When a book about the literature of the eighteen-nineties was
given by Mr. Holbrook Jackson to the world, I looked eagerly in
the index for SOAMES, ENOCH. I had feared he would not be
there. He was not there. But everybody else was. Many
writers whom I had quite forgotten, or remembered but faintly,
lived again for me, they and their work, in Mr. Holbrook
Jackson's pages. The book was as thorough as it was brilliantly
written. And thus the omission found by me was an all the
deadlier record of poor Soames' failure to impress himself on
I daresay I am the only person who noticed the omission.
Soames had failed so piteously as all that! Nor is there a
counterpoise in the thought that if he had had some measure of
success he might have passed, like those others, out of my mind,
to return only at the historian's beck. It is true that had his gifts,
such as they were, been acknowledged in his life-time, he would
never have made the bargain I saw him make--that strange
bargain whose results have kept him always in the foreground of
my memory. But it is from those very results that the full
piteousness of him glares out.
Not my compassion, however, impels me to write of him. For
his sake, poor fellow, I should be inclined to keep my pen out of
the ink. It is ill to deride the dead. And how can I write about
Enoch Soames without making him ridiculous? Or rather, how
am I to hush up the horrid fact that he WAS ridiculous? I shall
not be able to do that. Yet, sooner or later, write about him I
must. You will see, in due course, that I have no option. And I
may as well get the thing done now.
In the Summer Term of '93 a bolt from the blue flashed down
on Oxford. It drove deep, it hurtlingly embedded itself in the
soil. Dons and undergraduates stood around, rather pale,
discussing nothing but it. Whence came it, this meteorite?
From Paris. Its name? Will Rothenstein. Its aim? To do a
series of twenty-four portraits in lithograph. These were to be
published from the Bodley Head, London. The matter was
urgent. Already the Warden of A, and the Master of B, and the
Regius Professor of C, had meekly `sat.' Dignified and
doddering old men, who had never consented to sit to any one,
could not withstand this dynamic little stranger. He did not sue:
he invited; he did not invite: he commanded. He was twenty-
one years old. He wore spectacles that flashed more than any
other pair ever seen. He was a wit. He was brimful of ideas.
He knew Whistler. He knew Edmond de Goncourt. He knew
every one in Paris. He knew them all by heart. He was Paris in
Oxford. It was whispered that, so soon as he had polished off
his selection of dons, he was going to include a few
undergraduates. It was a proud day for me when I--I--was
included. I liked Rothenstein not less than I feared him; and
there arose between us a friendship that has grown ever warmer,
and been more and more valued by me, with every passing year.
At the end of Term he settled in--or rather, meteoritically into--
London. It was to him I owed my first knowledge of that
forever enchanting little world-in-itself, Chelsea, and my first
acquaintance with Walter Sickert and other august elders who
dwelt there. It was Rothenstein that took me to see, in
Cambridge Street, Pimlico, a young man whose drawings were
already famous among the few--Aubrey Beardsley, by name.
With Rothenstein I paid my first visit to the Bodley Head. By
him I was inducted into another haunt of intellect and daring,
the domino room of the Cafe Royal.
There, on that October evening--there, in that exuberant vista of
gilding and crimson velvet set amidst all those opposing mirrors
and upholding caryatids, with fumes of tobacco ever rising to
the painted and pagan ceiling, and with the hum of presumably
cynical conversation broken into so sharply now and again by
the clatter of dominoes shuffled on marble tables, I drew a deep
breath, and `This indeed,' said I to myself, `is life!'
It was the hour before dinner. We drank vermouth. Those who
knew Rothenstein were pointing him out to those who knew him
only by name. Men were constantly coming in through the
swing-doors and wandering slowly up and down in search of
vacant tables, or of tables occupied by friends. One of these
rovers interested me because I was sure he wanted to catch
Rothenstein's eye. He had twice passed our table, with a
hesitating look; but Rothenstein, in the thick of a disquisition on
Puvis de Chavannes, had not seen him. He was a stooping,
shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and
brownish hair. He had a thin vague beard--or rather, he had a
chin on which a large number of hairs weakly curled and
clustered to cover its retreat. He was an odd-looking person; but
in the 'nineties odd apparitions were more frequent, I think, than
they are now. The young writers of that era--and I was sure this
man was a writer--strove earnestly to be distinct in aspect. This
man had striven unsuccessfully. He wore a soft black hat of
clerical kind but of Bohemian intention, and a grey waterproof
cape which, perhaps because it was waterproof, failed to be
romantic. I decided that `dim' was the mot juste for him. I had
already essayed to write, and was immensely keen on the mot
juste, that Holy Grail of the period.
The dim man was now again approaching our table, and this
time he made up his mind to pause in front of it. `You don't
remember me,' he said in a toneless voice.
Rothenstein brightly focussed him. `Yes, I do,' he replied after
a moment, with pride rather than effusion--pride in a retentive
memory. `Edwin Soames.'
`Enoch Soames,' said Enoch.
`Enoch Soames,' repeated Rothenstein in a tone implying that it
was enough to have hit on the surname. `We met in Paris two or
three times when you were living there. We met at the Cafe
`And I came to your studio once.'
`Oh yes; I was sorry I was out.'
`But you were in. You showed me some of your paintings, you
know.... I hear you're in Chelsea now.'
I almost wondered that Mr. Soames did not, after this
monosyllable, pass along. He stood patiently there, rather like a
dumb animal, rather like a donkey looking over a gate. A sad
figure, his. It occurred to me that `hungry' was perhaps the mot
juste for him; but--hungry for what? He looked as if he had
little appetite for anything. I was sorry for him; and
Rothenstein, though he had not invited him to Chelsea, did ask
him to sit down and have something to drink.
Seated, he was more self-assertive. He flung back the wings of
his cape with a gesture which--had not those wings been
waterproof--might have seemed to hurl defiance at things in
general. And he ordered an absinthe. `Je me tiens toujours
fidele,' he told Rothenstein, `a la sorciere glauque.'
`It is bad for you,' said Rothenstein dryly.
`Nothing is bad for one,' answered Soames. `Dans ce monde il
n'y a ni de bien ni de mal.'
`Nothing good and nothing bad? How do you mean?'
`I explained it all in the preface to "Negations."'
`Yes; I gave you a copy of it.'
`Oh yes, of course. But did you explain--for instance--that there
was no such thing as bad or good grammar?'
`N-no,' said Soames. `Of course in Art there is the good and the
evil. But in Life--no.' He was rolling a cigarette. He had weak
white hands, not well washed, and with finger-tips much stained
by nicotine. `In Life there are illusions of good and evil, but'--
his voice trailed away to a murmur in which the words `vieux
jeu' and `rococo' were faintly audible. I think he felt he was not
doing himself justice, and feared that Rothenstein was going to
point out fallacies. Anyhow, he cleared his throat and said
`Parlons d'autre chose.'
It occurs to you that he was a fool? It didn't to me. I was
young, and had not the clarity of judgment that Rothenstein
already had. Soames was quite five or six years older than
either of us. Also, he had written a book.
It was wonderful to have written a book.
If Rothenstein had not been there, I should have revered
Soames. Even as it was, I respected him. And I was very near
indeed to reverence when he said he had another book coming
out soon. I asked if I might ask what kind of book it was to be.
`My poems,' he answered. Rothenstein asked if this was to be
the title of the book. The poet meditated on this suggestion, but
said he rather thought of giving the book no title at all. `If a
book is good in itself--' he murmured, waving his cigarette.
Rothenstein objected that absence of title might be bad for the
sale of a book. `If,' he urged, `I went into a bookseller's and
said simply "Have you got?" or "Have you a copy of?" how
would they know what I wanted?'
`Oh, of course I should have my name on the cover,' Soames
answered earnestly. `And I rather want,' he added, looking hard
at Rothenstein, `to have a drawing of myself as frontispiece.'
Rothenstein admitted that this was a capital idea, and mentioned
that he was going into the country and would be there for some
time. He then looked at his watch, exclaimed at the hour, paid
the waiter, and went away with me to dinner. Soames remained
at his post of fidelity to the glaucous witch.
`Why were you so determined not to draw him?' I asked.
`Draw him? Him? How can one draw a man who doesn't
`He is dim,' I admitted. But my mot juste fell flat. Rothenstein
repeated that Soames was non-existent.
Still, Soames had written a book. I asked if Rothenstein had
read `Negations.' He said he had looked into it, `but,' he added
crisply, `I don't profess to know anything about writing.' A
reservation very characteristic of the period! Painters would not
then allow that any one outside their own order had a right to
any opinion about painting. This law (graven on the tablets
brought down by Whistler from the summit of Fujiyama)
imposed certain limitations. If other arts than painting were not
utterly unintelligible to all but the men who practised them, the
law tottered--the Monroe Doctrine, as it were, did not hold
good. Therefore no painter would offer an opinion of a book
without warning you at any rate that his opinion was worthless.
No one is a better judge of literature than Rothenstein; but it
wouldn't have done to tell him so in those days; and I knew that
I must form an unaided judgment on `Negations.'
Not to buy a book of which I had met the author face to face
would have been for me in those days an impossible act of self-
denial. When I returned to Oxford for the Christmas Term I had
duly secured `Negations.' I used to keep it lying carelessly on
the table in my room, and whenever a friend took it up and
asked what it was about I would say `Oh, it's rather a
remarkable book. It's by a man whom I know.' Just `what it
was about' I never was able to say. Head or tail was just what I
hadn't made of that slim green volume. I found in the preface
no clue to the exiguous labyrinth of contents, and in that
labyrinth nothing to explain the preface.
`Lean near to life. Lean very near--nearer.
`Life is web, and therein nor warp nor woof is, but web only.
`It is for this I am Catholick in church and in thought, yet do let
swift Mood weave there what the shuttle of Mood wills.'
These were the opening phrases of the preface, but those which
followed were less easy to understand. Then came `Stark: A
Conte,' about a midinette who, so far as I could gather,
murdered, or was about to murder, a mannequin. It was rather
like a story by Catulle Mendes in which the translator had either
skipped or cut out every alternate sentence. Next, a dialogue
between Pan and St. Ursula--lacking, I felt, in `snap.' Next,
some aphorisms (entitled `Aphorismata' [spelled in Greek]).
Throughout, in fact, there was a great variety of form; and the
forms had evidently been wrought with much care. It was rather
the substance that eluded me. Was there, I wondered, any
substance at all? It did now occur to me: suppose Enoch
Soames was a fool! Up cropped a rival hypothesis: suppose _I_
was! I inclined to give Soames the benefit of the doubt. I had
read `L'Apres-midi d'un Faune' without extracting a glimmer of
meaning. Yet Mallarme--of course--was a Master. How was I
to know that Soames wasn't another? There was a sort of music
in his prose, not indeed arresting, but perhaps, I thought,
haunting, and laden perhaps with meanings as deep as
Mallarme's own. I awaited his poems with an open mind.
And I looked forward to them with positive impatience after I
had had a second meeting with him. This was on an evening in
January. Going into the aforesaid domino room, I passed a table
at which sat a pale man with an open book before him. He
looked from his book to me, and I looked back over my
shoulder with a vague sense that I ought to have recognised him.
I returned to pay my respects. After exchanging a few words, I
said with a glance to the open book, `I see I am interrupting
you,' and was about to pass on, but `I prefer,' Soames replied in
his toneless voice, `to be interrupted,' and I obeyed his gesture
that I should sit down.
I asked him if he often read here. `Yes; things of this kind I
read here,' he answered, indicating the title of his book--`The
Poems of Shelley.'
`Anything that you really'--and I was going to say `admire?'
But I cautiously left my sentence unfinished, and was glad that I
had done so, for he said, with unwonted emphasis, `Anything
I had read little of Shelley, but `Of course,' I murmured, `he's
`I should have thought evenness was just what was wrong with
him. A deadly evenness. That's why I read him here. The
noise of this place breaks the rhythm. He's tolerable here.'
Soames took up the book and glanced through the pages. He
laughed. Soames' laugh was a short, single and mirthless sound
from the throat, unaccompanied by any movement of the face or
brightening of the eyes. `What a period!' he uttered, laying the
book down. And `What a country!' he added.
I asked rather nervously if he didn't think Keats had more or
less held his own against the drawbacks of time and place. He
admitted that there were `passages in Keats,' but did not specify
them. Of `the older men,' as he called them, he seemed to like
only Milton. `Milton,' he said, `wasn't sentimental.' Also,
`Milton had a dark insight.' And again, `I can always read
Milton in the reading-room.'
`Of the British Museum. I go there every day.'
`You do? I've only been there once. I'm afraid I found it rather
a depressing place. It--it seemed to sap one's vitality.'
`It does. That's why I go there. The lower one's vitality, the
more sensitive one is to great art. I live near the Museum. I
have rooms in Dyott Street.'
`And you go round to the reading-room to read Milton?'
`Usually Milton.' He looked at me. `It was Milton,' he
certificatively added, `who converted me to Diabolism.'
`Diabolism? Oh yes? Really?' said I, with that vague
discomfort and that intense desire to be polite which one feels
when a man speaks of his own religion. `You--worship the
Soames shook his head. `It's not exactly worship,' he qualified,
sipping his absinthe. `It's more a matter of trusting and
`Ah, yes.... But I had rather gathered from the preface to
"Negations" that you were a--a Catholic.'
`Je l'etais a cette epoque. Perhaps I still am. Yes, I'm a
This profession he made in an almost cursory tone. I could see
that what was upmost in his mind was the fact that I had read
`Negations.' His pale eyes had for the first time gleamed. I felt
as one who is about to be examined, viva voce, on the very
subject in which he is shakiest. I hastily asked him how soon
his poems were to be published. `Next week,' he told me.
`And are they to be published without a title?'
`No. I found a title, at last. But I shan't tell you what it is,' as
though I had been so impertinent as to inquire. `I am not sure
that it wholly satisfies me. But it is the best I can find. It
suggests something of the quality of the poems.... Strange
growths, natural and wild, yet exquisite,' he added, `and many-
hued, and full of poisons.'
I asked him what he thought of Baudelaire. He uttered the snort
that was his laugh, and `Baudelaire,' he said, `was a bourgeois
malgre lui.' France had had only one poet: Villon; `and two-
thirds of Villon were sheer journalism.' Verlaine was `an
epicier malgre lui.' Altogether, rather to my surprise, he rated
French literature lower than English. There were `passages' in
Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. But `I,' he summed up, `owe nothing to
France.' He nodded at me. `You'll see,' he predicted.
I did not, when the time came, quite see that. I thought the
author of `Fungoids' did--unconsciously, of course--owe
something to the young Parisian decadents, or to the young
English ones who owed something to THEM. I still think so.
The little book--bought by me in Oxford--lies before me as I
write. Its pale grey buckram cover and silver lettering have not
worn well. Nor have its contents. Through these, with a
melancholy interest, I have again been looking. They are not
much. But at the time of their publication I had a vague
suspicion that they MIGHT be. I suppose it is my capacity for
faith, not poor Soames' work, that is weaker than it once was....
TO A YOUNG WOMAN.
Thou art, who hast not been!
Pale tunes irresolute
And traceries of old sounds
Blown from a rotted flute
Mingle with noise of cymbals rouged with rust,
Nor not strange forms and epicene
Lie bleeding in the dust,
Being wounded with wounds.
For this it is
That in thy counterpart
Of age-long mockeries
Thou hast not been nor art!
There seemed to me a certain inconsistency as between the first
and last lines of this. I tried, with bent brows, to resolve the
discord. But I did not take my failure as wholly incompatible
with a meaning in Soames' mind. Might it not rather indicate
the depth of his meaning? As for the craftsmanship, `rouged
with rust' seemed to me a fine stroke, and `nor not' instead of
`and' had a curious felicity. I wondered who the Young Woman
was, and what she had made of it all. I sadly suspect that
Soames could not have made more of it than she. Yet, even
now, if one doesn't try to make any sense at all of the poem, and
reads it just for the sound, there is a certain grace of cadence.
Soames was an artist--in so far as he was anything, poor fellow!
It seemed to me, when first I read `Fungoids,' that, oddly
enough, the Diabolistic side of him was the best. Diabolism
seemed to be a cheerful, even a wholesome, influence in his life.
Round and round the shutter'd Square
I stroll'd with the Devil's arm in mine.
No sound but the scrape of his hoofs was there
And the ring of his laughter and mine.
We had drunk black wine.
I scream'd, `I will race you, Master!'
`What matter,' he shriek'd, `to-night
Which of us runs the faster?
There is nothing to fear to-night
In the foul moon's light!'
Then I look'd him in the eyes,
And I laugh'd full shrill at the lie he told
And the gnawing fear he would fain disguise.
It was true, what I'd time and again been told:
He was old--old.
There was, I felt, quite a swing about that first stanza--a joyous
and rollicking note of comradeship. The second was slightly
hysterical perhaps. But I liked the third: it was so bracingly
unorthodox, even according to the tenets of Soames' peculiar
sect in the faith. Not much `trusting and encouraging' here!
Soames triumphantly exposing the Devil as a liar, and laughing
`full shrill,' cut a quite heartening figure, I thought--then! Now,
in the light of what befell, none of his poems depresses me so
much as `Nocturne.'
I looked out for what the metropolitan reviewers would have to
say. They seemed to fall into two classes: those who had little
to say and those who had nothing. The second class was the
larger, and the words of the first were cold; insomuch that
Strikes a note of modernity throughout.... These tripping
was the only lure offered in advertisements by Soames'
publisher. I had hopes that when next I met the poet I could
congratulate him on having made a stir; for I fancied he was not
so sure of his intrinsic greatness as he seemed. I was but able to
say, rather coarsely, when next I did see him, that I hoped
`Fungoids' was `selling splendidly.' He looked at me across his
glass of absinthe and asked if I had bought a copy. His
publisher had told him that three had been sold. I laughed, as at
`You don't suppose I CARE, do you?' he said, with something
like a snarl. I disclaimed the notion. He added that he was not a
tradesman. I said mildly that I wasn't, either, and murmured
that an artist who gave truly new and great things to the world
had always to wait long for recognition. He said he cared not a
sou for recognition. I agreed that the act of creation was its own
His moroseness might have alienated me if I had regarded
myself as a nobody. But ah! hadn't both John Lane and Aubrey
Beardsley suggested that I should write an essay for the great
new venture that was afoot--`The Yellow Book'? And hadn't
Henry Harland, as editor, accepted my essay? And wasn't it to
be in the very first number? At Oxford I was still in statu
pupillari. In London I regarded myself as very much indeed a
graduate now--one whom no Soames could ruffle. Partly to
show off, partly in sheer good-will, I told Soames he ought to
contribute to `The Yellow Book.' He uttered from the throat a
sound of scorn for that publication.
Nevertheless, I did, a day or two later, tentatively ask Harland if
he knew anything of the work of a man called Enoch Soames.
Harland paused in the midst of his characteristic stride around
the room, threw up his hands towards the ceiling, and groaned
aloud: he had often met `that absurd creature' in Paris, and this
very morning had received some poems in manuscript from him.
`Has he NO talent?' I asked.
`He has an income. He's all right.' Harland was the most
joyous of men and most generous of critics, and he hated to talk
of anything about which he couldn't be enthusiastic. So I
dropped the subject of Soames. The news that Soames had an
income did take the edge off solicitude. I learned afterwards
that he was the son of an unsuccessful and deceased bookseller
in Preston, but had inherited an annuity of 300 pounds from a
married aunt, and had no surviving relatives of any kind.
