father's portrait, scanning the beautiful rather weak face,
the wistful dreaming eyes, the delicate mouth, sensitive
and trembling, that never could have borne any rude tast-
ing of beauty through the senses, and therefore could
have known no sin, no defilement of beauty for sensa-
The forehead was wide and clear. Behind it,
Jamie imagined, thought must have moved with an ease
and largeness unknown and never to be known to himself.
How then was there sin? The faith that was in his
mother was limpid in this man. But again were there
not thoughts in his brain which his faith could not con-
strain? Was that his sin ? Jamie decided that it was so,
that already his faith was insufficient, that he also had
desired a new Heaven and a new Earth, for when the
faith is insufficient, then evil must be triumphant.
Having got so far, Jamie turned from the picture and
went to the window to look out into the scrubby little
back garden with its blackened earth, and meagre trees,
at the grimy walls of the houses opposite and the smudged
sky. It amused him to think that in that prospect he was
looking for a new heaven and a new earth, seeking in the
evil itself for the power that should combat it. Tibby
came out into the garden with a basket of clothes which
she proceeded to hang out on the line. He watched her,
fascinated by the movements of her strong thin body.
She had on a blue cotton dress and the colour seemed to
lighten all the scene, to draw out colour and force from
what had before seemed only drab. She was the centre
of it all, one solitary human figure, dignified, indestruct-
ible. The excitement died out of him. He felt entirely,
utterly alone with Tibby. That she was unconscious of
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 403
his presence only strengthened the idea, and he had no
desire to have more than the idea of it. With her, with
the idea of her, he felt strong and most wonderfully
Now she had emptied her basket and returned to the
house again, He felt then that he understood what
Margaret must have been to his father, who became at
once a living presence to him so that the myth and legend
he had always been perished. The house was now a
living home. It was a stronghold. It was a chamber
in the golden city of his dreams, but only the more re-
pulsive was the life outside and the thought of going
into it again. He would have the night. Perhaps the
night spent in this new home would give him strength.
A messenger brought a proof of his article on the play.
He corrected it without heeding a sentence or remark-
ing anything but verbal inaccuracies, while the messen-
ger was waiting, a cheese-faced boy who sucked his teeth
and shifted from one foot to the other. "Who sent you?"
asked Jamie. "Mr. Bigge, sir." "Wait a moment and
I'll give you a note." "Yes, sir."
Jamie wrote to Currie Bigge asking him if he wanted
a clerk in the office, and, if so, would he communicate
with Mr. Leslie at the given address. "If I were you,"
said Jamie to the cheese-faced boy, "I should run away
to sea." "I 'ave thought of it, sir," replied the cheese-
faced boy, "but I believe sailors is 'orrible rough."
"You'd see the world." "Plenty to see in Thrigsby,"
replied the boy, rather despising Jamie as an amateur,
one who wrote his "stuff" at home comfortably and
avoided the manly rush of the office where at a moment's
notice men could write on Foreign policy or the finances
of the local infirmary. Nor was the cheese-faced boy's
opinion mended by the present of sixpence he received.
404 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
He was used to being cuffed or kicked. He pocketed the
coin and broke into a whistle and went out whistling.
This intrusion restored Jamie to his normal condition
and he turned to his books. He had just discovered
Webster and was soon deep in the White Devil which
he read far into the night, finding in it lines and phrases
which he crooned over and over to himself until he
had lost the excitement they roused in him and he could
appreciate their real strength and keenness which seemed
to cut through the appearances of life to reveal life
itself. Never before had he so closely established a com-
munication between his own being and the poetry he
worshipped. From that heaven he was not shut out,
and what greater heaven could there be? So powerful
was this happiness that it endured for many days and
carried him easily through the routine of the bank and
through distasteful hours in the evening at the theatre
in which he had lost faith. Poetry and wit were done
to death in it, and it was a place of blasphemy where
the loveliest movements of the human mind and heart
were debased to make sport for snobs and sentimentalists.
Much Ado About Nothing was kept in the bill for a
month and was replaced by She Stoops to Conquer, which
was a failure. Mr. Wilcox had not the physique for
Tony Lumpkin and was too old, and he was so pleased
with himself in the part that there was no holding him
in. This failure produced internal dissension. One
night when Jamie was in the theatre the acting manager
came to him and held out a copy of The Post, with half-
a-column heavily scored in pencil. It was the notice of
Much Ado. Jamie read it, not at first recognising it as
his own, though it seemed to him rather well written.
