Hic Jacet, by Oliver Onions
A TALE OF ARTISTIC CONSCIENCE
As I lighted my guests down the stairs of my Chelsea lodgings, turned up
the hall gas that they might see the steps at the front door, and shook
hands with them, I bade them good night the more heartily that I was glad
to see their backs. Lest this should seem but an inhospitable confession,
let me state, first, that they had invited themselves, dropping in in
ones and twos until seven or eight of them had assembled in my garret,
and, secondly, that I was rather extraordinarily curious to know why, at
close on midnight, the one I knew least well of all had seen fit to
remain after the others had taken their departure. To these two
considerations I must add a third, namely, that I had become tardily
conscious that, if Andriaovsky had not lingered of himself, I should
certainly have asked him to do so.
It was to nothing more than a glance, swift and momentary, directed by
Andriaovsky to myself while the others had talked, that I traced this
desire to see more of the little Polish painter; but a glance derives its
import from the circumstance under which it is given. That rapid turning
of his eyes in my direction an hour before had held a hundred questions,
implications, criticisms, incredulities, condemnations. It had been one
of those uncovenanted gestures that hold the promise of the treasures of
an eternal friendship. I wondered as I turned down the gas again and
remounted the stairs what personal message and reproach in it had lumped
me in with the others; and by the time I had reached my own door again a
phrase had fitted itself in my mind to that quick, ironical turning of
Andriaovsky's eyes: "Et tu, Brute!…"
He was standing where I had left him, his small shabby figure in the
attitude of a diminutive colossus on my hearthrug. About him were the
recently vacated chairs, solemnly and ridiculously suggestive of still
continuing the high and choice conversation that had lately finished. The
same fancy had evidently taken Andriaovsky, for he was turning from chair
to chair, his head a little on one side, mischievously and aggravatingly
smiling. As one of them, the deep wicker chair that Jamison had occupied,
suddenly gave a little creak of itself, as wicker will when released from
a strain, his smile broadened to a grin. I had been on the point of
sitting down in that chair, but I changed my mind and took another.
"That's right," said Andriaovsky, in that wonderful English which he had
picked up in less than three years, "don't sit in the wisdom-seat; you
might profane it."
I knew what he meant. I felt for my pipe and slowly filled it, not
replying. Then, slowly wagging his head from side to side, with his eyes
humorously and banteringly on mine, he uttered the very words I had
mentally associated with that glance of his.
"Et tu, Brute!" he said, wagging away, so that with each wag the lenses
of his spectacles caught the light of the lamp on the table.
I too smiled as I felt for a match.
"It was rather much, wasn't it?" I said.
But he suddenly stopped his wagging, and held up a not very clean
forefinger. His whole face was altogether too confoundedly intelligent.
"Oh no, you don't!" he said peremptorily. "No getting out of it like
that the moment they've turned their backs! No running—what is it?—no
running with the hare and hunting with the hounds! You helped, you
I confess I fidgeted a little.
"But hang it all, what could I do? They were in my place," I broke out.
He chuckled, enjoying my discomfiture. Then his eyes fell on those absurd
and solemn chairs again.
"Look at 'em—the Art Shades in conference!" he chuckled. "That
rush-seated one, it was talking half an hour ago about 'Scherzos in
Silver and Grey!' … Nice, fresh green stuff!"
To shut him up I told him that he would find cigarettes and tobacco on
"'Scherzos in Silver and Grey'!" he chuckled again as he took a
All this, perhaps, needs some explanation. It had been the usual thing,
usual in those days, twenty years ago—smarming about Art and the Arts
and so forth. They—"we," as apparently Andriaovsky had lingered behind
for the purpose of reminding me—had perhaps talked a little more
soaringly than the ordinary, that was all. There had been Jamison in the
wicker chair, full to the lips and running over with the Colour
Suggestions of the late Edward Calvert; Gibbs, in a pulpy state of
adoration of the less legitimate side of the painting of Watts; and
Magnani, who had advanced that an Essential Oneness underlies all the
Arts, and had triumphantly proved his thesis by analogy with the Law of
the Co-relation of Forces. A book called Music and Morals had appeared
about that time, and on it they—we—had risen to regions of kite-high
lunacy about Colour Symphonies, orgies of formless colour thrown on a
magic-lantern screen—vieux jeu enough at this time of day. A young
newspaper man, too, had made mental notes of our adjectives, for use in
his weekly (I nearly spelt it "weakly") half-column of Art Criticism;
and—and here was Andriaovsky, grinning at the chairs, and mimicking
it all with diabolical glee.