Materially, then, he was `all right.' But there was still a
spiritual pathos about him, sharpened for me now by the
possibility that even the praises of The Preston Telegraph might
not have been forthcoming had he not been the son of a Preston
man. He had a sort of weak doggedness which I could not but
admire. Neither he nor his work received the slightest
encouragement; but he persisted in behaving as a personage:
always he kept his dingy little flag flying. Wherever
congregated the jeunes feroces of the arts, in whatever Soho
restaurant they had just discovered, in whatever music-hall they
were most frequenting, there was Soames in the midst of them,
or rather on the fringe of them, a dim but inevitable figure. He
never sought to propitiate his fellow-writers, never bated a jot of
his arrogance about his own work or of his contempt for theirs.
To the painters he was respectful, even humble; but for the poets
and prosaists of `The Yellow Book,' and later of `The Savoy,'
he had never a word but of scorn. He wasn't resented. It didn't
occur to anybody that he or his Catholic Diabolism mattered.
When, in the autumn of '96, he brought out (at his own expense,
this time) a third book, his last book, nobody said a word for or
against it. I meant, but forgot, to buy it. I never saw it, and am
ashamed to say I don't even remember what it was called. But I
did, at the time of its publication, say to Rothenstein that I
thought poor old Soames was really a rather tragic figure, and
that I believed he would literally die for want of recognition.
Rothenstein scoffed. He said I was trying to get credit for a
kind heart which I didn't possess; and perhaps this was so. But
at the private view of the New English Art Club, a few weeks
later, I beheld a pastel portrait of `Enoch Soames, Esq.' It was
very like him, and very like Rothenstein to have done it.
Soames was standing near it, in his soft hat and his waterproof
cape, all through the afternoon. Anybody who knew him would
have recognised the portrait at a glance, but nobody who didn't
know him would have recognised the portrait from its
bystander: it `existed' so much more than he; it was bound to.
Also, it had not that expression of faint happiness which on this
day was discernible, yes, in Soames' countenance. Fame had
breathed on him. Twice again in the course of the month I went
to the New English, and on both occasions Soames himself was
on view there. Looking back, I regard the close of that
exhibition as having been virtually the close of his career. He
had felt the breath of Fame against his cheek--so late, for such a
little while; and at its withdrawal he gave in, gave up, gave out.
He, who had never looked strong or well, looked ghastly now--a
shadow of the shade he had once been. He still frequented the
domino room, but, having lost all wish to excite curiosity, he no
longer read books there. `You read only at the Museum now?'
asked I, with attempted cheerfulness. He said he never went
there now. `No absinthe there,' he muttered. It was the sort of
thing that in the old days he would have said for effect; but it
carried conviction now. Absinthe, erst but a point in the
`personality' he had striven so hard to build up, was solace and
necessity now. He no longer called it `la sorciere glauque.' He
had shed away all his French phrases. He had become a plain,
unvarnished, Preston man.
Failure, if it be a plain, unvarnished, complete failure, and even
though it be a squalid failure, has always a certain dignity. I
avoided Soames because he made me feel rather vulgar. John
Lane had published, by this time, two little books of mine, and
they had had a pleasant little success of esteem. I was a--slight
but definite--`personality.' Frank Harris had engaged me to
kick up my heels in The Saturday Review, Alfred Harmsworth
was letting me do likewise in The Daily Mail. I was just what
Soames wasn't. And he shamed my gloss. Had I known that he
really and firmly believed in the greatness of what he as an artist
had achieved, I might not have shunned him. No man who
hasn't lost his vanity can be held to have altogether failed.
Soames' dignity was an illusion of mine. One day in the first
week of June, 1897, that illusion went. But on the evening of
that day Soames went too.
I had been out most of the morning, and, as it was too late to
reach home in time for luncheon, I sought `the Vingtieme.' This
little place--Restaurant du Vingtieme Siecle, to give it its full
title--had been discovered in '96 by the poets and prosaists, but
had now been more or less abandoned in favour of some later
find. I don't think it lived long enough to justify its name; but at
that time there it still was, in Greek Street, a few doors from
Soho Square, and almost opposite to that house where, in the
first years of the century, a little girl, and with her a boy named
De Quincey, made nightly encampment in darkness and hunger
among dust and rats and old legal parchments. The Vingtieme
was but a small whitewashed room, leading out into the street at
one end and into a kitchen at the other. The proprietor and cook
was a Frenchman, known to us as Monsieur Vingtieme; the
waiters were his two daughters, Rose and Berthe; and the food,
according to faith, was good. The tables were so narrow, and
were set so close together, that there was space for twelve of
them, six jutting from either wall.
Only the two nearest to the door, as I went in, were occupied.
On one side sat a tall, flashy, rather Mephistophelian man whom
I had seen from time to time in the domino room and elsewhere.
On the other side sat Soames. They made a queer contrast in
that sunlit room--Soames sitting haggard in that hat and cape
which nowhere at any season had I seen him doff, and this
other, this keenly vital man, at sight of whom I more than ever
wondered whether he were a diamond merchant, a conjurer, or
the head of a private detective agency. I was sure Soames
didn't want my company; but I asked, as it would have seemed
brutal not to, whether I might join him, and took the chair
opposite to his. He was smoking a cigarette, with an untasted
salmi of something on his plate and a half-empty bottle of
Sauterne before him; and he was quite silent. I said that the
preparations for the Jubilee made London impossible. (I rather
liked them, really.) I professed a wish to go right away till the
whole thing was over. In vain did I attune myself to his gloom.
He seemed not to hear me nor even to see me. I felt that his
behaviour made me ridiculous in the eyes of the other man. The
gangway between the two rows of tables at the Vingtieme was
hardly more than two feet wide (Rose and Berthe, in their
ministrations, had always to edge past each other, quarrelling in
whispers as they did so), and any one at the table abreast of
yours was practically at yours. I thought our neighbour was
amused at my failure to interest Soames, and so, as I could not
explain to him that my insistence was merely charitable, I
became silent. Without turning my head, I had him well within
my range of vision. I hoped I looked less vulgar than he in
contrast with Soames. I was sure he was not an Englishman, but
what WAS his nationality? Though his jet-black hair was en
brosse, I did not think he was French. To Berthe, who waited
on him, he spoke French fluently, but with a hardly native idiom
and accent. I gathered that this was his first visit to the
Vingtieme; but Berthe was off-hand in her manner to him: he
had not made a good impression. His eyes were handsome, but-
-like the Vingtieme's tables--too narrow and set too close
together. His nose was predatory, and the points of his
moustache, waxed up beyond his nostrils, gave a fixity to his
smile. Decidedly, he was sinister. And my sense of discomfort
in his presence was intensified by the scarlet waistcoat which
tightly, and so unseasonably in June, sheathed his ample chest.
This waistcoat wasn't wrong merely because of the heat, either.
It was somehow all wrong in itself. It wouldn't have done on
Christmas morning. It would have struck a jarring note at the
first night of `Hernani.' I was trying to account for its
wrongness when Soames suddenly and strangely broke silence.
`A hundred years hence!' he murmured, as in a trance.
`We shall not be here!' I briskly but fatuously added.
`We shall not be here. No,' he droned, `but the Museum will
still be just where it is. And the reading-room, just where it is.
And people will be able to go and read there.' He inhaled
sharply, and a spasm as of actual pain contorted his features.
I wondered what train of thought poor Soames had been
following. He did not enlighten me when he said, after a long
pause, `You think I haven't minded.'
`Minded what, Soames?'
`FAILURE?' I said heartily. `Failure?' I repeated vaguely.
`Neglect--yes, perhaps; but that's quite another matter. Of
course you haven't been--appreciated. But what then? Any
artist who--who gives--' What I wanted to say was, `Any artist
who gives truly new and great things to the world has always to
wait long for recognition'; but the flattery would not out: in the
face of his misery, a misery so genuine and so unmasked, my
lips would not say the words.
And then--he said them for me. I flushed. `That's what you
were going to say, isn't it?' he asked.
`How did you know?'
`It's what you said to me three years ago, when "Fungoids" was
published.' I flushed the more. I need not have done so at all,
for `It's the only important thing I ever heard you say,' he
continued. `And I've never forgotten it. It's a true thing. It's a
horrible truth. But--d'you remember what I answered? I said "I
don't care a sou for recognition." And you believed me.
You've gone on believing I'm above that sort of thing. You're
shallow. What should YOU know of the feelings of a man like
me? You imagine that a great artist's faith in himself and in the
verdict of posterity is enough to keep him happy.... You've
never guessed at the bitterness and loneliness, the'--his voice
broke; but presently he resumed, speaking with a force that I
had never known in him. `Posterity! What use is it to ME? A
dead man doesn't know that people are visiting his grave--
visiting his birthplace--putting up tablets to him--unveiling
statues of him. A dead man can't read the books that are written
about him. A hundred years hence! Think of it! If I could
come back to life then--just for a few hours--and go to the
reading-room, and READ! Or better still: if I could be
projected, now, at this moment, into that future, into that
reading-room, just for this one afternoon! I'd sell myself body
and soul to the devil, for that! Think of the pages and pages in
the catalogue: "SOAMES, ENOCH" endlessly--endless editions,
commentaries, prolegomena, biographies'--but here he was
interrupted by a sudden loud creak of the chair at the next table.
Our neighbour had half risen from his place. He was leaning
towards us, apologetically intrusive.
`Excuse--permit me,' he said softly. `I have been unable not to
hear. Might I take a liberty? In this little restaurant-sans-
facon'--he spread wide his hands--`might I, as the phrase is, "cut
I could but signify our acquiescence. Berthe had appeared at the
kitchen door, thinking the stranger wanted his bill. He waved
her away with his cigar, and in another moment had seated
himself beside me, commanding a full view of Soames.
`Though not an Englishman,' he explained, `I know my London
well, Mr. Soames. Your name and fame--Mr. Beerbohm's too--
very known to me. Your point is: who am _I_?' He glanced
quickly over his shoulder, and in a lowered voice said `I am the
I couldn't help it: I laughed. I tried not to, I knew there was
nothing to laugh at, my rudeness shamed me, but--I laughed
with increasing volume. The Devil's quiet dignity, the surprise
and disgust of his raised eyebrows, did but the more dissolve
me. I rocked to and fro, I lay back aching. I behaved
`I am a gentleman, and,' he said with intense emphasis, `I
thought I was in the company of GENTLEMEN.'
`Don't!' I gasped faintly. `Oh, don't!'
`Curious, nicht wahr?' I heard him say to Soames. `There is a
type of person to whom the very mention of my name is--oh-so-
awfully-funny! In your theatres the dullest comedien needs
only to say "The Devil!" and right away they give him "the loud
laugh that speaks the vacant mind." Is it not so?'
I had now just breath enough to offer my apologies. He
accepted them, but coldly, and re-addressed himself to Soames.
`I am a man of business,' he said, `and always I would put
things through "right now," as they say in the States. You are a
poet. Les affaires--you detest them. So be it. But with me you
will deal, eh? What you have said just now gives me furiously
Soames had not moved, except to light a fresh cigarette. He sat
crouched forward, with his elbows squared on the table, and his
head just above the level of his hands, staring up at the Devil.
`Go on,' he nodded. I had no remnant of laughter in me now.
`It will be the more pleasant, our little deal,' the Devil went on,
`because you are--I mistake not?--a Diabolist.'
`A Catholic Diabolist,' said Soames.
The Devil accepted the reservation genially. `You wish,' he
resumed, `to visit now--this afternoon as-ever-is--the reading-
room of the British Museum, yes? but of a hundred years hence,
yes? Parfaitement. Time--an illusion. Past and future--they are
as ever-present as the present, or at any rate only what you call
"just-round-the-corner." I switch you on to any date. I project
you--pouf! You wish to be in the reading-room just as it will be
on the afternoon of June 3, 1997? You wish to find yourself
standing in that room, just past the swing-doors, this very
minute, yes? and to stay there till closing time? Am I right?'
The Devil looked at his watch. `Ten past two,' he said.
`Closing time in summer same then as now: seven o'clock. That
will give you almost five hours. At seven o'clock--pouf!--you
find yourself again here, sitting at this table. I am dining to-
night dans le monde--dans le higlif. That concludes my present
visit to your great city. I come and fetch you here, Mr. Soames,
on my way home.'
`Home?' I echoed.
`Be it never so humble!' said the Devil lightly.
`All right,' said Soames.
`Soames!' I entreated. But my friend moved not a muscle.
The Devil had made as though to stretch forth his hand across
the table and touch Soames' forearm; but he paused in his
`A hundred years hence, as now,' he smiled, `no smoking
allowed in the reading-room. You would better therefore----'
Soames removed the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it
into his glass of Sauterne.
`Soames!' again I cried. `Can't you'--but the Devil had now
stretched forth his hand across the table. He brought it slowly
down on--the tablecloth. Soames' chair was empty. His
cigarette floated sodden in his wine-glass. There was no other
trace of him.
For a few moments the Devil let his hand rest where it lay,
gazing at me out of the corners of his eyes, vulgarly triumphant.
A shudder shook me. With an effort I controlled myself and
rose from my chair. `Very clever,' I said condescendingly.
`But--"The Time Machine" is a delightful book, don't you
think? So entirely original!'
`You are pleased to sneer,' said the Devil, who had also risen,
`but it is one thing to write about an impossible machine; it is a
quite other thing to be a Supernatural Power.' All the same, I
Berthe had come forth at the sound of our rising. I explained to
her that Mr. Soames had been called away, and that both he and
I would be dining here. It was not until I was out in the open air
that I began to feel giddy. I have but the haziest recollection of
what I did, where I wandered, in the glaring sunshine of that
endless afternoon. I remember the sound of carpenters'
hammers all along Piccadilly, and the bare chaotic look of the
half-erected `stands.' Was it in the Green Park, or in
Kensington Gardens, or WHERE was it that I sat on a chair
beneath a tree, trying to read an evening paper? There was a
phrase in the leading article that went on repeating itself in my
fagged mind--`Little is hidden from this august Lady full of the
garnered wisdom of sixty years of Sovereignty.' I remember
wildly conceiving a letter (to reach Windsor by express
messenger told to await answer):
`MADAM,--Well knowing that your Majesty is full of the
garnered wisdom of sixty years of Sovereignty, I venture to ask
your advice in the following delicate matter. Mr. Enoch
Soames, whose poems you may or may not know,'....
Was there NO way of helping him--saving him? A bargain was
a bargain, and I was the last man to aid or abet any one in
wriggling out of a reasonable obligation. I wouldn't have lifted
a little finger to save Faust. But poor Soames!--doomed to pay
without respite an eternal price for nothing but a fruitless search
and a bitter disillusioning....
Odd and uncanny it seemed to me that he, Soames, in the flesh,
in the waterproof cape, was at this moment living in the last
decade of the next century, poring over books not yet written,
and seeing and seen by men not yet born. Uncannier and odder
still, that to-night and evermore he would be in Hell. Assuredly,
truth was stranger than fiction.
Endless that afternoon was. Almost I wished I had gone with
Soames--not indeed to stay in the reading-room, but to sally
forth for a brisk sight-seeing walk around a new London. I
wandered restlessly out of the Park I had sat in. Vainly I tried to
imagine myself an ardent tourist from the eighteenth century.
Intolerable was the strain of the slow-passing and empty
minutes. Long before seven o'clock I was back at the
I sat there just where I had sat for luncheon. Air came in
listlessly through the open door behind me. Now and again
Rose or Berthe appeared for a moment. I had told them I would
not order any dinner till Mr. Soames came. A hurdy-gurdy
began to play, abruptly drowning the noise of a quarrel between
some Frenchmen further up the street. Whenever the tune was
changed I heard the quarrel still raging. I had bought another
evening paper on my way. I unfolded it. My eyes gazed ever
away from it to the clock over the kitchen door....
Five minutes, now, to the hour! I remembered that clocks in
restaurants are kept five minutes fast. I concentrated my eyes
on the paper. I vowed I would not look away from it again. I
held it upright, at its full width, close to my face, so that I had
no view of anything but it.... Rather a tremulous sheet? Only
because of the draught, I told myself.
My arms gradually became stiff; they ached; but I could not
drop them--now. I had a suspicion, I had a certainty. Well,
what then?... What else had I come for? Yet I held tight that
barrier of newspaper. Only the sound of Berthe's brisk footstep
from the kitchen enabled me, forced me, to drop it, and to utter:
`What shall we have to eat, Soames?'
`Il est souffrant, ce pauvre Monsieur Soames?' asked Berthe.
`He's only--tired.' I asked her to get some wine--Burgundy--
and whatever food might be ready. Soames sat crouched
forward against the table, exactly as when last I had seen him.
It was as though he had never moved--he who had moved so
unimaginably far. Once or twice in the afternoon it had for an
instant occurred to me that perhaps his journey was not to be
fruitless--that perhaps we had all been wrong in our estimate of
the works of Enoch Soames. That we had been horribly right
was horribly clear from the look of him. But `Don't be
discouraged,' I falteringly said. `Perhaps it's only that you--
didn't leave enough time. Two, three centuries hence, perhaps--'
`Yes,' his voice came. `I've thought of that.'
`And now--now for the more immediate future! Where are you
going to hide? How would it be if you caught the Paris express
from Charing Cross? Almost an hour to spare. Don't go on to
Paris. Stop at Calais. Live in Calais. He'd never think of
looking for you in Calais.'
`It's like my luck,' he said, `to spend my last hours on earth
with an ass.' But I was not offended. `And a treacherous ass,'
he strangely added, tossing across to me a crumpled bit of paper
which he had been holding in his hand. I glanced at the writing
on it--some sort of gibberish, apparently. I laid it impatiently
`Come, Soames! pull yourself together! This isn't a mere matter
of life and death. It's a question of eternal torment, mind you!
You don't mean to say you're going to wait limply here till the
Devil comes to fetch you?'
`I can't do anything else. I've no choice.'
`Come! This is "trusting and encouraging" with a vengeance!
This is Diabolism run mad!' I filled his glass with wine.
`Surely, now that you've SEEN the brute--'
`It's no good abusing him.'
`You must admit there's nothing Miltonic about him, Soames.'
`I don't say he's not rather different from what I expected.'
`He's a vulgarian, he's a swell-mobsman, he's the sort of man
who hangs about the corridors of trains going to the Riviera and
steals ladies' jewel-cases. Imagine eternal torment presided
over by HIM!'
`You don't suppose I look forward to it, do you?'
`Then why not slip quietly out of the way?'
Again and again I filled his glass, and always, mechanically, he
emptied it; but the wine kindled no spark of enterprise in him.
He did not eat, and I myself ate hardly at all. I did not in my
heart believe that any dash for freedom could save him. The
chase would be swift, the capture certain. But better anything
than this passive, meek, miserable waiting. I told Soames that
for the honour of the human race he ought to make some show
of resistance. He asked what the human race had ever done for
him. `Besides,' he said, `can't you understand that I'm in his
power? You saw him touch me, didn't you? There's an end of
it. I've no will. I'm sealed.'
I made a gesture of despair. He went on repeating the word
`sealed.' I began to realise that the wine had clouded his brain.
No wonder! Foodless he had gone into futurity, foodless he still
was. I urged him to eat at any rate some bread. It was
maddening to think that he, who had so much to tell, might tell
nothing. `How was it all,' I asked, `yonder? Come! Tell me
`They'd make first-rate "copy," wouldn't they?'
`I'm awfully sorry for you, Soames, and I make all possible
allowances; but what earthly right have you to insinuate that I
should make "copy," as you call it, out of you?'
The poor fellow pressed his hands to his forehead. `I don't
know,' he said. `I had some reason, I know.... I'll try to
`That's right. Try to remember everything. Eat a little more
bread. What did the reading-room look like?'
`Much as usual,' he at length muttered.
`Many people there?'
`Usual sort of number.'
`What did they look like?'
Soames tried to visualise them. `They all,' he presently
remembered, `looked very like one another.'
My mind took a fearsome leap. `All dressed in Jaeger?'
`Yes. I think so. Greyish-yellowish stuff.'
