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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Kelver: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 5
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Paul Kelver: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 5 Post by :surfcat Category :Long Stories Author :Jerome K Jerome Date :May 2012 Read :2107

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Paul Kelver: A Novel - Book 2 - Chapter 5

BOOK II CHAPTER V

HOW ON A SWEET GREY MORNING THE FUTURE CAME TO PAUL.

Over our supper Dan and I exchanged histories. They revealed points of similarity. Leaving school some considerable time earlier than myself, Dan had gone to Cambridge; but two years later, in consequence of the death of his father, of a wound contracted in the Indian Mutiny and never cured, had been compelled to bring his college career to an untimely termination.

"You might not have expected that to grieve me," said Dan, with a smile, "but, as a matter of fact, it was a severe blow to me. At Cambridge I discovered that I was by temperament a scholar. The reason why at school I took no interest in learning was because learning was, of set purpose, made as uninteresting as possible. Like a Cook's tourist party through a picture gallery, we were rushed through education; the object being not that we should see and understand, but that we should be able to say that we had done it. At college I chose my own subjects, studied them in my own way. I fed on knowledge, was not stuffed with it like a Strassburg goose."

Returning to London, he had taken a situation in a bank, the chairman of which had been an old friend of his father. The advantage was that while earning a small income he had time to continue his studies; but the deadly monotony of the work had appalled him, and upon the death of his mother he had shaken the cloying dust of the City from his brain and joined a small "fit-up" theatrical company. On the stage he had remained for another eighteen months; had played all roles, from "Romeo" to "Paul Pry," had helped to paint the scenery, had assisted in the bill-posting. The latter, so he told me, he had found one of the most difficult of accomplishments, the paste-laden poster having an innate tendency to recoil upon the amateur's own head, and to stick there. Wearying of the stage proper, he had joined a circus company, had been "Signor Ricardo, the daring bare-back rider," also one of the "Brothers Roscius in their marvellous trapeze act;" inclining again towards respectability, had been a waiter for three months at Ostend; from that, a footman.

"One never knows," remarked Dan. "I may come to be a society novelist; if so, inside knowledge of the aristocracy will give me decided advantage over the majority of my competitors."

Other callings he had sampled: had tramped through Ireland with a fiddle; through Scotland with a lecture on Palestine, assisted by dissolving views; had been a billiard-marker; next a schoolmaster. For the last three months he had been a journalist, dramatic and musical critic to a Sunday newspaper. Often had I dreamt of such a position for myself.

"How did you obtain it?" I asked.

"The idea occurred to me," replied Dan, "late one afternoon, sauntering down the Strand, wondering what I should do next. I was on my beam ends, with only a few shillings in my pocket; but luck has always been with me. I entered the first newspaper office I came to, walked upstairs to the first floor, and opening the first door without knocking, passed through a small, empty room into a larger one, littered with books and papers. It was growing dark. A gentleman of extremely youthful figure was running round and round, cursing to himself because of three things: he had upset the ink, could not find the matches, and had broken the bell-pull. In the gloom, assuming him to be the office boy, I thought it would be fun to mistake him for the editor. As a matter of fact, he turned out to be the editor. I lit the gas for him, and found him another ink-pot. He was a slim young man with the voice and manner of a schoolboy. I don't suppose he is any more than five or six-and-twenty. He owes his position to the fact of his aunt's being the proprietress. He asked me if he knew me. Before I could tell him that he didn't, he went on talking. He appeared to be labouring under a general sense of injury.

"'People come into this office,' he said; 'they seem to look upon it as a shelter from the rain--people I don't know from Adam. And that damned fool downstairs lets them march straight up--anybody, men with articles on safety valves, people who have merely come to kick up a row about something or another. Half my work I have to do on the stairs.

"I recommended to him that he should insist upon strangers writing their business upon a slip of paper. He thought it a good idea.

"'For the last three-quarters of an hour,' he said, 'have I been trying to finish this one column, and four times have I been interrupted.'

"At that precise moment there came another knock at the door.

"'I won't see him!' he cried. 'I don't care who he is; I won't see him. Send him away! Send everybody away!'

"I went to the door. He was an elderly gentleman. He made to sweep by me; but I barred his way, and closed the editorial door behind me. He seemed surprised; but I told him it was impossible for him to see the editor that afternoon, and suggested his writing his business on a sheet of paper, which I handed to him for the purpose. I remained in that ante-room for half an hour, and during that time I suppose I must have sent away about ten or a dozen people. I don't think their business could have been important, or I should have heard about it afterwards. The last to come was a tired-looking gentleman, smoking a cigarette. I asked him his name.

"He looked at me in surprise, and then answered, 'Idiot!'

"I remained firm, however, and refused to let him pass.

"'It's a bit awkward,' he retorted. 'Don't you think you could make an exception in favour of the sub-editor on press night?'

"I replied that such would be contrary to my instructions.

"'Oh, all right,' he answered. 'I'd like to know who's going to the Royalty to-night, that's all. It's seven o'clock already.'

