"You only thought of that this morning?"
"My dear chap, I thought of it as soon as you told me of the fix you
"You might have suggested it.
Julian slid to the floor, drained the almost empty teapot, rescued the
last kidney, and began his breakfast.
"I would have suggested it," he said, "if the idea had been worth
"What! What's wrong with it?"
"My dear man, it's too risky. It's not as though you kept to one form
of literary work. You're so confoundedly versatile. Let's suppose you
did sign your work with a _nom de plume_."
"Say, George Chandos."
"All right. George Chandos. Well, how long would it be, do you think,
before paragraphs appeared, announcing to the public, not only of
England but of the Channel Islands, that George Chandos was really
"What rot!" I said. "Why the deuce should they want to write paragraphs
about me? I'm not a celebrity. You're talking through your hat,
Julian lit his pipe.
"Not at all," he said. "Count the number of people who must necessarily
be in the secret from the beginning. There are your publishers, Prodder
and Way. Then there are the editors of the magazine which publishes
your Society dialogue bilge, and of all the newspapers, other than the
_Orb_, in which your serious verse appears. My dear Jimmy, the
news that you and George Chandos were the same man would go up and down
Fleet Street and into the Barrel like wildfire. And after that the
I saw the truth of his reasoning before he had finished speaking. Once
more my spirits fell to the point where they had been before I hit upon
what I thought was such a bright scheme.
Julian's pipe had gone out while he was talking. He lit it again, and
spoke through the smoke:
"The weak point of your idea, of course, is that you and George Chandos
are a single individual."
"But why should the editors know that? Why shouldn't I simply send in
my stuff, typed, by post, and never appear myself at all?"
"My dear Jimmy, you know as well as I do that that wouldn't work. It
would do all right for a bit. Then one morning: 'Dear Mr. Chandos, - I
should be glad if you could make it convenient to call here some time
between Tuesday and Thursday. - Yours faithfully. Editor of
Something-or-other.' Sooner or later a man who writes at all regularly
for the papers is bound to meet the editors of them. A successful
author can't conduct all his business through the post. Of course, if
you chucked London and went to live in the country - - "
"I couldn't," I said. "I simply couldn't do it. London's got into my
"It does," said Julian.
"I like the country, but I couldn't live there. Besides, I don't
believe I could write there - not for long. All my ideas would go."
"Just so," he said. "Then exit George Chandos."
"My scheme is worthless, you think, then?"
"As you state it, yes."
"You mean - - ?" I prompted quickly, clutching at something in his tone
which seemed to suggest that he did not consider the matter entirely
"I mean this. The weak spot in your idea, as I told you, is that you
and George Chandos have the same body. Now, if you could manage to
provide George with separate flesh and blood of his own, there's no
reason - - "
"By Jove! you've hit it. Go on."
"Listen. Here is my rough draft of what I think might be a sound,
working system. How many divisions does your work fall into, not
counting the _Orb_?"
"Well, of course, I do a certain amount of odd work, but lately I've
rather narrowed it down, and concentrated my output. It seemed to me a
better plan than sowing stuff indiscriminately through all the papers
"Well, how many stunts have you got? There's your serious verse - one.
And your Society stuff - two. Any more?"
"Novels and short stories."
"Class them together - three. Any more?
"No; that's all."
"Very well, then. What you must do is to look about you, and pick
carefully three men on whom you can rely. Divide your signed stuff
between these three men. They will receive your copy, sign it with
their own names, and see that it gets to wherever you want to send it.
As far as the editorial world is concerned, and as far as the public is
concerned, they will become actually the authors of the manuscripts
which you have prepared for them to sign. They will forward you the
cheques when they arrive, and keep accounts to which you will have
access. I suppose you will have to pay them a commission on a scale to
be fixed by mutual arrangement. As regards your unsigned work, there is
nothing to prevent your doing that yourself - 'On Your Way,' I mean,
whenever there's any holiday work going: general articles, and light
verse. I say, though, half a moment."
"I've thought of a difficulty. The editors who have been taking your
stuff hitherto may have a respect for the name of James Orlebar
Cloyster which they may not extend to the name of John Smith or George
Chandos, or whoever it is. I mean, it's quite likely the withdrawal of
the name will lead to the rejection of the manuscript."