"'Scherzos in Silver and Grey'—'Word Pastels'—' Lyrics in Stone!'"
he chuckled. "And what was it the fat fellow said?' A Siren Song in
Marble!' Phew!… Well, I'll get along. I shall just be in time to get
a pint of bitter to wash it all down if I'm quick… Bah!" he broke out
suddenly. "Good men build up Form and Forms—keep the Arts each after
its kind—raise up the dikes so that we shan't all be swept away by night
and nothingness—and these rats come nosing and burrowing and undermining
it all!… Et tu, Brute!"
"Well, when you've finished rubbing it in—" I grunted.
"As if you didn't know better!… Is that your way of getting back on
'em, now that you've chucked drawing and gone in for writing books?
Phew I… Well, I'll go and get my pint of beer—"
But he didn't go for his pint of beer. Instead, he began to prowl about
my room, pryingly, nosingly, touching things here and there. I watched
him as he passed from one thing to another. He was very little, and very,
very shabby. His trousers were frayed, and the sole of one of his boots
flapped distressingly. His old bowler hat—he had not thought it
necessary to wait until he got outside before thrusting it on the back of
his head—was so limp in substance that I verily believed that had he run
incautiously downstairs he would have found when he got to the bottom
that its crown had sunk in of its own weight. In spite of his remark
about the pint of beer, I doubt if he had the price of one in his pocket.
"What's this, Brutus—a concertina?" he suddenly asked, stopping before
the collapsible case in which I kept my rather old dress suit.
I told him what it was, and he hoisted up his shoulders.
"And these things?" he asked, moving to something else.
They were a pair of boot-trees of which I had permitted myself the
economy. I remember they cost me four shillings in the old Brompton
"And that's your bath, I suppose…. Dumb-bells too…. And—oh, good
He had picked up, and dropped again as if it had been hot, somebody or
other's card with the date of a "day" written across the corner of it….
As I helped him on with his overcoat he made no secret of the condition
of its armholes and lining. I don't for one moment suppose that the
garment was his. I took a candle to light him down as soon as it should
please him to depart.
"Well, so long, and joy to you on the high road to success," he said with
another grin for which I could have bundled him down the stairs….
In later days I never looked to Andriaovsky for tact; but I stared at him
for his lack of it that night. And as I stared I noticed for the first
time the broad and low pylon of his forehead, his handsome mouth and
chin, and the fire and wit and scorn that smouldered behind his cheap
spectacles. I looked again; and his smallness, his malice, his pathetic
little braggings about his poverty, seemed all to disappear. He had
strolled back to my hearthrug, wishing, I have no doubt now, to be able
to exclaim suddenly that it was too late for the pint of beer for which
he hadn't the money, and to curse his luck; and the pigmy quality of his
colossusship had somehow gone.
As I watched him, a neighbouring clock struck the half-hour, and he
did even as I had surmised—cursed the closing time of the English
I lighted him down. For one moment, under the hall gas, he almost dropped
his jesting manner.
"You do know better, Harrison, you know," he said. "But, of course,
you're going to be a famous author in almost no time. Oh, ca se
voit! No garrets for you! It was a treat,' the way you handled those
fellows—really … Well don't forget us others when you're up there—I
may want you to write my 'Life' some day…."
I heard the slapping of the loose sole as he shuffled down the path. At
the gate he turned for a moment.
"Good night, Brutus," he called.
When I had mounted to my garret again my eyes fell once more on that
ridiculous assemblage of empty chairs, all solemnly talking to one
another. I burst out into a laugh. Then I undressed, put my jacket on the
hanger, took the morrow's boots from the trees and treed those I had
removed, changed the pair of trousers under my mattress, and went, still
laughing at the chairs, to bed.
This was Michael Andriaovsky, the Polish painter, who died four weeks
I knew the reason of Maschka's visit the moment she was announced. Even
in the stressful moments of the funeral she had found time to whisper to
me that she hoped to call upon me at an early date. I dismissed the
amanuensis to whom I was dictating the last story of the fourth series of
Martin Renard, gave a few hasty instructions to my secretary, and told
the servant to show Miss Andriaovsky into the drawing-room, to ask her
to be so good as to excuse me for five minutes, to order tea at once, and
then to bring my visitor up to the library.
A few minutes later she was shown into the room.
She was dressed in the same plainly cut costume of dead black she
had worn at the funeral, and had pushed up her heavy veil over the
close-fitting cap of black fur that accentuated her Sclavonic appearance.
