PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK
The neighbourhood of Bloomsbury Square towards four o'clock of a
November afternoon is not so crowded as to secure to the stranger, of
appearance anything out of the common, immunity from observation.
Tibb's boy, screaming at the top of his voice that _she_ was his
honey, stopped suddenly, stepped backwards on to the toes of a voluble
young lady wheeling a perambulator, and remained deaf, apparently, to
the somewhat personal remarks of the voluble young lady. Not until he
had reached the next corner--and then more as a soliloquy than as
information to the street--did Tibb's boy recover sufficient interest
in his own affairs to remark that _he_ was her bee. The voluble young
lady herself, following some half-a-dozen yards behind, forgot her
wrongs in contemplation of the stranger's back. There was this that
was peculiar about the stranger's back: that instead of being flat it
presented a decided curve. "It ain't a 'ump, and it don't look like
kervitcher of the spine," observed the voluble young lady to herself.
"Blimy if I don't believe 'e's taking 'ome 'is washing up his back."
The constable at the corner, trying to seem busy doing nothing,
noticed the stranger's approach with gathering interest. "That's an
odd sort of a walk of yours, young man," thought the constable. "You
take care you don't fall down and tumble over yourself."
"Thought he was a young man," murmured the constable, the stranger
having passed him. "He had a young face right enough."
The daylight was fading. The stranger, finding it impossible to read
the name of the street upon the corner house, turned back.
"Why, 'tis a young man," the constable told himself; "a mere boy."
"I beg your pardon," said the stranger; "but would you mind telling me
my way to Bloomsbury Square."
"This is Bloomsbury Square," explained the constable; "leastways round
the corner is. What number might you be wanting?"
The stranger took from the ticket pocket of his tightly buttoned
overcoat a piece of paper, unfolded it and read it out: "Mrs.
Pennycherry. Number Forty-eight."
"Round to the left," instructed him the constable; "fourth house.
Been recommended there?"
"By--by a friend," replied the stranger. "Thank you very much."
"Ah," muttered the constable to himself; "guess you won't be calling
him that by the end of the week, young--"
"Funny," added the constable, gazing after the retreating figure of
the stranger. "Seen plenty of the other sex as looked young behind
and old in front. This cove looks young in front and old behind.
Guess he'll look old all round if he stops long at mother
Pennycherry's: stingy old cat."
Constables whose beat included Bloomsbury Square had their reasons for
not liking Mrs. Pennycherry. Indeed it might have been difficult to
discover any human being with reasons for liking that sharp-featured
lady. Maybe the keeping of second-rate boarding houses in the
neighbourhood of Bloomsbury does not tend to develop the virtues of
generosity and amiability.
Meanwhile the stranger, proceeding npon his way, had rung the bell of
Number Forty-eight. Mrs. Pennycherry, peeping from the area and
catching a glimpse, above the railings, of a handsome if somewhat
effeminate masculine face, hastened to readjust her widow's cap before
the looking-glass while directing Mary Jane to show the stranger,
should he prove a problematical boarder, into the dining-room, and to
light the gas.
"And don't stop gossiping, and don't you take it upon yourself to
answer questions. Say I'll be up in a minute," were Mrs.
Pennycherry's further instructions, "and mind you hide your hands as
much as you can."
"What are you grinning at?" demanded Mrs. Pennycherry, a couple of
minutes later, of the dingy Mary Jane.
"Wasn't grinning," explained the meek Mary Jane, "was only smiling to
"Dunno," admitted Mary Jane. But still she went on smiling.
"What's he like then?" demanded Mrs. Pennycherry.
"'E ain't the usual sort," was Mary Jane's opinion.
"Thank God for that," ejaculated Mrs. Pennycherry piously.
"Says 'e's been recommended, by a friend."
"By a friend. 'E didn't say no name." Mrs. Pennycherry pondered.
"He's not the funny sort, is he?"
Not that sort at all. Mary Jane was sure of it.
Mrs. Pennycherry ascended the stairs still pondering. As she entered
the room the stranger rose and bowed. Nothing could have been simpler
than the stranger's bow, yet there came with it to Mrs. Pennycherry a
rush of old sensations long forgotten. For one brief moment Mrs.
Pennycherry saw herself an amiable well-bred lady, widow of a
solicitor: a visitor had called to see her. It was but a momentary
fancy. The next instant Reality reasserted itself. Mrs. Pennycherry,
a lodging-house keeper, existing precariously upon a daily round of
petty meannesses, was prepared for contest with a possible new
boarder, who fortunately looked an inexperienced young gentleman.