"Oh no; that's all right," I said. "It's the stuff they want, not the
name. I don't say that names don't matter. They do. But only if they're
big names. Kipling might get a story rejected if he sent it in under a
false name, which they'd have taken otherwise just because he was
Kipling. What they want from me is the goods. I can shove any label on
them I like. The editor will read my ghosts' stuff, see it's what he
wants, and put it in. He may say, 'It's rather like Cloyster's style,'
but he'll certainly add, 'Anyhow, it's what I want.' You can scratch
that difficulty, Julian. Any more?"
"I think not. Of course, there's the objection that you'll lose any
celebrity you might have got. No one'll say, 'Oh, Mr. Cloyster, I
enjoyed your last book so much!'"
"And no one'll say, 'Oh, do you _write_, Mr. Cloyster? How
interesting! What have you written? You must send me a copy.'"
"That's true. In any case, it's celebrity against the respite,
obscurity against Miss Goodwin. While the system is in operation you
will be free but inglorious. You choose freedom? All right, then. Pass
THE FIRST GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
Such was the suggestion Julian made; and I praised its ingenuity,
little thinking how bitterly I should come to curse it in the future.
I was immediately all anxiety to set the scheme working.
"Will you be one of my three middlemen, Julian?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"Thanks!" he said; "it's very good of you, but I daren't encroach
further on my hours of leisure. Skeffington's Sloe Gin has already
become an incubus."
I could not move him from this decision.
It is not everybody who, in a moment of emergency, can put his hand on
three men of his acquaintance capable of carrying through a more or
less delicate business for him. Certainly I found a difficulty in
making my selection. I ran over the list of my friends in my mind. Then
I was compelled to take pencil and paper, and settle down seriously to
what I now saw would be a task of some difficulty. After half an hour I
read through my list, and could not help smiling. I had indeed a mixed
lot of acquaintances. First came Julian and Malim, the two pillars of
my world. I scratched them out. Julian had been asked and had refused;
and, as for Malim, I shrank from exposing my absurd compositions to his
critical eye. A man who could deal so trenchantly over a pipe and a
whisky-and-soda with Established Reputations would hardly take kindly
to seeing my work in print under his name. I wished it had been
possible to secure him, but I did not disguise it from myself that it
The rest of the list was made up of members of the Barrel Club
(impossible because of their inherent tendency to break out into
personal paragraphs); writers like Fermin and Gresham, above me on the
literary ladder, and consequently unapproachable in a matter of this
kind; certain college friends, who had vanished into space, as men do
on coming down from the 'Varsity, leaving no address; John Hatton,
Sidney Price, and Tom Blake.
There were only three men in that list to whom I felt I could take my
suggestion. Hatton was one, Price was another, and Blake was the third.
Hatton should have my fiction, Price my Society stuff, Blake my serious
That evening I went off to the Temple to sound Hatton on the subject of
signing my third book. The wretched sale of my first two had acted as
something of a check to my enthusiasm for novel-writing. I had paused
to take stock of my position. My first two novels had, I found on
re-reading them, too much of the 'Varsity tone in them to be popular.
That is the mistake a man falls into through being at Cambridge or
Oxford. He fancies unconsciously that the world is peopled with
undergraduates. He forgets that what appeals to an undergraduate public
may be Greek to the outside reader and, unfortunately, not compulsory
Greek. The reviewers had dealt kindly with my two books ("this pleasant
little squib," "full of quiet humour," "should amuse all who remember
their undergraduate days"); but the great heart of the public had
remained untouched, as had the great purse of the public. I had
determined to adopt a different style. And now my third book was ready.
It was called, _When It Was Lurid_, with the sub-title, _A Tale
of God and Allah_. There was a piquant admixture of love, religion,
and Eastern scenery which seemed to point to a record number of
I took the type-script of this book with me to the Temple.
Hatton was in. I flung _When It Was Lurid_ on the table, and sat
"What's this?" inquired Hatton, fingering the brown-paper parcel. "If
it's the corpse of a murdered editor, I think it's only fair to let you
know that I have a prejudice against having my rooms used as a
cemetery. Go and throw him into the river."
"It's anything but a corpse. It's the most lively bit of writing ever
done. There's enough fire in that book to singe your tablecloth."
"You aren't going to read it to me out loud?" he said anxiously.
