my walls so thickly covered with rejection forms. I was in precisely
the same condition as a man who has been taught the rudiments of
boxing. I knew just enough to hamper me, and not enough to do me any
good. If I had simply blundered straight at my work and written just
what occurred to me in my own style, I should have done much better. I
have a sense of humour. I deliberately stifled it. For it I substituted
a grisly kind of playfulness. My hero called my heroine "little woman,"
and the concluding passage where he kissed her was written in a sly,
roguish vein, for which I suppose I shall have to atone in the next
world. Only the editor of the _Colney Hatch Argus_ could have
accepted work like mine. Yet I toiled on.
It was about the middle of my third week at No. 93A that I definitely
decided to throw over my authorities, and work by the light of my own
Nearly all my authorities had been very severe on the practice of
verse-writing. It was, they asserted, what all young beginners tried to
do, and it was the one thing editors would never look at. In the first
ardour of my revolt I determined to do a set of verses.
It happened that the weather had been very bad for the last few days.
After a month and a half of sunshine the rain had suddenly begun to
fall. I took this as my topic. It was raining at the time. I wrote a
satirical poem, full of quaint rhymes.
I had always had rather a turn for serious verse. It struck me that the
rain might be treated poetically as well as satirically. That night I
sent off two sets of verses to a daily and an evening paper. Next day
both were in print, with my initials to them.
I began to see light.
"Verse is the thing," I said. "I will reorganise my campaign. First the
skirmishers, then the real attack. I will peg along with verses till
somebody begins to take my stories and articles."
I felt easier in my mind than I had felt for some time. A story came
back by the nine o'clock post from a monthly magazine (to which I had
sent it from mere bravado), but the thing did not depress me. I got out
my glue-pot and began to fasten the rejection form to the wall,
whistling a lively air as I did so.
While I was engaged in this occupation there was a testy rap at the
door, and Mrs. Driver appeared. She eyed my manoeuvres with the
rejection form with a severe frown. After a preliminary sniff she
embarked upon a rapid lecture on what she called my irregular and
untidy habits. I had turned her second-floor back, she declared, into a
"Sech a litter," she said.
"But," I protested, "this is a Bohemian house, is it not?"
She appeared so shocked - indeed, so infuriated, that I dared not give
her time to answer.
"The gentleman below, he's not very tidy," I added diplomatically.
"Wot gent below?" said Mrs. Driver.
I reminded her of the night of my arrival.
"Oh, '_im_," she said, shaken. "Well, 'e's not come back."
"Mrs. Driver," I said sternly, "you said he'd gone out for a stroll. I
refuse to believe that any man would stroll for three weeks."
"So I did say it," was the defiant reply. "I said it so as you
shouldn't be put off coming. You looked a steady young feller, and I
wanted a let. Wish I'd told you the truth, if it 'ad a-stopped you."
"What is the truth?"
"'E was a wrong 'un, 'e wos. Writing begging letters to parties as was
a bit soft, that wos '_is_ little gime. But 'e wos a bit too
clever one day, and the coppers got 'im. Now you know!"
Mrs. Driver paused after this outburst, and allowed her eye to wander
slowly and ominously round my walls.
I was deeply moved. My one link with Bohemia had turned out a fraud.
Mrs. Driver's voice roused me from my meditations.
"I must arst you to be good enough, if _you_ please, kindly to
remove those there bits of paper."
She pointed to the rejection forms.
I hesitated. I felt that it was a thing that ought to be broken gently.
"The fact is, Mrs. Driver," I said, "and no one can regret it more
deeply than I do - the fact is, they're stuck on with glue."
Two minutes later I had received my marching orders, and the room was
still echoing with the slam of the door as it closed behind the
indignant form of my landlady.
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
The problem of lodgings in London is an easy one to a man with an
adequate supply of money in his pocket. The only difficulty is to
select the most suitable, to single out from the eager crowd the ideal
Evicted from No. 93A, it seemed to me that I had better abandon
Bohemia; postpone my connection with that land of lotus-eaters for the
moment, while I provided myself with the means of paying rent and
buying dinners. Farther down the King's Road there were comfortable
rooms to be had for a moderate sum per week. They were prosaic, but
inexpensive. I chose Walpole Street. A fairly large bed-sitting room
was vacant at No. 23. I took it, and settled down seriously to make my
There were advantages in Walpole Street which Manresa Road had lacked.
