Sometimes Lancelot’s bell rang
up Mrs. Leadbatter herself, but far more often merely
The first time Lancelot saw Mary Ann
she was cleaning the steps. He avoided treading
upon her, being kind to animals. For the moment
she was merely a quadruped, whose head was never lifted
to the stars. Her faded print dress showed like
the quivering hide of some crouching animal.
There were strange irregular splashes of pink in the
hide, standing out in bright contrast with the neutral
background. These were scraps of the original
material neatly patched in.
The cold, damp steps gave Lancelot
a shudder, for the air was raw. He passed by
the prostrate figure as quickly as he could, and hastened
to throw himself into the easy-chair before the red
There was a lamp-post before the door,
so he knew the house from its neighbours. Baker’s
Terrace as a whole was a defeated aspiration after
gentility. The more auspicious houses were marked
by white stones, the steps being scrubbed and hearthstoned
almost daily; the gloomier doorsteps were black, except
on Sundays. Thus variety was achieved by houses
otherwise as monotonous and prosaic as a batch of fourpenny
loaves. This was not the reason why the little
South London side-street was called Baker’s
Terrace, though it might well seem so; for Baker was
the name of the builder, a worthy gentleman whose years
and virtues may still be deciphered on a doddering,
round-shouldered stone in a deceased cemetery not
far from the scene of his triumphs.
The second time Lancelot saw Mary
Ann he did not remember having seen her before.
This time she was a biped, and wore a white cap.
Besides, he hardly glanced at her. He was in
a bad temper, and Beethoven was barking terribly at
the intruder who stood quaking in the doorway, so that
the crockery clattered on the tea-tray she bore.
With a smothered oath Lancelot caught up the fiery
little spaniel and rammed him into the pocket of his
dressing-gown, where he quivered into silence like
a struck gong. While the girl was laying his
breakfast, Lancelot, who was looking moodily at the
pattern of the carpet as if anxious to improve upon
it, was vaguely conscious of relief in being spared
his landlady’s conversation. For Mrs.
Leadbatter was a garrulous body, who suffered from
the delusion that small-talk is a form of politeness,
and that her conversation was a part of the “all
inclusive” her lodgers stipulated for.
The disease was hereditary, her father having been
a barber, and remarkable for the coolness with which,
even as a small boy whose function was lathering and
nothing more, he exchanged views about the weather
with his victims.
The third time Lancelot saw Mary Ann
he noticed that she was rather pretty. She had
a slight, well-built figure, not far from tall, small
shapely features, and something of a complexion.
This did not displease him: she was a little
aesthetic touch amid the depressing furniture.
“Don’t be afraid, Polly,”
he said, more kindly. “The little devil
won’t bite. He’s all bark.
Call him Beethoven and throw him a bit of sugar.”
The girl threw Beethoven the piece
of sugar, but did not venture on the name. It
seemed to her a long name for such a little dog.
As she timidly took the sugar from the basin by the
aid of the tongs, Lancelot saw how coarse and red
her hand was. It gave him the same sense of
repugnance and refrigescence as the cold, damp steps.
Something he was about to say froze on his lips.
He did not look at Mary Ann for some days; by which
time Beethoven had conquered his distrust of her, though
she was still distrustful of Beethoven, drawing her
skirts tightly about her as if he were a rat.
What forced Mary Ann again upon Lancelot’s
morose consciousness was a glint of winter sunshine
that settled on her light brown hair. He said:
“By the way, Susan, tell your mistress or
is it your mother?”
Mary Ann shook her head but did not speak.
“Oh: you are not Miss Leadbatter?”
“No; Mary Ann.”
She spoke humbly; her eyes were shy
and would not meet his. He winced as he heard
the name, though her voice was not unmusical.
“Ah, Mary Ann! and I’ve been calling you
Jane all along. Mary Ann what?”
She seemed confused and flushed a little.
“Mary Ann!” she murmured.
“Merely Mary Ann?”
He smiled. “Seems a sort of white Topsy,”
he was thinking.
She stood still, holding in her hand
the tablecloth she had just folded. Her eyes
were downcast, and the glint of sunshine had leapt
upon the long lashes.
“Well, Mary Ann, tell your mistress
there is a piano coming. It will stand over
there you’ll have to move the sideboard
“A piano!” Mary Ann opened
her eyes, and Lancelot saw that they were large and
pathetic. He could not see the colour for the
glint of sunshine that touched them with false fire.
“Yes; I suppose it will have
to come up through the window, these staircases are
so beastly narrow. Do you never have a stout
person in the house, I wonder?”
“Oh yes, sir. We had a
lodger here last year as was quite a fat man.”