`A sort of uniform?' He nodded. `With a number on it,
perhaps?--a number on a large disc of metal sewn on to the left
sleeve? DKF 78,910--that sort of thing?' It was even so. `And
all of them--men and women alike--looking very well-cared-
for? very Utopian? and smelling rather strongly of carbolic? and
all of them quite hairless?' I was right every time. Soames was
only not sure whether the men and women were hairless or
shorn. `I hadn't time to look at them very closely,' he
`No, of course not. But----'
`They stared at ME, I can tell you. I attracted a great deal of
attention.' At last he had done that! `I think I rather scared
them. They moved away whenever I came near. They followed
me about at a distance, wherever I went. The men at the round
desk in the middle seemed to have a sort of panic whenever I
went to make inquiries.'
`What did you do when you arrived?'
Well, he had gone straight to the catalogue, of course--to the S
volumes, and had stood long before SN--SOF, unable to take
this volume out of the shelf, because his heart was beating so....
At first, he said, he wasn't disappointed--he only thought there
was some new arrangement. He went to the middle desk and
asked where the catalogue of TWENTIETH-century books was
kept. He gathered that there was still only one catalogue. Again
he looked up his name, stared at the three little pasted slips he
had known so well. Then he went and sat down for a long
`And then,' he droned, `I looked up the "Dictionary of National
Biography" and some encyclopedias.... I went back to the
middle desk and asked what was the best modern book on late
nineteenth-century literature. They told me Mr. T. K. Nupton's
book was considered the best. I looked it up in the catalogue
and filled in a form for it. It was brought to me. My name
wasn't in the index, but-- Yes!' he said with a sudden change of
tone. `That's what I'd forgotten. Where's that bit of paper?
Give it me back.'
I, too, had forgotten that cryptic screed. I found it fallen on the
floor, and handed it to him.
He smoothed it out, nodding and smiling at me disagreeably. `I
found myself glancing through Nupton's book,' he resumed.
`Not very easy reading. Some sort of phonetic spelling.... All
the modern books I saw were phonetic.'
`Then I don't want to hear any more, Soames, please.'
`The proper names seemed all to be spelt in the old way. But
for that, I mightn't have noticed my own name.'
`Your own name? Really? Soames, I'm VERY glad.'
`I thought I should find you waiting here to-night. So I took the
trouble to copy out the passage. Read it.'
I snatched the paper. Soames' handwriting was
characteristically dim. It, and the noisome spelling, and my
excitement, made me all the slower to grasp what T. K. Nupton
was driving at.
The document lies before me at this moment. Strange that the
words I here copy out for you were copied out for me by poor
Soames just seventy-eight years hence....
From p. 234 of `Inglish Littracher 1890-1900' bi T. K. Nupton,
publishd bi th Stait, 1992:
`Fr egzarmpl, a riter ov th time, naimd Max Beerbohm, hoo woz
stil alive in th twentieth senchri, rote a stauri in wich e pautraid
an immajnari karrakter kauld "Enoch Soames"--a thurd-rait poit
hoo beleevz imself a grate jeneus an maix a bargin with th
Devvl in auder ter no wot posterriti thinx ov im! It iz a sumwot
labud sattire but not without vallu az showing hou seriusli the
yung men ov th aiteen-ninetiz took themselvz. Nou that the
littreri profeshn haz bin auganized az a departmnt of publik
servis, our riters hav found their levvl an hav lernt ter doo their
duti without thort ov th morro. "Th laibrer iz werthi ov hiz
hire," an that iz aul. Thank hevvn we hav no Enoch Soameses
amung us to-dai!'
I found that by murmuring the words aloud (a device which I
commend to my reader) I was able to master them, little by
little. The clearer they became, the greater was my
bewilderment, my distress and horror. The whole thing was a
nightmare. Afar, the great grisly background of what was in
store for the poor dear art of letters; here, at the table, fixing on
me a gaze that made me hot all over, the poor fellow whom--
whom evidently...but no: whatever down-grade my character
might take in coming years, I should never be such a brute as
Again I examined the screed. `Immajnari'--but here Soames
was, no more imaginary, alas! than I. And `labud'--what on
earth was that? (To this day, I have never made out that word.)
`It's all very--baffling,' I at length stammered.
Soames said nothing, but cruelly did not cease to look at me.
`Are you sure,' I temporised, `quite sure you copied the thing
`Well, then it's this wretched Nupton who must have made--
must be going to make--some idiotic mistake.... Look here,
Soames! you know me better than to suppose that I.... After all,
the name "Max Beerbohm" is not at all an uncommon one, and
there must be several Enoch Soameses running around--or
rather, "Enoch Soames" is a name that might occur to any one
writing a story. And I don't write stories: I'm an essayist, an
observer, a recorder.... I admit that it's an extraordinary
coincidence. But you must see----'
`I see the whole thing,' said Soames quietly. And he added,
with a touch of his old manner, but with more dignity than I had
ever known in him, `Parlons d'autre chose.'
I accepted that suggestion very promptly. I returned straight to
the more immediate future. I spent most of the long evening in
renewed appeals to Soames to slip away and seek refuge
somewhere. I remember saying at last that if indeed I was
destined to write about him, the supposed `stauri' had better
have at least a happy ending. Soames repeated those last three
words in a tone of intense scorn. `In Life and in Art,' he said,
`all that matters is an INEVITABLE ending.'
`But,' I urged, more hopefully than I felt, `an ending that can be
avoided ISN'T inevitable.'
`You aren't an artist,' he rasped. `And you're so hopelessly not
an artist that, so far from being able to imagine a thing and make
it seem true, you're going to make even a true thing seem as if
you'd made it up. You're a miserable bungler. And it's like my
I protested that the miserable bungler was not I--was not going
to be I--but T. K. Nupton; and we had a rather heated argument,
in the thick of which it suddenly seemed to me that Soames saw
he was in the wrong: he had quite physically cowered. But I
wondered why--and now I guessed with a cold throb just why--
he stared so, past me. The bringer of that `inevitable ending'
filled the doorway.
I managed to turn in my chair and to say, not without a
semblance of lightness, `Aha, come in!' Dread was indeed
rather blunted in me by his looking so absurdly like a villain in a
melodrama. The sheen of his tilted hat and of his shirt-front, the
repeated twists he was giving to his moustache, and most of all
the magnificence of his sneer, gave token that he was there only
to be foiled.
He was at our table in a stride. `I am sorry,' he sneered
witheringly, `to break up your pleasant party, but--'
`You don't: you complete it,' I assured him. `Mr. Soames and I
want to have a little talk with you. Won't you sit? Mr. Soames
got nothing--frankly nothing--by his journey this afternoon. We
don't wish to say that the whole thing was a swindle--a common
swindle. On the contrary, we believe you meant well. But of
course the bargain, such as it was, is off.'
The Devil gave no verbal answer. He merely looked at Soames
and pointed with rigid forefinger to the door. Soames was
wretchedly rising from his chair when, with a desperate quick
gesture, I swept together two dinner-knives that were on the
table, and laid their blades across each other. The Devil stepped
sharp back against the table behind him, averting his face and
`You are not superstitious!' he hissed.
`Not at all,' I smiled.
`Soames!' he said as to an underling, but without turning his
face, `put those knives straight!'
With an inhibitive gesture to my friend, `Mr. Soames,' I said
emphatically to the Devil, `is a CATHOLIC Diabolist'; but my
poor friend did the Devil's bidding, not mine; and now, with his
master's eyes again fixed on him, he arose, he shuffled past me.
I tried to speak. It was he that spoke. `Try,' was the prayer he
threw back at me as the Devil pushed him roughly out through
the door, `TRY to make them know that I did exist!'
In another instant I too was through that door. I stood staring all
ways--up the street, across it, down it. There was moonlight and
lamplight, but there was not Soames nor that other.
Dazed, I stood there. Dazed, I turned back, at length, into the
little room; and I suppose I paid Berthe or Rose for my dinner
and luncheon, and for Soames': I hope so, for I never went to
the Vingtieme again. Ever since that night I have avoided
Greek Street altogether. And for years I did not set foot even in
Soho Square, because on that same night it was there that I
paced and loitered, long and long, with some such dull sense of
hope as a man has in not straying far from the place where he
has lost something.... `Round and round the shutter'd Square'--
that line came back to me on my lonely beat, and with it the
whole stanza, ringing in my brain and bearing in on me how
tragically different from the happy scene imagined by him was
the poet's actual experience of that prince in whom of all
princes we should put not our trust.
But--strange how the mind of an essayist, be it never so stricken,
roves and ranges!--I remember pausing before a wide doorstep
and wondering if perchance it was on this very one that the
young De Quincey lay ill and faint while poor Ann flew as fast
as her feet would carry her to Oxford Street, the `stony-hearted
stepmother' of them both, and came back bearing that `glass of
port wine and spices' but for which he might, so he thought,
actually have died. Was this the very doorstep that the old De
Quincey used to revisit in homage? I pondered Ann's fate, the
cause of her sudden vanishing from the ken of her boy-friend;
and presently I blamed myself for letting the past over-ride the
present. Poor vanished Soames!
And for myself, too, I began to be troubled. What had I better
do? Would there be a hue and cry--Mysterious Disappearance
of an Author, and all that? He had last been seen lunching and
dining in my company. Hadn't I better get a hansom and drive
straight to Scotland Yard?... They would think I was a lunatic.
After all, I reassured myself, London was a very large place, and
one very dim figure might easily drop out of it unobserved--now
especially, in the blinding glare of the near Jubilee. Better say
nothing at all, I thought.
And I was right. Soames' disappearance made no stir at all. He
was utterly forgotten before any one, so far as I am aware,
noticed that he was no longer hanging around. Now and again
some poet or prosaist may have said to another, `What has
become of that man Soames?' but I never heard any such
question asked. The solicitor through whom he was paid his
annuity may be presumed to have made inquiries, but no echo of
these resounded. There was something rather ghastly to me in
the general unconsciousness that Soames had existed, and more
than once I caught myself wondering whether Nupton, that babe
unborn, were going to be right in thinking him a figment of my
In that extract from Nupton's repulsive book there is one point
which perhaps puzzles you. How is it that the author, though I
have here mentioned him by name and have quoted the exact
words he is going to write, is not going to grasp the obvious
corollary that I have invented nothing? The answer can be only
this: Nupton will not have read the later passages of this
memoir. Such lack of thoroughness is a serious fault in any one
who undertakes to do scholar's work. And I hope these words
will meet the eye of some contemporary rival to Nupton and be
the undoing of Nupton.
I like to think that some time between 1992 and 1997 somebody
will have looked up this memoir, and will have forced on the
world his inevitable and startling conclusions. And I have
reasons for believing that this will be so. You realise that the
reading-room into which Soames was projected by the Devil
was in all respects precisely as it will be on the afternoon of
June 3, 1997. You realise, therefore, that on that afternoon,
when it comes round, there the self-same crowd will be, and
there Soames too will be, punctually, he and they doing
precisely what they did before. Recall now Soames' account of
the sensation he made. You may say that the mere difference of
his costume was enough to make him sensational in that
uniformed crowd. You wouldn't say so if you had ever seen
him. I assure you that in no period could Soames be anything
but dim. The fact that people are going to stare at him, and
follow him around, and seem afraid of him, can be explained
only on the hypothesis that they will somehow have been
prepared for his ghostly visitation. They will have been awfully
waiting to see whether he really would come. And when he
does come the effect will of course be--awful.
An authentic, guaranteed, proven ghost, but--only a ghost, alas!
Only that. In his first visit, Soames was a creature of flesh and
blood, whereas the creatures into whose midst he was projected
were but ghosts, I take it--solid, palpable, vocal, but
unconscious and automatic ghosts, in a building that was itself
an illusion. Next time, that building and those creatures will be
real. It is of Soames that there will be but the semblance. I
wish I could think him destined to revisit the world actually,
physically, consciously. I wish he had this one brief escape, this
one small treat, to look forward to. I never forget him for long.
He is where he is, and forever. The more rigid moralists among
you may say he has only himself to blame. For my part, I think
he has been very hardly used. It is well that vanity should be
chastened; and Enoch Soames' vanity was, I admit, above the
average, and called for special treatment. But there was no need
for vindictiveness. You say he contracted to pay the price he is
paying; yes; but I maintain that he was induced to do so by
fraud. Well-informed in all things, the Devil must have known
that my friend would gain nothing by his visit to futurity. The
whole thing was a very shabby trick. The more I think of it, the
more detestable the Devil seems to me.
Of him I have caught sight several times, here and there, since
that day at the Vingtieme. Only once, however, have I seen him
at close quarters. This was in Paris. I was walking, one
afternoon, along the Rue d'Antin, when I saw him advancing
from the opposite direction--over-dressed as ever, and swinging
an ebony cane, and altogether behaving as though the whole
pavement belonged to him. At thought of Enoch Soames and
the myriads of other sufferers eternally in this brute's dominion,
a great cold wrath filled me, and I drew myself up to my full
height. But--well, one is so used to nodding and smiling in the
street to anybody whom one knows that the action becomes
almost independent of oneself: to prevent it requires a very
sharp effort and great presence of mind. I was miserably aware,
as I passed the Devil, that I nodded and smiled to him. And my
shame was the deeper and hotter because he, if you please,
stared straight at me with the utmost haughtiness.
To be cut--deliberately cut--by HIM! I was, I still am, furious at
having had that happen to me.
HILARY MALTBY AND STEPHEN BRAXTON
People still go on comparing Thackeray and Dickens, quite cheerfully.
But the fashion of comparing Maltby and Braxton went out so long ago
as 1795. No, I am wrong. But anything that happened in the bland old
days before the war does seem to be a hundred more years ago than
actually it is. The year I mean is the one in whose spring-time we
all went bicycling (O thrill!) in Battersea Park, and ladies wore
sleeves that billowed enormously out from their shoulders, and Lord
Rosebery was Prime Minister.
In that Park, in that spring-time, in that sea of sleeves, there was
almost as much talk about the respective merits of Braxton and Maltby
as there was about those of Rudge and Humber. For the benefit of my
younger readers, and perhaps, so feeble is human memory, for the
benefit of their elders too, let me state that Rudge and Humber were
rival makers of bicycles, that Hilary Maltby was the author of `Ariel
in Mayfair,' and Stephen Braxton of `A Faun on the Cotswolds.'
`Which do you think is REALLY the best--"Ariel" or "A Faun"?' Ladies
were always asking one that question. `Oh, well, you know, the two
are so different. It's really very hard to compare them.' One was
always giving that answer. One was not very brilliant perhaps.
The vogue of the two novels lasted throughout the summer. As both
were `firstlings,' and Great Britain had therefore nothing else of
Braxton's or Maltby's to fall back on, the horizon was much scanned
for what Maltby, and what Braxton, would give us next. In the autumn
Braxton gave us his secondling. It was an instantaneous failure. No
more was he compared with Maltby. In the spring of '96 came Maltby's
secondling. Its failure was instantaneous. Maltby might once more
have been compared with Braxton. But Braxton was now forgotten. So
This was not kind. This was not just. Maltby's first novel, and
Braxton's, had brought delight into many thousands of homes. People
should have paused to say of Braxton "Perhaps his third novel will be
better than his second," and to say as much for Maltby. I blame
people for having given no sign of wanting a third from either; and I
blame them with the more zest because neither `A Faun on the
Cotswolds' nor `Ariel in Mayfair' was a merely popular book: each, I
maintain, was a good book. I don't go so far as to say that the one
had `more of natural magic, more of British woodland glamour, more of
the sheer joy of life in it than anything since "As You Like It,"'
though Higsby went so far as this in the Daily Chronicle; nor can I
allow the claim made for the other by Grigsby in the Globe that `for
pungency of satire there has been nothing like it since Swift laid
down his pen, and for sheer sweetness and tenderness of feeling--ex
forti dulcedo--nothing to be mentioned in the same breath with it
since the lute fell from the tired hand of Theocritus.' These were
foolish exaggerations. But one must not condemn a thing because it
has been over-praised. Maltby's `Ariel' was a delicate, brilliant
work; and Braxton's `Faun,' crude though it was in many ways, had yet
a genuine power and beauty. This is not a mere impression remembered
from early youth. It is the reasoned and seasoned judgment of middle
age. Both books have been out of print for many years; but I secured
a second-hand copy of each not long ago, and found them well worth
From the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the outbreak of the war,
current literature did not suffer from any lack of fauns. But when
Braxton's first book appeared fauns had still an air of novelty about
them. We had not yet tired of them and their hoofs and their slanting
eyes and their way of coming suddenly out of woods to wean quiet
English villages from respectability. We did tire later. But
Braxton's faun, even now, seems to me an admirable specimen of his
class--wild and weird, earthy, goat-like, almost convincing. And I
find myself convinced altogether by Braxton's rustics. I admit that I
do not know much about rustics, except from novels. But I plead that
the little I do know about them by personal observation does not
confirm much of what the many novelists have taught me. I plead also
that Braxton may well have been right about the rustics of
Gloucestershire because he was (as so many interviewers recorded of
him in his brief heyday) the son of a yeoman farmer at Far Oakridge,
and his boyhood had been divided between that village and the Grammar
School at Stroud. Not long ago I happened to be staying in the
neighbourhood, and came across several villagers who might, I assure
you, have stepped straight out of Braxton's pages. For that matter,
Braxton himself, whom I met often in the spring of '95, might have
stepped straight out of his own pages.
I am guilty of having wished he would step straight back into them.
He was a very surly fellow, very rugged and gruff. He was the
antithesis of pleasant little Maltby. I used to think that perhaps he
would have been less unamiable if success had come to him earlier. He
was thirty years old when his book was published, and had had a very
hard time since coming to London at the age of sixteen. Little Maltby
was a year older, and so had waited a year longer; but then, he had
waited under a comfortable roof at Twickenham, emerging into the
metropolis for no grimmer purpose than to sit and watch the
fashionable riders and walkers in Rotten Row, and then going home to
write a little, or to play lawn-tennis with the young ladies of
Twickenham. He had been the only child of his parents (neither of
whom, alas, survived to take pleasure in their darling's sudden fame).
He had now migrated from Twickenham and taken rooms in Ryder Street.
Had he ever shared with Braxton the bread of adversity--but no, I
think he would in any case have been pleasant. And conversely I
cannot imagine that Braxton would in any case have been so.
No one seeing the two rivals together, no one meeting them at Mr.
Hookworth's famous luncheon parties in the Authors' Club, or at Mrs.
Foster-Dugdale's not less famous garden parties in Greville Place,
would have supposed off-hand that the pair had a single point in
common. Dapper little Maltby--blond, bland, diminutive Maltby, with
his monocle and his gardenia; big black Braxton, with his lanky hair
and his square blue jaw and his square sallow forehead. Canary and
crow. Maltby had a perpetual chirrup of amusing small-talk. Braxton
was usually silent, but very well worth listening to whenever he did
croak. He had distinction, I admit it; the distinction of one who
steadfastly refuses to adapt himself to surroundings. He stood out.
He awed Mr. Hookworth. Ladies were always asking one another, rather
intently, what they thought of him. One could imagine that Mr.
Foster-Dugdale, had he come home from the City to attend the garden
parties, might have regarded him as one from whom Mrs. Foster-Dugdale
should be shielded. But the casual observer of Braxton and Maltby at
Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or elsewhere was wrong in supposing that the two
were totally unlike. He overlooked one simple and obvious point.
This was that he had met them both at Mrs. Foster-Dugdale's or
elsewhere. Wherever they were invited, there certainly, there
punctually, they would be. They were both of them gluttons for the
fruits and signs of their success.
Interviewers and photographers had as little reason as had hostesses
to complain of two men so earnestly and assiduously `on the make' as
Maltby and Braxton. Maltby, for all his sparkle, was earnest;
Braxton, for all his arrogance, assiduous.