I noticed again with distress the pallor of her face and the bistred
rings that weeks of nursing had put under her dark eyes. I noticed also
her resemblance, in feature and stature, to her brother. I placed a chair
for her; the tea-tray followed her in; and without more than a murmured
greeting she peeled off her gloves and prepared to preside at the tray.
She had filled the cups, and I had handed her toast, before she spoke.
"I suppose you know what I've come about," she said.
"Long, long ago you promised it. Nobody else can do it. The only question
"That's the only question," I agreed.
"We, naturally," she continued, after a glance in which her eyes mutely
thanked me for my implied promise, "are anxious that it should be as soon
as possible; but, of course—I shall quite understand—"
She gave a momentary glance round my library. I helped her out.
"You mean that I'm a very important person nowadays, and that you're
afraid to trespass on my time. Never mind that. I shall find time
for this. But tell me before we go any further exactly how you stand and
precisely what it is you expect."
Briefly she did so. It did not in the least surprise me to learn that her
brother had died penniless.
"And if you hadn't undertaken the 'Life,'" she said, "he might just as
well not have worked in poverty all these years. You can, at least, see
to his fame."
I nodded again gravely, and ruminated for a moment. Then I spoke.
"I can write it, fully and in detail, up to five years ago," I said. "You
know what happened then. I tried my best to help him, but he never would
let me. Tell me, Maschka, why he wouldn't sell me that portrait."
I knew instantly, from her quick confusion, that her brother had spoken
to her about the portrait he had refused to sell me, and had probably
told her the reason for his refusal. I watched her as she evaded the
question as well as she could.
"You know how—queer—he was about who he sold his things to. And as for
those five years in which you saw less of him, Schofield will tell you
all you want to know."
I relinquished the point. "Who's Schofield?" I asked instead.
"He was a very good friend of Michael's—of both of us. You can talk
quite freely to him. I want to say at the beginning that I should like
him to be associated with you in this."
I don't know how I divined on the spot her relation to Schofield, whoever
he was. She told me that he too was a painter.
"Michael thought very highly of his things," she said.
"I don't know them," I replied.
"You probably wouldn't," she returned….
But I caught the quick drop of her eyes from their brief excursion round
my library, and I felt something within me stiffen a little. It did not
need Maschka Andriaovsky to remind me that I had not attained my position
without—let us say—splitting certain differences; the looseness of
the expression can be corrected hereafter. Life consists very largely of
compromises. You doubtless know my name, whichever country or hemisphere
you happen to live in, as that of the creator of Martin Renard, the
famous and popular detective; and I was not at that moment disposed to
apologise, either to Maschka or Schofield or anybody else, for having
written the stories at the bidding of a gaping public. The moment the
public showed that it wanted something better I was prepared to give it.
In the meantime, I sat in my very comfortable library, securely shielded
from distress by my balance at my banker's.
"Well," I said after a moment, "let's see how we stand. And first
as to what you're likely to get out of this. It goes without saying,
of course, that by writing the 'Life' I can get you any amount of
'fame'—advertisement, newspaper talk, and all the things that, it struck
me, Michael always treated with especial scorn. My name alone, I say,
will do that. But for anything else I'm by no means so sure. You see," I
explained, "it doesn't follow that because I can sell hundreds of
thousands of… you know what… that I can sell anything I've a mind to
sign." I said it, confident that she had not lived all those years with
her brother without having learned the axiomatic nature of it. To my
discomfiture, she began to talk like a callow student.
"I should have thought that it followed that if you could sell
something—" she hesitated only for a moment, then courageously gave the
other stuff its proper adjective, "—something rotten, you could have
sold something good when you had the chance."
"Then if you thought that you were wrong," I replied briefly and
"Michael couldn't, of course," she said, putting Michael out of the
question with a little wave of her hand, "because Michael was—I mean,
Michael wasn't a business man. You are."
"I'm speaking as one," I replied. "I don't waste time in giving people
what they don't want. That is business. I don't undertake your brother's
'Life' as a matter of business, but as an inestimable privilege. I
repeat, it doesn't follow that the public will buy it."
"But—but—" she stammered, "the public will buy a Pill if they see
your name on the testimonial!"
"A Pill—yes," I said sadly…. Genius and a Pill were, alas, different
things. "But," I added more cheerfully, "you can never tell what the
public will do. They might buy it—there's no telling except by
"Well, Schofield thinks they will," she informed me with decision.
"I dare say he does, if he's an artist. They mostly do," I replied.
"He doesn't think Michael will ever be popular," she emphasised the
adjective slightly, "but he does think he has a considerable following if
they could only be discovered."
