Claud Nicholson.

Ugly idol, a development online

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' A rs longa, Z'ita brevis est '



Copyrighted in the United States
Ail rights reserved

Edinburgh : T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majeity

To my Mother



Tins was the thoroughfare that Gilbert had
passed along for some years every morning and
evening ; yes, this was it, teaming with life ; — not
the politest.

The lights of all kinds of vehicles joggled,
flashed, flared backwards and forwards behind
the thin curtain of the fog, and broad, quivering
patches of light from the shop-windows lay on the
pavement. Lamps fringing the streets twinkled
away in all directions ; everywhere there were
cross reflections, a medley, a turmoil of shifting

A world of clerks, peopling the darkness with
red cigar-tips, chattered and giggled in the ecstasy
of the young life that wakes with the closing of
office hours ; costers, on business and pleasure ;
children with big baskets or broken mugs ; thin,
white-faced girls with small, very small, bundles
of work ; and other women with no work at all,
but open red lips agape over glistening teeth,
jostled each other on the crowded pavement.

Gilbert swung along mechanically, engrossed
in his own thoughts, a bad habit that had grown
on him recently, and he no longer noticed what
passed on either side of him ; with the callousness



of habit he walked every day upon the pavement
he had so hated a while ago. Yet this crowd,
coarse, roaring, pushing, swearing, repulsed him
still when he awoke to its reality ; sometimes he
smelt the hot air from restaurants, the odours of
tobacco and strong wine, and heard anew the
excited voices and suggestive giggles from within,
and turned aside shuddering. And yet, he thought
bitterly, the people that passed him were miserable,
like himself; one, here and there, — that shivering
woman, clutching at her meagre black shawl with
a bruised hand, — even tragic; others — that tips)
man, guided by a female urchin in laceless boots
— absurd. Or was the woman in the black shawl,
with her dirty face, her straining, gazing eyes, her
bleeding fingers, amusing also? No doubt.

Some six years since, he had torn down here,
assailed with that need of action — action, that
comes on a man in the height of passion; and
six months ago, vaguely aware of the throbbing
life that hustled past him, and swept along the
steaming pavement, he had stridden again, in
such a fine fresh anger as comes to us only mice
in fifty years ; that storms and swirls about the
roots of our being like some flooded river that
tears up trees in its herculean fur)-.

All this, of course, had ended in nothing par-
ticular ; his passions generally did.

Just now, engrossed in his own thoughts, and
far away in very flowery fields, he knocked by
chance against a woman, who seized him by the
arm and told him with a loud laugh 'to clear out


of the vv'y of lydies.' He became conscious of
others of her kind round about, and fled in horror.
Vile street ! he had known it so long, and it never
ceased to repulse him ; he looked round him with
a new shiver of disgust. He was not of the kind
who become hardened to things they do not like,
nor yet of those who stand by and mark with idle
observance all the filth the gutter washes past
them ; his one defence was the garment of
dreams he tried to wrap about him. He was an
unfortunate person with ideals ; ideals, these ice-
creams of things of which boys take a farthing
lick before the)' discover how they are made and
how soon they melt. Then instead of doing as
sensible people do, and discarding them for some-
thing more solid, Gilbert stuck to his poor ices :
they were not very nourishing.

A swish of swing doors, a sudden roar of voices
and a gust of bad odours reminded him that he
was near the public-house at the corner. A bar-
man came to the door with a half-empty pot in
his hand, and asked briskly of a respectable
woman outside what she wanted. Gilbert did
not hear her reply, being too pre-occupied, but
his ear caught a burst of uproarious mirth, the
splash of the fluid from the pot and ' Ere 's a kiss
from me, ducky.'

He grinned sardonically to himself as he turned
away into a dark silent row of dwelling-houses ;
this very thing had happened to him in polite
society a few months ago. He had overheard
Graham whispering, so very wittily, his abomin-


able dregs of scandal ; he had splashed and
stained Gilbert to the best of his ability ; more
politely than the barman perhaps, but with the
same intention.