"Well, Mr. Lawrie!" "Well, Mr. Tonks !" " Several
members of the company want to know what you have
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 405
to say about it, Mr. Lawrie." "It is a newspaper opin-
ion." "Is it yours?" "Yes, certainly."
The acting manager worked himself up into a fury :
"There's been a deal of talk about that article, Mr. Law-
rie, and several of the ladies and gentlemen feel that
they have been made a laughing-stock of, Mr. Lawrie.
They have held meetings about it and the sense of the
meeting held to-day was that nothing but a public apology
on the stage would be adequate." "It seems to me a very
fair opinion on a matter of public interest. It is not an
expression of my private opinion. If I had expressed
that you would have had a grievance." "That's all very
fine," said the acting manager plucking up courage, when
he saw that his onslaught had been taken amiably.
"That's all very fine, but I'm not here to split hairs.
The play was your own show and you ought not to
have crabbed it. The success or failure of a play is
a very serious matter to the ladies and gentlemen en-
gaged in it. There are several of them who declare
that they will leave the company unless they receive
an apology." "You can say I am very sorry." "The
apology must be public." "That seems to me unneces-
sary. I am very sorry. I had not thought of the play
in terms of bread-and-butter and I suppose I ought to
have done." "Very well, Mr. Lawrie, I will tell them
what you say and I will not answer for the conse-
quences." He strode away leaving Jamie more than
ever disgusted with the theatre through this invasion
of personal animosity and jealousy.
In a moment or two Mr. Wilcox came rushing up in
a frantic state. "They'll leave," he cried, "they'll leave
if you don't apologise! Why, oh, why did you ever go
and write that article? Why write anything? You
weren't there as a critic, and she had such good notices
406 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
everywhere else. She'd have had the success of her life
if it hadn't been for you. She'd have had offers from
London, and she's had a very hard time of it. She
can't really afford to go, but she will, if you don't apolo-
gise." Jamie was beginning to feel nettled. He really
was sorry and angry with himself for having been so
ridiculously disinterested as to throw the whole scheme
into jeopardy. He knew his Thrigsby well enough to ap-
preciate what a good joke it would be for a man publicly
to disparage his own goods. Thrigsby had not many
canons of good taste, but it was among the first that a
man shall not inquire into the quality of his own but
shall assume its perfection. "But why," asked Jamie,
"was there no fuss before? The article is five weeks
old." Mr. Wilcox was nearly in tears. '"I lied to
them," he said. "I told them that Quintus Flumen was
another Mr. Lawrie. Then they found out that there
was no other Mr. Lawrie on The Post. I said that
Quintus Flumen was a name used by several men; but
that very day there was an unsigned article. I've told
them you are an eccentric and they didn't mind until
this play was a failure. Then they said they'd been made
a laughing-stock of and that you'd ruined them. And
they fancied you were as rich as Rothschild, but now
they've found out who you are." "And Rothschild, I
suppose," said Jamie, "would not be asked to apologise."
"For God's sake," said Mr. Wilcox, "don't be clever
about it. Say you'll apologise or some of them will go
out of the theatre and we shall have to ring down."-
"I would be glad," said Jamie, "if the whole lot left the
theatre for good and the place was turned into a Pepper's
Ghost. They're only fit for The Murder in the Red
Barn." "I'm beginning to think," said Mr. Wilcox dole-
fully, "that it's a pity you ever came behind the scenes
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 407
at all, but you're a wonderful actor wasted and I've had
such hopes. And all to come to this ! I've never had any
luck at all. I was born on the stairs and it is my destiny
to go neither up nor down. But all goes by me on the
stairs of life and my mother died of it." Jamie could
hold out no more. He clapped Mr. Wilcox on the shoul-
der and told him that he would see him through and
would apologise to the actors if they would meet on
the stage after the performance.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I am very sorry to
learn that you have for some weeks past been labouring
under a misunderstanding and I only wish I had been
informed of it sooner." Then he stopped. It was one
thing to promise to apologise to these people, another
to do it. He hated the whole pack of them standing
in their powdered wigs, painted faces and old costumes.
