Arnold Bennett.

Buried Alive: a Tale of These Days online

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position of Priam Farll."

Useless for his modesty to whisper to him that contemporary judgments
_were_ notoriously wrong. He did not like it. It disturbed him. There
were exceptions to every rule. And if the connoisseur meant anything at
all, he was simply stultifying the rest of the article. Time be d - - d!

He had come nearly to the last line of the last obituary before he was
finally ruffled. Most of the sheets, in excusing the paucity of
biographical detail, had remarked that Priam Farll was utterly unknown
to London society, of a retiring disposition, hating publicity, a
recluse, etc. The word "recluse" grated on his sensitiveness a little;
but when the least important of the evening papers roundly asserted it
to be notorious that he was of extremely eccentric habits, he grew
secretly furious. Neither his modesty nor his philosophy was influential
enough to restore him to complete calm.

Eccentric! He! What next? Eccentric, indeed!

Now, what conceivable justification - - - ?

_The Ruling Classes_

Between a quarter-past and half-past eleven he was seated alone at a
small table in the restaurant of the Grand Babylon. He had had no news
of Mrs. Challice; she had not instantly telegraphed to Selwood Terrace,
as he had wildly hoped. But in the boxes of Henry Leek, safely retrieved
by the messenger from South Kensington Station, he had discovered one of
his old dress-suits, not too old, and this dress-suit he had donned. The
desire to move about unknown in the well-clad world, the world of the
frequenters of costly hotels, the world to which he was accustomed, had
overtaken him. Moreover, he felt hungry. Hence he had descended to the
famous restaurant, whose wide windows were flung open to the illuminated
majesty of the Thames Embankment. The pale cream room was nearly full of
expensive women, and expending men, and silver-chained waiters whose
skilled, noiseless, inhuman attentions were remunerated at the rate of
about four-pence a minute. Music, the midnight food of love, floated
scarce heard through the tinted atmosphere. It was the best imitation of
Roman luxury that London could offer, and after Selwood Terrace and the
rackety palace of no gratuities, Priam Farll enjoyed it as one enjoys
home after strange climes.

Next to his table was an empty table, set for two, to which were
presently conducted, with due state, a young man, and a magnificent
woman whose youth was slipping off her polished shoulders like a cloak.
Priam Farll then overheard the following conversation: -

_Man_: Well, what are you going to have?

_Woman_: But look here, little Charlie, you can't possibly afford to pay
for this!

_Man_: Never said I could. It's the paper that pays. So go ahead.

_Woman_: Is Lord Nasing so keen as all that?

_Man_: It isn't Lord Nasing. It's our brand new editor specially
imported from Chicago.

_Woman_: Will he last?

_Man_: He'll last a hundred nights, say as long as the run of your
piece. Then he'll get six months' screw and the boot.

_Woman_: How much is six months' screw?

_Man_: Three thousand.

_Woman_: Well, I can hardly earn that myself.

_Man_: Neither can I. But then you see we weren't born in Chicago.

_Woman_: I've been offered a thousand dollars a week to go there,

_Man_: Why didn't you tell me that for the interview? I've spent two
entire entr'actes in trying to get something interesting out of you, and
there you go and keep a thing like that up your sleeve. It's not fair to
an old and faithful admirer. I shall stick it in. Poulet chasseur?

_Woman_: Oh no! Couldn't dream of it. Didn't you know I was dieting?
Nothing saucy. No sugar. No bread. No tea. Thanks to that I've lost
nearly a stone in six months. You know I _was_ getting enormous.

_Man_: Let me put _that_ in, eh?

_Woman_: Just try, and see what happens to you!

_Man_: Well, shall we say a lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? I'm
dieting, too.

_Waiter_: Lettuce salad, and a Perrier and soda? Yes, sir.

_Woman_: You aren't very gay.

_Man_: Gay! You don't know all the yearnings of my soul. Don't imagine
that because I'm a special of the _Record_ I haven't got a soul.

_Woman_: I suppose you've been reading that book, Omar Khayyam, that
every one's talking about. Isn't that what it's called?

_Man_: Has Omar Khayyam reached the theatrical world? Well, there's no
doubt the earth does move, after all.

_Woman_: A little more soda, please. And just a trifle less impudence.
What book ought one to be reading, then?

_Man_: Socialism's the thing just now. Read Wells on Socialism. It'll be
all over the theatrical world in a few years' time.