"An idea occurred to me. If the sub-editor of a paper doesn't know whom to send to a theatre, it must mean that the post of dramatic critic on that paper is for some reason or another vacant.

"'Oh, that's all right,' I told him. 'I shall be in time enough.'

"He appeared neither pleased nor displeased. 'Have you arranged with the Guv'nor?' he asked me.

"'I'm just waiting to see him again for a few minutes,' I returned. 'It'll be all right. Have you got the ticket?'

"'Haven't seen it,' he replied.

"'About a column?' I suggested.

"'Three-quarters,' he preferred, and went.

"The moment he was gone, I slipped downstairs and met a printer's boy coming up.

"'What's the name of your sub?' I asked him. 'Tall man with a black moustache, looks tired.'

"'Oh, you mean Penton,' explained the boy.

"'That's the name,' I answered; 'couldn't think of it.'

"I walked straight into the editor; he was still irritable. 'What is it? What is it now?' he snapped out.

"'I only want the ticket for the Royalty Theatre,' I answered. 'Penton says you've got it.'

"'I don't know where it is,' he growled.

"I found it after some little search upon his desk.

"'Who's going?' he asked.

"'I am,' I said. And I went.

"They have never discovered to this day that I appointed myself. Penton thinks I am some relation of the proprietress, and in consequence everybody treats me with marked respect. Mrs. Wallace herself, the proprietress, thinks I am the discovery of Penton, in whose judgment she has great faith; and with her I get on admirably. The paper I don't think is doing too well, and the salary is small, but sufficient. Journalism suits my temperament, and I dare say I shall keep to it."

"You've been somewhat of a rolling stone hitherto," I commented.

He laughed. "From the stone's point of view," he answered, "I never could see the advantage of being smothered in moss. I should always prefer remaining the stone, unhidden, able to move and see about me. But now, to speak of other matters, what are your plans for the immediate future? Your opera, thanks to the gentlemen, the gods have dubbed 'Goggles,' will, I fancy, run through the winter. Are you getting any salary?"

"Thirty shillings a week," I explained to him, "with full salary for matinees."

"Say two pounds," he replied. "With my three we could set up an establishment of our own. I have an idea that is original. Shall we work it out together?"

I assured him with fervour that nothing would please me better.

"There are four delightful rooms in Queen's Square," he continued. "They are charmingly furnished: a fine sitting-room in the front, with two bedrooms and a kitchen behind. Their last tenant was a Polish Revolutionary, who, three months ago, poor fellow, was foolish enough to venture back to Russia, and who is now living rent free. The landlord of the house is an original old fellow, Deleglise the engraver. He occupies the rest of the house himself. He has told me I can have the rooms for anything I like to offer, and I should suggest thirty shillings a week, though under ordinary circumstances they would be worth three or four pounds. But he will only let us have them on the understanding that we 'do for' ourselves. He is quite an oddity. He hates petticoats, especially elderly petticoats. He has one servant, an old Frenchwoman, who, I believe, was housekeeper to his mother, and he and she do the housework together, most of their time quarrelling over it. Nothing else of the genus domestic female will he allow inside the door; not even an occasional charwoman would be permitted to us. On the other hand, it is a beautiful old Georgian house, with Adams mantelpieces, a stone staircase, and oak-panelled rooms; and our portion would be the entire second floor: no pianos and no landlady. He is a widower with one child, a girl of about fourteen or maybe a little older. Now, what do you say? I am a very fair cook; will you be house-and-parlour-maid?"

I needed no pressing. A week later we were installed there, and for nearly two years we lived there. At the risk of offending an adorable but somewhat touchy sex, convinced that man, left to himself, is capable of little more than putting himself to bed, and that only in a rough-and-ready fashion, truth compels me to record the fact that without female assistance or supervision of any kind we passed through those two years, and yet exist to tell the tale. Dan had not idly boasted. Better plain cooking I never want to taste; so good a cup of coffee, omelette, or devilled kidney I rarely have tasted. Had he always confined his efforts within the boundaries of his abilities, there would be little to record beyond continuous and monotonous success. But stirred into dangerous ambition at the call of an occasional tea or supper party, lured out of his depths by the example of old Deleglise, our landlord--a man who for twenty years had made cooking his hobby--Dan would at intervals venture upon experiment. Pastry, it became evident, was a thing he should never have touched: his hand was heavy and his temperament too serious. There was a thing called lemon sponge, necessitating much beating of eggs. In the cookery-book--a remarkably fat volume, luscious with illustrations of highly-coloured food--it appeared an airy and graceful structure of dazzling whiteness. Served as Dan sent it to table, it suggested rather in form and colour a miniature earthquake. Spongy it undoubtedly was. One forced it apart with the assistance of one's spoon and fork; it yielded with a gentle tearing sound. Another favourite dainty of his was manna-cake. Concerning it I would merely remark that if it in any way resembled anything the Children of Israel were compelled to eat, then there is explanation for that fretfulness and discontent for which they have been, perhaps, unjustly blamed--some excuse even for their backward-flung desires in the direction of the Egyptian fleshpots. Moses himself may have been blessed with exceptional digestion. It was substantial, one must say that for it. One slice of it--solid, firm, crusty on the outside, towards the centre marshy--satisfied most people to a sense of repletion. For supper parties Dan would essay trifles--by no means open to the criticism of being light as air--souffle's that guests, in spite of my admonishing kicks, would persist in alluding to as pudding; and in winter-time, pancakes. Later, as regards these latter, he acquired some skill; but at first the difficulty was the tossing. I think myself a safer plan would have been to turn them by the aid of a knife and fork; it is less showy, but more sure. At least, you avoid all danger of catching the half-baked thing upon your head instead of in the pan, of dropping it into the fire, or among the cinders. But "Thorough" was always Dan's motto; and after all, small particles of coal or a few hairs can always be detected by the careful feeder, and removed.

