VICTORIAN SHORT STORIES
OF TROUBLED MARRIAGES
THE BRONCKHORST DIVORCE-CASE by Rudyard Kipling
IRREMEDIABLE by Ella D'Arcy
'A POOR STICK' by Arthur Morrison
THE ADVENTURE OF THE ABBEY GRANGE by Arthur Conan Doyle
THE PRIZE LODGER by George Gissing
THE BRONCKHORST DIVORCE-CASE
By Rudyard Kipling
(Civil and Military Gazette, 26 September 1884)
In the daytime, when she moved about me,
In the night, when she was sleeping at my side,—
I was wearied, I was wearied of her presence,
Day by day and night by night I grew to hate her—
Would God that she or I had died!
There was a man called Bronckhorst—a three-cornered, middle-aged man in
the Army—grey as a badger, and, some people said, with a touch of
country-blood in him. That, however, cannot be proved. Mrs. Bronckhorst
was not exactly young, though fifteen years younger than her husband.
She was a large, pale, quiet woman, with heavy eyelids over weak eyes,
and hair that turned red or yellow as the lights fell on it.
Bronckhorst was not nice in any way. He had no respect for the pretty
public and private lies that make life a little less nasty than it is.
His manner towards his wife was coarse. There are many things—including
actual assault with the clenched fist—that a wife will endure; but
seldom a wife can bear—as Mrs. Bronckhorst bore—with a long course of
brutal, hard chaff, making light of her weaknesses, her headaches, her
small fits of gaiety, her dresses, her queer little attempts to make
herself attractive to her husband when she knows that she is not what
she has been, and—worst of all—the love that she spends on her
children. That particular sort of heavy-handed jest was specially dear
to Bronckhorst. I suppose that he had first slipped into it, meaning no
harm, in the honeymoon, when folk find their ordinary stock of
endearments run short, and so go to the other extreme to express their
feelings. A similar impulse makes a man say, 'Hutt, you old beast!'
when a favourite horse nuzzles his coat-front. Unluckily, when the
reaction of marriage sets in, the form of speech remains, and, the
tenderness having died out, hurts the wife more than she cares to say.
But Mrs. Bronckhorst was devoted to her 'Teddy' as she called him.
Perhaps that was why he objected to her. Perhaps—this is only a theory
to account for his infamous behaviour later on—he gave way to the
queer, savage feeling that sometimes takes by the throat a husband
twenty years married, when he sees, across the table, the same, same
face of his wedded wife, and knows that, as he has sat facing it, so
must he continue to sit until the day of its death or his own. Most men
and all women know the spasm. It only lasts for three breaths as a rule,
must be a 'throw-back' to times when men and women were rather worse
than they are now, and is too unpleasant to be discussed.
Dinner at the Bronckhorsts' was an infliction few men cared to undergo.
Bronckhorst took a pleasure in saying things that made his wife wince.
When their little boy came in at dessert Bronckhorst used to give him
half a glass of wine, and, naturally enough, the poor little mite got
first riotous, next miserable, and was removed screaming. Bronckhorst
asked if that was the way Teddy usually behaved, and whether Mrs.
Bronckhorst could not spare some of her time 'to teach the little beggar
decency'. Mrs. Bronckhorst, who loved the boy more than her own life,
tried not to cry—her spirit seemed to have been broken by her marriage.
Lastly, Bronckhorst used to say, 'There! That'll do, that'll do. For
God's sake try to behave like a rational woman. Go into the
drawing-room.' Mrs. Bronckhorst would go, trying to carry it all off
with a smile; and the guest of the evening would feel angry and
After three years of this cheerful life—for Mrs. Bronckhorst had no
women-friends to talk to—the station was startled by the news that
Bronckhorst had instituted proceedings on the criminal count, against
a man called Biel, who certainly had been rather attentive to Mrs.
Bronckhorst whenever she had appeared in public. The utter want of
reserve with which Bronckhorst treated his own dishonour helped us to
know that the evidence against Biel would be entirely circumstantial and
native. There were no letters; but Bronckhorst said openly that he would
rack Heaven and Earth until he saw Biel superintending the manufacture
of carpets in the Central Jail. Mrs. Bronckhorst kept entirely to her
house, and let charitable folks say what they pleased. Opinions were
divided. Some two-thirds of the station jumped at once to the conclusion
that Biel was guilty; but a dozen men who knew and liked him held by
him. Biel was furious and surprised. He denied the whole thing, and
vowed that he would thrash Bronckhorst within an inch of his life. No
jury, we knew, would convict a man on the criminal count on native
evidence in a land where you can buy a murder-charge, including the
corpse, all complete for fifty-four rupees; but Biel did not care to
scrape through by the benefit of a doubt. He wanted the whole thing
cleared; but, as he said one night, 'He can prove anything with
servants' evidence, and I've only my bare word.' This was almost a month
before the case came on; and beyond agreeing with Biel, we could do
little. All that we could be sure of was that the native evidence would
be bad enough to blast Biel's character for the rest of his service; for
when a native begins perjury he perjures himself thoroughly. He does not
boggle over details.
Some genius at the end of the table whereat the affair was being talked
over, said, 'Look here! I don't believe lawyers are any good. Get a man
to wire to Strickland, and beg him to come down and pull us through.'
Strickland was about a hundred and eighty miles up the line. He had not
long been married to Miss Youghal, but he scented in the telegram a
chance of return to the old detective work that his soul lusted after,
and next time he came in and heard our story. He finished his pipe and
said oracularly, 'We must get at the evidence. Oorya bearer, Mussulman
khit and sweeper ayah, I suppose, are the pillars of the charge. I
am on in this piece; but I'm afraid I'm getting rusty in my talk.'
He rose and went into Biel's bedroom, where his trunk had been put, and
shut the door. An hour later, we heard him say, 'I hadn't the heart to
part with my old make-ups when I married. Will this do?' There was a
loathly fakir salaaming in the doorway.
'Now lend me fifty rupees,' said Strickland, 'and give me your Words of
Honour that you won't tell my wife.'
He got all that he asked for, and left the house while the table drank
his health. What he did only he himself knows. A fakir hung about
Bronckhorst's compound for twelve days. Then a sweeper appeared, and
when Biel heard of him, he said that Strickland was an angel
full-fledged. Whether the sweeper made love to Janki, Mrs. Bronckhorst's
ayah, is a question which concerns Strickland exclusively.
He came back at the end of three weeks, and said quietly, 'You spoke the
truth, Biel. The whole business is put up from beginning to end. Jove!
It almost astonishes me! That Bronckhorst beast isn't fit to live.'
There was uproar and shouting, and Biel said, 'How are you going to
prove it? You can't say that you've been trespassing on Bronckhorst's
compound in disguise!'
'No,' said Strickland. 'Tell your lawyer-fool, whoever he is, to get up
something strong about "inherent improbabilities" and "discrepancies of
evidence". He won't have to speak, but it will make him happy, I'm
going to run this business.'
Biel held his tongue, and the other men waited to see what would happen.
They trusted Strickland as men trust quiet men. When the case came off
the Court was crowded. Strickland hung about in the veranda of the
Court, till he met the Mohammedan khitmutgar. Then he murmured a
fakir's blessing in his ear, and asked him how his second wife did.
The man spun round, and, as he looked into the eyes of 'Estreekin
Sahib', his jaw dropped. You must remember that before Strickland was
married, he was, as I have told you already, a power among natives.
Strickland whispered a rather coarse vernacular proverb to the effect
that he was abreast of all that was going on, and went into the Court
armed with a gut trainer's-whip.
The Mohammedan was the first witness, and Strickland beamed upon him
from the back of the Court. The man moistened his lips with his tongue
and, in his abject fear of 'Estreekin Sahib', the fakir went back on
every detail of his evidence—said he was a poor man, and God was his
witness that he had forgotten everything that Bronckhorst Sahib had told
him to say. Between his terror of Strickland, the Judge, and Bronckhorst
he collapsed weeping.
Then began the panic among the witnesses. Janki, the ayah, leering
chastely behind her veil, turned grey, and the bearer left the Court. He
said that his Mamma was dying, and that it was not wholesome for any man
to lie unthriftily in the presence of 'Estreekin Sahib'.
Biel said politely to Bronckhorst, 'Your witnesses don't seem to work.
Haven't you any forged letters to produce?' But Bronckhorst was swaying
to and fro in his chair, and there was a dead pause after Biel had been
called to order.
Bronckhorst's Counsel saw the look on his client's face, and without
more ado pitched his papers on the little green-baize table, and mumbled
something about having been misinformed. The whole Court applauded
wildly, like soldiers at a theatre, and the Judge began to say what he
* * * * *
Biel came out of the Court, and Strickland dropped a gut trainer's-whip
in the veranda. Ten minutes later, Biel was cutting Bronckhorst into
ribbons behind the old Court cells, quietly and without scandal. What
was left of Bronckhorst was sent home in a carriage; and his wife wept
over it and nursed it into a man again. Later on, after Biel had managed
to hush up the counter-charge against Bronckhorst of fabricating false
evidence, Mrs. Bronckhorst, with her faint, watery smile, said that
there had been a mistake, but it wasn't her Teddy's fault altogether.
She would wait till her Teddy came back to her. Perhaps he had grown
tired of her, or she had tried his patience, and perhaps we wouldn't cut
her any more, and perhaps the mothers would let their children play with
'little Teddy' again. He was so lonely. Then the station invited Mrs.
Bronckhorst everywhere, until Bronckhorst was fit to appear in public,
when he went Home and took his wife with him. According to latest
advices, her Teddy did come back to her, and they are moderately happy.
Though, of course, he can never forgive her the thrashing that she was
the indirect means of getting for him.
* * * * *
What Biel wants to know is, 'Why didn't I press home the charge against
the Bronckhorst brute, and have him run in?'
What Mrs. Strickland wants to know is, 'How did my husband bring such
a lovely, lovely Waler from your station? I know all his money
affairs; and I'm certain he didn't buy it.'
What I want to know is, 'How do women like Mrs. Bronckhorst come to
marry men like Bronckhorst?'
And my conundrum is the most unanswerable of the three.
By Ella D'Arcy
(Monochromes, London: John Lane, 1893)
A young man strolled along a country road one August evening after a
long delicious day—a day of that blessed idleness the man of leisure
never knows: one must be a bank clerk forty-nine weeks out of the
fifty-two before one can really appreciate the exquisite enjoyment of
doing nothing for twelve hours at a stretch. Willoughby had spent the
morning lounging about a sunny rickyard; then, when the heat grew
unbearable, he had retreated to an orchard, where, lying on his back in
the long cool grass, he had traced the pattern of the apple-leaves
diapered above him upon the summer sky; now that the heat of the day was
over he had come to roam whither sweet fancy led him, to lean over
gates, view the prospect, and meditate upon the pleasures of a
well-spent day. Five such days had already passed over his head, fifteen
more remained to him. Then farewell to freedom and clean country air!
Back again to London and another year's toil.
He came to a gate on the right of the road. Behind it a footpath
meandered up over a grassy slope. The sheep nibbling on its summit cast
long shadows down the hill almost to his feet. Road and fieldpath were
equally new to him, but the latter offered greener attractions; he
vaulted lightly over the gate and had so little idea he was taking thus
the first step towards ruin that he began to whistle 'White Wings' from
pure joy of life.
The sheep stopped feeding and raised their heads to stare at him from
pale-lashed eyes; first one and then another broke into a startled run,
until there was a sudden woolly stampede of the entire flock. When
Willoughby gained the ridge from which they had just scattered, he came
in sight of a woman sitting on a stile at the further end of the field.
As he advanced towards her he saw that she was young, and that she was
not what is called 'a lady'—of which he was glad: an earlier episode in
his career having indissolubly associated in his mind ideas of feminine
refinement with those of feminine treachery.
He thought it probable this girl would be willing to dispense with the
formalities of an introduction, and that he might venture with her on
some pleasant foolish chat.
As she made no movement to let him pass he stood still, and, looking at
her, began to smile.
She returned his gaze from unabashed dark eyes, and then laughed,
showing teeth white, sound, and smooth as split hazelnuts.
'Do you wanter get over?' she remarked familiarly.
'I'm afraid I can't without disturbing you.'
'Dontcher think you're much better where you are?' said the girl, on
which Willoughby hazarded:
'You mean to say looking at you? Well, perhaps I am!'
The girl at this laughed again, but nevertheless dropped herself down
into the further field; then, leaning her arms upon the cross-bar, she
informed the young man: 'No, I don't wanter spoil your walk. You were
goin' p'raps ter Beacon Point? It's very pretty that wye.'
'I was going nowhere in particular,' he replied; 'just exploring, so to
speak. I'm a stranger in these parts.'
'How funny! Imer stranger here too. I only come down larse Friday to
stye with a Naunter mine in Horton. Are you stying in Horton?'
Willoughby told her he was not in Orton, but at Povey Cross Farm out in
the other direction.
'Oh, Mrs. Payne's, ain't it? I've heard aunt speak ovver. She takes
summer boarders, don't chee? I egspeck you come from London, heh?'
'And I expect you come from London too?' said Willoughby, recognizing
the familiar accent.
'You're as sharp as a needle,' cried the girl with her unrestrained
laugh; 'so I do. I'm here for a hollerday 'cos I was so done up with the
work and the hot weather. I don't look as though I'd bin ill, do I? But
I was, though: for it was just stiflin' hot up in our workrooms all
larse month, an' tailorin's awful hard work at the bester times.'
Willoughby felt a sudden accession of interest in her. Like many
intelligent young men, he had dabbled a little in Socialism, and at one
time had wandered among the dispossessed; but since then, had caught up
and held loosely the new doctrine—it is a good and fitting thing that
woman also should earn her bread by the sweat of her brow. Always in
reference to the woman who, fifteen months before, had treated him ill;
he had said to himself that even the breaking of stones in the road
should be considered a more feminine employment than the breaking of
He gave way therefore to a movement of friendliness for this working
daughter of the people, and joined her on the other side of the stile in
token of his approval. She, twisting round to face him, leaned now with
her back against the bar, and the sunset fires lent a fleeting glory to
her face. Perhaps she guessed how becoming the light was, for she took
off her hat and let it touch to gold the ends and fringes of her rough
abundant hair. Thus and at this moment she made an agreeable picture, to
which stood as background all the beautiful, wooded Southshire view.