"Someone has recommended me to you," began Mrs. Pennycherry; "may I
But the stranger waved the question aside as immaterial.
"You might not remember--him," he smiled. "He thought that I should
do well to pass the few months I am given--that I have to be in
London, here. You can take me in?"
Mrs. Pennycherry thought that she would be able to take the stranger
"A room to sleep in," explained the stranger, "--any room will
do--with food and drink sufficient for a man, is all that I require."
"For breakfast," began Mrs. Pennycherry, "I always give--"
"What is right and proper, I am convinced," interrupted the stranger.
"Pray do not trouble to go into detail, Mrs. Pennycherry. With
whatever it is I shall be content."
Mrs. Pennycherry, puzzled, shot a quick glance at the stranger, but
his face, though the gentle eyes were smiling, was frank and serious.
"At all events you will see the room," suggested Mrs. Pennycherry,
"before we discuss terms."
"Certainly," agreed the stranger. "I am a little tired and shall be
glad to rest there."
Mrs. Pennycherry led the way upward; on the landing of the third
floor, paused a moment undecided, then opened the door of the back
"It is very comfortable," commented the stranger.
"For this room," stated Mrs. Pennycherry, "together with full board,
"Of everything needful. It goes without saying," again interrupted
the stranger with his quiet grave smile.
"I have generally asked," continued Mrs. Pennycherry, "four pounds a
week. To you--" Mrs. Pennycherry's voice, unknown to her, took to
itself the note of aggressive generosity--"seeing you have been
recommended here, say three pounds ten."
"Dear lady," said the stranger, "that is kind of you. As you have
divined, I am not a rich man. If it be not imposing upon you I accept
your reduction with gratitude."
Again Mrs. Pennycherry, familiar with the satirical method, shot a
suspicious glance upon the stranger, but not a line was there, upon
that smooth fair face, to which a sneer could for a moment have clung.
Clearly he was as simple as he looked.
"Gas, of course, extra."
"Of course," agreed the Stranger.
"We shall not quarrel," for a third time the stranger interrupted.
"You have been very considerate to me as it is. I feel, Mrs.
Pennycherry, I can leave myself entirely in your hands."
The stranger appeared anxious to be alone. Mrs. Pennycherry, having
put a match to the stranger's fire, turned to depart. And at this
point it was that Mrs. Pennycherry, the holder hitherto of an unbroken
record for sanity, behaved in a manner she herself, five minutes
earlier in her career, would have deemed impossible--that no living
soul who had ever known her would have believed, even had Mrs.
Pennycherry gone down upon her knees and sworn it to them.
"Did I say three pound ten?" demanded Mrs. Pennycherry of the
stranger, her hand upon the door. She spoke crossly. She was feeling
cross, with the stranger, with herself--particularly with herself.
"You were kind enough to reduce it to that amount," replied the
stranger; "but if upon reflection you find yourself unable--"
"I was making a mistake," said Mrs. Pennycherry, "it should have been
two pound ten."
"I cannot--I will not accept such sacrifice," exclaimed the stranger;
"the three pound ten I can well afford."
"Two pound ten are my terms," snapped Mrs. Pennycherry. "If you are
bent on paying more, you can go elsewhere. You'll find plenty to
Her vehemence must have impressed the stranger. "We will not contend
further," he smiled. "I was merely afraid that in the goodness of
"Oh, it isn't as good as all that," growled Mrs. Pennycherry.
"I am not so sure," returned the stranger. "I am somewhat suspicious
of you. But wilful woman must, I suppose, have her way."
The stranger held out his hand, and to Mrs. Pennycherry, at that
moment, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take it as if
it had been the hand of an old friend and to end the interview with a
pleasant laugh--though laughing was an exercise not often indulged in
by Mrs. Pennycherry.
Mary Jane was standing by the window, her hands folded in front of
her, when Mrs. Pennycherry re-entered the kitchen. By standing close
to the window one caught a glimpse of the trees in Bloomsbury Square
and through their bare branches of the sky beyond.
"There's nothing much to do for the next half hour, till Cook comes
back. I'll see to the door if you'd like a run out?" suggested Mrs.
"It would be nice," agreed the girl so soon as she had recovered power
of speech; "it's just the time of day I like."
"Don't be longer than the half hour," added Mrs. Pennycherry.
Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, assembled after dinner in the
drawing-room, discussed the stranger with that freedom and frankness
characteristic of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square, towards the absent.
"Not what I call a smart young man," was the opinion of Augustus
Longcord, who was something in the City.
