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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 1
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The Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 1 Post by :blakekr Category :Long Stories Author :Israel Zangwill Date :May 2012 Read :3842

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The Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 1


Sometimes Lancelot's bell rang up Mrs. Leadbatter herself, but far more often merely Mary Ann.

The first time Lancelot saw Mary Ann she was cleaning the steps. He avoided treading upon her, being kind to animals. For the moment she was merely a quadruped, whose head was never lifted to the stars. Her faded print dress showed like the quivering hide of some crouching animal. There were strange irregular splashes of pink in the hide, standing out in bright contrast with the neutral background. These were scraps of the original material neatly patched in.

The cold, damp steps gave Lancelot a shudder, for the air was raw. He passed by the prostrate figure as quickly as he could, and hastened to throw himself into the easy chair before the red fire.

There was a lamp-post before the door, so he knew the house from its neighbours. Baker's Terrace as a whole was a defeated aspiration after gentility. The more auspicious houses were marked by white stones, the steps being scrubbed and hearth-stoned almost daily; the gloomier doorsteps were black, except on Sundays. Thus variety was achieved by houses otherwise as monotonous and prosaic as a batch of fourpenny loaves. This was not the reason why the little South London side-street was called Baker's Terrace, though it might well seem so; for Baker was the name of the builder, a worthy gentleman whose years and virtues may still be deciphered on a doddering, round-shouldered stone in a deceased cemetery not far from the scene of his triumphs.

The second time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he did not remember having seen her before. This time she was a biped, and wore a white cap. Besides, he hardly glanced at her. He was in a bad temper, and Beethoven was barking terribly at the intruder who stood quaking in the doorway, so that the crockery clattered on the tea-tray she bore. With a smothered oath Lancelot caught up the fiery little spaniel and rammed him into the pocket of his dressing-gown, where he quivered into silence like a struck gong. While the girl was laying his breakfast, Lancelot, who was looking moodily at the pattern of the carpet as if anxious to improve upon it, was vaguely conscious of relief in being spared his landlady's conversation. For Mrs. Leadbatter was a garrulous body, who suffered from the delusion that small-talk is a form of politeness, and that her conversation was part of the "all inclusive" her lodgers stipulated for. The disease was hereditary, her father having been a barber, and remarkable for the coolness with which, even as a small boy whose function was lathering and nothing more, he exchanged views about the weather with his victims.

The third time Lancelot saw Mary Ann he noticed that she was rather pretty. She had a slight, well-built figure, not far from tall, small shapely features, and something of a complexion. This did not displease him: she was a little aesthetic touch amid the depressing furniture.

"Don't be afraid, Polly," he said more kindly. "The little devil won't bite. He's all bark. Call him Beethoven and throw him a bit of sugar."

The girl threw Beethoven the piece of sugar, but did not venture on the name. It seemed to her a long name for such a little dog. As she timidly took the sugar from the basin by the aid of the tongs, Lancelot saw how coarse and red her hand was. It gave him the same sense of repugnance and refrigescence as the cold, damp steps. Something he was about to say froze on his lips. He did not look at Mary Ann for some days; by which time Beethoven had conquered his distrust of her, though she was still distrustful of Beethoven, drawing her skirts tightly about her as if he were a rat. What forced Mary Ann again upon Lancelot's morose consciousness was a glint of winter sunshine that settled on her light brown hair. He said, "By the way, Susan, tell your mistress--or is it your mother?"

Mary Ann shook her head but did not speak.

"Oh, you are not Miss Leadbatter?"

"No; Mary Ann."

She spoke humbly; her eyes were shy and would not meet his. He winced as he heard the name, though her voice was not unmusical.

"Ah, Mary Ann! and I've been calling you Jane all along, Mary Ann what?"

She seemed confused and flushed a little.

"Mary Ann!" she murmured.

"Merely Mary Ann?"


He smiled. "Seems a sort of white Topsy," he was thinking.

She stood still, holding in her hand the table-cloth she had just folded. Her eyes were downcast, and the glint of sunshine had leapt upon the long lashes.

"Well, Mary Ann, tell your mistress there is a piano coming. It will stand over there--you'll have to move the sideboard somewhere else."

"A piano!" Mary Ann opened her eyes, and Lancelot saw that they were large and pathetic. He could not see the colour for the glint of sunshine that touched them with false fire.

"Yes; I suppose it will have to come up through the window, these staircases are so beastly narrow. Do you never have a stout person in the house, I wonder?"

"Oh, yes, sir. We had a lodger here last year as was quite a fat man."

"And did he come up through the window by a pulley?"