After all, he thought, there was nothing nice in
life, and why was one so desperately anxious to
live? Why did he, himself, love his life so much?
And then he smiled ; for he loved Agatha, and she
was life to him. Why was it a sin for him to love
her, when it was no sin for her to love Lester ? Ah,
pah ! he threw away the end of his cigarette : he
was going home, to his wife. Yes, he had a wife,
and he had married for money. lie said this
plainly, for he enjoyed being cruel to himself
sometimes, and wilfully ignored the fact that he-
had after all the best of the bargain. As he took
out his latch-key, he thought mockingly of the
many resolutions he had formed on that night
when he had gone to Agatha, and had paced up
and down outside the front-door. He had resolved
to be the dummy of others no longer ; he would
not give up all that was dearest to him in accord-
ance with his father's arrangements ; he, with his
artist nature, ambitious, restless, — and clerk at
Stanley's, — he would go to her to-morrow, would en-
force her attention, would cry to her that he loved
her, had loved her for many long months. All these
things he had resolved, — outside the front door.

He was a strong-willed man, but his will
manacled his own hands ; a passionate man, but
life had been hard to him, and the fool had
never dared to show his passion in daylight. On


a foggy night, freshly roused and insulted, he
could scheme earnestly the downfall of the
world : in the morning he was a clerk, trudged
forth to the office, and had other things to do.
With that prickly sensitiveness, so annoying to
other people, he was afraid on the morrow to hurt
his own tender soul or hers.

He turned his key in the door, and on enter-
ing was met with a pleasant warmth, an appetising
smell of dinner, and his wife.

1 Arc not you rather late ? I wish you would
try to be more punctual — it upsets the servants,'
she said, in that extremely good-natured way she
had of saying everything, and that took the sting
from any reproach. Then she waited beside him,
with round eyes and open mouth, expecting a
caress. She was accustomed to an affectionate
brother who hugged her and tom-boyed about
her with an unceremonious and apparent love
that suited her simple mind ; but this was not
Gilbert's way, and he was quite unconscious of
her disappointment, and the blank he left when
he hurried into the study to look for the evening
post, without a word of welcome or affection.

At dinner, with his eyes glancing side-wards at
the letters beside his plate, he asked what she had
been doing during the day, and received in reply
a little flood of news.

' I saw father's new coffee-house in Portal Lane ;
I hope it will do as well as the others. I managed
to get the paint to-day for the mission-room texts,
and Miss Spears has started a sewing-club that


I looked in upon ; but I am already so busy for
the Sisters' Bazaar that I did not undertake
any more work. I am afraid Sister Francis
Secunda is passing away,' she added, in the
unctuous tone sh~ had learned from hearing her
mother preach in the mission-rooms. ' But one
must thank the Lord for deliverance in her case,
poor dear saijitly creature ! '

This was only laughable in Ella, while it was
objectionable in her mother. It was odd, perhaps,
to hear this big, buxom woman, with her ruddy
face, big mouth, evident teeth, bespattering her
conversation with sudden religious reference as
other people use slang. She had grown up in
an atmosphere of religion, which was somewhat
mixed in her mind by reason of having her
mother's Salvation Army tendencies on one hand,
and her aunt's Anglican Sisterhood principles
on the other. She busied herself with all these
things as a matter of course, and without any
particular thought. It troubled her a little after
her marriage when she found that Gilbert was
much too busy to go to any but very exceptional
bazaars, and even her mother could only persuade
him to attend one of the very charming prayer-
meetings that were given in the drawing-room
once a fortnight. And Ella suspected that the
presence of the German ambassador and Mrs
Budd had accounted for his compliance. But she
had an equable nature ; she preferred sewing to
those meetings, and did not regret the circum-
stance much.


Her marriage had not made any great change
in her life. She saw very little of her husband,
and continued to district-visit and to receive the
same circle of friends as before. She lived in
much less opulence, of course, than at home ; but
the house was her own, and she mistress of it ; the
wife of a man poor, but with expectations. She
loved Gilbert, and saw him in the evenings and
on Sundays. In those circumstances there was
no reason why she should not be happy.

Once he had taken her to see some very odd
friends of his. He had known one, whom he
called 'Theresa,' all his life, he told her, and she
liked her better than some of the people she saw
there, who behaved in a very queer manner, it
seemed to her, and she owned frankly that she
did not care for them. Gilbert smiled.

'Very well,' he said, 'I will not press you to
know them. I dare say they will not trouble you

Since that she had, in her simple way, tried to
make him drop them. She distrusted them.

