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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNot George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 9. Julian Learns My Secret
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Not George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 9. Julian Learns My Secret Post by :jon1my Category :Long Stories Author :P G Wodehouse Date :May 2012 Read :3003

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Not George Washington: An Autobiographical Novel - Part Two. James Orlebar Cloyster's Narrative - Chapter 9. Julian Learns My Secret

_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)


A difficulty in the life of a literary man in London is the question of getting systematic exercise. At school and college I had been accustomed to play games every day, and now I felt the change acutely.

It was through this that I first became really intimate with John Hatton, and incidentally with Sidney Price, of the Moon Assurance Company. I happened to mention my trouble one night in Hatton's rooms. I had been there frequently since my first visit.

"None of my waistcoats fit," I remarked.

"My dear fellow," said Hatton, "I'll give you exercise and to spare; that is to say, if you can box."

"I'm not a champion," I said; "but I'm fond of it. I shouldn't mind taking up boxing again. There's nothing like it for exercise."

"Quite right, James," he replied; "and exercise, as I often tell my boys, is essential."

"What boys?" I asked.

"My club boys," said Hatton. "They belong to the most dingy quarter of the whole of London--South Lambeth. They are not hooligans. They are not so interesting as that. They represent the class of youth that is a stratum or two above hooliganism. Frightful weeds. They lack the robust animalism of the class below them, and they lack the intelligence of the class above them. The fellows at my club are mostly hard-working mechanics and under-paid office boys. They have nothing approaching a sense of humour or the instinct of sport."

"Not very encouraging," I said.

"Nor picturesque," said Hatton; "and that is why they've been so neglected. There is romance in an out-and-out hooligan. It interests people to reform him. But to the outsider my boys are dull. I don't find them so. But then I know them. Boxing lessons are just what they want. In fact, I was telling Sidney Price, an insurance clerk who lives in Lambeth and helps me at the club, only yesterday how much I wished we could teach them to use the gloves."

"I'll take it on, then, Hatton, if you like," I said. "It ought to keep me in form."

I found that it did. I ceased to be aware of my liver. That winter I was able to work to good purpose, and the result was that I arrived. It dawned upon me at last that the "precarious" idea was played out. One could see too plainly the white sheet and phosphorus.

And I was happy. Happier, perhaps, than I had ever hoped to be. Happier, in a sense, than I can hope to be again. I had congenial work, and, what is more, I had congenial friends.

What friends they were!

Julian--I seem to see him now sprawling in his hammock, sucking his pipe, planning an advertisement, or propounding some whimsical theory of life; and in his eyes he bears the pain of one whose love and life are spoilt. Julian--no longer my friend.

Kit and Malim--what evenings are suggested by those names.

Evenings alone with Malim at his flat in Vernon Place. An unimpeachable dinner, a hand at picquet, midnight talk with the blue smoke wreathing round our heads.

Well, Malim and I are unlikely to meet again in Vernon Place. Nor shall we foregather at the little house in the Hampstead Road, the house which Kit enveloped in an inimitable air of domesticity. Her past had not been unconnected with the minor stage. She could play on the piano from ear, and sing the songs of the street with a charming cockney twang. But there was nothing of the stage about her now. She was born for domesticity and, as the wife of Malim, she wished to forget all that had gone before. She even hesitated to give us her wonderful imitations of the customers at the fried fish shop, because in her heart she did not think such impersonations altogether suitable for a respectable married woman.

It was Malim who got me elected to the Barrel Club. I take it that I shall pay few more visits there.

I have mentioned at this point the love of my old friends who made my first years in London a period of happiness, since it was in this month of April that I had a momentous conversation with Julian about Margaret.

He had come to Walpole Street to use my typewriter, and seemed amazed to find that I was still living in much the same style as I had always done.

"Let me see," he said. "How long is it since I was here last?"

"You came some time before Christmas."

"Ah, yes," he said reminiscently. "I was doing a lot of travelling just then." And he added, thoughtfully, "What a curious fellow you are, Jimmy. Here are you making----" He glanced at me.

"Oh, say a thousand a year."