He smiled at the image, and expected to see Mary Ann smile in response. He was disappointed when she did not; it was not only that her stolidity made his humour seem feeble--he half wanted to see how she looked when she smiled.

"Oh, dear, no," said Mary Ann; "he lived on the ground floor!"

"Oh!" murmured Lancelot, feeling the last sparkle taken from his humour. He was damped to the skin by Mary Ann's platitudinarian style of conversation. Despite its prettiness, her face was dulness incarnate.

"Anyhow, remember to take in the piano if I'm out," he said tartly. "I suppose you've _seen a piano--you'll know it from a kangaroo?"

"Yessir," breathed Mary Ann.

"Oh, come, that's something. There is some civilisation in Baker's Terrace after all. But are you quite sure?" he went on, the teasing instinct getting the better of him. "Because, you know, you've never seen a kangaroo."

Mary Ann's face lit up a little. "Oh, yes, I have, sir; it came to the village fair when I was a girl."

"Oh, indeed!" said Lancelot, a little staggered; "what did it come there for--to buy a new pouch?"

"No, sir; in a circus."

"Ah, in a circus. Then, perhaps, you can _play the piano, too."

Mary Ann got very red. "No, sir; missus never showed me how to do that."

Lancelot surrendered himself to a roar of laughter. "This is a real original," he said to himself, just a touch of pity blending with his amusement.

"I suppose, though, you'd be willing to lend a hand occasionally?" he could not resist saying.

"Missus says I must do anything I'm asked," she said, in distress, the tears welling to her eyes. And a merciless bell mercifully sounding from an upper room, she hurried out.

How much Mary Ann did, Lancelot never rightly knew, any more than he knew the number of lodgers in the house, or who cooked his chops in the mysterious regions below stairs. Sometimes he trod on the toes of boots outside doors and vaguely connected them with human beings, peremptory and exacting as himself. To Mary Ann each of those pairs of boots was a personality, with individual hours of rising and retiring, breakfasting and supping, going out and coming in, and special idiosyncrasies of diet and disposition. The population of 5 Baker's Terrace was nine, mostly bell-ringers. Life was one ceaseless round of multifarious duties; with six hours of blessed unconsciousness, if sleep were punctual. All the week long Mary Ann was toiling up and down the stairs or sweeping them, making beds or puddings, polishing boots or fire-irons. Holidays were not in Mary Ann's calendar; and if Sunday ever found her on her knees, it was only when she was scrubbing out the kitchen. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; it had not, apparently, made Mary Ann a bright girl.

The piano duly came in through the window like a burglar. It was a good instrument, but hired. Under Lancelot's fingers it sang like a bird and growled like a beast. When the piano was done growling Lancelot usually started. He paced up and down the room, swearing audibly. Then he would sit down at the table and cover ruled paper with hieroglyphics for hours together. His movements were erratic to the verge of mystery. He had no fixed hours for anything; to Mary Ann he was hopeless. At any given moment he might be playing on the piano, or writing on the curiously ruled paper, or stamping about the room, or sitting limp with despair in the one easy chair, or drinking whisky and water, or smoking a black meerschaum, or reading a book, or lying in bed, or driving away in a hansom, or walking about Heaven alone knew where or why. Even Mrs. Leadbatter, whose experience of life was wider than Mary Ann's, considered his vagaries almost unchristian, though to the highest degree gentlemanly. Sometimes, too, he sported the swallow-tail and the starched breast-plate, which was a wonder to Mary Ann, who knew that waiters were connected only with the most stylish establishments. Baker's Terrace did not wear evening dress.

