In the days preceding the twelfth of June I confess I rather softened
to James. The _entente cordiale_ was established between us. He
told me how irresistible Eva had been that night; mentioned how
completely she had carried him away.
Had she not carried me away in
precisely the same manner once upon a time?
He swore he loved her as dearly as - (I can't call to mind the simile he
employed, though it was masterly and impressive.) I even hinted that
the threats I had used in the presence of Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell were
not serious. He thanked me, but said I had frightened her to such good
purpose that the date would now have to stand. "You will not he
surprised to hear," he added, "that I have called in all my work. I
shall want every penny I make. The expenses of an engaged man are
hair-raising. I send her a lot of flowers every morning - you've no
conception how much a few orchids cost. Then, whenever I go to see her
I take her some little present - a gold-mounted umbrella, a bicycle
lamp, or a patent scent-bottle. I'm indebted to you, Julian, positively
indebted to you for cutting short our engagement."
I now go on to point two: the morning of the twelfth of June.
Hurried footsteps on my staircase. A loud tapping at my door. The
church clock chiming twelve. The agitated, weeping figure of Mrs.
Gunton-Cresswell approaching my hammock. A telegram thrust into my
hand. Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell's hysterical exclamation, "You infamous
monster - you - you are at the bottom of this."
All very disconcerting. All, fortunately, very unusual.
My eyes were leaden with slumber, but I forced myself to decipher the
following message, which had been telegraphed to West Kensington Lane:
Wedding must be postponed. - CLOYSTER.
"I've had no hand in this," I cried; "but," I added enthusiastically,
"it serves Eva jolly well right."
A CHAT WITH JAMES
_(Julian Eversleigh's narrative continued)_
Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell seemed somehow to drift away after that.
Apparently I went to sleep again, and she didn't wait.
When I woke, it was getting on for two o'clock. I breakfasted, with
that magnificent telegram propped up against the teapot; had a bath,
dressed, and shortly before five was well on my way to Walpole Street.
The more I thought over the thing, the more it puzzled me. Why had
James done this? Why should he wish to treat Eva in this manner? I was
delighted that he had done so, but why had he? A very unexpected
James was lying back in his shabby old armchair, smoking a pipe. There
was tea on the table. The room seemed more dishevelled than ever. It
would have been difficult to say which presented the sorrier spectacle,
the room or its owner.
He looked up as I came in, and nodded listlessly. I poured myself out a
cup of tea, and took a muffin. Both were cold and clammy. I went to the
"What are you doing?" asked James.
"Only going to ring for some more tea," I said.
"No, don't do that. I'll go down and ask for it. You don't mind using
my cup, do you?"
He went out of the room, and reappeared with a jug of hot water.
"You see," he explained, "if Mrs. Blankley brings in another cup she'll
charge for two teas instead of one."
"It didn't occur to me," I said. "Sorry."
"It sounds mean," mumbled James.
"Not at all," I said. "You're quite right not to plunge into reckless
James blushed slightly - a feat of which I was surprised to see that he
"The fact is - - " he began.
I interrupted him.
"Never mind about that," I said. "What I want to know is - what's the
meaning of this?" And I shoved the bilious-hued telegraph form under
his nose, just as Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell had shoved it under mine.
"It means that I'm done," he said.
"I don't understand."
"I'll explain. I have postponed my marriage for the same reason that I
refused you a clean cup - because I cannot afford luxuries."
"It may be my dulness; but, still, I don't follow you. What exactly are
you driving at?"
"I'm done for. I'm on the rocks. I'm a pauper."
I laughed. The man was splendid. There was no other word for it.
"And shall I tell you something else that you are?" I said. "You are a
low, sneaking liar. You are playing it low down on Eva."
He laughed this time. It irritated me unspeakably.
"Don't try to work off the hollow, mirthless laugh dodge on me," I
said, "because it won't do. You're a blackguard, and you know it."
"I tell you I'm done for. I've barely a penny in the world."
"Rot!" I said. "Don't try that on me. You've let Eva down plop, and I'm
jolly glad; but all the same you're a skunk. Nothing can alter that.
Why don't you marry the girl?"
"I can't," he said. "It would be too dishonourable."
"Yes. I haven't got enough money. I couldn't ask her to share my
poverty with me. I love her too dearly."