I sighed. All artists think that. They will accept any compromise except
the one that is offered to them…. I tried to explain to Maschka that in
this world we have to stand to the chances of all or nothing.
"You've got to be one thing or the other—I don't know that it matters
very much which," I said. "There's Michael's way, and there's… mine.
That's all. However, we'll try it. All you can say to me, and more, I'll
say to a publisher for you. But he'll probably wink at me."
For a moment she was silent. Then she said: "Schofield rather fancies one
"Oh? Who's he?" I asked.
She mentioned a name. If I knew anything at all of business she might as
well have offered The Life of Michael Andriaovsky to The Religious
Tract Society at once….
"Hm!… And has Mr. Schofield any other suggestions?" I inquired.
He had. Several. I saw that Schofield's position would have to be defined
before we went any further.
"Hm!" I said again. "Well, I shall have to rely on Schofield for those
five years in which I saw little of Michael; but unless Schofield knows
more of publishing than I do, and can enforce a better contract and a
larger sum on account than I can, I really think, Maschka, that you'll do
better to leave things to me. For one thing, it's only fair to me. My
name hasn't much of an artistic value nowadays, but it has a very
considerable commercial one, and my worth to publishers isn't as a writer
of the Lives of Geniuses."
I could see she didn't like it; but that couldn't be helped. It had to be
so. Then, as we sat for a time in silence over the fire, I noticed again
how like her brother she was. She was not, it was true, much like him as
he had been on that last visit of mine to him … and I sighed as I
remembered that visit. The dreadful scene had come back to me….
On account, I suppose, of the divergence of our paths, I had not even
heard of his illness until almost the finish. Immediately I had hastened
to the Hampstead "Home," only to find him already in the agony. He had
not been too far gone to recognise me, however, for he had muttered
something brokenly about "knowing better," that a spasm had interrupted.
Besides myself, only Maschka had been there; and I had been thankful for
the summons that had called her for a moment out of the room. I had still
retained his already cold hand; his brow had worked with that dreadful
struggle; and his eyes had been closed.
But suddenly he had opened them, and the next moment had sat up on his
pillow. He had striven to draw his hand from mine.
"Who are you?" he had suddenly demanded, not knowing me.
I had come close to him. "You know me, Andriaovsky—Harrison?" I had
I had been on the point of repeating my name but suddenly, after holding
my eyes for a moment with a look the profundity and familiarity of which
I cannot express, he had broken into the most ghastly haunting laugh I
have ever heard.
"Harrison?" the words had broken throatily from him…. "Oh yes; I
know you!… You shall very soon know that I know you if… if…"
The cough and rattle had come as Maschka had rushed into the room. In ten
seconds Andriaovsky had fallen back, dead.
That same evening I began to make notes for Andriaovsky's "Life." On the
following day, the last of the fourth series of the Martin Renards
occupied me until I was thankful to get to bed. But thereafter I could
call rather more of my time my own, and I began in good earnest to devote
myself to the "Life."
Maschka had spoken no more than the truth when she had said that of all
men living none but I could write that "Life." His remaining behind in my
Chelsea garret that evening after the others had left had been the
beginning of a friendship that, barring that lapse of five years at the
end, had been for twenty years one of completest intimacy. Whatever money
there might or might not be in the book, I had seen my opportunity in
it—the opportunity to make it the vehicle for all the aspirations,
faiths, enthusiasms, and exaltations we had shared; and I myself did not
realise until I began to note them down one tithe of the subtle links and
associations that had welded our souls together.
Even the outward and visible signs of these had been wonderful. Setting
out from one or other of the score of garrets and cheap lodgings we had
in our time inhabited, we had wandered together, day after day, night
after night, far down East, where, as we had threaded our way among the
barrels of soused herrings and the stalls and barrows of unleavened
bread, he had taught me scraps of Hebrew and Polish and Yiddish; up into
the bright West, where he could never walk a quarter of a mile without
meeting one of his extraordinary acquaintances—furred music-hall
managers, hawkers of bootlaces, commercial magnates of his own Faith,
touts, crossing-sweepers, painted women; into Soho, where he had names
for the very horses on the cab-ranks and the dogs who slumbered under the
counters of the sellers of French literature; out to the naphtha-lights
and cries of the Saturday night street markets of Islington and the North
End Road; into City churches on wintry afternoons, into the studios of
famous artists full of handsomely dressed women, into the studios of
artists not famous, at the ends of dark and break-neck corridors; to tea
at the suburban homes of barmaids and chorus girls, to dinner in the
stables of a cavalry-barracks, to supper in cabmen's shelters. He was
possessed in some mysterious way of the passwords to doors in hoardings
behind which excavations were in progress; he knew by name the butchers
of the Deptford yards, the men in the blood-caked clothes, so inured to
blood that they may not with safety to their lives swear at one another;
he took me into an opium-cellar within a stone's-throw of Oxford Street,
and into a roof-chamber to call upon certain friends of his … well,
they said they were fire extinguishers, so I'd better not say they
were bombs. Up, down; here, there; good report, but more frequently
evil … we had known this side of our London as well as two men may. And
our other adventures and peregrinations, not of the body, but of the
spirit … but these must be spoken of in their proper place.