Mary Ann liked him best in black and white. She thought he looked like the pictures in the young ladies' novelettes, which sometimes caught her eye as she passed newsvendors' shops on errands. Not that she was read in this literature--she had no time for reading. But, even when clothed in rough tweeds, Lancelot had for Mary Ann an aristocratic halo; in his dressing-gown he savoured of the grand Turk. His hands were masterful: the fingers tapering, the nails pedantically polished. He had fair hair, with moustache to match; his brow was high and white, and his grey eyes could flash fire. When he drew himself up to his full height, he threatened the gas globes. Never had No. 5 Baker's Terrace boasted of such a tenant. Altogether, Lancelot loomed large to Mary Ann; she dazzled him with his own boots in humble response, and went about sad after a reprimand for putting his papers in order. Her whole theory of life oscillated in the presence of a being whose views could so run counter to her strongest instincts. And yet, though the universe seemed tumbling about her ears when he told her she must not move a scrap of manuscript, howsoever wildly it lay about the floor or under the bed, she did not for a moment question his sanity. She obeyed him like a dog; uncomprehending, but trustful. But, after all, this was only of a piece with the rest of her life. There was nothing she questioned. Life stood at her bedside every morning in the cold dawn, bearing a day heaped high with duties; and she jumped cheerfully out of her warm bed and took them up one by one, without question or murmur. They were life. Life had no other meaning any more than it has for the omnibus hack, which cannot conceive existence outside shafts, and devoid of the intermittent flick of a whip point. The comparison is somewhat unjust; for Mary Ann did not fare nearly so well as the omnibus hack, having to make her meals off such scraps as even the lodgers sent back. Mrs. Leadbatter was extremely economical, as much so with the provisions in her charge as with those she bought for herself. She sedulously sent up remainders till they were expressly countermanded. Less economical by nature, and hungrier by habit, Mary Ann had much trouble in restraining herself from surreptitious pickings. Her conscience was rarely worsted; still there was a taint of dishonesty in her soul, else had the stairs been less of an ethical battle-ground for her. Lancelot's advent only made her hungrier; somehow the thought of nibbling at his provisions was too sacrilegious to be entertained. And yet--so queerly are we and life compounded--she was probably less unhappy at this period than Lancelot, who would come home in the vilest of tempers, and tramp the room with thunder on his white brow. Sometimes he and the piano and Beethoven would all be growling together, at other times they would all three be mute; Lancelot crouching in the twilight with his head in his hands, and Beethoven moping in the corner, and the closed piano looming in the background like a coffin of dead music.

One February evening--an evening of sleet and mist--Lancelot, who had gone out in evening dress, returned unexpectedly, bringing with him for the first time a visitor. He was so perturbed that he forgot to use his latch-key, and Mary Ann, who opened the door, heard him say angrily, "Well, I can't slam the door in your face, but I will tell you in your face I don't think it at all gentlemanly of you to force yourself upon me like this."

"My dear Lancelot, when did I ever set up to be a gentleman? You know that was always your part of the contract." And a swarthy, thick-set young man with a big nose lowered the dripping umbrella he had been holding over Lancelot, and stepped from the gloom of the street into the fuscous cheerfulness of the ill-lit passage.

By this time Beethoven, who had been left at home, was in full ebullition upstairs, and darted at the intruder the moment his calves appeared. Beethoven barked with short sharp snaps, as became a bilious liver-coloured Blenheim spaniel.

"Like master like dog," said the swarthy young man, defending himself at the point of the umbrella. "Really your animal is more intelligent than the over-rated common or garden dog, which makes no distinction between people calling in the small hours and people calling in broad daylight under the obvious patronage of its own master. This beast of yours is evidently more in sympathy with its liege lord. Down, Fido, down! I wonder they allow you to keep such noisy creatures--but stay! I was forgetting you keep a piano. After that, I suppose, nothing matters."

Lancelot made no reply, but surprised Beethoven into silence by kicking him out of the way. He lit the gas with a neatly written sheet of music which he rammed into the fire Mary Ann had been keeping up, then as silently he indicated the easy chair.

"Thank you," said the swarthy young man, taking it. "I would rather see you in it, but as there's only one I know you wouldn't be feeling a gentleman; and that would make us both uncomfortable."

"'Pon my word, Peter," Lancelot burst forth, "you're enough to provoke a saint."

"'Pon my word, Lancelot," replied Peter, imperturbably, "you're more than enough to provoke a sinner. Why, what have you to be ashamed of? You've got one of the cosiest dens in London and one of the comfortablest chairs. Why, it's twice as jolly as the garret we shared at Leipsic--up the ninety stairs."

"We're not in Germany now. I don't want to receive visitors," answered Lancelot, sulkily.

"A visitor! you call me a visitor! Lancelot, it's plain you were not telling the truth when you said just now you had forgiven me."

"I had forgiven--and forgotten you."

"Come, that's unkind. It's scarcely three years since I threw up my career as a genius, and you know why I left you, old man. When the first fever of youthful revolt was over, I woke to see things in their true light. I saw how mean it was of me to help to eat up your wretched thousand pounds. Neither of us saw the situation nakedly at first--it was sicklied o'er with Quixotic foolishness. You see, you had the advantage of me. Your governor was a gentleman. He says: 'Very well, if you won't go to Cambridge, if you refuse to enter the Church as the younger son of a blue-blooded but impecunious baronet should, and to step into the living which is fattening for you, then I must refuse to take any further responsibility for your future. Here is a thousand pounds; it is the money I had set aside for your college course. Use it for your musical tomfoolery if you insist, and then--get what living you can.' Which was severe but dignified, unpaternal yet patrician. But what does _my governor do? That cantankerous, pig-headed old Philistine--God bless him!--he's got no sense of the respect a father owes to his offspring. Not an atom. You're simply a branch to be run on the lines of the old business or be shut up altogether. And, by the way, Lancelot, he hasn't altered a jot since those days when--as you remember--the City or starvation was his pleasant alternative. Of course I preferred starvation--one usually does at nineteen; especially if one knows there's a scion of aristocracy waiting outside to elope with him to Leipsic."