'You don't really mean to say you are a tailoress?' said Willoughby,
with a sort of eager compassion.
'I do, though! An' I've bin one ever since I was fourteen. Look at my
fingers if you don't b'lieve me.'
She put out her right hand, and he took hold of it, as he was expected
to do. The finger-ends were frayed and blackened by needle-pricks, but
the hand itself was plump, moist, and not unshapely. She meanwhile
examined Willoughby's fingers enclosing hers.
'It's easy ter see you've never done no work!' she said, half admiring,
half envious. 'I s'pose you're a tip-top swell, ain't you?'
'Oh, yes! I'm a tremendous swell indeed!' said Willoughby, ironically.
He thought of his hundred and thirty pounds' salary; and he mentioned
his position in the British and Colonial Banking house, without shedding
much illumination on her mind, for she insisted:
'Well, anyhow, you're a gentleman. I've often wished I was a lady. It
must be so nice ter wear fine clo'es an' never have ter do any work all
Willoughby thought it innocent of the girl to say this; it reminded him
of his own notion as a child—that kings and queens put on their crowns
the first thing on rising in the morning. His cordiality rose another
'If being a gentleman means having nothing to do,' said he, smiling,
'I can certainly lay no claim to the title. Life isn't all beer and
skittles with me, any more than it is with you. Which is the better
reason for enjoying the present moment, don't you think? Suppose, now,
like a kind little girl, you were to show me the way to Beacon Point,
which you say is so pretty?'
She required no further persuasion. As he walked beside her through the
upland fields where the dusk was beginning to fall, and the white
evening moths to emerge from their daytime hiding-places, she asked him
many personal questions, most of which he thought fit to parry. Taking
no offence thereat, she told him, instead, much concerning herself and
her family. Thus he learned her name was Esther Stables, that she and
her people lived Whitechapel way; that her father was seldom sober, and
her mother always ill; and that the aunt with whom she was staying kept
the post-office and general shop in Orton village. He learned, too, that
Esther was discontented with life in general; that, though she hated
being at home, she found the country dreadfully dull; and that,
consequently, she was extremely glad to have made his acquaintance. But
what he chiefly realized when they parted was that he had spent a couple
of pleasant hours talking nonsense with a girl who was natural,
simple-minded, and entirely free from that repellently protective
atmosphere with which a woman of the 'classes' so carefully surrounds
herself. He and Esther had 'made friends' with the ease and rapidity of
children before they have learned the dread meaning of 'etiquette', and
they said good night, not without some talk of meeting each other again.
Obliged to breakfast at a quarter to eight in town, Willoughby was
always luxuriously late when in the country, where he took his meals
also in leisurely fashion, often reading from a book propped up on the
table before him. But the morning after his meeting with Esther Stables
found him less disposed to read than usual. Her image obtruded itself
upon the printed page, and at length grew so importunate he came to the
conclusion the only way to lay it was to confront it with the girl
Wanting some tobacco, he saw a good reason for going into Orton. Esther
had told him he could get tobacco and everything else at her aunt's. He
found the post-office to be one of the first houses in the widely spaced
village street. In front of the cottage was a small garden ablaze with
old-fashioned flowers; and in a large garden at one side were
apple-trees, raspberry and currant bushes, and six thatched beehives on
a bench. The bowed windows of the little shop were partly screened by
sunblinds; nevertheless the lower panes still displayed a heterogeneous
collection of goods—lemons, hanks of yarn, white linen buttons upon
blue cards, sugar cones, churchwarden pipes, and tobacco jars. A
letter-box opened its narrow mouth low down in one wall, and over the
door swung the sign, 'Stamps and money-order office', in black letters
on white enamelled iron.
The interior of the shop was cool and dark. A second glass-door at the
back permitted Willoughby to see into a small sitting-room, and out
again through a low and square-paned window to the sunny landscape
beyond. Silhouetted against the light were the heads of two women; the
rough young head of yesterday's Esther, the lean outline and bugled cap
of Esther's aunt.
It was the latter who at the jingling of the doorbell rose from her work
and came forward to serve the customer; but the girl, with much mute
meaning in her eyes, and a finger laid upon her smiling mouth, followed
behind. Her aunt heard her footfall. 'What do you want here, Esther?'
she said with thin disapproval; 'get back to your sewing.'
Esther gave the young man a signal seen only by him and slipped out into
the side-garden, where he found her when his purchases were made. She
leaned over the privet-hedge to intercept him as he passed.
'Aunt's an awful ole maid,' she remarked apologetically; 'I b'lieve
she'd never let me say a word to enny one if she could help it.'
'So you got home all right last night?' Willoughby inquired; 'what did
your aunt say to you?'
'Oh, she arst me where I'd been, and I tolder a lotter lies.' Then, with
a woman's intuition, perceiving that this speech jarred, Esther made
haste to add, 'She's so dreadful hard on me. I dursn't tell her I'd been
with a gentleman or she'd never have let me out alone again.'
'And at present I suppose you'll be found somewhere about that same
stile every evening?' said Willoughby foolishly, for he really did not
much care whether he met her again or not. Now he was actually in her
company, he was surprised at himself for having given her a whole
morning's thought; yet the eagerness of her answer flattered him, too.
'Tonight I can't come, worse luck! It's Thursday, and the shops here
close of a Thursday at five. I'll havter keep aunt company. But
tomorrer? I can be there tomorrer. You'll come, say?'
'Esther!' cried a vexed voice, and the precise, right-minded aunt
emerged through a row of raspberry-bushes; 'whatever are you thinking
about, delayin' the gentleman in this fashion?' She was full of rustic
and official civility for 'the gentleman', but indignant with her niece.
'I don't want none of your London manners down here,' Willoughby heard
her say as she marched the girl off.
He himself was not sorry to be released from Esther's too friendly eyes,
and he spent an agreeable evening over a book, and this time managed to
forget her completely.
Though he remembered her first thing next morning, it was to smile
wisely and determine he would not meet her again. Yet by dinner-time the
day seemed long; why, after all, should he not meet her? By tea-time
prudence triumphed anew—no, he would not go. Then he drank his tea
hastily and set off for the stile.
Esther was waiting for him. Expectation had given an additional colour
to her cheeks, and her red-brown hair showed here and there a beautiful
glint of gold. He could not help admiring the vigorous way in which it
waved and twisted, or the little curls which grew at the nape of her
neck, tight and close as those of a young lamb's fleece. Her neck here
was admirable, too, in its smooth creaminess; and when her eyes lighted
up with such evident pleasure at his coming, how avoid the conviction
she was a good and nice girl after all?
He proposed they should go down into the little copse on the right,
where they would be less disturbed by the occasional passer-by. Here,
seated on a felled tree-trunk, Willoughby began that bantering, silly,
meaningless form of conversation known among the 'classes' as flirting.
He had but the wish to make himself agreeable, and to while away the
time. Esther, however, misunderstood him.
Willoughby's hand lay palm downwards on his knee, and she, noticing a
ring which he wore on his little finger, took hold of it.
'What a funny ring!' she said; 'let's look?'
To disembarrass himself of her touch, he pulled the ring off and gave
it her to examine.
'What's that ugly dark green stone?' she asked.
'It's called a sardonyx.'
'What's it for?' she said, turning it about.
'It's a signet ring, to seal letters with.'
'An' there's a sorter king's head scratched on it, an' some writin' too,
only I carnt make it out?'
'It isn't the head of a king, although it wears a crown,' Willoughby
explained, 'but the head and bust of a Saracen against whom my ancestor
of many hundred years ago went to fight in the Holy Land. And the words
cut round it are our motto, "Vertue vauncet", which means virtue
Willoughby may have displayed some accession of dignity in giving this
bit of family history, for Esther fell into uncontrolled laughter, at
which he was much displeased. And when the girl made as though she would
put the ring on her own finger, asking, 'Shall I keep it?' he coloured
up with sudden annoyance.
'It was only my fun!' said Esther hastily, and gave him the ring back,
but his cordiality was gone. He felt no inclination to renew the
idle-word pastime, said it was time to go, and, swinging his cane
vexedly, struck off the heads of the flowers and the weeds as he went.
Esther walked by his side in complete silence, a phenomenon of which he
presently became conscious. He felt rather ashamed of having shown
'Well, here's your way home,' said he with an effort at friendliness.
'Goodbye; we've had a nice evening anyhow. It was pleasant down there
in the woods, eh?'
He was astonished to see her eyes soften with tears, and to hear the
real emotion in her voice as she answered, 'It was just heaven down
there with you until you turned so funny-like. What had I done to make
you cross? Say you forgive me, do!'
'Silly child!' said Willoughby, completely mollified, 'I'm not the least
angry. There, goodbye!' and like a fool he kissed her.
He anathematized his folly in the white light of next morning, and,
remembering the kiss he had given her, repented it very sincerely. He
had an uncomfortable suspicion she had not received it in the same
spirit in which it had been bestowed, but, attaching more serious
meaning to it, would build expectations thereon which must be left
unfulfilled. It was best indeed not to meet her again; for he
acknowledged to himself that, though he only half liked, and even
slightly feared her, there was a certain attraction about her—was it in
her dark unflinching eyes or in her very red lips?—which might lead him
into greater follies still.
Thus it came about that for two successive evenings Esther waited for
him in vain, and on the third evening he said to himself, with a
grudging relief, that by this time she had probably transferred her
affections to someone else.
It was Saturday, the second Saturday since he left town. He spent the
day about the farm, contemplated the pigs, inspected the feeding of the
stock, and assisted at the afternoon milking. Then at evening, with a
refilled pipe, he went for a long lean over the west gate, while he
traced fantastic pictures and wove romances in the glories of the sunset
He watched the colours glow from gold to scarlet, change to crimson,
sink at last to sad purple reefs and isles, when the sudden
consciousness of someone being near him made him turn round. There
stood Esther, and her eyes were full of eagerness and anger.
'Why have you never been to the stile again?' she asked him. 'You
promised to come faithful, and you never came. Why have you not kep'
your promise? Why? Why?' she persisted, stamping her foot because
Willoughby remained silent.
What could he say? Tell her she had no business to follow him like this;
or own, what was, unfortunately, the truth, he was just a little glad to
'Praps you don't care for me any more?' she said. 'Well, why did you
kiss me, then?'
Why, indeed! thought Willoughby, marvelling at his own idiocy, and
yet—such is the inconsistency of man—not wholly without the desire to
kiss her again. And while he looked at her she suddenly flung herself
down on the hedge-bank at his feet and burst into tears. She did not
cover up her face, but simply pressed one cheek down upon the grass
while the water poured from her eyes with astonishing abundance.
Willoughby saw the dry earth turn dark and moist as it drank the tears
in. This, his first experience of Esther's powers of weeping, distressed
him horribly; never in his life before had he seen anyone weep like
that, he should not have believed such a thing possible; he was alarmed,
too, lest she should be noticed from the house. He opened the gate;
'Esther!' he begged, 'don't cry. Come out here, like a dear girl, and
let us talk sensibly.'
Because she stumbled, unable to see her way through wet eyes, he gave
her his hand, and they found themselves in a field of corn, walking
along the narrow grass-path that skirted it, in the shadow of the
'What is there to cry about because you have not seen me for two days?'
he began; 'why, Esther, we are only strangers, after all. When we have
been at home a week or two we shall scarcely remember each other's
Esther sobbed at intervals, but her tears had ceased. 'It's fine for you
to talk of home,' she said to this. 'You've got something that is a
home, I s'pose? But me! my home's like hell, with nothing but
quarrellin' and cursin', and a father who beats us whether sober or
drunk. Yes!' she repeated shrewdly, seeing the lively disgust on
Willoughby's face, 'he beat me, all ill as I was, jus' before I come
away. I could show you the bruises on my arms still. And now to go back
there after knowin' you! It'll be worse than ever. I can't endure it,
and I won't! I'll put an end to it or myself somehow, I swear!'
'But my poor Esther, how can I help it? what can I do?' said Willoughby.
He was greatly moved, full of wrath with her father, with all the world
which makes women suffer. He had suffered himself at the hands of a
woman and severely, but this, instead of hardening his heart, had only
rendered it the more supple. And yet he had a vivid perception of the
peril in which he stood. An interior voice urged him to break away, to
seek safety in flight even at the cost of appearing cruel or ridiculous;
so, coming to a point in the field where an elm-hole jutted out across
the path, he saw with relief he could now withdraw his hand from the
girl's, since they must walk singly to skirt round it.
Esther took a step in advance, stopped and suddenly turned to face him;
she held out her two hands and her face was very near his own.
'Don't you care for me one little bit?' she said wistfully, and surely
sudden madness fell upon him. For he kissed her again, he kissed her
many times, he took her in his arms, and pushed all thoughts of the
consequences far from him.
But when, an hour later, he and Esther stood by the last gate on the
road to Orton, some of these consequences were already calling loudly to
'You know I have only £130 a year?' he told her; 'it's no very brilliant
prospect for you to marry me on that.'
For he had actually offered her marriage, although to the mediocre
man such a proceeding must appear incredible, uncalled for. But to
Willoughby, overwhelmed with sadness and remorse, it seemed the only
Sudden exultation leaped at Esther's heart.
'Oh! I'm used to managing' she told him confidently, and mentally
resolved to buy herself, so soon as she was married, a black feather
boa, such as she had coveted last winter.
Willoughby spent the remaining days of his holiday in thinking out and
planning with Esther the details of his return to London and her own,
the secrecy to be observed, the necessary legal steps to be taken, and
the quiet suburb in which they would set up housekeeping. And, so
successfully did he carry out his arrangements, that within five weeks
from the day on which he had first met Esther Stables, he and she came
out one morning from a church in Highbury, husband and wife. It was a
mellow September day, the streets were filled with sunshine, and
Willoughby, in reckless high spirits, imagined he saw a reflection of
his own gaiety on the indifferent faces of the passersby. There being no
one else to perform the office, he congratulated himself very warmly,
and Esther's frequent laughter filled in the pauses of the day.