"Thpeaking for mythelf," commented his partner Isidore, "hav'n'th
any uthe for the thmart young man. Too many of him, ath it ith."
"Must be pretty smart if he's one too many for you," laughed his
There was this to be said for the repartee of Forty-eight Bloomsbury
Square: it was simple of construction and easy of comprehension.
"Well it made me feel good just looking at him," declared Miss Kite,
the highly coloured. "It was his clothes, I suppose--made me think of
Noah and the ark--all that sort of thing."
"It would be clothes that would make you think--if anything," drawled
the languid Miss Devine. She was a tall, handsome girl, engaged at
the moment in futile efforts to recline with elegance and comfort
combined upon a horsehair sofa. Miss Kite, by reason of having
secured the only easy-chair, was unpopular that evening; so that Miss
Devine's remark received from the rest of the company more approbation
than perhaps it merited.
"Is that intended to be clever, dear, or only rude?" Miss Kite
requested to be informed.
"Both," claimed Miss Devine.
"Myself? I must confess," shouted the tall young lady's father,
commonly called the Colonel, "I found him a fool."
"I noticed you seemed to be getting on very well together," purred his
wife, a plump, smiling little lady.
"Possibly we were," retorted the Colonel. "Fate has accustomed me to
the society of fools."
"Isn't it a pity to start quarrelling immediately after dinner, you
two," suggested their thoughtful daughter from the sofa, "you'll have
nothing left to amuse you for the rest of the evening."
"He didn't strike me as a conversationalist," said the lady who was
cousin to a baronet; "but he did pass the vegetables before he helped
himself. A little thing like that shows breeding."
"Or that he didn't know you and thought maybe you'd leave him half a
spoonful," laughed Augustus the wit.
"What I can't make out about him--" shouted the Colonel.
The stranger entered the room.
The Colonel, securing the evening paper, retired into a corner. The
highly coloured Kite, reaching down from the mantelpiece a paper fan,
held it coyly before her face. Miss Devine sat upright on the
horse-hair sofa, and rearranged her skirts.
"Know anything?" demanded Augustus of the stranger, breaking the
somewhat remarkable silence.
The stranger evidently did not understand. It was necessary for
Augustus, the witty, to advance further into that odd silence.
"What's going to pull off the Lincoln handicap? Tell me, and I'll go
out straight and put my shirt upon it."
"I think you would act unwisely," smiled the stranger; "I am not an
authority upon the subject."
"Not! Why they told me you were Captain Spy of the _Sporting
It would have been difficult for a joke to fall more flat. Nobody
laughed, though why Mr. Augustus Longcord could not understand, and
maybe none of his audience could have told him, for at Forty-eight
Bloomsbury Square Mr. Augustus Longcord passed as a humorist. The
stranger himself appeared unaware that he was being made fun of.
"You have been misinformed," assured him the stranger.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Augustus Longcord.
"It is nothing," replied the stranger in his sweet low voice, and
"Well what about this theatre," demanded Mr. Longcord of his friend
and partner; "do you want to go or don't you?" Mr. Longcord was
"Goth the ticketh--may ath well," thought Isidore.
"Damn stupid piece, I'm told."
"Motht of them thupid, more or leth. Pity to wathte the ticketh,"
argued Isidore, and the pair went out.
"Are you staying long in London?" asked Miss Kite, raising her
practised eyes towards the stranger.
"Not long," answered the stranger. "At least I do not know. It
An unusual quiet had invaded the drawing-room of Forty-eight
Bloomsbury Square, generally noisy with strident voices about this
hour. The Colonel remained engrossed in his paper. Mrs. Devine sat
with her plump white hands folded on her lap, whether asleep or not it
was impossible to say. The lady who was cousin to a baronet had
shifted her chair beneath the gasolier, her eyes bent on her
everlasting crochet work. The languid Miss Devine had crossed to the
piano, where she sat fingering softly the tuneless keys, her back to
the cold barely-furnished room.
"Sit down!" commanded saucily Miss Kite, indicating with her fan the
vacant seat beside her. "Tell me about yourself. You interest me."
Miss Kite adopted a pretty authoritative air towards all
youthful-looking members of the opposite sex. It harmonised with the
peach complexion and the golden hair, and fitted her about as well.
"I am glad of that," answered the stranger, taking the chair
suggested. "I so wish to interest you."
