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Harper & Brothers




[Illustration: colophon]



Copyright, 1920, by Harper & Brothers
Printed in the United States of America
Published September, 1920


_My dear Fay._

_For several reasons I am anxious to inscribe this book to you. Unless
somehow or other I safeguard you publicly, you are liable to be accused
by gossip of having written it, an accusation that both you and I might
be justified in resenting. Many people suppose that you wrote an earlier
novel of mine called_ Carnival, _which, were it true, would make you out
to be considerably older than you are, since I take it that even your
precocity, though it did run to marriage at the age of seventeen (or was
it sixteen?), would hardly have allowed you to write_ Carnival _at the
same age. One day, if Mr. Matheson Lang will allow me to use my own
title - at present he is using it for a play that he and somebody else
have adapted from an Italian original - you may act the part of Jenny
Pearl; but that is as near as you will ever get to her creation. Then
lately a young gentleman wrote to ask me if I would inform him whether
the generally accepted theory that you had written the first two
chapters of_ Sinister Street _had any existence in fact. So you see, I
do not exaggerate when I say that you are liable to be credited with_
The Vanity Girl. _Equally I should not like gossip to pretend that the
heroine if not drawn by you was certainly drawn from you; and though any
friend of yours or mine would laugh at such a suggestion, it is just as
well to kill the cacklers before they lay their eggs. But the chief
reason for inscribing this book to you is my desire to record, however
inadequately, what pleasure and pride, dear Fay, your charm, your
talents, your beauty, and success have given to_

_Your affectionate brother,_

_Compton Mackenzie._

_Capri_, August 4, 1919.


_The Vanity Girl_



West Kensington relies for romance more upon the eccentricities of
individual residents than upon any variety or suggestiveness in the
scenery of its streets, which indeed are mostly mere lines of uniform
gray or red houses drearily elongated by constriction. Yet the suburb is
too near to London for some relics of a former rusticity not to have
survived; and it is refreshing for the casual observer of a city's
growth to find here and there a row of old cottages, here and there a
Georgian house rising from sooty flower-gardens and shadowed by rusty
cedars, occasionally even an open space of building land, among the
weeds of which ragged hedgerows and patches of degenerate oats still

How Lonsdale Road, where the Caffyns lived, should have come to obtrude
itself upon the flimsy architecture of the neighborhood is not so
obvious. Situated near what used to be the western terminus of the old
brown-and-blue horse-omnibuses, it is a comparatively wide road of
detached, double-fronted, three-storied, square houses (so square that
after the rows of emaciated residences close by they seem positively
squat), built at least thirty years before anybody thought of following
the District Railway out here. Each front door is overhung by a heavy
portico, the stout pillars of which, painted over and over again
according to the purse and fancy of the owner, vary in color from shades
of glossy blue and green to drabs and buffs and dingy ivories. The
steps, set some ten yards back from the pavement, are flanked by
well-grown shrubs; the ground floor is partially below the level of the
street, but there are no areas, and only a side entrance marked
"Tradesmen" seems to acknowledge the existence of a more humble world.

There are thirty-six houses in Lonsdale Road, not one of which makes any
sharper claim for distinction than is conferred by the number plainly
marked upon the gas-lamp suspended from the ceiling of its portico. Here
are no "Bellevues" or "Ben Lomonds" to set the neighborhood off upon the
follies of competitive nomenclature; and although at the back of each
house a large oblong garden contains a much better selection of trees
and flowering shrubs than the average suburban garden, not even the mild
pretentiousness of an appropriate arboreal name is tolerated. Away from
the traffic of the main street with its toy dairies and dolls' shops,
its omnibuses and helter-skelter of insignificant pedestrians, Lonsdale
Road comes to an abrupt end before a tumble-down tarred fence that
guards some allotments beside the railway, on the other side of which a
high rampart with the outline of cumulus marks the reverse of the
panoramic boundary of Earl's Court Exhibition. The road is a
thoroughfare for hawkers, policemen, and lovers, because a narrow lane
follows the line of the tumble-down fence, leading on one side to the
hinterland of West Kensington railway station and on the other gradually
widening into a terrace of small red-brick houses, the outworks of
similar terraces beyond. Why anybody at least fifty years ago should
have built in what must then have been open country or nursery gardens
along the North End Road these thirty-six porticoed houses remains
inexplicable. Whoever it was may fairly be honored as one of the
founders of West Kensington, perhaps second only to the one who divined
that by getting it called West Kensington instead of East Fulham or
South Hammersmith, and so maintaining in the minds of the professional
classes a consciousness of their gentility, he was doing as much for the
British Empire as if he had exploited their physique in a new colony.

