Cloyster - the visit which ended in my agreeing to sign whatever
manuscripts he sent me, and forward him all cheques for a consideration
of ten per cent. Softest job ever a man had. Easy money. Kudos - I had
almost too much of it. Which takes me back to the G.M.'s remark about
my leaving the office. Since he's bought that big house at Regent's
Park he's done a lot of entertaining at the restaurants. His name's
always cropping up in the "Here and There" column, and naturally he's a
subscriber to the _Strawberry Leaf_. The G.M. has everything of
the best and plenty of it. (You don't see the G.M. with memo. forms
tucked round his cuffs: he wears a clean shirt every morning of his
life. All tip-top people have their little eccentricities.) And the
_Strawberry Leaf_, the smartest, goeyest, personalest weekly, is
never missing from his drawing-room what-not. Every week it's there,
regular as clockwork. That's what started my literary reputation among
the fellows at the "Moon." Mr. Cloyster was contributing a series of
short dialogues to the _Strawberry Leaf_ - called, "In Town."
These, on publication, bore my own signature. As a matter of fact, I
happened to see the G.M. showing the first of the series to Mr. Leach
in his private room. I've kept it by me, and I don't wonder the news
created a bit of a furore. This was it: - -
BY SIDNEY PRICE
No. I. - THE SECRECY OF THE BALLET
(You are standing under the shelter of the Criterion's awning.
It is 12.30 of a summer's morning. It is pouring in torrents.
A quick and sudden rain storm. It won't last long, and it
doesn't mean any harm. But what's sport to it is death to you.
You were touring the Circus in a new hat. Brand new. Couldn't
spot your tame cabby. Hadn't a token. Spied the Cri's awning.
Dashed at it. But it leaks. Not so much as the sky though. Just
enough, however, to do your hat no good. You mention this to
Friendly Creature with umbrella, and hint that you would like
to share that weapon.)
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Can't give you all, boysie. Mine's new, too.
YOU. _(in your charming way)_. Well, of course. You wouldn't
be a woman if you hadn't a new hat.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Do women always have new hats?
YOU. _(edging under the umbrella)_. Women have new hats.
New women have hats.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Don't call me a woman, ducky; I'm a lady.
YOU. I must be careful. If I don't flatter you, you'll take your
FRIENDLY CREATURE _(changing subject)_. There's Matilda.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Coming towards us in that landaulette.
YOU. Looks fit, doesn't she?
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Her! She's a blooming rotter.
YOU. Not so loud. She'll hear you.
FRIENDLY CREATURE _(raising her voice)_. Good job. I want her
YOU. S-s-s-sh! What _are_ you saying? Matilda's a duchess now.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. I know.
YOU. But you mustn't say "Stumer" to a duchess unless - -
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Well?
YOU. Unless you're a duchess yourself?
FRIENDLY CREATURE. I am. At least I was. Only I chucked it.
YOU. But you said you were a lady.
FRIENDLY CREATURE. So I am. An extra lady - front row, second O.P.
YOU. How rude of me. Of course you were a duchess. I know you
perfectly. Gorell Barnes said - -
FRIENDLY CREATURE. Drop it. What's the good of the secrecy of
the ballet if people are going to remember every single thing
(At this point the rain stops. By an adroit flanking movement
you get away without having to buy her a lunch.)
Everyone congratulated me. "Always knew he had it in him," "Found his
vocation," "A distinctly clever head," "Reaping in the shekels" - that
was the worst part. The "Moon," to a man, was bent on finding out "how
much Sidney Price makes out of his bits in the papers." Some dropped
hints - the G.M., Leach, and the men at the counter. Others, like Tommy
Milner, asked slap out. You may be sure I didn't tell them a fixed sum.
But it was hopeless to say I was getting the small sum which my ten per
cent. commission worked out at. On the other hand, I dared not pretend
I was being paid at the usual rates. I should have gone broke in
twenty-four hours. You have no idea how constantly I was given the
opportunity of lending five shillings to important members of the
"Moon" staff. It struck me then - and I have found out for certain
since - that there is a popular anxiety to borrow from a man who earns
money by writing. The earnings of a successful writer are, to the
common intelligence, something he ought not really to have. And anyone,
in default of abstracting his income, may fall back upon taking up his
It did, no doubt, appear that I was coining the ready. Besides the
_Strawberry Leaf_, _Features_, and _The Key of the Street_ were
printing my signed contributions in weekly series. _The Mayfair_, too,
had announced on its placards, "A Story in Dialogue, by Sidney Price."
