, so that on the whole Tom made more of a conquest of the father than of the daughter. Nevertheless, Clara was by no means unresponsive to Tom's affection, and when, after one of his visits to the house, the old man kissed her fondly and spoke of the happy turn things had taken, and how, for the second time in their lives, things had mended when they seemed at their blackest, her heart swelled with a gush of gratitude and joy and tenderness, and she fell sobbing into her father's arms.
Tom calculated that he made a clear five hundred a year by occasional journalism, besides possessing some profitable investments which he had inherited from his mother, so that there was no reason for delaying the marriage. It was fixed for May-day, and the honeymoon was to be spent in Italy.
THE DREAM AND THE AWAKENING
But Clara was not destined to happiness. From the moment she had promised herself to her first love's friend old memories began to rise up and reproach her. Strange thoughts stirred in the depths of her soul, and in the silent watches of the night she seemed to hear Everard's accents, charged with grief and upbraiding. Her uneasiness increased as her wedding-day drew near. One night, after a pleasant afternoon spent in being rowed by Tom among the upper reaches of the Thames, she retired to rest full of vague forebodings. And she dreamt a terrible dream. The dripping form of Everard stood by her bedside, staring at her with ghastly eyes. Had he been drowned on the passage to his land of exile? Frozen with horror, she put the question.
"I have never left England!" the vision answered.
Her tongue clove to the roof of her mouth.
"Never left England?" she repeated, in tones which did not seem to be hers.
The wraith's stony eyes stared on, but there was silence.
"Where have you been then?" she asked in her dream.
"Very near you," came the answer.
"There has been foul play then!" she shrieked.
The phantom shook its head in doleful assent.
"I knew it!" she shrieked. "Tom Peters—Tom Peters has done away with you. Is it not he? Speak!"
"Yes, it is he—Tom Peters—whom I loved more than all the world."
Even in the terrible oppression of the dream she could not resist saying, woman-like:
"Did I not warn you against him?"
The phantom stared on silently and made no reply.
"But what was his motive?" she asked at length.
"Love of gold—and you. And you are giving yourself to him," it said sternly.
"No, no, Everard! I will not! I will not! I swear it! Forgive me!"
The spirit shook its head sceptically.
"You love him. Women are false—as false as men."
She strove to protest again, but her tongue refused its office.
"If you marry him, I shall always be with you! Beware!"
The dripping figure vanished as suddenly as it came, and Clara awoke in a cold perspiration. Oh, it was horrible! The man she had learnt to love, the murderer of the man she had learnt to forget! How her original prejudice had been justified! Distracted, shaken to her depths, she would not take counsel even of her father, but informed the police of her suspicions. A raid was made on Tom's rooms, and lo! the stolen notes were discovered in a huge bundle. It was found that he had several banking accounts, with a large, recently-paid amount in each bank. Tom was arrested. Attention was now concentrated on the corpses washed up by the river. It was not long before the body of Roxdal came to shore, the face distorted almost beyond recognition by long immersion, but the clothes patently his, and a pocket-book in the breast-pocket removing the last doubt. Mrs. Seacon and Polly and Clara Newell all identified the body. Both juries returned a verdict of murder against Tom Peters, the recital of Clara's dream producing a unique impression in the court and throughout the country. The theory of the prosecution was that Roxdal had brought home the money, whether to fly alone or to divide it, or whether even for some innocent purpose, as Clara believed, was immaterial. That Peters determined to have it all, that he had gone out for a walk with the deceased, and, taking advantage of the fog, had pushed him into the river, and that he was further impelled to the crime by love for Clara Newell, as was evident from his subsequent relations with her. The judge put on the black cap. Tom Peters was duly hung by the neck till he was dead.
BRIEF RESUME OF THE CULPRIT'S CONFESSION.
When you all read this I shall be dead and laughing at you. I have been hung for my own murder. I am Everard G. Roxdal. I am also Tom Peters. We two were one. When I was a young man my moustache and beard wouldn't come. I bought false ones to improve my appearance. One day, after I had become manager of the City and Suburban Bank, I took off my beard and moustache at home, and then the thought crossed my mind that nobody would know me without them. I was another man. Instantly it flashed upon me that if I ran away from the Bank, that other man could be left in London, while the police were scouring the world for a non-existent fugitive. But this was only the crude germ of the idea. Slowly I matured my plan. The man who was going to be left in London must be known to a circle of acquaintance beforehand. It would be easy enough to masquerade in the evenings in my beardless condition, with other disguises of dress and voice. But this was not brilliant enough. I conceived the idea of living with him. It was Box and Cox reversed. We shared rooms at Mrs. Seacon's. It was a great strain, but it was only for a few weeks. I had trick clothes in my bedroom like those of quick-change artistes; in a moment I could pass from Roxdal to Peters and from Peters to Roxdal. Polly had to clean two pairs of boots a morning, cook two dinners, &c., &c. She and Mrs. Seacon saw one or the other of us every moment; it never dawned upon them they never saw us both together. At meals I would not be interrupted, ate off two plates, and conversed with my friend in loud tones. At other times we dined at different hours. On Sundays he was supposed to be asleep when I was in church. There is no landlady in the world to whom the idea would have occurred that one man was troubling himself to be two (and to pay for two, including washing). I worked up the idea of Roxdal's flight, asked Polly to go with me, manufactured that feminine letter that arrived on the morning of my disappearance. As Tom Peters I mixed with a journalistic set. I had another room where I kept the gold and notes till I mistakenly thought the thing had blown over. Unfortunately, returning from here on the night of my disappearance, with Roxdal's clothes in a bundle I intended to drop into the river, it was stolen from me in the fog, and the man into whose possession it ultimately came appears to have committed suicide. What, perhaps, ruined me was my desire to keep Clara's love, and to transfer it to the survivor. Everard told her I was the best of fellows. Once married to her, I would not have had much fear. Even if she had discovered the trick, a wife cannot give evidence against her husband, and often does not want to. I made none of the usual slips, but no man can guard against a girl's nightmare after a day up the river and a supper at the Star and Garter. I might have told the judge he was an ass, but then I should have had penal servitude for bank robbery, and that is worse than death. The only thing that puzzles me, though, is whether the law has committed murder or I suicide.
* * * * *
My First Novel.
THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT.
BY MISS M. E. BRADDON.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MISS F. L. FULLER.
My first novel! Far back in the distinctness of childish memories I see a little girl who has lately learnt to write, who has lately been given a beautiful brand new mahogany desk, with a red velvet slope, and a glass ink bottle, such a desk as might now be bought for three and sixpence, but which in the forties cost at least half-a-guinea. Very proud is the little girl, with the Kenwigs pigtails, and the Kenwigs frills, of that mahogany desk, and its infinite capacities for literary labour, above all, gem of gems, its stick of variegated sealing-wax, brown, speckled with gold, and its little glass seal with an intaglio representing two doves—Pliny's doves perhaps, famous in mosaic, only the little girl had never heard of Pliny, or his Laurentine Villa.