For one thing, there was more air, and it smelt less than the Manresa
Road air. Walpole Street is bounded by Burton Court, where the
Household Brigade plays cricket, and the breezes from the river come to
it without much interruption. There was also more quiet. No. 23 is the
last house in the street, and, even when I sat with my window open, the
noise of traffic from the King's Road was faint and rather pleasant. It
was an excellent spot for a man who meant to work. Except for a certain
difficulty in getting my landlady and her daughters out of the room
when they came to clear away my meals and talk about the better days
they had seen, and a few imbroglios with the eight cats which infested
the house, it was the best spot, I think, that I could have chosen.
Living a life ruled by the strictest economy, I gradually forged ahead.
Verse, light and serious, continued my long suit. I generally managed
to place two of each brand a week; and that meant two guineas,
sometimes more. One particularly pleasing thing about this
verse-writing was that there was no delay, as there was with my prose.
I would write a set of verses for a daily paper after tea, walk to
Fleet Street with them at half-past six, thus getting a little
exercise; leave them at the office; and I would see them in print in
the next morning's issue. Payment was equally prompt. The rule was,
Send in your bill before five on Wednesday, and call for payment on
Friday at seven. Thus I had always enough money to keep me going during
In addition to verses, I kept turning out a great quantity of prose,
fiction, and otherwise, but without much success. The visits of the
postmen were the big events of the day at that time. Before I had been
in Walpole Street a week I could tell by ear the difference between a
rejected manuscript and an ordinary letter. There is a certain solid
_plop_ about the fall of the former which not even a long envelope
full of proofs can imitate successfully.
I worked extraordinarily hard at that time. All day, sometimes. The
thought of Margie waiting in Guernsey kept me writing when I should
have done better to have taken a rest. My earnings were small in
proportion to my labour. The guineas I made, except from verse, were
like the ounce of gold to the ton of ore. I no longer papered the walls
with rejection forms; but this was from choice, not from necessity. I
had plenty of material, had I cared to use it.
I made a little money, of course. My takings for the first month
amounted to L9 10s. I notched double figures in the next with Lll 1s.
6d. Then I dropped to L7 0s. 6d. It was not starvation, but it was
still more unlike matrimony.
But at the end of the sixth month there happened to me what, looking
back, I consider to be the greatest piece of good fortune of my life. I
received a literary introduction. Some authorities scoff at literary
introductions. They say that editors read everything, whether they know
the author or not. So they do; and, if the work is not good, a letter
to the editor from a man who once met his cousin at a garden-party is
not likely to induce him to print it. There is no journalistic "ring"
in the sense in which the word is generally used; but there are
undoubtedly a certain number of men who know the ropes, and can act as
pilots in a strange sea; and an introduction brings one into touch with
them. There is a world of difference between contributing blindly work
which seems suitable to the style of a paper and sending in matter
designed to attract the editor personally.
Mr. Macrae, whose pupil I had been at Cambridge, was the author of my
letter of introduction. At St. Gabriel's, Mr. Macrae had been a man for
whom I entertained awe and respect. Likes and dislikes in connection
with one's tutor seemed outside the question. Only a chance episode had
shown me that my tutor was a mortal with a mortal's limitations. We
were bicycling together one day along the Trumpington Road, when a form
appeared, coming to meet us. My tutor's speech grew more and more
halting as the form came nearer. At last he stopped talking altogether,
and wobbled in his saddle. The man bowed to him, and, as if he had won
through some fiery ordeal, he shot ahead like a gay professional rider.
When I drew level with him, he said, "That, Mr. Cloyster, is my
Mr. Macrae was typical of the University don who is Scotch. He had
married the senior historian of Newnham. He lived (and still lives) by
proxy. His publishers order his existence. His honeymoon had been
placed at the disposal of these gentlemen, and they had allotted to
that period an edition of Aristotle's Ethics. Aristotle, accordingly,
received the most scholarly attention from the recently united couple
somewhere on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. All the reviews were
In my third year at St. Gabriel's it was popularly supposed that Master
Pericles Aeschylus, Mr. Macrae's infant son, was turned to correct my
Latin prose, though my Iambics were withheld from him at the request of
the family doctor.