_Woman_: No fear! I can't bear Wells. He's always stirring up the dregs.
I don't mind froth, but I do draw the line at dregs. What's the band
playing? What have you been doing to-day? _Is_ this lettuce? No, no! No
bread. Didn't you hear me tell you?

_Man_: I've been busy with the Priam Farll affair.

_Woman_: Priam Farll?

_Man_: Yes. Painter. _You_ know.

_Woman_: Oh yes. _Him_! I saw it on the posters. He's dead, it seems.
Anything mysterious?

_Man_: You bet! Very odd! Frightfully rich, you know! Yet he died in a
wretched hovel of a place down off the Fulham Road. And his valet's
disappeared. We had the first news of the death, through our arrangement
with all the registrars' clerks in London. By the bye, don't give that
away - it's our speciality. Nasing sent me off at once to write up the

_Woman_: Story?

_Man_: The particulars. We always call it a story in Fleet Street.

_Woman_: What a good name! Well, did you find out anything interesting?

_Man_: Not very much. I saw his cousin, Duncan Farll, a money-lending
lawyer in Clement's Lane - he only heard of it because we telephoned to
him. But the fellow would scarcely tell me anything at all.

_Woman_: Really! I do hope there's something terrible.

_Man_: Why?

_Woman_: So that I can go to the inquest or the police court or whatever
it is. That's why I always keep friendly with magistrates. It's so
frightfully thrilling, sitting on the bench with them.

_Man_: There won't be any inquest. But there's something queer in it.
You see, Priam Farll was never in England. Always abroad; at those
foreign hotels, wandering up and down.

_Woman (after a pause)_: I know.

_Man_: What do you know?

_Woman_: Will you promise not to chatter?

_Man_: Yes.

_Woman_: I met him once at an hotel at Ostend. He - well, he wanted most
tremendously to paint my portrait. But I wouldn't let him.

_Man_: Why not?

_Woman_: If you knew what sort of man he was you wouldn't ask.

_Man_: Oh! But look here, I say! You must let me use that in my story.
Tell me all about it.

_Woman_: Not for worlds.

_Man_: He - he made up to you?

_Woman_: Rather!

_Priam Farll (to himself)_: What a barefaced lie! Never was at Ostend in
my life.

_Man_: Can't I use it if I don't print your name - just say a
distinguished actress.

_Woman_: Oh yes, you can do _that_. You might say, of the musical comedy

_Man_: I will. I'll run something together. Trust me. Thanks awfully.

At this point a young and emaciated priest passed up the room.

_Woman_: Oh! Father Luke, is that you? Do come and sit here and be nice.
This is Father Luke Widgery - Mr. Docksey, of the _Record_.

_Man_: Delighted.

_Priest_: Delighted.

_Woman_: Now, Father Luke, I've just _got_ to come to your sermon
to-morrow. What's it about?

_Priest_: Modern vice.

_Woman_: How charming! I read the last one - it was lovely.

_Priest_: Unless you have a ticket you'll never be able to get in.

_Woman_: But I must get in. I'll come to the vestry door, if there is a
vestry door at St. Bede's.

_Priest_: It's impossible. You've no idea of the crush. And I've no

_Woman_: Oh yes, you have! You have me.

_Priest_: In my church, fashionable women must take their chance with
the rest.

_Woman_: How horrid you are.

_Priest_: Perhaps. I may tell you, Miss Cohenson, that I've seen two
duchesses standing at the back of the aisle of St. Bede's, and glad to

_Woman_: But _I_ shan't flatter you by standing at the back of your
aisle, and you needn't think it. Haven't I given you a box before now?

_Priest_: I only accepted the box as a matter of duty; it is part of my
duty to go everywhere.

_Man_: Come with me, Miss Cohenson. I've got two tickets for the

_Woman_: Oh, so you do send seats to the press?

_Priest_: The press is different. Waiter, bring me half a bottle of

_Waiter_: Half a bottle of Heidsieck? Yes, sir.

_Woman_: Heidsieck. Well, I like that. _We're_ dieting.

_Priest: I_ don't like Heidsieck. But I'm dieting too. It's my doctor's
orders. Every night before retiring. It appears that my system needs it.
Maria Lady Rowndell insists on giving me a hundred a year to pay for it.
It is her own beautiful way of helping the good cause. Ice, please,
waiter. I've just been seeing her to-night. She's staying here for the
season. Saves her a lot of trouble. She's very much cut up about the
death of Priam Farll, poor thing! So artistic, you know! The late Lord
Rowndell had what is supposed to be the finest lot of Farlls in England.