Armed with that desk and its supply of stationery, Mary Elizabeth Braddon—very fond of writing her name at full-length, and her address also at full-length, though the word "Middlesex" offered difficulties—began that pilgrimage on the broad high road of fiction, which was destined to be a longish one. So much for the little girl of eight years old, in the third person, and now to become strictly autobiographical.
My first story was based on those fairy tales which first opened to me the world of imaginative literature. My first attempt in fiction, and in round-hand, on carefully pencilled double lines, was a story of two sisters, a good sister and a wicked, and I fear adhered more faithfully to the lines of the archetypal story than the writer's pen kept to the double fence which should have ensured neatness.
The interval between the ages of eight and twelve was a prolific period, fertile in unfinished MSS., among which I can now trace a historical novel on the Siege of Calais—an Eastern story, suggested by a passionate love of Miss Pardoe's Turkish tales, and Byron's "Bride of Abydos," which my mother, a devoted Byron worshipper, allowed me to read aloud to her—and doubtless murder in the reading—a story of the Hartz Mountains, with audacious flights in German diablerie; and lastly, very seriously undertaken, and very perseveringly worked upon, a domestic story, the outline of which was suggested by the same dear and sympathetic mother.
Now it is a curious fact, which may or may not be common to other story-spinners, that I have never been able to take kindly to a plot—or the suggestion of a plot—offered to me by anybody else. The moment a friend tells me that he or she is desirous of imparting a series of facts—strictly true—as if truth in fiction mattered one jot!—which in his or her opinion would make the ground plan of an admirable, startling, and altogether original three-volume novel, I know in advance that my imagination will never grapple with those startling circumstances—that my thoughts will begin to wander before my friend has got half through the remarkable chain of events, and that if the obliging purveyor of romantic incidents were to examine me at the end of the story, I should be spun ignominiously. For the most part, such subjects as have been proposed to me by friends have been hopelessly unfit for the circulating library; or, where not immoral, have been utterly dull; but it is, I believe, a fixed idea in the novel-reader's mind that any combination of events out of the beaten way of life will make an admirable subject for the novelist's art.
My dear mother, taking into consideration my tender years, and perhaps influenced in somewise by her own love of picking up odd bits of Sheraton or Chippendale furniture in the storehouses of the less ambitious second-hand dealers of those simpler days, offered me the following scenario for a domestic story. It was an incident which, I doubt not, she had often read at the tail of a newspaper column, and which certainly savours of the gigantic gooseberry, the sea-serpent, and the agricultural labourer who unexpectedly inherits half-a-million. It was eminently a Simple Story, and far more worthy of that title than Mrs. Inchbald's long and involved romance.
An honest couple, in humble circumstances, possess among their small household gear a good old easy chair, which has been the pride of a former generation, and is the choicest of their household gods. A comfortable cushioned chair, snug and restful, albeit the chintz covering, though clean and tidy, as virtuous people's furniture always is in fiction, is worn thin by long service, while the dear chair itself is no longer the chair it once was as to legs and framework.
Evil days come upon the praiseworthy couple and their dependent brood, among whom I faintly remember the love interest of the story to have lain; and that direful day arrives when the average landlord of juvenile fiction, whose heart is of adamant and brain of brass, distrains for the rent. The rude broker swoops upon the humble dovecot; a cart or hand-barrow waits on the carefully hearth-stoned door-step for the household gods; the family gather round the cherished chair, on which the rude broker has already laid his grimy fingers; they hang over the back and fondle the padded arms; and the old grandmother, with clasped hands, entreats that, if able to raise the money in a few days, they may be allowed to buy back that loved heirloom.
The broker laughs the plea to scorn; they might have their chair, and cheap enough, he had no doubt. The cover was darned and patched—as only the virtuous poor of fiction do darn and do patch—and he made no doubt the stuffing was nothing better than brown wool; and with that coarse taunt the coarser broker dug his clasp-knife into the cushion against which grandfatherly backs had leaned in happier days, and lo! an avalanche of banknotes fell out of the much-maligned horse-hair, and the family was lifted from penury to wealth. Nothing more simple—or more natural. A prudent but eccentric ancestor had chosen this mode of putting by his savings, assured that, whenever discovered, the money would be useful to—somebody.
So ran the scenario: but I fancy my juvenile pen hardly held on to the climax. My brief experience of boarding school occurred at this time, and I well remember writing "The Old Arm Chair" in a penny account book, in the schoolroom of Cresswell Lodge, and that I was both surprised and offended at the laughter of the kindly music-teacher who, coming into the room to summon a pupil, and seeing me gravely occupied, enquired what I was doing, and was intensely amused at my stolid method of composition, plodding on undisturbed by the voices and occupations of the older girls around me. "The Old Arm Chair" was certainly my first serious, painstaking effort in fiction; but as it was abandoned unfinished before my eleventh birthday, and as no line thereof ever achieved the distinction of type, it can hardly rank as my first novel.
There came a very few years later the sentimental period, in which my unfinished novels assumed a more ambitious form, and were modelled chiefly upon Jane Eyre, with occasional tentative imitations of Thackeray. Stories of gentle hearts that loved in vain, always ending in renunciation. One romance there was, I well remember, begun with resolute purpose, after the first reading of Esmond, and in the endeavour to give life and local colour to a story of the Restoration period, a brilliantly wicked interval in the social history of England, which, after the lapse of thirty years, I am still as bent upon taking for the background of a love story as I was when I began "Master Anthony's Record" in Esmondese, and made my girlish acquaintance with the Reading-room of the British Museum, where I went in quest of local colour, and where much kindness was shown to my youth and inexperience of the book world. Poring over a folio edition of the State Trials at my uncle's quiet rectory in sleepy Sandwich, I had discovered the passionate romantic story of Lord Grey's elopement with his sister-in-law, next in sequence to the trial of Lawrence Braddon and Hugh Speke for conspiracy. At the risk of seeming disloyal to my own race, I must add that it seemed to me a very tinpot order of plot to which these two learned gentlemen bent their legal minds, and which cost the Braddon family a heavy fine in land near Camelford—confiscation which I have heard my father complain of as especially unfair—Lawrence being a younger son. The romantic story of Lord Grey was to be the subject of "Master Anthony's Record," but Master Anthony's sentimental autobiography went the way of all my earlier efforts. It was but a year or so after the collapse of Master Anthony, that a blindly-enterprising printer of Beverley, who had seen my poor little verses in the Beverley Recorder, made me the spirited offer of ten pounds for a serial story, to be set up and printed at Beverley, and published on commission by a London firm in Warwick Lane. I cannot picture to myself, in my after-knowledge of the bookselling trade, any enterprise more futile in its inception or more feeble in its execution; but to my youthful ambition the actual commission to write a novel, with an advance payment of fifty shillings to show good faith on the part of my Yorkshire speculator, seemed like the opening of that pen-and-ink paradise which I had sighed for ever since I could hold a pen. I had, previously to this date, found a Maecenas in Beverley, in the person of a learned gentleman who volunteered to foster my love of the Muses by buying the copyright of a volume of poems and publishing the same at his own expense—which he did, poor man, without stint, and by which noble patronage of Poet's Corner verse, he must have lost money. He had, however, the privilege of dictating the subject of the principal poem, which was to sing—however feebly—Garibaldi's Sicilian campaign.