* * * * *
Three months later Willoughby was dining with a friend, and the
hour-hand of the clock nearing ten, the host no longer resisted the
guest's growing anxiety to be gone. He arose and exchanged with him
good wishes and goodbyes.
'Marriage is evidently a most successful institution,' said he,
half-jesting, half-sincere; 'you almost make me inclined to go and get
married myself. Confess now your thoughts have been at home the whole
Willoughby thus addressed turned red to the roots of his hair, but did
not deny it.
The other laughed. 'And very commendable they should be,' he continued,
'since you are scarcely, so to speak, out of your honeymoon.'
With a social smile on his lips, Willoughby calculated a moment before
replying, 'I have been married exactly three months and three days.'
Then, after a few words respecting their next meeting, the two shook
hands and parted—the young host to finish the evening with books and
pipe, the young husband to set out on a twenty minutes' walk to his
It was a cold, clear December night following a day of rain. A touch of
frost in the air had dried the pavements, and Willoughby's footfall
ringing upon the stones re-echoed down the empty suburban street. Above
his head was a dark, remote sky thickly powdered with stars, and as he
turned westward Alpherat hung for a moment 'comme le point sur un i',
over the slender spire of St John's. But he was insensible to the worlds
about him; he was absorbed in his own thoughts, and these, as his friend
had surmised, were entirely with his wife. For Esther's face was always
before his eyes, her voice was always in his ears, she filled the
universe for him; yet only four months ago he had never seen her, had
never heard her name. This was the curious part of it—here in December
he found himself the husband of a girl who was completely dependent upon
him not only for food, clothes, and lodging, but for her present
happiness, her whole future life; and last July he had been scarcely
more than a boy himself, with no greater care on his mind than the
pleasant difficulty of deciding where he should spend his annual three
But it is events, not months or years, which age. Willoughby, who
was only twenty-six, remembered his youth as a sometime companion
irrevocably lost to him; its vague, delightful hopes were now
crystallized into definite ties, and its happy irresponsibilities
displaced by a sense of care, inseparable perhaps from the most
fortunate of marriages.
As he reached the street in which he lodged his pace involuntarily
slackened. While still some distance off, his eye sought out and
distinguished the windows of the room in which Esther awaited him.
Through the broken slats of the Venetian blinds he could see the yellow
gaslight within. The parlour beneath was in darkness; his landlady had
evidently gone to bed, there being no light over the hall-door either.
In some apprehension he consulted his watch under the last street-lamp
he passed, to find comfort in assuring himself it was only ten minutes
after ten. He let himself in with his latch-key, hung up his hat and
overcoat by the sense of touch, and, groping his way upstairs, opened
the door of the first floor sitting-room.
At the table in the centre of the room sat his wife, leaning upon her
elbows, her two hands thrust up into her ruffled hair; spread out before
her was a crumpled yesterday's newspaper, and so interested was she to
all appearance in its contents that she neither spoke nor looked up as
Willoughby entered. Around her were the still uncleared tokens of her
last meal: tea-slops, bread-crumbs, and an egg-shell crushed to
fragments upon a plate, which was one of those trifles that set
Willoughby's teeth on edge—whenever his wife ate an egg she persisted
in turning the egg-cup upside down upon the tablecloth, and pounding the
shell to pieces in her plate with her spoon.
The room was repulsive in its disorder. The one lighted burner of the
gaselier, turned too high, hissed up into a long tongue of flame. The
fire smoked feebly under a newly administered shovelful of 'slack', and
a heap of ashes and cinders littered the grate. A pair of walking boots,
caked in dry mud, lay on the hearth-rug just where they had been thrown
off. On the mantelpiece, amidst a dozen other articles which had no
business there, was a bedroom-candlestick; and every single article of
furniture stood crookedly out of its place.
Willoughby took in the whole intolerable picture, and yet spoke with
kindliness. 'Well, Esther! I'm not so late, after all. I hope you did
not find the time dull by yourself?' Then he explained the reason of his
absence. He had met a friend he had not seen for a couple of years, who
had insisted on taking him home to dine.
His wife gave no sign of having heard him; she kept her eyes riveted on
the paper before her.
'You received my wire, of course,' Willoughby went on, 'and did not
Now she crushed the newspaper up with a passionate movement, and threw
it from her. She raised her head, showing cheeks blazing with anger, and
dark, sullen, unflinching eyes.
'I did wyte then!' she cried 'I wyted till near eight before I got
your old telegraph! I s'pose that's what you call the manners of a
"gentleman", to keep your wife mewed up here, while you go gallivantin'
off with your fine friends?'
Whenever Esther was angry, which was often, she taunted Willoughby with
being 'a gentleman', although this was the precise point about him which
at other times found most favour in her eyes. But tonight she was
envenomed by the idea he had been enjoying himself without her, stung
by fear lest he should have been in company with some other woman.
Willoughby, hearing the taunt, resigned himself to the inevitable.
Nothing that he could do might now avert the breaking storm; all his
words would only be twisted into fresh griefs. But sad experience had
taught him that to take refuge in silence was more fatal still. When
Esther was in such a mood as this it was best to supply the fire with
fuel, that, through the very violence of the conflagration, it might
the sooner burn itself out.
So he said what soothing things he could, and Esther caught them up,
disfigured them, and flung them back at him with scorn. She reproached
him with no longer caring for her; she vituperated the conduct of his
family in never taking the smallest notice of her marriage; and she
detailed the insolence of the landlady who had told her that morning she
pitied 'poor Mr. Willoughby', and had refused to go out and buy herrings
for Esther's early dinner.
Every affront or grievance, real or imaginary, since the day she and
Willoughby had first met, she poured forth with a fluency due to
frequent repetition, for, with the exception of today's added injuries,
Willoughby had heard the whole litany many times before.
While she raged and he looked at her, he remembered he had once thought
her pretty. He had seen beauty in her rough brown hair, her strong
colouring, her full red mouth. He fell into musing … a woman may lack
beauty, he told himself, and yet be loved….
Meanwhile Esther reached white heats of passion, and the strain could no
longer be sustained. She broke into sobs and began to shed tears with
the facility peculiar to her. In a moment her face was all wet with the
big drops which rolled down her cheeks faster and faster, and fell with
audible splashes on to the table, on to her lap, on to the floor. To
this tearful abundance, formerly a surprising spectacle, Willoughby
was now acclimatized; but the remnant of chivalrous feeling not yet
extinguished in his bosom forbade him to sit stolidly by while a woman
wept, without seeking to console her. As on previous occasions, his
peace-overtures were eventually accepted. Esther's tears gradually
ceased to flow, she began to exhibit a sort of compunction, she wished
to be forgiven, and, with the kiss of reconciliation, passed into a
phase of demonstrative affection perhaps more trying to Willoughby's
patience than all that had preceded it. 'You don't love me?' she
questioned, 'I'm sure you don't love me?' she reiterated; and he
asseverated that he loved her until he despised himself. Then at last,
only half satisfied, but wearied out with vexation—possibly, too, with
a movement of pity at the sight of his haggard face—she consented to
leave him. Only, what was he going to do? she asked suspiciously; write
those rubbishing stories of his? Well, he must promise not to stay up
more than half-an-hour at the latest—only until he had smoked one pipe.
Willoughby promised, as he would have promised anything on earth to
secure to himself a half-hour's peace and solitude. Esther groped for
her slippers, which were kicked off under the table; scratched four or
five matches along the box and threw them away before she succeeded in
lighting her candle; set it down again to contemplate her tear-swollen
reflection in the chimney-glass, and burst out laughing.
'What a fright I do look, to be sure!' she remarked complacently, and
again thrust her two hands up through her disordered curls. Then,
holding the candle at such an angle that the grease ran over on to the
carpet, she gave Willoughby another vehement kiss and trailed out of the
room with an ineffectual attempt to close the door behind her.
Willoughby got up to shut it himself, and wondered why it was that
Esther never did any one mortal thing efficiently or well. Good God! how
irritable he felt. It was impossible to write. He must find an outlet
for his impatience, rend or mend something. He began to straighten the
room, but a wave of disgust came over him before the task was fairly
commenced. What was the use? Tomorrow all would be bad as before. What
was the use of doing anything? He sat down by the table and leaned his
head upon his hands.
* * * * *
The past came back to him in pictures: his boyhood's past first of all.
He saw again the old home, every inch of which was familiar to him as
his own name; he reconstructed in his thought all the old well-known
furniture, and replaced it precisely as it had stood long ago. He passed
again a childish finger over the rough surface of the faded Utrecht
velvet chairs, and smelled again the strong fragrance of the white lilac
tree, blowing in through the open parlour-window. He savoured anew the
pleasant mental atmosphere produced by the dainty neatness of cultured
women, the companionship of a few good pictures, of a few good books.
Yet this home had been broken up years ago, the dear familiar things had
been scattered far and wide, never to find themselves under the same
roof again; and from those near relatives who still remained to him he
lived now hopelessly estranged.
Then came the past of his first love-dream, when he worshipped at the
feet of Nora Beresford, and, with the whole-heartedness of the true
fanatic, clothed his idol with every imaginable attribute of virtue and
tenderness. To this day there remained a secret shrine in his heart
wherein the Lady of his young ideal was still enthroned, although it was
long since he had come to perceive she had nothing whatever in common
with the Nora of reality. For the real Nora he had no longer any
sentiment, she had passed altogether out of his life and thoughts; and
yet, so permanent is all influence, whether good or evil, that the
effect she wrought upon his character remained. He recognized tonight
that her treatment of him in the past did not count for nothing among
the various factors which had determined his fate.
Now, the past of only last year returned, and, strangely enough, this
seemed farther removed from him than all the rest. He had been
particularly strong, well, and happy this time last year. Nora was
dismissed from his mind, and he had thrown all his energies into his
work. His tastes were sane and simple, and his dingy, furnished rooms
had become through habit very pleasant to him. In being his own, they
were invested with a greater charm than another man's castle. Here he
had smoked and studied, here he had made many a glorious voyage into the
land of books. Many a homecoming, too, rose up before him out of the
dark ungenial streets, to a clear blazing fire, a neatly laid cloth, an
evening of ideal enjoyment; many a summer twilight when he mused at the
open window, plunging his gaze deep into the recesses of his neighbour's
lime-tree, where the unseen sparrows chattered with such unflagging
He had always been given to much daydreaming, and it was in the silence
of his rooms of an evening that he turned his phantasmal adventures into
stories for the magazines; here had come to him many an editorial
refusal, but here, too, he had received the news of his first unexpected
success. All his happiest memories were embalmed in those shabby,
Now all was changed. Now might there be no longer any soft indulgence
of the hour's mood. His rooms and everything he owned belonged now to
Esther, too. She had objected to most of his photographs, and had
removed them. She hated books, and were he ever so ill-advised as to
open one in her presence, she immediately began to talk, no matter how
silent or how sullen her previous mood had been. If he read aloud to her
she either yawned despairingly, or was tickled into laughter where there
was no reasonable cause. At first Willoughby had tried to educate her,
and had gone hopefully to the task. It is so natural to think you may
make what you will of the woman who loves you. But Esther had no wish to
improve. She evinced all the self-satisfaction of an illiterate mind. To
her husband's gentle admonitions she replied with brevity that she
thought her way quite as good as his; or, if he didn't approve of her
pronunciation, he might do the other thing, she was too old to go to
school again. He gave up the attempt, and, with humiliation at his
previous fatuity, perceived that it was folly to expect that a few weeks
of his companionship could alter or pull up the impressions of years, or
rather of generations.
Yet here he paused to admit a curious thing: it was not only Esther's
bad habits which vexed him, but habits quite unblameworthy in themselves
which he never would have noticed in another, irritated him in her. He
disliked her manner of standing, of walking, of sitting in a chair, of
folding her hands. Like a lover, he was conscious of her proximity
without seeing her. Like a lover, too, his eyes followed her every
movement, his ear noted every change in her voice. But then, instead of
being charmed by everything as the lover is, everything jarred upon him.
What was the meaning of this? Tonight the anomaly pressed upon him: he
reviewed his position. Here was he, quite a young man, just twenty-six
years of age, married to Esther, and bound to live with her so long as
life should last—twenty, forty, perhaps fifty years more. Every day of
those years to be spent in her society; he and she face to face, soul to
soul; they two alone amid all the whirling, busy, indifferent world. So
near together in semblance; in truth, so far apart as regards all that
makes life dear.
Willoughby groaned. From the woman he did not love, whom he had never
loved, he might not again go free; so much he recognized. The feeling he
had once entertained for Esther, strange compound of mistaken chivalry
and flattered vanity, was long since extinct; but what, then, was the
sentiment with which she inspired him? For he was not indifferent to
her—no, never for one instant could he persuade himself he was
indifferent, never for one instant could he banish her from his
thoughts. His mind's eye followed her during his hours of absence as
pertinaciously as his bodily eye dwelt upon her actual presence. She was
the principal object of the universe to him, the centre around which his
wheel of life revolved with an appalling fidelity.
What did it mean? What could it mean? he asked himself with anguish.
And the sweat broke out upon his forehead and his hands grew cold, for
on a sudden the truth lay there like a written word upon the tablecloth
before him. This woman, whom he had taken to himself for better, for
worse, inspired him with a passion, intense indeed, all-masterful,
soul-subduing as Love itself…. But when he understood the terror of
his Hatred, he laid his head upon his arms and wept, not facile tears
like Esther's, but tears wrung out from his agonizing, unavailing
'A POOR STICK'
By Arthur Morrison
(Tales of Mean Streets, London: Methuen and Co., 1894) Published by
permission of Methuen and Co.
Mrs. Jennings (or Jinnins, as the neighbours would have it) ruled
absolutely at home, when she took so much trouble as to do anything at
all there—which was less often than might have been. As for Robert her
husband, he was a poor stick, said the neighbours. And yet he was a man
with enough of hardihood to remain a non-unionist in the erectors' shop
at Maidment's all the years of his service; no mean test of a man's
fortitude and resolution, as many a sufferer for independent opinion
might testify. The truth was that Bob never grew out of his
courtship-blindness. Mrs. Jennings governed as she pleased, stayed out
or came home as she chose, and cooked a dinner or didn't, as her
inclination stood. Thus it was for ten years, during which time there
were no children, and Bob bore all things uncomplaining: cooking his own
dinner when he found none cooked, and sewing on his own buttons. Then of
a sudden came children, till in three years there were three; and Bob
Jennings had to nurse and to wash them as often as not.
