The Christian (Second Book, Chapters I to XI)
The Society of the Holy Gethsemane, popularly called the Bishopsgate Fathers, was one of the many conventual institutions of the English Church which came as a sequel to the great upheaval of religious feeling known as the Tractarian or Oxford movement. Most of them gave way under the pressure of external opposition, some of them broke down under the strain of internal dissension, and a few lived on as secret brotherhoods, in obedience to a rule which was never divulged by their members, who were said to wear a hair shirt next the skin and to scourge themselves with the lash of discipline.
Of these conventual institutions the Society of the Holy Gethsemane had been one of the earliest, and it was now quite the oldest, although it had challenged not only the traditions of the Reformed Church but the spirit of the age itself by establishing its place of prayer at the very doors of the Stock Exchange—that crater of volcanic emotions, that generating house for the electric currents of the world.
Its founder and first Superior had been a man of iron will, who had fought his way through ecclesiastical courts and popular anger, and even family persecution, which had culminated in an effort of his own brother to shut him up as a lunatic. His first disciple and most stanch supporter had been the Rev. Charles Frederic Lamplugh, a fellow of Corpus, newly called to orders after an earlier career which had been devoted to the world, and, according to rumour, nearly wrecked in an affair of the heart.
When the community had proved its legal right to exist within the Establishment and public clamour had subsided, this disciple was despatched to America, and there he established a branch brotherhood and became great and famous. At the height of his usefulness and renown he was recalled, and this exercise of authority provoked a universal outcry among his admirers. But he obeyed; he left his fame and glory in America and returned to his cell in London, and was no more heard of by the outer world until the founder of the society died, when he was elected by the brothers to the vacant place of Superior.
Father Lamplugh was now a man of seventy, so gentle in his manner, so sweet in his temper, so pious in his life, that when he stepped out of his room to greet John Storm on his arrival in Bishopsgate Street it seemed as if he brought the air of heaven in the rustle of his habit, and to have come from the holy of holies.
“Welcome! welcome!” he said. “I knew you would come to us; I have been expecting you. The first time I saw you I said to myself: ‘Here is one who bears a burden; the world can not satisfy the cravings of a heart like that; he will surrender it some day.'”
Having been there before, though in “Retreat” only, he entered at once into the life of the Brotherhood. It was arranged that he was to spend some two or three months as postulant, then to take the vow of a novice for one year, and finally, if he proved his vocation, to seal and establish his calling by taking the three life vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
The home of the Brotherhood was one of those old London mansions in the heart of the city, which were built perhaps for the palaces of dignitaries of the Church, and were afterward occupied as the houses and offices of London merchants and their apprentices, and have eventually descended to the condition of warehouses and stores and tenement dwellings for the poor. Its structure remained the same, but the brothers made no effort to support its ancient grandeur. Nothing more simple can be imagined than the appointments of their monastery. The carved-oak staircase was there, but the stairs wore carpetless, and the panelled and parqueted hall was bare of ornament, except for a picture, in a pale oaken frame, of the head of Christ in its crown of thorns. A plain clock in a deal case was nailed up under the floral cornice, and beneath it there hung the text: “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle, or who shall rest upon thy holy hill? Even he that leadeth an uncorrupt life.” The old dining-room was now the community room, the old kitchen was the refectory, the spacious bedrooms were partitioned into cells, and the corridors, which had once been covered with tapestry, were now coated with whitewash, and bore the inscription, “Silence in the passages.”
In this house of poverty and dignity, of past grandeur and present simplicity, the brothers lived in community. They were forty in number, consisting of ten lay brothers, ten novices, and twenty professed Fathers. The lay brothers, who were under the special direction of their own Superior, the Father Minister, and were rarely allowed to go into the street, had to clean the house and bake the bread and cook and serve the food which was delivered at the door, and thus, in that narrow circle of duty, they proved their piety by their devotion to a lot which condemned them to scour and scrub to the last day of life. The clerical brothers, who were nearly all in full orders, enjoyed a more varied existence, being confined to the precincts only during a part of their novitiate, and then sent out at the will of the Superior to preach in the churches of London or the country, and even despatched on expeditions to establish missions abroad.
The lay brothers had their separate retiring room, but John Storm met his clerical housemates on the night of his arrival. It was the hour of evening recreation, and they were gathered in the community room for reading and conversation. The stately old dining-room was as destitute as the corridors of adornments or even furniture. Straw armchairs stood on the clean, white floor; a bookcase, containing many volumes of the Fathers, lined one of the panelled walls; and over the majestic fireplace there was a plain card with the inscription, “There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”
The brothers gathered about him and examined him with a curiosity which was more than personal. To this group of men, detached from life, the arrival of some one from the outer world was an event of interest. He knew what wars had been waged, what epidemics were raging, what Governments had risen and fallen. He might not speak of these things in casual talk, for it was against rule to discuss, for its own sake, what had been seen or heard outside, but they were in the air about him, and they were happening on the other side of the wall.
And he on his part also examined his housemates, and; tried to guess what manner of men they were and what had brought them to that place. They were men of all ages, and nearly every school of the Church had sent its representatives. Here was the pale face of the ascetic, and there the guileless eyes of the saint. Some were keen and alert, others were timid and slow. All wore the long black cassock of the community, and many wore the rope with three knots. They spoke little of the world outside, but it was clear that they could not dismiss it from their thoughts. Their talk was cheerful, and the Father told stories of his preaching expeditions which provoked some laughter. They had no newspapers (except one well-known High-Church organ) and no games, and there was no smoking.
The bell rang for supper, and they went down to the refectory. It was a large apartment in the basement, and it still bore the emblems of its ancient service. Over the great kitchen ingle there was yet another card with the inscription, “Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.” A table, scoured white, ran round three sides of the room, the seats were forms without backs, and there was one chair—the Superior’s chair—in the middle.
The supper consisted of porridge and milk and brown bread, and it was eaten out of plates and cans of pewter. While it lasted one of the brothers, seated at a raised desk, read first a few passages of Scripture, and then some pages, of a secular book which the religious were thus hearing at their meals. The supper was hardly over when the bell rang again. It was time for Compline, the last service of the day, and the brothers formed in procession and passed out of the house, across the courtyard, into the little church.
The old place was dimly lighted, but the brothers occupied the chancel only. They sat in two companies on opposite sides of the choir, in three rows of stalls, the lay brothers in front, the novices next, and the Fathers at the back. Each side had its leader in the recitation of the prayers. The Miserere was said kneeling, the Psalms were sung with frequent pauses, each of the duration of the words “Ave Maria,” producing the effect of a broken wail. The service was short, and it ended with “May the Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and a perfect end.” There was another stroke of the bell, and the brothers returned to the house in silence.
John Storm walked with the Superior, and passing through the courtyard, in the light of the moon that had risen while they were at prayers, he was startled by the sound of something.
“Only the creaking of the sycamore,” said the Father.
He had thought it was the voice of Glory, but he had been hearing her cry throughout the service, so he dismissed the circumstance as a dream. Half an hour later the household had retired for the night, the lights were put out, and the Society of the Gethsemane was at rest.
John’s cell was on the topmost floor, next to the quarters of the lay brothers. There was nothing above it but a high lead flat, which was sometimes used by the religious as watch-tower and breathing place. The cell was a narrow room with bare floor, a small table, one chair, a prayingstool, a crucifix, and a stump bed, having a straw pillow and a crimson coverlet marked with a large white cross.
“Here,” he thought, “my journey is at an end. This is my resting-place for life.” The mighty hand of the Church was on him and he felt a deep peace. He was like a ship that had been tossed at sea and was lying quiet in harbour at last.
Without was the world, the fantastic world, forever changing; within were gentle if strict rules and customs securely fixed. Without was the ceaseless ebb and flow of the financial tide; within were content and sweet poverty and no disturbing fears. Without were struggle and strife and the fever of gain; within were peace and happiness and the grand mysteries which God reveals to the soul in solitude.
He began to pass his life in review and to think: “Well, it is all over, at all events. I shall never leave this place. Friends who forgive me, good-bye! And foes who are unforgiving, good-bye to you too!
“And the world—the great, vain, cruel, hypocritical world—farewell to it also! Farewell to its pomp and its glory! Farewell to life, and liberty, and—love——”
The wind was rustling the leaves of the tree in the courtyard, and he could not help but hear again the voice he had heard when crossing from the church. His eyes were closed, but Glory’s face, with its curling and twitching lip and its laughing and liquid eyes, was printed on the darkness.
“Ave Maria,” he murmured; and saying this again and again, he fell asleep.
Next morning the daylight had not quite dawned when he was awakened by a knock at his door and a low voice saying, “Benedicamus Domino!”
It was the Father Superior, who made it his rule to rouse the household himself, on the principle of “whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”
“Deo Gratias,” he answered, and the voice went on through the corridor. Then the bell rang for Lauds and Prime, and John left his cell to begin his life as Brother Storm.
Though it was against the rule of the Order to indulge in particular friendships, yet in obedience to the rule of Nature he made friends among the brothers. His feeling for the Superior became stronger than love and approached to adoration, and there were certain of the Fathers to whom his heart went out with a tender sympathy. The Father Minister was a man of a hard, closed soul, very cantankerous and severe; but the rest were gentle and timid men for the most part, with a wistful outlook on the world.
It was due in part to the proximity of his cell to the quarters assigned to the lay brothers that his two closest friendships were made among them. One was with a great creature, like an overgrown boy, who kept the door to the monastery by day, and alternated that duty with another by night. He was called Brother Andrew—for the lay brothers were known by their Christian names—and he was one of those characterless beings who are only happy when they have merged their individuality in another’s and joined their fate to his. He attached himself to John from the first, and as often as he was at liberty he was hanging about him, ready to fetch and carry in his shambling gait, which was like the roll of an old dog. The expression of his beardless face was that of a boy, and he had no conversation, for he always agreed with everything that was said to him.
The other of John’s friendships was with the lay brother whom he had known outside—the brother of Polly Love—but this was a friendship of slower growth, impeded by a tragic obstacle. John had seen him first in the refectory on the night of his arrival, and observed in his face the marks of suffering and exhaustion. At various times afterward he had seen him in the church and encountered him in the corridors, and had sometimes bowed to him and smiled, but the brother had never once given sign of recognition. At length he had begun to doubt his identity, and one morning, going upstairs from breakfast side by side with the Superior, he said:
“Father, is the lay brother with the melancholy eyes and the pale face the one whom I knew at the hospital?”
“Yes,” said the Father; “but he is under the rule of silence.”
“Ah! Does he know what has become of his sister?”
It was the morning hour of recreation, and the Father drew John into the courtyard and talked of Brother Paul.
He was much tormented by thoughts of the world without, and being a young man of a weak nervous system and a consumptive tendency, such struggles with the evil one were hurtful to him. Therefore, though it was the rule that a lay brother should not be consecrated until after long years of service, it had been decided that he should take the vows immediately, in order that Satan might yield up his hold of him and the world might drag at him no more.
“Is that your experience?” said John; “when a religious has taken the vows, are his thoughts of the world all conquered?”
“He is like the sailor making ready for his voyage. As long as he lies in harbour his thoughts are of the home he has left behind him; but when he has once crossed the bar and is out on the ocean he thinks only of the haven where he would be.”
“But are there no backward glances, Father? The sailor may write to the friends he has parted from—surely the religious may pray for them.”
“As brothers and sisters of the spirit, yes, always and at all times; as brothers and sisters of the flesh, no, never, save in hours of especial need. He is the spouse of Christ, my son, and all Christ’s children are his kindred equally.”
As a last word the Father begged of John to abstain from reference to anything that had happened at the hospital, lest Brother Paul might hear of it and manifold evils be the result.
The warning seemed needless. From that day forward John tried to avoid Brother Paul. In church and in the refectory he kept his eyes away from him. He could not see that worn face, with its hungry look, and not think of a captured eagle with a broken wing. It was with a shock that he discovered that their cells were side by side. If they came near to each other in the corridors he experienced a kind of terror, and was thankful for the rule of silence which forbade them to speak. Under the smouldering ashes there might be coals of fire which only wanted a puff to fan them into flame.
They came face to face at last. It was on the lead flat of the tower above their cells. John had grown accustomed to go there after Compline, that he might look on London from that eminence and thank God that he had escaped from its clutches. The stars were out, and the city lay like a great monster around and beneath. Something demoniacal had entered into his view of it. Down there was the river, winding like a serpent through its sand, and here and there were the bridges, like the scales across it, and farther west was the head of the great creature, just beginning to be ablaze with lights.
“She is there,” he thought, and then he was startled by a sound. Had he uttered the words aloud? But it was some one else who had spoken. Brother Paul was standing by the parapet with his eyes in the same direction. When he became conscious that John was behind him he stammered something in his confusion, and than hurried away as if he had been detected in a crime.
“God pity him!” thought John. “If he only knew what has happened!”
Going back to his cell, he began to think of Glory. By the broken links of memory he remembered for the first time, since coming into the monastery, the condition of insecurity in which he had left her. How uncertain her position at the hospital, how perilous her relations with her friend!