"But you told me you were going back to your dad, because you found you had mistaken your vocation."

"Gospel truth also! My Heavens, shall I ever forget the blank horror that grew upon me when I came to understand that music was a science more barbarous than the mathematics that floored me at school, that the life of a musical student, instead of being a delicious whirl of waltz tunes, was 'one dem'd grind,' that seemed to grind out all the soul of the divine art and leave nothing but horrid technicalities about consecutive fifths and suspensions on the dominant? I dare say most people still think of the musician as a being who lives in an enchanted world of sound, rather than as a person greatly occupied with tedious feats of penmanship; just as I myself still think of a _prima ballerina not as a hard-working gymnast but as a fairy, whose existence is all bouquets and lime-light."

"But you had a pretty talent for the piano," said Lancelot, in milder accents. "No one forced you to learn composition. You could have learnt anything for the paltry fifteen pounds exacted by the Conservatoire--from the German flute to the grand organ; from singing to scoring band parts."

"No, thank you. _Aut Caesar aut nihil_. You remember what I always used to say, 'Either Beethoven--' (The spaniel pricked up his ears)--'or bust.' If I could not be a great musician it was hardly worth while enduring the privations of one, especially at another man's expense. So I did the Prodigal Son dodge, as you know, and out of the proceeds sent you my year's exes in that cheque you with your damnable pride sent me back again. And now, old fellow, that I have you face to face at last, can you offer the faintest scintilla of a shadow of a reason for refusing to take that cheque? No, you can't! Nothing but simple beastly stuckuppishness. I saw through you at once; all your heroics were a fraud. I was not your friend, but your protege--something to practise your chivalry on. You dropped your cloak, and I saw your feet of clay. Well, I tell you straight, I made up my mind at once to be bad friends with you for life; only when I saw your fiery old phiz at Brahmson's I felt a sort of something tugging inside my greatcoat like a thief after my pocket-book, and I kinder knew, as the Americans say, that in half an hour I should be sitting beneath your hospitable roof."

"I beg your pardon--you will have some whisky?" He rang the bell violently.

"Don't be a fool--you know I didn't mean that. Well, don't let us quarrel. I have forgiven you for your youthful bounty, and you have forgiven me for chucking it up; and now we are going to drink to the Vaterland," he added, as Mary Ann appeared with suspicious alacrity.

"Do you know," he went on, when they had taken the first sip of renewed amity dissolved in whisky, "I think I showed more musical soul than you in refusing to trammel my inspiration with the dull rules invented by fools. I suppose you have mastered them all, eh?" He picked up some sheets of manuscript. "Great Scot! How you must have schooled yourself to scribble all this--you, with your restless nature--full scores, too! I hope you don't offer this sort of thing to Brahmson."

"I certainly went there with that intention," admitted Lancelot. "I thought I'd catch Brahmson himself in the evening--he's never in when I call in the morning."

Peter groaned.

"Quixotic as ever! You can't have been long in London then?"

"A year."

"I suppose you'd jump down my throat if I were to ask you how much is left of that--" he hesitated, then turned the sentence facetiously--"of those twenty thousand shillings you were cut off with?"

"Let this vile den answer."

"Don't disparage the den; it's not so bad."

"You are right--I may come to worse. I've been an awful ass. You know how lucky I was while at the Conservatoire--no, you don't. How should you? Well, I carried off some distinctions and a lot of conceit, and came over here thinking Europe would be at my feet in a month. I was only sorry my father died before I could twit him with my triumph. That's candid, isn't it?"

"Yes; you're not such a prig after all," mused Peter. "I saw the old man's death in the paper--your brother Lionel became the bart."

"Yes, poor beggar, I don't hate him half so much as I did. He reminds me of a man invited to dinner which is nothing but flowers and serviettes and silver plate."

"I'd pawn the plate, anyhow," said Peter, with a little laugh.

"He can't touch anything, I tell you; everything's tied up."

"Ah, well, he'll get tied up, too. He'll marry an American heiress."

"Confound him! I'd rather see the house extinct first."

"Hoity, toity! She'll be quite as good as any of you."

"I can't discuss this with you, Peter," said Lancelot, gently but firmly. "If there is a word I hate more than the word heiress, it is the word American."