Mrs. Jennings at this time was what is called rather a fine woman: a
woman of large scale and full development; whose slatternly habit left
her coarse black hair to tumble in snake-locks about her face and
shoulders half the day; who, clad in half-hooked clothes, bore herself
notoriously and unabashed in her fullness; and of whom ill things were
said regarding the lodger. The gossips had their excuse. The lodger was
an irregular young cabinet-maker, who lost quarters and halves and whole
days; who had been seen abroad with his landlady, what time Bob Jennings
was putting the children to bed at home; who on his frequent holidays
brought in much beer, which he and the woman shared, while Bob was at
work. To carry the tale to Bob would have been a thankless errand, for
he would have none of anybody's sympathy, even in regard to miseries
plain to his eye. But the thing got about in the workshop, and there
his days were made bitter.
At home things grew worse. To return at half-past five, and find the
children still undressed, screaming, hungry and dirty, was a matter of
habit: to get them food, to wash them, to tend the cuts and bumps
sustained through the day of neglect, before lighting a fire and getting
tea for himself, were matters of daily duty. 'Ah,' he said to his
sister, who came at intervals to say plain things about Mrs. Jennings,
'you shouldn't go for to set a man agin 'is wife, Jin. Melier do'n' like
work, I know, but that's nach'ral to 'er. She ought to married a swell
'stead o' me; she might 'a' done easy if she liked, bein' sich a fine
gal; but she's good-'arted, is Melier; an' she can't 'elp bein' a bit
thoughtless.' Whereat his sister called him a fool (it was her customary
goodbye at such times), and took herself off.
Bob Jennings's intelligence was sufficient for his common needs, but it
was never a vast intelligence. Now, under a daily burden of dull misery,
it clouded and stooped. The base wit of the workshop he comprehended
less, and realized more slowly, than before; and the gaffer cursed him
for a sleepy dolt.
Mrs. Jennings ceased from any pretence of housewifery, and would
sometimes sit—perchance not quite sober—while Bob washed the children
in the evening, opening her mouth only to express her contempt for him
and his establishment, and to make him understand that she was sick of
both. Once, exasperated by his quietness, she struck at him, and for a
moment he was another man. 'Don't do that, Melier,' he said, 'else I
might forget myself.' His manner surprised his wife: and it was such
that she never did do that again.
So was Bob Jennings: without a friend in the world, except his sister,
who chid him, and the children, who squalled at him: when his wife
vanished with the lodger, the clock, a shade of wax flowers, Bob's best
boots (which fitted the lodger), and his silver watch. Bob had returned,
as usual, to the dirt and the children, and it was only when he struck a
light that he found the clock was gone.
'Mummy tooked ve t'ock,' said Milly, the eldest child, who had followed
him in from the door, and now gravely observed his movements. 'She
tooked ve t'ock an' went ta-ta. An' she tooked ve fyowers.'
Bob lit the paraffin lamp with the green glass reservoir, and carried
it and its evil smell about the house. Some things had been turned over
and others had gone, plainly. All Melier's clothes were gone. The lodger
was not in, and under his bedroom window, where his box had stood, there
was naught but an oblong patch of conspicuously clean wallpaper. In a
muddle of doubt and perplexity, Bob found himself at the front door,
staring up and down the street. Divers women-neighbours stood at their
doors, and eyed him curiously; for Mrs. Webster, moralist, opposite, had
not watched the day's proceedings (nor those of many other days) for
nothing, nor had she kept her story to herself.
He turned back into the house, a vague notion of what had befallen
percolating feebly through his bewilderment. 'I dunno—I dunno,' he
faltered, rubbing his ear. His mouth was dry, and he moved his lips
uneasily, as he gazed with aimless looks about the walls and ceiling.
Presently his eyes rested on the child, and 'Milly,' he said decisively,
'come an 'ave yer face washed.'
He put the children to bed early, and went out. In the morning, when his
sister came, because she had heard the news in common with everybody
else, he had not returned. Bob Jennings had never lost more than two
quarters in his life, but he was not seen at the workshop all this day.
His sister stayed in the house, and in the evening, at his regular
homing-time, he appeared, haggard and dusty, and began his preparations
for washing the children. When he was made to understand that they had
been already attended to, he looked doubtful and troubled for a moment.
Presently he said: 'I ain't found 'er yet, Jin; I was in 'opes she might
'a' bin back by this. I—I don't expect she'll be very long. She was
alwis a bit larky, was Melier; but very good-'arted.'
His sister had prepared a strenuous lecture on the theme of 'I told you
so'; but the man was so broken, so meek, and so plainly unhinged in his
faculties, that she suppressed it. Instead, she gave him comfortable
talk, and made him promise in the end to sleep that night, and take up
his customary work in the morning.
He did these things, and could have worked placidly enough had he but
been alone; but the tale had reached the workshop, and there was no lack
of brutish chaff to disorder him. This the decenter men would have no
part in, and even protested against. But the ill-conditioned kept their
way, till, at the cry of 'Bell O!' when all were starting for dinner,
one of the worst shouted the cruellest gibe of all. Bob Jennings turned
on him and knocked him over a scrap-heap.
A shout went up from the hurrying workmen, with a chorus of 'Serve ye
right,' and the fallen joker found himself awkwardly confronted by the
shop bruiser. But Bob had turned to a corner, and buried his eyes in the
bend of his arm, while his shoulders heaved and shook.
He slunk away home, and stayed there: walking restlessly to and fro, and
often peeping down the street from the window. When, at twilight, his
sister came again, he had become almost cheerful, and said with some
briskness: 'I'm agoin' to meet 'er, Jin, at seven. I know where she'll
He went upstairs, and after a little while came down again in his best
black coat, carefully smoothing a tall hat of obsolete shape with his
pocket-handkerchief. 'I ain't wore it for years,' he said. 'I ought to
'a' wore it—it might 'a' pleased 'er. She used to say she wouldn't walk
with me in no other—when I used to meet 'er in the evenin', at seven
o'clock.' He brushed assiduously, and put the hat on. 'I'd better 'ave
a shave round the corner as I go along,' he added, fingering his stubbly
He received as one not comprehending his sister's persuasion to remain
at home; but when he went she followed at a little distance. After his
penny shave he made for the main road, where company-keeping couples
walked up and down all evening. He stopped at a church, and began pacing
slowly to and fro before it, eagerly looking out each way as he went.
His sister watched him for nearly half an hour, and then went home. In
two hours more she came back with her husband. Bob was still there,
walking to and fro.
''Ullo, Bob,' said his brother-in-law; 'come along 'ome an' get to bed,
there's a good chap. You'll be awright in the mornin'.'
'She ain't turned up,' Bob complained, 'or else I've missed 'er. This
is the reg'lar place—where I alwis used to meet 'er. But she'll come
tomorrer. She used to leave me in the lurch sometimes, bein' nach'rally
larky. But very good-'arted, mindjer; very good-'arted.'
She did not come the next evening, nor the next, nor the evening after,
nor the one after that. But Bob Jennings, howbeit depressed and anxious,
was always confident. 'Somethink's prevented 'er tonight,' he would say,
'but she'll come tomorrer…. I'll buy a blue tie tomorrer—she used to
like me in a blue tie. I won't miss 'er tomorrer. I'll come a little
So it went. The black coat grew ragged in the service, and hobbledehoys,
finding him safe sport, smashed the tall hat over his eyes time after
time. He wept over the hat, and straightened it as best he might. Was
she coming? Night after night, and night and night. But tomorrow….
THE ADVENTURE OF THE ABBEY GRANGE
By Arthur Conan Doyle
(The Strand Magazine, 23 January 1897)
It was on a bitterly cold night and frosty morning, towards the end of
the winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It
was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face,
and told me at a glance that something was amiss.
'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your
clothes and come!'
Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silent
streets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's
dawn was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional
figure of an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in
the opalescent London reek. Holmes nestled in silence into his heavy
coat, and I was glad to do the same, for the air was most bitter, and
neither of us had broken our fast.
It was not until we had consumed some hot tea at the station and taken
our places in the Kentish train that we were sufficiently thawed, he to
speak and I to listen. Holmes drew a note from his pocket, and read
Abbey Grange, Marsham, Kent
My Dear Mr. Holmes:
I should be very glad of your immediate assistance in what promises to
be a most remarkable case. It is something quite in your line. Except
for releasing the lady I will see that everything is kept exactly as I
have found it, but I beg you not to lose an instant, as it is difficult
to leave Sir Eustace there.
'Hopkins has called me in seven times, and on each occasion his summons
has been entirely justified,' said Holmes. 'I fancy that every one of
his cases has found its way into your collection, and I must admit,
Watson, that you have some power of selection, which atones for much
which I deplore in your narratives. Your fatal habit of looking at
everything from the point of view of a story instead of as a scientific
exercise has ruined what might have been an instructive and even
classical series of demonstrations. You slur over work of the utmost
finesse and delicacy, in order to dwell upon sensational details which
may excite, but cannot possibly instruct, the reader.'
'Why do you not write them yourself?' I said, with some bitterness.
'I will, my dear Watson, I will. At present I am, as you know, fairly
busy, but I propose to devote my declining years to the composition of
a textbook, which shall focus the whole art of detection into one volume.
Our present research appears to be a case of murder.'
'You think this Sir Eustace is dead, then?'
'I should say so. Hopkins's writing shows considerable agitation, and he
is not an emotional man. Yes, I gather there has been violence, and that
the body is left for our inspection. A mere suicide would not have
caused him to send for me. As to the release of the lady, it would
appear that she has been locked in her room during the tragedy. We are
moving in high life, Watson, crackling paper, 'E.B.' monogram,
coat-of-arms, picturesque address. I think that friend Hopkins will live
up to his reputation, and that we shall have an interesting morning. The
crime was committed before twelve last night.'
'How can you possibly tell?'
'By an inspection of the trains, and by reckoning the time. The local
police had to be called in, they had to communicate with Scotland Yard,
Hopkins had to go out, and he in turn had to send for me. All that makes
a fair night's work. Well, here we are at Chislehurst Station, and we
shall soon set our doubts at rest.'
A drive of a couple of miles through narrow country lanes brought us
to a park gate, which was opened for us by an old lodge-keeper, whose
haggard face bore the reflection of some great disaster. The avenue ran
through a noble park, between lines of ancient elms, and ended in a
low, widespread house, pillared in front after the fashion of Palladio.
The central part was evidently of a great age and shrouded in ivy, but
the large windows showed that modern changes had been carried out, and
one wing of the house appeared to be entirely new. The youthful figure
and alert, eager face of Inspector Stanley Hopkins confronted us in the
'I'm very glad you have come, Mr. Holmes. And you, too, Dr. Watson. But,
indeed, if I had my time over again, I should not have troubled you, for
since the lady has come to herself, she has given so clear an account of
the affair that there is not much left for us to do. You remember that
Lewisham gang of burglars?'
'What, the three Randalls?'
'Exactly; the father and two sons. It's their work. I have not a doubt
of it. They did a job at Sydenham a fortnight ago and were seen and
described. Rather cool to do another so soon and so near, but it is
they, beyond all doubt. It's a hanging matter this time.'
'Sir Eustace is dead, then?'
'Yes, his head was knocked in with his own poker.'
'Sir Eustace Brackenstall, the driver tells me.'
'Exactly—one of the richest men in Kent—Lady Brackenstall is in the
morning-room. Poor lady, she has had a most dreadful experience. She
seemed half dead when I saw her first. I think you had best see her and
hear her account of the facts. Then we will examine the dining-room
Lady Brackenstall was no ordinary person. Seldom have I seen so graceful
a figure, so womanly a presence, and so beautiful a face. She was a
blonde, golden-haired, blue-eyed, and would no doubt have had the
perfect complexion which goes with such colouring, had not her recent
experience left her drawn and haggard. Her sufferings were physical as
well as mental, for over one eye rose a hideous, plum-coloured swelling,
which her maid, a tall, austere woman, was bathing assiduously with
vinegar and water. The lady lay back exhausted upon a couch, but her
quick, observant gaze, as we entered the room, and the alert expression
of her beautiful features, showed that neither her wits nor her courage
had been shaken by her terrible experience. She was enveloped in a loose
dressing-gown of blue and silver, but a black sequin-covered
dinner-dress lay upon the couch beside her.
'I have told you all that happened, Mr. Hopkins,' she said, wearily.
'Could you not repeat it for me? Well, if you think it necessary, I will
tell these gentlemen what occurred. Have they been in the dining-room
'I thought they had better hear your ladyship's story first.'
'I shall be glad when you can arrange matters. It is horrible to me to
think of him still lying there.' She shuddered and buried her face in
her hands. As she did so, the loose gown fell back from her forearms.
Holmes uttered an exclamation.
'You have other injuries, madam! What is this?' Two vivid red spots
stood out on one of the white, round limbs. She hastily covered it.
'It is nothing. It has no connection with this hideous business tonight.
If you and your friend will sit down, I will tell you all I can.
'I am the wife of Sir Eustace Brackenstall. I have been married about
a year. I suppose that it is no use my attempting to conceal that our
marriage has not been a happy one. I fear that all our neighbours would
tell you that, even if I were to attempt to deny it. Perhaps the fault
may be partly mine. I was brought up in the freer, less conventional
atmosphere of South Australia, and this English life, with its
proprieties and its primness, is not congenial to me. But the main
reason lies in the one fact, which is notorious to everyone, and that is
that Sir Eustace was a confirmed drunkard. To be with such a man for an
hour is unpleasant. Can you imagine what it means for a sensitive and
high-spirited woman to be tied to him for day and night? It is a
sacrilege, a crime, a villany to hold that such a marriage is binding.