A more even-tempered man than Dan for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four surely never breathed. It was a revelation to me to discover that for the other he could be uncertain, irritable, even ungrateful. At first, in a spirit of pure good nature, I would offer him counsel and advice; explain to him why, as it seemed to me, the custard was pimply, the mayonnaise sauce suggestive of hair oil. What was my return? Sneers, insult and abuse, followed, if I did not clear out quickly, by spoilt tomatoes, cold coffee grounds--anything that happened to be handy. Pained, saddened, I would withdraw, he would kick the door to after me. His greatest enemy appeared to be the oven. The oven it was that set itself to thwart his best wrought schemes. Always it was the oven's fault that the snowy bun appeared to have been made of red sandstone, the macaroni cheese of Cambrian clay. One might have sympathised with him more had his language been more restrained. As it was, the virulence of his reproaches almost inclined one to take the part of the oven.

Concerning our house-maid, I can speak in terms of unqualified praise. There are, alas, fussy house-maids--who has not known and suffered them?--who overdo the thing, have no repose, no instinct telling them when to ease up and let the place alone. I have always held the perpetual stirring up of dust a scientific error; left to itself, it is harmless, may even be regarded as a delicate domestic bloom, bestowing a touch of homeliness upon objects that without it gleam cold and unsympathetic. Let sleeping dogs lie. Why be continually waking up the stuff, filling the air with all manner of unhealthy germs? Nature in her infinite wisdom has ordained that upon table, floor, or picture frame it shall sink and settle. There it remains, quiet and inoffensive; there it will continue to remain so long as nobody interferes with it: why worry it? So also with crumbs, odd bits of string, particles of egg-shell, stumps of matches, ends of cigarettes: what fitter place for such than under the nearest mat? To sweep them up is tiresome work. They cling to the carpet, you get cross with them, curse them for their obstinacy, and feel ashamed of yourself for your childishness. For every one you do persuade into the dust-pan, two jump out again. You lose your temper, feel bitter towards the man that dropped them. Your whole character becomes deteriorated. Under the mat they are always willing to go. Compromise is true statesmanship. There will come a day when you will be glad of an excuse for not doing something else that you ought to be doing. Then you can take up the mats and feel quite industrious, contemplating the amount of work that really must be done--some time or another.

To differentiate between the essential and the non-essential, that is where woman fails. In the name of common sense, what is the use of washing a cup that half an hour later is going to be made dirty again? If the cat be willing and able to so clean a plate that not one speck of grease remain upon it, why deprive her of pleasure to inflict toil upon yourself? If a bed looks made and feels made, then for all practical purposes it is made; why upset it merely to put it straight again? It would surprise most women the amount of labour that can be avoided in a house.

For needlework, I confess, I never acquired skill. Dan had learnt to handle a thimble, but my own second finger was ever reluctant to come forward when wanted. It had to be found, all other fingers removed out of its way. Then, feebly, nervously, it would push, slip, get itself pricked badly with the head of the needle, and, thoroughly frightened, remain incapable of further action. More practical I found it to push the needle through by help of the door or table.

The opera, as Dan had predicted, ran far into the following year. When it was done with, another--in which "Goggles" appeared as one of the principals--took its place, and was even more successful. After the experience of Nelson Square, my present salary of thirty-five shillings, occasionally forty shillings, a week seemed to me princely. There floated before my eyes the possibility of my becoming a great opera singer. On six hundred pounds a week, I felt I could be content. But the O'Kelly set himself to dispel this dream.

"Ye'd be making a mistake, me boy," explained the O'Kelly. "Ye'd be just wasting ye're time. I wouldn't tell ye so if I weren't convinced of it."

"I know it is not powerful," I admitted.

"Ye might almost call it thin," added the O'Kelly.

"It might be good enough for comic opera," I argued. "People appear to succeed in comic opera without much voice.

"Sure, there ye're right," agreed the O'Kelly, with a sigh. "An' of course if ye had an exceptionally fine presence and were strikingly handsome--"

"One can do a good deal with make-up," I suggested.

The O'Kelly shook his head. "It's never quite the same thing. It would depend upon your acting."