_Man_: Did you ever meet Priam Farll, Father Luke?

_Priest_: Never. I understand he was most eccentric. I hate
eccentricity. I once wrote to him to ask him if he would paint a Holy
Family for St. Bede's.

_Man_: And what did he reply?

_Priest_: He didn't reply. Considering that he wasn't even an R.A., I
don't think that it was quite nice of him. However, Maria Lady Rowndell
insists that he must be buried in Westminster Abbey. She asked me what I
could do.

_Woman_: Buried in Westminster Abbey! I'd no idea he was so big as all
that! Gracious!

_Priest_: I have the greatest confidence in Maria Lady Rowndell's taste,
and certainly I bear no grudge. I may be able to arrange something. My
uncle the Dean - -

_Man_: Pardon me. I always understood that since you left the Church - -

_Priest_: Since I joined the Church, you mean. There is but one.

_Man_: Church of England, I meant.

_Priest_: Ah!

_Man_: Since you left the Church of England, there had been a breach
between the Dean and yourself.

_Priest_: Merely religious. Besides my sister is the Dean's favourite
niece. And I am her favourite brother. My sister takes much interest in
art. She has just painted a really exquisite tea-cosy for me. Of course
the Dean ultimately settles these questions of national funerals,

At this point the invisible orchestra began to play "God save the King."

_Woman_: Oh! What a bore!

Then nearly all the lights were extinguished.

_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen! Gentlemen, please!

_Priest_: You quite understand, Mr. Docksey, that I merely gave these
family details in order to substantiate my statement that I may be able
to arrange something. By the way, if you would care to have a typescript
of my sermon to-morrow for the _Record_, you can have one by applying at
the vestry.

_Waiter_: Please, gentlemen!

_Man_: So good of you. As regards the burial in Westminster Abbey, I
think that the _Record_ will support the project. I say I _think_.

_Priest_: Maria Lady Rowndell will be grateful.

Five-sixths of the remaining lights went out, and the entire company
followed them. In the foyer there was a prodigious crush of opera
cloaks, silk hats, and cigars, all jostling together. News arrived from
the Strand that the weather had turned to rain, and all the intellect of
the Grand Babylon was centred upon the British climate, exactly as if
the British climate had been the latest discovery of science. As the
doors swung to and fro, the stridency of whistles, the throbbing of
motor-cars, and the hoarse cries of inhabitants of box seats mingled
strangely with the delicate babble of the interior. Then, lo! as by
magic, the foyer was empty save for the denizens of the hotel who could
produce evidence of identity. It had been proved to demonstration, for
the sixth time that week, that in the metropolis of the greatest of
Empires there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Deeply affected by what he had overheard, Priam Farll rose in a lift and
sought his bed. He perceived clearly that he had been among the
governing classes of the realm.

* * * * *


_A Scoop_

Within less than twelve hours after that conversation between members of
the governing classes at the Grand Babylon Hotel, Priam Farll heard the
first deep-throated echoes of the voice of England on the question of
his funeral. The voice of England issued on this occasion through the
mouth of the _Sunday News_, a newspaper which belonged to Lord Nasing,
the proprietor of the _Daily Record_. There was a column in the _Sunday
News_, partly concerning the meeting of Priam Farll and a celebrated
star of the musical comedy stage at Ostend. There was also a leading
article, in which it was made perfectly clear that England would stand
ashamed among the nations, if she did not inter her greatest painter in
Westminster Abbey. Only the article, instead of saying Westminster
Abbey, said National Valhalla. It seemed to make a point of not
mentioning Westminster Abbey by name, as though Westminster Abbey had
been something not quite mentionable, such as a pair of trousers. The
article ended with the word 'basilica,' and by the time you had reached
this majestic substantive, you felt indeed, with the _Sunday News_, that
a National Valhalla without the remains of a Priam Farll inside it,
would be shocking, if not inconceivable.

Priam Farll was extremely disturbed.

On Monday morning the _Daily Record_ came nobly to the support of the
_Sunday News_. It had evidently spent its Sunday in collecting the
opinions of a number of famous men - including three M.P.'s, a banker, a
Colonial premier, a K.C., a cricketer, and the President of the Royal
Academy - as to whether the National Valhalla was or was not a suitable
place for the repose of the remains of Priam Farll; and the unanimous
reply was in the affirmative. Other newspapers expressed the same view.
But there were opponents of the scheme. Some organs coldly inquired what
Priam Farll had _done_ for England, and particularly for the higher life
of England. He had not been a moral painter like Hogarth or Sir Noel
Paton, nor a worshipper of classic legend and beauty like the unique
Leighton. He had openly scorned England. He had never lived in England.
He had avoided the Royal Academy, honouring every country save his own.
And was he such a great painter, after all? Was he anything but a clever
dauber whose work had been forced into general admiration by the efforts
of a small clique of eccentric admirers? Far be it from them, the
organs, to decry a dead man, but the National Valhalla was the National
Valhalla.... And so on.