I had arranged with Maschka that Schofield should bring me the whole of
the work Andriaovsky had left behind him; and he arrived late one
afternoon in a fourwheeler, with four great packages done up in brown
paper. I found him to be a big, shaggy-browed, red-haired, raw-boned
Lancashire man of five-and-thirty, given to confidential demonstrations
at the length of a button-shank, quite unconscious of the gulf between
his words and his right to employ them, and bent on asserting an equality
that I did not dispute by a rather aggressive use of my surname.
Andriaovsky had appointed him his executor, and he had ever the air of
suspecting that the appointment was going to be challenged.
"A'm glad to be associated with ye in this melancholy duty, Harrison," he
said. "Now we won't waste words. Miss Andriaovsky has told me precisely
how matters stand. I had, as ye know, the honour to be poor Michael's
close friend for a period of five years, and my knowledge of him is
entirely at your disposal."
I answered that I should be seriously handicapped without it.
"Just so. It is Miss Andriaovsky's desire that we should pull together.
Now, in the firrst place, what is your idea about the forrm the book
"In the first place, if you don't mind," I replied, "perhaps we'd better
run over together the things you've brought. The daylight will be gone
"Just as ye like, Harrison," he said, "just as ye like. It's all the same
I cleared a space about my writing-table at the window, and we turned to
the artistic remains of Michael Andriaovsky.
I was astonished, first, at the enormous quantity of the stuff, and next
at its utter and complete revelation of the man. In a flash I realised
how superb that portion at least of the book was going to be. And
Schofield explained that the work he had brought represented but a
fraction of the whole that was at our disposal.
"Ye'll know with what foolish generosity poor Michael always gave his
things away," he said. "Hallard has a grand set; so has Connolly; and
from time to time he behaved varry handsomely to myself. Artists of varry
considerable talents both Hallard and Connolly are; Michael thought
varry highly of their abilities. They express the deepest interest in the
shape your worrk will take; and that reminds me. I myself have drafted a
rough scenario of the forrm it appeared to me the 'Life' might with
advantage be cast in. A purely private opinion, ye'll understand,
Harrison, which ye'll be entirely at liberty to disregard…."
"Well, let's finish with the work first," I said.
With boards, loose sheets, scraps of paper, notes, studies, canvases
stretched and stripped from their stretchers, we paved half the library
floor, Schofield keeping up all the time a running fire of "Grand,
grand! A masterpiece! A gem, that, Harrison!" They were all that he said,
and presently I ceased to hear his voice. The splendour of the work
issued undimmed even from the severe test of Schofield's praise; and I
thought again with pride how I, I, was the only man living who could
adequately write that "Life."….
"Aren't they grand? Aren't they great?" Schofield chanted monotonously.
"They are," I replied, coming to a consciousness of his presence again.
"But what's that?"
Secretively he had kept one package until the last. He now removed its
wrappings and set it against a chair.
"There!" he cried. "I'll thank ye, Harrison, for your opinion of
It was the portrait Andriaovsky had refused to sell me—a portrait of
The portrait was the climax of the display. The Lancastrian still talked;
but I, profoundly moved, mechanically gathered up the drawings from the
floor and returned them to their proper packages and folios. I was dining
at home, alone, that evening, and for form's sake I asked this faithful
dog of Andriaovsky's to share my meal; but he excused himself—he was
dining with Hallard and Connolly. When the drawings were all put away,
all save that portrait, he gave an inquisitive glance round my library.
It was the same glance as Maschka had given when she had feared to
intrude on my time; but Schofield did these things with a much more heavy
hand. He departed, but not before telling me that even my mansion
contained such treasures as it had never held before.