This, then, was my position on the morning when I was late at the
"Moon" and lost my bonus.
Whilst I went up in the lift to the New Business Room, and whilst I was
entering the names and addresses of inquirers in the Proposal Book, I
was trying to gather courage to meet what was in store.
For the future held this: that my name would disappear from the papers
as suddenly as it had arrived there. People would want to know why I
had given up writing. "Written himself out," "No staying power," "As
short-lived as a Barnum monstrosity": these would be the remarks which
would herald ridicule and possibly pity.
And I should be in just the same beastly fix at the "Hollyhocks" as I
was at the "Moon." What would my people say? What would Norah say?
There was another reason, too, why a stoppage of the ten per cent.
cheques would be a whack in the eye. You see, I had been doing myself
well on them - uncommonly well. I had ordered, as a present to my
parents, new furniture for the drawing-room. I had pressed my father to
have a small greenhouse put up at my expense. He had always wanted one,
but had never been able to run to it. And I had taken Norah about a
good deal. Our weekly visit to a matinee (upper circle and ices),
followed by tea at the Cabin or Lyons' Popular, had become an
institution. We had gone occasionally to a ball at the Town Hall.
What would Norah say when all this ended abruptly without any
There was no getting away from it. Sidney Price was in the soup.
NORAH WINS HOME
_(Sidney Price's narrative continued)_
My signed work had run out. For two weeks nothing
had been printed over my signature. So far no comment had been raised.
But it was only a question of days. But then one afternoon it all came
right. It was like this.
I was sitting eating my lunch at Eliza's in Birchin Lane. Twenty
minutes was the official allowance for the meal, and I took my twenty
minutes at two o'clock. The _St. Stephen's Gazette_ was lying near
me. I picked it up. Anything to distract my thoughts from the trouble
to come. That was how I felt. Reading mechanically the front page, I
saw a poem, and started violently. This was the poem: -
Hands at the tiller to steer:
A star in the murky sky:
Water and waste of mere:
Whither and why?
Sting of absorbent night:
Journey of weal or woe:
And overhead the light:
We go - we go?
Darkness a mortal's part,
Mortals of whom we are:
Come to a mortal's heart,
"Rummy, very rummy," I exclaimed. The poem was dated yesterday. Had
Mr. Cloyster, then, continued to work his system with Thomas Blake to
the exclusion of the Reverend and myself?
Still worrying over the thing, I turned over the pages of the paper
until I chanced to see the following paragraph:
Few will be surprised to learn that the Rev. John Hatton intends
to publish another novel in the immediate future. Mr. Hatton's
first book, _When It Was Lurid_, created little less than
a furore. The work on which he is now engaged, which will bear
the title of _The Browns of Brixton_, is a tender sketch of
English domesticity. This new vein of Mr. Hatton's will, doubtless,
be distinguished by the naturalness of dialogue and sanity of
characterisation of his first novel. Messrs. Prodder and Way are
to publish it in the autumn.
"He's running the Reverend again, is he?" said I to myself. "And I'm
the only one left out. It's a bit thick."
That night I wrote to Blake and to the Reverend asking whether they had
been taken on afresh, and if so, couldn't I get a look in, as things
were pretty serious.
The Reverend's reply arrived first:
_Dear Price_, -
As you have seen, I am hard at work at my new novel. The leisure
of a novelist is so scanty that I know you'll forgive my writing
only a line. I am in no way associated with James Orlebar Cloyster,
nor do I wish to be. Rather I would forget his very existence.
You are aware of the interests which I have at heart: social
reform, the education of the submerged, the physical needs of
the young - there is no necessity for me to enumerate my ideals
further. To get quick returns from philanthropy, to put remedial
organisation into speedy working order wants capital. Cloyster's
system was one way of obtaining some of it, but when that failed
I had to look out for another. I'm glad I helped in the system,
for it made me realise how large an income a novelist can obtain.
