Philip H Gibbs.

Oliver's kind women online

. (page 1 of 22)
Online LibraryPhilip H GibbsOliver's kind women → online text (page 1 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

• .»


• * i

-* m



Suddenly a hand was placed upon his arm, and a voice said
" Oliver I . . . Oliver Luniley I " — p. 399.

OLIVER'S Kind Women


Philip Gibbs



All Rights Reservec


i \





Rash Youth ».

Love on the Common




A Man of Letters

... 17


Father and Son

... 23


The Touch of Chivalry

... 29


The Lady Bountiful

... 37


The Price of a Meal

... 44


Men of the Empire

... 48


The Bohemians

... 52


A Letter to a Lady

... 67


The Old Home

... 71


Maids and Men

... 76


The Generous Heart

... 84


Humiliation of a Young Gentleman

... q2





A Lady of Quality


Mental Arithmetic


The House in Pont Street


In Disguise


A Pageant of History


An Accusation


The Charity of Women


Gay Adventures


Deliberate Insults


The End of an Idyll


In the Enemy's Camp


Sharp Arrows


The Fugitive


The Threshold of Fate


Virginia Garland


A Cockney in the Woods


Rural Society


The Garden of Peace


The Beggar-Man


The Wonderful News






A Warning

... 296


Husband and Wife

... 302


A Country Gentleman

... 306


The Unveiled Soul

... 311


Poor Relations

... 321


The Broken Image

... 327


Haunting Fear

... 338


The Father of the Girl

... 345


The Blackmailers

... 348


The Outcast

... 355


Philosophy of the Old School

... 369


The Bitter Cup

... 376


Nearing the End

... 387


The Rescue

... 397


Two Women

... 409


The Return ^

... 419



Rash Touth

MR. OLIVER LUMLEY was a young man
of promise. He had good looks (in the
mid-Victorian era he would have been
called " Byronic "), good health, brains, a tempera-
ment, an ambition, and a spirit of adventure.

If I were still a young man I should pray the
good fairies to give me those qualities. With these
natural gifts the world seems an easy thing to con-
quer. With such an outfit a young man of twenty-
three (Oliver Lumley was just on the verge of
that) should travel far and fare well. Good looks
and a gay heart are master-keys to open the gates
of life. For a handsome young man with a fine
clear-cut face and lips that soften quickly to a
smile may be shabbily dressed, ma}^ have no money
to jingle in his pockets, may have no settled
position in the world, but women will turn their
heads his way and speak a word for him in good
places, and grant a request which from a plain
fellow, or from a man not ugly enough to be in-
teresting, would be flouted. Therefore the first gate-

2 Oliver's Kind Women

way on the path to progress is unlocked to him, for
women guard many doors of the world's treasure-
houses, and as the old saying is, kissing goes by
favour. So young Mr. Oliver Lumley had unusual
chances, for that he was a handsome lad few men
denied, and no woman.

I have said that he had ambition, temperament,
and a spirit of adventure. By ambition I do not
mean that he aspired to be a millionaire or a Prime
Minister. In spite of youth he had set himself
limits, and they were well within the bounds of
moderation. In the Wastrel Club (of Greek Street,
Soho), where once a week he sat with a few of his
kindred spirits, he said more than once, through
a haze of tobacco smoke, " My friends, I intend
to be satisfied with ;^i,500 a year. I should loathe
to be really rich. It smothers one's idealism. One
becomes a slave in gilded chains."

At this time he was earning, irregularly, and
with luck, about sixty shillings a week. His friends
praised his moderation. Happening one night to
be two gentlemen who had just been called to the
Bar, they had their eyes on a future in which it
would be easy enough to pick up a good many
thousands a year, with a judgeship or an Attorney-
generalship as a quiet and remunerative rest-cure
after they had borne the heat and burden of the

" Roly," said one of these newly called barristers,
trying to find the way to his o\\4n mouth with the

Rash Youth 3

stem of a churchwarden pipe (churchwardens were
traditional in the Wastrels), and nearly putting
out his left eye, with which he regarded his friend
solemnly, while his other was half closed, " Roly,
my boy, I think you are making a rotten, silly
mistake with yourself, if I may say so as man to
man. Forgive me, dear old chap, but why not
abandon the flighty ways of that fickle jade — er —
the Muse of Literature — what the deuce did she
call herself? — and go in for the Law? The Law,
old friend ! Mighty fat in good things ! Plenty
of pickings, especially for a man of presence !
You've got presence, Roly. Good-looking young
buck, don't you know ! All right with a wig on
your noddle."