"Have I got to read it when you're gone?"
"Not unless you wish to."
"Then why, if I may ask, do you carry about a parcel which, I should
say, weighs anything between one and two tons, simply to use it as a
temporary table ornament? Is it the Sandow System?"
"No," I said; "it's like this."
And suddenly it dawned on me that it was not going to be particularly
easy to explain to Hatton just what it was that I wanted him to do.
I made the thing clear at last, suppressing, of course, my reasons for
the move. When he had grasped my meaning, he looked at me rather
"Doesn't it strike you," he said, "that what you propose is slightly
"You mean that I have come deliberately to insult you, Hatton?"
"Our conversation seems to be getting difficult, unless you grant that
honour is not one immovable, intangible landmark, fixed for humanity,
but that it is a commodity we all carry with us in varying forms."
"Personally, I believe that, as a help to identification,
honour-impressions would be as useful as fingerprints."
"Good! You agree with me. Now, you may have a different view; but, in
my opinion, if I were to pose as the writer of your books, and gained
credit for a literary skill - - "
"You won't get credit for literary skill out of the sort of books I
want you to put your name to. They're potboilers. You needn't worry
about Fame. You'll be a martyr, not a hero."
"You may be right. You wrote the book. But, in any case, I should be
more of a charlatan than I care about."
"You won't do it?" I said. "I'm sorry. It would have been a great
convenience to me."
"On the other hand," continued Hatton, ignoring my remark, "there are
arguments in favour of such a scheme as you suggest."
"Stout fellow!" I said encouragingly.
"To examine the matter in its - er - financial - to suppose for a
moment - briefly, what do I get out of it?"
"Ten per cent."
He looked thoughtful.
"The end shall justify the means," he said. "The money you pay me can
do something to help the awful, the continual poverty of Lambeth. Yes,
James Cloyster, I will sign whatever you send me."
"Good for you," I said.
"And I shall come better out of the transaction than you."
No one would credit the way that man - a clergyman, too - haggled over
terms. He ended by squeezing fifteen per cent out of me.
THE SECOND GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
The reasons which had led me to select Sidney Price as the sponsor of
my Society dialogues will be immediately apparent to those who have
read them. They were just the sort of things you would expect an
insurance clerk to write. The humour was thin, the satire as cheap as
the papers in which they appeared, and the vulgarity in exactly the
right quantity for a public that ate it by the pound and asked for
more. Every thing pointed to Sidney Price as the man.
It was my intention to allow each of my three ghosts to imagine that he
was alone in the business; so I did not get Price's address from
Hatton, who might have wondered why I wanted it, and had suspicions. I
applied to the doorkeeper at Carnation Hall; and on the following
evening I rang the front-door bell of The Hollyhocks, Belmont Park
Whilst I was waiting on the step, I was able to get a view through the
slats of the Venetian blind of the front ground-floor sitting-room. I
could scarcely restrain a cry of pure aesthetic delight at what I saw
within. Price was sitting on a horse-hair sofa with an arm round the
waist of a rather good-looking girl. Her eyes were fixed on his. It was
Edwin and Angelina in real life.
Up till then I had suffered much discomfort from the illustrated record
of their adventures in the comic papers. "Is there really," I had often
asked myself, "a body of men so gifted that they can construct the
impossible details of the lives of nonexistent types purely from
imagination? If such creative genius as theirs is unrecognized and
ignored, what hope of recognition is there for one's own work?" The
thought had frequently saddened me; but here at last they were - Edwin
and Angelina in the flesh!
I took the gallant Sidney for a fifteen-minute stroll up and down the
length of the Belmont Park Road. Poor Angelina! He came, as he
expressed it, "like a bird." Give him a sec. to slip on a pair of
boots, he said, and he would be with me in two ticks.
He was so busy getting his hat and stick from the stand in the passage
that he quite forgot to tell the lady that he was going out, and, as we
left, I saw her with the tail of my eye sitting stolidly on the sofa,
still wearing patiently the expression of her comic-paper portraits.
The task of explaining was easier than it had been with Hatton.
"Sorry to drag you out, Price," I said, as we went down the steps.
"Don't mention it, Mr. Cloyster," he said. "Norah won't mind a bit of a
sit by herself. Looked in to have a chat, or is there anything I can
"It's like this," I said. "You know I write a good deal?"