“And did he come up through the window by a
He smiled at the image, and expected
to see Mary Ann smile in response. He was disappointed
when she did not; it was not only that her stolidity
made his humour seem feeble he half wanted
to see how she looked when she smiled.
“Oh dear no,” said Mary
Ann; “he lived on the ground floor!”
“Oh!” murmured Lancelot,
feeling the last sparkle taken from his humour.
He was damped to the skin by Mary Ann’s platitudinarian
style of conversation. Despite its prettiness,
her face was dulness incarnate.
“Anyhow, remember to take in
the piano if I’m out,” he said tartly.
“I suppose you’ve seen a piano you’ll
know it from a kangaroo?”
“Yessir,” breathed Mary Ann.
“Oh, come, that’s something.
There is some civilisation in Baker’s Terrace
after all. But are you quite sure?” he
went on, the teasing instinct getting the better of
him. “Because, you know, you’ve never
seen a kangaroo.”
Mary Ann’s face lit up a little.
“Oh, yes I have, sir; it came to the village
fair when I was a girl.”
“Oh, indeed!” said Lancelot,
a little staggered; “what did it come there
for to buy a new pouch?”
“No, sir; in a circus.”
“Ah, in a circus. Then, perhaps, you can
play the piano, too.”
Mary Ann got very red. “No, sir; missus
never showed me how to do that.”
Lancelot surrendered himself to a
roar of laughter. “This is a real original,”
he said to himself, just a touch of pity blending with
“I suppose, though, you’d
be willing to lend a hand occasionally?” he
could not resist saying.
“Missus says I must do anything
I’m asked,” she said, in distress, the
tears welling to her eyes. And a merciless bell
mercifully sounding from an upper room, she hurried
How much Mary Ann did, Lancelot never
rightly knew, any more than he knew the number of
lodgers in the house, or who cooked his chops in the
mysterious regions below stairs. Sometimes he
trod on the toes of boots outside doors and vaguely
connected them with human beings, peremptory and exacting
as himself. To Mary Ann each of those pairs of
boots was a personality, with individual hours of
rising and retiring, breakfasting and supping, going
out and coming in, and special idiosyncrasies of diet
and disposition. The population of 5 Baker’s
Terrace was nine, mostly bell-ringers. Life
was one ceaseless round of multifarious duties; with
six hours of blessed unconsciousness, if sleep were
punctual. All the week long Mary Ann was toiling
up and down the stairs or sweeping them, making beds
or puddings, polishing boots or fire-irons. Holidays
were not in Mary Ann’s calendar; and if Sunday
ever found her on her knees, it was only when she
was scrubbing out the kitchen. All work and no
play makes Jack a dull boy; it had not, apparently,
made Mary Ann a bright girl.
The piano duly came in through the
window like a burglar. It was a good instrument,
but hired. Under Lancelot’s fingers it
sang like a bird and growled like a beast. When
the piano was done growling Lancelot usually started.
He paced up and down the room, swearing audibly.
Then he would sit down at the table and cover ruled
paper with hieroglyphics for hours together.
His movements were erratic to the verge of mystery.
He had no fixed hours for anything; to Mary Ann he
was hopeless. At any given moment he might be
playing on the piano, or writing on the curiously
ruled paper, or stamping about the room, or sitting
limp with despair in the one easy-chair, or drinking
whisky and water, or smoking a black meerschaum, or
reading a book, or lying in bed, or driving away in
a hansom, or walking about Heaven alone knew where
or why. Even Mrs. Leadbatter, whose experience
of life was wider than Mary Ann’s, considered
his vagaries almost unchristian, though to the highest
degree gentlemanly. Sometimes, too, he sported
the swallow-tail and the starched breast-plate, which
was a wonder to Mary Ann, who knew that waiters were
connected only with the most stylish establishments.
Baker’s Terrace did not wear evening dress.
Mary Ann liked him best in black and
white. She thought he looked like the pictures
in the young ladies’ novelettes, which sometimes
caught her eye as she passed newsvendors’ shops
on errands. Not that she was read in this literature she
had no time for reading. But, even when clothed
in rough tweeds, Lancelot had for Mary Ann an
aristocratic halo; in his dressing-gown he savoured
of the grand Turk. His hands were masterful:
the fingers tapering, the nails pedantically polished.
He had fair hair, with moustache to match; his brow
was high and white, and his grey eyes could flash
fire. When he drew himself up to his full height,
he threatened the gas globes. Never had N Baker’s Terrace boasted of such a tenant.
Altogether, Lancelot loomed large to Mary Ann; she
dazzled him with his own boots in humble response,
and went about sad after a reprimand for putting his
papers in order. Her whole theory of life oscillated
in the presence of a being whose views could so run
counter to her strongest instincts. And yet,
though the universe seemed tumbling about her ears
when he told her she must not move a scrap of manuscript,
howsoever wildly it lay about the floor or under the
bed, she did not for a moment question his sanity.