Oliver Lumley laughed, and traced his initials
with the stem of a broken churchwarden in a
puddle of whisky on the deal table (deal tables
were also part of the tradition at the Wastrels).

"The Law? No, thanks, old fellow. I'm a Man
of Letters. I've got a temperament."

It was perfectly true that he had a temperament.
It is the story of that temperament which this
book will endeavour to set down. I have not a
very clear idea as to the meaning of the word —
it is sometimes used by those who dislike the
drudgery of life ; but if it means a character not
to be fastened down to squalid duties and hum-
drum tasks, Oliver Lumley had got it.

How and why are puzzles to me. By what

4 Oliver's Kind Women

strange throw-back of heredity, by what psycho-
logical or physiological conditions a child with a
temperament had been born to a City clerk mated
to a woman who was the sixth daughter of a
Nonconformist minister in Peckham, is one of
those problems which cry out for the scientist.
A mere literary man is unable to form even a
guess. But the fact was there in Oliver Lumley,
second son of Richard Lumley, of Cutter &
Bodger, Mincing Lane, E.C., and of 33, Rosemary
Avenue, Denmark Hill, S.E.

Horace, the eldest son, had no temperament
whatever. At the Camberwell Grammar School
he was the model boy, on conventional lines ; at
the age of eighteen he had been appointed the
juniorest junior in the Comet Assurance Company;
at the age of twenty-six he was getting the respect-
able salary of £go per annum, and was a good,
quiet, steady fellow, fond of reading during the
evenings at home, devoted, in his unemotional,
reserved waj^, to his mother and father, and with
a soft corner in his heart for his sister, Galatea,
who was a typist in a City office. Horace had
always admired Oliver, for the very qualities which
he himself lacked, and especially for his spirit of
adventure ; but though they had been bedfellows
for almost twenty years, he did not understand the
brother whom he loved.

For Oliver had baffled all his people at home.
Richard Lumley, the father, had year after year

Rash Youth 5

studied the annual reports brought home by his
boys from school, and always an anxious look
had crept into his grey eyes. Horace was nearly
always top of his class, Oliver nearly always at
the bottom. " Very bad at arithmetic " ; " Ex-
tremely negligent of his home-lessons " ; " Utterly
unmethodical"; "High-spirited, but headstrong,"
were phrases familiar to an anxious father.

" My dear," said Richard Lumley to his wife,
year after year, when these reports were brought
home, " what shall we do with Oliver ? Horace
never gives me a moment's anxiety. He will
be a comfort to us in our old age. But Oliver —
he is very wild, very unsteady. I fear the poor
boy will find it hard to settle down into the collar
of life."

" I wish there were no collar," said Mrs. Lumley,
during one of these quiet talks between husband
and wife. She put down the stocking she was
knitting, and stared down at the red tablecloth,
on which many blots of ink had been spilt. " Why
should my dear, high-spirited boy be put into the
collar ? Why should he have the spirit crushed
out of him by the awful drudgery of office
work ? "

She spoke quietly, but there was a queer vibra-
tion in her voice.

Richard Lumley lifted his eyes from his book.
He was reading " The Mill on the Floss," for the
sixth time.

6 Oliver's Kind Women

" Duty, darling," he said. " England expects —
you know the rest."

" Duty! " said Mrs. Lumley. Her cheeks flushed,
and the colour gave to her worn face a trace of
that charm which had suggested her title of " The
Rose of the Rye," to a descriptive reporter at the
Peckham bazaar in aid of her father's chapel,
twenty years ago.

" I hate that word. It is so cruel. It has made
slaves of you and me. It is always duty, duty,
from morning till night. And then the children
grow up, and they too will have to do their duty.
Gradually they will lose all their freshness — Horace
is already so pale that he frightens me ; they will
come home tired after a long day in a stuffy office,
and they will become like you, Dick, not a man,
but — a City clerk. Oh, that City ! I hope to God
Oliver will escape it ! It is deadening ! "

Richard Lumley had laid down his book, seeing
that the bookmarker was in its place. He was
staring at his wife, with a startled look on his
face. At her last words a wave of colour mounted
from his thin neck, with its rather prominent
Adam's apple, to the forehead, made high by the
hair having worn away in front. His thin lips
tightened, the nostrils quivered. Into the grey
eyes, which ordinarily gazed out upon the world
with mild tranquillity, there crept a glint of anger.