The last prayer of the day for the brothers of the Gethsemane was the prayer before the crucifix by the side of the bed: “Thanks be to God for giving me the trials of this day!” To this he added another petition: “And bless and protect her wheresoever she may be!”
He ceased to frequent the tower after that, and did not go up to it again until the morning of the day on which he was to make his vows. By this time his soul had spent itself so prodigally in prayer that he had almost begun to regard himself as one already in another world. The morning was clear and frosty, and he could see that something unusual was taking place on the earth below. Traffic was stopped, the open spaces were crowded, and processions were passing through the streets with bands of music playing and banners flying. Then he remembered what day it was—it was Lord Mayor’s Day, the 9th of November—and once again he thought of Glory. She would be there, for her heart was light and she loved the world and all its scenes of gaiety and splendour.
It was the day of his final preparation, and he was under the rule of silence, so he returned to his cell and shut the door. But he could not shut out the sounds of the streets. All day long the bands were playing and the horses prancing, and there was the tramp of many feet. And even in the last hour before the ceremony, when he was on his knees in front of the crucifix and the palms of his hands were pressed against his face, he could see the gay spectacle and the surging throngs—the men, the women, the children in every window, on every parapet, and Glory in the midst of them with her laughing lips and her sparkling eyes.
Night brought peace with it at length, and then the bell rang and he went down to service. The brothers were waiting for him in the hall, and they formed into line and passed into the church: first, Brother Andrew with the cross, then Brother Paul with the incense, and the other lay brothers with the candles, then the religious in their cassocks, and the Superior in his cope, and John Storm last of all.
The altar was decorated as for a feast, and the service was strange but solemn. John had drawn up in writing a promise of stability and obedience, and this he placed with his own hand on the altar. Down to that moment he had worn his costume as a secular priest, but now he was to be robed in the habit of the Order.
The Father stood on the altar steps with the habit lying at his feet. He took it up and blessed it and then put it on John, saying as he bound it with the cord, “Take this cord and wear it in memory of the purity of heart wherewith you must ever hereafter seek to abide in the love and service of our Lord Jesus.”
At that moment a door was suddenly and loudly slammed, to signify that the world was being shut out; the choir said the Gloria Patri, and then sang a hymn beginning:
Farewell, thou world of sorrow,
Unrest, and schism and strife!
I leave thee on the threshold
Of the celestial life.
It was the occasion of Brother Paul’s life vows also, and as John stood back from the altar steps the lay brother was brought up to them. He was very pale and nervous, and he would have stumbled but for the help of the Father Minister and Brother Andrew, who walked on either side of him.
Then the same ceremony was gone through again, but with yet more solemn accessories. The burial service was read, the De Profundis was sung, the bell was tolled, the Ecce quam bonum was intoned, and finally the chant was chanted:
Dead to Him, then death is over,
Dead and gone are death’s dark fears.
John Storm was profoundly stirred. The heavens seemed to open and all the earth to pass away. It was difficult to believe that he was still in the flesh.
When he was able to collect himself he was on the tower again, but in his cassock now and gripping the cord by which it was tied. The frosty air of the morning had thickened to a fog, the fog-signals were sounding, and the mighty monster below seemed to be puffing fire from a thousand nostrils and bellowing from a thousand throats.
Some one had come up to him. It was Brother Paul. He was talking nervously and even pretending to laugh a little.
“I am so happy to see you here. And I am glad the silence is at an end and I am able to tell you so.”
“Thank you,” said John, and he tried to pass him.
“I always knew you would come to us—that is to say, after the night I heard you at the hospital—the night of the Nurses’ Ball, you remember, and the Father’s visit, you know. Still, I trust there was nothing wrong—nothing at the hospital, I mean——”
John was fumbling for the door to the dormer.
“Everybody loved you too—the patients and the nurses and everybody! How they will miss you there! I trust you left everybody well—and happy and—eh?”
“Good-night,” said John from the head of the stair.
There was silence for a moment, and then the brother said, in another voice:
“Yes, I understand you. I know quite well what you mean. It is a fault to speak of the outer world except on especial need. We have taken the vows, too, and are pledged for life—I am, at all events. Still, if you could have told me anything—— But I am much to blame. I must confess my fault and do my penance.”
John was diving down the stair and hurrying into his room.
“God help him!” he thought. “And me too! God help both of us! How am I to live if I have to hide this secret? Yet how is he to live if he learns it?”
He sat on the bed and tried to compose himself. Yes, Brother Paul was an object for pity. In all the moral universe there was no spectacle more pitiable than that of a man who had left the world while his heart was still in it. What was he doing here? What had brought him? What business had such a one in such a place? And then his pitiful helplessness for all the uses of life and duty! Could it be right, could it be necessary, could it be God’s wish and will?
Here was a man whose sister was in the world. She was young and vain, and the world was gay and seductive. Without a hand to guide and guard her, what evils might not befall? She was sunk already in shame and degradation, and he had put it out of his power to save her. Whatever had happened in the past, whatever might happen in the future, he was lost to her forever. The captured eagle with the broken wing was now chained to the wall as well. But prayer! Prayer was the bulwark of chastity, and God was in need of no man’s efforts.
John fell on his knees before the crucifix. With the broken logic of reverie he was thinking of Glory, and Brother Paul, and Polly and Drake. They crossed his brain and weighed upon it and went out and returned. The night was cold, but the sweat stood on his brow in beads. In the depths of his soul something was speaking to him, and he was trying not to listen. He was like a blind man who had stumbled to the edge of a precipice, and could hear the waves breaking on the rocks beneath.
When he said his last prayer that night he omitted the petition for Glory (as duty seemed to require of him), and then found that all life and soul and strength had gone out of it. In the middle of the night he awoke with a sense of fright. Was it only a dream that he was dead and buried? He raised his head in the darkness and stretched out his hand. No, it was true. Little by little he pieced together the incidents of the previous day. Yes, it had really happened.
“After all, I am not like Paul—I am not bound for life,” he told himself, and then he lay back like a child and was comforted.
He was ashamed, but he could not help it; he was feeling already as if he were a prisoner in a dungeon looking forward to his release.
“5a Little Turnstile, High Holborn, London, W. C., November 9, 18—.
“Oh yiz, oh yiz, oh yiz! This is to announce to you with due pomp and circumstance that I, Glory Quayle, am no longer at the hospital—for the present. Did I never tell you? Have you never noticed it in the regulations? Every half-year a nurse is entitled to a week’s holiday, and as I have been exactly six months to-day at Martha’s Vineyard, and as a week is too short a time for a trip to the ‘oilan,’ [* Island.] and as a good lady whose acquaintance I have made here had given me a pressing invitation to visit her—— See?
“Being the first day since I came up to London that I have been sole mistress of my will and pleasure, I have been letting myself loose, like Caesar does the moment his mad hoofies touch the grass. I must tell you all about it. The day began beautifully. After a spell of laughing and crying weather, and all the world sneezing and blowing its nose, there came a frosty morning with the sun shining and the air as bright as diamonds. I left the hospital between, eleven and twelve o’clock, and crossing the park by Birdcage Walk I noticed that flags were flying on Buckingham Palace and church bells ringing everywhere. It turned out to be the birthday of the Prince of Wales, and the Lord Mayor’s Day as well, and by the time I got to Storey’s Gate bands of music were playing and people were scampering toward the Houses of Parliament. So I ran, too, and from the gardens in front of Palace Yard I saw the Lord Mayor’s Show.
“Do you know what that is, good people? It is a civic pageant. Once a year the City King makes a royal procession through the streets with his soldiers and servants and keepers and pipers and retainers, bewigged and bepowdered and bestockinged pretty much as they used to be in the days before the flood. There have been seven hundred of him in succession, and his particular vanity is to show that he is wearing the same clothes still. But it was beautiful altogether, and I could have cried with delight to see those grave-looking signiors forgetting themselves for once and pretending they were big boys over again.
“Such a sight! Flags were flying everywhere and festoons were stretched across the streets with mottoes and texts, such as ‘Unity is strength’ and ‘God save the Queen,’ and other amiable if not original ideas. Traffic was stopped in the main thoroughfares, and the ‘buses were sent by devious courses, much to the astonishment of the narrow streets. Then the crowds, the dense layers of potted people with white, upturned faces, for all the world like the pictures of the round stones standing upright at the Giant’s Causeway—it was wonderful!
“And then the fun! Until the procession arrived the policemen were really obliging in that way. The one nearest me was as fat as Falstaff, and a slim young Cockney in front kept addressing intimate remarks to him and calling him Robert. The young impudence himself was just as ridiculous, for he wore a fringe which was supported by hair-oil and soap, and rolled carefully down the right side of his forehead so that he could always keep his left eye on it. And he did, too.
“But the pageant itself! My gracious! how we laughed at it! There were Epping Forest verderers, and beef-eaters from the Tower, and pipers of the Scots Guards, and ladies of the ballet shivering on shaky stools and pretending to be ‘Freedom’ and ‘Commerce,’ and last of all the City King himself, smiling and bowing to all his subjects, and with his liegemen behind him in yellow coats and red silk stockings. Perhaps the most popular character was a Highlander in pink tights, where his legs ought to have been, walking along as solemnly as if he thought it was a sort of religious ceremony and he was an idol out for an airing.
“And then the bands! There must have been twenty of them, both brass and fife, and they all played the Washington Post, but no two had the luck to fall on the same bar at the same moment. It was a medley of all the tunes in music, an absolute kaleidoscope of sounds, and meantime there was the clash of bells from the neighbouring belfries in honour of the Prince’s birthday, and the rattle of musketry from the Guards, so that when the double event was over I felt like the man whose wife presented him with twins—I wouldn’t have lost either of them for a million of money, but I couldn’t have found it in my heart to give a bawbee for another one.
“The procession took half an hour to pass, and when it was gone, remembering the ladies in lovely dresses who had rolled by in their gorgeous carriages, looking not a bit cleverer or handsomer than other people, I turned away with a little hard lump at my heart and a limp in my left foot—the young Cockney with the fringe had backed on to my toe. I suppose they are feasting with the lords and all the nobility at the Guildhall to-night, and no doubt the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table will go in pies and cakes to the alleys and courts where hunger walks, and I dare say little Lazarus in the Mile End Road is dreaming at this very moment of Dick Whittington and the Lord Mayor of London.
“It must have been some waking dream of that sort which took possession of me also, for what do you suppose I did? Shall I tell you? Yes, I will. I said to myself: ‘Glory, my child, suppose you were nearly as poor as he was in this great, glorious, splendid London; suppose—only suppose—you had no home and no friends, and had left the hospital, or perhaps even been turned away from it, and hadn’t a good lady’s door standing open to receive you, what would you do first, my dear?’ To all which I replied promptly, ‘You would first get yourself lodgings, my child, and then you would just go to work to show this great, glorious London what a woman can do to bring it to her little feet.’
“I know grandfather is saying, ‘Gough bless me, girl! you didn’t try it, though?’ Well, yes, I did—just for fun, you know, and out of the spirit of mischief that’s born in every daughter of Eve. Do you remember that Manx cat that wouldn’t live in the house, notwithstanding all the bribes and corruption of Aunt Rachel’s new milk and softened bread, but went off by the backyard wall to join the tribe of pariah pussies that snatch a living how they may? Well, I felt like Rumpy for once, having three ‘goolden sovereigns’ in my pocket and a mind superior to fate.
“It was glorious fun altogether, and the world is so amusing that I can’t imagine why anybody should go out of it before he must. I hadn’t gone a dozen yards in my new character as Dick Whittington fille before a coachman as fat as an elephant was shouting, ‘Where d’ye think yer going ter?’ and I was nearly run down in the Broad Sanctuary by a carriage containing two brazen women in sealskin jackets, with faces so thick with powder and paint that you would have thought they had been quarrelling on washing day and thrown the blue bag at each other’s eyes. I recognised one of them as a former nurse who had left the hospital in disgrace, but happily she didn’t see me, for the little hard lump at my heart was turning as bitter as gall at that moment, so I made some philosophical observations to myself and passed on.
“Oh, my gracious, these London landladies! They must be female Shylocks, for the pound of flesh is the badge of all their tribe. The first one I boarded asked two guineas for two rooms, and lights and fires extra. ‘By the month?’ says I. ‘Yus, by the month if ye like,’ says she. ‘Two guineas a month?’ says I. Marry come up! I was out of that house in a twinkling.
“Then I looked out a group of humbler thoroughfares, not far from the Houses of Parliament, where nearly every house had a card fixed up on a little green blind. At last I found a place that would do—for my week, only my week, you know. Ten shillings and no extras. ‘I’ll take them,’ said I with a lofty air, and thereupon the landlady, a grim person, with the suspicion of a mustache, began to cross-examine me. Was I married? Oh, dear, no! Then what was my business? Fool that I was, I said I had none, being full of my Dick Whittingtonism, and not choosing to remember the hospital, for I was wearing my private clothes, you know. But hoot! She didn’t take unmarried young ladies without businesses, and I was out in the street once more.
“I didn’t mind it, not I indeed, and it was only for fun after all; but since people objected to girls without businesses, I made up my mind to be a singer if anybody asked me the question again. My third landlady had only one room, and it was on the second floor back, but before I got the length of mounting to this eyry I went through my examination afresh. ‘In the profession, miss?’ ‘What profession?’ ‘The styge, of course.’ ‘Well, ye—yes, something of that sort.’ ‘Don’t tyke anybody that’s on the styge.’