She obeyed him like a dog; uncomprehending, but trustful.
But, after all, this was only of a piece with the
rest of her life. There was nothing she questioned.
Life stood at her bedside every morning in the cold
dawn, bearing a day heaped high with duties; and she
jumped cheerfully out of her warm bed and took them
up one by one, without question or murmur. They
were life. Life had no other meaning
any more than it has for the omnibus hack, which cannot
conceive existence outside shafts, and devoid of the
intermittent flick of a whip point. The comparison
is somewhat unjust; for Mary Ann did not fare nearly
so well as the omnibus hack, having to make her meals
off such scraps as even the lodgers sent back.
Mrs. Leadbatter was extremely economical, as much
so with the provisions in her charge as with those
she bought for herself. She sedulously sent up
remainders till they were expressly countermanded.
Less economical by nature, and hungrier by habit,
Mary Ann had much trouble in restraining herself from
surreptitious pickings. Her conscience was rarely
worsted; still there was a taint of dishonesty in
her soul, else had the stairs been less of an ethical
battleground for her. Lancelot’s advent
only made her hungrier; somehow the thought of nibbling
at his provisions was too sacrilegious to be
entertained. And yet so queerly are
we and life compounded she was probably
less unhappy at this period than Lancelot, who would
come home in the vilest of tempers, and tramp the room
with thunder on his white brow. Sometimes he
and the piano and Beethoven would all be growling
together, at other times they would all three be mute;
Lancelot crouching in the twilight with his head in
his hands; and Beethoven moping in the corner, and
the closed piano looming in the background like a
coffin of dead music.
One February evening an
evening of sleet and mist Lancelot, who
had gone out in evening dress, returned unexpectedly,
bringing with him for the first time a visitor.
He was so perturbed that he forgot to use his latchkey,
and Mary Ann, who opened the door, heard him say angrily,
“Well, I can’t slam the door in your face,
but I will tell you in your face I don’t think
it at all gentlemanly of you to force yourself upon
me like this.”
“My dear Lancelot, when did
I ever set up to be a gentleman? You know that
was always your part of the contract.”
And a swarthy, thick-set young man with a big nose
lowered the dripping umbrella he had been holding
over Lancelot, and stepped from the gloom of the street
into the fuscous cheerfulness of the ill-lit passage.
By this time Beethoven, who had been
left at home, was in full ebullition upstairs, and
darted at the intruder the moment his calves appeared.
Beethoven barked with short, sharp snaps, as became
a bilious liver-coloured Blenheim spaniel.
“Like master like dog,”
said the swarthy young man, defending himself at the
point of the umbrella. “Really your animal
is more intelligent than the overrated common or garden
dog, which makes no distinction between people calling
in the small hours and people calling in broad daylight
under the obvious patronage of its own master.
This beast of yours is evidently more in sympathy
with its liege lord. Down, Fido, down!
I wonder they allow you to keep such noisy creatures but
stay! I was forgetting you keep a piano.
After that, I suppose, nothing matters.”
Lancelot made no reply, but surprised
Beethoven into silence by kicking him out of the way.
He lit the gas with a neatly written sheet of music
which he rammed into the fire Mary Ann had been keeping
up, then as silently he indicated the easy-chair.
“Thank you,” said the
swarthy young man, taking it. “I would
rather see you in it, but as there’s only one,
I know you wouldn’t be feeling a gentleman;
and that would make us both uncomfortable.”
“’Pon my word, Peter,”
Lancelot burst forth, “you’re enough to
provoke a saint.”
“’Pon my word, Lancelot,”
replied Peter imperturbably, “you’re more
than enough to provoke a sinner. Why, what have
you to be ashamed of? You’ve got one of
the cosiest dens in London and one of the comfortablest
chairs. Why, it’s twice as jolly as the
garret we shared at Leipsic up the ninety
“We’re not in Germany
now. I don’t want to receive visitors,”
answered Lancelot sulkily.
“A visitor! you call me a visitor!
Lancelot, it’s plain you were not telling the
truth when you said just now you had forgiven me.”
“I had forgiven and forgotten you.”
“Come, that’s unkind.
It’s scarcely three years since I threw up my
career as a genius, and you know why I left you, old
man. When the first fever of youthful revolt
was over, I woke to see things in their true light.