" Alice, your words have hurt. Am I not a man ?
Have I been deadened?"

Rash Youth 7

His wife put a hand across the table and stroked
one of his.

" I did not mean that. But I mean that Oliver
is too full of life and restlessness to be tamed into
a City clerk."

Unintentionally she had made her words more
stinging by that " tamed," and her husband winced
as though she had pricked him with one of her
needles. He opened his book and pretended to go
on with his reading.

" Yes, I suppose I have been ' tamed.' But it
has been in the service of my wife and children.
. . . And the reward ? Your boy Oliver has all
your heart, and I have none of it."

That was a reproach he had made several times,
and in later years Mrs. Lumley became familiar
with it. A husband must always have one stand-
ing grievance for use in defence and attack. There
was truth in it too, which made it more effective ;
for though Mrs. Lumley was patient with a rather
querulous husband, and devoted to Horace and
Galatea, it was for Oliver that she put by little
savings stinted from the housekeeping money ; it
was Oliver who with a kiss and a hug could be-
witch her into giving consent after any denial ; it
was Oliver, rising year by year into a tall lad with
wavy black hair and the fine profile of a Greek
statue, who was nearly always in her thoughts,
always in her prayers, and often in her dreams.
She had told the only lies of her life to save him

8 Oliver's Kind Women

from scrapes in and out of school and from his
father's eloquence of reproach. Once she had sold
a few of her little trinkets (without Richard's know-
ledge and consent) to pay some debts incurred by
Oliver at a confectioner's shop in Denmark Hill.
The young rogue at sixteen years of age had
bewitched the girl across the counter, who had let
him go tick until the old lady who kept the shop
demanded instant settlement of the account. Mrs.
Lumley had wept over that episode in Oliver's
career, for she could not square it with her own
principles of morality.

" Oliver, my dearest boy, debt is the devil's trap.
Your father and I have never owed a penny in the
world. Promise me you will never get into debt

He promised, on his solemn word of honour,
and then gave an entertaining account of old
Mrs. Tufton when she threatened "to tell his poor
ma of all his carryings on."

Mrs. Lumley laughed in spite of her sorrow at
his sinfulness — "you know it was really wicked of
you, Oliver," she said — and, in return for his pledge
of honour never, never to get into debt again, she
readily gave a promise when the boy said, " Look
here, mother mine, don't you let on to the
governor." For the truth was that the one man
in the world of whom Oliver Lumley had a little
fear was his father, whose principles on Duty and
Honour were as fixed as the Pole star, whose

Rash Youth 9

mild eyes could look unutterable reproach, and
who had constant suspicion of his second son's
innate wildness and wantonness.

That suspicion was confirmed when at twenty
years of age Oliver, who had spent two miserable,
restless, and irritable years in a solicitor's office,
came home one night with the news that he had
got "the sack."

" And a jolly good job too, for I would rather
starve to death than put up with such hideous

That was how he took his dismissal ; and, as
though a great burden had been lifted from his
shoulders, he was in a prankish mood that night —
gibed at Horace as a solemn old dog who was
destined to live and die a bachelor, shocked his
father, mother, and sister by discoursing rather
wildly upon liberty and love, and at an early hour
went whistling to his room, where he read in bed
till midnight. Then his mother, who had been
lying still in her own bed listening for his footsteps
to cross the floor on his way to the gas-bracket,
came out of her room and tapped at his door.

" Fut out your light, my dear boy. It is time
you went to sleep. And it is such a waste of

He called her : " Mother mine ! "

She opened the door in her blue dressing-gown,
and stood by his bedside looking down at him as
he sat up with his head propped against a pillow

lo Oliver's Kind Women

and a book on his knees, and a pipe on a little
table by his side.

"It is so dangerous to smoke in bed ! You know
how father dislikes it."

" The governor dislikes such a lot of things I

He held his arms out to his mother, and she
bent down and kissed him on the forehead. She
marvelled at the splendour of his beauty as he lay
there with the collar of his night-shirt open at the
throat and with his wavy black hair against the
white pillow.