"--Fifteen hundred a year, and you live in precisely the same shoddy surroundings as you did when your manuscripts were responsible for an extra size in waste-paper baskets. I was surprised to hear that you were still in Walpole Street. I supposed that, at any rate, you had taken the whole house."

His eyes raked the little sitting-room from the sham marble mantelpiece to the bamboo cabinet. I surveyed it, too, and suddenly it did seem unnecessarily wretched and depressing.

Julian looked at me curiously.

"There's some mystery here," he said.

"Don't be an ass, Julian," I replied weakly.

"It's no good denying it," he retorted; "there's some mystery. You're a materialist. You don't live like this from choice. If you were to follow your own inclinations, you'd do things in the best style you could run to. You'd be in Jermyn Street; you'd have your man, a cottage in Surrey; you'd entertain, go out a good deal. You'd certainly give up these dingy quarters. My friendship for you deplores a mammoth skeleton in your cupboard, James. My study of advertising tells me that this paltry existence of yours does not adequately push your name before the public. You're losing money, you're----"

"Stop, Julian," I exclaimed.

"_Cherchez_," he continued, "_cherchez_----"

"Stop! Confound you, stop! I tell you----"

"Come," he said laughing. "I mustn't force your confidence; but I can't help feeling it's odd----"

"When I came to London," I said, firmly, "I was most desperately in love. I was to make a fortune, incidentally my name, marry, and live happily ever after. There seemed last year nothing complex about that programme. It seemed almost too simple. I even, like a fool, thought to add an extra touch of piquancy to it by endeavouring to be a Bohemian. I then discovered that what I was attempting was not so simple as I had imagined. To begin with, Bohemians diffuse their brains in every direction except that where bread-and-butter comes from. I found, too, that unless one earns bread-and-butter, one has to sprint very fast to the workhouse door to prevent oneself starving before one gets there; so I dropped Bohemia and I dropped many other pleasant fictions as well. I took to examining pavements, saw how hard they were, had a look at the gutters, and saw how broad they were. I noticed the accumulation of dirt on the house fronts, the actual proportions of industrial buildings. I observed closely the price of food, clothes, and roofs."

"You became a realist."

"Yes; I read a good deal of Gissing about then, and it scared me. I pitied myself. And after that came pity for the girl I loved. I swore that I would never let her come to my side in the ring where the monster Poverty and I were fighting. If you've been there you've been in hell. And if you come out with your soul alive you can't tell other people what it felt like. They couldn't understand."

Julian nodded. "I understand, you know," he said gravely.

"Yes, you've been there," I said. "Well, you've seen that my little turn-up with the monster was short and sharp. It wasn't one of the old-fashioned, forty-round, most-of-a-lifetime, feint-for-an-opening, in-and-out affairs. Our pace was too fast for that. We went at it both hands, fighting all the time. I was going for the knock-out in the first round. Not your method, Julian."

"No," said Julian; "it's not my method. I treat the monster rather as a wild animal than as a hooligan; and hearing that wild animals won't do more than sniff at you if you lie perfectly still, I adopted that ruse towards him to save myself the trouble of a conflict. But the effect of lying perfectly still was that I used to fall asleep; and that works satisfactorily."

"Julian," I said, "I detect a touch of envy in your voice. You try to keep it out, but you can't. Wait a bit, though. I haven't finished.

"As you know, I had the monster down in less than no time. I said to myself, 'I've won. I'll write to Margaret, and tell her so!' Do you know I had actually begun to write the letter when another thought struck me. One that started me sweating and shaking. 'The monster,' I said again to myself, 'the monster is devilish cunning. Perhaps he's only shamming! It looks as if he were beaten. Suppose it's only a feint to get me off my guard. Suppose he just wants me to take my eyes off him so that he may get at me again as soon as I've begun to look for a comfortable chair and a mantelpiece to rest my feet on!' I told myself that I wouldn't risk bringing Margaret over. I didn't dare chance her being with me if ever I had to go back into the ring. So I kept jumping and stamping on the monster. The referee had given me the fight and had gone away; and, with no one to stop me, I kicked the life out of him."

"No, you didn't," interrupted Julian. "Excuse me, I'm sure you didn't. I often wake up and hear him prowling about."