The Beverley printer suggested that my Warwick Lane serial should combine, as far as my powers allowed, the human interest and genial humour of Dickens with the plot-weaving of G. W. R. Reynolds; and, furnished with these broad instructions, I filled my ink bottle, spread out my foolscap, and, on a hopelessly wet afternoon, began my first novel—now known as "The Trail of the Serpent"—but published in Warwick Lane, and later in the stirring High Street of Beverley, as "Three Times Dead." In "Three Times Dead" I gave loose to all my leanings to the violent in melodrama. Death stalked in ghastliest form across my pages; and villainy reigned triumphant till the Nemesis of the last chapter. I wrote with all the freedom of one who feared not the face of a critic; and, indeed, thanks to the obscurity of its original production, and its re-issue as the ordinary two-shilling railway novel, this first novel of mine has almost entirely escaped the critical lash, and has pursued its way as a chartered libertine. People buy it and read it, and its faults and follies are forgiven as the exuberances of a pen unchastened by experience; but faster and more facile at that initial stage than it ever became after long practice.
I dashed headlong at my work, conjured up my images of horror or of mirth, and boldly built the framework of my story, and set my puppets moving. To me, at least, they were living creatures, who seemed to follow impulses of their own, to be impelled by their own passions, to love and hate, and plot and scheme of their own accord. There was unalloyed pleasure in the composition of that first story, and the knowledge that it was to be actually printed and published, and not to be declined with thanks by adamantine magazine editors, like a certain short story which I had lately written, and which contained the germ of "Lady Audley's Secret." Indeed, at this period of my life, the postman's knock had become associated in my mind with the sharp sound of a rejected MS. dropping through the open letter-box on to the floor of the hall, while my heart seemed to drop in sympathy with that book-post packet.
Short of never being printed at all, my Beverley-born novel could have hardly entered upon the world of books in a more profound obscurity. That one living creature ever bought a number of "Three Times Dead" I greatly doubt. I can recall the thrill of emotion with which I tore open the envelope that contained my complimentary copy of the first number, folded across, and in aspect inferior to a gratis pamphlet about a patent medicine. The miserable little wood block which illustrated that first number would have disgraced a baker's whitey-brown bag, would have been unworthy to illustrate a penny bun. My spirits were certainly dashed at the technical shortcomings of that first serial, and I was hardly surprised when I was informed a few weeks later, that although my admirers at Beverley were deeply interested in the story, it was not a financial success, and that it would be only obliging on my part, and in accordance with my known kindness of heart, if I were to restrict the development of the romance to half its intended length, and to accept five pounds in lieu of ten as my reward. Having no desire that the rash Beverley printer should squander his own or his children's fortune in the obscurity of Warwick Lane, I immediately acceded to his request, shortened sail, and went on with my story, perhaps with a shade less enthusiasm, having seen the shabby figure it was to make in the book world. I may add that the Beverley publisher's payments began and ended with his noble advance of fifty shillings. The balance was never paid; and it was rather hard lines that, on his becoming bankrupt in his poor little way a few years later, a judge in the Bankruptcy Court remarked that, as Miss Braddon was now making a good deal of money by her pen, she ought to "come to the relief" of her first publisher.
And now my volume of verses being well under weigh, I went with my mother to farm-house lodgings in the neighbourhood of that very Beverley, where I spent, perhaps, the happiest half-year of my life—half a year of tranquil, studious days, far from the madding crowd, with the mother whose society was always all sufficient for me—half a year among level pastures, with unlimited books from the library in Hull, an old farm-horse to ride about the green lanes, the breath of summer, with all its sweet odours of flower and herb, around and about us: half a year of unalloyed bliss, had it not been for one dark shadow, the heroic figure of Garibaldi, the sailor soldier, looming large upon the foreground of my literary labours, as the hero of a lengthy narrative poem in the Spenserian metre.
My chief business at Beverley was to complete the volume of verse commissioned by my Yorkshire Maecenas, at that time a very rich man, who paid me a much better price for my literary work than his townsman, the enterprising printer, and who had the first claim on my thought and time.
With the business-like punctuality of a salaried clerk, I went every morning to my file of the Times, and pored and puzzled over Neapolitan revolution and Sicilian campaign, and I can only say that if Emile Zola has suffered as much over Sedan as I suffered in the freshness of my youth, when flowery meadows and the old chestnut mare invited to summer idlesse, over the fighting in Sicily, his dogged perseverance in uncongenial labour should place him among the Immortal Forty. How I hated the great Joseph G. and the Spenserian metre, with its exacting demands upon the rhyming faculty. How I hated my own ignorance of modern Italian history, and my own eyes for never having looked upon Italian landscape, whereby historical allusion and local colour were both wanting to that dry-as-dust record of heroic endeavour. I had only the Times correspondent; where he was picturesque I could be picturesque—allowing always for the Spenserian straining—where he was rich in local colour I did my utmost to reproduce his colouring, stretched always on the Spenserian rack, and lengthened out by the bitter necessity of finding triple rhymes. Next to Guiseppe Garibaldi I hated Edmund Spenser, and it may be from a vengeful remembrance of those early struggles with a difficult form of versification, that, although throughout my literary life I have been a lover of England's earlier poet, and have delighted in the quaintness and naivete of Chaucer, I have refrained from reading more than a casual stanza or two of the "Faery Queen." When I lived at Beverley, Spenser was to me but a name, and Byron's "Childe Harold" was my only model for that exacting verse. I should add that the Beverley Maecenas, when commissioning this volume of verse, was less superb in his ideas than the literary patron of the past. He looked at the matter from a purely commercial standpoint, and believed that a volume of verse, such as I could produce, would pay—a delusion on his part which I honestly strove to combat before accepting his handsome offer of remuneration for my time and labour. It was with this idea in his mind that he chose and insisted upon the Sicilian Campaign as a subject for my muse, and thus started me heavily handicapped on the racecourse of Parnassus.