"But why? They're both very good words and better things."

"They both smack of the most vulgar thing in the world--money," said Lancelot, walking hotly about the room. "In America there's no other standard. To make your pile, to strike ile--oh, how I shudder to hear these idioms! And can any one hear the word heiress without immediately thinking of matrimony? Phaugh! It's a prostitution."

"What is? You're not very coherent, my friend."

"Very well, I am incoherent. If a great old family can only bolster up its greatness by alliances with the daughters of oil-strikers, then let the family perish with honour."

"But the daughters of oil-strikers are sometimes very charming creatures. They are polished with their fathers' oil."

"You are right. They reek of it. Pah! I pray to Heaven Lionel will either wed a lady or die a bachelor."

"Yes; but what do you call a lady?" persisted Peter.

Lancelot uttered an impatient snarl, and rang the bell violently. Peter stared in silence. Mary Ann appeared.

"How often am I to tell you to leave my matches on the mantel-shelf?" snapped Lancelot. "You seem to delight to hide them away, as if I had time to play parlour games with you."

Mary Ann silently went to the mantel-piece, handed him the matches, and left the room without a word.

"I say, Lancelot, adversity doesn't seem to have agreed with you," said Peter, severely. "That poor girl's eyes were quite wet when she went out. Why didn't you speak? I could have given you heaps of lights, and you might even have sacrificed another scrap of that precious manuscript."

"Well, she has got a knack of hiding my matches all the same," said Lancelot, somewhat shamefacedly. "Besides, I hate her for being called Mary Ann. It's the last terror of cheap apartments. If she only had another name like a human being, I'd gladly call her Miss something. I went so far as to ask her, and she stared at me in a dazed, stupid, silly way, as if I'd asked her to marry me. I suppose the fact is she's been called Mary Ann so long and so often that she's forgotten her father's name--if she ever had any. I must do her the justice, though, to say she answers to the name of Mary Ann in every sense of the phrase."

"She didn't seem at all bad-looking, anyway," said Peter.

"Every man to his taste!" growled Lancelot. "She's as _platt and uninteresting as a wooden sabot."

"There's many a pretty foot in a sabot," retorted Peter, with an air of philosophy.

"You think that's clever, but it's simply silly. How does that fact affect this particular sabot?"

"I've put my foot in it," groaned Peter, comically.

"Besides, she might be a houri from heaven," said Lancelot; "but a houri in a patched print frock--" He shuddered and struck a match.

"I don't know exactly what houris from heaven are, but I have a kind of feeling any sort of frock would be out of harmony--!"

Lancelot lit his pipe.

"If you begin to say that sort of thing we must smoke," he said, laughing between the puffs. "I can offer you lots of tobacco--I'm sorry I've got no cigars. Wait till you see Mrs. Leadbatter--my landlady--then you'll talk about houris. Poverty may not be a crime, but it seems to make people awful bores. Wonder if it'll have that effect on me? _Ach Himmel! how that woman bores me. No, there's no denying it--there's my pouch, old man--I hate the poor; their virtues are only a shade more vulgar than their vices. This Leadbatter creature is honest after her lights--she sends me up the most ridiculous leavings--and I only hate her the more for it."

"I suppose she works Mary Ann's fingers to the bone from the same mistaken sense of duty," said Peter, acutely. "Thanks; think I'll try one of my cigars. I filled my case, I fancy, before I came out. Yes, here it is; won't _you try one?"

"No, thanks, I prefer my pipe."

"It's the same old meerschaum, I see," said Peter.

"The same old meerschaum," repeated Lancelot, with a little sigh.

Peter lit a cigar, and they sat and puffed in silence.

"Dear me!" said Peter, suddenly; "I can almost fancy we're back in our German garret, up the ninety stairs, can't you?"

"No," said Lancelot, sadly, looking round as if in search of something; "I miss the dreams."

"And I," said Peter, striving to speak cheerfully, "I see a dog too much."

"Yes," said Lancelot, with a melancholy laugh. "When you funked becoming a Beethoven, I got a dog and called him after you."

"What? you called him Peter?"

"No, Beethoven!"

"Beethoven! Really?"

"Really. Here, Beethoven!"

The spaniel shook himself, and perked his wee nose up wistfully towards Lancelot's face.

Peter laughed, with a little catch in his voice. He didn't know whether he was pleased, or touched, or angry.

"You started to tell me about those twenty thousand shillings," he said.

"Didn't I tell you? On the expectations of my triumph, I lived extravagantly, like a fool, joined a club, and took up my quarters there. When I began to realise the struggle that lay before me, I took chambers; then I took rooms; now I'm in lodgings. The more I realised it, the less rent I paid. I only go to the club for my letters now. I won't have them come here. I'm living incognito."