I saw how mean it was of me to help to eat up your
wretched thousand pounds. Neither of us saw
the situation nakedly at first it was sicklied
o’er with Quixotic foolishness. You see,
you had the advantage of me. Your governor was
a gentleman. He says, ’Very well, if you
won’t go to Cambridge, if you refuse to enter
the Church as the younger son of a blue-blooded but
impecunious baronet should, and to step into the living
which is fattening for you, then I must refuse to take
any further responsibility for your future. Here
is a thousand pounds; it is the money I had set aside
for your college course. Use it for your musical
tomfoolery if you insist, and then get what
living you can.’ Which was severe but dignified,
unpaternal yet patrician. But what does my governor
do? That cantankerous, pig-headed old Philistine God
bless him! he’s got no sense of the
respect a father owes to his offspring. Not an
atom. You’re simply a branch to be run
on the lines of the old business, or be shut up altogether.
And, by the way, Lancelot, he hasn’t altered
a jot since those days when as you remember the
City or starvation was his pleasant alternative.
Of course, I preferred starvation one
usually does at nineteen; especially if one knows there’s
a scion of aristocracy waiting outside to elope with
him to Leipsic.”
“But you told me you were going
back to your dad, because you found you had mistaken
“Gospel truth also! My
heavens, shall I ever forget the blank horror that
grew upon me when I came to understand that music was
a science more barbarous than the mathematics that
floored me at school, that the life of a musical student,
instead of being a delicious whirl of waltz tunes,
was ‘one dem’d grind,’ that seemed
to grind out all the soul of the divine art and leave
nothing but horrid technicalities about consecutive
fifths and suspensions on the dominant? I dare
say most people still think of the musician as a being
who lives in an enchanted world of sound, rather than
as a person greatly occupied with tedious feats of
penmanship; just as I myself still think of a prima
ballerina not as a hard-working gymnast, but as
a fairy, whose existence is all bouquets and lime-light.”
“But you had a pretty talent
for the piano,” said Lancelot in milder accents.
“No one forced you to learn composition.
You could have learnt anything for the paltry fifteen
pounds exacted by the Conservatoire from
the German flute to the grand organ; from singing to
scoring band parts.”
“No, thank you. Aut Cæsar
aut nihil. You remember what I always used
to say: ‘Either Beethoven ’
(The spaniel pricked up his ears.) or
bust.’ If I could not be a great musician
it was hardly worth while enduring the privations
of one, especially at another man’s expense.
So I did the Prodigal Son dodge, as you know, and
out of the proceeds sent you my year’s exes
in that cheque you with your damnable pride sent me
back again. And now, old fellow, that I have
you face to face at last, can you offer the faintest
scintilla of a shadow of a reason for refusing to
take that cheque? No, you can’t!
Nothing but simple beastly stuckuppishness.
I saw through you at once; all your heroics were a
fraud. I was not your friend, but your protege something
to practise your chivalry on. You dropped your
cloak, and I saw your feet of clay. Well, I tell
you straight, I made up my mind at once to be bad friends
with you for life; only when I saw your fiery old phiz
at Brahmson’s I felt a sort of something tugging
inside my greatcoat like a thief after my pocket-book,
and I kinder knew, as the Americans say, that in half
an hour I should be sitting beneath your hospitable
“I beg your pardon you
will have some whisky.” He rang the bell
“Don’t be a fool you
know I didn’t mean that. Well, don’t
let us quarrel. I have forgiven you for your
youthful bounty, and you have forgiven me for chucking
it up; and now we are going to drink to the Vaterland,”
he added, as Mary Ann appeared with a suspicious alacrity.
“Do you know,” he went
on, when they had taken the first sip of renewed amity
dissolved in whisky, “I think I showed more musical
soul than you in refusing to trammel my inspiration
with the dull rules invented by fools. I suppose
you have mastered them all, eh?” He picked up
some sheets of manuscript. “Great Scot!
How you must have schooled yourself to scribble all
this you, with your restless nature full
scores, too! I hope you don’t offer this
sort of thing to Brahmson.”
“I certainly went there with
that intention,” admitted Lancelot. “I
thought I’d catch Brahmson himself in the evening he’s
never in when I call in the morning.”
“Quixotic as ever! You can’t have
been long in London then?”
“I suppose you’d jump
down my throat if I were to ask you how much is left
of that ” he hesitated, then
turned the sentence facetiously “of
those twenty thousand shillings you were cut off with?”
“Let this vile den answer.”
“Don’t disparage the den; it’s not
“You are right I
may come to worse. I’ve been an awful ass.
You know how lucky I was while at the Conservatoire no,
you don’t. How should you? Well,
I carried off some distinctions and a lot of conceit,
and came over here thinking Europe would be at my
feet in a month. I was only sorry my father
died before I could twit him with my triumph.
That’s candid, isn’t it?”
“Yes; you’re not such
a prig after all,” mused Peter; “I saw
the old man’s death in the paper your
brother Lionel became the bart.”