I say that these monstrous laws of yours will bring a curse upon the
land—God will not let such wickedness endure.' For an instant she sat
up, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes blazing from under the terrible
mark upon her brow. Then the strong, soothing hand of the austere maid
drew her head down on to the cushion, and the wild anger died away into
passionate sobbing. At last she continued:
'I will tell you about last night. You are aware, perhaps, that in this
house all the servants sleep in the modern wing. This central block is
made up of the dwelling-rooms, with the kitchen behind and our bedroom
above. My maid, Theresa, sleeps above my room. There is no one else,
and no sound could alarm those who are in the farther wing. This must
have been well known to the robbers, or they would not have acted as
'Sir Eustace retired about half-past ten. The servants had already gone
to their quarters. Only my maid was up, and she had remained in her room
at the top of the house until I needed her services. I sat until after
eleven in this room, absorbed in a book. Then I walked round to see that
all was right before I went upstairs. It was my custom to do this
myself, for, as I have explained, Sir Eustace was not always to be
trusted. I went into the kitchen, the butler's pantry, the gun-room, the
billiard-room, the drawing-room, and finally the dining-room. As I
approached the window, which is covered with thick curtains, I suddenly
felt the wind blow upon my face and realized that it was open. I flung
the curtain aside and found myself face to face with a broad shouldered
elderly man, who had just stepped into the room. The window is a long
French one, which really forms a door leading to the lawn. I held my
bedroom candle lit in my hand, and, by its light, behind the first man I
saw two others, who were in the act of entering. I stepped back, but the
fellow was on me in an instant. He caught me first by the wrist and then
by the throat. I opened my mouth to scream, but he struck me a savage
blow with his fist over the eye, and felled me to the ground. I must
have been unconscious for a few minutes, for when I came to myself, I
found that they had torn down the bell-rope, and had secured me tightly
to the oaken chair which stands at the head of the dining-table. I was
so firmly bound that I could not move, and a handkerchief round my mouth
prevented me from uttering a sound. It was at this instant that my
unfortunate husband entered the room. He had evidently heard some
suspicious sounds, and he came prepared for such a scene as he found. He
was dressed in nightshirt and trousers, with his favourite blackthorn
cudgel in his hand. He rushed at the burglars, but another—it was an
elderly man—stooped, picked the poker out of the grate and struck him a
horrible blow as he passed. He fell with a groan and never moved again.
I fainted once more, but again it could only have been for a very few
minutes during which I was insensible. When I opened my eyes I found
that they had collected the silver from the sideboard, and they had
drawn a bottle of wine which stood there. Each of them had a glass in
his hand. I have already told you, have I not, that one was elderly,
with a beard, and the others young, hairless lads. They might have been
a father and his two sons. They talked together in whispers. Then they
came over and made sure that I was securely bound. Finally they
withdrew, closing the window after them. It was quite a quarter of an
hour before I got my mouth free. When I did so, my screams brought the
maid to my assistance. The other servants were soon alarmed, and we sent
for the local police, who instantly communicated with London. That is
really all that I can tell you, gentlemen, and I trust that it will not
be necessary for me to go over so painful a story again.'
'Any questions, Mr. Holmes?' asked Hopkins.
'I will not impose any further tax upon Lady Brackenstall's patience and
time,' said Holmes. 'Before I go into the dining-room, I should like to
hear your experience.' He looked at the maid.
'I saw the men before ever they came into the house,' said she. 'As I
sat by my bedroom window I saw three men in the moonlight down by the
lodge gate yonder, but I thought nothing of it at the time. It was more
than an hour after that I heard my mistress scream, and down I ran, to
find her, poor lamb, just as she says, and him on the floor, with his
blood and brains over the room. It was enough to drive a woman out of
her wits, tied there, and her very dress spotted with him, but she never
wanted courage, did Miss Mary Fraser of Adelaide and Lady Brackenstall
of Abbey Grange hasn't learned new ways. You've questioned her long
enough, you gentlemen, and now she is coming to her own room, just with
her old Theresa, to get the rest that she badly needs.'
With a motherly tenderness the gaunt woman put her arm round her
mistress and led her from the room.
'She had been with her all her life,' said Hopkins. 'Nursed her as
a baby, and came with her to England when they first left Australia,
eighteen months ago. Theresa Wright is her name, and the kind of maid
you don't pick up nowadays. This way, Mr. Holmes, if you please!'
The keen interest had passed out of Holmes's expressive face, and I knew
that with the mystery all the charm of the case had departed. There
still remained an arrest to be effected, but what were these commonplace
rogues that he should soil his hands with them? An abstruse and learned
specialist who finds that he has been called in for a case of measles
would experience something of the annoyance which I read in my friend's
eyes. Yet the scene in the dining-room of the Abbey Grange was
sufficiently strange to arrest his attention and to recall his waning
It was a very large and high chamber, with carved oak ceiling, oaken
panelling, and a fine array of deer's heads and ancient weapons around
the walls. At the further end from the door was the high French window
of which we had heard. Three smaller windows on the right-hand side
filled the apartment with cold winter sunshine. On the left was a large,
deep fireplace, with a massive, overhanging oak mantelpiece. Beside the
fireplace was a heavy oaken chair with arms and crossbars at the bottom.
In and out through the open woodwork was woven a crimson cord, which was
secured at each side to the crosspiece below. In releasing the lady, the
cord had been slipped off her, but the knots with which it had been
secured still remained. These details only struck our attention
afterwards, for our thoughts were entirely absorbed by the terrible
object which lay upon the tiger-skin heathrug in front of the fire.
It was the body of a tall, well-made man, about forty years of age. He
lay upon his back, his face upturned, with his white teeth grinning
through his short, black beard. His two clenched hands were raised above
his head, and a heavy, blackthorn stick lay across them. His dark,
handsome, aquiline features were convulsed into a spasm of vindictive
hatred, which had set his dead face in a terribly fiendish expression.
He had evidently been in his bed when the alarm had broken out, for he
wore a foppish, embroidered nightshirt, and his bare feet projected from
his trousers. His head was horribly injured, and the whole room bore
witness to the savage ferocity of the blow which had struck him down.
Beside him lay the heavy poker, bent into a curve by the concussion.
Holmes examined both it and the indescribable wreck which it had
'He must be a powerful man, this elder Randall,' he remarked.
'Yes,' said Hopkins. 'I have some record of the fellow, and he is a
'You should have no difficulty in getting him.'
'Not the slightest. We have been on the look-out for him, and there was
some idea that he had got away to America. Now that we know that the
gang are here, I don't see how they can escape. We have the news at
every seaport already, and a reward will be offered before evening. What
beats me is how they could have done so mad a thing, knowing that the
lady could describe them and that we could not fail to recognize the
'Exactly. One would have expected that they would silence Lady
Brackenstall as well.'
'They may not have realized,' I suggested, 'that she had recovered from
'That is likely enough. If she seemed to be senseless, they would not
take her life. What about this poor fellow, Hopkins? I seem to have
heard some queer stories about him.'
'He was a good-hearted man when he was sober, but a perfect fiend when
he was drunk, or rather when he was half drunk, for he seldom really
went the whole way. The devil seemed to be in him at such times, and he
was capable of anything. From what I hear, in spite of all his wealth
and his title, he very nearly came our way once or twice. There was a
scandal about his drenching a dog with petroleum and setting it on
fire—her ladyship's dog, to make the matter worse—and that was only
hushed up with difficulty. Then he threw a decanter at that maid,
Theresa Wright—there was trouble about that. On the whole, and between
ourselves, it will be a brighter house without him. What are you looking
Holmes was down on his knees, examining with great attention the knots
upon the red cord with which the lady had been secured. Then he
carefully scrutinized the broken and frayed end where it had snapped
off when the burglar had dragged it down.
'When this was pulled down, the bell in the kitchen must have rung
loudly,' he remarked.
'No one could hear it. The kitchen stands right at the back of the
'How did the burglar know no one would hear it? How dared he pull at a
bell-rope in that reckless fashion?'
'Exactly, Mr. Holmes, exactly. You put the very question which I have
asked myself again and again. There can be no doubt that this fellow
must have known the house and its habits. He must have perfectly
understood that the servants would all be in bed at that comparatively
early hour, and that no one could possibly hear a bell ring in the
kitchen. Therefore, he must have been in close league with one of the
servants. Surely that is evident. But there are eight servants, and all
of good character.'
'Other things being equal,' said Holmes, 'one would suspect the one
at whose head the master threw a decanter. And yet that would involve
treachery towards the mistress to whom this woman seems devoted. Well,
well, the point is a minor one, and when you have Randall you will
probably find no difficulty in securing his accomplice. The lady's story
certainly seems to be corroborated, if it needed corroboration, by every
detail which we see before us.' He walked to the French window and threw
it open. 'There are no signs here, but the ground is iron hard, and one
would not expect them. I see that these candles in the mantelpiece have
'Yes, it was by their light, and that of the lady's bedroom candle, that
the burglars saw their way about.'
'And what did they take?'
'Well, they did not take much—only half a dozen articles of plate off
the sideboard. Lady Brackenstall thinks that they were themselves so
disturbed by the death of Sir Eustace that they did not ransack the
house, as they would otherwise have done.'
'No doubt that is true, and yet they drank some wine, I understand.'
To steady their nerves.'
'Exactly. These three glasses upon the sideboard have been untouched, I
'Yes, and the bottle stands as they left it.'
'Let us look at it. Halloa, halloa! What is this?'
The three glasses were grouped together, all of them tinged with wine,
and one of them containing some dregs of beeswing. The bottle stood near
them, two-thirds full, and beside it lay a long, deeply stained cork.
Its appearance and the dust upon the bottle showed that it was no common
vintage which the murderers had enjoyed.
A change had come over Holmes's manner. He had lost his listless
expression, and again I saw an alert light of interest in his keen,
deepset eyes. He raised the cork and examined it minutely.
'How did they draw it?' he asked.
Hopkins pointed to a half-opened drawer. In it lay some table linen and
a large corkscrew.
'Did Lady Brackenstall say that screw was used?'
'No, you remember that she was senseless at the moment when the bottle
'Quite so. As a matter of fact, that screw was not used. This bottle
was opened by a pocket screw, probably contained in a knife, and not
more than an inch and a half long. If you will examine the top of the
cork, you will observe that the screw was driven in three times before
the cork was extracted. It has never been transfixed. This long screw
would have transfixed it and drawn it up with a single pull. When you
catch this fellow, you will find that he has one of these multiplex
knives in his possession.'
'Excellent!' said Hopkins.
'But these glasses do puzzle me, I confess. Lady Brackenstall actually
saw the three men drinking, did she not?'
'Yes; she was clear about that.'
'Then there is an end of it. What more is to be said? And yet, you must
admit, that the three glasses are very remarkable, Hopkins. What? You
see nothing remarkable? Well, well, let it pass. Perhaps, when a man has
special knowledge and special powers like my own, it rather encourages
him to seek a complex explanation when a simpler one is at hand. Of
course, it must be a mere chance about the glasses. Well, good-morning,
Hopkins. I don't see that I can be of any use to you, and you appear to
have your case very clear. You will let me know when Randall is
arrested, and any further developments which may occur. I trust that I
shall soon have to congratulate you upon a successful conclusion. Come,
Watson, I fancy that we may employ ourselves more profitably at home.'
During our return journey, I could see by Holmes's face that he was much
puzzled by something which he had observed. Every now and then, by an
effort, he would throw off the impression, and talk as if the matter
were clear, but then his doubts would settle down upon him again, and
his knitted brows and abstracted eyes would show that his thoughts had
gone back once more to the great dining-room of the Abbey Grange, in
which this midnight tragedy had been enacted. At last, by a sudden
impulse, just as our train was crawling out of a suburban station, he
sprang on to the platform and pulled me out after him.
'Excuse me, my dear fellow,' said he, as we watched the rear carriages
of our train disappearing round a curve, 'I am sorry to make you the
victim of what may seem a mere whim, but on my life, Watson, I simply
can't leave that case in this condition. Every instinct that I possess
cries out against it. It's wrong—it's all wrong—I'll swear that it's
wrong. And yet the lady's story was complete, the maid's corroboration
was sufficient, the detail was fairly exact. What have I to put up
against that? Three wineglasses, that is all. But if I had not taken
things for granted, if I had examined everything with care which I
should have shown had we approached the case de novo and had no
cut-and-dried story to warp my mind, should I not then have found
something more definite to go upon? Of course I should. Sit down on this
bench, Watson, until a train for Chislehurst arrives, and allow me to
lay the evidence before you, imploring you in the first instance to
dismiss from your mind the idea that anything which the maid or her
mistress may have said must necessarily be true. The lady's charming
personality must not be permitted to warp our judgment.
'Surely there are details in her story which, if we looked at in cold
blood, would excite our suspicion. These burglars made a considerable
haul at Sydenham a fortnight ago. Some account of them and of their
appearance was in the papers, and would naturally occur to anyone who
wished to invent a story in which imaginary robbers should play a part.
As a matter of fact, burglars who have done a good stroke of business
are, as a rule, only too glad to enjoy the proceeds in peace and quiet
without embarking on another perilous undertaking. Again, it is unusual
for burglars to operate at so early an hour, it is unusual for burglars
to strike a lady to prevent her screaming, since one would imagine that
was the sure way to make her scream, it is unusual for them to commit
murder when their numbers are sufficient to overpower one man, it is
unusual for them to be content with a limited plunder when there was
much more within their reach, and finally, I should say, that it was
very unusual for such men to leave a bottle half empty. How do all these
unusuals strike you, Watson?'
'Their cumulative effect is certainly considerable, and yet each of them
is quite possible in itself. The most unusual thing of all, as it seems
to me, is that the lady should be tied to the chair.'
'Well, I am not so clear about that, Watson, for it is evident that
they must either kill her or else secure her in such a way that she
could not give immediate notice of their escape. But at any rate I have
shown, have I not, that there is a certain element of improbability
about the lady's story? And now, on the top of this, comes the incident
of the wineglasses.'
'What about the wineglasses?'
'Can you see them in your mind's eye?'
'I see them clearly.'
'We are told that three men drank from them. Does that strike you as
'Why not? There was wine in each glass.'
'Exactly, but there was beeswing only in one glass. You must have
noticed that fact. What does that suggest to your mind?'
'The last glass filled would be most likely to contain beeswing.'
'Not at all. The bottle was full of it, and it is inconceivable that the
first two glasses were clear and the third heavily charged with it.