The letter which Pericles Aeschylus's father had addressed to me was
one of the pleasantest surprises I have ever had. It ran as follows:
_St. Gabriel's College,
MY DEAR CLOYSTER, - The divergence of our duties and pleasures
during your residence here caused us to see but little of each
other. Would it had been otherwise! And too often our intercourse
had - on my side - a distinctly professional flavour. Your attitude
towards your religious obligations was, I fear, something to seek.
Indeed, the line, "_Pastor deorum cultor et infrequens_,"
might have been directly inspired by your views on the keeping
of Chapels. On the other hand, your contributions to our musical
festivities had the true Aristophanes _panache_.
I hear you are devoting yourself to literature, and I beg that
you will avail yourself of the enclosed note, which is addressed
to a personal friend of mine.
David Ossian Macrae._
The enclosure bore this inscription:
CHARLES FERMIN, ESQ.,
Offices of the _Orb_,
I had received the letter at breakfast. I took a cab, and drove
straight to the _Orb_.
A painted hand, marked "Editorial," indicated a flight of stairs. At
the top of these I was confronted by a glass door, beyond which,
entrenched behind a desk, sat a cynical-looking youth. A smaller boy in
the background talked into a telephone. Both were giggling. On seeing
me the slightly larger of the two advanced with a half-hearted attempt
at solemnity, though unable to resist a Parthian shaft at his
companion, who was seized on the instant with a paroxysm of suppressed
My letter was taken down a mysterious stone passage. After some waiting
the messenger returned with the request that I would come back at
eleven, as Mr. Fermin would be very busy till then.
I went out into the Strand, and sought a neighbouring hostelry. It was
essential that I should be brilliant at the coming interview, if only
spirituously brilliant; and I wished to remove a sensation of stomachic
emptiness, such as I had been wont to feel at school when approaching
the headmaster's study.
At eleven I returned, and asked again for Mr. Fermin; and presently he
appeared - a tall, thin man, who gave one the impression of being in a
hurry. I knew him by reputation as a famous quarter-miler. He had been
president of the O.U.A.C. some years back. He looked as if at any
moment he might dash off in any direction at quarter-mile pace.
We shook hands, and I tried to look intelligent.
"Sorry to have to keep you waiting," he said, as we walked to his club;
"but we are always rather busy between ten and eleven, putting the
column through. Gresham and I do 'On Your Way,' you know. The last copy
has to be down by half-past ten."
We arrived at the Club, and sat in a corner of the lower smoking-room.
"Macrae says that you are going in for writing. Of course, I'll do
anything I can, but it isn't easy to help a man. As it happens, though,
I can put you in the way of something, if it's your style of work. Do
you ever do verse?"
I felt like a batsman who sees a slow full-toss sailing through the
"It's the only thing I can get taken," I said. "I've had quite a lot in
the _Chronicle_ and occasional bits in other papers."
He seemed relieved.
"Oh, that's all right, then," he said. "You know 'On Your Way.' Perhaps
you'd care to come in and do that for a bit? It's only holiday work,
but it'll last five weeks. And if you do it all right I can get you the
whole of the holiday work on the column. That comes to a good lot in
the year. We're always taking odd days off. Can you come up at a
"Easily," I said.
"Then, you see, if you did that you would drop into the next vacancy on
the column. There's no saying when one may occur. It's like the General
Election. It may happen tomorrow, or not for years. Still, you'd be on
the spot in case."
"It's awfully good of you."
"Not at all. As a matter of fact, I was rather in difficulties about
getting a holiday man. I'm off to Scotland the day after tomorrow, and
I had to find a sub. Well, then, will you come in on Monday?"
"You've had no experience of newspaper work, have you?"
"Well, all the work at the _Orb's_ done between nine and eleven.
You must be there at nine sharp. Literally sharp, I mean. Not
half-past. And you'd better do some stuff overnight for the first week
or so. You'll find working in the office difficult till you get used to
it. Of course, though, you'll always have Gresham there, so there's no
need to get worried. He can fill the column himself, if he's pushed.