"You're a very bold boy." Miss Kite lowered her fan, for the purpose
of glancing archly over the edge of it, and for the first time
encountered the eyes of the stranger looking into hers. And then it
was that Miss Kite experienced precisely the same curious sensation
that an hour or so ago had troubled Mrs. Pennycherry when the stranger
had first bowed to her. It seemed to Miss Kite that she was no longer
the Miss Kite that, had she risen and looked into it, the fly-blown
mirror over the marble mantelpiece would, she knew, have presented to
her view; but quite another Miss Kite--a cheerful, bright-eyed lady
verging on middle age, yet still good-looking in spite of her faded
complexion and somewhat thin brown locks. Miss Kite felt a pang of
jealousy shoot through her; this middle-aged Miss Kite seemed, on the
whole, a more attractive lady. There was a wholesomeness, a
broadmindedness about her that instinctively drew one towards her.
Not hampered, as Miss Kite herself was, by the necessity of appearing
to be somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two, this other Miss Kite
could talk sensibly, even brilliantly: one felt it. A thoroughly
"nice" woman this other Miss Kite; the real Miss Kite, though envious,
was bound to admit it. Miss Kite wished to goodness she had never
seen the woman. The glimpse of her had rendered Miss Kite
dissatisfied with herself.
"I am not a boy," explained the stranger; "and I had no intention of
"I know," replied Miss Kite. "It was a silly remark. Whatever
induced me to make it, I can't think. Getting foolish in my old age,
The stranger laughed. "Surely you are not old."
"I'm thirty-nine," snapped out Miss Kite. "You don't call it young?"
"I think it a beautiful age," insisted the stranger; "young enough not
to have lost the joy of youth, old enough to have learnt sympathy."
"Oh, I daresay," returned Miss Kite, "any age you'd think beautiful.
I'm going to bed." Miss Kite rose. The paper fan had somehow got
itself broken. She threw the fragments into the fire.
"It is early yet," pleaded the stranger, "I was looking forward to a
talk with you."
"Well, you'll be able to look forward to it," retorted Miss Kite.
The truth was, Miss Kite was impatient to have a look at herself in
the glass, in her own room with the door shut. The vision of that
other Miss Kite--the clean-looking lady of the pale face and the brown
hair had been so vivid, Miss Kite wondered whether temporary
forgetfulness might not have fallen upon her while dressing for dinner
The stranger, left to his own devices, strolled towards the loo table,
seeking something to read.
"You seem to have frightened away Miss Kite," remarked the lady who
was cousin to a baronet.
"It seems so," admitted the stranger.
"My cousin, Sir William Bosster," observed the crocheting lady, "who
married old Lord Egham's niece--you never met the Eghams?"
"Hitherto," replied the stranger, "I have not had that pleasure."
"A charming family. Cannot understand--my cousin Sir William, I mean,
cannot understand my remaining here. 'My dear Emily'--he says the
same thing every time he sees me: 'My dear Emily, how can you exist
among the sort of people one meets with in a boarding-house.' But
they amuse me."
A sense of humour, agreed the stranger, was always of advantage.
"Our family on my mother's side," continued Sir William's cousin in
her placid monotone, "was connected with the Tatton-Joneses, who when
King George the Fourth--" Sir William's cousin, needing another reel
of cotton, glanced up, and met the stranger's gaze.
"I'm sure I don't know why I'm telling you all this," said Sir
William's cousin in an irritable tone. "It can't possibly interest
"Everything connected with you interests me," gravely the stranger
"It is very kind of you to say so," sighed Sir William's cousin, but
without conviction; "I am afraid sometimes I bore people."
The polite stranger refrained from contradiction.
"You see," continued the poor lady, "I really am of good family."
"Dear lady," said the stranger, "your gentle face, your gentle voice,
your gentle bearing, all proclaim it."
She looked without flinching into the stranger's eyes, and gradually a
smile banished the reigning dulness of her features.
"How foolish of me." She spoke rather to herself than to the
stranger. "Why, of course, people--people whose opinion is worth
troubling about--judge of you by what you are, not by what you go
about saying you are."
The stranger remained silent.
"I am the widow of a provincial doctor, with an income of just two
hundred and thirty pounds per annum," she argued. "The sensible thing
for me to do is to make the best of it, and to worry myself about
these high and mighty relations of mine as little as they have ever
worried themselves about me."
The stranger appeared unable to think of anything worth saying.
"I have other connections," remembered Sir William's cousin; "those of
my poor husband, to whom instead of being the 'poor relation' I could
be the fairy god-mama. They are my people--or would be," added Sir
William's cousin tartly, "if I wasn't a vulgar snob."
She flushed the instant she had said the words and, rising, commenced
preparations for a hurried departure.