That evening, after glancing at Schofield's "scenario," I carefully
folded it up again for return to him, lest when the book should appear
he should miss the pleasure of saying that I had had his guidance but
had disregarded it; then I sat down at my writing-table and took out
the loose notes I had made. I made other jottings, each on a blank sheet
for subsequent amplification; and the sheets overspread the large
leather-topped table and thrust one another up the standard of the
incandescent with the pearly silk shade. The firelight shone low and
richly in the dusky spaces of the large apartment; and the thick carpet
and the double doors made the place so quiet that I could hear my watch
ticking in my pocket.
I worked for an hour; and then, for the purpose of making yet other
notes, I rose, crossed the room, and took down the three or four
illustrated books to which, in the earlier part of his career,
Andriaovsky had put his name. I carried them to the table, and twinkled
as I opened the first of them. It was a book of poems, and in making the
designs for them Andriaovsky had certainly not found for himself.
Almost any one of the "Art Shades," as he had called them, could have
done the thing equally well, and I twinkled again. I did not propose to
have much mercy on that. Already Schofield's words had given birth to a
suspicion in my mind—that Andriaovsky, in permitting these fellows,
Hallard, Connolly, and the rest, to suppose that he "thought highly" of
them and their work, had been giving play to that malicious humour of
his; and they naturally did not see the joke. That joke, too, was between
himself, dead, and me, preparing to write his "Life." As if he had been
there to hear me, I chuckled, and spoke in a low voice.
"You were pulling their legs, Michael, you know. A little rough on them
you were. But there's a book here of yours that I'm going to tell the
truth about. You and I won't pretend to one another. It's a rotten book,
and both you and I know it…."
I don't know what it was that caused me suddenly to see just then
something that I had been looking at long enough without seeing—that
portrait of himself that I had set leaning against the back of a chair at
the end of my writing-table. It stood there, just within the soft
penumbra of shadow cast by the silk-shaded light. The canvas had been
enlarged, the seam of it clumsily sewn by Andriaovsky's own hand; but in
that half-light the rough ridge of paint did not show, and I confess that
the position and effect of the thing startled me for a moment. Had I
cared to play a trick with my fancy I could have imagined the head
wagging from side to side, with such rage and fire was it painted. He had
had the temerity to dash a reflection across one of the glasses of his
spectacles, concealing the eye behind it. The next moment I had given a
"So you're there, are you?… Well, I know you agree very heartily about
that book of poems. Heigho! If I remember rightly, you made more money
out of that book than out of the others put together. But I'm going
to tell the truth about it. I know better, you know…."
Chancing, before I turned in that night, to reopen one of his folios, I
came across a drawing, there by accident, I don't doubt, that confirmed
me in my suspicion that Andriaovsky had had his quiet joke with
Schofield, Hallard, Connolly and Co. It was a sketch of Schofield's,
imitative, deplorable, a dreadful show-up of incapacity. Well enough
"drawn," in a sense, it was … and I remembered how Andriaovsky had ever
urged that "drawing," of itself, did not exist. I winked at the portrait.
I saw his point. He himself had no peer, and, rather than invite
comparison with stars of the second magnitude, he chose his intimates
from among the peddlers of the wares that had the least possible
connection with his Art. He, too, had understood that the Compromise
must be entirely accepted or totally refused; and while, in the
divergence of our paths, he had done the one thing and I the other, we
had each done it thoroughly, with vigour, and with persistence, and each
could esteem the other, if not as a co-worker, at least as an honourable
and out-and-out opposite.
Within a fortnight I was so deep in my task that, in the realest sense,
the greater part of my life was in the past. The significance of those
extraordinary peregrinations of ours had been in the opportunity they had
afforded for a communion of brain and spirit of unusual rarity; and all
this determined to my work with the accumulated force of its long
penning-up. I have spoken of Andriaovsky's contempt for such as had the
conception of their work that it was something they "did" as distinct
from something they "were"; and unless I succeed in making it plain that,
not as a mere figure of speech and loose hyperbole, but starkly and
literally, Andriaovsky was everything he did, my tale will be
There was not one of the basic facts of life—of Faith, Honour,
Truth-speaking, Falsehood, Betrayal, Sin—that he did not turn, not to
moral interpretations, as others do, but to the holy purposes of his
noble and passionate Art. For any man, Sin is only mortal when it is Sin
against that which he knows to be immortally true; and the things
Andriaovsky knew to be immortally true were the things that he had gone
down into the depths in order to bring forth and place upon his paper or
canvas. These things are not for the perusal of many. Unless you love the
things that he loved with a fervour comparable in kind, if not in degree,
with his own, you may not come near them. "Truth, 'the highest thing a
man may keep,'" he said, "cannot be brought down; a man only attains it
by proving his right to it"; and I think I need not further state his
views on the democratisation of Art. Of any result from the elaborate
processes of Art-education he held out no hope whatever. "It is in a man,
or it isn't," he ever declared; "if it is, he must bring it out for
himself; if it isn't, let him turn to something useful and have done with
it." I need not press the point that in these things he was almost a
He made of these general despotic principles the fiercest personal
applications. I have heard his passionate outbreak of "Thief! Liar!