"Well, it has occurred to me that, if I go on turning out quantities of
stuff under my own name, there's a danger of the public getting tired
"Now, I'm with you there, mind you," he said. "'Can't have too much of
a good thing,' some chaps say. I say, 'Yes, you can.' Stands to reason
a chap can't go on writing and writing without making a bloomer every
now and then. What he wants is to take his time over it. Look at all
the real swells - 'Erbert Spencer, Marie Corelli, and what not - you
don't find them pushing it out every day of the year. They wait a bit
and have a look round, and then they start again when they're ready.
Stands to reason that's the only way."
"Quite right," I said; "but the difficulty, if you live by writing, is
that you must turn out a good deal, or you don't make enough to live
on. I've got to go on getting stuff published, but I don't want people
to be always seeing my name about."
"You mean, adopt a _nom de ploom_?"
"That's the sort of idea; but I'm going to vary it a little."
And I explained my plan.
"But why me?" he asked, when he had understood the scheme. "What made
you think of me?"
"The fact is, my dear fellow," I said, "this writing is a game where
personality counts to an enormous extent. The man who signs my Society
dialogues will probably come into personal contact with the editors of
the papers in which they appear. He will be asked to call at their
offices. So you see I must have a man who looks as if he had written
"I see," he said complacently. "Dressy sort of chap. Chap who looks as
if he knew a thing or two."
"Yes. I couldn't get Alf Joblin, for instance."
We laughed together at the notion.
"Poor old Alf!" said Sidney Price.
"Now you probably know a good deal about Society?"
"Rath_er_" said Sidney. "They're a hot lot. My _word_! Saw
_The Walls of Jericho_ three times. Gives it 'em pretty straight,
that does. _Visits of Elizabeth_, too. Chase me! Used to think
some of us chaps in the 'Moon' were a bit O.T., but we aren't in
it - not in the same street. Chaps, I mean, who'd call a girl behind the
bar by her Christian name as soon as look at you. One chap I knew used
to give the girl at the cash-desk of the 'Mecca' he went to bottles of
scent. Bottles of it - regular! 'Here you are, Tottie,' he used to say,
'here's another little donation from yours truly.' Kissed her once.
Slap in front of everybody. Saw him do it. But, bless you, they'd think
nothing of that in the Smart Set. Ever read 'God's Good Man'? There's a
book! My stars! Lets you see what goes on. Scorchers they are."
"That's just what my dialogues point out. I can count on you, then?"
He said I could. He was an intelligent young man, and he gave me to
understand that all would be well. He would carry the job through on
the strict Q.T. He closely willingly with my offer of ten per cent,
thus affording a striking contrast to the grasping Hatton. He assured
me he had found literary chaps not half bad. Had occasionally had an
idea of writing a bit himself.
We parted on good terms, and I was pleased to think that I was placing
my "Dialogues of Mayfair" and my "London and Country House Tales" in
really competent and appreciative hands.
THE THIRD GHOST
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_
There only remained now my serious verse, of which I turned out an
enormous quantity. It won a ready acceptance in many quarters, notably
the _St. Stephen's Gazette_. Already I was beginning to oust from
their positions on that excellent journal the old crusted poetesses who
had supplied it from its foundation with verse. The prices they paid on
the _St. Stephen's_ were in excellent taste. In the musical world,
too, I was making way rapidly. Lyrics of the tea-and-muffin type
streamed from my pen. "Sleep whilst I Sing, Love," had brought me in an
astonishing amount of money, in spite of the music-pirates. It was on
the barrel-organs. Adults hummed it. Infants crooned it in their cots.
Comic men at music-halls opened their turns by remarking soothingly to
the conductor of the orchestra, "I'm going to sing now, so you go to
sleep, love." In a word, while the boom lasted, it was a little
gold-mine to me.
Thomas Blake was as obviously the man for me here as Sidney Price had
been in the case of my Society dialogues. The public would find
something infinitely piquant in the thought that its most sentimental
ditties were given to it by the horny-handed steerer of a canal barge.