With whatever romance one might be tempted to embellish the origin of
Lonsdale Road on account of an architectural superiority to the streets
around, it would be fanciful merely for that to endow it with any
influence upon the character of the people who live there. Apart from a
house where the drains are bad, that has achieved the reputation of
being haunted, because the landlord prefers to let it stay empty rather
than spend money on putting the drains in order, Lonsdale Road possesses
as unromantic a lot of residences as the most banal of West Kensington
streets. The nearest approach to a scandal is the way human beings and
cats go courting in the lane at the end; but since the former do not
live in Lonsdale Road and the latter are not amenable to any ethical
code administered by the police, the residents do not feel the burden of
a moral responsibility for their behavior.

Such a dignified road within seven minutes of the railway station had in
the year 1881 made a strong appeal to Mr. Gilbert Caffyn, who, having
just been appointed assistant secretary to the Church of England Purity
Society at the early age of twenty-six, with a salary of £150 a year,
was emboldened by his father's death and the inheritance of another £200
a year in brewery shares to persuade Miss Charlotte Doyle that their
marriage was immediately feasible. Mr. Caffyn had been all the more
anxious to press for a happy conclusion of a two years' engagement
because Mrs. Doyle was showing every sign of imminent decease, an event
which would eliminate a traditionally unsatisfactory relationship and
enrich her daughter with £300 a year of her own. Mr. Caffyn therefore
sold a quarter of his shares, purchased a ninety-nine years' lease of
17 Lonsdale Road, the last house on the right-hand side away from the
growing traffic of West Kensington, and got married. If No. 17 was
nearest the railway, it was also rather larger than the other houses, an
important consideration for the assistant secretary of the Church of
England Purity Society, who was bound to expect at least as many
children as a clergyman. Still, for all its extra windows, it was not a
very large house; and when in the year 1902 Mr. Caffyn, now secretary of
the Church of England Purity Society, with a salary of £400 a year,
looked at his wife, his nine children, his two servants, and himself, he
wondered how they all managed to squeeze in. He hoped that his wife, who
had been mercifully fallow for seven years, would not have any more
children, though it might almost be easier to have more children than to
provide for the rapid growing up of those he had already. Why, his
eldest son Roland was twenty. The question of his moving into cheap
rooms to suit his position as the earner of a guinea a week at a branch
bank had been mooted several times already, and Mr. Caffyn had been
compelled to turn his study (which he never used) into a bedroom for him
and his brother Cecil, now a lanky schoolboy of fifteen, rather than
expose himself to the likelihood of having to supplement the bank
clerk's salary from his own. Then there was Norah, who was eighteen ...
but at this moment Mr. Caffyn realized that he had only eight minutes to
catch his train up to Blackfriars, and the problem of Norah was put
aside. It was a hot morning in late September, and he had long ceased to
enjoy running to catch a train.

The departure of the head of the house shortly after his eldest son was
followed by Cecil's hulking off to St. James's with half a dozen books
under his arm, then by Agnes's and Edna's chattering down the road like
a pair of wagtails to their school, and last of all by Vincent's
apprehensive scamper to his school. In comparison with the noise during
breakfast, the house was quiet; but Dorothy, the second girl, was
fussing in the pantry, and Mrs. Caffyn was fussing in the dining-room,
while Gladys and Marjorie, two very pretty children of eight and seven,
were reiterating appeals to be allowed to play in the front garden. All
these noises, added to the noises made by the servants about their
household duties, seemed an indication to Norah Caffyn that she ought to
take advantage of such glorious weather to wash her hair. She withdrew
to the room shared with Dorothy and, having promised her mother to keep
an eye on the children, devoted all her attention to herself. She set
about the business of washing her hair with the efficiency she applied
to everything personal; it used to annoy her second sister that, while
she showed herself so practical in self-adornment, she would always be
so wantonly obtuse about household affairs.