“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I could have screamed, it was so ridiculous; but time was getting on, Big Ben was striking four, and the day was closing in. Then I saw the sign, ‘Home for Girls.’ ‘Wonder if it is a charity?’ thinks I; but no, it didn’t look like that, so in I went as bold as brass, and inquired for the manageress. ‘Is it the matron you mean, miss?’ ‘Very well, the matron then,’ said I, and presently she came up—no, not smiling, for she wasn’t an amiable-looking Christian, but I thought she would smother me with mysterious questions. ‘Tired of the life, are you, my dear? It is a cruel one, isn’t it?’ I stood my ground for some minutes, and then, feeling dreadfully thick in the throat, and cold down the back, I asked her what she was talking about, whereupon she looked bewildered and inquired if I was a good girl, and being told that I hoped so, she said she couldn’t take me in there, and then pointed to a card oh the wall which, simpleton that I was, I hadn’t read before: ‘A home and rescue is offered to women who desire to leave a life of misery and disgrace.’
“I did scream that time, the world was so nonsensical. At one place, being ‘on the styge’ I was not good enough to be taken in, at another I was not bad enough, and what in the name of all that was ridiculous was going to happen next? But it was quite dark by this time, the air was as black as a northwest gale, and I was ‘aweary for all my wings,’ so forgetting Dick Whittingtonfille, and only remembering the good female Samaritan who had asked me to stay with her, I made a dart for Victoria Street and jumped into the first ‘bus that came along, just as the hotels and the clubs and the great buildings were putting’ out the Prince of Wales’s feathers as sign and symbol of the usual rejoicings within.
“It was an ‘Atlas’ omnibus, and it took me to Piccadilly Circus, and that being the wrong direction, I had to change. But a fog had come down in the meanwhile, and lo, there I was in the middle of it!
“O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael! Do you know what a London fog is? It’s smoke, it’s soot, it’s sulphur. It is darker than night, for it extinguishes the lights, and denser than the mist on the Curragh, and filthier than the fumes of the brick-kiln. It makes you think the whole round earth must be a piggery copper and that London has lifted the lid off. In the midst of this inferno the cabs crawl and the ‘buses creep, and foul fiends, who turn out to be men merely, go flitting about with torches, and you grope and croak and cough, and the most innocent faces come puffing and snorting down on you like the beasts in the Apocalypse.
“I thought it good fun at first, but presently I could only keep from crying by having a good laugh, and I was doing that, and asking somebody the way to the Holborn omnibus, when a policeman pushed me and said: ‘Come, move on; none of yer lyterin’ abart here!’
“I could have choked, but remembering something I had seen on that very spot on the night of my first day out, I dived across the street and ran in spite of curses and collisions. But the ‘somebody,’ whoever he was, had followed me, and he put me into the right ‘bus, so I got here at last. It took two mortal hours to do it, and after that spell of purgatory this house is like a blessed paradise, peopled with angels of mercy and grace, as paradise ought to be.
“The good Samaritan was very kind, and she made tea for me in a twinkling and slaughtered the fatted calf in the shape of a pot of raspberry jam. Her name is Mrs. Jupe, and her husband is something in a club, and she has one child of eleven, whose bedfellow I am to be, and here I am now with Miss Slyboots in our little bedroom feeling safe and sound and monarch of all I survey.
“Good-night, good people! Half an hour hence I’ll be going through a mad march of the incidents of the day, turned topsy-turvy according to the way of dreams. But wae’s me! wae’s me! If it had all been true—if I had been really homeless and friendless and penniless, instead of having three ‘goolden’ pounds in my purse, and Providence in the person of Mrs. Jupe, to fall back upon! When I grow to be a wonderful woman and have brought the eyes of all the earth upon me, I am going to be good to poor girls who have no anchorage in London. John Storm was right: this great, glorious, brilliant, delightful London can be very cruel to them sometimes. It calls to them, beckons to them, smiles on them, makes them think there must be joy in the blaze of so much light and luxury and love by the side of so many palaces, and then——
“But perhaps the mischief lies deeper down; and though I’m not going to cut my hair and wear a waistcoat and stand up for the equal rights of the sexes, I feel at this moment that if I were only a man I should be the happiest woman in the world, God bless me! Not that I am afraid of London, not I indeed; and to show you how I long to take a header into its turbulent tides, I hereby warn and apprize and notify you that perhaps I may use my week’s holiday to find a more congenial employment than that of deputy White Owl at the hospital. I am not in my right place yet, Aunt Anna, notwithstanding, so look out for revelations! ‘To be or not to be? that is the question.’ Just say the word and I’ll leave it to Providence, which is always a convenient legatee, and in any case—but wait, only wait and see what a week will bring forth!
“Greet the island for me to the inmost core of its being. The dear little ‘oilan!’ Now that I am so far away, I go over it in my mind’s eye with the idiotic affection of a mother who knows every inch of her baby’s body and would like to gobble it. The leaves must be down by this time, and there can be nothing on the bare boughs but the empty nests where the little birdies used to woo and sing. My love to them and three tremendous kisses for yourselves!
“P.S.—Oh, haven’t I given you the ‘newses’ about John Storm? There are so many things to think about in a place like London, you see. Yes, he has gone into a monastery—communication cut off—wires broken down by the ‘storm,’ etc. Soberly, he has gone for good seemingly, and to talk of it lightly is like picking a penny out of a blind man’s hat. Of course, it was only to be expected that a man with an upper lip like that should come to grief with all those married old maids and elderly women of the opposite sex. Canons to right of him, canons to left of him, canons in front of him—but rumour says it was John himself who volleyed and thundered. He wrote me a letter when he was on the point of going, saying how London had shocked and disappointed him, and how he longed to escape from it and from himself at the same time, that he might dedicate his life to God. It was right and true, no doubt; but wherefore could not I pronounce Amen? He also mentioned something about myself, how much I had been to him; for he had never known his mother, and had never had a sister, and could never have a wife. All which was excellent, but a mere woman like Glory doesn’t want to read that sort of thing in a letter, and would rather have five minutes of John Storm the man than a whole eternity of John Storm the saint. His letter made me think of Christian on his way to the eternal city; but that person has always seemed to me a doubtful sort of hero anyway, taking Mrs. Christian into account and the various little Christians, and I can’t pity him a pin about his bundle, for he might just as well have left behind him what he couldn’t enjoy of God’s providence himself.
“But this is like hitting a cripple with his crutch, John being gone and past all defending himself, and when I think of it in the streets I have to run to keep myself from doing something silly, and then people think I’m chasing an omnibus, when I’m really only chasing my tears. I can’t tell you much about the Brotherhood. It looks like a cross between a palace and a penitentiary, and it appears that ritualism has gone one better than High-Churchmanship, and is trying to introduce the monastic system, which, to an ordinary woman of the world, seems well enough for the man in the moon, though the man in the moon might have a different way of looking at things. They say the brothers are all celibates and live in cells, but I think I’ve seen a look in John Storm’s eyes that warns me that he wasn’t intended for ‘the lek o’ that’ exactly. To tell you the truth, I half blame myself for what has happened, and I am ashamed when I remember how jauntily I took matters all the time our poor John was fighting with beasts at Ephesus. But I am vexed with him too; and if only he had waited patiently before taking such a serious step in order to hear my arguments—— But no matter. A jackdaw isn’t to be called a religious bird because it keeps a-cawing on the steeple, and John Storm won’t make himself into a monk by shutting himself up in a cell. Good-night.”
The house to which Glory had fled out of the fog was a little dingy tobacconist’s shop opening on a narrow alley that runs from Holborn into Lincoln’s-Inn Fields. It was kept by the baby farmer whom she had met at the house of Polly Love, and the memory of the address thrust upon her there had been her only resource on that day of crushing disappointment and that night of peril. Mrs. Jupe’s husband, a waiter at a West End club, was a simple and helpless creature, very fond of his wife, much deceived by her, and kept in ignorance of the darker side of her business operations. Their daughter, familiarly called “Booboo,” a silent child with cunning eyes and pasty cheeks, was being brought up to help in the shop and to dodge the inspector of the school board.
On coming downstairs next morning to the close and dingy parlour at the back, Glory had looked about her as one who had expected something she did not see, whereupon Mrs. Jupe, who was at breakfast with her husband, threw up her little twinkling eyes and said:
“Now I know what she’s a-lookin’ for; it’s the byeby.”
“Where is it?” said Glory.
“Gorn, my dear.”
“Surely you don’t mean——”
“No, not dead, but I ‘ad to put it out, pore thing!”
“Ye see, miss,” said Mr. Jupe with his mouth full, “my missus couldn’t nurse the byeby and ‘tend to the biziniss as well, so as reason was——”
“It brikes my ‘eart to think it; but it made such a n’ise, pore darling!”
“Does the mother know?” said Glory.
“That wasn’t necessary, my dear. It’s gorn to a pusson I can trust to tyke keer of it, and I’m trooly thenkful——”
“It jest amarnts to this, miss: the biziness is too much for the missus as things is——”
“I wouldn’t keer if my ‘ealth was what it used to be, in the dyes when I ‘ad Booboo.”
“But it ain’t, and she’s often said as how she’d like a young laidy to live with her and ‘elp her with the shop.”
“A nice-lookin’ girl might ‘ave a-many chawnces in a place syme as this, my dear.”
“Lawd, yus; and when I seen the young laidy come in at the door, ‘Strike me lucky!’ thinks I, ‘the very one!'”
“Syme ‘ere, my dear. I reckkernized ye the minute I seen ye; and if ye want to leave the hospital and myke a stawt, as you were saying—last night——”
Glory stopped them. They were on the wrong trace entirely. She had merely come to lodge with them, and if that was not agreeable——
“Well, and so ye shell, my dear; and if ye don’t like the shop all at onct, there’s Booboo, she wants lessons——”
“But I can pay,” said Glory, and then she was compelled to say something of her plans. She wanted to become a singer, perhaps an actress, and to tell them the truth she might not be staying long, for when she got engagements——
“Jest as you like, my dear; myke yerself at ‘ome. On’y don’t be in a ‘urry about engygements. Good ones ain’t tots picked up by the childring in the streets these dyes.”
Nevertheless it was agreed that Glory was to lodge at the tobacconist’s, and Mr. Jupe was to bring her box from the hospital on coming home that night from his work. She was to pay ten shillings a week, all told, so that her money would last four or five weeks, and leave something to spare. “But I shall be earning long before that,” she thought, and her resources seemed boundless. She started on her enterprise instantly, knowing no more of how to begin than that it would first be necessary to find the office of an agent. Mr. Jupe remembered one such place.
“It’s in a street off of Waterloo Road,” he said, “and the name on the windows is Josephs.”
Glory found this person in a fur-lined coat and an opera hat, sitting in a room which was papered with photographs, chiefly of the nude and the semi-nude, intermingled with sheafs of playbills that hung from the walls like ballads, from the board of the balladmonger.
“Vell, vot’s yer line?” he asked.
Glory answered nervously and indefinitely.
“Vot can you do then?”
She could sing and recite and imitate people.
The man shrugged his shoulders. “My terms are two guineas down and ten per cent on salary.”
Glory rose to go. “That is impossible. I can not——”
“Vait a minute. How much have you got?”
“Isn’t that my business, sir?”
“Touchy, ain’t ye, miss? But if you mean bizness, I’ll tyke a guinea and give you the first chawnce what comes in.”
Reluctantly, fearfully, distrustfully, Glory paid her guinea and left her address.
“Daddle doo,” said the agent.
Then she found herself in the street.
“Two weeks less for lodgings,” she thought, as she returned to the tobacconist’s. But Mrs. Jupe seemed entirely satisfied.
“What did I tell ye, my dear? Good engygements ain’t chasing nobody abart the streets these dyes, and there’s that many girls now as can do a song and a dance and a recitashing——”
Three days passed, four days, five days, six days, a week, and still no word from Mr. Josephs. Glory called on him again. He counselled patience. It was the dead season at the theatres and music halls, but if she only waited——
She waited a week longer and then called again, and again, and yet again. But she brought nothing back except her mimicry of the man’s manner. She could hit him off to a hair—his raucous voice, his guttural utterance, and the shrug of his shoulders that told of the Ghetto.
Mrs. Jupe shrieked with laughter. That lady’s spirits were going up as Glory’s came down. At the end of the third week she said, “I can’t abear to tyke yer money no longer, my dear, you not doing nothink.”
Then she hinted at a new arrangement. She had to be much from home. It was necessary; her health was poor—an obvious fiction. During her absence she had to leave Booboo in charge.
“It ain’t good for the child, my dear, and it ain’t good for the shop; but if anybody syme as yerself would tyke a turn behind the counter——”
Having less than ten shillings in her pocket, Glory was forced to submit.
There was a considerable traffic through the little turnstile. Lying between Bedford Row and Lincoln’s Inn, it was the usual course of lawyers and lawyers’ clerks passing to and fro from the courts. They were not long in seeing that a fresh and beautiful face was behind the counter of the dingy little tobacco-shop. Business increased, and Mrs. Jupe became radiant.