“Yes, poor beggar, I don’t
hate him half so much as I did. He reminds me
of a man invited to dinner which is nothing but flowers
and serviettes and silver plate.”
“I’d pawn the plate, anyhow,”
said Peter, with a little laugh.
“He can’t touch anything,
I tell you; everything’s tied up.”
“Ah well, he’ll get tied
up, too. He’ll marry an American heiress.”
“Confound him! I’d rather see the
house extinct first.”
“Hoity, toity! She’ll be quite as
good as any of you.”
“I can’t discuss this
with you, Peter,” said Lancelot, gently but firmly.
“If there is a word I hate more than the word
heiress, it is the word American.”
“But why? They’re both very good
words and better things.”
“They both smack of the most
vulgar thing in the world money,”
said Lancelot, walking hotly about the room.
“In America there’s no other standard.
To make your pile, to strike île oh,
how I shudder to hear these idioms! And
can any one hear the word heiress without immediately
thinking of matrimony? Phaugh? It’s
“What is? You’re not very coherent,
“Very well, I am incoherent.
If a great old family can only bolster up its greatness
by alliances with the daughters of oil-strikers, then
let the family perish with honour.”
“But the daughters of oil-strikers
are sometimes very charming creatures. They are
polished with their fathers’ oil.”
“You are right. They reek
of it. Pah! I pray to Heaven Lionel will
either wed a lady or die a bachelor.”
“Yes; but what do you call a lady?” persisted
Lancelot uttered an impatient snarl,
and rang the bell violently. Peter stared in
silence. Mary Ann appeared.
“How often am I to tell you
to leave my matches on the mantel-shelf?” snapped
Lancelot. “You seem to delight to hide
them away, as if I had time to play parlour games
Mary Ann silently went to the mantel-piece,
handed him the matches, and left the room without
“I, say, Lancelot, adversity
doesn’t seem to have agreed with you,”
said Peter severely. “That poor girl’s
eyes were quite wet when she went out. Why didn’t
you speak? I could have given you heaps of lights,
and you might even have sacrificed another scrap of
that precious manuscript.”
“Well, she has got a knack of
hiding my matches all the same,” said Lancelot
somewhat shamefacedly. “Besides, I hate
her for being called Mary Ann. It’s the
last terror of cheap apartments. If she only
had another name like a human being, I’d gladly
call her Miss something. I went so far as to
ask her, and she stared at me in a dazed, stupid, silly
way, as if I’d asked her to marry me. I
suppose the fact is, she’s been called Mary
Ann so long and so often that she’s forgotten
her father’s name if she ever had
any. I must do her the justice, though, to say
she answers to the name of Mary Ann in every sense
of the phrase.”
“She didn’t seem at all
bad-looking, any way,” said Peter.
“Every man to his taste!”
growled Lancelot. “She’s as platt
and uninteresting as a wooden sabot.”
“There’s many a pretty
foot in a sabot,” retorted Peter, with an air
“You think that’s clever,
but it’s simply silly. How does that fact
affect this particular sabot?”
“I’ve put my foot in it,” groaned
“Besides, she might be a houri
from heaven,” said Lancelot; “but a houri
in a patched print-frock ”
He shuddered, and struck a match.
“I don’t know exactly
what houris from heaven are, but I have a kind
of feeling any sort of frock would be out of harmony !”
Lancelot lit his pipe.
“If you begin to say that sort
of thing, we must smoke,” he said, laughing
between the puffs. “I can offer you lots
of tobacco I’m sorry I’ve got
no cigars. Wait till you see Mrs. Leadbatter my
landlady then you’ll talk about houris.
Poverty may not be a crime, but it seems to make
people awful bores. Wonder if it’ll have
that effect on me? Ach Himmel! how that woman
bores me. No, there’s no denying it there’s
my pouch, old man I hate the poor; their
virtues are only a shade more vulgar than their vices.
This Leadbatter creature is honest after her lights she
sends me up the most ridiculous leavings and
I only hate her the more for it.”
“I suppose she works Mary Ann’s
fingers to the bone from the same mistaken sense of
duty,” said Peter acutely. “Thanks;
think I’ll try one of my cigars. I filled
my case, I fancy, before I came out. Yes, here
it is; won’t you try one?”
“No, thanks, I prefer my pipe.”
“It’s the same old meerschaum, I see,”
“The same old meerschaum,” repeated Lancelot,
with a little sigh.
Peter lit a cigar, and they sat and puffed in silence.
“Dear me!” said Peter
suddenly; “I can almost fancy we’re back
in our German garret, up the ninety stairs, can’t
“No,” said Lancelot sadly,
looking round as if in search of something; “I
miss the dreams.”