"I believe you make muddles on purpose," her sister used to declare.

"I don't want to be domestic, if that's what you mean," Norah would

"Wasting your time always in front of a glass!"

"Sour grapes, my dear! If your hair waved like mine you'd look at
yourself often enough."

But this morning Dorothy was making a cake, and Norah was able to linger
affectionately over the shampoo, safe from her jealous sneers. When she
had dried away with a towel enough of the unbecoming lankness she went
over to the open window to recapture from the rich September sun the
gold that should flash among her fawn-soft hair. Down below among the
laurels and privets of the front garden her two youngest sisters were
engaged upon some grubby and laborious task which, though they looked
like two fat white rabbits, did not involve, so far as Norah could see,
without leaning out of the window, any actual burrowing; and she was
much too pleasantly occupied with her own thoughts to take the risk of
having to interfere. She had propped against the frame of the wide-open
window a looking-glass in which she was admiring herself; but the mirror
was not enough, and she often glanced over with a toss of her head to
the houses opposite, whence the retired colonel in No. 18 or the young
heir of No. 16 might perhaps be able to admire her, too. But Norah was
not only occupied in contemplating the beauty of her light-brown hair;
she was equally engaged with her heart's desire. For the ninth time in
two years she was deep in love, this time so deep indeed that she was
trying to bring her mind to bear seriously upon the future and the
problem of convincing her father that the affection she had for Wilfred
Curlew was something far beyond the capacity of a schoolgirl presented
itself anew for urgent solution. Yesterday, when her suitor had joined
the family in the dining-room after supper, her father had looked at him
with an expression of most discouraging surprise; if he should visit
them again to-night, as he probably would, her father might pass from
discouraging glances to disagreeable remarks, and might even attempt,
when Wilfred was gone, to declare positively that he visited Lonsdale
Road too often. Intolerable though it was that she at eighteen should
still be exposed to the caprice of paternal taboos, it was obvious that
until she made the effort to cut herself free from these antiquated
leading-strings she should remain in subjection.

Norah regarded the not very costly engagement-ring of intertwined
pansies bedewed with diminutive diamonds. In her own room this ring
always adorned the third finger of her left hand, and while she was
about the house during the day the third finger of her right hand; but
when her father came back from the city it had to be concealed, with old
letters and dance programs and moldering flowers, in a basket of girlish
keepsakes, the key of which was continually being left on her
dressing-table and causing her moments of acute anxiety in the middle
of supper. If it was not a valuable ring, it was much the prettiest she
had ever possessed, and it seemed to Norah monstrous that a father
should have the power to banish such a token of seniority from the
admiration of the world. What would happen if after supper to-night she
announced her engagement? Some time or other in the future of family
events one of the daughters would have to announce her engagement, and
who more suitable than herself, the eldest daughter? Was there, after
all, so much to be afraid of in her father? Was not this tradition of
his fierceness sedulously maintained by her mother for her own
protection? When she looked back at the past, Norah could see plainly
enough how all these years the mother had hoodwinked her children into
respecting the head of the family. He might not be conspicuously less
worthy of reverence than the fathers of many other families she knew,
but he was certainly not conspicuously more worthy of it. The romantic
devotion their mother exacted for him might have been accorded to a
parent who resembled George Alexander or Lewis Waller! But as he
was - rather short than tall (he was the same height as herself), fussy
(the daily paper must remain folded all day while he was at the office,
so that he could be helped first to the news as he was helped first to
everything else), mean (how could she possibly dress herself on an
allowance of £6 5s. a quarter?) - such a parent was not entitled to
dispose of his daughter; a daughter was not a newspaper to be kept
folded up for his gratification.