"Now it seems I am driving you away," sighed the stranger.
"Having been called a 'vulgar snob,'" retorted the lady with some
heat, "I think it about time I went."
"The words were your own," the stranger reminded her.
"Whatever I may have thought," remarked the indignant dame, "no
lady--least of all in the presence of a total stranger--would have
called herself--" The poor dame paused, bewildered. "There is
something very curious the matter with me this evening, that I cannot
understand," she explained, "I seem quite unable to avoid insulting
Still surrounded by bewilderment, she wished the stranger good-night,
hoping that when next they met she would be more herself. The
stranger, hoping so also, opened the door and closed it again behind
"Tell me," laughed Miss Devine, who by sheer force of talent was
contriving to wring harmony from the reluctant piano, "how did you
manage to do it? I should like to know."
"How did I do what?" inquired the stranger.
"Contrive to get rid so quickly of those two old frumps?"
"How well you play!" observed the stranger. "I knew you had genius
for music the moment I saw you."
"How could you tell?"
"It is written so clearly in your face."
The girl laughed, well pleased. "You seem to have lost no time in
studying my face."
"It is a beautiful and interesting face," observed the stranger.
She swung round sharply on the stool and their eyes met.
"You can read faces?"
"Tell me, what else do you read in mine?"
"Ah, yes, all the virtues. Perhaps. We will take them for granted."
It was odd how serious the girl had suddenly become. "Tell me the
"I see no reverse side," replied the stranger. "I see but a fair
girl, bursting into noble womanhood."
"And nothing else? You read no trace of greed, of vanity, of
sordidness, of--" An angry laugh escaped her lips. "And you are a
reader of faces!"
"A reader of faces." The stranger smiled. "Do you know what is
written upon yours at this very moment? A love of truth that is
almost fierce, scorn of lies, scorn of hypocrisy, the desire for all
things pure, contempt of all things that are contemptible--especially
of such things as are contemptible in woman. Tell me, do I not read
I wonder, thought the girl, is that why those two others both hurried
from the room? Does everyone feel ashamed of the littleness that is
in them when looked at by those clear, believing eyes of yours?
The idea occurred to her: "Papa seemed to have a good deal to say to
you during dinner. Tell me, what were you talking about?"
"The military looking gentleman upon my left? We talked about your
"I am sorry," returned the girl, wishful now she had not asked the
question. "I was hoping he might have chosen another topic for the
"He did try one or two," admitted the stranger; "but I have been about
the world so little, I was glad when he talked to me about himself. I
feel we shall be friends. He spoke so nicely, too, about Mrs.
"Indeed," commented the girl.
"He told me he had been married for twenty years and had never
regretted it but once!"
Her black eyes flashed upon him, but meeting his, the suspicion died
from them. She turned aside to hide her smile.
"So he regretted it--once."
"Only once," explained the stranger, "in a passing irritable mood. It
was so frank of him to admit it. He told me--I think he has taken a
liking to me. Indeed he hinted as much. He said he did not often get
an opportnnity of talking to a man like myself--he told me that he and
your mother, when they travel together, are always mistaken for a
honeymoon couple. Some of the experiences he related to me were
really quite amusing." The stranger laughed at recollection of
them--"that even here, in this place, they are generally referred to
as 'Darby and Joan.'"
"Yes," said the girl, "that is true. Mr. Longcord gave them that
name, the second evening after our arrival. It was considered
clever--but rather obvious I thought myself."
"Nothing--so it seems to me," said the stranger, "is more beautiful
than the love that has weathered the storms of life. The sweet,
tender blossom that flowers in the heart of the young--in hearts such
as yours--that, too, is beautiful. The love of the young for the
young, that is the beginning of life. But the love of the old for the
old, that is the beginning of--of things longer."
"You seem to find all things beautiful," the girl grumbled.
"But are not all things beautiful?" demanded the stranger.
The Colonel had finished his paper. "You two are engaged in a very
absorbing conversation," observed the Colonel, approaching them.
"We were discussing Darbies and Joans," explained his daughter. "How
beautiful is the love that has weathered the storms of life!"
"Ah!" smiled the Colonel, "that is hardly fair. My friend has been
repeating to cynical youth the confessions of an amorous husband's
affection for his middle-aged and somewhat--" The Colonel in playful
mood laid his hand upon the stranger's shoulder, an action that
necessitated his looking straight into the stranger's eyes. The
Colonel drew himself up stiffly and turned scarlet.