“What did I tell ye, my dear? There’s more real gentlemen a-mooching rahnd here in a day than a girl would have a chawnce of meeting in a awspital in a twelvemonth.”
Glory’s very soul was sickening. The attentions of the men, their easy manners, their little liberties, their bows, their smiles, their compliments—it was gall and wormwood to the girl’s unbroken spirit. Nevertheless she was conscious of a certain pleasure in the bitterness. The bitterness was her own, the pleasure some one else’s, so to speak, who was looking on and laughing. She felt an unconquerable impulse to sharpen her wit on Mrs. Jupe’s customers, and even to imitate them to their faces. They liked it, so she was good for business both ways.
But she remembered John Storm and felt suffocated with shame. Her thoughts turned to him constantly, and she called at the hospital to ask if there were any letters. There were two, but neither of them was from Bishopsgate Street. One was from Aunt Anna. Glory was not to dream of leaving the hospital. With tithes going down every year, and everything else going up, how could she think of throwing away a salary and adding to their anxieties? The other was from her grandfather:
“Glad to hear you have had a holiday, dear Glory, and trust you are feeling the better for the change. Must confess to being a little startled by the account of your adventure on Lord Mayor’s Day, with the wild scheme for cutting adrift from the hospital and taking London by storm. But it was just like my little witch, my wandering gipsy, and I knew it was all nonsense; so when Aunt Anna began to scold I took my pipe and went upstairs. Sorry to hear that John Storm has gone over to Popery, for that is what it comes to, though he is not under the Romish obedience. I am the more concerned because I failed to make his peace with his father. The old man seems to blame me for everything, and has even taken to passing me on the road. Give my best respects to Mrs. Jupe, when you see her again, with my thanks for taking care of you. And now that you are alone in that great and wicked Babylon, take good care of yourself, my dear one. To know that my runaway is well and happy and prosperous is all I have left to reconcile me to her absence. Yes, the harvest is over and threshed and housed, and we have fires in the parlour nearly every day, which makes Anna severe sometimes, coals being so dear just now, and the turf no longer allowed to us.”
It was ten days overdue. That night, in her little bedroom, with its low ceiling and sloping floor, Glory wrote her answer:
“But it isn’t nonsense, my dear grandfather, and I really have left the hospital. I don’t know if it was the holiday and the liberty or what, but I felt like that young hawk at Glenfaba—do you remember it?—the one that was partly snared and came dragging the trap on to the lawn by a string caught round its leg. I had to cut it away, I had to, I had to! But you mustn’t feel one single moment’s uneasiness about me. An able-bodied woman like Glory Quayle doesn’t starve in a place like London. Besides, I am provided for already, so you see my bow abides in strength. The first morning after my arrival Mrs. Jupe told me that if I cared to take to myself the style and title of teacheress to her little Slyboots I had only to say the word and I should be as welcome as the flowers in May. It isn’t exactly first fiddling, you know, and it doesn’t bring an ambassador’s salary, but it may serve for the present, and give me time to look about. You mustn’t pay too much attention to my lamentations about being compelled by Nature to wear a petticoat. Things being so arranged in this world I’ll make them do. But it does make one’s head swim and one’s wings droop to see how hard Nature is on a woman compared to a man. Unless she is a genius or a jelly-fish there seems to be only one career open to her, and that is a lottery, with marriage for the prizes, and for the blanks—oh dear, oh dear! Not that I have anything to complain of, and I hate to be so sensitive. Life is wonderfully interesting, and the world is such an amusing place that I’ve no patience with people who run away from it, and if I were a man—but wait, only wait, good people!”
John Storm had made one other friend at Bishopsgate Street—the dog of the monastery. It was a half-bred bloodhound, and nobody seemed to know whence he came and why he was there. He was a huge, ungainly, and most forbidding creature, and partly for that reason, but chiefly because it was against rule to fix the affections on earthly things, the brothers rarely caressed him. Unnoticed and unheeded, he slept in the house by day and prowled through the court by night, and had hardly ever been known to go out into the streets. He was the strictest monk in the monastery, for he eyed every stranger as if he had been Satan himself, and howled at all music except the singing in the church.
On seeing John for the first time, he broadened his big flews and stiffened his thick stern, according to his wont with all intruders, but in this instance the intruder was not afraid. John patted him on the peaked head and rubbed him on the broad nose, then opened his mouth and examined his teeth, and finally turned him on his back and tickled his chest, and they were fast friends and comrades forever after.
Some weeks after the dedication they were in the courtyard together, and the dog was pitching and plunging and uttering deep bays which echoed between the walls like thunder at play. It was the hour of morning recreation, between Terce and Sext, and the religious were lolling about and talking, and one lay brother was sweeping up the leaves that had fallen from the tree, for the winter had come and the branches were bare. The lay brother was Brother Paul, and he made sidelong looks at John, but kept his head down and went on with his work without speaking. One by one the brothers went back to the house, and John made ready to follow them, but Paul put himself in his way. He was thinner than before, and his eyes were red and his respiration difficult. Nevertheless, he smiled in a childlike way, and began to talk of the dog. What life there was in the old creature still! and nobody had known, there was so much play in it.
“You are not feeling so well, are you?” said John.
“Not quite so well,” he answered.
“The day is cold, and this penance is too much for you.”
“No, it’s not that. I asked for it, you know, and I like it. It’s something else. To tell you the truth, I’m very foolish in some ways. When I’ve got anything on my mind I’m always thinking. Day and night it’s the same with me, and even work——”
His breathing was audible, but he tried to laugh.
“Do you know what it is this time? It’s what you said on the roof on the night of the vows, you remember. What you didn’t say, I mean—and that’s just the trouble. It was wrong to talk of the world without great necessity, but if you had been able to say ‘Yes’ when I asked if everybody was well you would have done it, wouldn’t you?”
“We’ll not talk of that now,” said John.
“No, it would be the same fault as before. Still——”
“How keen the air is! And your asthma is so troublesome! You must really let me speak to the Father.”
“Oh, that’s nothing. I’m used to it. But if you know yourself what it is to be always thinking of anybody——”
John called to the dog, and it capered about him. “Good-morning, Brother Paul.” And he went into the house. The lay brother leaned on his besom and drew a long sigh that seemed to come from the depths of his chest.
John had hastened away, lest his voice should betray him.
“Awful!” he thought. “It must be awful to be always thinking of somebody, and in fear of what has happened to her. Poor little Polly! She’s not worthy of it, but what does that matter? Blood is blood and love is love, and only God is stronger.”
A few days afterward the air darkened and softened, and snow began to fall. Between Vespers and Evensong John went up to the tower to see London under its mantle of white. It was like an Eastern city now under an Eastern moonlight, and he was listening to the shouts and laughter of people snowballing in the streets when he heard a laboured step on the stair behind him. It was Brother Paul coming up with a spade to shovel away the snow. His features were pinched and contracted, and his young face was looking old and worn.
“You really must not do it,” said John. “To work like this is not penance, but suicide. I’ll speak to the Father, and he’ll——”
“Don’t; for mercy’s sake, don’t! Have some pity, at all events! If you only knew what a good thing work is for me—how it drives away thoughts, and stifles——”
“But it’s so useless, Brother Paul. Look! The snow is still falling, and there’s more to come yet.”
“All the same, it’s good for me. When I’m very tired I can sleep sometimes. And then God is good to you if you don’t spare yourself. Some day perhaps he’ll tell me something.”
“He’ll tell us everything in his own good time, Brother Paul.”
“It’s easy to counsel patience. If I were like you I should be counting the days until my time was over, and that would help me to bear things. But when you are dedicated for life——”
He stopped at his work and looked over the parapet, and seemed to be gazing into the weary days to come.
“Have you anybody of your own out there?”
“You mean any——”
“Any relative—any sister?”
“Then you don’t know what it is; that’s why you won’t give me an answer.”
“Don’t ask me, Brother Paul.”
“It might only make you the more uneasy if I told you what——”
The lay brother let his spade fall, then slowly, very slowly, picked it up again and said:
“I understand. You needn’t say any more. I shall never ask you again.”
The bell rang for Evensong, and John hurried away. “If it were only some one who was deserving of it!” he thought—”some one who was worthy that a man should risk his soul to save her!”
At supper and in church he saw Brother Paul going about like a man in a waking dream, and when he went up to bed he heard him moving restlessly in the adjoining cell. The fear of betraying himself was becoming unbearable, and he leaped up and stepped out into the corridor, intending to ask the Superior to give him another room elsewhere. But he stopped and came back. “It’s not brave,” he thought, “it’s not kind, it’s not human,” and, saying this again and again, as one whistles when going by a haunted house, he covered his ears and fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, while it was still quite dark, he was awakened by a light on his face and the sense of some one looking down on him in his sleep. With a shudder he opened his eyes and saw Brother Paul, candle in hand, standing by the bed. His eyes were red and swollen, and when he spoke his voice was full of tears.
“I know it’s a fault to come into anybody else’s cell,” he said, “but I would rather do my penance than endure this torture. Something has happened—I can see that quite well; but I don’t know what it is, and the suspense is killing me. The certainty would be easier to bear; and I swear to you by Him who died for us that if you tell me I shall be satisfied! Is she dead?”
“Not that,” said John by a sudden impulse, and then there was an awful silence.
“Not dead!” said Paul. “Then would to God that she were dead, for it must be something worse, a thousand times worse!”
John felt as if the secret had been stolen from him in his sleep; but it was gone, and he could say nothing. Brother Paul’s lips trembled, his respiration quickened, and he turned away and smote his head against the wall and sobbed.
“I knew it all the time,” he said. “Her sister went the same way, and I could see that she was going too, and that was why I was so anxious. Oh, my poor mother! my poor mother!”
For two days after that John saw no more of Brother Paul. “He is doing his penance somewhere,” he thought.
Meanwhile the snow was still falling, and when the brothers went out to Lauds at 6 A.M. they passed through a cutting of snow which was banked up afresh every morning, though the day had not then dawned. On the third day John was the first to go down to the hall, and there he met Brother Paul, with his spade in his hands, coming out of the courtyard. He looked like a man who was melting before a fire as surely as a piece of wax.
“I am sorry now that I told you,” said John.
Brother Paul hung his head.
“It is easy to see that you are suffering more than ever; and it is all my fault. I will go to the Father and confess.”
Between breakfast and Terce John carried out this intention. The Superior was sitting before a handful of fire, in a little room that was darkened by leather-bound books and by the flakes of snow which were falling across the window panes.
“Father,” said John, “I am a cause of offence to another brother, and it is I who should be doing his penance.” And then he told how he had broken the observance which forbids any one to talk of his relations with the world without
The Father listened with great solemnity.
“My son,” he said, “your temptation is a testimony to the reality of the religious life. Satan’s rage against the home of consecrated souls is terrible, and he would fain break in upon it if he could with worldly thoughts and cares and passions. But we must conquer him by his own weapons. Your penance, my son, shall be of the same kind with your offence. Go to the door and take the place of the doorkeeper, and stay there day and night until the end of the year. Thus shall the evil one be made aware that you are the guardian of our house, to be tampered with no more.”
Brother Andrew was troubled when John took his place at the door that night, but John himself was unconcerned. He was doorkeeper to the household, so he began on the duties of his menial position. As the brothers passed in and out on their mission-errands he opened the door and closed it. If any one knocked he answered, “Praise be to God!” then slid back the little grating in the middle panel of the door and looked out at the stranger. The hall was a chill place, with a stone floor, and he sat on a form that stood against one of its walls. His bed was in an alcove which had formerly been the cloak-room, and a card hung over it with the inscription, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” He had no company except big Brother Andrew, who stole down sometimes to cheer him with his speechless presence, and the dog, which was always hanging about.
It was at least some comfort to be out of the proximity of Brother Paul. The sounds of the lay brother in the neighbouring cell had brought back recollections of Glory, and he had more than he could do to conquer his thoughts of her. Since he had taken his vows and had ceased to mention her in his prayers she had been always with him, and his fears for her fate had been pricked and goaded by the constant presence of Brother Paul’s anxieties.
On the other hand, it was some loss that he could not go to the church, and he remembered with a pang how happy he had been after a night of terrors when he had gone into God’s house in the morning and cast his burden on him with one yearning cry of “God bless all women and young children!”
It was now the Christmas season, and his heart tingled and thrilled as the brothers passed through the door at midday and talked of the women who attended the Christmas services. Were they really so calm as they seemed to be, and had they conquered their natural affections?
Sometimes during the midday service he would slide back the grating and listen for the women’s voices. He heard one voice in all of them, but he knew it was only a dream. Then he would watch the snow falling from the little patch of dun-coloured sky crossed by bars, and tell himself that that was all he was to see of the world henceforth.
The sky emptied itself at last, and Brother Paul came again to shovel away the snow. He was weaker than ever, for the wax was melting away. When he began to work, his chest was oppressed and his face was feverish. John snatched the spade out of his hand and fell to doing his work instead of him.
“I can’t bear to see it, and I won’t!” he said.
“But the Father——?”