"For I am beautiful," she assured her reflection. "It's not conceit on
my part. Even my girl friends admit that I'm beautiful - yes, beautiful,
not just pretty. Father ought to be jolly grateful to have such a
beautiful daughter. I'm sure _he_ has no right to expect beautiful

A figure moved like a shadow in the depths of one of the rooms in the
house opposite, and Norah leaned a little farther out of the window to
catch more sunbeams for her hair; but when the figure came into full
view she was disgusted to find it was only the servant, who flapped a
duster and withdrew without a glance at herself. "If father persists in
keeping me hidden away in West Kensington," she grumbled, "he can't
expect me to marry a duke. No, I'm eighteen, and I'll marry Wilfred - at
least I'll marry him when he can afford to be married, but meanwhile I
_will_ be engaged. I'm tired of all this deception." Norah was pondering
the virtue of frankness, when she heard a step behind her and, turning
round, saw her mother's wonted expression of anxiety and mild

"Oh well," said Norah, quickly, to anticipate the reproach on her lips,
"this is the only place I can dry my hair. And, mother, I can't wait any
longer to be engaged to Wilfred. I'm going to have it out with father

Mrs. Caffyn looked frightened, which was what Norah intended, for she
felt in no mood to argue the propriety of sitting at an open window with
her hair down, and had deliberately introduced the larger issue.

"My dear child, I hope you will do nothing of the kind. Father has been
very worried during the last month by that horrid theater advertisement
which upset Canon Wilbraham so much, and he won't be at all in the right

Norah sighed patiently, avoided pouting, because she had been warned by
a girl friend whose opinion she valued against spoiling the shape of her
mouth, and with a shrug of her shoulders turned away and went on
brushing her hair.

"My dear child," Mrs. Caffyn began, deprecatingly.

"Oh well, I can't sit in any other room! Besides, the kids are playing
down below, and I can't keep an eye on them from anywhere else as well
as I can from here."

"Playing in the front garden?" repeated Mrs. Caffyn, anxiously.
Anything positive done by any of her children always made her anxious,
and she hurried across to the window to call down to them. The two
little girls had managed to smear themselves from head to foot with
grimy garden-mold, and most unreasonably Mrs. Caffyn could not see that
their grubbiness was of no importance compared with the question of
whether Norah's hair was not always exactly the color of mignonette
buds. She began to admonish them from the window, and they defended
themselves against her reproaches by calling upon their eldest sister to
testify that what they had done they had done with her acquiescence,
since she had not uttered a word against their behavior. Norah declared
that she could not possibly go down-stairs without undoing all the good
of her shampoo, and in the end Mrs. Caffyn, after ringing ineffectually
for her second daughter or one of the servants, had to go down herself
and rescue Gladys and Marjorie from the temptations of the front garden.

"Thank Heaven for a little peace," sighed Norah to herself. She sat
there in a delicious paradise of self-esteem and, looking at herself in
the glass, was so much thrilled in the contemplation of her own beauty
that she forgot all about her engagement, all about the lack of
spectators, all about everything except the way her features conformed
to what in women she most admired. She thought compassionately of her
mother's faded fairness, and wondered with a frown of esthetic concern
why her mother's face was so downy. If her own chin began to show signs
of fluffing over like that, she would spend her last halfpenny on
removing hairs that actually in some lights glistened like a smear of
honey; luckily there was nothing in her own face that she wanted to
change. Her mother must have been pretty once, but never more than
pretty, because she had blue eyes. How glad she was that with her light
hair went deep brown eyes instead of commonplace blue eyes, and that
her mouth instead of being rather full and indefinite was a firm bow
the beauty of which did not depend upon the freshness of youth. Not that
she need fear even the far-off formidable thirties with such a
complexion and such teeth. Apart from superfluous hairs her mother's
complexion was still good, and even her father had white teeth. Her own
nose, straight and small, was neither so straight nor so small as to be
insipid, and her chin, tapering exquisitely, was cleft, not dimpled.
Dimples seemed to Norah vulgar, and she could not imagine why they were
ever considered worthy of admiration. No, with all her perfection of
color and form she was mercifully free from the least suggestion of
"dolliness"; she was too tall, and had much too good a figure ever to
run any risk of that.