Four or five really good paragraphs a day and an occasional set of
verses are all he'll want from you."
"On Monday, then. Nine sharp. Good-bye."
I walked home along Piccadilly with almost a cake-walk stride. At last
I was in the inner circle.
An _Orb_ cart passed me. I nodded cheerfully to the driver. He was
one of _Us_.
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
I determined to celebrate the occasion by dining out, going to a
theatre, and having supper afterwards, none of which things were
ordinarily within my means. I had not been to a theatre since I had
arrived in town; and, except on Saturday nights, I always cooked my own
dinner, a process which was cheap, and which appealed to the passion
for Bohemianism which I had not wholly cast out of me.
The morning paper informed me that there were eleven musical comedies,
three Shakespeare plays, a blank verse drama, and two comedies ("last
weeks") for me to choose from. I bought a stall at the Briggs Theatre.
Stanley Briggs, who afterwards came to bulk large in my small world,
was playing there in a musical comedy which had had even more than the
customary musical-comedy success.
London by night had always had an immense fascination for me. Coming
out of the restaurant after supper, I felt no inclination to return to
my lodgings, and end the greatest night of my life tamely with a book
and a pipe. Here was I, a young man, fortified by an excellent supper,
in the heart of Stevenson's London. Why should I have no New Arabian
Night adventure? I would stroll about for half an hour, and give London
a chance of living up to its reputation.
I walked slowly along Piccadilly, and turned up Rupert Street. A magic
name. Prince Florizel of Bohemia had ended his days there in his
tobacconist's divan. Mr. Gilbert's Policeman Forth had been discovered
there by the men of London at the end of his long wanderings through
Soho. Probably, if the truth were known, Rudolf Rassendyl had spent
part of his time there. It could not be that Rupert Street would send
me empty away.
My confidence was not abused. Turning into Rupert Court, a dark and
suggestive passage some short distance up the street on the right, I
found a curious little comedy being played.
A door gave on to the deserted passageway, and on each side of it stood
a man - the lurcher type of man that is bred of London streets. The door
opened inwards. Another man stepped out. The hands of one of the
lurchers flew to the newcomer's mouth. The hands of the other lurcher
flew to the newcomer's pockets.
At that moment I advanced.
The lurchers vanished noiselessly and instantaneously.
Their victim held out his hand.
"Come in, won't you?" he said, smiling sleepily at me.
I followed him in, murmuring something about "caught in the act."
He repeated the phrase as we went upstairs.
"'Caught in the act.' Yes, they are ingenious creatures. Let me
introduce myself. My name is Julian Eversleigh. Sit down, won't you?
Excuse me for a moment."
He crossed to a writing-table.
Julian Eversleigh inhabited a single room of irregular shape. It was
small, and situated immediately under the roof. One side had a window
which overlooked Rupert Court. The view from it was, however,
restricted, because the window was inset, so that the walls projecting
on either side prevented one seeing more than a yard or two of the
The room contained a hammock, a large tin bath, propped up against the
wall, a big wardrobe, a couple of bookcases, a deal writing-table - at
which the proprietor was now sitting with a pen in his mouth, gazing at
the ceiling - and a divan-like formation of rugs and cube sugar boxes.
The owner of this mixed lot of furniture wore a very faded blue serge
suit, the trousers baggy at the knees and the coat threadbare at the
elbows. He had the odd expression which green eyes combined with red
hair give a man.
"Caught in the act," he was murmuring. "Caught in the act."
The phrase seemed to fascinate him.
I had established myself on the divan, and was puffing at a cigar,
which I had bought by way of setting the coping-stone on my night's
extravagance, before he got up from his writing.
"Those fellows," he said, producing a bottle of whisky and a syphon
from one of the lower drawers of the wardrobe, "did me a double
service. They introduced me to you - say when - and they gave me - - "
" - an idea."
"But how did it happen?" I asked.