' Where have you been ? ' — ' Why are you so
late ? ' — ' Are you going out ? ' — ' You won't be
long, dear?' — all those little questions conveyed to
him that ' they ' were absorbing too much of his
attention. He invariably had a crisp answer
ready, invariably did what he intended to do, and
his calmness baffled his loving wife.

But they got on very well together, and looked
very comfortable sitting opposite each other at
dinner, in their neat little dining-room.


'O Gilbert,' Ella went on, 'I saw that Miss
Humberston to-day. Isn't she an artist, or some-
thing of that kind ? Of course Uncle Laurence is
an artist, but he never comes to the house now.
He was really very nice, but I am afraid that he
was lost to the ways of righteousness. Oh, I
looked for that sock this morning in the bedroom,
but I had not time to mend it, or your coat. Do
you see this lovely fern I got to-day ? '

So she chattered on, an endless flow of small-
talk, which is generally interesting to a husband
who has been away all day, and likes to hear of
what has happened during his absence. And
Ella was a person who made home bright. Big
as she was, she had a certain school-girlish gaucherie
of movement that gave one an impression of
youthfulness — not elegant, but frank and whole-
some. Her face had a freshness about it, too, that
atoned in the eyes of some for its plainness and
air of astonished simplicity ; her odd, loud laugh
was startling ; her heavy footsteps and manner of
banging doors also ; but these habits gave a taste
of life to the dull house. She had an eye for
decoration, and was at present painting the
drawing-room chimney-piece in a bold design, free
enough in touch to be artistic — unexpectedly so,
for nothing in her appearance led one to expect
such real taste and ability.

' Come and see,' she cried to Gilbert, bouncing
from the table and running upstairs on the impulse.
She continued at the pitch of her voice from the
landing —


' It 's not quite dry. I am afraid the dust is
sticking to it. Just call to Mary to bring me a
cloth. Mary! a cover, please/ and after all she
ran down to get it herself.

1 Yes,' said Gilbert, suddenly conscious that he
had not spoken much since he came home.
' Really pretty, my dear, and very well done.
After all, you are quite an artist, Ella.' He put
his arm through hers.

' I 'm glad you like it,' she said simply. ' Your
judgment counts for so much. I wish you would
draw the design for the door.' Then she laughed
— ' guffawed ' her father called it. ' Mrs. Leighs
called just when I was busy at it, and she looked
rather shocked. Of course I used to do most
things in the boys' photography room at home
after they gave up using it. When she turned
round to say good-bye, she swept the whole of
this poppy off, and I had a great business in
getting the paint from her dress.'

1 You shouldn't have told her it was there.'

1 Oh,' said Ella, to whom this had never occurred,
1 1 could not have let her go with it like that. She
is such a very good person, Gilbert, so charitable,
and has brought the Bible and the name of the
Lord to many poor boys for the first time. She
will never forgive me. I am afraid she thinks I
am not as good as I should be, and,' she added
meditatively, ' it was such a handsome dress, too,
— silk, — and it must have been very expensive.'

Gilbert laughed. ' The cause of her anger, I
dare say. If it had happened to any one else, she


would have exhorted them to bear it patiently.
Never mind her. She is not worth bothering

Ella opened wide her mouth. This was entirely
against the principles to which she had been
educated, and it astonished her that her husband
should be such a good man without doing any of
the things she looked upon as necessary to good-
ness. So, without replying, she dropped the
subject, and reverted again to the chimney-piece.

1 Don't you think a bee or something there
would be a great improvement — a blue butterfly
would look very well ? '

Gilbert's arm stiffened, and he frowned painfully.

1 No,' he said quickly. ' I 'd put a white one, or
a brown one, or — any colour but blue. Put a bee.'

He retreated from her, and she was astonished
to observe the veins swell on his brow as they did
when he was put out. What had she said to
disturb him ? She began to wind some wool, and
having, of course, no idea of silence, she asked, in
the act of dividing a skein, why he was cross.
Was he tired ? Why did he not take his medicine
if he had a headache ?

Gilbert, exasperated, was turning his head to
answer, when he saw something black with the
corner of his eye, and he bounded from his chair,
glad that an excuse offered itself on which he
could expend his irritation.

' That damned cat in the drawing-room again ! '
he shouted, and the beast, recognising its enemy,
fled through the door incontinently.