`A Faun on the Cotswolds' had no more eager eulogist than the author
of `Ariel in Mayfair.' When any one praised his work, Maltby would
lightly disparage it in comparison with Braxton's--`Ah, if I could
write like THAT!' Maltby won golden opinions in this way. Braxton,
on the other hand, would let slip no opportunity for sneering at
Maltby's work--`gimcrack,' as he called it. This was not good for
Maltby. Different men, different methods.
`The Rape of the Lock' was `gimcrack,' if you care to call it so; but
it was a delicate, brilliant work; and so, I repeat, was Maltby's
`Ariel.' Absurd to compare Maltby with Pope? I am not so sure. I
have read `Ariel,' but have never read `The Rape of the Lock.'
Braxton's opprobrious term for `Ariel' may not, however, have been due
to jealousy alone. Braxton had imagination, and his rival did not
soar above fancy. But the point is that Maltby's fancifulness went
far and well. In telling how Ariel re-embodied himself from thin air,
leased a small house in Chesterfield Street, was presented at a Levee,
played the part of good fairy in a matter of true love not running
smooth, and worked meanwhile all manner of amusing changes among the
aristocracy before he vanished again, Maltby showed a very pretty
range of ingenuity. In one respect, his work was a more surprising
achievement than Braxton's. For whereas Braxton had been born and
bred among his rustics, Maltby knew his aristocrats only through
Thackeray, through the photographs and paragraphs in the newspapers,
and through those passionate excursions of his to Rotten Row. Yet I
found his aristocrats as convincing as Braxton's rustics. It is true
that I may have been convinced wrongly. That is a point which I could
settle only by experience. I shift my ground, claiming for Maltby's
aristocrats just this: that they pleased me very much.
Aristocrats, when they are presented solely through a novelist's sense
of beauty, do not satisfy us. They may be as beautiful as all that,
but, for fear of thinking ourselves snobbish, we won't believe it. We
do believe it, however, and revel in it, when the novelist saves his
face and ours by a pervading irony in the treatment of what he loves.
The irony must, mark you, be pervading and obvious. Disraeli's great
ladies and lords won't do, for his irony was but latent in his homage,
and thus the reader feels himself called on to worship and in duty
bound to scoff. All's well, though, when the homage is latent in the
irony. Thackeray, inviting us to laugh and frown over the follies of
Mayfair, enables us to reel with him in a secret orgy of veneration
for those fools.
Maltby, too, in his measure, enabled us to reel thus. That is mainly
why, before the end of April, his publisher was in a position to state
that `the Seventh Large Impression of "Ariel in Mayfair" is almost
exhausted.' Let it be put to our credit, however, that at the same
moment Braxton's publisher had `the honour to inform the public that
an Eighth Large Impression of "A Faun on the Cotswolds" is in instant
Indeed, it seemed impossible for either author to outvie the other in
success and glory. Week in, week out, you saw cancelled either's
every momentary advantage. A neck-and-neck race. As thus:--Maltby
appears as a Celebrity At Home in the World (Tuesday). Ha! No,
Vanity Fair (Wednesday) has a perfect presentment of Braxton by `Spy.'
Neck-and-neck! No, Vanity Fair says `the subject of next week's
cartoon will be Mr. Hilary Maltby.' Maltby wins! No, next week
Braxton's in the World.
Throughout May I kept, as it were, my eyes glued to my field-glasses.
On the first Monday in June I saw that which drew from me a hoarse
Let me explain that always on Monday mornings at this time of year,
when I opened my daily paper, I looked with respectful interest to see
what bevy of the great world had been entertained since Saturday at
Keeb Hall. The list was always august and inspiring. Statecraft and
Diplomacy were well threaded there with mere Lineage and mere Beauty,
with Royalty sometimes, with mere Wealth never, with privileged Genius
now and then. A noble composition always. It was said that the Duke
of Hertfordshire cared for nothing but his collection of birds' eggs,
and that the collections of guests at Keeb were formed entirely by his
young Duchess. It was said that he had climbed trees in every corner
of every continent. The Duchess' hobby was easier. She sat aloft and
beckoned desirable specimens up.
The list published on that first Monday in June began ordinarily
enough, began with the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador and the Portuguese
Minister. Then came the Duke and Duchess of Mull, followed by four
lesser Peers (two of them Proconsuls, however) with their Peeresses,
three Peers without their Peeresses, four Peeresses without their
Peers, and a dozen bearers of courtesy-titles with or without their
wives or husbands. The rear was brought up by `Mr. A. J. Balfour, Mr.
Henry Chaplin, and Mr. Hilary Maltby.'
Youth tends to look at the darker side of things. I confess that my
first thought was for Braxton.
I forgave and forgot his faults of manner. Youth is generous. It
does not criticise a strong man stricken.
And anon, so habituated was I to the parity of those two strivers, I
conceived that there might be some mistake. Daily newspapers are
printed in a hurry. Might not `Henry Chaplin' be a typographical
error for `Stephen Braxton'? I went out and bought another newspaper.
But Mr. Chaplin's name was in that too.
`Patience!' I said to myself. `Braxton crouches only to spring. He
will be at Keeb Hall on Saturday next.'
My mind was free now to dwell with pleasure on Maltby's great
achievement. I thought of writing to congratulate him, but feared
this might be in bad taste. I did, however, write asking him to lunch
with me. He did not answer my letter. I was, therefore, all the more
sorry, next Monday, at not finding `and Mr. Stephen Braxton' in Keeb's
A few days later I met Mr. Hookworth. He mentioned that Stephen
Braxton had left town. `He has taken,' said Hookworth, `a delightful
bungalow on the east coast. He has gone there to WORK.' He added
that he had a great liking for Braxton--`a man utterly UNSPOILT.' I
inferred that he, too, had written to Maltby and received no answer.
That butterfly did not, however, appear to be hovering from flower to
flower in the parterres of rank and fashion. In the daily lists of
guests at dinners, receptions, dances, balls, the name of Maltby
figured never. Maltby had not caught on.
Presently I heard that he, too, had left town. I gathered that he had
gone quite early in June--quite soon after Keeb. Nobody seemed to
know where he was. My own theory was that he had taken a delightful
bungalow on the west coast, to balance Braxton. Anyhow, the parity of
the two strivers was now somewhat re-established.
In point of fact, the disparity had been less than I supposed. While
Maltby was at Keeb, there Braxton was also--in a sense.... It was a
strange story. I did not hear it at the time. Nobody did. I heard
it seventeen years later. I heard it in Lucca.
Little Lucca I found so enchanting that, though I had only a day or
two to spare, I stayed there a whole month. I formed the habit of
walking, every morning, round that high-pitched path which girdles
Lucca, that wide and tree-shaded path from which one looks down over
the city wall at the fertile plains beneath Lucca. There were never
many people there; but the few who did come came daily, so that I grew
to like seeing them and took a mild personal interest in them.
One of them was an old lady in a wheeled chair. She was not less than
seventy years old, and might or might not have once been beautiful.
Her chair was slowly propelled by an Italian woman. She herself was
obviously Italian. Not so, however, the little gentleman who walked
assiduously beside her. Him I guessed to be English. He was a very
stout little gentleman, with gleaming spectacles and a full blond
beard, and he seemed to radiate cheerfulness. I thought at first that
he might be the old lady's resident physician; but no, there was
something subtly un-professional about him: I became sure that his
constancy was gratuitous, and his radiance real. And one day, I know
not how, there dawned on me a suspicion that he was--who?--some one I
had known--some writer--what's-his-name--something with an M--Maltby--
Hilary Maltby of the long-ago!
At sight of him on the morrow this suspicion hardened almost to
certainty. I wished I could meet him alone and ask him if I were not
right, and what he had been doing all these years, and why he had left
England. He was always with the old lady. It was only on my last day
in Lucca that my chance came.
I had just lunched, and was seated on a comfortable bench outside my
hotel, with a cup of coffee on the table before me, gazing across the
faded old sunny piazza and wondering what to do with my last
afternoon. It was then that I espied yonder the back of the putative
Maltby. I hastened forth to him. He was buying some pink roses, a
great bunch of them, from a market-woman under an umbrella. He looked
very blank, he flushed greatly, when I ventured to accost him. He
admitted that his name was Hilary Maltby. I told him my own name, and
by degrees he remembered me. He apologised for his confusion. He
explained that he had not talked English, had not talked to an
Englishman, `for--oh, hundreds of years.' He said that he had, in the
course of his long residence in Lucca, seen two or three people whom
he had known in England, but that none of them had recognised him. He
accepted (but as though he were embarking on the oddest adventure in
the world) my invitation that he should come and sit down and take
coffee with me. He laughed with pleasure and surprise at finding that
he could still speak his native tongue quite fluently and
idiomatically. `I know absolutely nothing,' he said, `about England
nowadays--except from stray references to it in the Corriere della
Sera; nor did he show the faintest desire that I should enlighten him.
`England,' he mused, `--how it all comes back to me!'
`But not you to it?'
`Ah, no indeed,' he said gravely, looking at the roses which he had
laid carefully on the marble table. `I am the happiest of men.'
He sipped his coffee, and stared out across the piazza, out beyond it
into the past.
`I am the happiest of men,' he repeated. I plied him with the spur of
`And I owe it all to having once yielded to a bad impulse. Absurd,
the threads our destinies hang on!'
Again I plied him with that spur. As it seemed not to prick him, I
repeated the words he had last spoken. `For instance?' I added.
`Take,' he said, `a certain evening in the spring of '95. If, on that
evening, the Duchess of Hertfordshire had had a bad cold; or if she
had decided that it WOULDN'T be rather interesting to go on to that
party--that Annual Soiree, I think it was--of the Inkwomen's Club; or
again--to go a step further back--if she hadn't ever written that one
little poem, and if it HADN'T been printed in "The Gentlewoman," and
if the Inkwomen's committee HADN'T instantly and unanimously elected
her an Honorary Vice-President because of that one little poem; or if-
-well, if a million-and-one utterly irrelevant things hadn't happened,
don't-you-know, I shouldn't be here.... I might be THERE,' he smiled,
with a vague gesture indicating England.
`Suppose,' he went on, `I hadn't been invited to that Annual Soiree;
or suppose that other fellow,--
`Braxton?' I suggested. I had remembered Braxton at the moment of
`Suppose HE hadn't been asked.... But of course we both were. It
happened that I was the first to be presented to the Duchess.... It
was a great moment. I hoped I should keep my head. She wore a tiara.
I had often seen women in tiaras, at the Opera. But I had never
talked to a woman in a tiara. Tiaras were symbols to me. Eyes are
just a human feature. I fixed mine on the Duchess's. I kept my head
by not looking at hers. I behaved as one human being to another. She
seemed very intelligent. We got on very well. Presently she asked
whether I should think her VERY bold if she said how PERFECTLY divine
she thought my book. I said something about doing my best, and asked
with animation whether she had read "A Faun on the Cotswolds." She
had. She said it was TOO wonderful, she said it was TOO great. If
she hadn't been a Duchess, I might have thought her slightly
hysterical. Her innate good-sense quickly reasserted itself. She
used her great power. With a wave of her magic wand she turned into a
fact the glittering possibility that had haunted me. She asked me
down to Keeb.
`She seemed very pleased that I would come. Was I, by any chance,
free on Saturday week? She hoped there would be some amusing people
to meet me. Could I come by the 3.30? It was only an hour-and-a-
quarter from Victoria. On Saturday there were always compartments
reserved for people coming to Keeb by the 3.30. She hoped I would
bring my bicycle with me. She hoped I wouldn't find it very dull.
She hoped I wouldn't forget to come. She said how lovely it must be
to spend one's life among clever people. She supposed I knew
everybody here to-night. She asked me to tell her who everybody was.
She asked who was the tall, dark man, over there. I told her it was
Stephen Braxton. She said they had promised to introduce her to him.
She added that he looked rather wonderful. "Oh, he is, very," I
assured her. She turned to me with a sudden appeal: "DO you think, if
I took my courage in both hands and asked him, he'd care to come to
`I hesitated. It would be easy to say that Satan answered FOR me;
easy but untrue; it was I that babbled: "Well--as a matter of fact--
since you ask me--if I were you--really I think you'd better not.
He's very odd in some ways. He has an extraordinary hatred of
sleeping out of London. He has the real Gloucestershire LOVE of
London. At the same time, he's very shy; and if you asked him he
wouldn't very well know how to refuse. I think it would be KINDER not
to ask him."
`At that moment, Mrs. Wilpham--the President--loomed up to us,
bringing Braxton. He bore himself well. Rough dignity with a touch
of mellowness. I daresay you never saw him smile. He smiled gravely
down at the Duchess, while she talked in her pretty little quick
humble way. He made a great impression.
`What I had done was not merely base: it was very dangerous. I was in
terror that she might rally him on his devotion to London. I didn't
dare to move away. I was immensely relieved when at length she said
she must be going.
`Braxton seemed loth to relax his grip on her hand at parting. I
feared she wouldn't escape without uttering that invitation. But all
was well.... In saying good night to me, she added in a murmur,
"Don't forget Keeb--Saturday week--the 3.30." Merely an exquisite
murmur. But Braxton heard it. I knew, by the diabolical look he gave
me, that Braxton had heard it.... If he hadn't, I shouldn't be here.
`Was I a prey to remorse? Well, in the days between that Soiree and
that Saturday, remorse often claimed me, but rapture wouldn't give me
up. Arcady, Olympus, the right people, at last! I hadn't realised
how good my book was--not till it got me this guerdon; not till I got
it this huge advertisement. I foresaw how pleased my publisher would
be. In some great houses, I knew, it was possible to stay without any
one knowing you had been there. But the Duchess of Hertfordshire hid
her light under no bushel. Exclusive she was, but not of publicity.
Next to Windsor Castle, Keeb Hall was the most advertised house in all
`Meanwhile, I had plenty to do. I rather thought of engaging a valet,
but decided that this wasn't necessary. On the other hand, I felt a
need for three new summer suits, and a new evening suit, and some new
white waistcoats. Also a smoking suit. And had any man ever stayed
at Keeb without a dressing-case? Hitherto I had been content with a
pair of wooden brushes, and so forth. I was afraid these would appal
the footman who unpacked my things. I ordered, for his sake, a large
dressing-case, with my initials engraved throughout it. It looked
compromisingly new when it came to me from the shop. I had to kick it
industriously, and throw it about and scratch it, so as to avert
possible suspicion. The tailor did not send my things home till the
Friday evening. I had to sit up late, wearing the new suits in
`Next day, at Victoria, I saw strolling on the platform many people,
male and female, who looked as if they were going to Keeb--tall, cool,
ornate people who hadn't packed their own things and had reached
Victoria in broughams. I was ornate, but not tall nor cool. My
porter was rather off-hand in his manner as he wheeled my things along
to the 3.30. I asked severely if there were any compartments reserved
for people going to stay with the Duke of Hertfordshire. This worked
an instant change in him. Having set me in one of those shrines, he
seemed almost loth to accept a tip. A snob, I am afraid.
`A selection of the tall, the cool, the ornate, the intimately
acquainted with one another, soon filled the compartment. There I
was, and I think they felt they ought to try to bring me into the
conversation. As they were all talking about a cotillion of the
previous night, I shouldn't have been able to shine. I gazed out of
the window, with middle-class aloofness. Presently the talk drifted
on to the topic of bicycles. But by this time it was too late for me
to come in.
`I gazed at the squalid outskirts of London as they flew by. I
doubted, as I listened to my fellow-passengers, whether I should be
able to shine at Keeb. I rather wished I were going to spend the
week-end at one of those little houses with back-gardens beneath the
railway-line. I was filled with fears.
`For shame! thought I. Was I nobody? Was the author of "Ariel in
`I reminded myself how glad Braxton would be if he knew of my faint-
heartedness. I thought of Braxton sitting, at this moment, in his
room in Clifford's Inn and glowering with envy of his hated rival in
the 3.30. And after all, how enviable I was! My spirits rose. I
would acquit myself well....
`I much admired the scene at the little railway station where we
alighted. It was like a fete by Lancret. I knew from the talk of my
fellow-passengers that some people had been going down by an earlier
train, and that others were coming by a later. But the 3.30 had
brought a full score of us. Us! That was the final touch of beauty.
`Outside there were two broughams, a landau, dog-carts, a phaeton, a
wagonette, I know not what. But almost everybody, it seemed, was
going to bicycle. Lady Rodfitten said SHE was going to bicycle. Year
after year, I had seen that famous Countess riding or driving in the
Park. I had been told at fourth hand that she had a masculine
intellect and could make and unmake Ministries. She was nearly sixty
now, a trifle dyed and stout and weather-beaten, but still
tremendously handsome, and hard as nails. One would not have said she
had grown older, but merely that she belonged now to a rather later
period of the Roman Empire. I had never dreamed of a time when one
roof would shelter Lady Rodfitten and me. Somehow, she struck my
imagination more than any of these others--more than Count Deym, more
than Mr. Balfour, more than the lovely Lady Thisbe Crowborough.
`I might have had a ducal vehicle all to myself, and should have liked
that; but it seemed more correct that I should use my bicycle. On the
other hand, I didn't want to ride with all these people--a stranger in
their midst. I lingered around the luggage till they were off, and
then followed at a long distance.
`The sun had gone behind clouds. But I rode slowly, so as to be sure
not to arrive hot. I passed, not without a thrill, through the
massive open gates into the Duke's park. A massive man with a cockade
saluted me--hearteningly--from the door of the lodge. The park seemed
endless. I came, at length, to a long straight avenue of elms that
were almost blatantly immemorial. At the end of it was--well, I felt
like a gnat going to stay in a public building.
`If there had been turnstiles--IN and OUT--and a shilling to pay, I
should have felt easier as I passed into that hall--that Palladio-
Gargantuan hall. Some one, some butler or groom-of-the-chamber,
murmured that her Grace was in the garden. I passed out through the
great opposite doorway on to a wide spectacular terrace with lawns
beyond. Tea was on the nearest of these lawns. In the central group
of people--some standing, others sitting--I espied the Duchess. She
sat pouring out tea, a deft and animated little figure. I advanced
firmly down the steps from the terrace, feeling that all would be well
so soon as I had reported myself to the Duchess.
`But I had a staggering surprise on my way to her. I espied in one of
the smaller groups--whom d'you think? Braxton.
`I had no time to wonder how he had got there--time merely to grasp
the black fact that he WAS there.
`The Duchess seemed really pleased to see me. She said it was TOO
splendid of me to come. "You know Mr. Maltby?" she asked Lady
Rodfitten, who exclaimed "Not Mr. HILARY Maltby?" with a vigorous
grace that was overwhelming. Lady Rodfitten declared she was the
greatest of my admirers; and I could well believe that in whatever she
did she excelled all competitors. On the other hand, I found it hard
to believe she was afraid of me. Yet I had her word for it that she
`Her womanly charm gave place now to her masculine grip. She
eulogised me in the language of a seasoned reviewer on the staff of a
long-established journal--wordy perhaps, but sound. I revered and
loved her. I wished I could give her my undivided attention. But,
whilst I sat there, teacup, in hand, between her and the Duchess, part
of my brain was fearfully concerned with that glimpse I had had of
Braxton. It didn't so much matter that he was here to halve my
triumph. But suppose he knew what I had told the Duchess! And
suppose he had--no, surely if he HAD shown me up in all my meanness
she wouldn't have received me so very cordially. I wondered where she
could have met him since that evening of the Inkwomen. I heard Lady
Rodfitten concluding her review of "Ariel" with two or three sentences
that might have been framed specially to give the publisher an easy
"quote." And then I heard myself asking mechanically whether she had
read "A Faun on the Cotswolds." The Duchess heard me too. She turned
from talking to other people and said "I did like Mr. Braxton so VERY
`"Yes," I threw out with a sickly smile, "I'm so glad you asked him to
`"But I didn't ask him. I didn't DARE."