Fool!" over a drawing when it has seemed to him that a man has not
vouched with the safety of his immortal soul for the shapes and lines he
has committed to it. I have seen him get into such a rage with the eyes
of the artist upon him. I have heard the ice and vinegar of his words
when a good man, for money, has consented to modify and emasculate
his work; and there lingers in my memory his side of a telephone
conversation in which he told a publisher who had suggested that he
should do the same thing precisely what he thought of him. And on the
other hand, he once walked from Aldgate to Putney Hill, with a loose heel
on one of his boots, to see a man of whom he had seen but a single
drawing. See him he did, too, in spite of the man's footman, his liveried
parlourmaid, and the daunting effect of the electric brougham at the
"He's a good man," he said to me afterwards, ruefully looking at the
place where his boot-heel had been. "You've got to take your good where
you find it. I don't care whether he's a rich amateur or skin-and-grief
in a garret as long as he's got the stuff in him. Nobody else could have
fetched me up from the East End this afternoon…. So long; see you in a
week or so—"
This was the only time I ever knew him break that sacred time in which he
celebrated each year the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles. I doubt
whether this observance of the ritual of his Faith was of more essential
importance to him than that other philosophical religion towards which he
sometimes leaned. I have said what his real religion was.
But to the "Life."
With these things, and others, as a beginning, I began to add page to
page, phase to phase; and, in a time the shortness of which astonished
myself, I had pretty well covered the whole of the first ten years of our
friendship. Maschka called rather less, and Schofield rather more
frequently, than I could have wished; and my surmise that he, at least,
was in love with her, quickly became a certainty. This was to be seen
when they called together.
It was when they came together that something else also became apparent.
This was their slightly derisive attitude towards the means by which I
had attained my success. It was not the less noticeable that it took the
form of compliments on the outward and visible results. Singly I could
manage them; together they were inclined to get a little out of hand.
I would have taxed them fairly and squarely with this, singly or
together, but for one thing—the beautiful ease with which the "Life" was
proceeding. Never had I felt so completely en rapport with my subject.
So beautifully was the thing running that I had had the idle fancy of
some actual urge from Andriaovsky himself; and each night, before sitting
down to work, I set his portrait at my desk's end, as if it had been some
kind of an observance. The most beautiful result of all was, that I felt
what I had not felt for five years—that I too was not "doing" my work,
but actually living and being it. At times I took up the sheets I had
written as ignorant of their contents as if they had proceeded from
another pen—so freshly they came to me. And once, I vow, I found, in my
own handwriting, a Polish name, that I might (it is true) have
subconsciously heard at some time or other, but that stirred no chord in
my memory even when I saw it written. Maschka checked and confirmed it
afterwards; and I did not tell her by what odd circumstance it had issued
from my pen.
The day did come, however, when I found I must have it out with Schofield
about this superciliousness I have mentioned. The Falchion had just
begun to print the third series of my Martin Renard; and this had been
made the occasion of another of Schofield's ponderous compliments. I
acknowledged it with none too much graciousness; and then he said:
"I've na doubt, Harrison, that by this time the famous sleuth-hound of
crime has become quite a creature of flesh and blood to ye."
It was the tone as much as the words that riled me; and I replied that
his doubts or the lack of them were a privacy with which I did not wish
to meddle. From being merely a bore the fellow was rapidly becoming
"But I opine he'll get wearisome now and then, and in that case poor
Michael's 'Life' will come as a grand relaxation," he next observed.
If I meant to have it out, here was my opportunity.
"I should have thought you'd have traced a closer connection than that
between the two things," I remarked.
He shot a quick glance at me from beneath his shaggy russet brows.
"How so? I see varry little connection," he said suspiciously.
"There's this connection—that while you speak with some freedom of what
I do, you are quite willing to take advantage of it when it serves
"'Advantage,' Harrison?" he said slowly.
"Of the advertisement Martin Renard gives you. I must point out that
you condone a thing when you accept the benefit of it. Either you
shouldn't have come to me at all, or you should deny yourself the
gratification of these slurs."