I was nearly sick. The beast spoke in a sort of hushed, soft-music
voice as if he were the self-sacrificing hero in a melodrama. The
stained-glass expression on his face made me feel homicidal.
"Oh, drop it," I said. "Poverty! Good Lord! Isn't two thousand a year
enough to start on?"
"But I haven't got two thousand a year."
"Oh, I don't pretend to give the figures to a shilling."
"You don't understand. All I have to live on is my holiday work at the
"Oh, yes; and I'm doing some lyrics for Briggs for the second edition
of _The Belle of Wells_. That'll keep me going for a bit, but it's
absolutely out of the question to think of marrying anyone. If I can
keep my own head above water till the next vacancy occurs at the
_Orb_ I shall be lucky."
"I'm not, though I dare say I shall be soon, if this sort of thing goes
"I tell you you are mad. Otherwise you'd have called in your work, and
saved yourself having to pay those commissions to Hatton and the
others. As it is, I believe they've somehow done you out of your
cheques, and the shock of it has affected your brain."
"My dear Julian, it's a good suggestion, that about calling in my work.
But it comes a little late. I called it in weeks ago."
My irritation increased.
"What is the use of lying like that?" I said angrily. "You don't seem
to credit me with any sense at all. Do you think I never read the
papers and magazines? You can't have called in your work. The stuff's
still being printed over the signatures of Sidney Price, Tom Blake, and
the Rev. John Hatton."
I caught sight of a _Strawberry Leaf_ lying on the floor beside
his chair. I picked it up.
"Here you are," I said. "Page 324. Short story. 'Lady Mary's Mistake,'
by Sidney Price. How about that?"
"That's it, Julian," he said dismally; "that's just it. Those three
devils have pinched my job. They've learned the trick of the thing
through reading my stuff, and now they're turning it out for
themselves. They've cut me out. My market's gone. The editors and
publishers won't look at me. I have had eleven printed rejection forms
this week. One editor wrote and said that he did not want
John-Hatton-and-water. That's why I sent the wire."
"Let's see those rejection forms."
"You can't. They're burnt. They got on my nerves, and I burnt them."
"Oh," I said, "they're burnt, are they?"
He got up, and began to pace the room.
"But I shan't give up, Julian," he cried, with a sickening return of
the melodrama hero manner; "I shan't give up. I shall still persevere.
The fight will be terrible. Often I shall feel on the point of despair.
Yet I shall win through. I feel it, Julian. I have the grit in me to do
it. And meanwhile" - he lowered his voice, and seemed surprised that the
orchestra did not strike up the slow music - "meanwhile, I shall ask Eva
To wait! The colossal, the Napoleonic impudence of the man! I have
known men who seemed literally to exude gall, but never one so
overflowing with it as James Orlebar Cloyster. As I looked at him
standing there and uttering that great speech, I admired him. I ceased
to wonder at his success in life.
I shook my head.
"I can't do it," I said regretfully. "I simply cannot begin to say what
I think of you. The English language isn't equal to it. I cannot,
off-hand, coin a new phraseology to meet the situation. All I can say
is that you are unique."
"What do you mean?"
"Absolutely unique. Though I had hoped you would have known me better
than to believe that I would swallow the ludicrous yarn you've
prepared. Don't you ever stop and ask yourself on these occasions if
it's good enough?"
"You don't believe me!"
"My dear James!" I protested. "Believe you!"
"I swear it's all true. Every word of it."
"You seem to forget that I've been behind the scenes. I'm not simply an
ordinary member of the audience. I know how the illusion is produced.
I've seen the strings pulled. Why, dash it, _I_ showed you how to
pull them. I never came across a finer example of seething the kid in
its mother's milk. I put you up to the system, and you turn round and
try to take me in with it. Yes, you're a wonder, James."
"You don't mean to say you think - - !"
"Don't be an ass, James. Of course I do. You've had the brazen audacity
to attempt to work off on Eva the game you played on Margaret. But
you've made a mistake. You've forgotten to count me."
I paused, and ate a muffin. James watched me with fascinated eyes.
"You," I resumed, "ethically, I despise. Eva, personally, I detest. It
seems, therefore, that I may expect to extract a certain amount of
amusement from the situation. The fun will be inaugurated by your
telling Eva that she may have to wait five years. You will state, also,
the amount of your present income."
"Suppose I decline?"
"You think not?"