"Quite simple," he answered. "You see, my friends, when they call on me
late at night, can't get in by knocking at the front door. It is a
shop-door, and is locked early. Vancott, my landlord, is a baker, and,
as he has to be up making muffins somewhere about five in the
morning - we all have our troubles - he does not stop up late. So people
who want me go into the court, and see whether my lamp is burning by
the window. If it is, they stand below and shout, 'Julian,' till I open
the door into the court. That's what happened tonight. I heard my name
called, went down, and walked into the arms of the enterprising
gentlemen whom you chanced to notice. They must have been very hungry,
for even if they had carried the job through they could not have
expected to make their fortunes. In point of fact, they would have
cleared one-and-threepence. But when you're hungry you can see no
further than the pit of your stomach. Do you know, I almost sympathise
with the poor brutes. People sometimes say to me, 'What are you?' I
have often half a mind to reply, 'I have been hungry.' My stars, be
hungry once, and you're educated, if you don't die of it, for a
This sort of talk from a stranger might have been the prelude to an
appeal for financial assistance.
He dissipated that half-born thought.
"Don't be uneasy," he said; "you have not been lured up here by the
ruse of a clever borrower. I can do a bit of touching when in the mood,
mind you, but you're safe. You are here because I see that you are a
"Thank you," I said.
"Besides," he continued, "I am not hungry at present. In fact, I shall
never be hungry again."
"You're lucky," I remarked.
"I am. I am the fortunate possessor of the knack of writing
"Indeed," I said, feeling awkward, for I saw that I ought to be
"Ah!" he said, laughing outright. "You're not impressed in the least,
really. But I'll ask you to consider what advertisements mean. First,
they are the life-essence of every newspaper, every periodical, and
"Practically, yes. Most books contain some latent support of a fashion
in clothes or food or drink, or of some pleasant spot or phase of
benevolence or vice, all of which form the interest of one or other of
the sections of society, which sections require publicity at all costs
for their respective interests."
I was about to probe searchingly into so optimistic a view of modern
authorship, but he stalled me off by proceeding rapidly with his
"Apart, however, from the less obvious modes of advertising, you'll
agree that this is the age of all ages for the man who can write puffs.
'Good wine needs no bush' has become a trade paradox, 'Judge by
appearances,' a commercial platitude. The man who is ambitious and
industrious turns his trick of writing into purely literary channels,
and becomes a novelist. The man who is not ambitious and not
industrious, and who does not relish the prospect of becoming a loafer
in Strand wine-shops, writes advertisements. The gold-bearing area is
always growing. It's a Tom Tiddler's ground. It is simply a question of
picking up the gold and silver. The industrious man picks up as much as
he wants. Personally, I am easily content. An occasional nugget
satisfies me. Here's tonight's nugget, for instance."
I took the paper he handed to me. It bore the words:
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
CAUGHT IN THE ACT of drinking Skeffington's Sloe Gin, a man will
always present a happy and smiling appearance. Skeffington's Sloe
Gin adds a crowning pleasure to prosperity, and is a consolation
in adversity. Of all Grocers.
"Skeffington's," he said, "pay me well. I'm worth money to them, and
they know it. At present they are giving me a retainer to keep my work
exclusively for them. The stuff they have put on the market is neither
better nor worse than the average sloe gin. But my advertisements have
given it a tremendous vogue. It is the only brand that grocers stock.
Since I made the firm issue a weekly paper called _Skeffington's
Poultry Farmer_, free to all country customers, the consumption of
sloe gin has been enormous among agriculturists. My idea, too, of
supplying suburban buyers gratis with a small drawing-book, skeleton
illustrations, and four coloured chalks, has made the drink popular
with children. You must have seen the poster I designed. There's a
reduced copy behind you. The father of a family is unwrapping a bottle
of Skeffington's Sloe Gin. His little ones crowd round him, laughing
and clapping their hands. The man's wife is seen peeping roguishly in
through the door. Beneath is the popular catch-phrase, "Ain't mother
going to 'ave none?"
"You're a genius," I cried.
"Hardly that," he said. "At least, I have no infinite capacity for
taking pains. I am one of Nature's slackers. Despite my talent for
drawing up advertisements, I am often in great straits owing to my
natural inertia and a passionate love of sleep. I sleep on the
slightest provocation or excuse. I will back myself to sleep against