"That's taking fame by the forelock, indeed! Then by what name must I ask for you next time? For I'm not to be shaken off."


"Lancelot what?"

"Only Lancelot! Mr. Lancelot."

"Why, that's like your Mary Ann!"

"So it is!" he laughed, more bitterly than cordially; "it never struck me before. Yes, we are a pair."

"How did you stumble on this place?"

"I didn't stumble. Deliberate, intelligent selection. You see, it's the next best thing to Piccadilly. You just cross Waterloo Bridge, and there you are at the centre, five minutes from all the clubs. The natives have not yet risen to the idea."

"You mean the rent," laughed Peter. "You're as canny and careful as a Scotch professor. I think it's simply grand the way you've beaten out those shillings, in defiance of your natural instincts. I should have melted them years ago. I believe you _have got some musical genius after all."

"You over-rate my abilities," said Lancelot, with the whimsical expression that sometimes flashed across his face even in his most unamiable moments. "You must deduct the thalers I made in exhibitions. As for living in cheap lodgings, I am not at all certain it's an economy, for every now and again it occurs to you that you are saving an awful lot, and you take a hansom on the strength of it."

"Well, I haven't torn up that cheque yet--"

"Peter!" said Lancelot, his flash of gaiety dying away, "I tell you these things as a friend, not as a beggar. If you look upon me as the second, I cease to be the first."

"But, man, I owe you the money; and if it will enable you to hold out a little longer--why, in Heaven's name, shouldn't you--?"

"You don't owe me the money at all; I made no bargain with you; I am not a moneylender."

"_Pack dick sum Henker!_" growled Peter, with a comical grimace. "_Was fuer a casuist! What a swindler you'd make! I wonder you have the face to deny the debt. Well, and how did you leave Frau Sauer-Kraut?" he said, deeming it prudent to sheer off the subject.

"Fat as a Christmas turkey."

"Or a German sausage. The extraordinary things that woman stuffed herself with!--chunks of fat, stewed apples, Kartoffel salad--all mixed up in one plate, as in a dustbin."

"Don't! You make my gorge rise. _Ach Himmel! to think that this nation should be musical! O Music, heavenly maid, how much garlic I have endured for thy sake!"

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Peter, putting down his whisky that he might throw himself freely back in the easy chair and roar.

"O that garlic!" he said, panting. "No wonder they smoked so much in Leipsic. Even so they couldn't keep the reek out of the staircases. Still, it's a great country is Germany. Our house does a tremendous business in German patents."

"A great country? A land of barbarians rather. How can a people be civilised that eats jam with its meat?"

"Bravo, Lancelot! You're in lovely form to-night. You seem to go a hundred miles out of your way to come the truly British. First it was oil--now it's jam. There was that aristocratic flash in your eye, too, that look of supreme disdain which brings on riots in Trafalgar Square. Behind the patriotic, the national note, 'How can a people be civilised that eats jam with its meat?' I heard the deeper, the oligarchic accent, 'How can a people be enfranchised that eats meat with its fingers?' Ah, you are right! How you do hate the poor! What bores they are! You aristocrats--the products of centuries of culture, comfort, and cocksureness--will never rid yourselves of your conviction that you are the backbone of England--no, not though that backbone were picked clean of every scrap of flesh by the rats of Radicalism."

"What in the devil are you talking about now?" demanded Lancelot. "You seem to me to go a hundred miles out of _your way to twit me with my poverty and my breeding. One would almost think you were anxious to convince me of the poverty of _your breeding."

"Oh, a thousand pardons!" ejaculated Peter, blushing violently. "But good heavens, old chap! There's your hot temper again. You surely wouldn't suspect _me_, of all people in the world, of meaning anything personal? I'm talking of you as a class. Contempt is in your blood--and quite right! We're such snobs, we deserve it. Why d'ye think I ever took to you as a boy at school? Was it because you scribbled inaccurate sonatas and I had myself a talent for knocking tunes off the piano? Not a bit of it. I thought it was, perhaps, but that was only one of my many youthful errors. No, I liked you because your father was an old English baronet, and mine was a merchant who trafficked mainly in things Teutonic. And that's why I like you still. 'Pon my soul it is. You gratify my historic sense--like an old building. You are picturesque. You stand to me for all the good old ideals--including the pride which we are beginning to see is deuced unchristian. Mind you, it's a curious kind of pride when one looks into it. Apparently it's based on the fact that your family has lived on the nation for generations. And yet you won't take my cheque--which is your own. Now don't swear--I know one mustn't analyse things, or the world would come to pieces, so I always vote Tory."