I'm glad it failed because its failure suggested that I should try
to get for myself those vast sums which I had been getting for the
selfish purse of an already wealthy man. Unconsciously, he has
played into my hands. I read his books before I signed them, and I
find that I have thoroughly absorbed those tricks of his, of style
and construction, which opened the public's coffers to him. _The
Browns of Brixton_ will eclipse anything that Cloyster has
previously done, for this reason, that it will out-Cloyster
Cloyster. It is Cloyster with improvements.
In thus abducting his novel-reading public I shall feel no
compunction. His serious verse and his society dialogues bring him
in so much that he cannot be in danger of financial embarrassment.
_Yours sincerely, John Hatton_.
Now this letter set my brain buzzing like the engine of a stationary
Vanguard. I, too, had been in the habit of reading Mr. Cloyster's
dialogues before I signed and sent them off. I had often thought to
myself, also, that they couldn't take much writing, that it was all a
knack; and the more I read of them the more transparent the knack
appeared to me to be. Just for a lark, I sat down that very evening and
had a go at one. Taking the Park for my scene, I made two or three
theatrical celebrities whose names I had seen in the newspapers talk
about a horse race. At least, one talked about a horse race, and the
others thought she was gassing about a new musical comedy, the name of
the play being the same as the name of the horse, "The Oriental Belle."
A very amusing muddle, with lots of _doubles entendres_, and heaps
of adverbial explanation in small print. Such as:
Miss Adeline Genee
(with the faint, incipient blush which
Mrs. Adair uses to test her Rouge Imperial).
That sort of thing.
I had it typed, and I said, "Price, my boy, there's more Mr. Cloyster
in this than ever Mr. Cloyster could have put into it." And the editor
of the _Strawberry Leaf_ printed it next issue as a matter of
course. I say, "as a matter of course" with intention, because the
fellows at the "Moon" took it as a matter of course, too. You see, when
it first appeared, I left the copy about the desk in the New Business
Room, hoping Tommy Milner or some of them would rush up and
congratulate me. But they didn't. They simply said, "Don't litter the
place up, old man. Keep your papers, if you _must_ bring 'em here,
in your locker downstairs." One of them _did_ say, I fancy,
something about its "not being quite up to my usual." They didn't know
it was my maiden effort at original composition, and I couldn't tell
them. It was galling, you'll admit.
However, I quickly forgot my own troubles in wondering what Mr.
Cloyster was doing. No editor, I foresaw, would accept his society
stuff as long as mine was in the market. They wouldn't pay for Cloyster
whilst they were offered the refusal of super-Cloyster. Wasn't likely.
You must understand I wasn't over-easy in my conscience about the
affair. I had, in a manner of speaking, pinched Mr. Cloyster's job. But
then, I argued to myself, he was earning quite as much as was good for
any one man by his serious verse.
And at that very minute our slavey, little Ethelbertina, knocked at my
bedroom door and gave me a postcard. It was addressed to me in thick,
straggly writing, and was so covered with thumb-marks that a Bertillon
expert would have gone straight off his nut at the sight of it. "My
usbend," began the postcard, "as received yourn. E as no truk wif the
other man E is a pots imself an e can do a job of potry as orfen as e
'as a mine to your obegent servent Ada Blake. P.S. me an is ole ant do
is writin up for im."
So then I saw how that "Cry" thing in the _St. Stephen's_ had come
* * * * *
You heard me give my opinion about telling Norah my past life. Well,
you'll agree with me now that there's practically nothing to tell her.
There _is_, of course, little Miss Richards, the waitress in the
smoking-room of the Piccadilly Cabin. Her, I mean, with the fuzzy
golden hair done low. You've often exchanged "Good evening" with her,
I'm sure. Her hair's done low: she used to make rather a point of
telling me that. Why, I don't know, especially as it was always tidy
and well off her shoulders.
And then there was the haughty lady who sold programmes in the
Haymarket Amphitheatre - but she's got the sack, so Cookson informs me.
Therefore, as I shall tell Norah plainly that I disapprove of the
Cabin, the past can hatch no egg of discord in the shape of the
The only thing that I can think of as needing suppression is the part I
played in Mr. Cloyster's system.
