Read THE OUTER WORLD - CHAPTER X. of The Christian A Story, free online book, by Hall Caine, on

On the following Tuesday evening two young men were dining in their chambers in St. James’s Street.  One of them was Lord Robert Ure; the other was his friend and housemate, Horatio Drake.  Drake was younger than Lord Robert by some seven or eight years, and also beyond comparison more attractive.  His face was manly and handsome, its expression was open and breezy; he was broad-shouldered and splendidly built, and he had the fair hair and blue eyes of a boy.

Their room was a large one, and it was full of beautiful and valuable things, but the furniture was huddled about in disorder.  A large chamber-organ, a grand piano, a mandolin, and two violins, pictures on the floor as well as on the walls, many photographs scattered about everywhere, and the mirror over the mantelpiece fringed with invitation-cards, which were stuck between the glass and the frame.

Their man had brought in the coffee and cigarettes.  Lord Robert was speaking in his weary drawl, which had the worn-out tone of a man who had made a long journey and was very sleepy.

“Come, dear boy, make up your mind, and let us be off.”

“But I’m tired to death of these fashionable routs.”

“So am I.”

“They’re so unnaturalso unnecessary.”

“My dear fellow, of course they’re unnaturalof course they’re unnecessary; but what would you have?”

“Anything human and natural,” said Drake.  “I don’t care a ha’p’orth about the morality of these thingsnot Ibut I am dead sick of their stupidity.”

Lord Robert made languid puffs of his cigarette, and said, in a tearful drawl:  “My dear Drake, of course it is exactly as you say.  Who doesn’t know it is so?  It has always been so and always will be.  But what refuge is there for the poor leisured people but these diversions which you despise?  And as for the poor titled classeswell, they manage to make their play their business sometimes, don’t you know.  Confess that they do sometimes, now, eh?”

Lord Robert was laughing with an awkward constraint, but Drake looked frankly into his face and said: 

“How’s that matter going on, Robert?”

“Fairly, I think, though the girl is not very hot on it.  The thing came off last week, and when it was over I felt as if I had proposed to the girl and been accepted by the mother, don’t you know.  I believe this rout to-night is expressly in honour of the event, so I mustn’t run away from my bargain.”

He lay back, sent funnels of smoke to the ceiling, and then said, with a laugh like a gurgle:  “I’m not likely to, though.  That eternal dun was here again to-day.  I had to tell him that the marriage would come off in a year certain.  That was the only understanding on which he would agree to wait for his money.  Bad?  Of course it’s bad; but what would you have, dear boy?”

The men smoked in silence for a moment, and then Lord Robert said again:  “Come, old fellow, for friendship’s sake, if nothing else.  She’s a decent little woman, and dead bent on having you at her house to-night.  And if you’re badly bored we’ll not stay long.  We’ll come away early andlistenwe’ll slip across to the Nurses’ Ball at Bartimaeus’s Hospital; there’ll be fun enough there, at all events.”

“I’ll go,” said Drake.

Half an hour later the two young men were driving up to the door of Mrs. Macrae’s house in Belgrave Square.  There was a line of carriages in front of it, and they had to wait their turn to approach the gate.  Footmen in gorgeous livery were ready to open the cab door, to help the guests across the red baize that lay on the pavement, to usher them into the hall, to lead them to the little marble chamber where they entered their names in a list intended for the next day’s Morning Post, and finally to direct them to the great staircase where the general crush moved slowly up to the saloon above.

In the well of the stairs, half hidden behind a little forest of palms and ferns, a band in yellow and blue uniform sat playing the people in.  On the landing the hostess stood waiting to receive, and many of the guests, by a rotary movement like the waters of a maelstrom, moved past her in a rapid and babbling stream, twisted about her, and came down again.  She welcomed Lord Robert effusively, and motioned to him to stand by her side.  Then she introduced her daughter to Drake and sent them adrift through the rooms.

The rooms were large ones with parquet flooring from which all furniture had been removed, except the palms and ferns by the walls and the heavy chandeliers overhead.  It was not yet ten o’clock, but already the house was crowded, and every moment there were floods of fresh arrivals.  First came statesmen and diplomatists, then people who had been to the theatres, and toward the end of the evening some of the actors themselves.  The night was close and the atmosphere hot and oppressive.  At the farther end of the suite there was a refreshment-room with its lantern lights pulled open; and there the crush was densest and the commotion greatest.  The click-clack of many voices cut the thick air as with a thousand knives, and over the multitudinous clatter there was always the unintelligible boom of the band downstairs.