“And I,” said Peter, striving to speak
cheerfully, “I see a dog too much.”
“Yes,” said Lancelot,
with a melancholy laugh. “When you funked
becoming a Beethoven, I got a dog and called him after
“What? you called him Peter?”
“Really. Here, Beethoven!”
The spaniel shook himself, and perked
his wee nose up wistfully towards Lancelot’s
Peter laughed, with a little catch
in his voice. He didn’t know whether he
was pleased, or touched, or angry.
“You started to tell me about those twenty thousand
shillings,” he said.
“Didn’t I tell you?
On the expectations of my triumph, I lived extravagantly,
like a fool, joined a club, and took up my quarters
there. When I began to realise the struggle that
lay before me, I took chambers; then I took rooms;
now I’m in lodgings. The more I realised
it, the less rent I paid. I only go to the club
for my letters now. I won’t have them
come here. I’m living incognito.”
“That’s taking fame by
the forelock, indeed! Then by what name must
I ask for you next time? For I’m not to
be shaken off.”
“Only Lancelot! Mr. Lancelot.”
“Why, that’s like your Mary Ann!”
“So it is!” he laughed,
more bitterly than cordially; “it never struck
me before. Yes, we are a pair.”
“How did you stumble on this place?”
“I didn’t stumble.
Deliberate, intelligent selection. You see,
it’s the next best thing to Piccadilly.
You just cross Waterloo Bridge, and there you are
at the centre, five minutes from all the clubs.
The natives have not yet risen to the idea.”
“You mean the rent,” laughed
Peter. “You’re as canny and careful
as a Scotch professor. I think it’s simply
grand the way you’ve beaten out those shillings,
in defiance of your natural instincts. I should
have melted them years ago. I believe you have
got some musical genius, after all.”
“You overrate my abilities,”
said Lancelot, with the whimsical expression that
sometimes flashed across his face even in his most
unamiable moments. “You must deduct the
Thalers I made in exhibitions. As for living
in cheap lodgings, I am not at all certain it’s
an economy, for every now and again it occurs to you
that you are saving an awful lot, and you take a hansom
on the strength of it.”
“Well, I haven’t torn up that cheque yet ”
“Peter!” said Lancelot,
his flash of gaiety dying away, “I tell you these
things as a friend, not as a beggar. If you look
upon me as the second, I cease to be the first.”
“But, man, I owe you the money;
and if it will enable you to hold out a little longer why,
in heaven’s name, shouldn’t you ?”
“You don’t owe me the
money at all; I made no bargain with you; I am not
“Pack dich zum Henker!”
growled Peter, with a comical grimace. “Was
fuer a casuist! What a swindler you’d
make! I wonder you have the face to deny the
debt. Well, and how did you leave Frau Sauer-Kraut?”
he said, deeming it prudent to sheer off the subject.
“Fat as a Christmas turkey.”
“Of a German sausage.
The extraordinary things that woman stuffed herself
with. Chunks of fat, stewed apples, Kartoffel
salad all mixed up in one plate, as in
“Don’t! You make
my gorge rise. Ach Himmel! to think that this
nation should be musical! O Music, heavenly
maid, how much garlic I have endured for thy sake!”
“Ha! ha! ha!” laughed
Peter, putting down his whisky that he might throw
himself freely back in the easy-chair and roar.
“Oh that garlic!” he said,
panting. “No wonder they smoked so much
in Leipsic. Even so they couldn’t keep
the reek out of the staircases. Still, it’s
a great country is Germany. Our house does a
tremendous business in German patents.”
“A great country? A land
of barbarians rather. How can a people be civilised
that eats jam with its meat?”
“Bravo, Lancelot! You’re
in lovely form to-night. You seem to go a hundred
miles out of your way to come the truly British.
First it was oil now it’s jam.
There was that aristocratic flash in your eye, too,
that look of supreme disdain which brings on riots
in Trafalgar Square. Behind the patriotic, the
national note: ’How can a people be civilised
that eats jam with its meat?’ I heard the deeper,
the oligarchic accent: ‘How can a people
be enfranchised that eats meat with its fingers?’
Ah, you are right! How you do hate the poor!
What bores they are! You aristocrats the
products of centuries of culture, comfort, and cocksureness will
never rid yourselves of your conviction that you are
the backbone of England no, not though that
backbone were picked clean of every scrap of flesh
by the rats of Radicalism.”
“What in the devil are you talking
about now?” demanded Lancelot. “You
seem to me to go a hundred miles out of your
way to twit me with my poverty and my breeding.
One would almost think you were anxious to convince
me of the poverty of your breeding.”