“I don’t care—you can tell him if you like. You are killing yourself by inches, and you are a failing man any way.”
“Am I really dying?” said Brother Paul, and he staggered away like one who had heard his sentence.
John looked after, him and thought: “Now what should I do if I were in that man’s place? If the case were Glory’s, and I fixed here as in a vice?”
He was ashamed when he thought of Glory like that, and he dismissed the idea, but it came back with mechanical obstinacy and he was compelled to consider it. His vows? Yes, it would be death to his soul to break them. But if she were lost who had no one but him to look to—if she went down to wreck and ruin, then the fires of hell would be as nothing to his despair!
Brother Paul came to him next day and sat on the form by his side and said:
“If I’m really dying, what am I to do?”
“What would you like to do, Brother Paul?”
“I should like to go out and find her.”
“What good would there be in that?”
“I could say something that would stop her and put an end to everything.”
“Are you sure of it?”
A wild light came into his eyes and he answered, “Quite sure.”
John played the hypocrite and began to counsel patience.
“But a man can’t live without hope and not go mad,” said Brother Paul.
“We must trust and pray,” said John.
“But God never answers us. If it were your own case what would you do? If some one outside were lost——”
“I should go to the Father and say, ‘Let me go in search of her.'”
“I’ll do it,” said Brother Paul.
“Why not? The Father is kind and tender and he loves his children.”
“Yes, I will do it,” said Paul, and he made for the Father’s room.
He got to the door of the cell and then came back again. “I can’t,” he said. “There’s something you don’t know. I can’t look in his face and ask.”
“Stay here and I’ll ask for you,” said John.
“God bless you!” said Paul.
John made three hasty strides and then stopped.
“But if he will not——”
“Then—God’s will be done!”
It was morning, and the Superior was reading in his room.
“Come in, my son,” he said, and he laid his book on his lap. “This is a book you must read some day—the Inner Life of Père Lacordaire. Most fascinating! An inner life of intolerable horror until he had conquered his natural affections.”
“Father,” said John, “one of our lay brothers has a little sister in the world and she has fallen into trouble. She has gone from the place where he left her, and God only knows where she is now! Let him go out and find her.”
“Who is it, my son?”
“Brother Paul—and she is all he has, and he can not help but think of her.”
“This is a temptation of the evil one, my son. Brother Paul has newly taken the vows and so have you. The vows are a challenge to the powers of evil, and it is only to be expected that he who takes them will be tested to the uttermost.”
“But, Father, she is young and thoughtless. Let him go out and find her and save her, and he will come back and praise God a thousand times the more.”
“The temptations of Satan are very subtle; they come in the guise of duty. Satan is tempting our brother through love, and you, also, through pity. Let us turn our backs on him.”
“Then it is impossible?”
When John returned to the door Brother Paul was standing by the alcove gazing with wet eyes on the text hanging above the bed. He saw his answer in John’s face, and they sat down on the form without speaking.
The bell rang for service and the religious began to pass through the hall. As the Father was crossing the threshold Brother Paul flung himself down at his feet and clutched his cassock and made a frantic appeal for pity.
“Father, have pity upon me and let me go!”
The Father’s eyes became moist but his will remained unshaken. “As a man I ought to have pity,” he said, “and as the Father of all of you I should be kind to my children; but it is not I who refuse you, it is God, and I should be guilty of a sin if I let you go.”
Then Paul burst into mad laughter and the religious gathered round and looked at him in astonishment. There was foam on his lips and fire in his eyes, and he threw up his hands and fell back fainting.
The Father made the sign of the cross on his breast and his lips moved in silence for a moment. Then he said to John, who had raised the lay brother in his arms:
“Leave him there. Damp his forehead and hold his hands.”
And turning to the religious he added: “I ask the prayers of the community for our poor brother. Satan is fighting for his soul. Let us wrestle in prayer that we may expel the spirit that possesses him.”
At the next moment John was alone with the unconscious man, except for the dog which was licking his forehead. And looking after the Superior, he told himself that such unlimited power over the body and soul of another the Almighty could have meant for no man. The love of God and the fear of the devil had swallowed up the love of man and stifled all human affections. Such religion must have hardened the best man ever born. As for the poor broken creature lying there so still, his vows had been made to heaven, and to heaven alone his obedience was due. The nature within him had spoken too loudly, but there were laws of Nature which it was a sin to resist. Then why should he resist them? The cry of blood was the voice of God, or God had no voice and He could speak to no man. Then, why should he not listen?
Brother Paul recovered consciousness and raised his head. The waves of memory flowed back upon him and his eyes flamed and his lips trembled.
“I will go if I have to break my vows!” he said.
“No need for that,” said John.
“Because I will let you out at night and let you in again in the morning.”
“Yes, I. Listen!”
And then these two crushed and fettered souls, bound by no iron bonds, confined by no bolts and bars, but only under the shadow of the supernatural, sat together like prisoners in a dungeon concocting schemes for their escape.
“The Father locks the outer gate himself,” said John. “Where does he keep the key?”
“In his own room on a nail above his bed,” said Paul.
“Who is the lay brother attending to him now?”
“Brother Andrew will do anything for me,” said John.
“But the dog?” said Paul. “He is always in the court at night, and he barks at the sound of a step.”
“Not my step,” said John.
“I’ll do it,” said Paul.
“I will send you to some one who can find your sister. You’ll tell her you come from me and she’ll take you with her.”
They could hear the singing in the church, and they paused to listen.
“When I come back in the morning I’ll confess everything and do my penance,” said Paul.
“And I too,” said John.
The sun had come out with a sudden gleam and the thawing snow was dripping from the trees in drops like diamonds. The singing ceased, the service ended, and the brothers came back to the house. When the Father entered, Paul was clothed and in his right mind and sitting quietly on the form.
“Thank God for this answer to our prayers!” said the Father. “But you must pray without ceasing lest Satan should conquer you again. Until the end of the year say your Rosary in the church every night alone from Compline to midnight.”
Then turning to John he said with a smile: “And you shall be like the anchoret of old to this household, my son. We monks pray by day, but the anchoret prays by night. Unless we know that in the dark hours the anchoret guards the house, who shall rest on his bed in peace?”
At the end of the fourth week, after Glory had paid her fee to the agent, she called on him again. It was Saturday morning, and the vicinity of his office was a strange and surprising scene. The staircase and passages to the house, as well as the pavement of the streets far as to the public-house at the corner, were thronged with a gaudy but shabby army of music-hall artistes of both sexes. When Glory attempted to pass through them she was stopped by a cry of, “Tyke yer turn on Treasury day, my dear,” and she fell back and waited.
One by one they passed upstairs, came down again with cheerful faces, shouted their adieus and disappeared. Meanwhile they amused themselves with salutations, all more or less lively and familiar, told stories and exchanged confidences, while they danced a step or stamped about to keep away the cold. “You’ve chucked the slap [* Rouge.] on with a mop this morning, my dear,” said one of the girls. “Have I, my love? Well, I was a bit thick about the clear, so I thought it would keep me warm.” “It ain’t no use facing the doner of the casa with that,” said a man who jingled a few coins as he came downstairs, and away went two to the public-house. Sometimes a showy brougham would drive up to the door and a magnificent person in a fur-lined coat, with diamond rings on both hands, would sweep through the lines and go upstairs. When he came down again his carriage door would be opened by half a dozen “pros” who would call him “dear old cully” and tell him they were “down on their luck” and “hadn’t done a turn for a fortnight.” He would distribute shillings and half-crowns among them, cry “Ta-ta, boys,” and drive away, whereupon his pensioners would stroke their cuffs and collars of threadbare astrakhan, tip winks after the carriage, and say, “That’s better than crying cabbages in Covent Garden, ain’t it?” Then they would all laugh knowingly, and one would say, “What’s it to be, cully?” and somebody would answer, “Come along to Poverty Point then,” and a batch of the waiting troop would trip off to the corner.
One of the gorgeous kind was coming down the stairs when his eye fell on Glory as she stood in a group of girls who were decked out in rose pink and corresponding finery. He paused, turned back, reopened the office door, and said in an audible whisper, “Who’s the pretty young ginger you’ve got here, Josephs?” A moment afterward the agent had come out and called her upstairs.
“It’s salary day, my dear—vait there,” he said, and he put her into an inner room, which was tawdrily furnished in faded red plush, with piano and coloured prints of ballet girls and boxing men, and was full of the odour of stale tobacco and bad whisky.
She waited half an hour, feeling hot and ashamed and troubled with perplexing thoughts, and listening to the jingle of money in the adjoining room, mingled with the ripple of laughter and sometimes the exchange of angry words. At length the agent came back, saying, “Vell, vat can I do for you to-day, my dear?”
He had been drinking, his tone was familiar, and he placed himself on the end of the sofa upon which Glory was seated.
Glory rose immediately. “I came to ask if you have heard of anything for me,” she said.
“Sit down, my dear.”
“No, thank you.”
“Heard anything? Not yet, my dear. You must vait——”
“I think I’ve waited long enough, and if your promises amount to anything you’ll get me an appearance at all events.”
“So I vould, my dear. I vould get you an extra turn at the Vashington, but it’s very expensive, and you’ve got no money.”
“Then why did you take what I had if you can do nothing? Besides, I don’t want anything but what my talents can earn. Give me a letter to a manager—for mercy’s sake, do something for me!”
There was a shrug of the Ghetto as the man rose and said, “Very vell, if it’s like that, I’ll give you a letter and velcome.”
He sat at a table and wrote a short note, sealed it carefully in an envelope which was backed with advertisements, then gave it to Glory, and said, “Daddle doo. You’ll not require to come again.”
Going downstairs she looked at the letter. It was addressed to an acting manager at a theatre in the farthest west of London. The passages of the house and the pavements outside were now empty; it was nearly two o’clock, and snow was beginning to fall. She was feeling cold and a little hungry, but, making up her mind to deliver the letter at once, she hastened to the Temple station.
There was a matinée, so the acting manager was “in front.” He took the letter abruptly, opened it with an air of irritation, glanced at it, glanced at Glory, looked at the letter again, and then said in a strangely gentle voice, “Do you know what’s in this, my girl?”
“No,” said Glory.
“Of course you don’t—look,” and he gave her the letter to read. It ran:
“Dear ——: This wretched young ginger is worrying me for a shop. She isn’t worth a ——. Get rid of her, and oblige Josephs.”
Glory flushed up to the forehead and bit her lip; then a little nervous laugh broke from her throat, and two great tears came rolling from her eyes. The acting manager took the letter out of her hands and tapped her kindly on the shoulder.
“Never mind, my child. Perhaps we’ll disappoint him yet. Tell me all about it.”
She told him everything, for he had bowels of compassion. “We can’t put you on at present,” he said, “but our saloon contractor wants a young lady to give out programmes, and if that will do to begin with——”
It was a crushing disappointment, but she was helpless. The employment was menial, but it would take her out of the tobacco shop and put her into the atmosphere of the theatre, and bring fifteen shillings a week as well. She might begin on Monday if she could find her black dress, white apron, cap, and cuffs. The dress she had already, but the apron, cap, and cuffs would take the larger part of the money she had left.
By Sunday night she had swallowed her pride with one great gulp and was writing home to Aunt Anna:
“I’m as busy as Trap’s wife these days; indeed, that goddess of industry is nothing to me now; but Christmas is coming, and I shall want to buy a present for grandfather (and perhaps for the aunties as well), so please send me a line in secret saying what he is wanting most. Snow! snow! snow! The snow it snoweth every day.”
On the Monday night she presented herself at the theatre and was handed over to another girl to be instructed in her duties. The house was one of the best in London, and Glory found pleasure in seeing the audience assemble. For the first half hour the gorgeous gowns, the beautiful faces, and the distinguished manners excited her and made her forget herself. Then little by little there came the pain of it all, and by the time the curtain had gone up her gorge was rising, and she crept out into the quiet corridor where her colleague was seated already under an electric lamp reading a penny number.
The girl was a little, tender black and white thing, looking like a dahlia. In a quarter of an hour Glory knew all about her. During the day she served in a shop in the Whitechapel Road. Her name was Agatha Jones—they called her Aggie. Her people lived in Bethnal Green, but Charlie always came to the theatre to take her home. Charlie was her young man.
In the intervals between the acts Glory assisted in the cloak-room, and there the great ladies began to be very amusing. After the tinkle of the electric bell announcing the second act she returned to the deserted corridor, and before her audience of one gave ridiculous imitations in dead silence of ladies using the puff and twiddling up their front hair.
“My! It’s you as oughter be on the styge, my dear,” said Aggie.
“Do you think so?” said Glory.
“I’m going on myself soon. Charlie’s getting me on the clubs.”
“The foreign clubs in Soho. More nor one has begun there.”
“The foreigners like dancing best. If you can do the splits and shoulder the leg it’s the mykings of you for life.”
When the performance was over they found Charlie waiting on the square in front of the house. Glory had seen him before, and she recognised him immediately. He was the young Cockney with the rolled fringe who had bantered the policeman by Palace Yard on Lord Mayor’s Day. They got into the Underground together, and when Glory returned to the subject of the foreign clubs Charlie grew animated and eloquent.