The weekly number of "Three Times Dead" was "thrown off" in brief intervals of rest from my magnum opus, and it was an infinite relief to turn from Garibaldi and his brothers in arms to the angels and the monsters which my own brain had engendered, and which to me seemed more alive than the good great man whose arms I so laboriously sang. My rustic pipe far better loved to sing of melodramatic poisoners and ubiquitous detectives; of fine houses in the West of London, and dark dens in the East. So the weekly chapter of my first novel ran merrily off my pen while the printer's boy waited in the farm-house kitchen.
Happy, happy days, so near to memory, and yet so far. In that peaceful summer I finished my first novel, knocked Garibaldi on the head with a closing rhapsody, saw the York spring and summer races in hopelessly wet weather, learnt to love the Yorkshire people, and left Yorkshire almost broken-heartedly on a dull gray October morning, to travel Londonwards through a landscape that was mostly under water.
And, behold, since that October morning I have written fifty-three novels; I have lost dear old friends and found new friends, who are also dear, but I have never looked on a Yorkshire landscape since I turned my reluctant eyes from those level meadows and green lanes where the old chestnut mare used to carry me ploddingly to and fro between tall, tangled hedges of eglantine and honeysuckle.
* * * * *
BY JEROME K. JEROME.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY J. GUeLICH AND J. GREIG,
The final question discussed at our last meeting had been: What shall our hero be? MacShaugnassy had suggested an author, with a critic for the villain. Brown's fancy was an artist. My idea was a stockbroker, with an undercurrent of romance in his nature. Said Jephson, who has a practical mind, approaching at times the commercial: "The question is not what we like, but what the female novel-reader likes."
"That is so," agreed MacShaugnassy. "I propose that we collect feminine opinion upon this point. I will write to my aunt, and get from her the old lady's view. You," he said, turning to me, "can put the case to your wife, and get the young lady's ideal. Let Brown write to his sister at Newnham, and find out whom the intellectual maiden favours, while Jephson can learn from Miss Medbury what is most attractive to the common-sensed girl."
This plan we had adopted, and the result was now under consideration. MacShaugnassy opened the proceedings by reading his aunt's letter. Wrote the old lady:
"I think, if I were you, my dear boy, I should choose a soldier. You know your poor grandfather, who ran away to America with that wicked Mrs. Featherly, the banker's wife, was a soldier, and so was your poor cousin Robert, who lost eight thousand pounds at Monte Carlo. I have always felt singularly drawn towards soldiers, even as a girl; though your poor dear uncle could not bear them. You will find many allusions to soldiers and men of war in the Old Testament (see Jer. 48,14). Of course one does not like to think of their fighting and killing each other, but then they do not seem to do much of that sort of thing nowadays."
"So much for the old lady," said MacShaugnassy, as he folded up the letter and returned it to his pocket. "What says culture?"
Brown produced from his cigar-case a letter addressed in a bold round hand, and read as follows:
"What a curious coincidence! A few of us were discussing this very subject last night in Millicent Hightopper's rooms, and I may tell you at once that our decision was unanimous in favour of soldiers. You see, my dear Selkirk, in human nature the attraction is towards the opposite. To a milliner's apprentice a poet would no doubt be satisfying; to a woman of intelligence he would be an unutterable bore. The man of brain is not for the woman of brain. What the intellectual woman requires in man is not something to argue with, but something to look at. To an empty-headed woman I can imagine the soldier type proving vapid and uninteresting; to the woman of mind he represents her ideal of man—a creature strong, handsome, well-dressed, and not too clever."
"That gives us two votes for the army," remarked MacShaugnassy, as Brown tore his sister's letter in two, and threw the pieces into the waste-paper basket. "What says the common-sensed girl?"
"First catch your common-sensed girl," muttered Jephson, a little grumpily, as it seemed to me. "Where do you propose finding her?"
"Well," returned MacShaugnassy, "I looked to find her in Miss Medbury."
As a rule, the mention of Miss Medbury's name brings a flush of joy to Jephson's face; but now his features wore an expression distinctly approaching a scowl.
"Oh!" he replied, "did you? Well, then, the common-sensed girl loves the military, also."
"By Jove!" exclaimed MacShaugnassy, "what an extraordinary thing. What reason does she give?"
"That they look so nice when they're dressed, and that they dance so divinely," answered Jephson, shortly.
"Well, you do surprise me," murmured MacShaugnassy, "I am astonished."
Then to me he said: "And what does the young married woman say? The same?"
"Yes," I replied, "precisely the same."
"Does she give a reason?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," I explained; "because you can't help liking them."
There was silence for the next few minutes, while we smoked and thought. I fancy we were all wishing we had never started this enquiry.
That four distinctly different types of educated womanhood should, with promptness and unanimity quite unfeminine, have selected the soldier as their ideal, was certainly discouraging to the civilian heart. Had they been nursemaids or servant girls, I should have expected it. The worship of Mars by the Venus of the white cap is one of the few vital religions left to this devoutless age. A year or two ago I lodged near a barracks, and the sight to be seen round its huge iron gates on Sunday afternoons I shall never forget. The girls began to assemble about twelve o'clock. By two, at which hour the army, with its hair nicely oiled and a cane in its hand, was ready for a stroll, there would be some four or five hundred of them waiting in a line. Formerly they had collected in a wild mob, and as the soldiers were let out to them two at a time, had fought for them, as lions for early Christians. This, however, had led to scenes of such disorder and brutality, that the police had been obliged to interfere; and the girls were now marshalled in queue, two abreast, and compelled, by a force of constables specially told off for the purpose, to keep their places and wait their proper turn.
At three o'clock the sentry on duty would come down to the wicket and close it. "They're all gone, my dears," he would shout out to the girls still left; "it's no good your stopping, we've no more for you to-day."
"Oh, not one!" some poor child would murmur pleadingly, while the tears welled up into her big round eyes, "not even a little one. I've been waiting such a long time."
"Can't help that," the honest fellow would reply, gruffly, but not unkindly, turning aside to hide his emotion; "you've had 'em all between you. We don't make 'em, you know: you can't have 'em if we haven't got 'em, can you? Come earlier next time."
Then he would hurry away to escape further importunity; and the police, who appeared to have been waiting for this moment with gloating anticipation, would jeeringly hustle away the weeping remnant. "Now then, pass along, you girls, pass along," they would say, in that irritatingly unsympathetic voice of theirs. "You've had your chance. Can't have the roadway blocked up all the afternoon with this 'ere demonstration of the unloved. You'll have to put up with your ordinary young men for to-day. Pass along."