The penny evening papers were pro-Farll, one of them furiously so. You
gathered that if Priam Farll was not buried in Westminster Abbey the
penny evening papers would, from mere disgust, wipe their boots on Dover
cliffs and quit England eternally for some land where art was
understood. You gathered, by nightfall, that Fleet Street must be a
scene of carnage, full of enthusiasts cutting each other's throats for
the sake of the honour of art. However, no abnormal phenomenon was
superficially observable in Fleet Street; nor was martial law proclaimed
at the Arts Club in Dover Street. London was impassioned by the question
of Farll's funeral; a few hours would decide if England was to be shamed
among the nations: and yet the town seemed to pursue its jog-trot way
exactly as usual. The Gaiety Theatre performed its celebrated nightly
musical comedy, "House Full"; and at Queen's Hall quite a large audience
was collected to listen to a violinist aged twelve, who played like a
man, though a little one, and whose services had been bought for seven
years by a limited company.

The next morning the controversy was settled by one of the _Daily
Record's_ characteristic 'scoops.' In the nature of the case, such
controversies, if they are not settled quickly, settle themselves
quickly; they cannot be prolonged. But it was the _Daily Record_ that
settled this one. The _Daily Record_ came out with a copy of the will of
Priam Farll, in which, after leaving a pound a week for life to his
valet, Henry Leek, Priam Farll bequeathed the remainder of his fortune
to the nation for the building and up-keep of a Gallery of Great
Masters. Priam Farll's own collection of great masters, gradually made
by him in that inexpensive manner which is possible only to the finest
connoisseurs, was to form the nucleus of the Gallery. It comprised, said
the _Record_, several Rembrandts, a Velasquez, six Vermeers, a
Giorgione, a Turner, a Charles, two Cromes, a Holbein. (After Charles
the _Record_ put a note of interrogation, itself being uncertain of the
name.) The pictures were in Paris - had been for many years. The leading
idea of the Gallery was that nothing not absolutely first-class should
be admitted to it. The testator attached two conditions to the bequest.
One was that his own name should be inscribed nowhere in the building,
and the other was that none of his own pictures should be admitted to
the gallery. Was not this sublime? Was not this true British pride? Was
not this magnificently unlike the ordinary benefactor of his country?
The _Record_ was in a position to assert that Priam Farll's estate would
amount to about a hundred and forty thousand pounds, in addition to the
value of the pictures. After that, was anybody going to argue that he
ought not to be buried in the National Valhalla, a philanthropist so
royal and so proudly meek?

The opposition gave up.

Priam Farll grew more and more disturbed in his fortress at the Grand
Babylon Hotel. He perfectly remembered making the will. He had made it
about seventeen years before, after some champagne in Venice, in an hour
of anger against some English criticisms of his work. Yes, English
criticisms! It was his vanity that had prompted him to reply in that
manner. Moreover, he was quite young then. He remembered the youthful
glee with which he had appointed his next-of-kin, whoever they might be,
executors and trustees of the will. He remembered his cruel joy in
picturing their disgust at being compelled to carry out the terms of
such a will. Often, since, he had meant to destroy the will; but
carelessly he had always omitted to do so. And his collection and his
fortune had continued to increase regularly and mightily, and now - well,
there the thing was! Duncan Farll had found the will. And Duncan Farll
would be the executor and trustee of that melodramatic testament.

He could not help smiling, serious as the situation was.

During that day the thing was settled; the authorities spoke; the word
went forth. Priam Farll was to be buried in Westminster Abbey on the
Thursday. The dignity of England among artistic nations had been saved,
partly by the heroic efforts of the _Daily Record_, and partly by the
will, which proved that after all Priam Farll had had the highest
interests of his country at heart.