"Then I shall have to turn Radical," grumbled Lancelot.

"Certainly you will, when you have had a little more experience of poverty," retorted Peter. "There, there, old man! forgive me. I only do it to annoy you. Fact is, your outbursts of temper attract me. They are pleasant to look back upon when the storm is over. Yes, my dear Lancelot, you are like the king you look--you can do no wrong. You are picturesque. Pass the whisky."

Lancelot smiled, his handsome brow serene once more. He murmured, "Don't talk rot," but inwardly he was not displeased at Peter's allegiance, half mocking though he knew it.

"Therefore, my dear chap," resumed Peter, sipping his whisky and water, "to return to our lambs, I bow to your patrician prejudices in favour of forks. But your patriotic prejudices are on a different level. There, I am on the same ground as you, and I vow I see nothing inherently superior in the British combination of beef and beetroot, to the German amalgam of lamb and jam."

"Damn lamb and jam!" burst forth Lancelot, adding, with his whimsical look: "There's rhyme, as well as reason. How on earth did we get on this tack?"

"I don't know," said Peter, smiling. "We were talking about Frau Sauer-Kraut, I think. And did you board with her all the time?"

"Yes, and I was always hungry. Till the last, I never learnt to stomach her mixtures. But it was really too much trouble to go down the ninety stairs to a restaurant. It was much easier to be hungry."

"And did you ever get a reform in the hours of washing the floor?"

"Ha! ha! ha! No, they always waited till I was going to bed. I suppose they thought I liked damp. They never got over my morning tub, you know. And that, too, sprang a leak after you left, and helped spontaneously to wash the floor."

"Shows the fallacy of cleanliness," said Peter, "and the inferiority of British ideals. They never bathed in their lives, yet they looked the pink of health."

"Yes,--their complexion was high,--like the fish."

"Ha! ha! Yes, the fish! That was a great luxury, I remember. About once a month."

"Of course, the town is so inland," said Lancelot.

"I see--it took such a long time coming. Ha! ha! ha! And the Herr Professor--is he still a bachelor?"

As the Herr Professor was a septuagenarian and a misogamist, even in Peter's time, his question tickled Lancelot. Altogether the two young men grew quite jolly, recalling a hundred oddities, and reknitting their friendship at the expense of the Fatherland.

"But was there ever a more madcap expedition than ours?" exclaimed Peter. "Most boys start out to be pirates--"

"And some do become music-publishers," Lancelot finished grimly, suddenly reminded of a grievance.

"Ha! ha! ha! Poor fellow!" laughed Peter. "Then you _have found them out already."

"Does any one ever find them in?" flashed Lancelot. "I suppose they do exist and are occasionally seen of mortal eyes. I suppose wives and friends and mothers gaze on them with no sense of special privilege, unconscious of their invisibility to the profane eyes of mere musicians."

"My dear fellow, the mere musicians are as plentiful as niggers on the sea-shore. A publisher might spend his whole day receiving regiments of unappreciated geniuses. Bond Street would be impassable. You look at the publisher too much from your own standpoint."

"I tell you I don't look at him from any standpoint. That's what I complain of. He's encircled with a prickly hedge of clerks. 'You will hear from us.' 'It shall have our best consideration. We have no knowledge of the Ms. in question.' Yes, Peter, two valuable quartets have I lost, messing about with these villains."

"I tell you what. I'll give you an introduction to Brahmson. I know him--privately."

"No, thank you, Peter."

"Why not?"

"Because you know him."

"I couldn't give you an introduction if I didn't. This is silly of you, Lancelot."

"If Brahmson can't see any merits in my music, I don't want you to open his eyes. I'll stand on my own bottom. And what's more, Peter, I tell you once for all"--his voice was low and menacing--"if you try any anonymous _deus ex machina tricks on me in some sly, roundabout fashion, don't you flatter yourself I shan't recognise your hand. I shall, and, by God, it shall never grasp mine again."

"I suppose you think that's very noble and sublime," said Peter, coolly. "You don't suppose if I could do you a turn I'd hesitate for fear of excommunication? I know you're like Beethoven there--your bark is worse than your bite."

"Very well; try. You'll find my teeth nastier than you bargain for."

"I'm not going to try. If you want to go to the dogs--go. Why should I put out a hand to stop you?"

These amenities having reestablished them in their mutual esteem, they chatted lazily and spasmodically till past midnight, with more smoke than fire in the conversation.