" I'm as chirpy as a cricket to-night. No more
City slush for me, mother ! "

" What are you going to do, Oliver ? Your
father cannot afford to keep you. We are miser-
ably poor. Your earnings were a help. . . ."

" That's all right. I'm going to earn pots of
money. You'll be driving in your own motor
before you know where you are."

She half believed him, and was half afraid.

" Nothing rash, Oliver, I hope ? "

" Rash ? " he chuckled. " Perhaps. Anyhow,
I'm going to have a shot at literature."

She did not understand him. Literature was a
vague, meaningless word to her as a method of
making money.

" Tell me about it," she said, and he laughed and
told her to put out the light.

" Go away and sleep, little mother, while I

Rash Youth ii

think out my plans. I'm going to make the
family fortune. Isn't that good enough for your
dreams ? "

He called her back as she went over to the gas-

" Mother, do you know how beautiful you
are ? "

" Oliver, what nonsense ! "

She blushed like a girl who has been flattered
by her sweetheart.

" Honour bright ! "

She put out the light, and he heard her blow
a kiss to him in the darkness and creep out of the

" I'd like to make a success, for her sake," said
Oliver Lumley aloud in the darkness. Then he
snuggled down in bed and slept immediately.


Love on the Common

Oliver's success did not come quickly. He spent
a year at home, borrowing his brother's trousers
when his own became too frayed at the edges and
too baggy at the knees, getting sixpence a day
from his mother to buy tobacco, with an occasional
half-crown from Horace for an evening at the
theatre, and now and again receiving a sovereign
from his father, which, in Oliver's own phrase, came
in " devilish handy."

His father became gloomy and despondent at
the sight of his son at home. There were times
when they quarrelled with hot words because
Oliver refused obstinately to answer advertisements
for junior clerkships, which his father cut out of
the morning papers and gave him in the evening.
Horace had pessimistic moods, when he told Oliver
with brotherly candour that he was a lazy young
devil and would inevitably go to the dogs. Galatea
jibed at him continually as a ne'er-do-weel, and
even his mother gazed at him with anxious eyes
and asked him once a month whether he was right
to go on like this.

" Quite right," said Oliver cheerfully. " Don't

Love on the Common 13

you worry, and all will be well. Am / worry-

He was not. He. kept up his spirits amazingly
well, though occasionally he had moments of
passion, when he reproached his family for their
lack of faith in such wild and whirling words that
his mother went white to the lips and Galatea
crimsoned to the tips of her ears.

All this time Oliver was in training for the sub-
lime career of a Man of Letters. His studies were
made chiefly in the Public Library, where he read
through an immense number of short stories in the
magazines, and observed human nature as exhibited
by the young ladies sitting at the tables. Some
of them were distinctly pretty, and some of them,
by a remarkable coincidence, always met his eyes
when he glanced their way. This in more than
one case led to acquaintanceship outside the
Library and to some charming adventures in
gallantry which were useful to Oliver Lumley as
a future novelist.

There was one girl, a Mignonette of France,
whom he met by appointment on Clapham Com-
mon when she had a half-holiday from the High
School (where she taught French to shopkeepers'
daughters in return for her " keep ") twice a

He kissed her one day under the shelter of an
oak-tree not far from the Round Pond. After
that they corresponded daily — his letters being

14 Oliver's Kind Women

addressed to a sweetstuff shop in the Old Town.
She wrote continually and poured out her little
palpitating heart to him, and he slept with her
letters under his pillow. To her he wrote many
brilliant essays on the great problems of life and
the human heart — making a fair copy of them for
future use, as some of his phrases were too good
to be lost.

The idyll with Gabrielle le Brun ended as it
had begun, under the oak-tree by the Round

" Oliver, cher ami, I am come to say good-bye.
It is not right that I should meet you any longer
like this. In a week I marry myself to Mr. Tipping
the music- master, of whom I tell you often. We
set up house together quite soon, when he gets —
what you call it ? — a ' rise up.' "

Oliver Lumley went rather pale, and then rather

"What! Have you been fooling me all this
time ? "

He was angry. His pride was hurt. He had
given the best of his brain and heart to this little
French minx. He had also borrowed a good
many shillings from Horace to buy her flowers
and trinkets.