"I'm really more beautiful even than I thought, now that I'm looking at
myself very critically. And, of course, I shall get more beautiful,
especially when I've found out what way my hair suits me best. I shall
make all sorts of experiments with it. There's bound to be one way that
suits me better than others, if only it isn't too unfashionable. I
suppose father hopes secretly that I shall make a brilliant marriage,
because even he must realize that I am exceptionally beautiful."

She played condescendingly with the notion of being able to announce
that she was engaged to a viscount, and imagined with what awe the
family would receive the news.

"However, that's my affair," she decided. "It's not likely father will
bring back a viscount to supper. Besides, I'm not mercenary, and if I
choose to love a poor man I will. My looks were given to me, not to
father, and if he thinks he's going to get the benefit of them he's made
a great mistake."

Norah's meditations were suddenly interrupted by the entrance of her
sister Dorothy, a dark, pleasant, practical girl of sixteen, who was
already so much interested in household affairs that Norah feared her
indifference to dress was due to something more than immaturity, was
indeed the outcome of an ineradicable propensity toward dowdiness.

"I wish you wouldn't burst into rooms like that," she protested,

But Dorothy only hummed round the room in search of what she was looking
for, and paid no more attention to her elder sister than a bee would
have done.

"And if you've got to come up-stairs to our room when you're in the
middle of cooking," Norah went on, "you might at least wipe your hands
and your arms first. You're covering everything with flour," she

"That's better than covering it with powder," retorted Dorothy.

"What a silly remark!"

"Is it, my dear? Sorry the cap fits so well."

Norah turned away from this obtrusive sister in disdain, asking herself
for perhaps the thousandth time what purpose in life she was possibly
intended to serve. Apart from the fact that she was dark and distinctly
not even good-looking, there seemed no excuse for Dorothy's existence,
and Norah made up her mind that she would not bother any more about
trying to make her dress with good taste; it simply was not worth while.

"Eureka!" cried Dorothy, triumphantly waving an egg-beater.

"What a disgusting thing to leave in a bedroom!" Norah exclaimed.

Her sister courtesied exasperatingly in the doorway for answer, and
before Norah could say another word was charging down the stairs three
at a time in a series of diminishing thuds.

Norah turned back, with a shudder for her sister's savagery, to the
contemplation of her own hair. In a revulsion against the indecency of
family life she resolved firmly that, whatever the fuss, she would be
engaged to Wilfred Curlew immediately, and that Wilfred himself must at
all costs quickly accumulate enough money to enable her to marry him and
escape from this den of sisters and brothers and parents.

"If father had only one child, or perhaps two, he might be entitled to
interference with our private lives; but when he's got nine, he must
expect us to look after ourselves. It's bad enough now when Cecil,
Agnes, Edna, and Vincent are all at school and out of the way, at any
rate for some of the time, but what will it be like in a few years?"

Norah shrank from the prospect of that overpopulated future for which
the temporary emptiness of Lonsdale Road was no consolation, and,
removing the mirror from the window-sill, she sat down at her
dressing-table and devoted herself to the adjustment of the arcuated pad
of mock hair that was an indispensable adjunct to the pompadour style
then in vogue.

Norah had just succeeded in achieving what was hitherto her most
successful effort with the pompadour when she heard somebody whistling
for her from the pavement; going to the window, she saw that it was her
friend, Lily Haden, whom she had known and hated at school two years
ago, but whom now, by one of those unaccountably abrupt changes of
feminine predilection, she liked very much. The new intimacy had only
lately been begotten out of a chance rencounter, and perhaps it would
never have been born if Roland, her eldest brother, had not condemned
Lily from the altitude of his twenty-year-old priggishness and found in

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