`"But--but--surely he wouldn't be--be HERE if--" We stared at each
other blankly. "Here?" she echoed, glancing at the scattered little
groups of people on the lawn. I glanced too. I was much embarrassed.
I explained that I had seen Braxton "standing just over there" when I
arrived, and had supposed he was one of the people who came by the
earlier train. "Well," she said with a slightly irritated laugh, "you
must have mistaken some one else for him." She dropped the subject,
talked to other people, and presently moved away.
`Surely, thought I, she didn't suspect me of trying to make fun of
her? On the other hand, surely she hadn't conspired with Braxton to
make a fool of ME? And yet, how could Braxton be here without an
invitation, and without her knowledge? My brain whirled. One thing
only was clear. I could NOT have mistaken anybody for Braxton. There
Braxton had stood--Stephen Braxton, in that old pepper-and-salt suit
of his, with his red tie all askew, and without a hat--his hair
hanging over his forehead. All this I had seen sharp and clean-cut.
There he had stood, just beside one of the women who travelled down in
the same compartment as I; a very pretty woman in a pale blue dress; a
tall woman--but I had noticed how small she looked beside Braxton.
This woman was now walking to and fro, yonder, with M. de Soveral. I
had seen Braxton beside her as clearly as I now saw M. de Soveral.
`Lady Rodfitten was talking about India to a recent Viceroy. She
seemed to have as firm a grip of India as of "Ariel." I sat
forgotten. I wanted to arise and wander off--in a vague search for
Braxton. But I feared this might look as if I were angry at being
ignored. Presently Lady Rodfitten herself arose, to have what she
called her "annual look round." She bade me come too, and strode off
between me and the recent Viceroy, noting improvements that had been
made in the grounds, suggesting improvements that might be made,
indicating improvements that MUST be made. She was great on
landscape-gardening. The recent Viceroy was less great on it, but
great enough. I don't say I walked forgotten: the eminent woman
constantly asked my opinion; but my opinion, though of course it
always coincided with hers, sounded quite worthless, somehow. I
longed to shine. I could only bother about Braxton.
`Lady Rodfitten's voice sounded over-strong for the stillness of
evening. The shadows lengthened. My spirits sank lower and lower,
with the sun. I was a naturally cheerful person, but always, towards
sunset, I had a vague sense of melancholy: I seemed always to have
grown weaker; morbid misgivings would come to me. On this particular
evening there was one such misgiving that crept in and out of me again
and again...a very horrible misgiving as to the NATURE of what I had
`Well, dressing for dinner is a great tonic. Especially if one
shaves. My spirits rose as I lathered my face. I smiled to my
reflection in the mirror. The afterglow of the sun came through the
window behind the dressing-table, but I had switched on all the
lights. My new silver-topped bottles and things made a fine array.
To-night _I_ was going to shine, too. I felt I might yet be the life
and soul of the party. Anyway, my new evening suit was without a
fault. And meanwhile this new razor was perfect. Having shaved
"down," I lathered myself again and proceeded to shave "up." It was
then that I uttered a sharp sound and swung round on my heel.
`No one was there. Yet this I knew: Stephen Braxton had just looked
over my shoulder. I had seen the reflection of his face beside mine--
craned forward to the mirror. I had met his eyes.
`He had been with me. This I knew.
`I turned to look again at that mirror. One of my cheeks was all
covered with blood. I stanched it with a towel. Three long cuts
where the razor had slipped and skipped. I plunged the towel into
cold water and held it to my cheek. The bleeding went on--alarmingly.
I rang the bell. No one came. I vowed I wouldn't bleed to death for
Braxton. I rang again. At last a very tall powdered footman
appeared--more reproachful-looking than sympathetic, as though I
hadn't ordered that dressing-case specially on his behalf. He said he
thought one of the housemaids would have some sticking-plaster. He
was very sorry he was needed downstairs, but he would tell one of the
housemaids. I continued to dab and to curse. The blood flowed less.
I showed great spirit. I vowed Braxton should not prevent me from
going down to dinner.
`But--a pretty sight I was when I did go down. Pale but determined,
with three long strips of black sticking-plaster forming a sort of Z
on my left cheek. Mr. Hilary Maltby at Keeb. Literature's
`I don't know how late I was. Dinner was in full swing. Some servant
piloted me to my place. I sat down unobserved. The woman on either
side of me was talking to her other neighbour. I was near the
Duchess' end of the table. Soup was served to me--that dark-red soup
that you pour cream into--Bortsch. I felt it would steady me. I
raised the first spoonful to my lips, and--my hand gave a sudden jerk.
`I was aware of two separate horrors--a horror that had been, a horror
that was. Braxton had vanished. Not for more than an instant had he
stood scowling at me from behind the opposite diners. Not for more
than the fraction of an instant. But he had left his mark on me. I
gazed down with a frozen stare at my shirtfront, at my white
waistcoat, both dark with Bortsch. I rubbed them with a napkin. I
made them worse.
`I looked at my glass of champagne. I raised it carefully and drained
it at one draught. It nerved me. But behind that shirtfront was a
`The woman on my left was Lady Thisbe Crowborough. I don't know who
was the woman on my right. She was the first to turn and see me. I
thought it best to say something about my shirtfront at once. I said
it to her sideways, without showing my left cheek. Her handsome eyes
rested on the splashes. She said, after a moment's thought, that they
looked "rather gay." She said she thought the eternal black and white
of men's evening clothes was "so very dreary." She did her best....
Lady Thisbe Crowborough did her best, too, I suppose; but breeding
isn't proof against all possible shocks: she visibly started at sight
of me and my Z. I explained that I had cut myself shaving. I said,
with an attempt at lightness, that shy men ought always to cut
themselves shaving: it made such a good conversational opening. "But
surely," she said after a pause, "you don't cut yourself on purpose?"
She was an abysmal fool. I didn't think so at the time. She was Lady
Thisbe Crowborough. This fact hallowed her. That we didn't get on at
all well was a misfortune for which I blamed only myself and my
repulsive appearance and--the unforgettable horror that distracted me.
Nor did I blame Lady Thisbe for turning rather soon to the man on her
`The woman on my right was talking to the man on HER other side; so
that I was left a prey to secret memory and dread. I wasn't
wondering, wasn't attempting to explain; I was merely remembering--and
dreading. And--how odd one is!--on the top-layer of my consciousness
I hated to be seen talking to no one. Mr. Maltby at Keeb. I caught
the Duchess' eye once or twice, and she nodded encouragingly, as who
should say "You do look rather awful, and you do seem rather out of
it, but I don't for a moment regret having asked you to come."
Presently I had another chance of talking. I heard myself talk. My
feverish anxiety to please rather touched ME. But I noticed that the
eyes of my listener wandered. And yet I was sorry when the ladies
went away. I had a sense of greater exposure. Men who hadn't seen me
saw me now. The Duke, as he came round to the Duchess' end of the
table, must have wondered who I was. But he shyly offered me his hand
as he passed, and said it was so good of me to come. I had thought of
slipping away to put on another shirt and waistcoat, but had decided
that this would make me the more ridiculous. I sat drinking port--
poison to me after champagne, but a lulling poison--and listened to
noblemen with unstained shirtfronts talking about the Australian
`Is Rubicon Bezique still played in England? There was a mania for it
at that time. The floor of Keeb's Palladio-Gargantuan hall was dotted
with innumerable little tables. I didn't know how to play. My
hostess told me I must "come and amuse the dear old Duke and Duchess
of Mull," and led me to a remote sofa on which an old gentleman had
just sat down beside an old lady. They looked at me with a dim kind
interest. My hostess had set me and left me on a small gilt chair in
front of them. Before going she had conveyed to them loudly--one of
them was very deaf--that I was "the famous writer." It was a long
time before they understood that I was not a political writer. The
Duke asked me, after a troubled pause, whether I had known "old Mr.
Abraham Hayward." The Duchess said I was too young to have known Mr.
Hayward, and asked if I knew her "clever friend Mr. Mallock." I said
I had just been reading Mr. Mallock's new novel. I heard myself
shouting a confused precis of the plot. The place where we were
sitting was near the foot of the great marble staircase. I said how
beautiful the staircase was. The Duchess of Mull said she had never
cared very much for that staircase. The Duke, after a pause, said he
had "often heard old Mr. Abraham Hayward hold a whole dinner table."
There were long and frequent pauses--between which I heard myself
talking loudly, frantically, sinking lower and lower in the esteem of
my small audience. I felt like a man drowning under the eyes of an
elderly couple who sit on the bank regretting that they can offer NO
assistance. Presently the Duke looked at his watch and said to the
Duchess that it was "time to be thinking of bed."
`They rose, as it were from the bank, and left me, so to speak, under
water. I watched them as they passed slowly out of sight up the
marble staircase which I had mispraised. I turned and surveyed the
brilliant, silent scene presented by the card-players.
`I wondered what old Mr. Abraham Hayward would have done in my place.
Would he have just darted in among those tables and "held" them? I
presumed that he would not have stolen silently away, quickly and
cravenly away, up the marble staircase--as _I_ did.
`I don't know which was the greater, the relief or the humiliation of
finding myself in my bedroom. Perhaps the humiliation was the
greater. There, on a chair, was my grand new smoking-suit, laid out
for me--what a mockery! Once I had foreseen myself wearing it in the
smoking-room at a late hour--the centre of a group of eminent men
entranced by the brilliancy of my conversation. And now--! I was
nothing but a small, dull, soup-stained, sticking-plastered, nerve-
racked recluse. Nerves, yes. I assured myself that I had not seen--
what I had seemed to see. All very odd, of course, and very
unpleasant, but easily explained. Nerves. Excitement of coming to
Keeb too much for me. A good night's rest: that was all I needed.
To-morrow I should laugh at myself.
`I wondered that I wasn't tired physically. There my grand new silk
pyjamas were, yet I felt no desire to go to bed...none while it was
still possible for me to go. The little writing-table at the foot of
my bed seemed to invite me. I had brought with me in my portmanteau a
sheaf of letters, letters that I had purposely left unanswered in
order that I might answer them on KEEB HALL note-paper. These the
footman had neatly laid beside the blotting-pad on that little
writing-table at the foot of the bed. I regretted that the notepaper
stacked there had no ducal coronet on it. What matter? The address
sufficed. If I hadn't yet made a good impression on the people who
were staying here, I could at any rate make one on the people who
weren't. I sat down. I set to work. I wrote a prodigious number of
fluent and graceful notes.
`Some of these were to strangers who wanted my autograph. I was
always delighted to send my autograph, and never perfunctory in the
manner of sending it.... "Dear Madam," I remember writing to somebody
that night, "were it not that you make your request for it so
charmingly, I should hesitate to send you that which rarity alone can
render valuable.--Yours truly, Hilary Maltby." I remember reading
this over and wondering whether the word "render" looked rather
commercial. It was in the act of wondering thus that I raised my eyes
from the note-paper and saw, through the bars of the brass bedstead,
the naked sole of a large human foot--saw beyond it the calf of a
great leg; a nightshirt; and the face of Stephen Braxton. I did not
`I thought of making a dash for the door, dashing out into the
corridor, shouting at the top of my voice for help. I sat quite
`What kept me to my chair was the fear that if I tried to reach the
door Braxton would spring off the bed to intercept me. If I sat quite
still perhaps he wouldn't move. I felt that if he moved I should
`I watched him, and he watched me. He lay there with his body half-
raised, one elbow propped on the pillow, his jaw sunk on his breast;
and from under his black brows he watched me steadily.
`No question of mere nerves now. That hope was gone. No mere optical
delusion, this abiding presence. Here Braxton was. He and I were
together in the bright, silent room. How long would he be content to
`Eleven nights ago he had given me one horrible look. It was this
look that I had to meet, in infinite prolongation, now, not daring to
shift my eyes. He lay as motionless as I sat. I did not hear him
breathing, but I knew, by the rise and fall of his chest under his
nightshirt, that he was breathing heavily. Suddenly I started to my
feet. For he had moved. He had raised one hand slowly. He was
stroking his chin. And as he did so, and as he watched me, his mouth
gradually slackened to a grin. It was worse, it was more malign, this
grin, than the scowl that remained with it; and its immediate effect
on me was an impulse that was as hard to resist as it was hateful.
The window was open. It was nearer to me than the door. I could have
reached it in time....
`Well, I live to tell the tale. I stood my ground. And there dawned
on me now a new fact in regard to my companion. I had all the while
been conscious of something abnormal in his attitude--a lack of ease
in his gross possessiveness. I saw now the reason for this effect.
The pillow on which his elbow rested was still uniformly puffed and
convex; like a pillow untouched. His elbow rested but on the very
surface of it, not changing the shape of it at all. His body made not
the least furrow along the bed.... He had no weight.
`I knew that if I leaned forward and thrust my hand between those
brass rails, to clutch his foot, I should clutch--nothing. He wasn't
tangible. He was realistic. He wasn't real. He was opaque. He
`Odd as it may seem to you, these certainties took the edge off my
horror. During that walk with Lady Rodfitten, I had been appalled by
the doubt that haunted me. But now the very confirmation of that
doubt gave me a sort of courage: I could cope better with anything to-
night than with actual Braxton. And the measure of the relief I felt
is that I sat down again on my chair.
`More than once there came to me a wild hope that the thing might be
an optical delusion, after all. Then would I shut my eyes tightly,
shaking my head sharply; but, when I looked again, there the presence
was, of course. It--he--not actual Braxton but, roughly speaking,
Braxton--had come to stay. I was conscious of intense fatigue, taut
and alert though every particle of me was; so that I became, in the
course of that ghastly night, conscious of a great envy also. For
some time before the dawn came in through the window, Braxton's eyes
had been closed; little by little now his head drooped sideways, then
fell on his forearm and rested there. He was asleep.
`Cut off from sleep, I had a great longing for smoke. I had
cigarettes on me, I had matches on me. But I didn't dare to strike a
match. The sound might have waked Braxton up. In slumber he was less
terrible, though perhaps more odious. I wasn't so much afraid now as
indignant. "It's intolerable," I sat saying to myself, "utterly
`I had to bear it, nevertheless. I was aware that I had, in some
degree, brought it on myself. If I hadn't interfered and lied, actual
Braxton would have been here at Keeb, and I at this moment sleeping
soundly. But this was no excuse for Braxton. Braxton didn't know
what I had done. He was merely envious of me. And--wanly I puzzled
it out in the dawn--by very force of the envy, hatred, and malice in
him he had projected hither into my presence this simulacrum of
himself. I had known that he would be thinking of me. I had known
that the thought of me at Keeb Hall would be of the last bitterness to
his most sacred feelings. But--I had reckoned without the passionate
force and intensity of the man's nature.
`If by this same strength and intensity he had merely projected
himself as an invisible guest under the Duchess' roof--if his feat had
been wholly, as perhaps it was in part, a feat of mere wistfulness and
longing--then I should have felt really sorry for him; and my
conscience would have soundly rated me in his behalf. But no; if the
wretched creature HAD been invisible to me, I shouldn't have thought
of Braxton at all--except with gladness that he wasn't here. That he
was visible to me, and to me alone, wasn't any sign of proper remorse
within me. It was but the gauge of his incredible ill-will.
`Well, it seemed to me that he was avenged--with a vengeance. There I
sat, hot-browed from sleeplessness, cold in the feet, stiff in the
legs, cowed and indignant all through--sat there in the broadening
daylight, and in that new evening suit of mine with the Braxtonised
shirtfront and waistcoat that by day were more than ever loathsome.
Literature's Ambassador at Keeb.... I rose gingerly from my chair,
and caught sight of my face, of my Braxtonised cheek, in the mirror.
I heard the twittering of birds in distant trees. I saw through my
window the elaborate landscape of the Duke's grounds, all soft in the
grey bloom of early morning. I think I was nearer to tears than I had
ever been since I was a child. But the weakness passed. I turned
towards the personage on my bed, and, summoning all such power as was
in me, WILLED him to be gone. My effort was not without result--an
inadequate result. Braxton turned in his sleep.
`I resumed my seat, and...and...sat up staring and blinking, at a tall
man with red hair. "I must have fallen asleep," I said. "Yessir," he
replied; and his toneless voice touched in me one or two springs of
memory: I was at Keeb; this was the footman who looked after me. But-
-why wasn't I in bed? Had I--no, surely it had been no nightmare.
Surely I had SEEN Braxton on that white bed.
`The footman was impassively putting away my smoking-suit. I was too
dazed to wonder what he thought of me. Nor did I attempt to stifle a
cry when, a moment later, turning in my chair, I beheld Braxton
leaning moodily against the mantelpiece. "Are you unwellsir?" asked
the footman. "No," I said faintly, "I'm quite well."--"Yessir. Will
you wear the blue suit or the grey?"--"The grey."--"Yessir."--It
seemed almost incredible that HE didn't see Braxton; HE didn't appear
to me one whit more solid than the night-shirted brute who stood
against the mantelpiece and watched him lay out my things.--"Shall I
let your bath-water run nowsir?"--"Please, yes."--"Your bathroom's the
second door to the left sir."--He went out with my bath-towel and
sponge, leaving me alone with Braxton.
`I rose to my feet, mustering once more all the strength that was in
me. Hoping against hope, with set teeth and clenched hands, I faced
him, thrust forth my will at him, with everything but words commanded
him to vanish--to cease to be.
`Suddenly, utterly, he vanished. And you can imagine the truly
exquisite sense of triumph that thrilled me and continued to thrill me
till I went into the bathroom and found him in my bath.
`Quivering with rage, I returned to my bedroom. "Intolerable," I
heard myself repeating like a parrot that knew no other word. A bath
was just what I had needed. Could I have lain for a long time basking
in very hot water, and then have sponged myself with cold water, I
should have emerged calm and brave; comparatively so, at any rate. I
should have looked less ghastly, and have had less of a headache, and
something of an appetite, when I went down to breakfast. Also, I
shouldn't have been the very first guest to appear on the scene.
There were five or six round tables, instead of last night's long
table. At the further end of the room the butler and two other
servants were lighting the little lamps under the hot dishes. I
didn't like to make myself ridiculous by running away. On the other
hand, was it right for me to begin breakfast all by myself at one of
these round tables? I supposed it was. But I dreaded to be found
eating, alone in that vast room, by the first downcomer. I sat
dallying with dry toast and watching the door. It occurred to me that
Braxton might occur at any moment. Should I be able to ignore him?
`Some man and wife--a very handsome couple--were the first to appear.
They nodded and said "good morning" when they noticed me on their way
to the hot dishes. I rose--uncomfortably, guiltily--and sat down
again. I rose again when the wife drifted to my table, followed by
the husband with two steaming plates. She asked me if it wasn't a
heavenly morning, and I replied with nervous enthusiasm that it was.
She then ate kedgeree in silence. "You just finishing, what?" the
husband asked, looking at my plate. "Oh, no--no--only just
beginning," I assured him, and helped myself to butter. He then ate
kedgeree in silence. He looked like some splendid bull, and she like
some splendid cow, grazing. I envied them their eupeptic calm. I
surmised that ten thousand Braxtons would not have prevented THEM from
sleeping soundly by night and grazing steadily by day. Perhaps their
stolidity infected me a little. Or perhaps what braced me was the
great quantity of strong tea that I consumed. Anyhow I had begun to
feel that if Braxton came in now I shouldn't blench nor falter.
`Well, I wasn't put to the test. Plenty of people drifted in, but
Braxton wasn't one of them. Lady Rodfitten--no, she didn't drift, she
marched, in; and presently, at an adjacent table, she was drawing a
comparison, in clarion tones, between Jean and Edouard de Reszke. It
seemed to me that her own voice had much in common with Edouard's.