“Oh, a thousand pardons!”
ejaculated Peter, blushing violently. “But,
good heavens, old chap! There’s your hot
temper again. You surely wouldn’t suspect
me, of all people in the world, of meaning anything
personal? I’m talking of you as a class.
Contempt is in your blood and quite right!
We’re such snobs, we deserve it. Why d’ye
think I ever took to you as a boy at school?
Was it because you scribbled inaccurate sonatas and
I had myself a talent for knocking tunes off the piano?
Not a bit of it. I thought it was, perhaps,
but that was only one of my many youthful errors.
No, I liked you because your father was an old English
baronet, and mine was a merchant who trafficked mainly
in things Teutonic. And that’s why I like
you still. ’Pon my soul it is. You
gratify my historic sense like an old building.
You are picturesque. You stand to me for all
the good old ideals, including the pride which we
are beginning to see is deuced unchristian. Mind
you, it’s a curious kind of pride when one looks
into it. Apparently it’s based on the fact
that your family has lived on the nation for generations.
And yet you won’t take my cheque, which is
your own. Now don’t swear I
know one mustn’t analyse things, or the world
would come to pieces, so I always vote Tory.”
“Then I shall have to turn Radical,” grumbled
“Certainly you will, when you
have had a little more experience of poverty,”
retorted Peter. “There, there, old man!
forgive me. I only do it to annoy you.
Fact is, your outbursts of temper attract me.
They are pleasant to look back upon when the storm
is over. Yes, my dear Lancelot, you are like
the king you look you can do no wrong.
You are picturesque. Pass the whisky.”
Lancelot smiled, his handsome brow
serene once more. He murmured, “Don’t
talk rot,” but inwardly he was not displeased
at Peter’s allegiance, half mocking though he
“Therefore, my dear chap,”
resumed Peter, sipping his whisky and water, “to
return to our lambs, I bow to your patrician prejudices
in favour of forks. But your patriotic prejudices
are on a different level. There, I am on the
same ground as you, and I vow I see nothing inherently
superior in the British combination of beef and beetroot,
to the German amalgam of lamb and jam.”
“Damn lamb and jam,” burst
forth Lancelot, adding, with his whimsical look:
“There’s rhyme, as well as reason.
How on earth did we get on this tack?”
“I don’t know,”
said Peter, smiling. “We were talking about
Frau Sauer-Kraut, I think. And did you board
with her all the time?”
“Yes, and I was always hungry.
Till the last, I never learnt to stomach her mixtures.
But it was really too much trouble to go down the
ninety stairs to a restaurant. It was much easier
to be hungry.”
“And did you ever get a reform
in the hours of washing the floor?”
“Ha! ha! ha! No, they
always waited till I was going to bed. I suppose
they thought I liked damp. They never got over
my morning tub, you know. And that, too, sprang
a leak after you left, and helped spontaneously to
wash the floor.”
“Shows the fallacy of cleanliness,”
said Peter, “and the inferiority of British
ideals. They never bathed in their lives, yet
they looked the pink of health.”
“Yes their complexion was high like
“Ha! ha! Yes, the fish!
That was a great luxury, I remember. About
once a month.”
“Of course, the town is so inland,” said
“I see it took such
a long time coming. Ha! ha! ha! And the
Herr Professor is he still a bachelor?”
As the Herr Professor was a septuagenarian
and a misogamist, even in Peter’s time, his
question tickled Lancelot. Altogether the two
young men grew quite jolly, recalling a hundred oddities,
and reknitting their friendship at the expense of
“But was there ever a more madcap
expedition than ours?” exclaimed Peter.
“Most boys start out to be pirates ”
“And some do become music-publishers,”
Lancelot finished grimly, suddenly reminded of a grievance.
“Ha! ha! ha! Poor fellow’”
laughed Peter. “Then you have found
them out already.”
“Does anyone ever find them
in?” flashed Lancelot. “I suppose
they do exist and are occasionally seen of mortal
eyes. I suppose wives and friends and mothers
gaze on them with no sense of special privilege, unconscious
of their invisibility to the profane eyes of mere musicians.”
“My dear fellow, the mere musicians
are as plentiful as niggers on the sea-shore.
A publisher might spend his whole day receiving regiments
of unappreciated geniuses. Bond Street would
be impassable. You look at the publisher too
much from your own standpoint.”
“I tell you I don’t look
at him from any standpoint. That’s what
I complain of. He’s encircled with a prickly
hedge of clerks. ’You will hear from us.’
‘It shall have our best consideration.’
’We have no knowledge of the MS. in question.’
Yes, Peter, two valuable quartets have I lost, messing
about with these villains.”
“I tell you what. I’ll
give you an introduction to Brahmson. I know
“No, thank you, Peter.”