I dreamt of becoming a second Kean, of taking Macready's place. It need not interfere with my literary ambition. I could combine the two: fill Drury Lane in the evening, turn out epoch-making novels in the morning, write my own plays.

Every day I studied in the reading-room of the British Museum. Wearying of success in Art, I might eventually go into Parliament: a Prime Minister with a thorough knowledge of history: why not? With Ollendorf for guide, I continued French and German. It might be the diplomatic service that would appeal to me in my old age. An ambassadorship! It would be a pleasant termination to a brilliant career.

There was excuse for my optimistic mood about this period. All things were going well with me. A story of mine had been accepted. I forget for the moment the name of the journal: it is dead now. Most of the papers in which my early efforts appeared are dead. My contributions might be likened to their swan songs. Proofs had been sent me, which I had corrected and returned. But proofs are not facts. This had happened to me once before, and I had been lifted to the skies only to fall the more heavily. The paper had collapsed before my story had appeared. (Ah, why had they delayed? It might have saved them!) This time I remembered the proverb, and kept my own counsel, slipping out early each morning on the day of publication to buy the paper, to scan eagerly its columns. For weeks I suffered hope deferred. But at last, one bright winter's day in January, walking down the Harrow Road, I found myself standing still, suddenly stunned, before a bill outside a small news-vendor's shop. It was the first time I had seen my real name in print: "The Witch of Moel Sarbod: a legend of Mona, by Paul Kelver." (For this I had even risked discovery by the Lady 'Ortensia.) My legs trembling under me, I entered the shop. A ruffianly-looking man in dirty shirt-sleeves, who appeared astonished that any one should want a copy, found one at length on the floor underneath the counter. With it in my pocket, I retraced my footsteps as in a dream. On a seat in Paddington Green I sat down and read it. The hundred best books! I have waded through them all; they have never charmed me as charmed me that one short story in that now forgotten journal. Need I add it was a sad and sentimental composition. Once upon a time there lived a mighty King; one--but with the names I will not bore you; they are somewhat unpronounceable. Their selection had cost me many hours of study in the British Museum reading-rooms, surrounded by lexicons of the Welsh language, gazetteers, translations from the early Celtic poets--with footnotes. He loved and was beloved by a beautiful Princess, whose name, being translated, was Purity. One day the King, hunting, lost his way, and being weary, lay down and fell asleep. And by chance the spot whereon he lay was near to a place which by infinite pains, with the aid of a magnifying glass, I had discovered upon the map, and which means in English the Cave of the Waters, where dwelt a wicked Sorceress, who, while he slept, cast her spells upon him, so that he awoke to forget his kingly honour and the good of all his people, his only desire being towards the Witch of Moel Sarbod.

Now, there lived in this Kingdom by the sea a great Magician; and Purity, who loved the King far better than herself, bethought her of him, and of all she had heard concerning his power and wisdom; and went to him and besought his aid that she might save the King. There was but one way to accomplish this: with bare feet Purity must climb the rocky path leading to the Witch's dwelling, go boldly up to her, not fearing her sharp claws nor her strong teeth, and kiss her upon the mouth. In this way the spirit of Purity would pass into the Witch's soul, and she would become a woman. But the form and spirit of the Witch would pass into Purity, transforming her, and in the Cave of the Waters she must forever abide. Thus Purity gave herself that the King might live. With bleeding feet she climbed the rocky path, clasped the Witch's form within her arms, kissed her on the mouth. And the Witch became a woman and reigned with the King over his people, wisely and helpfully. But Purity became a hideous witch, and to this day abides on Moel Sarbod, where is the Cave of the Waters. And they who climb the mountain's side still hear above the roaring of the cataract the sobbing of Purity, the King's betrothed. But many liken it rather to a joyous song of love triumphant.

No writer worth his salt was ever satisfied with anything he ever wrote, so I have been told, and so I try to believe. Evidently I am not worth my salt. Candid friends, and others, to whom in my salad days I used to show my work, asking for a frank opinion, meaning, of course, though never would they understand me, their unadulterated praise, would assure me for my good, that this, my first to whom the gods gave life, was but a feeble, ill-shaped child: its attempted early English a cross between "The Pilgrim's Progress" and "Old Moore's Almanac;" its scenery--which had cost me weeks of research--an apparent attempt to sum up in the language of a local guide book the leading characteristics of the Garden of Eden combined with Dante's Inferno; its pathos of the penny-plain and two-penny-coloured order. Maybe they were right. Much have I written since that at the time appeared to me good, that I have read later with regret, with burning cheek, with frowning brow. But of this, my first-born, the harbinger of all my hopes, I am no judge. Touching the yellowing, badly-printed pages, I feel again the deep thrill of joy with which I first unfolded them and read. Again I am a youngster, and life opens out before me--inmeasurable, no goal too high. This child of my brain, my work: it shall spread my name throughout the world. It shall be a household world in lands that I shall never see. Friends whose voices I shall never hear will speak of me. I shall die, but it shall live, yield fresh seed, bear fruit I know not of. Generations yet unborn shall read it and remember me. My thoughts, my words, my spirit: in it I shall live again; it shall keep my memory green.