The words stuck in his throat. He had done them no
real harm. He had only wounded their preposterous
vanity, from which it had been his impulse to defend
their art. He was quite clear suddenly as to his motive
in what he had done. It was a necessary and a good
thing to have done, and because he had wounded their
vanity they were insisting upon his humiliation, and
that was not to be endured. The words stuck in his
throat. He began again : "Ladies and gentlemen," and
again he stopped, and stared round at them. Would none
of them speak? His presence there was apology and
humiliation enough for them. He felt a hard wall of
hostility all round him. Not another word could he
find. Why waste words on hostility? The whole com-
pany was assembled. From a far corner came a sob
and a wail and Fanny Shaw rushed away. That broke
Jamie's defiance and the ring of hostility. He admitted
that he had done a very foolish thing which was open to
408 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
misconstruction and he declared himself heartily sorry
for it. His apology was accepted with a few genial ob-
servations by the acting-manager and the company dis-
solved, leaving only the leading players on the stage.
The Beatrice obviously expected a few words in her
own private ear. That was difficult, for Jamie had not
altered his opinion of her and thought her a bad actress
and a detestable woman. However he gulped down his
distaste, which mounted again as he saw her bridle at
his approach. She had tasted the sweets of revenge and
had laid low a "manager" and on the whole she was
grateful to him for it. Very archly she said, in her best
Beatrice manner: "Oh! you are a naughty man!"
"Now," replied Jamie with a most courtly bow, "I have
your opinion of me and we can cry quits." With that
he walked on and the leading lady said : "What a
tongue, my word, what a tongue !"
Only then did Jamie discover that there is a real pleas-
ure in being disliked when respect for the person from
whom it comes is impossible. What he did not appre-
ciate was the fact that he had redoubled the woman's
pleasure at having humbled him.
He went in search of Fanny and found her crying her
heart out at the end of a dark passage. She flung her-
self into his arms crying: "She's a beast, she's a beast,
and you oughtn't to have said it." "Pooh !" said Jamie.
"Who's the worse for it?" But the child had worked
herself into a passion and would not listen to him.
"She's been saying awful things about you and making
everybody else say them too." "But I don't mind what
they say, Fanny." "I mind," she moaned, "and I would
like to run away." "Dearest child," said Jamie, "I
shouldn't have said anything if it hadn't been for you.
I couldn't say a word until it all seemed silly and not
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 409
worth bothering about." "It's all been spoiled." "No.
no. They'll forget about it very soon." "But I sha'n't.
I never forget anything." "I know you don't." He
found it very difficult to find the right thing to say. She
was comforted, but she still clung to him, and it needed
a strong effort of sympathy for him to discover how
deeply she was hurt. But with that effort he saw that
her childish innocence was broken and she was alive to
the harshness and hard egoism of men and women, but
as yet had no defences against them. He recognised
his own responsibility. He had saved her from her
normal development through a slow lapse into her sur-
roundings until she was one with them, and had helped
her to pass from the wonder of childhood to a world
even more magical, and then through his own humiliation
her illusions had been snapped.
It was the most bitter failure he had ever known, but
it was one with all the rest. No sooner did he gain some
little beauty than it was destroyed, not by his own wick-
edness but by his absolute inability to defend it. How
had this thing happened? He had so loved the child's
happiness, had so delighted in her thoughts that he had
never given them any correction in his own. He had
been able to live in her mind but had never aided her
to dwell in his. She had seemed to him so perfect as
to be beyond danger. And now that the danger had come
he could do nothing against it but could only mutter in-
coherent words. The fury in the child shocked him.
He had forgotten his own boyish rages. "Run along
now, Fanny," he said. "Run and change and I'll take
you home." She was quiet now and obeyed him. When
she returned he found her in a docile mood, almost sullen.
She had placed herself unreservedly in his hands. Then
he found that he no longer thought of her as a child.
410 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
She had grown most astonishingly, and was tall and
thin : in body rather like Tibby when she had first come
to the family. She said: "I've got to go on because
mother wants the money, and if I didn't go on I should
have to go into a factory." "How would you like to
go to school?" "Me? They'd laugh at me. No. I
must go on." '"But I don't want you to go on if it will
make you unhappy." "It won't if I can see you."