There's no doubt that the Reverend, Blake and I have, between us, put a
fairly considerable spoke in Mr. Cloyster's literary wheel. But what am
I to do? To begin with, it's no use my telling Norah about the affair,
because it would do her no good, and might tend possibly to lessen her
valuation of my capabilities. At present, my dialogues dazzle her; and
once your _fiancee_ is dazzled the basis of matrimonial happiness
is assured. Again, looking at it from Mr. Cloyster's point of view,
what good would it be to him if I were to stop writing? Both the editor
and the public have realised by now that his work is only second-rate.
He can never hope to get a tenth of his original prices, even if his
work is accepted, which it won't be; for directly I leave his market
clear, someone else will collar it slap off.
Besides, I've no right to stop my dialogues. My duty to Norah is
greater than my duty to Mr. Cloyster. Unless I continue to be paid by
literature I shall not be able to marry Norah until three years next
quarter. The "Moon" has passed a rule about it, and an official who
marries on an income not larger than eighty pounds per annum is liable
to dismissal without notice.
Norah's mother wouldn't let her wait three years, and though fellows
have been known to have had a couple of kids at the time of their
official marriage, I personally couldn't stand the wear and tear of
that hole-and-corner business. It couldn't be done.
_(End of Sidney Price's narrative_.)
Julian Eversleigh's Narrative
THE TRANSPOSITION OF SENTIMENT
It is all very, very queer. I do not understand it at all. It makes me
sleepy to think about it.
A month ago I hated Eva. Tomorrow I marry her by special licence.
Now, what _about_ this?
My brain is not working properly. I am becoming jerky.
I tried to work the thing out algebraically. I wrote it down as an
equation, thus: -
HATRED, denoted by x + Eva.
REVERSE OF HATRED, " " y + Eva
ONE MONTH " " z.
From which we get: -
x + Eva = (y + Eva)z.
And if anybody can tell me what that means (if it means anything - which
I doubt) I shall be grateful. As I said before, my brain is not working
There is no doubt that my temperament has changed, and in a very short
space of time. A month ago I was soured, cynical, I didn't brush my
hair, and I slept too much. I talked a good deal about Life. Now I am
blithe and optimistic. I use pomade, part in the middle, and sleep
eight hours and no more. I have not made an epigram for days. It is all
I took a new attitude towards life at about a quarter to three on the
morning after the Gunton-Cresswells's dance. I had waited for James in
his rooms. He had been to the dance.
Examine me for a moment as I wait there.
I had been James' friend for more than two years and a half. I had
watched his career from the start. I knew him before he had located
exactly the short cut to Fortune. Our friendship embraced the whole
period of his sudden, extraordinary success.
Had not envy by that time been dead in me, it might have been pain to
me to watch him accomplish unswervingly with his effortless genius the
things I had once dreamt I, too, would laboriously achieve.
But I grudged him nothing. Rather, I had pleasure in those triumphs of
There was no confidence we had withheld from one another.
When he told me of his relations with Margaret Goodwin he had counted
on my sympathy as naturally as he had requested and received my advice.
To no living soul, save James, would I have confessed my own
tragedy - my hopeless love for Eva.
It is inconceivable that I should have misjudged a man so utterly as I
That is the latent factor at the root of my problem. The innate
rottenness, the cardiac villainy of James Orlebar Cloyster.
In a measure it was my own hand that laid the train which eventually
blew James' hidden smoulder of fire into the blazing beacon of
wickedness, in which my friend's Satanic soul is visible in all its
I remember well that evening, mild with the prelude of spring, when I
evolved for James' benefit the System. It was a device which was to
preserve my friend's liberty and, at the same time, to preserve my
friend's honour. How perfect in its irony!
Margaret Goodwin, mark you, was not to know he could afford to marry
her, and my system was an instrument to hide from her the truth.
He employed that system. It gave him the holiday he asked for. He went
Among his acquaintances were the Gunton-Cresswells, and at their house
he met Eva. Whether his determination to treat Eva as he had treated
Margaret came to him instantly, or by degrees I do not know. Inwardly
he may have had his scheme matured in embryo, but outwardly he was
still the accomplished hypocrite. He was the soul of honour - outwardly.