"I am sure."
"What would you do if I declined?"
"I should call upon Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell and give her a quarter of an
hour's entertainment by telling her of the System, and explaining to
her, in detail, the exact method of its working and the reason why you
set it going. Having amused Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell in this manner, I
should make similar revelations to Eva. It would not be pleasant for
you subsequently, I suppose, but we all have our troubles. That would
"As if they'd believe it," he said, weakly.
"I think they would."
"They'd laugh at you. They'd think you were mad."
"Not when I produced John Hatton, Sidney Price, and Tom Blake in a
solid phalanx, and asked them to corroborate me."
"They wouldn't do it," he said, snatching at a straw. "They wouldn't
give themselves away."
"Hatton might hesitate to, but Tom Blake would do it like a shot."
As I did not know Tom Blake, a moment's reflection might have told
James that this was bluff. But I had gathered a certain knowledge of
the bargee's character from James's conversation, and I knew that he
was a drunken, indiscreet sort of person who might be expected to
reveal everything in circumstances such as I had described; so I risked
the shot, and it went home. James's opposition collapsed.
"I shall then," administering the _coup de grace_, "arrange a
meeting between the Gunton-Cresswells and old Mrs. Goodwin."
"Thank you," said James, "but don't bother. On second thoughts I will
tell Eva about my income and the five years' wait."
"Thanks," I said; "it's very good of you. Good-bye."
And I retired, chuckling, to Rupert Street.
IN A HANSOM
_(Julian Eversleigh's narrative continued)_
I spent a pleasant week in my hammock awaiting developments.
At the end of the week came a letter from Eva. She wrote: -
_My Dear Julian_, - You haven't been to see us for
ages. Is Kensington Lane beyond the pale?
_Your affectionate cousin_,
"You vixen," I thought. "Yes; I'll come and see you fast enough. It
will give me the greatest pleasure to see you crushed and humiliated."
I collected my evening clothes from a man of the name of Attenborough,
whom I employ to take care of them when they are not likely to be
wanted; found a white shirt, which looked presentable after a little
pruning of the cuffs with a razor; and drove to the Gunton-Cresswells's
in time for dinner.
There was a certain atmosphere of unrest about the house. I attributed
this at first to the effects of the James Orlebar Cloyster bomb-shell,
but discovered that it was in reality due to the fact that Eva was
going out to a fancy-dress ball that night.
She was having dinner sent up to her room, they told me, and would
be down presently. There was a good deal of flitting about going on.
Maids on mysterious errands shot up and down stairs. Old Mr.
Gunton-Cresswell, looking rather wry, was taking cover in his study
when I arrived. Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell was in the drawing-room.
Before Eva came down I got a word alone with her. "I've had a nice,
straight-forward letter from James," she said, "and he has done all he
can to put things straight with us."
"Ah!" said I.
"That telegram, he tells me, was the outcome of a sudden panic."
"Dear me!" I said.
"It seems that he made some most ghastly mistake about his finances.
What exactly happened I can't quite understand, but the gist of it is,
he thought he was quite well off, whereas, really, his income is
"How odd!" I remarked.
"It sounds odd; in fact, I could scarcely believe it until I got his
letter of explanation. I'll show it to you. Here it is."
I read James Orlebar Cloyster's letter with care. It was not
particularly long, but I wish I had a copy of it; for it is the finest
work in an imaginative vein that has ever been penned.
"Masterly!" I exclaimed involuntarily.
"Yes, isn't it?" she echoed. "Enables one to grasp thoroughly how the
mistake managed to occur."
"Has Eva seen it?"
"I notice he mentions five years as being about the period - - "
"Yes; it's rather a long engagement, but, of course, she'll wait, she
loves him so."
Eva now entered the room. When I caught sight of her I remembered I had
pictured her crushed and humiliated. I had expected to gloat over a
certain dewiness of her eyes, a patient drooping of her lips. I will
say plainly there was nothing of that kind about Eva tonight.
She had decided to go to the ball as Peter Pan.
The costume had rather scandalised old Mr. Gunton-Cresswell, a venerable
Tory who rarely spoke except to grumble. Even Mrs. Gunton-Cresswell,
who had lately been elected to the newly-formed _Les Serfs
d'Avenir_, was inclined to deprecate it.
But I was sure Eva had chosen the better part. The dress suited her to
perfection. Her legs are the legs of a boy.