The long, long thoughts of boyhood! We elders smile at them. The little world spins round; the little voices of an hour sink hushed. The crawling generations come and go. The solar system drops from space. The eternal mechanism reforms and shapes itself anew. Time, turning, ploughs another furrow. So, growing sleepy, we murmur with a yawn. Is it that we see clearer, or that our eyes are growing dim? Let the young men see their visions, dream their dreams, hug to themselves their hopes of enduring fame; so shall they serve the world better.

I brushed the tears from my eyes and looked up. Half-a-dozen urchins, male and female, were gaping at me open-mouthed. They scattered shouting, whether compliment or insult I know not: probably the latter. I flung them a handful of coppers, which for the moment silenced them; and went upon my way. How bright, how fair the bustling streets, golden in the winter sunshine, thronged with life, with effort! Laughter rang around me. Sweet music rolled from barrel-organs. The strenuous voices of the costermongers called invitation to the fruitful earth. Errand boys passed me whistling shrilly joyous melodies. Perspiring tradesmen shouted generous offers to the needy. Men and women hurried by with smiling faces. Sleek cats purred in sheltered nooks, till merry dogs invited them to sport. The sparrows, feasting in the roadway, chirped their hymn of praise.

At the Marble Arch I jumped upon a 'bus. I mentioned to the conductor in mounting that it was a fine day. He replied that he had noticed it himself. The retort struck me as a brilliant repartee. Our coachman, all but run into by a hansom cab driven by a surly old fellow of patriarchal appearance, remarked upon the danger of allowing horses out in charge of bits of boys. How full the world of wit and humour!

Almost without knowing it, I found myself in earnest conversation with a young man sitting next to me. We conversed of life, of love. Not until afterwards, reflecting upon the matter, did it surprise me that to a mere chance acquaintance of the moment he had spoken of the one thing dearest to his heart: a sweet but clearly wayward maiden, the Hebe of a small, old-fashioned coffee-shop the 'bus was at that moment passing. Hitherto I had not been the recipient of confidences. It occurred to me that as a rule not even my friends spoke much to me concerning their own affairs; generally it was I who spoke to them of mine. I sympathised with him, advised him--how, I do not recollect. He said, however, he thought that I was right; and at Regent Street he left me, expressing his determination to follow my counsel, whatever it may have been.

Between Berners Street and the Circus I lent a shilling to a couple of young ladies who had just discovered with amusement, quickly swallowed by despair, that they neither of them had any money with them. (They returned it next day in postage stamps, with a charming note.) The assurance with which I tendered the slight service astonished me myself. At any other time I should have hesitated, argued with my fears, offered it with an appearance of sulky constraint, and been declined. For a moment they were doubtful, then, looking at me, accepted with a delightful smile. They consulted me as to the way to Paternoster Row. I instructed them, adding a literary anecdote, which seemed to interest them. I even ventured on a compliment, neatly phrased, I am inclined to think. Evidently it pleased--a result hitherto unusual in the case of my compliments. At the corner of Southampton Row I parted from them with regret. Why had I never noticed before how full of pleasant people this sweet and smiling London?

At the corner of Queen's Square a decent-looking woman stopped me to ask the way to the Children's Hospital at Chelsea, explaining she had made a mistake, thinking it was the one in Great Ormond Street where her child lay. I directed her, then glancing into her face, noticed how tired she looked, and a vista of the weary pavements she would have to tramp flashed before me. I slipped some money into her hand and told her to take a 'bus. She flushed, then thanked me. I turned a few yards further on; she was starting after me, amazement on her face. I laughed and waved my hand to her. She smiled back in return, and went her way.

A rain began to fall. I paused upon the doorstep for a minute, enjoying the cool drops upon by upturned face, the tonic sharpness of the keen east wind; then slipped my key into the lock and entered.

The door of old Deleglise's studio on the first floor happened to be open. Hitherto, beyond the usual formal salutations, when by chance we met upon the stairs, I had exchanged but few words with my eccentric landlord; but remembering his kindly face, the desire came upon me to tell him my good fortune. I felt sure his eyes would lighten with delight. By instinct I knew him for a young man's man.

I tapped lightly; no answer came. Someone was talking; it sounded like a girl's voice. I pushed the door further open and walked in; such was the custom of the house. It was a large room, built over the yard, lighted by one high window, before which was the engraving desk, shaded under a screen of tissue paper. At the further end of the room stood a large cheval-glass, and in front of this, its back towards me, was a figure that excited my curiosity; so that remaining where I was, partly hidden behind a large easel, I watched it for awhile in silence. Above a heavily flounced blue skirt, which fell in creases on the floor and trailed a couple of yards or so behind, it wore a black low-cut sleeveless bodice--much too big for it--of the fashion early Victorian. A good deal of dark-brown hair, fastened up by hair-pins that stuck out in all directions like quills upon a porcupine, suggesting collapse with every movement, was ornamented by three enormous green feathers, one of which hung limply over the lady's left ear. Three times, while I watched, unnoticed, the lady propped it into a more befitting attitude, and three times, limp and intoxicated-looking, it fell back into its former foolish position. Her long, thin arms, displaying a pair of brilliantly red elbows, pointed to quite a dangerous degree, terminated in hands so very sunburnt as to convey the impression of a pair of remarkably well-fitting gloves. Her right hand grasped and waved with determination a large lace fan, her left clutched fiercely the front of her skirt. With a sweeping curtsey to herself in the glass, which would have been more effective could she have avoided tying her legs together with her skirt--a _contretemps necessitating the use of both hands and a succession of jumps before she could disentangle herself--she remarked so soon as she had recovered her balance:

"So sorry I am late. My carriage was unfortunately delayed."

The excuse, I gathered, was accepted, for with a gracious smile and a vigorous bow, by help of which every hairpin made distinct further advance towards freedom, she turned, and with much dignity and head over the right shoulder took a short walk to the left. At the end of six short steps she stopped and began kicking. For what reason, I, at first, could not comprehend. It dawned upon me after awhile that her object was the adjustment of her train. Finding the manoeuvre too difficult of accomplishment by feet alone, she stooped, and, taking the stuff up in her hands, threw it behind her. Then, facing north, she retraced her steps to the glass, talking to herself, as she walked, in the high-pitched drawl, distinctive, as my stage knowledge told me, of aristocratic society.

"Oh, do you think so--really? Ah, yes; you say that. Certainly not! I shouldn't think of it." There followed what I am inclined to believe was intended for a laugh, musical but tantalising. If so, want of practice marred the effort. The performance failed to satisfy even herself. She tried again; it was still only a giggle.

Before the glass she paused, and with a haughty inclination of her head succeeded for the third time in displacing the intoxicated feather.

"Oh, bother the silly thing!" she said in a voice so natural as to be, by contrast with her previous tone, quite startling.

She fixed it again with difficulty, muttering something inarticulate. Then, her left hand resting on an imaginary coat-sleeve, her right holding her skirt sufficiently high to enable her to move, she commenced to majestically gyrate.

Whether, hampered as she was by excess of skirt, handicapped by the natural clumsiness of her age, catastrophe in any case would not sooner or later have overtaken her, I have my doubts. I have since learnt her own view to be that but for catching sight, in turning, of my face, staring at her through the bars of the easel, all would have gone well and gracefully. Avoiding controversy on this point, the facts to be recorded are, that, seeing me, she uttered a sudden exclamation of surprise, dropped her skirt, trod on her train, felt her hair coming down, tried to do two things at once, and sat upon the floor. I ran to her assistance. With flaming face and flashing eyes she sprang to her feet. There was a sound as of the rushing down of avalanches. The blue flounced skirt lay round her on the floor. She stood above its billowy folds, reminiscent of Venus rising from the waves--a gawky, angular Venus in a short serge frock, reaching a little below her knees, black stockings and a pair of prunella boots of a size suggesting she had yet some inches to grow before reaching her full height.

"I hope you haven't hurt yourself," I said.

The next moment I didn't care whether she had or whether she hadn't. She did not reply to my kindly meant enquiry. Instead, her hand swept through the air in the form of an ample semi-circle. It terminated on my ear. It was not a small hand; it was not a soft hand; it was not that sort of hand. The sound of the contact rang through the room like a pistol shot; I beard it with my other ear. I sprang at her, and catching her before she had recovered her equilibrium, kissed her. I did not kiss her because I wanted to. I kissed her because I could not box her ears back in return, which I should have preferred doing. I kissed her, hoping it would make her mad. It did. If a look could have killed me, such would have been the tragic ending of this story. It did not kill me; it did me good.

"You horrid boy!" she cried. "You horrid, horrid boy!"

There, I admit, she scored. I did not in the least object to her thinking me horrid, but at nineteen one does object to being mistaken for a boy.

"I am not a boy," I explained.

"Yes, you are," she retorted; "a beast of a boy!"

"If you do it again," I warned her--a sudden movement on her part hinting to me the possibility--"I'll kiss you again! I mean it."

"Leave the room!" she commanded, pointing with her angular arm towards the door.

I did not wish to remain. I was about to retire with as much dignity as circumstances permitted.

"Boy!" she added.

At that I turned. "Now I won't go!" I replied. "See if I do."

We stood glaring at each other.

"What right have you in here?" she demanded.

"I came to see Mr. Deleglise," I answered. "I suppose you are Miss Deleglise. It doesn't seem to me that you know how to treat a visitor."

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Mr. Horace Moncrieff," I replied. I was using at the period both my names indiscriminately, but for this occasion Horace Moncrieff I judged the more awe-inspiring.

She snorted. "I know. You're the house-maid. You sweep all the crumbs under the mats."