In connection with this same barracks, our charwoman told Amenda, who told Ethelbertha, who told me a story, which I now told the boys.
Into a certain house, in a certain street in the neighbourhood, there moved one day a certain family. Their servant had left them—most of their servants did at the end of a week—and the day after the moving-in an advertisement was drawn up and sent to the Chronicle for a domestic. It ran thus:
WANTED GENERAL SERVANT, in small family of eleven. Wages, L6; no beer money. Must be early riser and hard worker. Washing done at home. Must be good cook, and not object to window-cleaning. Unitarian preferred.—Apply, with references, to A. B., &C.
That advertisement was sent off on Wednesday afternoon. At seven o'clock on Thursday morning the whole family were awakened by continuous ringing of the street door bell. The husband, looking out of window, was surprised to see a crowd of about fifty girls surrounding the house. He slipped on his dressing-gown and went down to see what was the matter. The moment he opened the door, fifteen of them charged tumultuously into the passage, sweeping him completely off his legs. Once inside, these fifteen faced round, fought the other thirty-five or so back on to the door-step, and slammed the door in their faces. Then they picked up the master of the house, and asked him politely to conduct them to "A. B."
At first, owing to the clamour of the mob outside, who were hammering at the door and shouting curses through the keyhole on those inside, he was too confused to understand anything, but by dint of great exertion they succeeded at length in explaining to him that they were domestic servants come in answer to his wife's advertisement. The man went and told his wife, and his wife said she would see them, one at a time.
Which one should have audience first was a delicate question to decide. The man, on being appealed to, said he would prefer to leave it to them. They accordingly discussed the matter among themselves. At the end of a quarter of an hour, the victor, having borrowed a packet of pins and a looking-glass from our charwoman, who had slept in the house, went upstairs, while the remaining fourteen sat down in the hall, and fanned themselves with their bonnets.
"A. B." was a good deal astonished when the first applicant presented herself. She was a tall, genteel-looking, well-dressed girl. Up to yesterday she had been head housemaid at Lady Stanton's, and before that she had been under-cook for two years to the Duchess of York.
"And why did you leave Lady Stanton?" asked "A. B."
"To come here, mum," replied the girl.
The lady was puzzled.
"And you'll be satisfied with six pounds a year?" she asked.
"Certainly, mum, I think it ample."
"And you don't mind hard work?"
"I love it, mum."
"And you're an early riser?"
"Oh yes, mum, it upsets me stopping in bed after half-past five."
"You know we do the washing at home?"
"Yes, mum. I think it so much better to do it at home. Those laundries ruin good clothes. They're so careless."
"Are you a Unitarian?" continued the lady.
"Not yet, mum," replied the girl, "but I should like to be one."
The lady took her reference, and said she would write her.
"I do hope you will give me a trial, mum," pleaded the girl, as she rose to go; "I would try so hard to give you satisfaction."
The next applicant offered to come for three pounds—thought six pounds too much. She also expressed her willingness to sleep in the back kitchen: a shakedown under the sink was all she wanted. She likewise had yearnings towards Unitarianism.
The third girl did not require any wages at all—could not understand what servants wanted with wages—thought wages only encouraged a love of foolish finery—thought a comfortable home in a Unitarian family ought to be sufficient wages for any girl.
This girl said there was one stipulation she should like to make, and that was that she should be allowed to pay for all breakages caused by her own carelessness or neglect. She objected to holidays and evenings out on principle; she held that they distracted a girl from her work.
The fourth candidate offered a premium of five pounds for the place; and then "A.B." began to get frightened, and refused to see any more of the girls, convinced that they must be lunatics from some neighbouring asylum out for a walk.
Later in the day, meeting the next door lady on the door-step, she related her morning's experiences.
"Oh, that's nothing extraordinary," said the next door lady; "none of us on this side of the street pay wages; and we get the pick of all the best servants in London. Why, girls will come from the other end of the kingdom to get into one of these houses. It's the dream of their lives. They save up for years, so as to be able to come here for nothing."
"What's the attraction?" asked "A. B.," more amazed than ever.
"Why, don't you see," explained the next door lady, "our back windows open upon the barrack yard. A girl living in one of these houses is always close to soldiers. By looking out of window she can always see soldiers; and sometimes a soldier will nod to her, or even call up to her. They never dream of asking for wages. They'll work eighteen hours a day, and put up with anything just to be allowed to stop."
"A.B." profited by this information, and engaged the girl who offered the five pounds premium. She found her a perfect treasure of a servant. She was invariably willing and respectful, slept on a sofa in the kitchen, and was always contented with an egg for her dinner.
The truth of this story I cannot vouch for. Myself, I can believe it. Brown and MacShaugnassy made no attempt to do so, which seemed unfriendly. Jephson excused himself on the plea of a headache. I admit there are points in it presenting difficulties to the average intellect. As I explained at the commencement, it was told to me by Ethelbertha, who had it from Amenda, who got it from the charwoman, and exaggerations may have crept into it. The following, however, were incidents that came under my own personal observation. They afforded a still stronger example of the influence exercised by Tommy Atkins upon the British domestic, and I therefore thought it right to relate them also to the boys.
"The heroine of them," I said, "is our Amenda. Now, you would call her a tolerably well-behaved, orderly young woman, would you not?"
"She is my ideal of unostentatious respectability," answered MacShaugnassy.
"That was my opinion also," I replied. "You can, therefore, imagine my feelings on passing her one evening in the Folkestone High Street with a Panama hat upon her head (my Panama hat), and a soldier's arm round her waist. She was one of a mob, composed of all the unoccupied riff-raff of Folkestone, who were following the band of the Third Berkshire Infantry, then in camp at Sandgate. There was an ecstatic, far-away look in her eyes. She was dancing rather than walking, and with her left hand she beat time to the music."
"I should say you were suffering from a mild attack of D.T. when you saw all that," said MacShaugnassy.
"So I might have thought myself," I said; "but Ethelbertha was with me at the time, and she saw it too. We stared after the procession until it had turned the corner, and then we stared at each other.
"'Oh, it's impossible,' said Ethelbertha to me.
"'But that was my hat,' I said to Ethelbertha.
"The moment we reached home Ethelbertha looked for Amenda, and I looked for my hat. Neither were to be found.
"Nine o'clock struck, ten o'clock struck. At half-past ten, we went down and got our own supper, and had it in the kitchen. At a quarter-past eleven, Amenda returned. She walked into the kitchen without a word, hung my hat up behind the door, and commenced clearing away the supper things.
"Ethelbertha rose, calm but severe.
"'Where have you been, Amenda?' she enquired.