Somebody was calling the Colonel a cad. Not only that, but was
explaining quite clearly, so that the Colonel could see it for
himself, why he was a cad.
"That you and your wife lead a cat and dog existence is a disgrace to
both of you. At least you might have the decency to try and hide it
from the world--not make a jest of your shame to every passing
stranger. You are a cad, sir, a cad!"
Who was daring to say these things? Not the stranger, his lips had
not moved. Besides, it was not his voice. Indeed it sounded much
more like the voice of the Colonel himself. The Colonel looked from
the stranger to his daughter, from his daughter back to the stranger.
Clearly they had not heard the voice--a mere hallucination. The
Colonel breathed again.
Yet the impression remaining was not to be shaken off. Undoubtedly it
was bad taste to have joked to the stranger upon such a subject. No
gentleman would have done so.
But then no gentleman would have permitted such a jest to be possible.
No gentleman would be forever wrangling with his wife--certainly never
in public. However irritating the woman, a gentleman would have
Mrs. Devine had risen, was coming slowly across the room. Fear laid
hold of the Colonel. She was going to address some aggravating remark
to him--he could see it in her eye--which would irritate him into
Even this prize idiot of a stranger would understand why
boarding-house wits had dubbed them "Darby and Joan," would grasp the
fact that the gallant Colonel had thought it amusing, in conversation
with a table acquaintance, to hold his own wife up to ridicule.
"My dear," cried the Colonel, hurrying to speak first, "does not this
room strike you as cold? Let me fetch you a shawl."
It was useless: the Colonel felt it. It had been too long the custom
of both of them to preface with politeness their deadliest insults to
each other. She came on, thinking of a suitable reply: suitable from
her point of view, that is. In another moment the truth would be out.
A wild, fantastic possibility flashed through the Colonel's brain: If
to him, why not to her?
"Letitia," cried the Colonel, and the tone of his voice surprised her
into silence, "I want you to look closely at our friend. Does he not
remind you of someone?"
Mrs. Devine, so urged, looked at the stranger long and hard. "Yes,"
she murmured, turning to her husband, "he does, who is it?"
"I cannot fix it," replied the Colonel; "I thought that maybe you
"It will come to me," mused Mrs. Devine. "It is someone--years ago,
when I was a girl--in Devonshire. Thank you, if it isn't troubling
you, Harry. I left it in the dining-room."
It was, as Mr. Augustus Longcord explained to his partner Isidore, the
colossal foolishness of the stranger that was the cause of all the
trouble. "Give me a man, who can take care of himself--or thinks he
can," declared Augustus Longcord, "and I am prepared to give a good
account of myself. But when a helpless baby refuses even to look at
what you call your figures, tells you that your mere word is
sufficient for him, and hands you over his cheque-book to fill up for
yourself--well, it isn't playing the game."
"Auguthuth," was the curt comment of his partner, "you're a fool."
"All right, my boy, you try," suggested Augustus.
"Jutht what I mean to do," asserted his partner.
"Well," demanded Augustus one evening later, meeting Isidore ascending
the stairs after a long talk with the stranger in the dining-room with
the door shut.
"Oh, don't arth me," retorted Isidore, "thilly ath, thath what he
"What did he say?"
"What did he thay! talked about the Jewth: what a grand rathe they
were--how people mithjudged them: all that thort of rot.
"Thaid thome of the motht honorable men he had ever met had been
Jewth. Thought I wath one of 'em!"
"Well, did you get anything out of him?"
"Get anything out of him. Of courthe not. Couldn't very well thell
the whole rathe, ath it were, for a couple of hundred poundth, after
that. Didn't theem worth it."
There were many things Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square came gradually to
the conclusion were not worth the doing:--Snatching at the gravy;
pouncing out of one's turn upon the vegetables and helping oneself to
more than one's fair share; manoeuvering for the easy-chair; sitting
on the evening paper while pretending not to have seen it--all
such-like tiresome bits of business. For the little one made out of
it, really it was not worth the bother. Grumbling everlastingly at
one's food; grumbling everlastingly at most things; abusing
Pennycherry behind her back; abusing, for a change, one's
fellow-boarders; squabbling with one's fellow-boarders about nothing
in particular; sneering at one's fellow-boarders; talking scandal of
one's fellow-boarders; making senseless jokes about one's
fellow-boarders; talking big about oneself, nobody believing one--all
such-like vulgarities. Other boarding-houses might indulge in them:
Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square had its dignity to consider.