Now this was a subject about which at the time I was feeling somewhat sore. "Needs must when the Devil drives;" but as matters were, Dan and I could well have afforded domestic assistance. It rankled in my mind that to fit in with the foolish fad of old Deleglise, I the future Dickens, Thackeray and George Eliot, Kean, Macready and Phelps rolled into one, should be compelled to the performance of menial duties. On this morning of all others, my brilliant literary career just commenced, the anomaly of the thing appeared naturally more glaring.

Besides, how came she to know I swept the crumbs under the mat--that it was my method? Had she and Dan been discussing me, ridiculing me behind my back? What right had Dan to reveal the secrets of our menage to this chit of a school-girl? Had he done so? or had she been prying, poking her tilted nose into matters that did not concern her? Pity it was she had no mother to occasionally spank her, teach her proper behaviour.

"Where I sweep our crumbs is nothing to do with you," I replied with some spirit. "That I have to sweep them at all is the fault of your father. A sensible girl--"

"How dare you speak against my father!" she interrupted me with blazing eyes.

"We will not discuss the question further," I answered, with sense and dignity.

"I think you had better not!" she retorted.

Turning her back on me, she commenced to gather up her hairpins--there must have been about a hundred of them. I assisted her to the extent of picking up about twenty, which I handed to her with a bow: it may have been a little stiff, but that was only to be expected. I wished to show her that her bad example had not affected my own manners.

"I am sorry my presence should have annoyed you," I said. "It was quite an accident. I entered the room thinking your father was here."

"When you saw he wasn't, you might have gone out again," she replied, "instead of hiding yourself behind a picture."

"I didn't hide myself," I explained. "The easel happened to be in the way."

"And you stopped there and watched me."

"I couldn't help it."

She looked round and our eyes met. They were frank, grey eyes. An expression of merriment shot into them. I laughed.

Then she laughed: it was a delightful laugh, the laugh one would have expected from her.

"You might at least have coughed," she suggested.

"It was so amusing," I pleaded.

"I suppose it was," she agreed, and held out her hand. "Did I hurt you?" she asked.

"Yes, you did," I answered, taking it.

"Well, it was enough to annoy me, wasn't it?" she suggested.

"Evidently," I agreed.

"I am going to a ball next week," she explained, "a grown-up ball, and I've got to wear a skirt. I wanted to see if I could manage a train."

"Well, to be candid, you can't," I assured her.

"It does seem difficult."

"Shall I show you?" I asked.

"What do you know about it?"

"Well, I see it done every night."

"Oh, yes; of course, you're on the stage. Yes, do."

We readjusted the torn skirt, accommodating it better to her figure by the help of hairpins. I showed her how to hold the train, and, I humming a tune, we commenced to waltz.

"I shouldn't count my steps," I suggested to her. "It takes your mind away from the music."

"I don't waltz well," she admitted meekly. "I know I don't do anything well--except play hockey."

"And try not to tread on your partner's feet. That's a very bad fault."

"I do try not to," she explained.

"It comes with practice," I assured her.

"I'll get Tom to give me half an hour every evening," she said. "He dances beautifully."

"Who's Tom?"

"Oh, father."

"Why do you call your father Tom? It doesn't sound respectful."

"Oh, he likes it; and it suits him so much better than father. Besides, he isn't like a real father. He does everything I want him to."

"Is that good for you?"

"No; it's very bad for me--everybody says so. When you come to think of it, of course it isn't the way to bring up a girl. I tell him, but he merely laughs--says it's the only way he knows. I do hope I turn out all right. Am I doing it better now?"

"A little. Don't be too anxious about it. Don't look at your feet."

"But if I don't they go all wrong. It was you who trod on mine that time."

"I know. I'm sorry. It's a little difficult not to."

"Am I holding my train all right?"

"Well, there's no need to grip it as if you were afraid it would run away. It will follow all right. Hold it gracefully."

"I wish I wasn't a girl."

"Oh, you'll get used to it." We concluded our dance.

"What do I do--say 'Thank you'?"

"Yes, prettily."

"What does he do?"

"Oh, he takes you back to your chaperon, or suggests refreshment, or you sit and talk."

"I hate talking. I never know what to say."

"Oh, that's his duty. He'll try and amuse you, then you must laugh. You have a nice laugh."

"But I never know when to laugh. If I laugh when I want to it always offends people. What do you do if somebody asks you to dance and you don't want to dance with them?"

"Oh, you say your programme is full."

"But if it isn't?"

"Well, you tell a lie."

"Couldn't I say I don't dance well, and that I'm sure they'd get on better with somebody else?"

"It would be the truth, but they might not believe it."

"I hope nobody asks me that I don't want."

"Well, he won't a second time, anyhow."

"You are rude."

"You are only a school-girl."

"I look a woman in my new frock, I really do."

"I should doubt it."

"You shall see me, then you'll be polite. It is because you are a boy you are rude. Men are much nicer."

"Oh, are they?"

"Yes. You will be, when you are a man."

The sound of voices rose suddenly in the hall.

"Tom!" cried Miss Deleglise; and collecting her skirt in both hands, bolted down the corkscrew staircase leading to the kitchen, leaving me standing in the centre of the studio.