"Yes; but there's a separate monster set apart for each of us. It's Fate who arranges the programme, and, by stress of business, Fate postpones many contests so late that before they can take place the man has died. Those who die before their fight comes on are called rich men. To return, however, to my own monster: I was at last convinced that he was dead a thousand times----"

"How long have you had this conviction?" asked Julian.

"The absolute certainty that my monster has ceased to exist came to me this morning whilst I brushed my hair."

"Ah," said Julian; "and now, I suppose, you really will write to Miss Margaret----" He paused.

"Goodwin?"

"To Miss Margaret Goodwin," he repeated.

"Look here, Julian," I said irritably; "it's no use your repeating every observation I make as though you were Massa Johnson on Margate Sands."

"What's the matter?"

I was silent for a moment. Then I confessed.

"Julian," I said, "I can't write to her. You need neither say that I'm a blackguard nor that you're sorry for us both. At this present moment I've no more affection for Margaret than I have for this chair. When precisely I left off caring for her I don't know. Why I ever thought I loved her I don't know, either. But ever since I came to London all the love I did have for her has been ebbing away every day."

"Had you met many people before you met her?" asked Julian slowly.

"No one that counted. Not a woman that counted, that's to say. I am shy with women. I can talk to them in a sort of way, but I never seem able to get intimate. Margaret was different. She saved my life, and we spent the summer in Guernsey together."

"And you seriously expected not to fall in love?" Julian laughed "My dear Jimmy, you ought to write a psychological novel."

"Possibly. But, in the meantime, what am I to do?"

Julian stood up.

"She's in love with you, I suppose?"

"Yes."

He stood looking at me.

"Well, can't you speak?" I said.

He turned away, shrugging his shoulders. "One's got one's own right and one's own wrong," he grumbled, lighting his pipe.

"I know what you're thinking," I said.

He would not look at me.

"You're thinking," I went on, "what a cad I am not to have written that letter." I sat down resting my head on my hands. After all--love and liberty--they're both very sweet.

"I'm thinking," said Julian, watching the smoke from his pipe abstractedly, "that you will probably write tonight; and I think I know how you're feeling."

"Julian," I said, "must it be tonight? Why? The letter shall go. But must it be tonight?"

Julian hesitated.

"No," he said; "but you've made up your mind, so why put off the inevitable?"

"I can't," I exclaimed; "oh, I really can't. I must have my freedom a little longer."

"You must give it up some day. It'll be all the harder when you've got to face it."

"I don't mind that. A little more freedom, just a little; and then I'll tell her to come to me."

He smoked in silence.

"Surely," I said, "this little more freedom that I ask is a small thing compared with the sacrifice I have promised to make?"

"You won't let her know it's a sacrifice?"

"Of course not. She shall think that I love her as I used to."

"Yes, you ought to do that," he said softly. "Poor devil," he added.

"Am I too selfish?" I asked.

He got up to go. "No," he said. "To my mind, you're entitled to a breathing space before you give up all that you love best. But there's a risk."

"Of what?"

"Of her finding out by some other means than yourself and before your letter comes, that the letter should have been written earlier. Do you sign all your stuff with your own name?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, she's bound to see how you're getting on. She'll see your name in the magazines, in newspapers and in books. She'll know you don't write for nothing, and she'll make calculations."

I was staggered.

"You mean--?" I said.

"Why, it will occur to her before long that your statement of your income doesn't square with the rest of the evidence; and she'll wonder why you pose as a pauper when you're really raking in the money with both hands. She'll think it over, and then she'll see it all."

"I see," I said, dully. "Well, you've taken my last holiday from me. I'll write to her tonight, telling her the truth."

"I shouldn't, necessarily. Wait a week or two. You may quite possibly hit on some way out of the difficulty. I'm bound to say, though, I can't see one myself at the moment."

"Nor can I," I said.

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_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued) I saw a great deal of Malim after that. He and Julian became my two chief mainstays when I felt in need of society. Malim was a man of delicate literary skill, a genuine lover of books, a severe critic of modern fiction. Our tastes were in the main identical, though it was always a blow to me that he could see nothing humorous in Mr. George Ade, whose Fables I knew nearly by heart. The more robust type of humour left him cold. In all other respects we agreed. There is a never-failing fascination in
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