1 Gilbert, I wish you were fonder of cats !
But I did tell the servants to keep it in the
kitchen,' Ella said with a sigh. She looked so
good as she said this, and it was so kind of her
to give up her own liking for the animal to his
dislike of it, that Gilbert sat down again, con-
science-stricken, determined to be pleasant for the
rest of the evening. Just then his dog came in, a
big, handsome fellow, wriggling all over with
happy recognition of his master.

' Here you are,' he said with his laughing mouth.
' Glad to see you. Had a good dinner ? So have
I.' He sat down between Gilbert's knees.

1 Well, old boy, what devilry have you been up
to to-day? I see a satisfaction and repletion in
your eye that bodes ill.'

' No,' said Ella, ' I don't think he has done
anything to-day.'

'You are getting that all in a mess. Let me
hold it for you,' and Gilbert sat patiently for half
an hour while his wife disentangled the skein.
She chattered and laughed. Ah ! this good
Ella ; life would surely never be very unkind
to her.

So they sat close together before the fire, the
dog snoring peacefully on the hearthrug beside
them. This is how things should be after a few
months of marriage.

1 A little blue butterfly ' had got into Gilbert's
head, and as he went upstairs when Ella had
gone to her room, he said again and again to
himself, ' Petit papillon bleu, p' tit papillon bleu.'


He loitered down the passage to his father's
room. Inside here was all that he knew of
happiness, and sometimes it too turned to sorrow ;
a bitter grief swept over him when his father forgot
to love him, and he had grown to dread the look
in those eyes, the look that came and went. It
was curious to see this neat, precise man standing
thus, his hair almost singed by the gas jet, his face
drooping, thinking of a little blue butterfly and a
golden head in the sunshine.

Ella suddenly burst open her door, and issued
forth in search of matches.

' If you were tidier, and kept things in one
place, you would know where to find them/ said
her husband tartly.

There could be no doubt that Gilbert was
developing into a martinet. He went in hurriedly
to see his father.

Mr. Strode was sitting in his big armchair
beside the fire, and the light shone brightly on
his silver ringlets. He was busy dictating some-
thing to Martha, an arduous task for both. He
could no longer write well with his trembling
hand, and Martha, of course, had never written
well, and poetry, above other things, she found
difficult to comprehend. Mr. Strode ruffled his
curls with one hand, with the other motioned
Gilbert to be silent, and Martha crumpled her
rugged brow painfully.

' Now, did you put " when " on the next line ?
Bless me, make haste, what's the matter now?
I must get a secretary, Gilbert, I have said that


over and over again. How often do you intend
to forget ? You forget me altogether, you never
do a thing I ask you ! I must have a secretary :
it is of the greatest importance that my book
should come out ; and I suppose you have not
seen about it yet ? I believe you would like to
starve me ; you don't remember that it 's owing
to me that you are better off. Martha, is that a
blot I see ? Blotting-paper, quick, — must copy it
out again — how careless you are!' He gazed
about him irately.

1 Put it away in the drawer, and the pen : shut
the ink-pot : now hand me that book, no, that
one. Now, Gilbert, listen to this.'

Mr. Strode's eyesight was no longer very good :
but he thought the fault lay in his spectacles : he
took them off and wiped them, tried them this
way and that, and at last burst out —

' I must speak to the doctor to-morrow ; that
man in the shop cheated me, and when I wrote to
him, answered me impertinently. You must get
me a new pair, — now don't forget.' He fidgeted
in his chair, and his ringlets hung in a quivering
halo round his face. Old face, aged by illness,
with an odd vagueness on it, in spite of its irasci-
bility. Ah ! this vagueness, Gilbert watched it
growing every day. Beautiful face, with its fault-
less outline, its little cross smile only wiped out
now and then by that flickering confusion that
came and went.

Gilbert knelt down at the side of the chair, and
took up the manuscript with a smile.


1 Let us go on from where we left off last night,'
he said, and began to read.

Mr. Strode listened, and a pleased smile soon
superseded his frown.

'Ah ! what do yoi: think of that ? Hush, more
slowly, — now — what, a word left out ? ' so he com-
mented as Gilbert read, marking time on his son's
shoulder. Gilbert also seemed interested, and
turned with a bright smile when he laid the
manuscript back on the table.