"'Gadding half over the county with a lot of low soldiers,' answered Amenda, continuing her work.
"'You had on my hat,' I added, somewhat gloomily. It was not the right view to take of the case, I know, but, personally, that fact grieved me more than all the other incidents in the proceeding put together, sad though I felt these to be. It was an expensive hat, and Ethelbertha said it suited me (there are not many that do). After seeing it that night on Amenda's head, my pride in it was gone.
"'Yes, sir,' replied Amenda, still continuing her work, 'it was the first thing that came to hand. What I'm thankful for is that it wasn't missis's best bonnet.'
"Whether Ethelbertha was mollified by the proper spirit displayed in this last remark, I cannot say, but I think it probable. At all events, it was in a voice more of sorrow than of anger that she resumed her examination.
"'You were walking with a soldier's arm around your waist when we passed you, Amenda?' she observed interrogatively.
"'I know, mum,' admitted Amenda, 'I found it there myself when the music stopped.'
"Ethelbertha looked her enquiries. Amenda filled a saucepan with water, and then replied to them.
"'I'm a disgrace to a decent household,' she said; 'no mistress who respected herself would keep me a moment. I ought to be put out on the doorstep with my box and a month's wages.'
"'But why did you do it then?' said Ethelbertha, with natural astonishment.
"'Because I'm a helpless ninny, mum.' There was no trace of bitterness or passion in Amenda's tones. She spoke in the calm, even voice of a person stating facts.
"'I can't help myself,' she went on; 'if I see soldiers I'm bound to follow them. It runs in our family. My poor cousin Emma was just such another fool. She was engaged to be married to a quiet, respectable young fellow with a shop of his own, and three days before the wedding she ran off with a regiment of marines and married the colour-sergeant. That's what I shall end by doing. I've been all the way to Sandgate with that lot you saw me with, and I've kissed four of them—the nasty wretches. I'm a nice sort of girl to be walking out with a respectable milkman.'
"She was so deeply disgusted with herself that it seemed superfluous for anybody else to be indignant with her; and Ethelbertha changed her tone and tried to comfort her.
"'Oh, you'll get over all that nonsense, Amenda,' she said, laughingly; 'you see yourself how silly it is. You must tell Mr. Bowles to keep you away from soldiers.'
"'Ah, I can't look at it in the same light way that you do, mum,' returned Amenda, somewhat reprovingly; 'a girl that can't see a bit of red marching down the street without wanting to rush out and follow it ain't fit to be anybody's wife. Why I should be leaving the shop with nobody in it about twice a week, and he'd have to go the round of all the barracks in London, looking for me. I shall save up and get myself into a lunatic asylum, that's what I shall do.'
"Ethelbertha began to grow quite troubled. 'But surely this is something altogether new, Amenda,' she said; 'you must have often met soldiers when you've been out in London?'
"'Oh, yes, one or two at a time, walking about anyhow, I can stand that all right. It's when there's a lot of them all together with a band that I lose my head.'
"'You don't know what it's like, mum,' she added, noticing Ethelbertha's puzzled expression; 'you've never had it. I only hope you never may.'
"We kept a careful watch over Amenda during the remainder of our stay at Folkestone, and an anxious time we had of it. Every day some regiment or other would march through the town, and at the first sound of its music Amenda would become restless and excited. The Pied Piper's reed could not have stirred the Hamelin children deeper than did those Sandgate bands the heart of our domestic. Fortunately, they generally passed early in the morning when we were indoors, but one day, returning home to lunch, we heard distant strains dying away upon the Hythe Road. We hurried in. Ethelbertha ran down into the kitchen; it was empty!—up into Amenda's bedroom; it was vacant! We called. There was no answer.
"'That miserable girl has gone off again,' said Ethelbertha. 'What a terrible misfortune it is for her. It's quite a disease.'
"Ethelbertha wanted me to go to Sandgate camp and enquire for her. I was sorry for the girl myself, but the picture of a young and innocent-looking man wandering about a complicated camp, enquiring for a lost domestic, presenting itself to my mind, I said that I'd rather not.
"Ethelbertha thought me heartless, and said that if I would not go she would go herself. I replied that I thought one female member of my household was enough in that camp at a time, and requested her not to. Ethelbertha expressed her sense of my inhuman behaviour by haughtily declining to eat any lunch, and I expressed my sense of her unreasonableness by sweeping the whole meal into the grate, after which Ethelbertha suddenly developed exuberant affection for the cat (who didn't want anybody's love, but wanted to get under the grate after the lunch), and I became supernaturally absorbed in the day-before- yesterday's newspaper.
"In the afternoon, strolling out into the garden, I heard the faint cry of a female in distress. I listened attentively, and the cry was repeated. I thought it sounded like Amenda's voice, but where it came from I could not conceive. It drew nearer, however, as I approached the bottom of the garden, and at last I located it in a small wooden shed, used by the proprietor of the house as a dark room for developing photographs.
"The door was locked. 'Is that you, Amenda?' I cried through the keyhole.
"'Yes, sir,' came back the muffled answer. 'Will you please let me out; you'll find the key on the ground near the door.'
"I discovered it on the grass about a yard away, and released her. 'Who locked you in there?' I asked.
"'I did, sir,' she replied; 'I locked myself in, and pushed the key out under the door. I had to do it, or I should have gone off with those beastly soldiers.'
"'I hope I haven't inconvenienced you, sir,' she added, stepping out; 'I left the lunch all laid.'"
Amenda's passion for soldiers was her one tribute to sentiment. Towards all others of the male sex she maintained an attitude of callous unsusceptibility, and her engagements with them (which were numerous) were entered into or abandoned on grounds so sordid as to seriously shock Ethelbertha.
When she came to us she was engaged to a pork butcher—with a milkman in reserve. For Amenda's sake we dealt with the man, but we never liked him, and we liked his pork still less. When, therefore, Amenda announced to us that her engagement with him was "off," and intimated that her feelings would in no way suffer by our going elsewhere for our bacon, we secretly rejoiced.
"I am confident you have done right, Amenda," said Ethelbertha; "you would never have been happy with that man."
"No, mum, I don't think I ever should," replied Amenda. "I don't see how any girl could as hadn't got the digestion of an ostrich."
Ethelbertha looked puzzled. "But what has digestion got to do with it?" she asked.
"A pretty good deal, mum," answered Amenda, "when you're thinking of marrying a man as can't make a sausage fit to eat."
"But, surely," exclaimed Ethelbertha, "you don't mean to say you're breaking off the match because you don't like his sausages!"
"Well, I suppose that's what it comes to," agreed Amenda, unconcernedly.
"What an awful idea!" sighed poor Ethelbertha, after a long pause. "Do you think you ever really loved him?"