There are two possible explanations, and only two. One is that after the
second glass was filled the bottle was violently agitated, and so the
third glass received the beeswing. That does not appear probable. No,
no, I am sure that I am right.'
'What, then, do you suppose?'
'That only two glasses were used, and that the dregs of both were poured
into a third glass, so as to give the false impression that three people
had been here. In that way all the beeswing would be in the last glass,
would it not? Yes, I am convinced that this is so. But if I have hit
upon the true explanation of this one small phenomenon, then in an
instant the case rises from the commonplace to the exceedingly
remarkable, for it can only mean that Lady Brackenstall and her maid
have deliberately lied to us, that not one word of their story is to be
believed, that they have some very strong reason for covering the real
criminal, and that we must construct our case for ourselves without any
help from them. That is the mission which now lies before us, and here,
Watson, is the Sydenham train.'
The household at the Abbey Grange were much surprised at our return, but
Sherlock Holmes, finding that Stanley Hopkins had gone off to report to
headquarters, took possession of the dining-room, locked the door upon
the inside, and devoted himself for two hours to one of those minute
and laborious investigations which form the solid basis on which his
brilliant edifices of deduction were reared. Seated in a corner like an
interested student who observes the demonstration of his professor, I
followed every step of that remarkable research. The window, the
curtains, the carpet, the chair, the rope—each in turn was minutely
examined and duly pondered. The body of the unfortunate baronet had been
removed, and all else remained as we had seen it in the morning.
Finally, to my astonishment, Holmes climbed up on to the massive
mantelpiece. Far above his head hung the few inches of red cord which
were still attached to the wire. For a long time he gazed upward at it,
and then in an attempt to get nearer to it he rested his knee upon a
wooden bracket on the wall. This brought his hand within a few inches of
the broken end of the rope, but it was not this so much as the bracket
itself which seemed to engage his attention. Finally, he sprang down
with an ejaculation of satisfaction.
'It's all right, Watson,' said he. 'We have got our case—one of the
most remarkable in our collection. But, dear me, how slow-witted I have
been, and how nearly I have committed the blunder of my lifetime! Now, I
think that, with a few missing links, my chain is almost complete.'
'You have got your men?'
'Man, Watson, man. Only one, but a very formidable person. Strong as a
lion—witness the blow that bent that poker! Six foot three in height,
active as a squirrel, dexterous with his fingers, finally, remarkably
quick-witted, for this whole ingenious story is of his concoction. Yes,
Watson, we have come upon the handiwork of a very remarkable individual.
And yet, in that bell-rope, he has given us a clue which should not have
left us a doubt.'
'Where was the clue?'
'Well, if you were to pull down a bell-rope, Watson, where would you
expect it to break? Surely at the spot where it is attached to the wire.
Why should it break three inches from the top, as this one has done?'
'Because it is frayed there?'
'Exactly. This end, which we can examine, is frayed. He was cunning
enough to do that with his knife. But the other end is not frayed. You
could not observe that from here, but if you were on the mantelpiece
you would see that it is cut clean off without any mark of fraying
whatever. You can reconstruct what occurred. The man needed the rope. He
would not tear it down for fear of giving the alarm by ringing the bell.
What did he do? He sprang up on the mantelpiece, could not quite reach
it, put his knee on the bracket—you will see the impression in the
dust—and so got his knife to bear upon the cord. I could not reach the
place by at least three inches—from which I infer that he is at least
three inches a bigger man than I. Look at that mark upon the seat of the
oaken chair! What is it?'
'Undoubtedly it is blood. This alone puts the lady's story out of court.
If she were seated on the chair when the crime was done, how comes that
mark? No, no, she was placed in the chair after the death of her
husband. I'll wager that the black dress shows a corresponding mark to
this. We have not yet met our Waterloo, Watson, but this is our Marengo,
for it begins in defeat and ends in victory. I should like now to have
a few words with the nurse, Theresa. We must be wary for a while, if we
are to get the information which we want.'
She was an interesting person, this stern Australian nurse—taciturn,
suspicious, ungracious, it took some time before Holmes's pleasant
manner and frank acceptance of all that she said thawed her into a
corresponding amiability. She did not attempt to conceal her hatred for
her late employer.
'Yes, sir, it is true that he threw the decanter at me. I heard him call
my mistress a name, and I told him that he would not dare to speak so if
her brother had been there. Then it was that he threw it at me. He might
have thrown a dozen if he had but left my bonny bird alone. He was
forever ill-treating her, and she too proud to complain. She will not
even tell me all that he has done to her. She never told me of those
marks on her arm that you saw this morning, but I know very well that
they come from a stab with a hatpin. The sly devil—God forgive me that
I should speak of him so, now that he is dead! But a devil he was, if
ever one walked the earth. He was all honey when first we met him—only
eighteen months ago, and we both feel as if it were eighteen years. She
had only just arrived in London. Yes, it was her first voyage—she had
never been from home before. He won her with his title and his money
and his false London ways. If she made a mistake she has paid for it,
if ever a woman did. What month did we meet him? Well, I tell you it was
just after we arrived. We arrived in June, and it was July. They were
married in January of last year. Yes, she is down in the morning-room
again, and I have no doubt she will see you, but you must not ask too
much of her, for she has gone through all that flesh and blood will
Lady Brackenstall was reclining on the same couch, but looked brighter
than before. The maid had entered with us, and began once more to foment
the bruise upon her mistress's brow.
'I hope,' said the lady, 'that you have not come to cross-examine me
'No,' Holmes answered, in his gentlest voice. 'I will not cause you any
unnecessary trouble, Lady Brackenstall, and my whole desire is to make
things easy for you, for I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman.
If you will treat me as a friend and trust me, you may find that I will
justify your trust.'
'What do you want me to do?'
'To tell me the truth.'
'No, no, Lady Brackenstall—it is no use. You may have heard of any
little reputation which I possess. I will stake it all on the fact that
your story is an absolute fabrication.'
Mistress and maid were both staring at Holmes with pale faces and
'You are an impudent fellow!' cried Theresa. 'Do you mean to say that my
mistress has told a lie?'
Holmes rose from his chair.
'Have you nothing to tell me?'
'I have told you everything.'
'Think once more, Lady Brackenstall. Would it not be better to be
For an instant there was hesitation in her beautiful face. Then some new
strong thought caused it to set like a mask.
'I have told you all I know.'
Holmes took his hat and shrugged his shoulders. 'I am sorry,' he said,
and without another word we left the room and the house. There was a
pond in the park, and to this my friend led the way. It was frozen over,
but a single hole was left for the convenience of a solitary swan.
Holmes gazed at it, and then passed on to the lodge gate. There he
scribbled a short note for Stanley Hopkins, and left it with the
'It may be a hit, or it may be a miss, but we are bound to do something
for friend Hopkins, just to justify this second visit,' said he. 'I will
not quite take him into my confidence yet. I think our next scene of
operations must be the shipping office of the Adelaide-Southampton line,
which stands at the end of Pall Mall, if I remember right. There is a
second line of steamers which connect South Australia with England, but
we will draw the larger cover first.'
Holmes's card sent in to the manager ensured instant attention, and he
was not long in acquiring all the information he needed. In June of '95,
only one of their line had reached a home port. It was the Rock of
Gibraltar, their largest and best boat. A reference to the passenger
list showed that Miss Fraser, of Adelaide, with her maid had made the
voyage in her. The boat was now somewhere south of the Suez Canal on her
way to Australia. Her officers were the same as in '95, with one
exception. The first officer, Mr. Jack Crocker, had been made a captain
and was to take charge of their new ship, the Bass Rock, sailing in
two days' time from Southampton. He lived at Sydenham, but he was likely
to be in that morning for instructions, if we cared to wait for him.
No, Mr. Holmes had no desire to see him, but would be glad to know more
about his record and character.
His record was magnificent. There was not an officer in the fleet to
touch him. As to his character, he was reliable on duty, but a wild,
desperate fellow off the deck of his ship—hot-headed, excitable, but
loyal, honest, and kind-hearted. That was the pith of the information
with which Holmes left the office of the Adelaide-Southampton company.
Thence he drove to Scotland Yard, but, instead of entering, he sat in
his cab with his brows drawn down, lost in profound thought. Finally he
drove round to the Charing Cross telegraph office, sent off a message,
and then, at last, we made for Baker Street once more.
'No, I couldn't do it, Watson,' said he, as we re-entered our room.
'Once that warrant was made out, nothing on earth would save him. Once
or twice in my career I feel that I have done more real harm by my
discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have
learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of
England than with my own conscience. Let us know a little more before
Before evening, we had a visit from Inspector Stanley Hopkins. Things
were not going very well with him.
'I believe that you are a wizard, Mr. Holmes. I really do sometimes
think that you have powers that are not human. Now, how on earth could
you know that the stolen silver was at the bottom of that pond?'
'I didn't know it.'
'But you told me to examine it.'
'You got it, then?'
'Yes, I got it.'
'I am very glad if I have helped you.'
'But you haven't helped me. You have made the affair far more difficult.
What sort of burglars are they who steal silver and then throw it into
the nearest pond?'
'It was certainly rather eccentric behaviour. I was merely going on
the idea that if the silver had been taken by persons who did not want
it—who merely took it for a blind, as it were—then they would
naturally be anxious to get rid of it.'
'But why should such an idea cross your mind?'
'Well, I thought it was possible. When they came out through the French
window, there was the pond with one tempting little hole in the ice,
right in front of their noses. Could there be a better hiding-place?'
'Ah, a hiding-place—that is better!' cried Stanley Hopkins. 'Yes, yes,
I see it all now! It was early, there were folk upon the roads, they
were afraid of being seen with the silver, so they sank it in the pond,
intending to return for it when the coast was clear. Excellent, Mr.
Holmes—that is better than your idea of a blind.'
'Quite so, you have got an admirable theory. I have no doubt that my own
ideas were quite wild, but you must admit that they have ended in
discovering the silver.'
'Yes, sir—yes. It was all your doing. But I have had a bad setback.'
'Yes, Mr. Holmes. The Randall gang were arrested in New York this
'Dear me, Hopkins! That is certainly rather against your theory that
they committed a murder in Kent last night.'
'It is fatal, Mr. Holmes—absolutely fatal. Still, there are other gangs
of three besides the Randalls, or it may be some new gang of which the
police have never heard,'
'Quite so, it is perfectly possible. What, are you off?'
'Yes, Mr. Holmes, there is no rest for me until I have got to the bottom
of the business. I suppose you have no hint to give me?'
'I have given you one.'
'Well, I suggested a blind.'
'But why, Mr. Holmes, why?'
'Ah, that's the question, of course. But I commend the idea to your
mind. You might possibly find that there was something in it. You won't
stop for dinner? Well, goodbye, and let us know how you get on.'
Dinner was over, and the table cleared before Holmes alluded to the
matter again. He had lit his pipe and held his slippered feet to the
cheerful blaze of the fire. Suddenly he looked at his watch.
'I expect developments, Watson.'
'Now—within a few minutes. I dare say you thought I acted rather badly
to Stanley Hopkins just now.'
'I trust your judgment.'
'A very sensible reply, Watson. You must look at it this way: what
I know is unofficial, what he knows is official. I have the right to
private judgment, but he has none. He must disclose all, or he is a
traitor to his service. In a doubtful case I would not put him in so
painful a position, and so I reserve my information until my own mind
is clear upon the matter.'
'But when will that be?'
'The time has come. You will now be present at the last scene of a
remarkable little drama.'
There was a sound upon the stairs, and our door was opened to admit as
fine a specimen of manhood as ever passed through it. He was a very tall
young man, golden-moustached, blue-eyed, with a skin which had been
burned by tropical suns, and a springy step, which showed that the huge
frame was as active as it was strong. He closed the door behind him, and
then he stood with clenched hands and heaving breast, choking down some
'Sit down, Captain Crocker. You got my telegram?'
Our visitor sank into an armchair and looked from one to the other of us
with questioning eyes.
'I got your telegram, and I came at the hour you said. I heard that you
had been down to the office. There was no getting away from you. Let's
hear the worst. What are you going to do with me? Arrest me? Speak out,
man! You can't sit there and play with me like a cat with a mouse.'
'Give him a cigar,' said Holmes. 'Bite on that, Captain Crocker, and
don't let your nerves run away with you. I should not sit here smoking
with you if I thought that you were a common criminal, you may be sure
of that. Be frank with me and we may do some good. Play tricks with me,
and I'll crush you.'
'What do you wish me to do?'
To give me a true account of all that happened at the Abbey Grange last
night—a true account, mind you, with nothing added and nothing taken
off. I know so much already that if you go one inch off the straight,
I'll blow this police whistle from my window and the affair goes out of
my hands forever.'
The sailor thought for a little. Then he struck his leg with his great
'I'll chance it,' he cried. 'I believe you are a man of your word, and a
white man, and I'll tell you the whole story. But one thing I will say
first. So far as I am concerned, I regret nothing and I fear nothing,
and I would do it all again and be proud of the job. Damn the beast, if
he had as many lives as a cat, he would owe them all to me! But it's the
lady, Mary—Mary Fraser—for never will I call her by that accursed
name. When I think of getting her into trouble, I who would give my life
just to bring one smile to her dear face, it's that that turns my soul
into water. And yet—and yet—what less could I do? I'll tell you my
story gentlemen, and then I'll ask you, as man to man, what less could
'I must go back a bit. You seem to know everything, so I expect that you
know that I met her when she was a passenger and I was first officer of
the Rock of Gibraltar. From the first day I met her, she was the only
woman to me. Every day of that voyage I loved her more, and many a time
since have I kneeled down in the darkness of the night watch and kissed
the deck of that ship because I knew her dear feet had trod it. She was
never engaged to me. She treated me as fairly as ever a woman treated a
man. I have no complaint to make. It was all love on my side, and all
good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free
woman, but I could never again be a free man.
'Next time I came back from sea, I heard of her marriage. Well, why
shouldn't she marry whom she liked? Title and money—who could carry
them better than she? She was born for all that is beautiful and dainty.