'We must make haste and get it finished ; but
a secretary would be a nuisance ; he would not
know your ways, you see, and we could not trust
him. I will write it out properly, eh, how will
that do ? '

'Well, it might be better. But be sure you
make no mistakes. Do so many pages, and bring
it to me to correct every day.' Mr. Strode seemed
to think that his son was still a little boy, and
Gilbert did not mind, he enjoyed it. Mr. Strode
was about to speak again, when a sudden expres-
sionlessness came over his face, and he paused.

' Er, what was I saying ? ' he murmured.

' About this,' said Gilbert anxiously. ' Look, I
shall begin here, do you see ? ' He laid his hand
on his father's. ' You will let me do it ? '

' Yes, yes, my boy, of course. Now, observe
how busy your old father is, he has done some-
thing else to-day ! '

' Really ? Yes, you are always at something,
but don't work too hard.'

' Aha ! ' cried Mr. Strode merrily, ' I always was


bus)-. I could not live without something to do.
. . . Just lend me a hand.'

He rose from his chair with difficulty, and
Gilbert guided him, holding him firmly and gently
by the arm. Martha, entering at that moment
with her master's supper, watched with a sad eye
Mr. Strode carefully feeling for each step, his
eager face forward, clinging tightly to the pro-
tecting hand of his son, Gilbert, as watchful, as
careful, peering down through his glasses at every

' Can't think what makes me so shaky,' grumbled
his father. ' Never used to be like this. The
piano-stool, — careful — yes, that \s it. I composed
the music for the chanson to-day. You are sur-
prised, aren't you ? ' his merry laughter rang
through the room. ' I thought you would be, —
but what 's that ? Martha, don't make such a
noise, and put that down in the fender, to keep
warm. Gilbert, just see that the ashes don't fall
into it.' Gilbert placed the cup carefully, and
returned, and then Mr. Strode lifted a dainty
hand with a movement suggestive of lace-ruffle,
and began to play with his tremulous fingers upon
the piano. His head went to the music, he sang
a word or two, and Gilbert, at his bidding,
manoeuvred the pedals. Martha stood at the
table, still watching them as they sat side by side
at the piano, producing a music that was worth
listening to, for Mr. Strode never did anything
that was not worth listening to or looking at.
Every one acknowledged his genius.


' There, you see, are the birds, — hush, softly, re-
member it is early morning, — tree-tops just gilded
with the first rays of the sun, everything else grey
and misty, — covers nottakenoffyet,you knovv,birds
waking, — that 's the stream, — go on, louder '

Gilbert approached his short-sighted eyes closer
to the ill-written music, a proud smile upon his
face the while. If some one only heard these
compositions of his father's ! When they finished,
Mr. Strode turned to his son with a smile.

' Charming, isn't it ? ' he said simply. 'It is a
long time since wc had a table-cloth opera '

' Yes,' answered Gilbert quickly. ' Let us have
one to-night,' and he busied himself about it,
pleased to see his father so happy and untroubled.
A folded cloth was laid on the keyboard, and
Mr. Strode played thereon without any hesitation,
never making a fault. It gave an odd, faraway
sound that was effective.

' This is the angry father,' said Mr. Strode, with
an appreciative smile on his lips. ' Now this is
the daughter pleading.'

' Now she runs off with the hero,' put in Gilbert.

' Precisely, and meets with a misadventure, —
these agitated chromatics.'

So they laughed together over the piano, to the
wonderment of the old servant behind them, and
Mr. Strode was very happy.

A big cinder, sparkling suddenly from the fire,
fell with a great fizzing into the cup that had
been put there to keep hot.

Mr. Strode jumped from the stool nervously,



and would have fallen if Gilbert had not held him

'What do you mean by putting it there?' he
burst out. ' Your carelessness as usual, Gilbert.
I never knew a more handless, clumsy boy, — you
spoil everything, tear everything you don't break,
especially my things. I believe you do it on
purpose. Leave go, you will make me fall if you
hold me ; leave go at once ! You upset my nerves
completely, when I have done everything for you
too ! I shall tell the doctor how I am treated ! '

He called Martha to aid him to his chair, and
he would not turn to speak again to Gilbert.

I Take him away, he does it on purpose; he takes
advantage of this rheumatism I have in my legs.
He declares I 'm ill.'

I I know it's only rheumatism,' he grumbled to
Martha, who said, yes, it was very annoying.

1 Get out of my sight,' he added, when Gilbert

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Online LibraryClaud NicholsonUgly idol, a development → online text (page 1 of 15)