Now he had been careful not to see too much of her, for
he had been anxious that she should find her feet for
herself, believing, as he had done, in her immunity from
harm. He was brought back to the personal relation-
ship and its responsibilities. Those he had not even
realised and his effect upon the child had been to isolate
her at the very time when she most needed support.
That he knew she would not find at home, but, without
him, she would have accepted the impossibility of all
such growth as cannot be accomplished unaided. "I'll
promise you," he said, "I'll promise you that. We'll
have nearly every Saturday." "I don't want anybody
else," she said. "I don't care about anybody else." She
seemed very weary. Her face was that of a little old
woman. Always she had had an amazing knowledge,
a singularly exact understanding of her surroundings
which she had been able to bear easily and without pain.
Now she was all pain. "To-morrow," he said, "you
must rest. I won't hear of your going to the theatre.
If you don't rest, I won't see you on Saturday." "I'm
tired," said Fanny, "that's what it is." '"Yes, poor
thing. Tired out." "I'll be all right, I expect, after
a rest. Mother's like that. She gets tired out and
sometimes the smell of the house is too much for her."
As they reached the door of her house she put up her
face and he kissed her. She was reluctant to let him go
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 411
and kept him talking for some moments longer. When
she knocked he stood and watched her until the door
opened and she passed into the darkness of the house.
All the clear beauty had faded from his image of the
child and he was bound to her by her passionate need of
him. Without him she would be swallowed up by the
dark house and by the squalid and hideously vibrant
life of which it was a part. He was fully alive to the
waking woman in her, dreaded it as a new force in the
conflict of good and evil for which he had found him-
self suddenly so ill equipped. Yet he had gained in him-
self. He was aware in himself of vast new stores of
patience. Not yet was he defeated. Nothing outside
himself had completely had its way with him, but also,
his honesty admitted, nothing inside himself had yet
fought its way to a conclusion.
She Stoops to Conquer never recovered. Two or three
other plays were tried but with hardly more success.
Jamie had lost nearly two thousand pounds when there
came the news from London that a new great actor had
arisen, who was none other than Henry Acomb. He
was hailed as a tragedian worthy to rank with Kean and
Macready. In one night he had conquered London with
his performance of a dual personality, a nice and benevo-
lent merchant by day, a dipsomaniac and a murderer by
night. Jamie rushed up to London to see him. The suc-
cess was indubitable. There had been eight weeks of
triumph and now it was proposed to consolidate this
by visits to the principal provincial towns beginning
with Edinburgh. Jamie offered his theatre and Henry
Acomb accepted it, agreeing to play Macbeth and Hamlet.
Jamie saw that it was a surrender. He was convinced
that only the genius of the individual player could keep
412 THREE SONS AND A MOTHER
the theatre alive in England. Acomb's genius certainly
made even the absurd melodrama in which he was play-
ing seem marvellous. "Upon me soul, Mr. Lawrie,"
he said, "it does me good to see you. An honest, north-
ern face. London is all rogues and old women, and an
audience of Londoners is like an audience of sheep.
They cheered me on the opening night, and it sounded
like this : Baa ! Baa-a-a ! Baa-a-a-a !" Jamie laughed
and recounted his experiences. "Amateurs !" said Henry
Acomb, "amateurs! You can't expect a city of workers
to put up with the kind of show that would do in a duke's
drawing-room." Acomb was entirely charming. His
egoism had lost its aggressiveness. He had won that for
which he had fought during fifteen poverty-stricken years
and no longer needed to convince himself of his own
greatness. It was generally acknowledged, and he was
inclined to despise it a little. Selina was not for the
moment playing. She had two children and devoted her-
self to them. "I tell you what," said Acomb, "I'm going
to put a stop to the treatment of actors as rogues and
vagabonds. It is a calling like any other. I shall have
me home, me wife and me children like any other man
and I'll be treated like any other man, if I have to go to
Parliament for it."
So Jamie returned to Thrigsby with the glad news
that Henry Acomb would come fresh from his London
triumph. Mr. Wilcox was then happy, and Mrs. Leslie's
heart was rejoiced when she heard that Selina was com-
ing, rich, successful and respectable once more.