As I looked at her with
concentrated hatred, I realised I had never seen a human soul so
radiant, so brimming with _espieglerie_, so altogether to be
"Why, Julian, is it you. This _is_ good of you!"
It was evident that the past was to be waived. I took my cue.
"Thanks, Eva," I said; "it suits you admirably."
Events at this point move quickly.
Another card of invitation is produced. Would I care to use it, and
take Eva to the ball?
"But I'm not in fancy dress."
Overruled. Fancy dress not an essential. Crowds of men there in
ordinary evening clothes.
So we drove off.
We hardly exchanged a syllable. No one has much to say just before a
I looked at Eva out of the corner of my eye, trying to discover just
what it was in her that attracted men. I knew her charm, though I
flattered myself that I was proof against it. I wanted to analyse it.
Her photograph is on the table before me as I write. I look at it
critically. She is not what I should describe as exactly a type of
English beauty. You know the sort of beauty I mean? Queenly,
statuesque, a daughter of the gods, divinely fair. Her charm is not in
her features. It is in her expression.
Tonight, for instance, as we drove to the ball, there sparkled in her
eyes a light such as I had never seen in them before. Every girl is
animated at a ball, but this was more than mere animation. There was a
latent devilry about her; and behind the sparkle and the glitter a
film, a mist, as it were, which lent almost a pathos to her appearance.
The effect it had on me was to make me tend to forget that I hated her.
We arrive. I mutter something about having the pleasure.
Eva says I can have the last two waltzes.
Here comes a hiatus. I am told that I was seen dancing, was observed to
eat an excellent supper, and was noticed in the smoking-room with a
cigarette in my mouth.
At last the first of my two waltzes. The Eton Boating Song - one of my
favourites. I threaded my way through the room in search of her. She
was in neither of the doorways. I cast my eyes about the room. Her
costume was so distinctive that I could hardly fail to see her.
I did see her.
She was dancing my waltz with another man.
The thing seemed to numb my faculties. I stood in the doorway, gaping.
I couldn't understand it. The illogical nature of my position did not
strike me. It did not occur to me that as I hated the girl so much, it
was much the best thing that could happen that I should see as little
of her as possible. My hatred was entirely concentrated on the bounder
who had stolen my dance. He was a small, pink-faced little beast, and
it maddened me to see that he danced better than I could ever have
As they whirled past me she smiled at him.
I rushed to the smoking-room.
Whether she gave my other waltz to the same man, or whether she chose
some other partner, or sat alone waiting for me, I do not know. When I
returned to the ballroom the last waltz was over, and the orchestra was
beginning softly to play the first extra. It was _"Tout Passe,"_
an air that has always had the power to thrill me.
My heart gave a bound. Standing in the doorway just in front of me was
I drew back.
Two or three men came up, and asked her for the dance. She sent them
away, and my heart leaped as they went.
She was standing with her back towards me. Now she turned. Our eyes
met. We stood for a moment looking at one another.
Then I heard her give a little sigh; and instantly I forgot
everything - my hatred, my two lost dances, the pink-faced
blighter - everything. Everything but that I loved her.
"Tired, Eva?" I said.
"Perhaps I am," she replied. "Yes, I am, Julian."
"Give me this one," I whispered. "We'll sit it out."
"Very well. It's so hot in here. We'll go and sit it out in a hansom,
shall we? I'll get my cloak."
I waited, numbed by her absence. Her cloak was pale pink. We walked out
together into the starry night. A few yards off stood a hansom. "Drive
to the corner of Sloane Street," I said to the man, "by way of the
The night was very still.
I have said that I had forgotten everything except that I loved her.
Could I remember now? Now, as we drove together through the empty
streets alone, her warm, palpitating body touching mine.
James, and his awful predicament, which would last till Eva gave him
up; Eva's callous treatment of my former love for her; my own
newly-acquired affection for Margaret; my self-respect - these things
had become suddenly of no account.
"Eva," I murmured; and I took her hand.
Her wonderful eyes met mine. The mist in them seemed to turn to dew.
"My darling," she whispered, very low.
The road was deserted. We were alone.
I drew her face to mine and kissed her.
* * * * *
My love for her grows daily.