At last Peter began to go, and in course of time actually did take up his umbrella. Not long after, Lancelot conducted him softly down the dark, silent stairs, holding his bedroom candle-stick in his hand, for Mrs. Leadbatter always turned out the hall lamp on her way to bed. The old phrases came to the young men's lips as their hands met in a last hearty grip.

"_Lebt wohl!_" said Lancelot.

"_Auf Wiedersehen!_" replied Peter, threateningly.

Lancelot stood at the hall door looking for a moment after his friend--the friend he had tried to cast out of his heart as a recreant. The mist had cleared--the stars glittered countless in the frosty heaven; a golden crescent-moon hung low; the lights and shadows lay almost poetically upon the little street. A rush of tender thoughts whelmed the musician's soul. He saw again the dear old garret, up the ninety stairs, in the Hotel Cologne, where he had lived with his dreams; he heard the pianos and violins going in every room in happy incongruity, publishing to all the prowess of the players; dirty, picturesque old Leipsic rose before him; he was walking again in the _Hainstrasse_, in the shadow of the quaint, tall houses. Yes, life was sweet after all; he was a coward to lose heart so soon; fame would yet be his; fame and love--the love of a noble woman that fame earns; some gracious creature, breathing sweet refinements, cradled in an ancient home, such as he had left for ever.

The sentimentality of the Fatherland seemed to have crept into his soul; a divinely sweet, sad melody was throbbing in his brain. How glad he was he had met Peter again!

From a neighbouring steeple came a harsh, resonant clang, "One."

It roused him from his dream. He shivered a little, closed the door, bolted it and put up the chain, and turned, half sighing, to take up his bedroom candle again. Then his heart stood still for a moment. A figure--a girl's figure--was coming towards him from the kitchen stairs. As she came into the dim light he saw that it was merely Mary Ann.

She looked half drowsed. Her cap was off, her hair tangled loosely over her forehead. In her disarray she looked prettier than he had ever remembered her. There was something provoking about the large, dreamy eyes, the red lips that parted at the unexpected sight of him.

"Good heavens!" he cried. "Not gone to bed yet?"

"No, sir. I had to stay up to wash up a lot of crockery. The second floor front had some friends to supper late. Missus says she won't stand it again."

"Poor thing!" He patted her soft cheek--it grew hot and rosy under his fingers, but was not withdrawn. Mary Ann made no sign of resentment. In his mood of tenderness to all creation his rough words to her recurred to him.

"You mustn't mind what I said about the matches," he murmured. "When I am in a bad temper I say anything. Remember now for the future, will you?"


Her face--its blushes flickered over strangely by the candle-light--seemed to look up at him invitingly.

"That's a good girl." And bending down he kissed her on the lips.

"Good night," he murmured.

Mary Ann made some startled, gurgling sound in reply.

Five minutes afterwards Lancelot was in bed, denouncing himself as a vulgar beast.

"I must have drunk too much whisky," he said to himself, angrily. "Good heavens! Fancy sinking to Mary Ann. If Peter had only seen--There was infinitely more poetry in that red-cheeked _Maedchen_, and yet I never--It is true-there is something sordid about the atmosphere that subtly permeates you, that drags you down to it. Mary Ann! A transpontine drudge! whose lips are fresh from the coalman's and the butcher's. Phaugh!"

The fancy seized hold of his imagination. He could not shake it off, he could not sleep till he had got out of bed and sponged his lips vigorously.

Meanwhile Mary Ann was lying on her bed, dressed, doing her best to keep her meaningless, half-hysterical sobs from her mistress's keen ear.

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The Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 2 The Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 2

The Merely Mary Ann - Chapter 2
CHAPTER IIIt was a long time before Mary Ann came so prominently into the centre of Lancelot's consciousness again. She remained somewhere in the outer periphery of his thought--nowhere near the bull's-eye, so to speak--as a vague automaton that worked when he pulled a bell-rope. Infinitely more important things were troubling him; the visit of Peter had somehow put a keener edge on his blunted self-confidence; he had started a grand opera, and worked at it furiously in all the intervals left him by his engrossing pursuit after a publisher. Sometimes he would look up from his hieroglyphics and see Mary

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The Serio-comic Governess - Chapter 21
CHAPTER XXISir Robert Maper simply could not get up on the Monday morning. The agony of suspense was too keen, and he lay with closed eyes, trying to drowse his consciousness, and exchanging it in his fitful snatches of sleep for oppressive dreams, in one of which Eileen figured as a Lorelei, combing her locks on a rock as she sang her siren song. But she did not prolong his agony beyond mid-day. "MY DEAR SIR ROBERT,--Both of us are dead and gone, so, alas! neither can marry you. Don't be alarmed, we are only dead to the world,