"Oh, yes," said Amenda, "I loved him right enough, but it's no good loving a man that wants you to live on sausages that keep you awake all night."
"But does he want you to live on sausages?" persisted Ethelbertha.
"Oh, he doesn't say anything about it," explained Amenda; "but you know what it is, mum, when you marry a pork butcher: you're expected to eat what's left over. That's the mistake my poor cousin Eliza made. She married a muffin man. Of course, what he didn't sell they had to finish up themselves. Why, one winter, when he had a run of bad luck, they lived for two months on nothing but muffins. I never saw a girl so changed in all my life. One has to think of these things, you know."
Later on, she engaged herself to a solicitor's messenger. She did this—as she frankly avowed to Ethelbertha—to assist her family, who were prosecuting some petty law case at the time. He was a smart, steady man, a great favourite with his employers, and, out of kindly feeling towards him, they did the business for Amenda's father, charging only "out-of-pockets."
Six months after the case was ended, she broke off the match. She said that, on reflection, she could not help seeing what an advantage he would have over her—he being in a solicitor's office, with the law at his fingers' ends—should she ever find it necessary to summons him.
"But, my good girl," said Ethelbertha, quite distressed, "one doesn't marry a man with the idea of subsequently summonsing him!"
"No, mum," said Amenda, "one always hopes one will never need to, I'm sure, but it's just as well to be prepared. I knew a girl, when I was in service at Hastings, that loved a printer, and they were both going to commit suicide because her parents didn't want 'em to marry; and now he costs her four shillings a month regular in summonses. It's no good shutting one's eyes to things, mum."
But the most shamefully mercenary engagement that I think Amenda ever entered into was one with a 'bus conductor. We were living in the North of London then, and she had a young man, a cheesemonger, who kept a shop in Lupus Street, Chelsea. He could not come up to her because of the shop, so once a week she used to go down to him. One did not ride ten miles for a penny in those days, and she found the fare from Holloway to Victoria and back a severe tax upon her purse. The same 'bus that took her down at six brought her back at ten. During the first journey the 'bus conductor stared at Amenda; during the second he talked to her, during the third he gave her a cocoanut, during the fourth he proposed to her, and was promptly accepted. After that, Amenda was enabled to visit her cheesemonger without expense.
He was a quaint character himself, was this 'bus conductor. I often rode with him to Fleet Street. He knew me quite well (I suppose Amenda must have pointed me out to him), and would always ask me after her—aloud, before all the other passengers, which was trying—and give me messages to take back to her. Where women were concerned he had what is called "a way" with him, and from the extent and variety of his female acquaintance, and the evident tenderness with which the majority of them regarded him, I am inclined to hope that Amenda's desertion of him (which happened contemporaneously with her jilting of the cheesemonger) caused him less prolonged suffering than might otherwise have been the case.
He was a man from whom I derived a good deal of amusement one way and another. Thinking of him brings back to my mind a somewhat odd incident.
One afternoon, I jumped upon his 'bus in the Seven Sisters Road. An elderly Frenchman was the only other occupant of the vehicle. "You vil not forget me," the Frenchman was saying as I entered, "I desire Sharing Cross."
"I won't forget yer," answered the conductor, "you shall 'ave yer Sharing Cross. Don't make a fuss about it."
"That's the third time 'ee's arst me not to forget 'im," he remarked to me in a stentorian aside; "'ee don't giv' yer much chance of doin' it, does 'ee?"
At the corner of the Holloway Road we drew up, and our conductor began to shout after the manner of his species: "Charing Cross—Charing Cross—'ere yer are—Come along, lady—Charing Cross."
The little Frenchman jumped up, and prepared to exit; the conductor pushed him back.
"Sit down and don't be silly," he said; "this ain't Charing Cross."
The Frenchman looked puzzled, but collapsed meekly. We picked up a few passengers, and proceeded on our way. Half a mile up the Liverpool Road a lady stood on the kerb regarding us as we passed with that pathetic mingling of desire and distrust which is the average woman's attitude towards conveyances of all kinds. Our conductor stopped.
"Where d'yer want to go to?" he asked her severely—omnibus conductors have a manner of addressing all pedestrians as though they were lost children or suspicious loiterers—"Strand—Charing Cross?"
The Frenchman did not hear or did not understand the first part of the speech, but he caught the words "Charing Cross," and bounced up and out on to the step. The conductor collared him as he was getting off, and jerked him back savagely.
"Carnt yer keep still a minute," he cried indignantly; "blessed if you don't want lookin' after like a bloomin' kid."
"I vont to be put down at Sharing Cross," answered the little Frenchman, humbly.
"You vont to be put down at Sharing Cross," repeated the other bitterly, as he led him back to his seat. "I shall put yer down in the middle of the road if I 'ave much more of yer. You stop there till I come and sling yer out. I ain't likely to let yer go much past yer Sharing Cross, I shall be too jolly glad to get rid o' yer."
The poor Frenchman subsided, and we jolted on. At "The Angel" we, of course, stopped. "Charing Cross," shouted the conductor, and up sprang the Frenchman.
"Oh, my Gawd," said the conductor, taking him by the shoulders and forcing him down into the corner seat, "wot am I to do? Carnt somebody sit on 'im?"
He held him firmly down until the 'bus started, and then released him. At the top of Chancery Lane the same scene took place, and the poor little Frenchman became exasperated.
"He keep on saying Sharing Cross, Sharing Cross," he exclaimed, turning to the other passengers; "and it is not Sharing Cross. He is fool."
"Carnt yer understand," retorted the conductor, equally indignant; "of course I say Sharing Cross—I mean Charing Cross, but that don't mean that it is Charing Cross. That means that—" and then perceiving from the blank look in the Frenchman's face the utter impossibility of ever making the matter clear to him, he turned to us with an appealing gesture, and asked:
"Does any gentleman know the French for 'bloomin' idiot'?"
A day or two afterwards, I happened to enter his omnibus again.
"Well," I asked him, "did you get your French friend to Charing Cross all right?"
"No, sir," he replied, "you'll 'ardly believe it, but I 'ad a bit of a row with a policeman just before I got to the corner, and it put 'im clean out o' my 'ead. Blessed if I didn't run 'im on to Victoria."
(To be continued.)
* * * * *
BY WILLIAM CANTON. ILLUSTRATED BY A. L. BOWLEY.
O'er glassy levels of the mere She glides on slanting skate; She loves in fairy curves to veer And weave her figure eight. Bright flower in fur, I would thy feet Could weave my heart and thine, my sweet, Thus into one glad life complete! Harsh winter, rage thy rudest: Freeze, freeze, thou churlish sky; Blow, arctic wind, thy shrewdest— What care my heart and I!