“They give ye five shillings a turn, and if yer good for anythink ye may do six turns of a Sunday night, not ter speak of special nights, and friendly leads and sech.”
When Glory got out at the Temple Aggie’s head was resting on Charlie’s shoulder, and her little gloved fingers were lightly clasped in his hand.
On the second night Glory had conquered a good deal of her pride. The grace of her humour was saving her. It was almost as if somebody else was doing servant’s duty and she was looking on and laughing. After all it was very funny that she should be there, and what delicious thoughts it would bring later! Even Nell Gwynne sold oranges in the pit at first, and then some day when she had risen above all this——
It must have been a great night of some sort. She had noticed red baize and an awning outside, and the front of one of the boxes was laden with flowers. When its occupants entered, the orchestra played the national anthem and the audience rose to their feet. It was the Prince with the Princess and their daughters. The audience was only less distinguished, and something far off and elusive moved in her memory when a lady handed her a check and said in a sweet voice:
“A gentleman will come for this seat.”
Glory’s station was in the stalls, and she did not go out when the lights went down and the curtain rose. The play was a modern one—the story of a country girl who returned home after a life of bitterness and shame.
It moved her and thrilled her, and stirred the smouldering fires of her ambition. She was sorry for the actress who played the part—the poor thing did not understand—and she would have given worlds to pour her own voice through the girl’s mouth. Then she was conscious that she was making a noise with her hands, and looking down at them she saw the crumpled programmes and her white cuffs, and remembered where she was, and what, and she murmured, “O God, do not punish me for these vain thoughts!”
All at once a light shot across her face as she stood in the darkness. The door of the corridor had been opened, and a gentleman was coming in. He stood a moment beside her with his eyes on the stage and said in a whisper:
“Did a lady leave a seat?”
It was Drake! She felt as if she would suffocate, but answered in a strained voice:
“Yes, that one. Programme, please.”
He took the programme without looking at her, put his fingers into his waistcoat pocket, and slid something into her hand. It was sixpence.
She could have screamed. The humiliation was too abject. Hurrying out, she threw down her papers, put on her cloak and hat and fled.
But next morning she laughed at herself, and when she took out Drake’s sixpence she laughed again. With the poker and a nail she drove a hole through the coin and then hung it up by a string to a hook over the mantelpiece, and laughed (and cried a little) every time she looked at it. Life was so funny! Why did people bury themselves before they were dead? She wouldn’t do it for worlds! But she did not go back to the theatre for all that, and neither did she return to the counter.
Christmas was near, the shops became bright and gay, and she remembered what beautiful presents she had meant to send home out of the money she had hoped to earn. On Christmas Eve the streets were thronged with little family groups out shopping, and there were many amusing sights. Then she laughed a good deal; she could not keep from laughing.
Christmas Day opened with a rimy, hazy morning, and the business thoroughfares were deserted. They had sucking pig for dinner, and Mr. Jupe, who was at home for the holiday, behaved like a great boy. It was afternoon before the postman arrived with a bag as big as a creel, and full of Christmas cards and parcels. There was a letter for Glory. It was from Aunt Anna.
“We are concerned about the serious step you have taken, but trust it is for the best, and that you will give Mrs. Jupe every satisfaction. Don’t waste your savings on us. Remember there are post-office savings banks everywhere, and that there is no friend like a little money.”
At the bottom there was a footnote from Aunt Rachel: “Do you ever see the Queen in London, and the dear Prince and Princess?”
She went to service that night at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Entering by the west door, a verger in a black cloak directed her to a seat in the nave. The great place was dark and chill and half empty. All the singing seemed to come from some unseen region far away, and when the preacher got into the curious pulpit he looked like a Jack-in-the-box, and it seemed to be a drum that was speaking.
Coming out before the end, she thought she would walk to the Whitechapel Road, of which Aggie had told her something. She did so, going by Bishopsgate Street, but turning her head away as she passed the church of the Brotherhood. The motley crowd of Polish Jews, Germans, and Chinamen, in the most interesting street in Europe, amused her for a while, and then she walked up Houndsditch and passed through Bishopsgate Street again.
At the Bank she took an omnibus for home. The only other fare was a bouncing girl in a big hat with feathers.
“Going to the market, my dear? No? I hates it myself, too, so I goes to the ‘alls instead. Come from the country, don’t ye? Same here. Father’s a farmer, but he’s got sixteen besides me, so I won’t be missed. Live? I live at Mother Nan’s dress-house now. Nice gloves, ain’t they? My hat? Glad you like the style. I generally get a new hat once a week, and as for gloves, if anybody likes me——”
That night in her musty bedroom Glory wrote home while little Slyboots slept: “‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft aglee.’ Witness me!
“I intended to send you some Christmas presents, but the snow has been so industrious that not a mouse has stirred if he could help it. However, I send three big kisses instead, and a pair of mittens for grandfather—worked with my own hands, because I wouldn’t allow any good Brownie to do it for me. Tell Aunt Rachel I do see the Prince and Princess sometimes. I saw them at the theatre the other night. Yes, the theatre! You must not be shocked—we are rather gay in London—we go to the theatre occasionally. It is so interesting to meet all the great people! You see I am fairly launched in fashionable society, but I love everybody just the same as ever, and the moment the candle is out I shall be thinking of Glenfaba and seeing the ‘Waits,’ and ‘Oiel Verree,’ and ‘Hunting the Wren,’ and grandfather smoking his pipe in the study by the light of the fire, and Sir Thomas Traddles, the tailless, purring and blinking at his feet. Merry Christmas to you, my dears! By-bye.”
“‘Where’s that bright young Irish laidy?’ the gentlemen’s allwiz sayin’, my dear,” said Mrs. Jupe, and for very shame’s sake, having no money to pay for board and lodgings, Glory returned to the counter.
A little beyond Bedford Row, in a rookery of apartment houses in narrow streets, there lives a colony of ballet girls and chorus girls who are employed at the lighter theatres of the Strand. They are a noisy, merry, reckless, harmless race, free of speech, fond of laughter, wearing false jewellery, false hair, and false complexions, but good boots always, which they do their utmost not to conceal.
Many of these girls pass through the Turnstile on their way to their work, and toward seven in the evening the tobacconist’s would be full of them. Nearly all smoked, as the stained forefinger of their right hands showed, and while they bought their cigarettes they chirruped and chirped until the little shop was like a tree full of linnets in the spring.
Most of them belonged to the Frailty Theatre, and their usual talk was of the “stars” engaged there. Chief among these were the “Sisters Bellman,” a trio of singers in burlesque, and a frequent subject of innuendo and rapartee was one Betty, of that ilk, whose name Glory could remember to have seen blazing in gold on nearly every hoarding and sign.
“Says she was a governess in the country, my dear.” “Oh, yus, I dare say. Came out of a slop shop in the Mile End Road though, and learned ‘er steps with the organ man in the court a-back of the jam factory.” “Well, I never! She’s a wide un, she is!” “About as wide as Broad Street, my dear. Use ter sell flowers in Piccadilly Circus till somebody spoke to ‘er, and now she rides ‘er brougham, doncher know.” Then the laughter would be general, and the girls would go off with their arms about each other’s waists, and singing, in the street substitute for the stage whisper, “And ‘er golden ‘air was ‘anging dahn ‘er back!”
This yellow-haired and yellow-fingered sisterhood saw the game of life pretty clearly, and it did not take them long to get abreast of Glory. “Like this life, my dear?” “Go on! Do she look as if she liked it?”
“Perhaps I do, perhaps I don’t,” said Glory.
“Tell that to the marines, my dear. I use ter be in a shop myself, but I couldn’t a-bear it. Give me my liberty, I say; and if a girl’s got any sort o’ figure——Unnerstand, my dear?”
Late that night one of the girls came in breathless and cried: “Hooraa! What d’ye think? Betty wants a dresser, and I’ve got the shop for ye, my dear. Guinea a week and the pickings; and you go tomorrow night on trial. By-bye!”
Glory’s old infirmity came back upon her, and she felt hot and humiliated. But her vanity was not so much wounded by the work that she was offered as her honour was hurt by the work she was doing. Mrs. Jupe’s absences from home were now more frequent than ever. If the business that took her abroad was akin to that which had taken her to Polly Love——
To put an end to her uneasiness, Glory presented herself at the stage door.
“You the noo dresser, miss?” said the doorkeeper. “Collins has orders to look after you.—Collins!”
A scraggy, ugly, untidy woman who was passing—through an inner door looked back and listened.
“Come along of me then,” she said, and Glory followed her, first down a dark passage, then through a dusty avenue between stacks of scenery, then across the open stage, up a flight of stairs, and into a room of moderate size which had no window and no ventilation and contained three cheval glasses, a couch, four cane-bottom chairs, three small toilet tables with gas jets suspended over them, three large trunks, some boxes of cigarettes, and a number of empty champagne bottles. Here there was another woman as scraggy and untidy as the first, who bobbed her head at Glory and then went on with her work, which was that of taking gorgeous dresses out of one of the trunks and laying them on the end of the couch.
“She told me to show you her first act,” said the woman called Collins, and, throwing open another of the trunks, she indicated some of the costumes contained in it.
It was a new world to Glory, and there was something tingling and electrical in the atmosphere about her. There were the shouts and curses of the scene-shifters on the stage, the laughing voices of the chorus girls going by the door, and all the multitudinous noises of the theatre before the curtain rises. Presently there was a rustle of silk, and two young ladies came bouncing into the room. One was tall and pink and white, like a scarlet runner, the other was little and dainty. They stared at Glory, and she was compelled to speak.
“Miss Bellman, I presume?”
“Ye mean Betty, down’t ye?” said the tall lady, and at that moment Betty herself arrived. She was a plump person with a kind of vulgar comeliness, and Glory had a vague sense of having seen her before somewhere.
“So ye’ve came,” she said, and she took possession of Glory straightway. “Help me off of my sealskin.”
Glory did so. The others were similarly disrobed, and in a few moments their three ladyships were busy before the toilet tables with their grease and rose-pink and black pencils.
Glory was taking down the hair of her stout ladyship, and her stout ladyship was looking at Glory in the glass.
“Not a bad face, girls, eh?”
The other two glanced at Glory approvingly. “Not bad,” they answered, and then hummed or whistled as they went on with their making-up.
“Oh, thank you,” said Glory, with a low courtesy, and everybody laughed. It was really very amusing. Suddenly it ceased to be so.
“And what’s it’s nyme, my dear?” said the little lady.
A sort of shame at using in this company the name that was sacred to home, to the old parson, and to John Storm, came creeping over Glory like a goosing of the flesh, and by the inspiration of a sudden memory she answered, “Gloria.”
The little lady paused with the black pencil at her eyebrows, and said:
“My! What a nyme for the top line of a bill!”
“Ugh! Mykes me feel like Sundays, though,” said the tall lady with a shudder.
“Irish, my dear?”
“Something of that sort,” said Glory.
“Brought up a laidy, I’ll be bound?”
“My father was a clergyman,” said Glory, “but——”
A sudden peal of laughter stopped her, whereupon she threw up her head, and her eyes flashed: but her stout ladyship patted her hands and said:
“No offence, Glo, but you re’lly mustn’t—they’re all clergymen’s daughters, doncher know?”
A sharp knock came to the door, followed by the first call of the call-boy. “Half-hour, ladies.” Then there was much bustle and some irritation in the dressing-room and the tuning up of the orchestra outside. The knock came again. “Curtain up, please.” The door was thrown open, the three ladies swept out—the tall one in tights, the little one in a serpentine skirt, the plump one in some fancy costume—and Glory was left to gather up the fragments, to listen to the orchestra, which was now in full power, to think of it all and to laugh.
The ladies returned to the dressing-room again and again in the coarse of the performance, and when not occupied with the changing of their dresses they amused themselves variously. Sometimes they smoked cigarettes, sometimes sent Collins for brandy and soda, sometimes talked of their friends in front: ‘Lord Johnny’s ‘ere again. See ‘im in the prompt box? It’s ‘is sixtieth night this piece, and there’s only been sixty-nine of the run—and sometimes they discussed the audience generally: “Don’t know what’s a-matter with ‘em to-night; ye may work yer eyes out and ye can’t get a ‘and.”
The curtain came down at length, the outdoor costumes were resumed, the call-boy cried “Carriages, please,” the ladies answered “Right ye are, Tommy,” her plump ladyship nodded to Glory, “You’ll do middling, my dear, when ye get yer ‘and in”; and then nothing was left but the dark stage, the blank house, and the “Good-night, miss,” of the porter at the stage door.
So these were favourites of the footlights! And Glory Quayle was dressing and undressing them and preparing them for the stage! Next morning, before rising, Glory tried to think it out. Were they so very beautiful? Glory stretched up in bed to look at herself in the glass, and lay down again with a smile. Were they so much cleverer than other people? It was foolishness to think of it, for they were as empty as a drum. There must be some explanation if a girl could only find it out.
The second night at the theatre passed much like the first, except that the ladies were visited between the acts by a group of fellow-artistes from another company, and then the free-and-easy manners of familiar intercourse gave way to a style that was most circumspect and precise, and, after the fashion of great ladies, they talked together of morning calls and leaving cards and five-o’clock tea.