Selina had gained in grace. She was devoted to her
Henry and their struggles had made her practical and
sensible. She was even more in revolt against a Bohe-
mian life than he and had firmly set her face against
poverty. When she heard of the plight to which her
ACOMB TO THE RESCUE 413
father and mother were reduced she insisted that they
must leave Thrigsby, take a cottage in the country and
keep chickens. She went down to see Hubert at his
farm, being neither afraid of her memories nor abashed
by them, bought a cottage and within a week had her
father and mother installed in it, Peter enthroned in his
easy-chair, and Mrs. Leslie hard at work in the garden.
Selina's energy and happiness were contagious. She told
Jamie to his face that he was a fool, but a very dear one,
and that he had better stick to his pen and leave acting
to actors, journalism to journalists, and living to people
who wanted to live. "But that," he said, "is just what
they don't want to do." "Pooh!" she replied. "You
don't know anything about it." She simply melted the
unhappiness in him, and wafted away his heavy sense
of responsibility with a touch. She wormed out of him
a full confession of his deeds and misdeeds and it was
only with the greatest anxiety that he could bring him-
self to tell her about Fanny. "It's a woman's job. Let
me have the child. Or, if that's impossible, since you
insist on it, you must look about for a wife and make
her do it. My goodness, gracious me, what are the
women of the town thinking of to let a dear, handsome
creature like you go about loose ?" Jamie laughed aloud :
"My dear Selina," he said, "don't forget you ran
away from me yourself." "You were so overpowering,"
she answered, "and if there's any overpowering to be
done, I prefer to do it myself."- At that he roared with
laughter and she was rather puzzled. "What's the
joke?" she asked. "You. You're the most splendid
joke in the world." That, however, was not Selina's
view of herself and she protested in good round terms.
She knew what life was, and it was to her anything
but a joke. The point was arguable, but she was im-
patient of argument.
FOR a time then Selina occupied Jamie's attention to
the exclusion of everything else. The theatre made
money but not enough to repair all that he had lost. He
did not mind that, if it had been necessary to bring Selina
back into his world, and a Selina so transformed and
become a living fount of humour and zest. She teased
him for being an old stick-in-the-mud and declared that
in many ways he had not altered a bit since he was a
boy and had written love poems to her. "And you still
talk Scotch," she said. "And why not?" "You don't
want everybody to know where you've come from."-
"But why not? I'm proud of coming from Scotland."
'"It's like a label round your neck and people ought not
to wear labels. It doesn't matter in the least where you
come from, but it does matter that you are Jamie Law-
rie." "A name is only a label." "No one thinks about
it. No one would have said that but you. There are
names just as there are knives and forks. O! Jamie,
if I'd married you I'd have had you out of this. But I
thank God I didn't marry you." "So do I," said he
quaintly. "I was born to trouble like my friend Mr. Wil-
cox." "A pair of innocents," said she, "and you ought
to be parted by main force. I shall make Henry take
old Wilcox back to London. He's not good enough but
JOHN'S RETURN 415
he's just the kind of darling old fool who makes an ideal
stage manager. And he adores Henry almost as much
as he adores you, and with better reason. Henry may
be a genius but he has a head screwed on his shoulders
and would never lead anybody into a mess. You see,
Henry knows what he wants." "Is all this for my bene-
fit?" asked Jamie. "I fancy that if a man is able to
know what he wants, it is because he does not want any-
thing much. I am suspicious of that kind of man. He
is fat and eats too much." "Who? Henry?" "No.
That kind of man, and by eating I don't mean food. I
mean every kind of desire." "Now that's exactly why
I couldn't marry you, because you always mean more
than you say and say one thing when you really mean
another. It has grown on you and there is no hope for
you." "If you don't stop bullying me I shall write about
Henry in The Post." "Do you know, I met a man in
London the other day who said you were the only critic
in England." "Really. It is obviously not true."
"Yes. He had written a book about money and you had
said it was the most amusing volume that had appeared
for years." "I remember it. Money is the funniest
thing in the world." "Not when you haven't got any."
"So you like having money?'" "Yes. Love it."
"Why?" "It makes you so free, so free. Everything
that is happy in you can come out then." "Then people