The truth is, Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square was coming to a very good
opinion of itself: for the which not Bloomsbury Square so much as the
stranger must be blamed. The stranger had arrived at Forty-eight
Bloomsbury Square with the preconceived idea--where obtained from
Heaven knows--that its seemingly commonplace, mean-minded,
coarse-fibred occupants were in reality ladies and gentlemen of the
first water; and time and observation had apparently only strengthened
this absurd idea. The natural result was, Forty-eight Bloomsbury
Square was coming round to the stranger's opinion of itself.
Mrs. Pennycherry, the stranger would persist in regarding as a lady
born and bred, compelled by circumstances over which she had no
control to fill an arduous but honorable position of middle-class
society--a sort of foster-mother, to whom were due the thanks and
gratitude of her promiscuous family; and this view of herself Mrs.
Pennycherry now clung to with obstinate conviction. There were
disadvantages attaching, but these Mrs. Pennycherry appeared prepared
to suffer cheerfully. A lady born and bred cannot charge other ladies
and gentlemen for coals and candles they have never burnt; a
foster-mother cannot palm off upon her children New Zealand mutton for
Southdown. A mere lodging-house-keeper can play these tricks, and
pocket the profits. But a lady feels she cannot: Mrs. Pennycherry
felt she no longer could.
To the stranger Miss Kite was a witty and delightful conversationalist
of most attractive personality. Miss Kite had one failing: it was
lack of vanity. She was unaware of her own delicate and refined
beauty. If Miss Kite could only see herself with his, the stranger's
eyes, the modesty that rendered her distrustful of her natural charms
would fall from her. The stranger was so sure of it Miss Kite
determined to put it to the test. One evening, an hour before dinner,
there entered the drawing-room, when the stranger only was there and
before the gas was lighted, a pleasant, good-looking lady, somewhat
pale, with neatly-arranged brown hair, who demanded of the stranger if
he knew her. All her body was trembling, and her voice seemed
inclined to run away from her and become a sob. But when the
stranger, looking straight into her eyes, told her that from the
likeness he thought she must be Miss Kite's younger sister, but much
prettier, it became a laugh instead: and that evening the
golden-haired Miss Kite disappeared never to show her high-coloured
face again; and what perhaps, more than all else, might have impressed
some former habitue of Forty-eight Bloomsbury Square with awe, it was
that no one in the house made even a passing inquiry concerning her.
Sir William's cousin the stranger thought an acquisition to any
boarding-house. A lady of high-class family! There was nothing
outward or visible perhaps to tell you that she was of high-class
family. She herself, naturally, would not mention the fact, yet
somehow you felt it. Unconsciously she set a high-class tone,
diffused an atmosphere of gentle manners. Not that the stranger had
said this in so many words; Sir William's cousin gathered that he
thought it, and felt herself in agreement with him.
For Mr. Longcord and his partner, as representatives of the best type
of business men, the stranger had a great respect. With what
unfortunate results to themselves has been noted. The curious thing
is that the Firm appeared content with the price they had paid for the
stranger's good opinion--had even, it was rumoured, acquired a taste
for honest men's respect--that in the long run was likely to cost them
dear. But we all have our pet extravagance.
The Colonel and Mrs. Devine both suffered a good deal at first from
the necessity imposed upon them of learning, somewhat late in life,
new tricks. In the privacy of their own apartment they condoled with
"Tomfool nonsense," grumbled the Colonel, "you and I starting billing
and cooing at our age!"
"What I object to," said Mrs. Devine, "is the feeling that somehow I
am being made to do it."
"The idea that a man and his wife cannot have their little joke
together for fear of what some impertinent jackanapes may think of
them! it's damn ridiculous," the Colonel exploded.
"Even when he isn't there," said Mrs. Devine, "I seem to see him
looking at me with those vexing eyes of his. Really the man quite
"I have met him somewhere," mused the Colonel, "I'll swear I've met
him somewhere. I wish to goodness he would go."
A hundred things a day the Colonel wanted to say to Mrs. Devine, a
hundred things a day Mrs. Devine would have liked to observe to the
Colonel. But by the time the opportunity occurred--when nobody else
was by to hear--all interest in saying them was gone.
"Women will be women," was the sentiment with which the Colonel
consoled himself. "A man must bear with them--must never forget that
he is a gentleman."