Even more was it akin to a military band. I found myself beating time
to it with my foot. Decidedly, my spirits had risen. I was in a mood
to face and outface anything. When I rose from the table and made my
way to the door, I walked with something of a swing--to the tune of
`My buoyancy didn't last long, though. There was no swing in my walk
when, a little later, I passed out on to the spectacular terrace. I
had seen my enemy again, and had beaten a furious retreat. No doubt I
should see him yet again soon--here, perhaps, on this terrace. Two of
the guests were bicycling slowly up and down the long paven expanse,
both of them smiling with pride in the new delicious form of
locomotion. There was a great array of bicycles propped neatly along
the balustrade. I recognised my own among them. I wondered whether
Braxton had projected from Clifford's Inn an image of his own bicycle.
He may have done so; but I've no evidence that he did. I myself was
bicycling when next I saw him; but he, I remember, was on foot.
`This was a few minutes later. I was bicycling with dear Lady
Rodfitten. She seemed really to like me. She had come out and
accosted me heartily on the terrace, asking me, because of my
sticking-plaster, with whom I had fought a duel since yesterday. I
did not tell her with whom, and she had already branched off on the
subject of duelling in general. She regretted the extinction of
duelling in England, and gave cogent reasons for her regret. Then she
asked me what my next book was to be. I confided that I was writing a
sort of sequel--"Ariel Returns to Mayfair." She shook her head, said
with her usual soundness that sequels were very dangerous things, and
asked me to tell her "briefly" the lines along which I was working. I
did so. She pointed out two or three weak points in my scheme. She
said she could judge better if I would let her see my manuscript. She
asked me to come and lunch with her next Friday--"just our two
selves"--at Rodfitten House, and to bring my manuscript with me. Need
I say that I walked on air?
`"And now," she said strenuously, "let us take a turn on our
bicycles." By this time there were a dozen riders on the terrace, all
of them smiling with pride and rapture. We mounted and rode along
together. The terrace ran round two sides of the house, and before we
came to the end of it these words had provisionally marshalled
themselves in my mind:
COUNTESS OF RODFITTEN
THIS BOOK WHICH OWES ALL
TO HER WISE COUNSEL
AND UNWEARYING SUPERVISION
IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED
BY HER FRIEND
`Smiled to masonically by the passing bicyclists, and smiling
masonically to them in return, I began to feel that the rest of my
visit would run smooth, if only--
`"Let's go a little faster. Let's race!" said Lady Rodfitten; and we
did so--"just our two selves." I was on the side nearer to the
balustrade, and it was on that side that Braxton suddenly appeared
from nowhere, solid-looking as a rock, his arms akimbo, less than
three yards ahead of me, so that I swerved involuntarily, sharply,
striking broadside the front wheel of Lady Rodfitten and collapsing
with her, and with a crash of machinery, to the ground.
`I wasn't hurt. She had broken my fall. I wished I was dead. She
was furious. She sat speechiess with fury. A crowd had quickiy
collected--just as in the case of a street accident. She accused me
now to the crowd. She said I had done it on purpose. She said such
terrible things of me that I think the crowd's sympathy must have
veered towards me. She was assisted to her feet. I tried to be one
of the assistants. "Don't let him come near me!" she thundered. I
caught sight of Braxton on the fringe of the crowd, grinning at me.
"It was all HIS fault," I madly cried, pointing at him. Everybody
looked at Mr. Balfour, just behind whom Braxton was standing. There
was a general murmur of surprise, in which I have no doubt Mr. Balfour
joined. He gave a charming, blank, deprecating smile. "I mean--I
can't explain what I mean," I groaned. Lady Rodfitten moved away,
refusing support, limping terribly, towards the house. The crowd
followed her, solicitous. I stood helplessly, desperately, where I
`I stood an outlaw, a speck on the now empty terrace. Mechanically I
picked up my straw hat, and wheeled the two bent bicycles to the
balustrade. I suppose Mr. Balfour has a charming nature. For he
presently came out again--on purpose, I am sure, to alleviate my
misery. He told me that Lady Rodfitten had suffered no harm. He took
me for a stroll up and down the terrace, talking thoughtfully and
enchantingly about things in general. Then, having done his deed of
mercy, this Good Samaritan went back into the house. My eyes followed
him with gratitude; but I was still bleeding from wounds beyond his
skill. I escaped down into the gardens. I wanted to see no one.
Still more did I want to be seen by no one. I dreaded in every nerve
of me my reappearance among those people. I walked ever faster and
faster, to stifle thought; but in vain. Why hadn't I simply ridden
THROUGH Braxton? I was aware of being now in the park, among great
trees and undulations of wild green ground. But Nature did not
achieve the task that Mr. Balfour had attempted; and my anguish was
`I paused to lean against a tree in the huge avenue that led to the
huge hateful house. I leaned wondering whether the thought of re-
entering that house were the more hateful because I should have to
face my fellow-guests or because I should probably have to face
Braxton. A church bell began ringing somewhere. And anon I was aware
of another sound--a twitter of voices. A consignment of hatted and
parasoled ladies was coming fast adown the avenue. My first impulse
was to dodge behind my tree. But I feared that I had been observed;
so that what was left to me of self-respect compelled me to meet these
`The Duchess was among them. I had seen her from afar at breakfast,
but not since. She carried a prayer-book, which she waved to me as I
approached. I was a disastrous guest, but still a guest, and nothing
could have been prettier than her smile. "Most of my men this week,"
she said, "are Pagans, and all the others have dispatch-boxes to go
through--except the dear old Duke of Mull, who's a member of the Free
Kirk. You're Pagan, of course?"
`I said--and indeed it was a heart-cry--that I should like very much
to come to church. "If I shan't be in the way," I rather abjectly
added. It didn't strike me that Braxton would try to intercept me. I
don't know why, but it never occurred to me, as I walked briskly along
beside the Duchess, that I should meet him so far from the house. The
church was in a corner of the park, and the way to it was by a side
path that branched off from the end of the avenue. A little way
along, casting its shadow across the path, was a large oak. It was
from behind this tree, when we came to it, that Braxton sprang
suddenly forth and tripped me up with his foot.
`Absurd to be tripped up by the mere semblance of a foot? But
remember, I was walking quickly, and the whole thing happened in a
flash of time. It was inevitable that I should throw out my hands and
come down headlong--just as though the obstacle had been as real as it
looked. Down I came on palms and knee-caps, and up I scrambled, very
much hurt and shaken and apologetic. "POOR Mr. Maltby! REALLY--!"
the Duchess wailed for me in this latest of my mishaps. Some other
lady chased my straw hat, which had bowled far ahead. Two others
helped to brush me. They were all very kind, with a quaver of mirth
in their concern for me. I looked furtively around for Braxton, but
he was gone. The palms of my hands were abraded with gravel. The
Duchess said I must on no account come to church NOW. I was utterly
determined to reach that sanctuary. I marched firmly on with the
Duchess. Come what might on the way, I wasn't going to be left out
here. I was utterly bent on winning at least one respite.
`Well, I reached the little church without further molestation. To be
there seemed almost too good to be true. The organ, just as we
entered, sounded its first notes. The ladies rustled into the front
pew. I, being the one male of the party, sat at the end of the pew,
beside the Duchess. I couldn't help feeling that my position was a
proud one. But I had gone through too much to take instant pleasure
in it, and was beset by thoughts of what new horror might await me on
the way back to the house. I hoped the Service would not be brief.
The swelling and dwindling strains of the "voluntary" on the small
organ were strangely soothing. I turned to give an almost feudal
glance to the simple villagers in the pews behind, and saw a sight
that cowed my soul.
`Braxton was coming up the aisle. He came slowly, casting a tourist's
eye at the stained-glass windows on either side. Walking heavily, yet
with no sound of boots on the pavement, he reached our pew. There,
towering and glowering, he halted, as though demanding that we should
make room for him. A moment later he edged sullenly into the pew.
Instinctively I had sat tight back, drawing my knees aside, in a
shudder of revulsion against contact. But Braxton did not push past
me. What he did was to sit slowly and fully down on me.
`No, not down ON me. Down THROUGH me--and around me. What befell me
was not mere ghastly contact with the intangible. It was inclusion,
envelopment, eclipse. What Braxton sat down on was not I, but the
seat of the pew; and what he sat back against was not my face and
chest, but the back of the pew. I didn't realise this at the moment.
All I knew was a sudden black blotting-out of all things; an infinite
and impenetrable darkness. I dimly conjectured that I was dead. What
was wrong with me, in point of fact, was that my eyes, with the rest
of me, were inside Braxton. You remember what a great hulking fellow
Braxton was. I calculate that as we sat there my eyes were just
beneath the roof of his mouth. Horrible!
`Out of the unfathomable depths of that pitch darkness, I could yet
hear the "voluntary" swelling and dwindling, just as before. It was
by this I knew now that I wasn't dead. And I suppose I must have
craned my head forward, for I had a sudden glimpse of things--a close
quick downward glimpse of a pepper-and-salt waistcoat and of two great
hairy hands clasped across it. Then darkness again. Either I had
drawn back my head, or Braxton had thrust his forward; I don't know
which. "Are you all right?" the Duchess' voice whispered, and no
doubt my face was ashen. "Quite," whispered my voice. But this
pathetic monosyllable was the last gasp of the social instinct in me.
Suddenly, as the "voluntary" swelled to its close, there was a great
sharp shuffling noise. The congregation had risen to its feet, at the
entry of choir and vicar. Braxton had risen, leaving me in daylight.
I beheld his towering back. The Duchess, beside him, glanced round at
me. But I could not, dared not, stand up into that presented back,
into that great waiting darkness. I did but clutch my hat from
beneath the seat and hurry distraught down the aisle, out through the
porch, into the open air.
`Whither? To what goal? I didn't reason. I merely fled--like
Orestes; fled like an automaton along the path we had come by. And
was followed? Yes, yes. Glancing back across my shoulder, I saw that
brute some twenty yards behind me, gaining on me. I broke into a
sharper run. A few sickening moments later, he was beside me,
scowling down into my face.
`I swerved, dodged, doubled on my tracks, but he was always at me.
Now and again, for lack of breath, I halted, and he halted with me.
And then, when I had got my wind, I would start running again, in the
insane hope of escaping him. We came, by what twisting and turning
course I know not, to the great avenue, and as I stood there in an
agony of panting I had a dazed vision of the distant Hall. Really I
had quite forgotten I was staying at the Duke of Hertfordshire's. But
Braxton hadn't forgotten. He planted himself in front of me. He
stood between me and the house.
`Faint though I was, I could almost have laughed. Good heavens! was
THAT all he wanted: that I shouldn't go back there? Did he suppose I
wanted to go back there--with HIM? Was I the Duke's prisoner on
parole? What was there to prevent me from just walking off to the
railway station? I turned to do so.
`He accompanied me on my way. I thought that when once I had passed
through the lodge gates he might vanish, satisfied. But no, he didn't
vanish. It was as though he suspected that if he let me out of his
sight I should sneak back to the house. He arrived with me, this
quiet companion of mine, at the little railway station. Evidently he
meant to see me off. I learned from an elderly and solitary porter
that the next train to London was the 4.3.
`Well, Braxton saw me off by the 4.3. I reflected, as I stepped up
into an empty compartment, that it wasn't yet twenty-four hours ago
since I, or some one like me, had alighted at that station.
`The guard blew his whistle; the engine shrieked, and the train jolted
forward and away; but I did not lean out of the window to see the last
of my attentive friend.
`Really not twenty-four hours ago? Not twenty-four years?'
Maltby paused in his narrative. `Well, well,' he said, `I don't want
you to think I overrate the ordeal of my visit to Keeb. A man of
stronger nerve than mine, and of greater resourcefulness, might have
coped successfully with Braxton from first to last--might have stayed
on till Monday, making a very favourable impression on every one all
the while. Even as it was, even after my manifold failures and sudden
flight, I don't say my position was impossible. I only say it seemed
so to me. A man less sensitive than I, and less vain, might have
cheered up after writing a letter of apology to his hostess, and have
resumed his normal existence as though nothing very terrible had
happened, after all. I wrote a few lines to the Duchess that night;
but I wrote amidst the preparations for my departure from England: I
crossed the Channel next morning. Throughout that Sunday afternoon
with Braxton at the Keeb railway station, pacing the desolate platform
with him, waiting in the desolating waiting-room with him, I was numb
to regrets, and was thinking of nothing but the 4.3. On the way to
Victoria my brain worked and my soul wilted. Every incident in my
stay at Keeb stood out clear to me; a dreadful, a hideous pattern. I
had done for myself, so far as THOSE people were concerned. And now
that I had sampled THEM, what cared I for others? "Too low for a
hawk, too high for a buzzard." That homely old saying seemed to sum
me up. And suppose I COULD still take pleasure in the company of my
own old upper-middle class, how would that class regard me now?
Gossip percolates. Little by little, I was sure, the story of my Keeb
fiasco would leak down into the drawing-room of Mrs. Foster-Dugdale.
I felt I could never hold up my head in any company where anything of
that story was known. Are you quite sure you never heard anything?'
I assured Maltby that all I had known was the great bare fact of his
having stayed at Keeb Hall.
`It's curious,' he reflected. `It's a fine illustration of the
loyalty of those people to one another. I suppose there was a general
agreement for the Duchess' sake that nothing should be said about her
queer guest. But even if I had dared hope to be so efficiently hushed
up, I couldn't have not fled. I wanted to forget. I wanted to leap
into some void, far away from all reminders. I leapt straight from
Ryder Street into Vaule-la-Rochette, a place of which I had once heard
that it was the least frequented seaside-resort in Europe. I leapt
leaving no address--leapt telling my landlord that if a suit-case and
a portmanteau arrived for me he could regard them, them and their
contents, as his own for ever. I daresay the Duchess wrote me a kind
little letter, forcing herself to express a vague hope that I would
come again "some other time." I daresay Lady Rodfitten did NOT write
reminding me of my promise to lunch on Friday and bring "Ariel Returns
to Mayfair" with me. I left that manuscript at Ryder Street; in my
bedroom grate; a shuffle of ashes. Not that I'd yet given up all
thought of writing. But I certainly wasn't going to write now about
the two things I most needed to forget. I wasn't going to write about
the British aristocracy, nor about any kind of supernatural
presence.... I did write a novel--my last--while I was at Vaule.
"Mr. and Mrs. Robinson." Did you ever come across a copy of it?
I nodded gravely.
`Ah; I wasn't sure,' said Maltby, `whether it was ever published. A
dreary affair, wasn't it? I knew a great deal about suburban life.
But--well, I suppose one can't really understand what one doesn't
love, and one can't make good fun without real understanding.
Besides, what chance of virtue is there for a book written merely to
distract the author's mind? I had hoped to be healed by sea and
sunshine and solitude. These things were useless. The labour of "Mr.
and Mrs. Robinson" did help, a little. When I had finished it, I
thought I might as well send it off to my publisher. He had given me
a large sum of money, down, after "Ariel," for my next book--so large
that I was rather loth to disgorge. In the note I sent with the
manuscript, I gave no address, and asked that the proofs should be
read in the office. I didn't care whether the thing were published or
not. I knew it would be a dead failure if it were. What mattered one
more drop in the foaming cup of my humiliation? I knew Braxton would
grin and gloat. I didn't mind even that.'
`Oh, well,' I said, `Braxton was in no mood for grinning and gloating.
"The Drones" had already appeared.'
Maltby had never heard of `The Drones'--which I myself had remembered
only in the course of his disclosures. I explained to him that it was
Braxton's second novel, and was by way of being a savage indictment of
the British aristocracy; that it was written in the worst possible
taste, but was so very dull that it fell utterly flat; that Braxton
had forthwith taken, with all of what Maltby had called `the
passionate force and intensity of his nature,' to drink, and had
presently gone under and not re-emerged.
Maltby gave signs of genuine, though not deep, emotion, and cited two
or three of the finest passages from `A Faun on the Cotswolds.' He
even expressed a conviction that `The Drones' must have been
misjudged. He said he blamed himself more than ever for yielding to
that bad impulse at that Soiree.
`And yet,' he mused, `and yet, honestly, I can't find it in my heart
to regret that I did yield. I can only wish that all had turned out
as well, in the end, for Braxton as for me. I wish he could have won
out, as I did, into a great and lasting felicity. For about a year
after I had finished "Mr. and Mrs. Robinson" I wandered from place to
place, trying to kill memory, shunning all places frequented by the
English. At last I found myself in Lucca. Here, if anywhere, I
thought, might a bruised and tormented spirit find gradual peace. I
determined to move out of my hotel into some permanent lodging. Not
for felicity, not for any complete restoration of self-respect, was I
hoping; only for peace. A "mezzano" conducted me to a noble and
ancient house, of which, he told me, the owner was anxious to let the
first floor. It was in much disrepair, but even so seemed to me very
cheap. According to the simple Luccan standard, I am rich. I took
that first floor for a year, had it repaired, and engaged two
servants. My "padrona" inhabited the ground floor. From time to time
she allowed me to visit her there. She was the Contessa Adriano-
Rizzoli, the last of her line. She is the Contessa Adriano-Rizzoli-
Maltby. We have been married fifteen years.'
Maltby looked at his watch. He rose and took tenderly from the table
his great bunch of roses. `She is a lineal descendant,' he said, `of
the Emperor Hadrian.'
I like to remember that I was the first to call him so, for, though he
always deprecated the nickname, in his heart he was pleased by it, I
know, and encouraged to go on.
Quite apart from its significance, he had reason to welcome it. He
had been unfortunate at the font. His parents, at the time of his
birth, lived in Ladbroke Crescent, XV. They must have been an
extraordinarily unimaginative couple, for they could think of no
better name for their child than Ladbroke. This was all very well for
him till he went to school. But you can fancy the indignation and
delight of us boys at finding among us a newcomer who, on his own
confession, had been named after a Crescent. I don't know how it is
nowadays, but thirty-five years ago, certainly, schoolboys regarded
the possession of ANY Christian name as rather unmanly. As we all had
these encumbrances, we had to wreak our scorn on any one who was
cumbered in a queer fashion. I myself, bearer of a Christian name
adjudged eccentric though brief, had had much to put up with in my
first term. Brown's arrival, therefore, at the beginning of my second
term, was a good thing for me, and I am afraid I was very prominent
among his persecutors. Trafalgar Brown, Tottenham Court Brown, Bond
Brown--what names did we little brutes NOT cull for him from the
London Directory? Except how miserable we made his life, I do not
remember much about him as he was at that time, and the only important
part of the little else that I do recall is that already he showed a
strong sense for literature. For the majority of us Carthusians,
literature was bounded on the north by Whyte Melville, on the south by
Hawley Smart, on the east by the former, and on the west by the
latter. Little Brown used to read Harrison Ainsworth, Wilkie Collins,
and other writers whom we, had we assayed them, would have dismissed
as `deep.' It has been said by Mr. Arthur Symons that `all art is a
mode of escape.' The art of letters did not, however, enable Brown to
escape so far from us as he would have wished. In my third term he
did not reappear among us. His parents had in some sort atoned.
Unimaginative though they were, it seems they could understand a tale
of woe laid before them circumstantially, and had engaged a private
tutor for their boy. Fifteen years elapsed before I saw him again.
This was at the second night of some play. I was dramatic critic for
the Saturday Review, and, weary of meeting the same lot of people over
and over again at first nights, had recently sent a circular to the
managers asking that I might have seats for second nights instead. I
found that there existed as distinct and invariable a lot of second-
nighters as of first-nighters. The second-nighters were less `showy';
but then, they came rather to see than to be seen, and there was an
air, that I liked, of earnestness and hopefulness about them. I used
to write a great deal about the future of the British drama, and they,
for their part, used to think and talk a great deal about it. People
who care about books and pictures find much to interest and please
them in the present. It is only the students of the theatre who
always fall back, or rather forward, on the future. Though second-
nighters do come to see, they remain rather to hope and pray. I
should have known anywhere, by the visionary look in his eyes, that
Brown was a confirmed second-nighter.