* * * * *
MY SERVANT ANDREAS
BY ARCHIBALD FORBES.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY FREDERIC VILLIERS.
I think it quite likely that some of my young American friends, about ten months ago, were burning to have an opportunity of accompanying General Miles down the Pacific coast, and of describing in glowing sentences to their countrymen at home how Uncle Sam's young man turned to flight the Chilian insurrectionists, who were breathing out threatening and slaughter against the great Northern Republic. There is an undoubted fascination in the picturesque and adventurous life of the war correspondent. One must, of course, have a distinct bent for the avocation, and if he is to succeed he must possess certain salient attributes. He must expose himself to rather greater risks than fall to the lot of the average fighting man, without enjoying any of the happiness of retaliation which stirs the blood of the latter; the correspondent must sit quietly on his horse in the fire, and, while watching every turn in the battle, must wear the aspect as if he rather enjoyed the storm of missiles than otherwise. When the fighting is over, the soldier, if not killed, generally can eat and sleep; ere the echoes of it are silent, the correspondent of energy—and if he has not energy he is not worth his salt—must already be galloping his hardest towards the nearest telegraph wire, which, as like as not, is a hundred miles distant. He must "get there," by hook or by crook, in a minimum of time; and as soon as his message is on the wires, he must be hurrying back to the army, else he may chance to miss the great battle of the war. The correspondent must be most things to all men; he must have the sweet, angelic temper of a woman, be as affable as if he were running for office, and at the same time be big and ugly enough to impress the conviction that it would be extremely unwise to take any liberties with him.
The career, no doubt, has some incidental drawbacks. No fewer than five British correspondents were killed in the recent campaigns in the Soudan. General Sherman threatened to hang all the correspondents found in his camp after a certain day, and General Sherman was the kind of man to fulfil any threat he made. I suppose there was no correspondent taking part in the Franco-German and Russo-Turkish wars who was not in custody over and over again on suspicion of being a spy. I have been a prisoner myself in France, Spain, Servia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Roumania and Bulgaria; and I may perhaps venture to remark in passing that I cannot recommend any of these countries from this point of view. But the casual confinements, half irritating, half comic, to which he may be subjected, do not bother the war correspondent of the old world nearly as much as do the foreign languages which, if he is not a good linguist, hamper him every hour of every day. He really should possess the gift of tongues—be conversant with all European languages, a neat assortment of the Asiatic languages, and a few of the African tongues, such as Abyssinian, Ashantee, Zulu, and Soudanese. But how few in the nature of things can approximate this polyglot versatility. Often in Eastern Europe, and in Afghanistan, I have envied Messrs. Swinton, Smalley, Whitelaw Reed, and the other notable war correspondents of the American Civil War, in that they had not the difficulties of outlandish tongues to contend with. I own myself to be a poor linguist, and have many and many a time suffered for my dullness of what the Scotch call "up-take." It is true that I was fairly conversant with French and German, and could express my wants in Russian, Roumanian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Turkish, Hindustanee, Pushtoo, and Burmese, every word of which smatterings I have long since forgotten. But the truth is that the poorest peoples in the world in acquiring foreign languages are the English and the French; the readiest are the Russians and Americans. It was, after a fashion, a liberal education to listen to the fluency in some half-dozen languages of Poor McGahan, the "Ohio boy," who graduated from the plough to be perhaps the most brilliant war correspondent of modern times. His compatriot and colleague, Frank Millet, who has fallen away from glory as a war correspondent, and has taken to the inferior trade of painting, seemed to pick up a language by the mere accident of finding himself on the soil where it was spoken. In the first three days, after crossing the Danube into Bulgaria, Millet went about with book in hand, gathering in the names of things at which he pointed, and jotting down each acquisition in the book. On the fourth day he could swear in Bulgarian, copiously, fervently, and with a measure of intelligibility. Within a week he had conquered the uncouth tongue. As he voyaged lately down the Danube from source to mouth, charmingly describing the scenic panorama of the great river in the pages of Harper, those of you who have read those sketches will not have failed to notice how Millet talked to German, Hungarian, Servian, Bulgarian, Roumanian, and Turkish, each in his own tongue, those diverse languages having been acquired by him during the few months of the Russo-Turkish war.
By this time, you may be wondering just where "Andreas" comes in. Perhaps I have been over long in getting to my specific subject; but I will not be discursive any more. It was at the table d'hote in the Serbische Krone Hotel, in Belgrade, where I first set eyes on Andreas. In the year 1876, Servia had thought proper to throw off the yoke of her Turkish suzerain, and to attempt to assert her independence by force of arms. But for very irregularly paid tribute she was virtually independent already, and probably in all Servia there were not two hundred Turks. But she ambitiously desired to have the name of as well as the actuality of being independent; the Russians helped her with arms, officers, and volunteer soldiers; and when I reached Belgrade, in May of the year named, there had already been fighting, in which the Servians had by no means got the worst. No word of the Servian tongue had I, and it was the reverse of pleasant for a war correspondent in such plight to learn that outside of Belgrade nobody, or at least hardly anybody, knew a word of any other language than the native Servian. As I ate, I was being attended by a very assiduous waiter, whose alertness and anxiety to please were very conspicuous. He was smart with quite un-Oriental smartness; he whisked about the tables with deftness; he spoke to me in German, to the Russian officers over against me in what I assumed was Russian, to the Servians dining behind me in what I took to be Servian. I liked the look of the man; there was intelligence in his aspect. One could not call him handsome, but there was character in the keen black eye, the high features and the pronounced chin, fringed on either side by bushy black whiskers.
I had brought no servant with me; the average British servant is worse than useless in a foreign country, and the dubiously-polyglot courier is a snare and a deception on campaign. I had my eye on Andreas for a couple of days, during which he was of immense service to me. He seemed to know and stand well with everyone in Belgrade; it was he, indeed, who presented me in the restaurant to the Prime Minister and the Minister for War, who got together for me my field necessaries, who helped me to buy my horses, and who narrated to me the progress of the campaign so far as it had gone. On the third day I had him in my room and asked whether he would like to come with me into the field as my servant. He accepted the offer with effusion; we struck hands on the compact; he tendered me credentials which I ascertained to be extremely satisfactory; and then he gave me a little sketch of himself. It was somewhat mixed, as indeed was his origin. Primarily he was a Servian, but his maternal grandmother had been a Bosniak, an earlier ancestress had been in a Turkish harem, there was a strain in his blood of the Hungarian zinganee—the gipsy of Eastern Europe, and one could not look at his profile without a suspicion that there was a Jewish element in his pedigree. "A pure mongrel," was what a gentleman of the British Legation termed Andreas, and this self-contradictory epithet was scarcely out of place.