“Because you know him.”
“I couldn’t give you an
introduction if I didn’t. This is silly
of you, Lancelot.”
“If Brahmson can’t see
any merits in my music, I don’t want you to open
his eyes. I’ll stand on my own bottom.
And what’s more, Peter, I tell you once for
all” his voice was low and menacing “if
you try any anonymous deus ex machina tricks
on me in some sly, roundabout fashion, don’t
you flatter yourself I shan’t recognise your
hand. I shall, and, by God, it shall never grasp
“I suppose you think that’s
very noble and sublime,” said Peter coolly.
“You don’t suppose if I could do you a
turn I’d hesitate for fear of excommunication?
I know you’re like Beethoven there your
bark is worse than your bite.”
“Very well; try. You’ll
find my teeth nastier than you bargain for.”
“I’m not going to try.
If you want to go to the dogs go.
Why should I put out a hand to stop you?”
These amenities having re-established
them in their mutual esteem, they chatted lazily and
spasmodically till past midnight, with more smoke than
fire in their conversation.
At last Peter began to go, and in
course of time actually did take up his umbrella.
Not long after, Lancelot conducted him softly down
the dark, silent stairs, holding his bedroom candlestick
in his hand, for Mrs. Leadbatter always turned out
the hall lamp on her way to bed. The old phrases
came to the young men’s lips as their hands met
in a last hearty grip.
“Lebt wohl!” said Lancelot.
“Auf Wiedersehen!” replied Peter
Lancelot stood at the hall door looking
for a moment after his friend the friend
he had tried to cast out of his heart as a recreant.
The mist had cleared the stars glittered
countless in the frosty heaven; a golden crescent
moon hung low; the lights and shadows lay almost poetically
upon the little street. A rush of tender thoughts
whelmed the musician’s soul. He saw again
the dear old garret, up the ninety stairs, in the
Hotel Cologne, where he had lived with his dreams;
he heard the pianos and violins going in every room
in happy incongruity, publishing to all the prowess
of the players; dirty, picturesque old Leipsic rose
before him; he was walking again in the Hainstrasse,
in the shadow of the quaint, tall houses. Yes,
life was sweet after all; he was a coward to lose
heart so soon; fame would yet be his; fame and love the
love of a noble woman that fame earns; some gracious
creature breathing sweet refinements, cradled in an
ancient home, such as he had left for ever.
The sentimentality of the Fatherland
seemed to have crept into his soul; a divinely sweet,
sad melody was throbbing in his brain. How glad
he was he had met Peter again!
From a neighbouring steeple came a
harsh, resonant clang, “One.”
It roused him from his dream.
He shivered a little, closed the door, bolted it
and put up the chain, and turned, half sighing, to
take up his bedroom candle again. Then his heart
stood still for a moment. A figure a
girl’s figure was coming towards him
from the kitchen stairs. As she came into the
dim light he saw that it was merely Mary Ann.
She looked half drowsed. Her
cap was off, her hair tangled loosely over her forehead.
In her disarray she looked prettier than he had ever
remembered her. There was something provoking
about the large dreamy eyes, the red lips that parted
at the unexpected sight of him.
“Good heavens!” he cried. “Not
gone to bed yet?”
“No, sir. I had to stay
up to wash up a lot of crockery. The second-floor
front had some friends to supper late. Missus
says she won’t stand it again.”
“Poor thing!” He patted
her soft cheek it grew hot and rosy under
his fingers, but was not withdrawn. Mary Ann
made no sign of resentment. In his mood of tenderness
to all creation his rough words to her recurred to
“You mustn’t mind what
I said about the matches,” he murmured.
“When I am in a bad temper I say anything.
Remember now for the future, will you?”
Her face its blushes flickered
over strangely by the candle-light seemed
to look up at him invitingly.
“That’s a good girl.”
And bending down he kissed her on the lips.
“Good night,” he murmured.
Mary Ann made some startled, gurgling sound in reply.
Five minutes afterwards Lancelot was
in bed, denouncing himself as a vulgar beast.
“I must have drunk too much
whisky,” he said to himself angrily. “Good
heavens. Fancy sinking to Mary Ann. If
Peter had only seen There was
infinitely more poetry in that red-cheeked Maedchen,
and yet I never It is true there
is something sordid about the atmosphere that subtly
permeates you, that drags you down to it! Mary
Ann! A transpontine drudge! whose lips are fresh
from the coalman’s and the butcher’s.
The fancy seized hold of his imagination.
He could not shake it off, he could not sleep till
he had got out of bed and sponged his lips vigorously.
Meanwhile Mary Ann was lying on her
bed, dressed, doing her best to keep her meaningless,
half-hysterical sobs from her mistress’s keen