What surprises me is that I knew he was Brown. It is true that he had
not grown much in those fifteen years: his brow was still
disproportionate to his body, and he looked young to have become
`confirmed' in any habit. But it is also true that not once in the
past ten years, at any rate, had he flitted through my mind and poised
on my conscience.
I hope that I and those other boys had long ago ceased from recurring
to him in nightmares. Cordial though the hand was that I offered him,
and highly civilised my whole demeanour, he seemed afraid that at any
moment I might begin to dance around him, shooting out my lips at him
and calling him Seven-Sisters Brown or something of that kind. It was
only after constant meetings at second nights, and innumerable
entr'acte talks about the future of the drama, that he began to trust
me. In course of time we formed the habit of walking home together as
far as Cumberland Place, at which point our ways diverged. I gathered
that he was still living with his parents, but he did not tell me
where, for they had not, as I learned by reference to the Red Book,
moved from Ladbroke Crescent.
I found his company restful rather than inspiring. His days were
spent in clerkship at one of the smaller Government Offices, his
evenings--except when there was a second night--in reading and
writing. He did not seem to know much, or to wish to know more, about
life. Books and plays, first editions and second nights, were what he
cared for. On matters of religion and ethics he was as little keen as
he seemed to be on human character in the raw; so that (though I had
already suspected him of writing, or meaning to write, a play) my
eyebrows did rise when he told me he meant to write a play about
He made me understand, however, that it was rather the name than the
man that had first attracted him. He said that the name was in itself
a great incentive to blank-verse. He uttered it to me slowly, in a
voice so much deeper than his usual voice, that I nearly laughed. For
the actual bearer of the name he had no hero-worship, and said it was
by a mere accident that he had chosen him as central figure. He had
thought of writing a tragedy about Sardanapalus; but the volume of the
"Encyclopedia Britannica" in which he was going to look up the main
facts about Sardanapalus happened to open at Savonarola. Hence a
sudden and complete peripety in the student's mind. He told me he had
read the Encyclopedia's article carefully, and had dipped into one or
two of the books there mentioned as authorities. He seemed almost to
wish he hadn't. `Facts get in one's way so,' he complained. `History
is one thing, drama is another. Aristotle said drama was more
philosophic than history because it showed us what men WOULD do, not
just what they DID. I think that's so true, don't you? I want to
show what Savonarola WOULD have done if--' He paused.
`Well, that's just the point. I haven't settled that yet. When I've
thought of a plot, I shall go straight ahead.'
I said I supposed he intended his tragedy rather for the study than
for the stage. This seemed to hurt him. I told him that what I meant
was that managers always shied at anything without `a strong feminine
interest.' This seemed to worry him. I advised him not to think
about managers. He promised that he would think only about
I know now that this promise was not exactly kept by him; and he may
have felt slightly awkward when, some weeks later, he told me he had
begun the play. `I've hit on an initial idea,' he said, `and that's
enough to start with. I gave up my notion of inventing a plot in
advance. I thought it would be a mistake. I don't want puppets on
wires. I want Savonarola to work out his destiny in his own way. Now
that I have the initial idea, what I've got to do is to make
Savonarola LIVE. I hope I shall be able to do this. Once he's alive,
I shan't interfere with him. I shall just watch him. Won't it be
interesting? He isn't alive yet. But there's plenty of time. You
see, he doesn't come on at the rise of the curtain. A Friar and a
Sacristan come on and talk about him. By the time they've finished,
perhaps he'll be alive. But they won't have finished yet. Not that
they're going to say very much. But I write slowly.'
I remember the mild thrill I had when, one evening, he took me aside
and said in an undertone, `Savonarola has come on. Alive!' For me
the MS. hereinafter printed has an interest that for you it cannot
have, so a-bristle am I with memories of the meetings I had with its
author throughout the nine years he took over it. He never saw me
without reporting progress, or lack of progress. Just what was going
on, or standing still, he did not divulge. After the entry of
Savonarola, he never told me what characters were appearing. `All
sorts of people appear,' he would say rather helplessly. `They
insist. I can't prevent them.' I used to say it must be great fun to
be a creative artist; but at this he always shook his head: `I don't
create. THEY do. Savonarola especially, of course. I just look on
and record. I never know what's going to happen next.' He had the
advantage of me in knowing at any rate what had happened last. But
whenever I pled for a glimpse he would again shake his head:
`The thing MUST be judged as a whole. Wait till I've come to the end
of the Fifth Act.'
So impatient did I become that, as the years went by, I used rather to
resent his presence at second nights. I felt he ought to be at his
desk. His, I used to tell him, was the only drama whose future ought
to concern him now. And in point of fact he had, I think, lost the
true spirit of the second-nighter, and came rather to be seen than to
see. He liked the knowledge that here and there in the auditorium,
when he entered it, some one would be saying `Who is that?' and
receiving the answer `Oh, don't you know? That's "Savonarola" Brown.'
This sort of thing, however, did not make him cease to be the modest,
unaffected fellow I had known. He always listened to the advice I
used to offer him, though inwardly he must have chafed at it. Myself
a fidgety and uninspired person, unable to begin a piece of writing
before I know just how it shall end, I had always been afraid that
sooner or later Brown would take some turning that led nowhither--
would lose himself and come to grief. This fear crept into my
gladness when, one evening in the spring of 1909, he told me he had
finished the Fourth Act. Would he win out safely through the Fifth?
He himself was looking rather glum; and, as we walked away from the
theatre, I said to him, `I suppose you feel rather like Thackeray when
he'd "killed the Colonel": you've got to kill the Monk.'
`Not quite that,' he answered. `But of course he'll die very soon
now. A couple of years or so. And it does seem rather sad. It's not
merely that he's so full of life. He has been becoming much more
HUMAN lately. At first I only respected him. Now I have a real
affection for him.'
This was an interesting glimpse at last, but I turned from it to my
`Haven't you,' I asked, `any notion of HOW he is to die?'
Brown shook his head.
`But in a tragedy,' I insisted, `the catastrophe MUST be led up to,
step by step. My dear Brown, the end of the hero MUST be logical and
`I don't see that,' he said, as we crossed Piccadilly Circus. `In
actual life it isn't so. What is there to prevent a motor-omnibus
from knocking me over and killing me at this moment?'
At that moment, by what has always seemed to me the strangest of
coincidences, and just the sort of thing that playwrights ought to
avoid, a motor-omnibus knocked Brown over and killed him.
He had, as I afterwards learned, made a will in which he appointed me
his literary executor. Thus passed into my hands the unfinished play
by whose name he had become known to so many people.
I hate to say that I was disappointed in it, but I had better confess
quite frankly that, on the whole, I was. Had Brown written it quickly
and read it to me soon after our first talk about it, it might in some
ways have exceeded my hopes. But he had become for me, by reason of
that quiet and unhasting devotion to his work while the years came and
went, a sort of hero; and the very mystery involving just what he was
about had addicted me to those ideas of magnificence which the unknown
is said always to foster.
Even so, however, I am not blind to the great merits of the play as it
stands. It is well that the writer of poetic drama should be a
dramatist and a poet. Here is a play that abounds in striking
situations, and I have searched it vainly for one line that does not
scan. What I nowhere feel is that I have not elsewhere been thrilled
or lulled by the same kind of thing. I do not go so far as to say
that Brown inherited his parents' deplorable lack of imagination. But
I do wish he had been less sensitive than he was to impressions, or
else had seen and read fewer poetic dramas ancient and modern.
Remembering that visionary look in his eyes, remembering that he was
as displeased as I by the work of all living playwrights, and as
dissatisfied with the great efforts of the Elizabethans, I wonder that
he was not more immune from influences.
Also, I cannot but wish still that he had faltered in his decision to
make no scenario. There is much to be said for the theory that a
dramatist should first vitalise his characters and then leave them
unfettered ; but I do feel that Brown's misused the confidence he
reposed in them. The labour of so many years has somewhat the air of
being a mere improvisation. Savonarola himself, after the First Act
or so, strikes me as utterly inconsistent. It may be that he is just
complex, like Hamlet. He does in the Fourth Act show traces of that
Prince. I suppose this is why he struck Brown as having become `more
human.' To me he seems merely a poorer creature.
But enough of these reservations. In my anxiety for poor Brown's sake
that you should not be disappointed, perhaps I have been carrying
tactfulness too far and prejudicing you against that for which I
specially want your favour. Here, without more ado, is
SCENE: A Room in the Monastery of San Marco, Florence.
TIME: 1490, A.D. A summer morning.
Enter the SACRISTAN and a FRIAR.
Savonarola looks more grim to-day
Than ever. Should I speak my mind, I'd say
That he was fashioning some new great scourge
To flay the backs of men.
'Tis even so.
Brother Filippo saw him stand last night
In solitary vigil till the dawn
Lept o'er the Arno, and his face was such
As men may wear in Purgatory--nay,
E'en in the inmost core of Hell's own fires.
I often wonder if some woman's face,
Seen at some rout in his old worldling days,
Haunts him e'en now, e'en here, and urges him
To fierier fury 'gainst the Florentines.
Savonarola love-sick! Ha, ha, ha!
Love-sick? He, love-sick? 'Tis a goodly jest!
The CONfirm'd misogyn a ladies' man!
Thou must have eaten of some strange red herb
That takes the reason captive. I will swear
Savonarola never yet hath seen
A woman but he spurn'd her. Hist! He comes.
[Enter SAVONAROLA, rapt in thought.]
Give thee good morrow, Brother.
A multitude of morrows equal-good
Till thou, by Heaven's grace, hast wrought the work
Nearest thine heart.
I thank thee, Brother, yet
I thank thee not, for that my thankfulness
(An such there be) gives thanks to Heaven alone.
FRI. [To SACR.]
'Tis a right answer he hath given thee.
Had Sav'narola spoken less than thus,
Methinks me, the less Sav'narola he.
As when the snow lies on yon Apennines,
White as the hem of Mary Mother's robe,
And insusceptible to the sun's rays,
Being harder to the touch than temper'd steel,
E'en so this great gaunt monk white-visaged
Upstands to Heaven and to Heav'n devotes
The scarped thoughts that crown the upper slopes
Of his abrupt and AUStere nature.
[Enter LUCREZIA BORGIA, ST. FRANCIS oF ASSISI, and LEONARDO DA VINCI. LUC. is
This is the place.
LUC. [Pointing at SAV.]
And this the man! [Aside.] And I--
By the hot blood that courses i' my veins
I swear it ineluctably--the woman!
Who is this wanton?
[LUC. throws back her hood, revealing her face. SAV. starts back,
gazing at her.]
Hush, Sir! 'Tis my little sister
The poisoner, right well-belov'd by all
Whom she as yet hath spared. Hither she came
Mounted upon another little sister of mine--
A mare, caparison'd in goodly wise.
She--I refer now to Lucrezia--
Desireth to have word of thee anent
Some matter that befrets her.
SAV. [To LUC.]
Savonarola will not tempted be
By face of woman e'en tho' 't be, tho' 'tis,
Surpassing fair. All hope abandon therefore.
I charge thee: Vade retro, Satanas.
Sirrah, thou speakst in haste, as is the way
Of monkish men. The beauty of Lucrezia
Commends, not discommends, her to the eyes
Of keener thinkers than I take thee for.
I am an artist and an engineer,
Giv'n o'er to subtile dreams of what shall be
On this our planet. I foresee a day
When men shall skim the earth i' certain chairs
Not drawn by horses but sped on by oil
Or other matter, and shall thread the sky
It may be as thou sayest, friend,
Or may be not. [To SAV.] As touching this our errand,
I crave of thee, Sir Monk, an audience
Lo! Here Alighieri comes.
I had methought me he was still at Parma.
ST. FRAN. [To DAN.]
How fares my little sister Beatrice?
She died, alack, last sennight.
Did she so?
If the condolences of men avail
Thee aught, take mine.
They are of no avail.
SAV. [To LUC.]
I do refuse thee audience.
Didst thou not say so promptly when I ask'd it?
Full well thou knowst that I was interrupted
By Alighieri's entry.
[Noise without. Enter Guelfs and Ghibellines fighting.]
What is this?
I did not think that in this cloister'd spot
There would be so much doing. I had look'd
To find Savonarola all alone
And tempt him in his uneventful cell.
Instead o' which--Spurn'd am I? I am I.
There was a time, Sir, look to 't! O damnation!
What is 't? Anon then! These my toys, my gauds,
That in the cradle--aye, 't my mother's breast--
I puled and lisped at,--'Tis impossible,
Tho', faith, 'tis not so, forasmuch as 'tis.
And I a daughter of the Borgias!--
Or so they told me. Liars! Flatterers!
Currying lick-spoons! Where's the Hell of 't then?
'Tis time that I were going. Farewell, Monk,
But I'll avenge me ere the sun has sunk.
[Exeunt LUC., ST. FRAN., and LEONARDO, followed by DAN. SAV., having
watched LUC. out of sight, sinks to his knees, sobbing. FRI. and SACR.
watch him in amazement. Guelfs and Ghibellines continue fighting as
the Curtain falls.]
TIME: Afternoon of same day.
SCENE: Lucrezia's Laboratory. Retorts, test-tubes, etc. On small
Renaissance table, up c., is a great poison-bowl, the contents of
which are being stirred by the FIRST APPRENTICE. The SECOND APPRENTICE
stands by, watching him.
For whom is the brew destin'd?
I know not.
Lady Lucrezia did but lay on me
Injunctions as regards the making of 't,
The which I have obey'd. It is compounded
Of a malignant and a deadly weed
Found not save in the Gulf of Spezia,
And one small phial of 't, I am advis'd,
Were more than 'nough to slay a regiment
Of Messer Malatesta's condottieri
In all their armour.
I can well believe it.
Mark how the purple bubbles froth upon
The evil surface of its nether slime!
LUC. [To FIRST APP.]
Is 't done, Sir Sluggard?
Madam, to a turn.
Had it not been so, I with mine own hand
Would have outpour'd it down thy gullet, knave.
See, here's a ring of cunningly-wrought gold
That I, on a dark night, did purchase from
A goldsmith on the Ponte Vecchio.
Small was his shop, and hoar of visage he.
I did bemark that from the ceiling's beams
Spiders had spun their webs for many a year,
The which hung erst like swathes of gossamer
Seen in the shadows of a fairy glade,
But now most woefully were weighted o'er
With gather'd dust. Look well now at the ring!
Touch'd here, behold, it opes a cavity
Capacious of three drops of yon fell stuff.
Dost heed? Whoso then puts it on his finger
Dies, and his soul is from his body rapt
To Hell or Heaven as the case may be.
Take thou this toy and pour the three drops in.
[Hands ring to FIRST APP. and comes down c.]
So, Sav'narola, thou shalt learn that I
Utter no threats but I do make them good.
Ere this day's sun hath wester'd from the view
Thou art to preach from out the Loggia
Dei Lanzi to the cits in the Piazza.
I, thy Lucrezia, will be upon the steps
To offer thee with phrases seeming-fair
That which shall seal thine eloquence for ever.
O mighty lips that held the world in spell
But would not meet these little lips of mine
In the sweet way that lovers use--O thin,
Cold, tight-drawn, bloodless lips, which natheless I
Deem of all lips the most magnifical
In this our city--
[Enter the Borgias' FOOL.]
Well, Fool, what's thy latest?
Aristotle's or Zeno's, Lady--'tis neither latest nor last. For,
marry, if the cobbler stuck to his last, then were his latest his last
in rebus ambulantibus. Argal, I stick at nothing but cobble-stones,
which, by the same token, are stuck to the road by men's fingers.
How many crows may nest in a grocer's jerkin?
A full dozen at cock-crow, and something less under the dog-star, by
reason of the dew, which lies heavy on men taken by the scurvy.
LUC. [To FIRST APP.]
Methinks the Fool is a fool.
And therefore, by auricular deduction, am I own twin to the Lady
When pears hang green on the garden wall
With a nid, and a nod, and a niddy-niddy-o
Then prank you, lads and lasses all,
With a yea and a nay and a niddy-o.
But when the thrush flies out o' the frost
With a nid, [etc.]
'Tis time for loons to count the cost,
With a yea [etc.]
[Enter the PORTER.]
O my dear Mistress, there is one below
Demanding to have instant word of thee.
I told him that your Ladyship was not
At home. Vain perjury! He would not take
Nay for an answer.
Ah? What manner of man
A personage the like of whom
Is wholly unfamiliar to my gaze.
Cowl'd is he, but I saw his great eyes glare
From their deep sockets in such wise as leopards
Glare from their caverns, crouching ere they spring
On their reluctant prey.
And what name gave he?
PORTER [After a pause.]
Savon-? [PORTER nods.] Show him up. [Exit PORTER.]
If he be right astronomically, Mistress, then is he the greater dunce
in respect of true learning, the which goes by the globe. Argal,
'twere better he widened his wind-pipe.
Fly home, sweet self,
Nothing's for weeping,
Hemp was not made
For lovers' keeping, Lovers' keeping,
Cheerly, cheerly, fly away.
Hew no more wood
While ash is glowing,
The longest grass
Is lovers' mowing,
[Re-enter PORTER, followed by SAV. Exeunt PORTER, FOOL, and FIRST and
I am no more a monk, I am a man
O' the world.
[Throws off cowl and frock, and stands forth in the costume of a
Renaissance nobleman. LUCREZIA looks him up and down.]
Thou cutst a sorry figure.
Is neither here nor there. I love you, Madam.
And this, methinks, is neither there nor here,
For that my love of thee hath vanished,
Seeing thee thus beprankt. Go pad thy calves!
Thus mightst thou, just conceivably, with luck,
Capture the fancy of some serving-wench.
And this is all thou hast to say to me?
I am dismiss'd?
[Resumes frock and cowl.]
Savonarola is himself once more.
And all my love for him returns to me
Too late! My pride of manhood
Is wounded irremediably. I'll
To the Piazza, where my flock awaits me.
Thus do we see that men make great mistakes
But may amend them when the conscience wakes.
I'm half avenged now, but only half:
'Tis with the ring I'll have the final laugh!
Tho' love be sweet, revenge is sweeter far.
To the Piazza! Ha, ha, ha, ha, har!
[Seizes ring, and exit. Through open door are heard, as the Curtain
falls, sounds of a terrific hubbub in the Piazza.]
SCENE: The Piazza.
TIME: A few minutes anterior to close of preceding Act.
The Piazza is filled from end to end with a vast seething crowd that
is drawn entirely from the lower orders. There is a sprinkling of
wild-eyed and dishevelled women in it. The men are lantern-jawed,
with several days' growth of beard. Most of them carry rude weapons--
staves, bill-hooks, crow-bars, and the like--and are in as excited a
condition as the women. Some of them are bare-headed, others affect a
kind of Phrygian cap. Cobblers predominate.
Enter LORENZO DE MEDICI and COSIMO DE MEDICI. They wear cloaks of scarlet
brocade, and, to avoid notice, hold masks to their faces.
What purpose doth the foul and greasy plebs
Ensue to-day here?
I nor know nor care.
How thrall'd thou art to the philosophy
Of Epicurus! Naught that's human I
Deem alien from myself. [To a COBBLER.] Make answer, fellow!
What empty hope hath drawn thee by a thread
Forth from the OBscene hovel where thou starvest?
No empty hope, your Honour, but the full
Assurance that to-day, as yesterday,
Savonarola will let loose his thunder
Against the vices of the idle rich
And from the brimming cornucopia
Of his immense vocabulary pour
Scorn on the lamentable heresies
Of the New Learning and on all the art
Later than Giotto.
Mark how absolute
The knave is!
Then are parrots rational
When they regurgitate the thing they hear!