On the night between Tuesday and Wednesday Priam Farll had not a moment
of sleep. Whether it was the deep-throated voice of England that had
spoken, or merely the voice of the Dean's favourite niece - so skilled in
painting tea-cosies - the affair was excessively serious. For the nation
was preparing to inter in the National Valhalla the remains of just
Henry Leek! Priam's mind had often a sardonic turn; he was assuredly
capable of strange caprices: but even he could not permit an error so
gigantic to continue. The matter must be rectified, and instantly! And
he alone could rectify it. The strain on his shyness would be awful,
would be scarcely endurable. Nevertheless he must act. Quite apart from
other considerations, there was the consideration of that hundred and
forty thousand pounds, which was his, and which he had not the slightest
desire to leave to the British nation. And as for giving his beloved
pictures to the race which adored Landseer, Edwin Long, and Leighton -
the idea nauseated him.

He must go and see Duncan Farll! And explain! Yes, explain that he was
not dead.

Then he had a vision of Duncan Farll's hard, stupid face, and
impenetrable steel head; and of himself being kicked out of the house,
or delivered over to a policeman, or in some subtler way unimaginably
insulted. Could he confront Duncan Farll? Was a hundred and forty
thousand pounds and the dignity of the British nation worth the bearding
of Duncan Farll? No! His distaste for Duncan Farll amounted to more than
a hundred and forty millions of pounds and the dignity of whole planets.
He felt that he could never bring himself to meet Duncan Farll. Why,
Duncan might shove him into a lunatic asylum, might...!

Still he must act.

Then it was that occurred to him the brilliant notion of making a clean
breast of it to the Dean. He had not the pleasure of the Dean's personal
acquaintance. The Dean was an abstraction; certainly much more abstract
than Priam Farll. He thought he could meet the Dean. A terrific
enterprise, but he must accomplish it! After all, a Dean - what was it?
Nothing but a man with a funny hat! And was not he himself Priam Farll,
the authentic Priam Farll, vastly greater than any Dean?

He told the valet to buy black gloves, and a silk hat, sized seven and a
quarter, and to bring up a copy of _Who's Who_. He hoped the valet would
be dilatory in executing these commands. But the valet seemed to fulfill
them by magic. Time flew so fast that (in a way of speaking) you could
hardly see the fingers as they whirled round the clock. And almost
before he knew where he was, two commissionaires were helping him into
an auto-cab, and the terrific enterprise had begun. The auto-cab would
easily have won the race for the Gordon Bennett Cup. It was of about two
hundred h.p., and it arrived in Dean's Yard in less time than a fluent
speaker would take to say Jack Robinson. The rapidity of the flight was
simply incredible.

"I'll keep you," Priam Farll was going to say, as he descended, but he
thought it would be more final to dismiss the machine; so he dismissed

He rang the bell with frantic haste, lest he should run away ere he had
rung it. And then his heart went thumping, and the perspiration damped
the lovely lining of his new hat; and his legs trembled, literally!

He was in hell on the Dean's doorstep.

The door was opened by a man in livery of prelatical black, who eyed
him inimically.

"Er - - " stammered Priam Farll, utterly flustered and craven. "Is this
Mr. Parker's?"

Now Parker was not the Dean's name, and Priam knew that it was not.
Parker was merely the first name that had come into Priam's cowardly

"No, it isn't," said the flunkey with censorious lips. "It's the

"Oh, I beg pardon," said Priam Farll. "I thought it was Mr. Parker's."

And he departed.

Between the ringing of the bell and the flunkey's appearance, he had
clearly seen what he was capable, and what he was incapable, of doing.
And the correction of England's error was among his incapacities. He
could not face the Dean. He could not face any one. He was a poltroon in
all these things; a poltroon. No use arguing! He could not do it.

"I thought it was Mr. Parker's!" Good heavens! To what depths can a
great artist fall.

That evening he received a cold letter from Duncan Farll, with a
nave-ticket for the funeral. Duncan Farll did not venture to be sure
that Mr. Henry Leek would think proper to attend his master's interment;
but he enclosed a ticket. He also stated that the pound a week would be
paid to him in due course. Lastly he stated that several newspaper
representatives had demanded Mr. Henry Leek's address, but he had not
thought fit to gratify this curiosity.

Priam was glad of that.

"Well, I'm dashed!" he reflected, handling the ticket for the nave.

There it was, large, glossy, real as life.

_In the Valhalla_

In the vast nave there were relatively few people - that is to say, a few
hundred, who had sufficient room to move easily to and fro under the
eyes of officials. Priam Farll had been admitted through the cloisters,
according to the direction printed on the ticket. In his nervous fancy,
he imagined that everybody must be gazing at him suspiciously, but the
fact was that he occupied the attention of no one at all. He was with
the unprivileged, on the wrong side of the massive screen which

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