I didn't grieve over her marriage. I was not such a selfish hound as
that. I just rejoiced that good luck had come her way, and that she had
not thrown herself away on a penniless sailor. That's how I loved Mary
'Well, I never thought to see her again, but last voyage I was promoted,
and the new boat was not yet launched, so I had to wait for a couple of
months with my people at Sydenham. One day out in a country lane I met
Theresa Wright, her old maid. She told me all about her, about him,
about everything. I tell you, gentlemen, it nearly drove me mad. This
drunken hound, that he should dare to raise his hand to her, whose boots
he was not worthy to lick! I met Theresa again. Then I met Mary
herself—and met her again. Then she would meet me no more. But the
other day I had a notice that I was to start on my voyage within a week,
and I determined that I would see her once before I left. Theresa was
always my friend, for she loved Mary and hated this villain almost as
much as I did. From her I learned the ways of the house. Mary used to
sit up reading in her own little room downstairs. I crept round there
last night and scratched at the window. At first she would not open to
me, but in her heart I know that now she loves me, and she could not
leave me in the frosty night. She whispered to me to come round to the
big front window, and I found it open before me, so as to let me into
the dining-room. Again I heard from her own lips things that made my
blood boil, and again I cursed this brute who mishandled the woman I
loved. Well, gentlemen, I was standing with her just inside the window,
in all innocence, as God is my judge, when he rushed like a madman into
the room, called her the vilest name that a man could use to a woman,
and welted her across the face with the stick he had in his hand. I had
sprung for the poker, and it was a fair fight between us. See here, on
my arm, where his first blow fell. Then it was my turn, and I went
through him as if he had been a rotten pumpkin. Do you think I was
sorry? Not I! It was his life or mine, but far more than that, it was
his life or hers, for how could I leave her in the power of this madman?
That was how I killed him. Was I wrong? well, then, what would either of
you gentlemen have done, if you had been in my position?
'She had screamed when he struck her, and that brought old Theresa down
from the room above. There was a bottle of wine on the sideboard, and I
opened it and poured a little between Mary's lips, for she was half dead
with shock. Then I took a drop myself. Theresa was as cool as ice, and
it was her plot as much as mine. We must make it appear that burglars
had done the thing. Theresa kept on repeating our story to her mistress,
while I swarmed up and cut the rope of the bell. Then I lashed her in
her chair, and frayed out the end of the rope to make it look natural,
else they would wonder how in the world a burglar could have got up
there to cut it. Then I gathered up a few plates and pots of silver, to
carry out the idea of the robbery, and there I left them, with orders to
give the alarm when I had a quarter of an hour's start. I dropped the
silver into the pond, and made off for Sydenham, feeling that for once
in my life I had done a real good night's work. And that's the truth and
the whole truth, Mr. Holmes, if it costs me my neck.'
Holmes smoked for some time in silence. Then he crossed the room, and
shook our visitor by the hand.
'That's what I think,' said he. 'I know that every word is true, for you
have hardly said a word which I did not know. No one but an acrobat or a
sailor could have got up to that bell-rope from the bracket, and no one
but a sailor could have made the knots with which the cord was fastened
to the chair. Only once had this lady been brought into contact with
sailors, and that was on her voyage, and it was someone of her own class
of life, since she was trying hard to shield him, and so showing that
she loved him. You see how easy it was for me to lay my hands upon you
when once I started upon the right trail.'
'I thought the police never could have seen through our dodge.'
'And the police haven't, nor will they, to the best of my belief. Now,
look here, Captain Crocker, this is a very serious matter, though I am
willing to admit that you acted under the most extreme provocation to
which any man could be subjected. I am not sure that in defence of your
own life your action will not be pronounced legitimate. However, that is
for a British jury to decide. Meanwhile I have so much sympathy for you
that, if you choose to disappear in the next twenty-four hours, I will
promise you that no one will hinder you.'
'And then it will all come out?'
'Certainly it will come out.'
The sailor flushed with anger.
'What sort of proposal is that to make a man? I know enough of law to
understand that Mary would be held as accomplice. Do you think I would
leave her alone to face the music while I slunk away? No, sir, let them
do their worst upon me, but for heaven's sake, Mr. Holmes, find some way
of keeping my poor Mary out of the courts.'
Holmes for a second time held out his hand to the sailor.
'I was only testing you, and you ring true every time. Well, it is a
great responsibility that I take upon myself, but I have given Hopkins
an excellent hint, and if he can't avail himself of it I can do no more.
See here, Captain Crocker, we'll do this in due form of law. You are the
prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was
more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman
of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner
guilty or not guilty?'
'Not guilty, my lord,' said I.
'Vox populi, vox Dei. You are acquitted, Captain Crocker. So long as
the law does not find some other victim you are safe from me. Come back
to this lady in a year, and may her future and yours justify us in the
judgment which we have pronounced this night!'
THE PRIZE LODGER
By George Gissing
(Human Odds and Ends/Stories and Sketches, London: Lawrence and Bullen
The ordinary West-End Londoner—who is a citizen of no city at all, but
dwells amid a mere conglomerate of houses at a certain distance from
Charing Cross—has known a fleeting surprise when, by rare chance, his
eye fell upon the name of some such newspaper as the Battersea Times,
the Camberwell Mercury, or the Islington Gazette. To him, these and
the like districts are nothing more than compass points of the huge
metropolis. He may be in practice acquainted with them; if historically
inclined, he may think of them as old-time villages swallowed up by
insatiable London; but he has never grasped the fact that in Battersea,
Camberwell, Islington, there are people living who name these places as
their home; who are born, subsist, and die there as though in a distinct
town, and practically without consciousness of its obliteration in the
map of a world capital.
The stable element of this population consists of more or less
old-fashioned people. Round about them is the ceaseless coming and going
of nomads who keep abreast with the time, who take their lodgings by the
week, their houses by the month; who camp indifferently in regions old
and new, learning their geography in train and tram-car. Abiding
parishioners are wont to be either very poor or established in a
moderate prosperity; they lack enterprise, either for good or ill: if
comfortably off, they owe it, as a rule, to some predecessor's exertion.
And for the most part, though little enough endowed with the civic
spirit, they abundantly pride themselves on their local permanence.
Representative of this class was Mr. Archibald Jordan, a native of
Islington, and, at the age of five-and-forty, still faithful to the
streets which he had trodden as a child. His father started a small
grocery business in Upper Street; Archibald succeeded to the shop,
advanced soberly, and at length admitted a partner, by whose capital and
energy the business was much increased. After his thirtieth year Mr.
Jordan ceased to stand behind the counter. Of no very active
disposition, and but moderately set on gain, he found it pleasant to
spend a few hours daily over the books and the correspondence, and for
the rest of his time to enjoy a gossipy leisure, straying among the
acquaintances of a lifetime, or making new in the decorous bar-parlours,
billiard-rooms, and other such retreats which allured his bachelor
liberty. His dress and bearing were unpretentious, but impressively
respectable; he never allowed his garments (made by an Islington tailor,
an old schoolfellow) to exhibit the least sign of wear, but fashion
affected their style as little as possible. Of middle height, and
tending to portliness, he walked at an unvarying pace, as a man who had
never known undignified hurry; in his familiar thoroughfares he glanced
about him with a good-humoured air of proprietorship, or with a look of
thoughtful criticism for any changes that might be going forward. No one
had ever spoken flatteringly of his visage; he knew himself a very
homely-featured man, and accepted the fact, as something that had
neither favoured nor hindered him in life. But it was his conviction
that no man's eye had a greater power of solemn and overwhelming rebuke,
and this gift he took a pleasure in exercising, however trivial the
For five-and-twenty years he had lived in lodgings; always within the
narrow range of Islington respectability, yet never for more than a
twelvemonth under the same roof. This peculiar feature of Mr. Jordan's
life had made him a subject of continual interest to local landladies,
among whom were several lifelong residents, on friendly terms of old
time with the Jordan family. To them it seemed an astonishing thing that
a man in such circumstances had not yet married; granting this
eccentricity, they could not imagine what made him change his abode so
often. Not a landlady in Islington but would welcome Mr. Jordan in her
rooms, and, having got him, do her utmost to prolong the connection. He
had been known to quit a house on the paltriest excuse, removing to
another in which he could not expect equally good treatment. There was
no accounting for it: it must be taken as an ultimate mystery of life,
and made the most of as a perennial topic of neighbourly conversation.
As to the desirability of having Mr. Jordan for a lodger there could be
no difference of opinion among rational womankind. Mrs. Wiggins, indeed,
had taken his sudden departure from her house so ill that she always
spoke of him abusively; but who heeded Mrs. Wiggins? Even in the sadness
of hope deferred, those ladies who had entertained him once, and
speculated on his possible return, declared Mr. Jordan a 'thorough
gentleman'. Lodgers, as a class, do not recommend themselves in
Islington; Mr. Jordan shone against the dusky background with almost
dazzling splendour. To speak of lodgers as of cattle, he was a prize
creature. A certain degree of comfort he firmly exacted; he might be a
trifle fastidious about cooking; he stood upon his dignity; but no one
could say that he grudged reward for service rendered. It was his
practice to pay more than the landlady asked. Twenty-five shillings a
week, you say? I shall give you twenty-eight. But—' and with raised
forefinger he went through the catalogue of his demands. Everything must
be done precisely as he directed; even in the laying of his table he
insisted upon certain minute peculiarities, and to forget one of them
was to earn that gaze of awful reprimand which Mr. Jordan found (or
thought) more efficacious than any spoken word. Against this precision
might be set his strange indulgence in the matter of bills; he merely
regarded the total, was never known to dispute an item. Only twice in
his long experience had he quitted a lodging because of exorbitant
charges, and on these occasions he sternly refused to discuss the
matter. 'Mrs. Hawker, I am paying your account with the addition of one
week's rent. Your rooms will be vacant at eleven o'clock tomorrow
morning.' And until the hour of departure no entreaty, no prostration,
could induce him to utter a syllable.
It was on the 1st of June, 1889, his forty-fifth birthday, that Mr.
Jordan removed from quarters he had occupied for ten months, and became
a lodger in the house of Mrs. Elderfield.
Mrs. Elderfield, a widow, aged three-and-thirty, with one little girl,
was but a casual resident in Islington; she knew nothing of Mr. Jordan,
and made no inquiries about him. Strongly impressed, as every woman must
needs be, by his air and tone of mild authority, she congratulated
herself on the arrival of such an inmate; but no subservience appeared
in her demeanour; she behaved with studious civility, nothing more. Her
words were few and well chosen. Always neatly dressed, yet always busy,
she moved about the house with quick, silent step, and cleanliness
marked her path. The meals were well cooked, well served. Mr. Jordan
being her only lodger, she could devote to him an undivided attention.
At the end of his first week the critical gentleman felt greater
satisfaction than he had ever known.
The bill lay upon his table at breakfast-time. He perused the items,
and, much against his habit, reflected upon them. Having breakfasted, he
rang the bell.
He paused, and looked gravely at the widow. She had a plain, honest,
healthy face, with resolute lips, and an eye that brightened when she
spoke; her well-knit figure, motionless in its respectful attitude,
declared a thoroughly sound condition of the nerves.
'Mrs. Elderfield, your bill is so very moderate that I think you must
have forgotten something.'
'Have you looked it over, sir?'
'I never trouble with the details. Please examine it.'
'There is no need, sir. I never make a mistake.'
'I said, Mrs. Elderfield, please examine it.'
She seemed to hesitate, but obeyed.
'The bill is quite correct, sir.'
He paid it at once and said no more.
The weeks went on. To Mr. Jordan's surprise, his landlady's zeal and
efficiency showed no diminution, a thing unprecedented in his long and
varied experience. After the first day or two he had found nothing to
correct; every smallest instruction was faithfully carried out.
Moreover, he knew for the first time in his life the comfort of
absolutely clean rooms. The best of his landladies hitherto had not
risen above that conception of cleanliness which is relative to London
soot and fog. His palate, too, was receiving an education. Probably he
had never eaten of a joint rightly cooked, or tasted a potato boiled as
it should be; more often than not, the food set before him had undergone
a process which left it masticable indeed, but void of savour and
nourishment. Many little attentions of which he had never dreamed kept
him in a wondering cheerfulness. And at length he said to himself: 'Here
I shall stay.'
Not that his constant removals had been solely due to discomfort and a
hope of better things. The secret—perhaps not entirely revealed even to
himself—lay in Mr. Jordan's sense of his own importance, and his
uneasiness whenever he felt that, in the eyes of a landlady, he was
becoming a mere everyday person—an ordinary lodger. No sooner did he
detect a sign of this than he made up his mind to move. It gave him the
keenest pleasure of which he was capable when, on abruptly announcing
his immediate departure, he perceived the landlady's profound
mortification. To make the blow heavier he had even resorted to
artifice, seeming to express a most lively contentment during the very
days when he had decided to leave and was asking himself where he should
next abide. One of his delights was to return to a house which he had
quitted years ago, to behold the excitement and bustle occasioned by his
appearance, and play the good-natured autocrat over grovelling
dependents. In every case, save the two already mentioned, he had parted
with his landlady on terms of friendliness, never vouchsafing a reason
for his going away, genially eluding every attempt to obtain an
explanation, and at the last abounding in graceful recognition of all
that had been done for him. Mr. Jordan shrank from dispute, hated every
sort of contention; this characteristic gave a certain refinement to his
otherwise commonplace existence. Vulgar vanity would have displayed
itself in precisely the acts and words from which his self-esteem
nervously shrank. And of late he had been thinking over the list of
landladies, with a half-formed desire to settle down, to make himself a
permanent home. Doubtless as a result of this state of mind, he betook
himself to a strange house, where, as from neutral ground, he might
reflect upon the lodgings he knew, and judge between their merits. He
could not foresee what awaited him under Mrs. Elderfield's roof; the
event impressed him as providential; he felt, with singular emotion,
that choice was taken out of his hands. Lodgings could not be more than
perfect, and such he had found.
It was not his habit to chat with landladies. At times he held forth to
them on some topic of interest, suavely, instructively; if he gave in to
their ordinary talk, it was with a half-absent smile of condescension.
Mrs. Elderfield seeming as little disposed to gossip as himself, a month
elapsed before he knew anything of her history; but one evening the
reserve on both sides was broken. His landlady modestly inquired whether
she was giving satisfaction, and Mr. Jordan replied with altogether
unwonted fervour. In the dialogue that ensued, they exchanged personal
confidences. The widow had lost her husband four years ago; she came
from the Midlands, but had long dwelt in London. Then fell from her lips
a casual remark which made the hearer uneasy.