There was a scene in the performance in which the three girls sang together, and Glory crept out to the head of the stairs to listen. When she returned to the dressing-room her heart was bounding, and her eyes, as she saw them in the glass, seemed to be leaping out of her head. It was ridiculous! To think of all that fame, all that fuss about voices like those, about singing like that, while she—if she could only get a hearing!
But the cloud had chased the sunshine from her face in a moment, and she was murmuring again, “O God, do not punish a vain, presumptuous creature!”
All the same she felt happy and joyous, and on the third night she was down at the theatre earlier than the other dressers, and was singing to herself as she laid out the costumes, for her heart was beginning to be light. Suddenly she became aware of some one standing at the open door. It was an elderly man, with a bald head and an owlish face. He was the stage manager; his name was Sefton.
“Go on, my girl,” he said. “If you’ve got a voice like that, why don’t you let somebody hear it?”
Her plump ladyship arrived late that night, and her companions were dressed and waiting when she swept into the room like a bat with outstretched wings, crying: “Out o’ the wy! Betty Bellman’s coming! She’s lyte.”
There were numerous little carpings, backbitings, and hypocrisies during the evening, and they reached a climax when Betty said, “Lord Bobbie is coming to-night, my dear.” “Not if Iknow it, my love,” said the tall lady. “We are goin’ to supper at the Nell Gwynne Club, dearest.” “Surprised at ye, my darling.” “You are a nice one to preach, my pet!”
After that encounter two of their ladyships, who were kissing and hugging on the stage, were no longer on speaking terms in the dressing-room, and as soon as might be after the curtain had fallen, the tall lady and the little one swept out of the place with mysterious asides about a “friend being a friend,” and “not staying there to see nothing done shabby.”
“If she don’t like she needn’t, my dear,” said the boycotted one, and then she dismissed Glory for the night with a message to the friend who would be waiting on the stage.
The atmosphere of the dressing-room had become oppressive and stifling that night, and, notwithstanding the exaltation of her spirits since the stage manager had spoken to her, Glory was sick and ashamed. The fires of her ambition were struggling to burn under the drenching showers that had fallen upon her modesty, and she felt confused and compromised.
As she stepped down the stairs the curtain was drawn up, the auditorium was a void, the stage dark, save for a single gas jet that burned at the prompter’s wing, and a gentleman in evening dress was walking to and fro by the extinguished footlights. She was about to step up to the man when she recognised him, and turning on her heel she hurried away. It was Lord Robert Ure, and the memory that had troubled her at the first sight of Betty was of the woman who had ridden with Polly Love on the day of the Lord Mayor’s show.
Feeling hot and foolish and afraid, she was scurrying through the dark passages when some one called her. It was the stage manager.
“I should like to hear your voice again, my dear. Come down at eleven in the morning, sharp. The leader of the orchestra will be here to play.”
She made some confused answer of assent, and then found herself in the back seat, panting audibly and taking long breaths of the cold night air. She was dizzy and was feeling, as she had never felt before, that she wanted some one to lean upon. If anybody had said to her at that moment, “Come out of the atmosphere of that hot-bed, my child, it is full of danger and the germs of death,” she would have left everything behind her and followed him, whatever the cost or sacrifice. But she had no one, and the pain of her yearning and the misery of her shame were choking her.
Before going home she walked over to the hospital; but no, there was still no letter from John Storm. There was one from Drake, many days overdue:
“Dear Glory: Hearing that you call for your letters, I write to ask if you will not let me know where you are and how the world is using you. Since the day we parted in St. James’s Park I have often spoken of you to my friend Miss Macquarrie, and I am angry with myself when I remember what remarkable talents you have, and that they are only waiting for the right use to be made of them.
“Yours most kindly,
“F. H. N. Drake.”
“Many thanks, good Late-i’-th’-day,” she thought, and she was crushing the latter in her hand when she saw there was a postscript:
“P. S.—This being the Christmas season, I have given myself the pleasure of sending a parcel of Yuletide goodies to your dear old grandfather and his sweet and simple household; but as they have doubtless long forgotten me, and I do not wish to embarrass them with, unnecessary obligations, I will ask you not to help them to the identification of its source.”
She straightened out the letter and folded it, put it in her pocket and returned home. Another letter was waiting for her there. It was from the parson:
“So you sent us a Christmas-box after all! That was just like my runaway, all innocent acting and make-believe. What joy we had of it!—Rachel and myself, I mean, for we had to carry on the fiction that Aunt Anna knew nothing about it, she being vexed at the thought of our spendthrift spending so much money. Chalse brought it into the parlour while Anna was upstairs, and it might have been the ark going up to Jerusalem it entered in such solemn stillness. Oh, dear! oh, dear! The bun-loaf, and the almonds, and the cheese, and the turkey, and the pound of tobacco, and the mull of snuff! On account of Anna everything had to be conducted in great quietness, but it was a terrible leaky sort of silence, I fear, and there were hot and hissing whispers. God bless you for your thought and care of us! Coming so timely, it is like my dear one herself, a gift that cometh from the Lord; and when people ask me if I am not afraid that my granddaughter should be all alone in that great and wicked Babylon, I tell them: ‘No; you don’t know my Glory; she is all courage and nerve and power, a perfect bow of steel, quivering with sympathy and strength.'”
Christmas had come and gone at the Brotherhood, and yet the project was unfulfilled. John himself had delayed its fulfilment from one trivial cause after another. The night was too dark or not dark enough; the moon shone or was not shining. His real obstacle was his superstitious fear. The scheme was very easy of execution, and the Father himself had made it so. This, and the Father’s trust in him, had almost wrecked the enterprise. Only his own secret anxieties, which were interpreted to his consciousness by the sight of Brother Paul’s wasting face, sufficed to sustain his purpose.
“The man’s dying. It can not be unpleasing to God.”
He said this to himself again and again, as one presses the pain in one’s side to make sure it is still there. Under the shadow of the crisis his character was going to ruin. He grew cunning and hypocritical, and could do nothing that was not false in reality or appearance. When the Father passed him he would drop his head, and it was taken for contrition, and he was commended for humility.
It was now the last day of the year, and therefore the last of his duty at the door.
“It must be to-night,” he whispered, as Paul passed him.
Paul nodded. Since the plan of escape had been projected he had lost all will of his own and become passive and inert.
How the day lingered! And when the night came it dragged along with feet of lead! It seemed as if the hour of evening recreation would never end. Certain of the brothers who had been away on preaching missions throughout the country had returned for the Feast of the Circumcision, and the house was bright with fresh faces and cheerful voices. John thought he had never before heard so much laughter in the monastery.
But the bell rang for Compline, and the brothers passed into church. It was a cold night, the snow was trodden hard, and the wind was rising. The service ended, and the brothers returned to the house with clasped hands and passed up to their cells in silence, leaving Brother Paul at his penance in the church.
Finally the Father put up his hood and went out to lock the gate, and the dog, who took this for his signal, shambled up and followed him. When he returned he shuddered and shrugged his shoulders.
“A bitter night, my son,” he said. “It’s like courting death to go out in it. Heaven help all homeless wanderers on a night like this!”
He was wiping the snow from his slippers.
“So this is the last day of your penance, Brother Storm, and to-morrow morning you will join us in the community room. You have done well; you have fought a good fight and resisted the assaults of Satan. Good-night to you, my son, and God bless you!”
He took a few steps forward and then stopped. “By the way, I promised you the Life of Père Lacordaire, and you might come to my room and fetch it.”
The Father’s room was on the ground floor to the left of the staircase, and it was entered from a corridor which cut the house across the middle. The rooms that opened out of this corridor to the front looked on the courtyard, and those to the back looked across the City in the direction of the Thames. The Father’s room opened to the back. It was as bare of ornament as any of the cells, but it had a small fire, and a writing-table on which a lamp was burning.
As they entered the room together the Father hung the key of the gate on one of many hooks above the bed. It was the third hook from the end nearest the window, and the key was an old one with very few wards. John watched all this, and even observed that there were books on the floor, and that a man might stumble if he did not walk warily. The Father picked up one of them.
“This is the book, my son. A most precious document, the very mirror of a living human soul. What touched me most, perhaps, were the Father’s references to his mother. A monk may not have his mother to himself, and if the love of woman is much to him he is miserable indeed until he has fixed his eyes on the most blessed among women. But the religious life does not destroy natural affection. It only kills in order to bring forth new life. The corn of wheat dies that it may live again. That is the true Christian asceticism, my son, and so it is with our vows. Goodnight!”
As John was coming out of the Father’s room, he met Brother Andrew going into it, with clean linen over one arm and a ewer of water in the other hand. He threw on his bed in the alcove the book which the Father had given him, and sat down on the form at the door and tried to strengthen himself in his purpose.
“The man is dying for the sight of his sister. He can save her soul if he can only see her. It can not be displeasing to the Almighty.”
When he lifted his head the house was silent, except for the wind that whistled outside its walls. Presently there was a scarcely perceptible click, as of a door closing, and Brother Andrew came from the direction of the Superior’s room. John called to him and he stepped up on tip-toe, for the monk hates noise as an evil spirit. The sprawling features of the big fellow were all smiles.
“Has the Father gone to bed?” said John.
“No; half an hour ago.”
“Then he will be asleep by this time.”
“He was asleep before I left him.”
“So he doesn’t lock his door on the inside?”
“Does the Father sleep soundly?”
“Sometimes he does, and sometimes a cat would waken him.”
“Would you do something for me if I wanted, it very much?”
“You know I would.”
“Even if you had to run some risk?”
“I’m not afraid of that”
“And if I got you into trouble, perhaps?”
“But you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t get anybody into trouble.”
John could go no further. The implicit trust in the simple face was too much for him.
“What is it?” said Brother Andrew.
“Oh, nothing—nothing at all,” said John. “I was only trying you, but you are too good to be tempted, and I am ashamed. You must go to bed now.”
“Can I put out the lights for you?”
“No, I’m not ready yet. Ugh! what a cruel wind! A cold night for Brother Paul in the church.”
“Tell me, Brother Storm, what is the matter with Brother Paul? He makes me think of my mother, I don’t know why.”
John made no answer, and the lay brother began to go upstairs. Two steps up he stopped and whispered:
“Won’t you let me do something for you, then?”
“Not to-night, Brother Andrew.”
“Good-night, Brother Storm.”
“Good-night, my lad.”
John listened to his footsteps until they stopped far overhead, and then all was quiet. Only the whistling of the wind broke the stillness of the peaceful house. He slid back the grating and looked out. All was darkness except for the tiny gleam of coloured light that came from the church, where Brother Paul sat to say his Rosary.
This fortified his courage, and he got up to put out the lamps in the staircase and corridors. He began at the top, and as he came down he listened on every landing and looked carefully around. There was no sound anywhere except the light fall of his own deadened footstep. His superstitious fears came back upon him, and his restless conscience created terrors. The old London mansion, with its mystic cells, seemed full of strange shadows, and the wind howled around it like a fiend. One by one he extinguished the lamps. The last of them hung in the hall under the picture of Christ in his crown of thorns. As he put it out he thought the eyes looked at him, and he shuddered.
It was now half-past ten, and time to carry out his project. The back of his neck was aching and his breath was coming quick. With noiseless steps he walked to the door of the Father’s room and listened again. Hearing nothing, he opened the door wide and stepped into the room.
The fire was slumbering out, but it cast a faint red glow on the ceiling and on the bed. A soft light rested on the Father’s face, and he was sleeping peacefully. There was no sound except the wind in the chimney and a whistle sounding from a steamer in the river.
To reach the key, where it hung above the bed, it was necessary to step between the fire and the sleeping man. As John did so his black shadow fell on the Father’s face. He stretched out his hand for the key and found that a bunch of other keys were now hanging over it. When he removed them they jingled slightly, and then his heart stood still, but the Father did not stir, and he took the key of the gate off the hook, put the other keys back in their place, and turned to go.
The dog began to howl—somebody was playing music in the street—and the open door made the wind to roar in the chimney. The Father sighed, and John stood with a quivering heart and looked over his shoulder. But it was only a deep human sigh uttered in sleep.
At the next moment John had returned to the corridor and closed the door behind him. His throat was parched, his eyelids were twitching, and his temples were beating like drums. He went gliding along like a thief, and as he passed the picture of Christ in the darkness the wind seemed to be crying “Judas!”
Back in the hall he dropped on to the form, for his knees could support him no longer. Love and conscience, humanity and religion clamoured loud in his heart and tore him in pieces. “Traitor!” cried one. “But the man’s dying!” cried another. “Judas!” “She is hovering on the brink of hell and he may save her soul from death and damnation!” When the struggle was over, conscience and religion were worsted, and he was more cunning than before.
Then the clock chimed the three quarters, and he raised his head. The streets, usually so quiet at that hour, were becoming noisy with traffic. There were the shuffling of many feet on the hard snow and the sharp crack of voices.
He opened the great door of the house with as little noise as possible and stepped out into the courtyard. The bloodhound started from its quarters and began to growl, but he silenced it with a word, and the creature came up and licked his hand. He crossed the court with quick and noiseless footsteps, lifted the latch of the sacristy and pushed through into the church.