He would be greeted as the modern Burns. People would ask him how he
thought of his poems, and he would say, "Oo-er!" and they would hail
him as delightfully original. In the case of Thomas Blake I saw my
earnings going up with a bound. His personality would be a noble
He was aboard the _Ashlade_ or _Lechton_ on the Cut, so I was
informed by Kit. Which information was not luminous to me. Further
inquiries, however, led me to the bridge at Brentford, whence starts
that almost unknown system of inland navigation which extends to
Manchester and Birmingham.
Here I accosted at a venture a ruminative bargee. "Tom Blake?" he
repeated, reflectively. "Oh! 'e's been off this three hours on a trip
to Braunston. He'll tie up tonight at the Shovel."
"Where's the Shovel?"
"Past Cowley, the Shovel is." This was spoken in a tired drawl which
was evidently meant to preclude further chit-chat. To clinch things, he
slouched away, waving me in an abstracted manner to the towpath.
I took the hint. It was now three o'clock in the afternoon. Judging by
the pace of the barges I had seen, I should catch Blake easily before
nightfall. I set out briskly. An hour's walking brought me to Hanwell,
and I was glad to see a regular chain of locks which must have
considerably delayed the _Ashlade_ and _Lechton_.
The afternoon wore on. I went steadily forward, making inquiries as to
Thomas's whereabouts from the boats which met me, and always hearing
that he was still ahead.
Footsore and hungry, I overtook him at Cowley. The two boats were in
the lock. Thomas and a lady, presumably his wife, were ashore. On the
_Ashlade_'s raised cabin cover was a baby. Two patriarchal-looking
boys were respectively at the _Ashlade_'s and _Lechton_'s tillers.
The lady was attending to the horse.
The water in the lock rose gradually to a higher level.
"Hold them tillers straight!" yelled Thomas. At which point I saluted
him. He was a little blank at first, but when I reminded him of our
last meeting his face lit up at once. "Why, you're the mister wot - - "
"Nuppie!" came in a shrill scream from the lady with the horse.
"Yes, Ada!" answered the boy on the _Ashlade_.
"Liz ain't tied to the can. D'you want 'er to be drownded? Didn't I
tell you to be sure and tie her up tight?"
"So I did, Ada. She's untied herself again. Yes, she 'as. 'Asn't she,
This appeal for corroboration was directed to the other small boy on
the _Lechton_. It failed signally.
"No, you did not tie Liz to the chimney. You know you never, Nuppie."
"Wait till we get out of this lock!" said Nuppie, earnestly.
The water pouring in from the northern sluice was forcing the tillers
violently against the southern sluice gates.
"If them boys," said Tom Blake in an overwrought voice, "lets them
tillers go round, it's all up with my pair o' boats. Lemme do it,
you - - " The rest of the sentence was mercifully lost in the thump with
which Thomas's feet bounded on the _Ashlade_'s cabin-top. He made
Liz fast to the circular foot of iron chimney projecting from the
boards; then, jumping back to the land, he said, more in sorrow than in
anger: "Lazy little brats! an' they've '_ad_ their tea, too."
Clear of the locks, I walked with Thomas and his ancient horse, trying
to explain what I wanted done. But it was not until we had tied up for
the night, had had beer at the Shovel, and (Nuppie and Albert being
safely asleep in the second cabin) had met at supper that my
instructions had been fully grasped. Thomas himself was inclined to be
diffident, and had it not been for Ada would, I think, have let my
offer slide. She was enthusiastic. It was she who told me of the
cottage they had at Fenny Stratford, which they used as headquarters
whilst waiting for a cargo.
"That can be used as a permanent address," I said. "All you have to do
is to write your name at the end of each typewritten sheet, enclose it
in the stamped envelope which I will send you, and send it by post.
When the cheques come, sign them on the back and forward them to me.
For every ten pounds you forward me, I'll give you one for yourself. In
any difficulty, simply write to me - here's my own address - and I'll see
you through it."
"We can't go to prison for it, can we, mister?" asked Ada suddenly,
after a pause.
"No," I said; "there's nothing dishonest in what I propose."
"Oh, she didn't so much mean that," said Thomas, thoughtfully.
They gave me a shakedown for the night in the cargo.
Just before turning in, I said casually, "If anyone except me cashed
the cheques by mistake, he'd go to prison quick."
"Yes, mister," came back Thomas's voice, again a shade thoughtfully
_(James Orlebar Cloyster's narrative continued)_