"Oh, well, I suppose they're all alike," laughed Mrs. Devine to
herself, having arrived at that stage of despair when one seeks refuge
in cheerfulness. "What's the use of putting oneself out--it does no
good, and only upsets one." There is a certain satisfaction in
feeling you are bearing with heroic resignation the irritating follies
of others. Colonel and Mrs. Devine came to enjoy the luxury of much
But the person seriously annoyed by the stranger's bigoted belief in
the innate goodness of everyone he came across was the languid,
handsome Miss Devine. The stranger would have it that Miss Devine was
a noble-souled, high-minded young woman, something midway between a
Flora Macdonald and a Joan of Arc. Miss Devine, on the contrary, knew
herself to be a sleek, luxury-loving animal, quite willing to sell
herself to the bidder who could offer her the finest clothes, the
richest foods, the most sumptuous surroundings. Such a bidder was to
hand in the person of a retired bookmaker, a somewhat greasy old
gentleman, but exceedingly rich and undoubtedly fond of her.
Miss Devine, having made up her mind that the thing had got to be
done, was anxious that it should be done quickly. And here it was
that the stranger's ridiculous opinion of her not only irritated but
inconvenienced her. Under the very eyes of a person--however
foolish--convinced that you are possessed of all the highest
attributes of your sex, it is difficult to behave as though actuated
by only the basest motives. A dozen times had Miss Devine determined
to end the matter by formal acceptance of her elderly admirer's large
and flabby hand, and a dozen times--the vision intervening of the
stranger's grave, believing eyes--had Miss Devine refused decided
answer. The stranger would one day depart. Indeed, he had told her
himself, he was but a passing traveller. When he was gone it would be
easier. So she thought at the time.
One afternoon the stranger entered the room where she was standing by
the window, looking out upon the bare branches of the trees in
Bloomsbury Square. She remembered afterwards, it was just such
another foggy afternoon as the afternoon of the stranger's arrival
three months before. No one else was in the room. The stranger
closed the door, and came towards her with that curious, quick-leaping
step of his. His long coat was tightly buttoned, and in his hands he
carried his old felt hat and the massive knotted stick that was almost
"I have come to say good-bye," explained the stranger. "I am going."
"I shall not see you again?" asked the girl.
"I cannot say," replied the stranger. "But you will think of me?"
"Yes," she answered with a smile, "I can promise that."
"And I shall always remember you," promised the stranger, "and I wish
you every joy--the joy of love, the joy of a happy marriage."
The girl winced. "Love and marriage are not always the same thing,"
"Not always," agreed the stranger, "but in your case they will be
She looked at him.
"Do you think I have not noticed?" smiled the stranger, "a gallant,
handsome lad, and clever. You love him and he loves you. I could not
have gone away without knowing it was well with you."
Her gaze wandered towards the fading light.
"Ah, yes, I love him," she answered petulantly. "Your eyes can see
clearly enough, when they want to. But one does not live on love, in
our world. I will tell you the man I am going to marry if you care to
know." She would not meet his eyes. She kept her gaze still fixed
upon the dingy trees, the mist beyond, and spoke rapidly and
vehemently: "The man who can give me all my soul's desire--money and
the things that money can buy. You think me a woman, I'm only a pig.
He is moist, and breathes like a porpoise; with cunning in place of a
brain, and the rest of him mere stomach. But he is good enough for
She hoped this would shock the stranger and that now, perhaps, he
would go. It irritated her to hear him only laugh.
"No," he said, "you will not marry him."
"Who will stop me?" she cried angrily.
"Your Better Self."
His voice had a strange ring of authority, compelling her to turn and
look upon his face. Yes, it was true, the fancy that from the very
first had haunted her. She had met him, talked to him--in silent
country roads, in crowded city streets, where was it? And always in
talking with him her spirit had been lifted up: she had been--what he
had always thought her.
"There are those," continued the stranger (and for the first time she
saw that he was of a noble presence, that his gentle, child-like eyes
could also command), "whose Better Self lies slain by their own hand
and troubles them no more. But yours, my child, you have let grow too
strong; it will ever be your master. You must obey. Flee from it and
it will follow you; you cannot escape it. Insult it and it will
chastise you with burning shame, with stinging self-reproach from day
to day." The sternness faded from the beautiful face, the tenderness
crept back. He laid his hand upon the young girl's shoulder. "You
will marry your lover," he smiled. "With him you will walk the way of
sunlight and of shadow."
And the girl, looking up into the strong, calm face, knew that it
would be so, that the power of resisting her Better Self had passed
away from her for ever.
"Now," said the stranger, "come to the door with me. Leave-takings
are but wasted sadness. Let me pass out quietly. Close the door
softly behind me."
She thought that perhaps he would turn his face again, but she saw no
more of him than the odd roundness of his back under the tightly
buttoned coat, before he faded into the gathering fog.
Then softly she closed the door.