There was a low, droning sound in the empty place. It ran a space and was then sucked in like the sound of the sea at the harbour steps. Brother Paul was sitting in the chancel with a lamp on the stall by his side. His head leaned forward, his eyes were closed, and the light on his thin face made it look pallid and lifeless. John called to him in a whisper.
He rose quickly and followed John into the courtyard, looking wild and weak and lost.
“But the lamp—I’ve forgotten it,” he said. “Shall I go back and put it out?”
“How simple you are!” said John. “Somebody may be lying awake in the house. Do you want him to see that you’ve left your penance an hour too soon?”
“Come this way—quietly.”
They passed on tip-toe to the passage leading to the street, where some flickering gleams of the light without fell over them.
“Where’s your hat?” said John.
“I forgot that too—I left it in the church.”
“Take mine,” said John, “and put up your hood and button your cassock—it’s a cruel night.”
“But I’m afraid,” said Paul.
“Afraid of what?”
“Now that the time has come I’m afraid to learn the truth about her. After all uncertainty is hope, you know, and then——”
“Tut! Be a man! Don’t give way at the last moment. Here, tie my handkerchief about your neck! How helpless you are, though! I’ve half a mind to go myself instead.”
“But you don’t know what I want to say, and if you did you couldn’t say it.”
“Then listen! Are you listening?”
“Go to the hospital where your sister used to be a nurse.”
“Ask for Nurse Quayle—will you remember?”
“If she is on night duty she will see you at once. But if she is on day duty she may be in bed and asleep, and in that case——”
“Here, take this letter. Have you got it?”
“Give it to the porter. Tell him it comes from the former chaplain—you remember. Say it concerns a matter of great importance, and ask him to send it up to the dormitories immediately. Then——”
“Then she must tell you what to do next.”
“But if she is out?”
“She may be-this is New Year’s Eve.”
“Wait in the porch till she comes in again.”
John’s impetuous will was carrying everything before it, and the helpless creature began to overwhelm him with grateful blessings.
“Pooh! We’ll not talk of that…. Have you any money?”
“Neither have I. I brought nothing here except the little in my purse, and I gave that up on entering.”
“I don’t want any—I can walk.”
“It will take you an hour then.”
A clock was striking somewhere. “Hush! One, two, three … eleven o’clock. It will be midnight when you get there. Now go!”
The key was grating in the lock of the gate. “Remember Lauds at six in the morning.”
“I’ll be back at five.”
“And I’ll open the gate at 5.30. Only six hours to do everything.”
“What is it?”
Paul was in the street, but John was in the darkness of the passage.
“Very likely you’ll cross London in a cab with her.”
“Your sister went to live somewhere in St. John’s Wood, I remember.”
“St. John’s Wood?”
“Tell her”—John was striving to keep his voice firm—”tell her I am happy—and cheerful—and looking strong and well, you know.”
“But you’re not. You’re too good, and you’re wearing away in my——”
“Tell her I am often thinking of her, and if she has anything to say—anything to send—any word—any message … it can’t be displeasing to the Almighty…. But no matter! Go, go!”
The key had grated in the lock again, the lay brother was gone, and John was left alone.
“God pity and forgive me!” he muttered, and then he turned away.
The traffic in the streets was increasing every moment, and as he stumbled across the courtyard a drunken man going by the gate stopped and cried into the passage, “Helloa, there! I’m a-watchin’ of ye!” The bloodhound leaped up and barked, but John hurried into the house and clashed the door.
He sat on the form and tried to compose himself. He thought of Paul as he had seen him at the last moment—the captured eagle with the broken wing scudding into the night, the night of London, but free, free!
In his mind’s eye he followed him through the streets—down Bishopsgate Street into Threadneedle Street and along Cheapside to St. Paul’s churchyard. Crowds of people would be there to-night waiting for the striking of the clock at midnight that they might raise a shout and wish each other a happy New Year.
That made him think of Glory. She would be there too, for she loved a rich and abounding life. He could see her quite plainly in the midst of the throng with her sparkling eyes and bounding step. It would be so new to her, so human and so beautiful! Glory! Always Glory!
He thought he must have been dreaming, for suddenly the clocks were all striking, first the clock in the hall, then the clocks of the churches round about, and finally the great clock of the cathedral. Almost at the same moment there was a distant sound like the rattle of musketry, and then the church bells began to ring.
The noises in the street were now tumultuous. People were shouting and laughing. Some of them were singing. At one moment it was the Salvation chorus, at the next a music-hall ditty. First “At the Cross, at the Cross,” then “Mr. ‘enry ‘awkins,” and then an unfamiliar ditty. With measured steps over the hardened snow of the pavement there came tramping along a line of boys and girls, crying:
D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gay?
D’ye ken John Peel at the break of day?
D’ye ken John P-e-e-l——
Their shrill trebles broke like a rocket on the topmost note, and there was loud laughter.
Glory again! Always, always Glory!
Then the scales fell from his eyes and he saw himself as he was, a self-deluded man and a cheat. The impulses that had prompted him to this night’s work had really centred in Glory. It had been Glory first and Glory last, and his pity for Brother Paul and his fear for the fate of Polly had been only a falsehood and pretence.
The night wind was still howling about the house. Its noise mingled with the peal of the church bells, and together they seemed to utter the voices of mocking fiends: Judas! Traitor! Fool! Fool! Traitor! Judas!
He covered his ears with his hands and his head fell into his breast.
“The Little Turnstile,
“New Year’s Eve.
“Feeling like bottled yeast this evening and liable to go off, I thank my stars I have three old babies at home to whom I am bound to tell everything. So lizzen, lizzen for all! Know ye then, all men (and women) by these presents that there is a gentleman in London who predicts wonderful things for Glory. His name is Sefton, and I came to know him through three ladies—I call them the Three Graces—whose acquaintance I have made by coming to live here. He is only an old mushroom with a bald, white head; and if I believed everything their ladyships say I should conclude that he is one of those who never sin except twice a year, and that is all the time before Christmas and all the time after it. But their Graces belong to that saintly sisterhood who would take away the devil’s character if they needed it (they don’t), and though the mushroom’s honour were as scarce as the middle cut in salmon, yet in common loyalty Glory would have to believe in it.
“It is all about my voice. Hearing it by accident when I was humming about the house like a blue-bottle, he asked me to let him hear it again in a place where he could judge of it to more advantage. That turned out to be a theatre—yes, indeed, a theatre—but it was the middle of the morning, and nobody was there except ourselves and a couple of cleaners, so Aunt Anna needn’t be afraid. Yes, the chief of the orchestra was present, and he sat before a piano on the edge of the maelstrom, in what we should call the High Bailiff’s pews—but they call them the stalls—while the mushroom himself went back to the cavernous depths of the body, which in a theatre they have properly christened the pit, and this morning it looked like the bottomless one.
“Lor’-a-massey! Ever see the inside of a theatre in the daytime? Of course you’ve not, my dears. It is what the world itself was the day before the first day—without form and void, and darkness is on the face of the deep. Not a ray of daylight anywhere, except the adulterated kind that comes mooching round corridors and prowling in at half-open doors, and floating through the sepulchral gloom like the sleepy eyes of the monsters that terrified me in the caves at Gob-ny-Deigan when I used to play pirate, you remember.
“The gentlemen had left me alone on the stage with five or six footlights—which they ought to call face-lights—flashing in my eyes, and when the pianist began to vamp and I to sing it was like pitching my voice into a tunnel, and I became so dreadfully nervous that I was forced to laugh. That seemed to vex my unseen audience, who thought me ‘rot'; so I said, ‘Let there be more light then.’ and there was more light, ‘and let the piano cease from troubling,’ and it was so. Then I just stiffened my back and gave them one of mother’s French songs, and after the first verse I called out to the manager at the back,” Can you hear me?’ and he called back, ‘Go on; it’s splendid!’ So I did ‘Mylecharaine’ in the Manx, and I suppose I acted both of my songs; but I was only beginning to be aware that my voice in that great place was a little less like a barrel-organ than usual when suddenly there came a terrific clatter, such as comes with the seventh wave on the shingle, and my two dear men in the dark were clapping the skin of their hands off!
“Oh, my dears! my dears! If you only knew how for weeks and weeks I had been moaning and lamenting that it was because I wasn’t clever that people took no notice of me, you would forgive a vain creature when she said to herself, ‘My daughter, you are really somebody, after all—you, you, you!’ It was a beautiful moment, though, and when the old mushroom came back to the stage saying: ‘What a voice! What expression! What nature!’ I felt like falling on his bald head and kissing it, not being able to speak for lumps in the throat and feeling like the Methodist lady who poured out whisky for the class leaders after they had presented her with a watch, and then told the reporters to say she had suitably responded.
“Heigho! I have talked about the fashionable people I meet in London, but I don’t want to be one of them. They do nothing but rush about, dress, gossip, laugh, love, and plunge into all the delights of life. That is not my idea of existence. I am ambitious. I want to do something. I am tired in my soul of doing nothing. Yes, it has been that all along, though I didn’t like to tell you so before. There are people who are born in the midst of greatness and they don’t know how to use it. But to be one of the world’s celebrities, that is so different! To have won the heart of the world, so that the world knows you and thinks of you and loves you! Say it is by your voice you do it and that your world is the concert hall, or even the music hall—what matter? You needn’t live music hall, whatever the life inside of it. And then that great dark void peopled with faces; that laugh or cry just as you please to make them—confess; that it would be magnificent, my dear ones!
“I am to go again to-night to hear what Mr. Sefton has to propose, but already this dingy little bedroom smiles upon me, and even the broken tiles in the backyard might be the pavement of paradise! If it is true what he tells me—-Well, he that hath the bride is the bridegroom, and if my doings hereafter don’t make your hair curl I will try to show the inhabitants of this stupid old earth what a woman can do in spite of every disadvantage. I shall not be sorry to leave this place either. The rats in these old London houses (judging by their cries of woe) hold a nightly carnival for the eating up of the younger members of the family. And then Mrs. Jupe and Mr. Jupe—Mr. Dupe I call him—she deceives him so dreadfully with her gadding about——But anon, anon, good people!
“It is New Year’s Eve to-day, and nearly nine months since I came up to London. Tempus fugit! In fact tempus is fugit-ing most fearfully, considering that I am twenty-one on Sunday next, you know, and that I haven’t begun to do anything really. The snowdrops must be making a peep at Glenfaba by this time, and Aunt Rachel will be cutting slips of the rose trees and putting them in pots. Yandher place must he urromassy [* Out of mercy.] nice though, with snow on the roof and the sloping lawn, and the windows glistening with frost—just like a girl in her confirmation veil as she stands hack to look at herself in the glass. I intend to see the New Year in this time on the outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral, where people congregate in thousands as twelve o’clock approaches to carry on the beautiful fiction that there is still only one clock in London, and they have to hold their noses in the air to watch for the moment when it is going to strike. But in the midst of the light and life of this splendid city I know my heart will go back with a tender twinge to the little dark streets on the edge of the sea, where the Methodist choirs will be singing, ‘Hail, smiling morn,’ preparatory to coffee and currant cake.
“Who will be your ‘first foot’ this year, I wonder? It was John Storm last year, you remember, and being as dark as a gipsy, he made a perfect qualtagh. [* Manx for “first foot.”] And how we laughed when, disguised in the snow that was falling at the time, he pretended to be a beggar and came in just as grandfather was reading the bit about the Good Shepherd, and how he loved his lambs—and then I found him out! Ah me!
“I am looking perfectly dazzling in a new hat to-day, having been going about hitherto in one of those little frights that used to be cocked up on the top of your hair like a hen on a cornstack. But now I am carrying about the Prince of Wales’s feathers, and if he could only see me himself in them!——
“You see what a scatter-brained creature I am! Leaving the hospital has made me grow so much younger every day that I am almost afraid I may come to contemplate short frocks. But really it’s the first time I’ve looked nice for an eternity, and now I entirely retract and repent me of all I said about wishing to be a man. Being a girl, I’ll put up with it, and if all the old mushroom says on that head also is true—— But then men are such funny things, bless them! Glory.
“P.S.—No word from John Storm yet. Apparently he never thinks of us now—of me at all events—and I suppose he has resigned himself and taken the vows. That’s one kind of religion, I dare say, but I can’t understand it; and I don’t know how a dog, even, can be nailed up to a wall and not go mad. In the night lying in bed I sometimes think of him. A dark cell, a bench for a bed, a crucifix, and no other furniture, praying with trembling limbs and chattering teeth—No; such things are too high for me; I can not reach to them.
“It seems impossible that he can be in London too. What a place this London is! Such a mixture! Fashion, religion, gaiety, devotion, pride, depravity, wealth, poverty! I find that for a girl to succeed in London her moral colour must be heightened a little. Pinjane [* Manx dish, like Devonshire junket] alone won’t do. Give her a slush of pissaves [* Preserves] and she’ll go down sweeter. Angels are not wanted here at all. The only angels there are in London are kept framed in the church windows, and I half suspect that even they were women once, and liked bread and butter. And then Nell Gwynne’s flag floats from the steeple of St. Martin’s in the Fields, and now and again they ring the bells for her!”