Most of the guests looked tired.  The men made some effort to be cheerful, but the women were frankly jaded and fagged.  Bedizened with diamonds, coated with paint and powder, laden with rustling silks, they looked weary and worn out.  When spoken to they would struggle to smile, but the smiles would break down after a moment into dismal looks of misery and oppression.

“Had enough?” whispered Lord Robert to Drake.

Drake was satisfied, and Lord Robert began to make their excuses.

“Going already!” said Mrs. Macrae.  “An official engagement, you say?Mr. Drake, is it?  Oh, don’t tell me!  I knowI know!  Well, you’ll be married and settled one of these daysand then!”

They were in a hansom cab driving across London in the direction of Bartimaeus’s Hospital.  Drake was bare-headed and fanning himself with his crush hat.  Lord Robert was lighting a cigarette.

“Pshaw!  What a stifling den!  Did you ever hear such a clitter-clatter?  A perfect Tower of Babel building company!  What in the name of common sense do people suppose they’re doing by penning themselves up like that on a night like this?  What are they thinking about?”

“Thinking about, dear boy?  You’re unreasonable!  Nobody wants to think about anything in such scenes of charming folly.”

“But the women!  Did you ever see such faded, worn-out dummies for the display of diamonds?  Poor little women in their splendid misery!  I was sorry for your fiancee, Robert.  She was the only woman in the house without that hateful stamp of worldliness and affectation.”

“My dear Drake, you’ve learned many things, but there’s one thing you have not yet learnedyou haven’t learned how to take serious things as trifles, and trifles as serious things.  Learn it, my boy, or you’ll embitter existence.  You are not going to alter the conditions of civilization by any change in your own particular life; so just look out the prettiest, wittiest, wealthiest little woman who is a dummy for the display of diamonds ”

“Me?  Not if I know it, old fellow!  Give me a little nature and simplicity, if it hasn’t got a second gown to its back.”

“All rightas you like,” said Lord Robert, flinging out the end of his cigarette.  “You’ve got the pull of some of usyou can please yourself.  And here we are at old Bartimaeus’s, and this is a very different pair of shoes!”

They were driving out of one of London’s main thoroughfares, through a groined archway, into one of London’s ancient buildings with its quiet quadrangle where trees grow and birds sing.  Every window of the square was lighted up, and there was a low murmur of music being played within.

“Listen!” said Lord Robert.  “I am here ostensibly as the guest of the visiting physician, don’t you know, but really in the interests of the little friend I told you of.”

“The one I got the tickets for last week?”


At the next moment they were in the ballroom.  It was the lecture theatre for the students of the hospital schoola building detached from the wards and of circular shape, with a gallery round its walls, which were festooned with flags and roofed with a glass dome.  Some two hundred girls and as many men were gathered there; the pit was their dancing ring and the gallery was their withdrawing room.  The men were nearly all students of the medical schools; the girls were nearly all nurses, and they wore their uniform:  There was not one jaded face among them, not one weary look or tired expression.  They were in the fulness of youth and the height of vigour.  The girls laughed with the ring of joy, their eyes sparkled with the light of happiness, their cheeks glowed with the freshness of health.

The two men stood a moment and looked on.

“Well, what do you think of it?” said Lord Robert.

Drake’s wide eyes were ablaze, and his voice came in gusts.

“Think of it!” he said.  “It’s wonderful!  It’s glorious!”

Lord Robert’s glass had dropped from his eye, and he was laughing in his drawling way.

“What are you laughing at?  Women like these are at least natural, and Nature can not be put on.”

The mazurka had just finished, and the dancers were breaking into groups.

“Robert, tell me who is that girl over therethe one looking this way?  Is it your friend?”

Lord Robert readjusted his glass.

“The pretty dark girl with the pink-and-white cheeks, like a doll?”

“Yes; and the taller one beside herall hair, and eyes, and bosom.  She’s looking across now.  I’ve seen that girl before somewhere.  Now, where have I seen her?  Look at herwhat fire, and life, and movement!  The dance is over, but she can’t keep her feet still.”

“I seeI see.  But let me introduce you to the matron and doctors first, and then ”

“I know nowI know where I’ve seen her!  Be quick, Robert, be quick!”

Lord Robert laughed again in his tired drawl.  He was finding it very amusing.