He was the essence of sympathetic tact as far as his specious exterior
went. Then came the 27th of May. On that date the first of James
Orlebar Cloyster's masks was removed.
I had breakfasted earlier than usual, so that by the time I had walked
from Rupert Court to Walpole Street it was not yet four o'clock.
James was out. I thought I would wait for him. I stood at his window.
Then I saw Margaret Goodwin. What features! What a complexion! "And
James," I murmured, "is actually giving this the miss in baulk!" I
discovered, at that instant, that I did not know James. He was a fool.
In a few hours I was to discover he was a villain, too.
She came in and I introduced myself to her. I almost forget what
pretext I manufactured, but I remember I persuaded her to go back to
Guernsey that very day. I think I said that James was spending Friday
till Monday in the country, and had left no address. I was determined
that they should not meet. She was far too good for a man who obviously
did not appreciate her in the least.
We had a very pleasant chat. She was charming. At first she was apt to
touch on James a shade too frequently, but before long I succeeded in
diverting our conversation into less uninteresting topics.
She talked of Guernsey, I of London. I said I felt I had known her all
my life. She said that one had, undeniably, one's affinities.
I said, "Might I think of her as 'Margaret'?"
She said it was rather unconventional, but that she could not control
I said, "There you are wrong - Margaret."
She said, "Oh, what are you saying, Mr. Eversleigh?"
I said I was thinking out loud.
On the doorstep she said, "Well, yes - Julian - you may write to
me - sometimes. But I won't promise to answer."
The next thing that awakened me was the coming of James.
After I had given him a suitable version of Margaret's visit, he told
me he was engaged to Eva. That was an astounding thing; but what was
more astounding was that James had somehow got wind of the real spirit
of my interview with Margaret.
I have called James Orlebar Cloyster a fool; I have called him a
villain. I will never cease to call him a genius. For by some
marvellous capacity for introspection, by some incredible projection of
his own mind into other people's matters, he was able to tax me to my
face with an attempt to win his former _fiancee's_ affections. I
tried to choke him off. I used every ounce of bluff I possessed. In
vain. I left Walpole Street in a state approaching mental revolution.
My exact feelings towards James were too intricate to be defined in a
single word. Not so my feelings towards Eva. "Hate" supplied the lacuna
in her case.
Thus the month began.
The next point of importance is my interview with Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell. She had known all along how matters stood in regard
to Eva and myself. She had not been hostile to me on that account. She
had only pointed out that as I could do nothing towards supporting Eva
I had better keep away when my cousin was in London. That was many
years ago. Since then we had seldom met. Latterly, not at all.
Invitations still arrived from her, but her afternoon parties clashed
with my after-breakfast pipe, and as for her evening receptions - well,
by the time I had pieced together the various component parts of my
dress clothes, I found myself ready for bed. That is to say, more ready
for bed than I usually am.
I went to Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell in a very bitter mood. I was bent on
"I've come to congratulate Eva," I said.
Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell sighed.
"I was afraid of this," she said.
"The announcement was the more pleasant," I went on, "because James has
been a bosom friend of mine."
"I'm afraid you are going to be extremely disagreeable about your
cousin's engagement," she said.
"I am," I answered her. "Very disagreeable. I intend to shadow the
young couple, to be constantly meeting them, calling attention to them.
James will most likely have to try to assault me. That may mean a black
eye for dear James. It will certainly mean the police court. Their
engagement will be, in short, a succession of hideous _contretemps_,
a series of laughable scenes."
"Julian," said Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell, "hitherto you have acted manfully
toward Eva. You have been brave. Have you no regard for Eva?"
"None," I said.
"Nor for Mr. Cloyster?"
"Not a scrap."
"But why are you behaving in this appallingly selfish way?"
This was a facer. I couldn't quite explain to her how things really
were, so I said:
"Never you mind. Selfish or not, Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell, I'm out for
That night I had a letter from her. She said that in order to avoid all
unpleasantness, Eva's engagement would be of the briefest nature
possible. That the marriage was fixed for the twelfth of next month;
that the wedding would be a very quiet one; and that until the day of
the wedding Eva would not be in London.
It amused me to find how thoroughly I had terrified Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell. How excellently I must have acted, for, of course, I
had not meant a word I had said to that good lady.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12