'I don't think I shall always stay here. The neighbourhood is too
crowded. I should like to have a house somewhere further out.'
Mr. Jordan did not comment on this, but it kept a place in his daily
thoughts, and became at length so much of an anxiety that he invited
a renewal of the subject.
'You have no intention of moving just yet, Mrs. Elderfield?'
'I was going to tell you, sir,' replied the landlady, with her
respectful calm, 'that I have decided to make a change next spring. Some
friends of mine have gone to live at Wood Green, and I shall look for a
house in the same neighbourhood.'
Mr. Jordan was, in private, gravely disturbed. He who had flitted from
house to house for many years, distressing the souls of landladies, now
lamented the prospect of a forced removal. It was open to him to
accompany Mrs. Elderfield, but he shrank from the thought of living in
so remote a district. Wood Green! The very name appalled him, for he had
never been able to endure the country. He betook himself one dreary
autumn afternoon to that northern suburb, and what he saw did not at all
reassure him. On his way back he began once more to review the list of
But from that day his conversations with Mrs. Elderfield grew more
frequent, more intimate. In the evening he occasionally made an excuse
for knocking at her parlour door, and lingered for a talk which ended
only at supper time. He spoke of his own affairs, and grew more ready to
do so as his hearer manifested a genuine interest, without impertinent
curiosity. Little by little he imparted to Mrs. Elderfield a complete
knowledge of his commercial history, of his pecuniary standing—matters
of which he had never before spoken to a mere acquaintance. A change was
coming over him; the foundations of habit crumbled beneath his feet; he
lost his look of complacence, his self-confident and superior tone.
Bar-parlours and billiard-rooms saw him but rarely and flittingly. He
seemed to have lost his pleasure in the streets of Islington, and spent
all his spare time by the fireside, perpetually musing.
On a day in March one of his old landladies, Mrs. Higdon, sped to the
house of another, Mrs. Evans, panting under a burden of strange news.
Could it be believed! Mr. Jordan was going to marry—to marry that woman
in whose house he was living! Mrs. Higdon had it on the very best
authority—that of Mr. Jordan's partner, who spoke of the affair without
reserve. A new house had already been taken—at Wood Green. Well! After
all these years, after so many excellent opportunities, to marry a mere
stranger and forsake Islington! In a moment Mr. Jordan's character was
gone; had he figured in the police-court under some disgraceful charge,
these landladies could hardly have felt more shocked and professed
themselves more disgusted. The intelligence spread. Women went out of
their way to have a sight of Mrs. Elderfield's house; they hung about
for a glimpse of that sinister person herself. She had robbed them,
every one, of a possible share in Islington's prize lodger. Had it been
one of themselves they could have borne the chagrin; but a woman whom
not one of them knew, an alien! What base arts had she practised? Ah,
it was better not to inquire too closely into the secrets of that
Though every effort was made to learn the time and place of the
ceremony, Mr. Jordan's landladies had the mortification to hear of his
wedding only when it was over. Of course, this showed that he felt the
disgracefulness of his behaviour; he was not utterly lost to shame. It
could only be hoped that he would not know the bitterness of repentance.
Not till he found himself actually living in the house at Wood Green did
Mr. Jordan realize how little his own will had had to do with the recent
course of events. Certainly, he had made love to the widow, and had
asked her to marry him; but from that point onward he seemed to have put
himself entirely in Mrs. Elderfield's hands, granting every request,
meeting half-way every suggestion she offered, becoming, in short, quite
a different kind of man from his former self. He had not been sensible
of a moment's reluctance; he enjoyed the novel sense of yielding himself
to affectionate guidance. His wits had gone wool-gathering; they
returned to him only after the short honeymoon at Brighton, when he
stood upon his own hearth-rug, and looked round at the new furniture
and ornaments which symbolized a new beginning of life.
The admirable landlady had shown herself energetic, clear-headed, and
full of resource; it was she who chose the house, and transacted all the
business in connection with it; Mr. Jordan had merely run about in her
company from place to place, smiling approval and signing cheques. No
one could have gone to work more prudently, or obtained what she wanted
at smaller outlay; for all that, Mr. Jordan, having recovered something
like his normal frame of mind, viewed the results with consternation.
Left to himself, he would have taken a very small house, and furnished
it much in the style of Islington lodgings; as it was, he occupied a
ten-roomed 'villa', with appointments which seemed to him luxurious,
aristocratic. True, the expenditure was of no moment to a man in his
position, and there was no fear that Mrs. Jordan would involve him in
dangerous extravagance; but he had always lived with such excessive
economy that the sudden change to a life correspondent with his income
could not but make him uncomfortable.
Mrs. Jordan had, of course, seen to it that her personal appearance
harmonized with the new surroundings. She dressed herself and her young
daughter with careful appropriateness. There was no display, no purchase
of gewgaws—merely garments of good quality, such as became people in
easy circumstances. She impressed upon her husband that this was nothing
more than a return to the habits of her earlier life. Her first marriage
had been a sad mistake; it had brought her down in the world. Now she
felt restored to her natural position.
After a week of restlessness, Mr. Jordan resumed his daily visits to
the shop in Upper Street, where he sat as usual among the books and the
correspondence, and tried to assure himself that all would henceforth
be well with him. No more changing from house to house; a really
comfortable home in which to spend the rest of his days; a kind and most
capable wife to look after all his needs, to humour all his little
habits. He could not have taken a wiser step.
For all that, he had lost something, though he did not yet understand
what it was. The first perception of a change not for the better flashed
upon him one evening in the second week, when he came home an hour
later than his wont. Mrs. Jordan, who always stood waiting for him at
the window, had no smile as he entered.
'Why are you late?' she asked, in her clear, restrained voice.
'Oh—something or other kept me.'
This would not do. Mrs. Jordan quietly insisted on a full explanation of
the delay, and it seemed to her unsatisfactory.
'I hope you won't be irregular in your habits, Archibald,' said his
wife, with gentle admonition. 'What I always liked in you was your
methodical way of living. I shall be very uncomfortable if I never
know when to expect you.'
'Yes, my dear, but—business, you see—'
'But you have explained that you could have been back at the usual
'Well, well, you won't let it happen again. Oh really, Archibald!' she
suddenly exclaimed. 'The idea of you coming into the room with muddy
boots! Why, look! There's a patch of mud on the carpet—'
'It was my hurry to speak to you,' murmured Mr. Jordan, in confusion.
'Please go at once and take your boots off. And you left your slippers
in the bedroom this morning. You must always bring them down, and put
them in the dining-room cupboard; then they're ready for you when you
come into the house.'
Mr. Jordan had but a moderate appetite for his dinner, and he did not
talk so pleasantly as usual. This was but the beginning of troubles such
as he had not for a moment foreseen. His wife, having since their
engagement taken the upper hand, began to show her determination to keep
it, and day by day her rule grew more galling to the ex-bachelor. He
himself, in the old days, had plagued his landladies by insisting upon
method and routine, by his faddish attention to domestic minutiae; he
now learnt what it was to be subjected to the same kind of despotism,
exercised with much more exasperating persistence. Whereas Mrs.
Elderfield had scrupulously obeyed every direction given by her lodger,
Mrs. Jordan was evidently resolved that her husband should live, move,
and have his being in the strictest accordance with her own ideal. Not
in any spirit of nagging, or ill-tempered unreasonableness; it was
merely that she had her favourite way of doing every conceivable thing,
and felt so sure it was the best of all possible ways that she could not
endure any other. The first serious disagreement between them had
reference to conduct at the breakfast-table. After a broken night,
feeling headachy and worried, Mr. Jordan took up his newspaper, folded
it conveniently, and set it against the bread so that he could read
while eating. Without a word, his wife gently removed it, and laid it
aside on a chair.
'What are you doing?' he asked gruffly.
'You mustn't read at meals, Archibald. It's bad manners, and bad for your
'I've read the news at breakfast all my life, and I shall do so still,'
exclaimed the husband, starting up and recovering his paper.
'Then you will have breakfast by yourself. Nelly, we must go into the
other room till papa has finished.'
Mr. Jordan ate mechanically, and stared at the newspaper with just as
little consciousness. Prompted by the underlying weakness of his
character to yield for the sake of peace, wrath made him dogged, and the
more steadily he regarded his position, the more was he appalled by the
outlook. Why, this meant downright slavery! He had married a woman so
horribly like himself in several points that his only hope lay in
overcoming her by sheer violence. A thoroughly good and well-meaning
woman, an excellent housekeeper, the kind of wife to do him credit and
improve his social position; but self-willed, pertinacious, and probably
thinking herself his superior in every respect. He had nothing to fear
but subjection—the one thing he had never anticipated, the one thing he
could never endure.
He went off to business without seeing his wife again, and passed a
lamentable day. At his ordinary hour of return, instead of setting off
homeward, he strayed about the by-streets of Islington and Pentonville.
Not till this moment had he felt how dear they were to him, the familiar
streets; their very odours fell sweet upon his nostrils. Never again
could he go hither and thither, among the old friends, the old places,
to his heart's content. What had possessed him to abandon this precious
liberty! The thought of Wood Green revolted him; live there as long as
he might, he would never be at home. He thought of his wife (now waiting
for him) with fear, and then with a reaction of rage. Let her wait!
He—Archibald Jordan—before whom women had bowed and trembled for
five-and-twenty years—was he to come and go at a wife's bidding? And
at length the thought seemed so utterly preposterous that he sped
northward as fast as possible, determined to right himself this very
Mrs. Jordan sat alone. He marched into the room with muddy boots, flung
his hat and overcoat into a chair, and poked the fire violently. His
wife's eye was fixed on him, and she first spoke—in the quiet voice
that he dreaded.
'What do you mean by carrying on like this, Archibald?'
'I shall carry on as I like in my own house—hear that?'
'I do hear it, and I'm very sorry too. It gives me a very bad opinion
of you. You will not do as you like in your own house. Rage as you
please. You will not do as you like in your own house.'
There was a contemptuous anger in her eye which the man could not face.
He lost all control of himself, uttered coarse oaths, and stood
quivering. Then the woman began to lecture him; she talked steadily,
acrimoniously, for more than an hour, regardless of his interruptions.
Nervously exhausted, he fled at length from the room. A couple of hours
later they met again in the nuptial chamber, and again Mrs. Jordan began
to talk. Her point, as before, was that he had begun married life about
as badly as possible. Why had he married her at all? What fault had she
committed to incur such outrageous usage? But, thank goodness, she had a
will of her own, and a proper self-respect; behave as he might, she
would still persevere in the path of womanly duty. If he thought to make
her life unbearable he would find his mistake; she simply should not
heed him; perhaps he would return to his senses before long—and in this
vein Mrs. Jordan continued until night was at odds with morning, only
becoming silent when her partner had sunk into the oblivion of uttermost
The next day Mr. Jordan's demeanour showed him, for the moment at all
events, defeated. He made no attempt to read at breakfast; he moved
about very quietly. And in the afternoon he came home at the regulation
Mrs. Jordan had friends in the neighbourhood, but she saw little of
them. She was not a woman of ordinary tastes. Everything proved that,
to her mind, the possession of a nice house, with the prospects of a
comfortable life, was an end in itself; she had no desire to exhibit her
well-furnished rooms, or to gad about talking of her advantages. Every
moment of her day was taken up in the superintendence of servants, the
discharge of an infinitude of housewifely tasks. She had no assistance
from her daughter; the girl went to school, and was encouraged to study
with the utmost application. The husband's presence in the house seemed
a mere accident—save in the still nocturnal season, when Mrs. Jordan
bestowed upon him her counsel and her admonitions.
After the lapse of a few days Mr. Jordan again offered combat, and threw
himself into it with a frenzy.
'Look here!' he shouted at length, 'either you or I are going to leave
this house. I can't live with you—understand? I hate the sight of you!'
'Go on!' retorted the other, with mild bitterness. 'Abuse me as much as
you like, I can bear it. I shall continue to do my duty, and unless you
have recourse to personal violence, here I remain. If you go too far, of
course the law must defend me!'
This was precisely what Mr. Jordan knew and dreaded; the law was on his
wife's side, and by applying at a police-court for protection she could
overwhelm him with shame and ridicule, which would make life
intolerable. Impossible to argue with this woman. Say what he might, the
fault always seemed his. His wife was simply doing her duty—in a spirit
of admirable thoroughness; he, in the eyes of a third person, would
appear an unreasonable and violent curmudgeon. Had it not all sprung out
of his obstinacy with regard to reading at breakfast? How explain to
anyone what he suffered in his nerves, in his pride, in the outraged
habitudes of a lifetime?
That evening he did not return to Wood Green. Afraid of questions
if he showed himself in the old resorts, he spent some hours in a
billiard-room near King's Cross, and towards midnight took a bedroom
under the same roof. On going to business next day, he awaited with
tremors either a telegram or a visit from his wife; but the whole day
passed, and he heard nothing. After dark he walked once more about the
beloved streets, pausing now and then to look up at the windows of this
or that well remembered house. Ah, if he durst but enter and engage a
lodging! Impossible—for ever impossible!
He slept in the same place as on the night before. And again a day
passed without any sort of inquiry from Wood Green. When evening came
he went home.
Mrs. Jordan behaved as though he had returned from business in the usual
way. 'Is it raining?' she asked, with a half-smile. And her husband
replied, in as matter-of-fact a tone as he could command, 'No, it
isn't.' There was no mention between them of his absence. That night,
Mrs. Jordan talked for an hour or two of his bad habit of stepping on
the paint when he went up and down stairs, then fell calmly asleep.
But Mr. Jordan did not sleep for a long time. What! was he, after all,
to be allowed his liberty out of doors, provided he relinquished it
within? Was it really the case that his wife, satisfied with her house
and furniture and income, did not care a jot whether he stayed away or
came home? There, indeed, gleamed a hope. When Mr. Jordan slept, he
dreamed that he was back again in lodgings at Islington, tasting an
extraordinary bliss. Day dissipated the vision, but still Mrs. Jordan
spoke not a word of his absence, and with trembling still he hoped.