The door opened and old Deleglise entered, accompanied by a small, slight man with red hair and beard and somewhat watery eyes.

Deleglise himself was a handsome old fellow, then a man of about fifty-five. His massive, mobile face, illuminated by bright, restless eyes, was crowned with a lion-like mane of iron-grey hair. Till a few years ago he had been a painter of considerable note. But in questions of art his temper was short. Pre-Raphaelism had gone out of fashion for the time being; the tendency of the new age was towards impressionism, and in disgust old Deleglise had broken his palette across his knee, and swore never to paint again. Artistic work of some sort being necessary to his temperament, he contented himself now with engraving. At the moment he was engaged upon the reproduction of Memlinc's Shrine of St. Ursula, with photographs of which he had just returned from Bruges.

At sight of me his face lighted with a smile, and he advanced with outstretched hand.

"Ah; my lad, so you have got over your shyness and come to visit the old bear in his den. Good boy. I like young faces."

He had a clear, musical voice, ever with the suggestion of a laugh behind it. He laid his hand upon my shoulder.

"Why, you are looking as if you had come into a fortune," he added, "and didn't know what a piece of bad luck that can be to a young fellow like yourself."

"How could it be bad luck?" I asked, laughing.

"Takes all the sauce out of life, young man," answered Deleglise. "What interest is there in running a race with the prize already in your possession, tell me that?"

"It is not that kind of fortune," I answered, "it is another. I have had my first story accepted. It is in print. Look."

I handed him the paper. He spread it out upon the engraving board before him.

"Ah, that's better," he said, "that's better. Charlie," he turned to the red-headed man, who had seated himself listlessly in the one easy-chair the room contained, "come here."

The red-headed man rose and wandered towards us. "Let me introduce you to Mr. Paul Kelver, our new fellow servant. Our lady has accepted him. He has just been elected; his first story is in print."

The red-haired man stretched out his long thin hand. "I have thirty years of fame," said the red-haired man--"could I say world-wide?"

He turned for confirmation to old Deleglise, who laughed. "I think you can."

"If I could give it you would you exchange with me--at this moment?"

"You would be a fool if you did," he went on. "One's first success, one's first victory! It is the lover's first kiss. Fortune grows old and wrinkled, frowns more often than she smiles. We become indifferent to her, quarrel with her, make it up again. But the joy of her first kiss after the long wooing! Burn it into your memory, my young friend, that it may live with you always!"

He strolled away. Old Deleglise took up the parable.

"Ah, yes; one's first success, Paul! Laugh, my boy, cry! Shut yourself up in your room, shout, dance! Throw your hat into the air and cry hurrah! Make the most of it, Paul. Hug it to your heart, think of it, dream of it. This is the finest hour of your life, my boy. There will never come another like it--never!"

He crossed the studio, and taking from its nail a small oil painting, brought it over and laid it on the board beside my paper. It was a fascinating little picture, painted with that exquisite minutiae and development of detail that a newer school was then ridiculing: as though Art had but one note to her voice. The dead figure of an old man lay upon a bed. A child had crept into the darkened room, and supporting itself by clutching tightly at the sheet, was gazing with solemn curiosity upon the white, still face.

"That was mine," said old Deleglise. "It was hung in the Academy thirty-six years ago, and bought for ten guineas by a dentist at Bury St. Edmunds. He went mad a few years later and died in a lunatic asylum. I had never lost sight of it, and the executors were quite agreeable to my having it back again for the same ten guineas. I used to go every morning to the Academy to look at it. I thought it the cleverest bit of work in the whole gallery, and I'm not at all sure that it wasn't. I saw myself a second Teniers, another Millet. Look how that light coming through the open door is treated; isn't it good? Somebody will pay a thousand guineas for it before I have been dead a dozen years, and it is worth it. But I wouldn't sell it myself now for five thousand. One's first success; it is worth all the rest of life!"

"All?" queried the red-haired man from his easy-chair. We looked round. The lady of the skirt had entered, now her own proper self: a young girl of about fifteen, angular, awkward-looking, but bringing into the room with her that atmosphere of life, of hope, that is the eternal message of youth. She was not beautiful, not then--plain one might almost have called her but for her frank, grey eyes, her mass of dark-brown hair now gathered into a long thick plait. A light came into old Deleglise's eyes.

"You are right, not all," he murmured to the red-haired man.

She came forward shyly. I found it difficult to recognise in her the flaming Fury that a few minutes before had sprung at me from the billows of her torn blue skirt. She shook hands with the red-haired man and kissed her father.

"My daughter," said old Deleglise, introducing me to her. "Mr. Paul Kelver, a literary gent."

"Mr. Kelver and I have met already," she explained. "He has been waiting for you here in the studio."

"And have you been entertaining him?" asked Deleglise. "Oh, yes, I entertained him," she replied. Her voice was singularly like her father's, with just the same suggestion of ever a laugh behind it.

"We entertained each other," I said.

"That's all right," said old Deleglise. "Stop and lunch with us. We will make ourselves a curry."

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