Old Gunton-Cresswell has introduced me to a big firm of linoleum
manufacturers. I am taking over their huge system of advertising next
week. My salary will be enormous. It almost frightens me. Old Mr.
Cresswell tells me that he had had the job in his mind for me for some
time, and had, indeed, mentioned to his wife and Eva at lunch that day
that he intended to write to me about it. I am more grateful to him
than I can ever make him understand. Eva, I know, cares nothing for
money - she told me so - but it is a comfort to feel that I can keep her
almost in luxury.
I have given up my rooms in Rupert Street.
I sleep in a bed.
I do Sandow exercises.
I am always down to breakfast at eight-thirty sharp.
I smoke less.
I am the happiest man on earth.
_(End of Julian Eversleigh's narrative.)_
by James Orlebar Cloyster
A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS
O perfidy of woman! O feminine inconstancy! That is the only allusion I
shall permit to escape me on the subject of Eva Eversleigh's engagement
to that scoundrel Julian.
I had the news by telegraph, and the heavens darkened above me, whilst
the solid earth rocked below.
I had been trapped into dishonour, and even the bait had been withheld
But it was not the loss of Eva that troubled me most. It should have
outweighed all my other misfortunes and made them seem of no account,
but it did not. Man is essentially a materialist. The prospect of an
empty stomach is more serious to him than a broken heart. A broken
heart is the luxury of the well-to-do. What troubled me more than all
other things at this juncture was the thought that I was face to face
with starvation, and that only the grimmest of fights could enable me
to avoid it. I quaked at the prospect. The early struggles of the
writer to keep his head above water form an experience which does not
bear repetition. The hopeless feeling of chipping a little niche for
oneself out of the solid rock with a nib is a nightmare even in times
of prosperity. I remembered the grey days of my literary
apprenticeship, and I shivered at the thought that I must go through
I examined my position dispassionately over a cup of coffee at Groom's,
in Fleet Street. Groom's was a recognised _Orb rendezvous_. When I
was doing "On Your Way," one or two of us used to go down Fleet Street
for coffee after the morning's work with the regularity of machines. It
formed a recognised break in the day.
I thought things over. How did I stand? Holiday work at the _Orb_
would begin very shortly, so that I should get a good start in my race.
Fermin would be going away in a few weeks, then Gresham, and after that
Fane, the man who did the "People and Things" column. With luck I ought
to get a clear fifteen weeks of regular work. It would just save me. In
fifteen weeks I ought to have got going again. The difficulty was that
I had dropped out. Editors had forgotten my work. John Hatton they
knew, and Sidney Price they knew; but who was James Orlebar Cloyster?
There would be much creaking of joints and wobbling of wheels before my
triumphal car could gather speed again. But, with a regular salary
coming in week by week from the _Orb_, I could endure this. I
became almost cheerful. It is an exhilarating sensation having one's
back against the wall.
Then there was Briggs, the actor. The very thought of him was a tonic.
A born fighter, with the energy of six men, he was an ideal model for
me. If I could work with a sixth of his dash and pluck, I should be
safe. He was giving me work. He might give me more. The new edition of
the _Belle of Wells_ was due in another fortnight. My lyrics would
be used, and I should get paid for them. Add this to my _Orb_
salary, and I should be a man of substance.
I glared over my coffee-cup at an imaginary John Hatton.
"You thought you'd done me, did you?" I said to him. "By Gad! I'll have
the laugh of you all yet."
I was shaking my fist at him when the door opened. I hurriedly tilted
back my chair, and looked out of the window.
I looked round. It was Fermin. Just the man I wanted to see.
He seemed depressed. Even embarrassed.
"How's the column?" I asked.
"Oh, all right," he said awkwardly. "I wanted to see you about that. I
was going to write to you."
"Oh, yes," I said, "of course. About the holiday work. When are you
"I was thinking of starting next week."
"Good. Sorry to lose you, of course, but - - "
He shuffled his feet.
"You're doing pretty well now at the game, aren't you, Cloyster?" he
It was not to my interests to cry myself down, so I said that I was
doing quite decently. He seemed relieved.
"You're making quite a good income, I suppose? I mean, no difficulty
about placing your stuff?"
"Editors squeal for it."
"Because, otherwise what I wanted to say to you might have been
something of a blow. But it won't affect you much if you're doing
plenty of work elsewhere."
A cold hand seemed laid upon my heart. My mind leaped to what he
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