" You are broken-'earted ! My poor boy ! "

She looked at him with her head slightly on
one side, and pressing her white muff to her

Love on the Common 1 5

He laughed furiously,

" No, I shall not break my heart. I shall only
think that women are as selfish and callous as

There was a scene under the oak-tree, watched
from a distance by a butcher-boy with a basket
on his head.

Gabrielle shed a few tears, and Oliver was con-
strained to kiss them away. But it was her turn
to get angry when he refused to send back her
letters. She had brought all of his in her muff",
and he seized them from her and tore them up,
scattering their pieces to the wind. The butcher-
boy, whirling his basket, had a paper-chase.

" If you is a gentleman of honour I demand my

" I shall keep them as a proof of your infidelity."

" Quelle Idchete !"

They walked back together, a yard apart, to the
High School.

" Good morning ! " said Oliver. He lifted his
hat and strode away, with a gloomy face,

A few weeks later he saw her in the High
Street. She was leaning on the arm of a sandy-
haired little man, who, no doubt, was Mr. Tipping.
They were looking at a suite of bedroom furniture
to be obtained on the hire system. Oliver gave
an ironical laugh, and Gabrielle le Brun started
and turned her head. Their eyes met. The girl
cut him dead, as we say.


1 6 Oliver's Kind Women

It was the last time he saw her. But he used
some of her letters, with the details of her girlhood
in Paris, for a short story, which was accepted by
a monthly magazine. They paid him five pounds
for it, and he reckoned that Gabrielle had paid him
back, with interest, for the presents he had given
to her and for his intellectual and moral damage.

But he forgot to pay back Horace, who had
advanced the money for this love affair. He
bought himself his first dress suit. It had velvet
buttons and a broad silk stripe down each leg.
He looked like a young duke in it.


A Man of Letters

It was not the first story presented to the world
under the signature of Oliver Lumley. Towards
the end of a year of rather disappointing experi-
ments in the art of fiction, 01i\'er had got into his
stride. By diligent reading of the magazines he
learnt the tricks of the trade. He discovered that
too much striving for originality is a mistake.
Familiar situations worked up with a new touch,
conventional characters under different names,
bright, scrappy dialogues, a little tenderness of
sentiment, a sparkle of humour, are the ingredients
of the most marketable fiction, and when you have
learnt the knack of it, it is quite easy. Oliver
Lumley borrowed his plots according to the
admirable French philosophy " Je prends mon bien
ou je le trouve," and, having adopted this method
in the place of his earlier and more agonising
efforts to spin a golden web of thought out of his
own knowledge and emotions, he achieved a success
which startled his family and satisfied his own self-

He did not make a fortune, you understand, but
six short stories were accepted out of fifteen in five
2 17

1 8 Oliver's Kind Women

months, and brought him in the sum of ;{^24 lOi".
Oliver Lumley was satisfied with this as a good
beginning to a literary career. It enabled him to
buy many little luxuries which his heart desired,
including three new suits, a pair of excellent patent-
leather boots, a number of fancy ties and socks, a
pair of riding-breeches and gaiters (which would
go very well with a horse when he could afford
one, and were impressive to the inhabitants of
Denmark Hill even when he walked in them), and
a silk dressing-gown, in which he would sit of an
evening when thinking out new subjects for his
pen and the various steps of his high-mounting
career. It is true that he did not as yet see his
way to contribute anything to the household
accounts, nor did he pay back his sniall debts to
Horace. But he took his mother and Galatea to
the theatre one night, he bought a new edition
of " Middlemarch " for his father, and to Horace,
who liked a good cigar, he gave a box of pretty
good Havanas. They were pleased with his
generosity, and awed by his rapid rise to fame.

His father, especially, was profoundly moved by
the knowledge that he had produced a literary son.
As each story appeared he read it again and again,
and never lost his sense of wonderment that it
should have been written by Oliver. But there
was his boy's name in big letters — "A Complete
and Original Story by Oliver Lumley."

If the words had been written in letters of gold

A Man of Letters 19

they could not have dazzled him more. For
literature of any kind, for anything written and
printed, he had an old-fashioned reverence. He
believed everything in his daily paper. A work
of imagination, even if it were no longer than a
short story, seemed to him a wonderful effort of
the brain. He could not understand how his own

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryPhilip H GibbsOliver's kind women → online text (page 1 of 22)