This fool is but an unit of the crowd,
And crowds are senseless as the vasty deep
That sinks or surges as the moon dictates.
I know these crowds, and know that any man
That hath a glib tongue and a rolling eye
Can as he willeth with them.
[Removes his mask and mounts steps of Loggia.]
[Prolonged yells and groans from the crowd.]
Yes, I am he, I am that same Lorenzo
Whom you have nicknamed the Magnificent.
[Further terrific yells, shakings of fists, brandishings of bill-
hooks, insistent cries of `Death to Lorenzo!' `Down with the
Magnificent!' Cobblers on fringe of crowd, down c., exhibit especially
all the symptoms of epilepsy, whooping-cough, and other ailments.]
You love not me.
[The crowd makes an ugly rush. LOR. appears likely to be dragged down
and torn limb from limb, but raises one hand in nick of time, and
Yet I deserve your love.
[The yells are now variegated with dubious murmurs. A cobbler down c.
thrusts his face feverishly in the face of another and repeats, in a
hoarse interrogative whisper, `Deserves our love?']
Not for the sundry boons I have bestow'd
And benefactions I have lavished
Upon Firenze, City of the Flowers,
But for the love that in this rugged breast
I bear you.
[The yells have now died away, and there is a sharp fall in dubious
murmurs. The cobbler down c. says, in an ear-piercing whisper, `The
love he bears us,' drops his lower jaw, nods his head repeatedly, and
awaits in an intolerable state of suspense the orator's next words.]
I am not a blameless man,
[Some dubious murmurs.]
Yet for that I have lov'd you passing much,
Shall some things be forgiven me.
[Noises of cordial assent.]
In this our city, known unto you all,
A man more virtuous than I am, and
A thousand times more intellectual;
Yet envy not I him, for--shall I name him?--
He loves not you. His name? I will not cut
Your hearts by speaking it. Here let it stay
On tip o' tongue.
Then steel you to the shock!--
[For a moment or so the crowd reels silently under the shock. Cobbler
down c. is the first to recover himself and cry `Death to Savonarola!'
The cry instantly becomes general. LOR. holds up his hand and
gradually imposes silence.]
His twin bug-bears are
Yourselves and that New Learning which I hold
Less dear than only you.
[Profound sensation. Everybody whispers `Than only you' to everybody
else. A woman near steps of Loggia attempts to kiss hem of LOR.'s
Would you but con
With me the old philosophers of Hellas,
Her fervent bards and calm historians,
You would arise and say `We will not hear
Another word against them!'
[The crowd already says this, repeatedly, with great emphasis.]
Take the Dialogues
Of Plato, for example. You will find
A spirit far more truly Christian
In them than in the ravings of the sour-soul'd
[Prolonged cries of `Death to the Sour-Souled Savonarola!' Several
cobblers detach themselves from the crowd and rush away to read the
Platonic Dialogues. Enter SAVONAROLA. The crowd, as he makes his way
through it, gives up all further control of its feelings, and makes a
noise for which even the best zoologists might not find a good
comparison. The staves and bill-hooks wave like twigs in a storm.
One would say that SAV. must have died a thousand deaths already. He
is, however, unharmed and unruffled as he reaches the upper step of
the Loggia. LOR. meanwhile has rejoined COS. in the Piazza.]
Pax vobiscum, brothers!
[This does but exacerbate the crowd's frenzy.]
VOICE OF A COBBLER
Hear his false lips cry Peace when there is no
Are not you ashamed, O Florentines,
[Renewed yells, but also some symptoms of manly shame.]
That hearken'd to Lorenzo and now reel
Inebriate with the exuberance
Of his verbosity?
[The crowd makes an obvious effort to pull itself together.]
A man can fool
Some of the people all the time, and can
Fool all the people sometimes, but he cannot
Fool ALL the people ALL the time.
[Loud cheers. Several cobblers clap one another on the back. Cries
of `Death to Lorenzo!' The meeting is now well in hand.]
I must adopt a somewhat novel course
In dealing with the awful wickedness
At present noticeable in this city.
I do so with reluctance. Hitherto
I have avoided personalities.
But now my sense of duty forces me
To a departure from my custom of
Naming no names. One name I must and shall
[All eyes are turned on LOR., who smiles uncomfortably.]
No, I do not mean Lorenzo. He
Is 'neath contempt.
[Loud and prolonged laughter, accompanied with hideous grimaces at LOR.
Exeunt LOR. and COS.]
I name a woman's name,
[The women in the crowd eye one another suspiciously.]
A name known to you all--four-syllabled,
Beginning with an L.
[Pause. Enter hurriedly LUC., carrying the ring. She stands,
unobserved by any one, on outskirt of crowd. SAV. utters the name:]
LUC. [With equal intensity.]
[SAV. starts violently and stares in direction of her voice.]
Yes, I come, I come!
[Forces her way to steps of Loggia. The crowd is much bewildered, and
the cries of `Death to Lucrezia Borgia!' are few and sporadic.]
Why didst thou call me?
[SAV. looks somewhat embarrassed.]
What is thy distress?
I see it all! The sanguinary mob
Clusters to rend thee! As the antler'd stag,
With fine eyes glazed from the too-long chase,
Turns to defy the foam-fleck'd pack, and thinks,
In his last moment, of some graceful hind
Seen once afar upon a mountain-top,
E'en so, Savonarola, didst thou think,
In thy most dire extremity, of me.
And here I am! Courage! The horrid hounds
Droop tail at sight of me and fawn away
[The crowd does indeed seem to have fallen completely under the sway
of LUC.'s magnetism, and is evidently convinced that it had been about
to make an end of the monk.]
Take thou, and wear henceforth,
As a sure talisman 'gainst future perils,
This little, little ring.
[SAV. makes awkward gesture of refusal. Angry murmurs from the crowd.
Cries of `Take thou the ring!' `Churl!' `Put it on!' etc.
Enter the Borgias' FOOL and stands unnoticed on fringe of crowd.]
I hoped you 'ld like it--
Neat but not gaudy. Is my taste at fault?
I'd so look'd forward to-- [Sob.] No, I'm not crying,
But just a little hurt.
[Hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Also swayings and snarlings
indicative that SAV.'s life is again not worth a moment's purchase.
SAV. makes awkward gesture of acceptance, but just as he is about to
put ring on finger, the FOOL touches his lute and sings:--]
Wear not the ring,
It hath an unkind sting,
Ding, dong, ding.
Bide a minute,
There's poison in it,
Poison in it,
Ding-a-dong, dong, ding.
The fellow lies.
[The crowd is torn with conflicting opinions. Mingled cries of `Wear
not the ring!' `The fellow lies!' `Bide a minute!' `Death to the
Fool!' `Silence for the Fool!' `Ding-a-dong, dong, ding!' etc.]
Wear not the ring,
For Death's a robber-king,
There's no trinket
Is what you think it,
What you think it,
[SAV. throws ring in LUC.'s face. Enter POPE JULIUS II, with Papal
Arrest that man and woman!
[Re-enter Guelfs and Ghibellines fighting. SAV. and LUC. are arrested
by Papal officers. Enter MICHAEL ANGELO. ANDREA DEL SARTO appears for a
moment at a window. PIPPA passes. Brothers of the Misericordia go by,
singing a Requiem for Francesca da Rimini. Enter BOCCACCIO, BENVENUTO
CELLINI, and many others, making remarks highly characteristic of
themselves but scarcely audible through the terrific thunderstorm
which now bursts over Florence and is at its loudest and darkest
crisis as the Curtain falls.]
TIME: Three hours later.
SCENE: A Dungeon on the ground-floor of the Palazzo Civico.
The stage is bisected from top to bottom by a wall, on one side of
which is seen the interior of LUCREZIA'S cell, on the other that of
Neither he nor she knows that the other is in the next cell. The
audience, however, knows this.
Each cell (because of the width and height of the proscenium) is of
more than the average Florentine size, but is bare even to the point
of severity, its sole amenities being some straw, a hunk of bread, and
a stone pitcher. The door of each is facing the audience. Dim-ish
LUCREZIA wears long and clanking chains on her wrists, as does also
SAVONAROLA. Imprisonment has left its mark on both of them. SAVONAROLA'S
hair has turned white. His whole aspect is that of a very old, old
man. LUCREZIA looks no older than before, but has gone mad.
Alas, how long ago this morning seems
This evening! A thousand thousand eons
Are scarce the measure of the gulf betwixt
My then and now. Methinks I must have been
Here since the dim creation of the world
And never in that interval have seen
The tremulous hawthorn burgeon in the brake,
Nor heard the hum o' bees, nor woven chains
Of buttercups on Mount Fiesole
What time the sap lept in the cypresses,
Imbuing with the friskfulness of Spring
Those melancholy trees. I do forget
The aspect of the sun. Yet I was born
A freeman, and the Saints of Heaven smiled
Down on my crib. What would my sire have said,
And what my dam, had anybody told them
The time would come when I should occupy
A felon's cell? O the disgrace of it
The scandal, the incredible come-down!
It masters me. I see i' my mind's eye
The public prints--`Sharp Sentence on a Monk.'
What then? I thought I was of sterner stuff
Than is affrighted by what people think.
Yet thought I so because 'twas thought of me,
And so 'twas thought of me because I had
A hawk-like profile and a baleful eye.
Lo! my soul's chin recedes, soft to the touch
As half-churn'd butter. Seeming hawk is dove,
And dove's a gaol-bird now. Fie out upon 't!
How comes it? I am Empress Dowager
Of China--yet was never crown'd. This must
Be seen to.
[Quickly gathers some straw and weaves a crown, which she puts on.]
O, what a degringolade!
The great career I had mapp'd out for me--
Nipp'd i' the bud. What life, when I come out,
Awaits me? Why, the very Novices
And callow Postulants will draw aside
As I pass by, and say `That man hath done
Time!' And yet shall I wince? The worst of Time
Is not in having done it, but in doing 't.
Ha, ha, ha, ha! Eleven billion pig-tails
Do tremble at my nod imperial,--
The which is as it should be.
I have heard
That gaolers oft are willing to carouse
With them they watch o'er, and do sink at last
Into a drunken sleep, and then's the time
To snatch the keys and make a bid for freedom.
Gaoler! Ho, Gaoler!
[Sounds of lock being turned and bolts withdrawn. Enter the Borgias'
FOOL, in plain clothes, carrying bunch of keys.]
I have seen thy face
I saved thy life this afternoon, Sir.
Thou art the Borgias' Fool?
Say rather, was.
Unfortunately I have been discharg'd
For my betrayal of Lucrezia,
So that I have to speak like other men--
Decasyllabically, and with sense.
An hour ago the gaoler of this dungeon
Died of an apoplexy. Hearing which,
I ask'd for and obtain'd his billet.
A stoup o' liquor for thyself and me.
Freedom! there's nothing that thy votaries
Grudge in the cause of thee. That decent man
Is doom'd by me to lose his place again
To-morrow morning when he wakes from out
His hoggish slumber. Yet I care not.
[Re-enter GAOLER with a leathern bottle and two glasses.]
This is the stuff to warm our vitals, this
The panacea for all mortal ills
And sure elixir of eternal youth.
[GAOLER drains a glass and shows signs of instant intoxication. SAV.
claps him on shoulder and replenishes glass. GAOLER drinks again, lies
down on floor, and snores. SAV. snatches the bunch of keys, laughs
long but silently, and creeps out on tip-toe, leaving door ajar.
LUC. meanwhile has lain down on the straw in her cell, and fallen
Noise of bolts being shot back, jangling of keys, grating of lock, and
the door of LUC.'S cell flies open. SAV. takes two steps across the
threshold, his arms outstretched and his upturned face transfigured
with a great joy.]
How sweet the open air
Leaps to my nostrils! O the good brown earth
That yields once more to my elastic tread
And laves these feet with its remember'd dew!
[Takes a few more steps, still looking upwards.]
Free !--I am free! O naked arc of heaven,
Enspangled with innumerable--no,
Stars are not there. Yet neither are there clouds!
The thing looks like a ceiling! [Gazes downward.] And this thing
Looks like a floor. [Gazes around.] And that white bundle yonder
Looks curiously like Lucrezia.
[LUC. awakes at sound of her name, and sits up sane.]
There must be some mistake.
LUC. [Rises to her feet.]
There is indeed!
A pretty sort of prison I have come to,
In which a self-respecting lady's cell
Is treated as a lounge!
I had no notion
You were in here. I thought I was out there.
I will explain--but first I'll make amends.
Here are the keys by which your durance ends.
The gate is somewhere in this corridor,
And so good-bye to this interior!
[Exeunt SAV. and LUC. Noise, a moment later, of a key grating in a
lock, then of gate creaking on its hinges; triumphant laughs of
fugitives; loud slamming of gate behind them.
In SAV.'s cell the GAOLER starts in his sleep, turns his face to the
wall, and snores more than ever deeply. Through open door comes a
Sleep on, Savonarola, and awake
Not in this dungeon but in ruby Hell!
[Stabs Gaoler, whose snores cease abruptly. Enter POPE JULIUS II, with
Papal retinue carrying torches. MURDERER steps quickly back into
POPE [To body of GAOLER.]
Savonarola, I am come to taunt
Thee in thy misery and dire abjection.
Rise, Sir, and hear me out.
MURD. [Steps forward.]
Waste not thy breath. Savonarola's dead.
I murder'd him.
Thou hadst no right to do so.
Who art thou, pray?
Lucrezia's brother, and I claim a brother's
Right to assassinate whatever man
Shall wantonly and in cold blood reject
Her timid offer of a poison'd ring.
Of this anon.
[Stands over body of GAOLER.]
Our present business
Is general woe. No nobler corse hath ever
Impress'd the ground. O let the trumpets speak it!
[Flourish of trumpets.]
This was the noblest of the Florentines.
His character was flawless, and the world
Held not his parallel. O bear him hence
With all such honours as our State can offer.
He shall interred be with noise of cannon,
As doth befit so militant a nature.
Prepare these obsequies.
[Papal officers lift body of GAOLER.]
A PAPAL OFFICER
But this is not
Savonarola. It is some one else.
Lo! 'tis none other than the Fool that I
Hoof'd from my household but two hours agone.
I deem'd him no good riddance, for he had
The knack of setting tables on a roar.
What shadows we pursue! Good night, sweet Fool,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
Interred shall he be with signal pomp.
No honour is too great that we can pay him.
He leaves the world a vacuum. Meanwhile,
Go we in chase of the accursed villain
That hath made escapado from this cell.
To horse! Away! We'll scour the country round
For Sav'narola till we hold him bound.
Then shall you see a cinder, not a man,
Beneath the lightnings of the Vatican!
[Flourish, alarums and excursions, flashes of Vatican lightning, roll
of drums, etc. Through open door of cell is led in a large milk-white
horse, which the POPE mounts as the Curtain falls.]
Remember, please, before you formulate your impressions, that saying
of Brown's: `The thing must be judged as a whole.' I like to think
that whatever may seem amiss to us in these Four Acts of his would
have been righted by collation with that Fifth which he did not live
I like, too, to measure with my eyes the yawning gulf between stage
and study. Very different from the message of cold print to our
imagination are the messages of flesh and blood across footlights to
our eyes and ears. In the warmth and brightness of a crowded theatre
`Savonarola' might, for aught one knows, seem perfect. `Then why,' I
hear my gentle readers asking, `did you thrust the play on US, and not
on a theatrical manager?'
That question has a false assumption in it. In the course of the past
eight years I have thrust `Savonarola' on any number of theatrical
managers. They have all of them been (to use the technical phrase)
`very kind.' All have seen great merits in the work; and if I added
together all the various merits thus seen I should have no doubt that
`Savonarola' was the best play never produced. The point on which all
the managers are unanimous is that they have no use for a play without
an ending. This is why I have fallen back, at last, on gentle
readers, whom now I hear asking why I did not, as Brown's literary
executor, try to finish the play myself. Can they never ask a
question without a false assumption in it? I did try, hard, to finish
Artistically, of course, the making of such an attempt was
indefensible. Humanly, not so. It is clear throughout the play--
especially perhaps in Acts III and IV--that if Brown had not
steadfastly in his mind the hope of production on the stage, he had
nothing in his mind at all. Horrified though he would have been by
the idea of letting me kill his Monk, he would rather have done even
this than doom his play to everlasting unactedness. I took,
therefore, my courage in both hands, and made out a scenario....
Dawn on summit of Mount Fiesole. Outspread view of Florence (Duomo,
Giotto's Tower, etc.) as seen from that eminence.--NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI,
asleep on grass, wakes as sun rises. Deplores his exile from
Florence, LORENZO'S unappeasable hostility, etc. Wonders if he could
not somehow secure the POPE'S favour. Very cynical. Breaks off: But
who are these that scale the mountain-side? | Savonarola and Lucrezia
| Borgia!--Enter through a trap-door, back c. [trap-door veiled from
audience by a grassy ridge], SAV. and LUC. Both gasping and footsore
from their climb. [Still, with chains on their wrists? or not?]--MACH.
steps unobserved behind a cypress and listens.--SAV. has a speech to
the rising sun--Th' effulgent hope that westers from the east | Daily.
Says that his hope, on the contrary, lies in escape To that which
easters not from out the west, | That fix'd abode of freedom which men
call | America! Very bitter against POPE.--LUC. says that she, for her
part, means To start afresh in that uncharted land | Which austers not
from out the antipod, | Australia!--Exit MACH., unobserved, down trap-
door behind ridge, to betray LUC. and SAV.--Several longish speeches by
SAV. and LUC. Time is thus given for MACH. to get into touch with POPE,
and time for POPE and retinue to reach the slope of Fiesole. SAV.,
glancing down across ridge, sees these sleuth-hounds, points them out
to LUC. and cries Bewray'd! LUC. By whom? SAV. I know not, but suspect
| The hand of that sleek serpent Niccolo | Machiavelli.--SAV. and LUC.
rush down c., but find their way barred by the footlights.--LUC. We
will not be ta'en Alive. And here availeth us my lore | In what
pertains to poison. Yonder herb | [points to a herb growing down r.]
Is deadly nightshade. Quick, Monk! Pluck we it !--SAV. and LUC. die
just as POPE appears over ridge, followed by retinue in full cry.--
POPE'S annoyance at being foiled is quickly swept away on the great
wave of Shakespearean chivalry and charity that again rises in him.
He gives SAV. a funeral oration similar to the one meant for him in Act
IV, but even more laudatory and more stricken. Of LUC., too, he
enumerates the virtues, and hints that the whole terrestrial globe
shall be hollowed to receive her bones. Ends by saying: In deference
to this our double sorrow | Sun shall not shine to-day nor shine to-
morrow.--Sun drops quickly back behind eastern horizon, leaving a
great darkness on which the Curtain slowly falls.
All this might be worse, yes. The skeleton passes muster. But in the
attempt to incarnate and ensanguine it I failed wretchedly. I saw
that Brown was, in comparison with me, a master. Thinking I might
possibly fare better in his method of work than in my own, I threw the
skeleton into a cupboard, sat down, and waited to see what Savonarola
and those others would do.
They did absolutely nothing. I sat watching them, pen in hand, ready
to record their slightest movement. Not a little finger did they
raise. Yet I knew they must be alive. Brown had always told me they
were quite independent of him. Absurd to suppose that by the accident
of his own death they had ceased to breathe.... Now and then,
overcome with weariness, I dozed at my desk, and whenever I woke I
felt that these rigid creatures had been doing all sorts of wonderful
things while my eyes were shut. I felt that they disliked me. I came
to dislike them in return, and forbade them my room.
Some of you, my readers, might have better luck with them than I.
Invite them, propitiate them, watch them! The writer of the best
Fifth Act sent to me shall have his work tacked on to Brown's; and I
suppose I could get him a free pass for the second night.