In ill-health or convalescence, or
worry or tribulation, the ordinary mind does not turn
to Milton or Shakespeare, or even to the sermons of
Charles Haddon Spurgeon. There are few classics
that will stand the test of a cold in the head, or
a fit of depression, or a worrying husband, or a minor
tragedy. Here the writer of “light fiction”
Jones had never been a great reader,
he had read a cheap novel or two, but his browsings
in the literary fields had been mainly confined to
the uplands where the grass is improving.
Colour, poetry, and construction in
fiction were unknown to him, and now he
suddenly found himself on the beach at Trouville.
On the beach at Trouville with Lady
Dolly skipping before him in the sea.
He had reached the forced engagement
of the beautiful heroine to the wicked Russian Prince,
when the door opened and the supper tray entered,
followed by Mrs. Henshaw. Left to honour and her
own initiative she had produced a huge lobster, followed
by cheese, and three little dull looking jam tarts
on a willow pattern plate.
When Jones had ruined the lobster
and devoured the tarts he went on with the book.
The lovely heroine had become for him Teresa, Countess
of Rochester, the Opera singer himself, and the Russian
Then the deepening dusk tore him from
the book. Work had to be done.
He rang the bell, told Mrs. Henshaw
that he was going to the railway station to see after
his luggage, took his cap, and went out. Strangely
enough he did not feel nervous. The first flurry
had passed, and he had adapted himself to the situation,
the deepening darkness gave him a sense of security,
and the lights of the shops cheered him somehow.
He turned to the left towards the sea.
Fifty yards down the street he came
across a Gentlemen’s Outfitters, in whose windows
coloured neckties screamed, and fancy shirts raised
their discordant voices with Gent’s summer waistcoats
and those panama hats, adored in the year of this
story by the river and sea-side youth.
Jones, under the hands of Rochester’s
valet, and forced by circumstances to use Rochester’s
clothes, was one of the best dressed men in London.
Left to himself in this matter he was lost. He
had no idea of what to wear or what not to wear, no
idea of the social damnation that lies in tweed trousers
not turned up at the bottom, fancy waistcoats, made
evening ties, a bowler worn with a black morning coat,
or dog-skin gloves. Heinenberg and Obermann of
Philadelphia had dressed him till Stultz unconsciously
took the business over. He was barely conscious
of the incongruity of his present get-up topped by
the tweed shooting cap of Hoover’s, but he was
quite conscious of the fact that some alteration in
dress was imperative as a means towards escape from
He entered the shop of Towler and
Simpkinson, bought a six and elevenpenny panama, put
it on and had the tweed cap done up in a parcel.
Then a flannel coat attracted him, a grey flannel tennis
coat price fifteen shillings. It fitted him to
a charm, save for the almost negligible fact that
the sleeves came down nearly to his knuckles.
Then he bought a night shirt for three and eleven,
and had the whole lot done up in one parcel.
At a chemist’s next door he
bought a tooth brush. In the mirror across the
counter he caught a glimpse of himself in the panama.
It seemed to him that not only had he never looked
so well in any other head gear, but that his appearance
was completely altered.
Charmed and comforted he left the
shop. Next door to the chemist’s and at
the street corner was a public house.
Jones felt certain from his knowledge
of Hoover that the very last place to come across
one of his assistants would be a public house.
He entered the public bar, took a seat by the counter
and ordered a glass of beer and a packet of cigarettes.
The place was rank with the fumes of cheap tobacco
and cigarettes and the smell of beer. Hard gas
light shewed no adornment, nothing but pitch pine
panelling, spittoons, bottles on shelves and an almanac.
The barmaid, a long-necked girl with red hands, and
cheap rings and a rose in her belt, detached herself
from earnest conversation with a youth in a bowler
inhabiting the saloon bar, pulled a handle, dumped
a glass of beer before Jones and gave him change without
word or glance, returning to her conversation with
the bowlered youth. She evidently had no eyes
at all for people in the public bar. There are
grades, even in the tavern.
Close to where Jones had taken his
seat was standing a person in broken shoes, an old
straw hat, a coat, with parcels evidently in the tail
pockets, and trousers frayed at the heels. He
had a red unshaven face, and was reading the Evening
Suddenly he banged the paper with
the tips of the fingers of his right hand and cast
it on the counter.
nice sort of govinment, payin’ each other four
hundred a year for followin’ Asquith and robbin’
the landowners to get the money God lumme.”
He paused to light a filthy clay pipe.
He had his eyes on Jones, and evidently considered
him, for some occult reason, of the same way of political
thinking as himself, and he addressed him in that impersonal
way in which one addresses an audience.
“They’ve downed and outed
the House o’ Lords, an’ now they’re
scraggin’ the Welsh Church, after that they’ll
go for the Landed Prepriotor and finish him.
And who’s to blame? the Radicals no,
they ain’t to blame, no more than rats for their
instincts; we’re to blame, the Conservatives
is to blame, we haven’t got a fightin’
man to purtect us. The Radicals has got all the
tallant you look at the fight Bonna Lor’s
been makin’ this week. Fight! A blind
Tom cat with his head in an old t’marter tin
would make a better fight than Bonna Lor’s put
up. Look at Churchill, that chap was one of us
once, he was born to lead the clarses, an’ now
look at him leadin’ the marses, up to his neck
in Radical dirt and pretendin’ he likes it.
He doesn’t, but he’s a man with an eye
in his head and he knows what we are, a boneless lot
without organisation. I say it myself, I said
it only larst night in this here bar, and I say it
again, for two pins I’d chuck my party.
I would so. For two pins I’d chuck the
country, and leave the whole lot to stew in their
He addressed himself to his beer,
and Jones, greatly marvelling, lit a cigarette.
“Do you live here?” asked he.
“Sh’d think I did,”
replied the other. “Born here and bred here,
and been watchin’ the place going down for the
last twenty years, turnin’ from a decent residential
neighbourhood to a collection of schools and lodgin’
houses, losin’ clarse every year. Why the
biggest house here is owned by a chap that sells patent
food, there’s two socialists on the town council,
and the Mayor last year was Hoover, a chap that owns
a lunatic ’sylum. One of his loonies got
out last March and near did for a child on the Southgate
Road before he was collared; and yet they make a Mayor
“Have another drink?” said Jones.
“I don’t mind if I do.”
“Well, here’s luck,” said he, putting
his nose into the new glass.
“Luck!” said Jones. “Do Hoover’s
lunatics often escape?”
“Escape why I heard
only an hour ago another of them was out. Gawd
help him if the town folk catch him at any of his
tricks, and Gawd help Hoover. A chap has no right
comin’ down and settin’ up a business like
that in a place like this full of nursemaids and children.
People bring their innercent children down here to
play on the sands, and any minit that place may break
loose like a bum-shell. That’s not marked
down on the prospectices they publish with pictures
done in blue and yaller, and lies about the air and
water, and the salubriarity of the South Coast.”
“No, I suppose not,” said Jones.
“Well, I must be goin’,”
said the other, emptying his glass and wiping his
mouth on the back of his hand. “Good night
The upholder of Church and State shuffled
out, leaving Jones to his thoughts. Wind of the
business had got about the town, and even at that
moment no doubt people were carefully locking back
doors and looking in out houses.
It was unfortunate that the last man
to escape from the Hoover establishment had been violently
inclined, that was the one thing needed to stimulate
Rumour and make her spread.
Having sat for ten minutes longer
and consumed another glass of tepid beer, he took
Mrs. Henshaw let him in, and having
informed her of his journey to the station, the fruitlessness
of his quest, and his opinion of the railway company,
its servants and its methods, he received his candle
and went to bed.