"Slurrrrs?" he repeated loweringly.
"Both of you—you and Miss Andriaovsky, or Maschka as I call her, tout
court. Don't suppose I don't know as well as you do the exact worth of
my 'sleuth-hound,' as you call him. You didn't come to me solely because
I knew Andriaovsky well; you came because I've got the ear of the
public also; and I tell you plainly that, however much you dislike it,
Michael's fame as far as I'm of any use to him, depends on the
popularity of Martin Renard."
He shook his big head. "This is what I feared," he said.
"More," I continued, "you can depend upon it that Michael, wherever he
is, knows all about that."
"Ay, ay," he said sagely, "I misdoubt your own artistic soul's only to be
saved by the writing of poor Michael's 'Life,' Harrison."
"Leave that to me and Michael; we'll settle that. In the meantime, if you
don't like it, write and publish the 'Life' yourself."
He bent his brows on me.
"It's precisely what I wanted to do from the varry first," he said. "If
you'd cared to accept my symposium in the spirit in which it was offered,
I cannot see that the 'Life' would have suffered. But now, when you're
next in need of my services, ye'll mebbe send for me."
He took up his hat. I assured him, and let him take it in what sense he
liked, that I would do so; and he left me.
Not for one single moment did I intend that they should bounce me like
that. With or without their sanction and countenance, I intended to write
and publish that "Life." Schofield—in my own house too—had had the
advantage that a poor and ill-dressed man has over one who is not poor
and ill-dressed; but my duty first of all was neither to him nor to
Maschka, but to my friend.
The worst of it was, however, that I had begun dimly to suspect that
the Lancastrian had hit at least one nail on the head. "Your artistic
soul's only to be saved by writing poor Michael's 'Life,'" he had
informed me… and it was truer than I found it pleasant to believe.
Perhaps, after all, my first duty was not to Andriaovsky, but to myself.
I could have kicked myself that the fool had been perspicacious enough to
see it, but that did not alter the fact. I saw that in the sense in which
Andriaovsky understood Sin, I had sinned….
My only defence lay in the magnitude of my sin. I had sinned
thoroughly, out-and-out, and with a will. It had been the only
respectable way—Andriaovsky's own way when he had cut the company
of an Academician to hobnob with a vagabond. I had at least instituted
no comparison, lowered no ideal, was innocent of the accursed attitude
of facing-both-ways that degrades all lovely and moving things. I was, by
a paradox, too black a sinner not to hope for redemption….
I fell into a long musing on these things….
Had any of the admirers of Martin Renard entered the library of his
author that night he would have seen an interesting thing. He would
have seen the creator of that idol of clerks and messenger-lads and
fourth-form boys frankly putting the case before a portrait propped up on
a chair. He would have heard that popular author haranguing, pleading,
curiously on his defence, turning the thing this way and that.
"If you'd gone over, Michael," that author argued, "you'd have done
precisely the same thing. If I'd stuck it out, we were, after all, of a
kind; We've got to be one thing or the other—isn't that so, Andriaovsky?
Since I made up my mind, I've faced only one way—only one way. I've kept
your ideal and theirs entirely separate and distinct. Not one single
beautiful phrase will you find in the Martin Renards; I've cut 'em
out, every one. I may have ceased to worship, but I've profaned no
temple…. And think what I might have done—what they all do! They
deal out the slush, but with an apologetic glance at the Art Shades;
you know the style!—'Oh, Harrison; he does that detective rubbish, but
that's not Harrison; if Harrison liked to drop that he could be a fine
artist!'—I haven't done that. I haven't run with the hare and hunted
with the hounds. I am just Harrison, who does that detective
rubbish!… These other chaps, Schofield and Connolly, they're the real
sinners, Michael—the fellows who can't make up their minds to be one
thing or the other ('artists of considerable abilities'—ha! ha!)…. Of
course you know Maschka's going to marry that chap? What'll they do, do
you think? He'll scrape up a few pounds out of the stew where I find
thousands, marry her, and they'll set up a salon and talk the stuff the
chairs talked that night, you remember!… But you wait until I finish
I laid it all before him, almost as if I sought to propitiate him. I
might have been courting his patronage for his own "Life." Then, with a
start, I came to, to find myself talking nonsense to the portrait that
years before Andriaovsky had refused to sell me.
The first check I experienced in the hitherto so easy flow of the "Life"
came at the chapter that dealt with Andriaovsky's attitude towards
"professionalism" in Art. He was inflexible on this point; there ought
not to be professional artists. When it was pointed out that his position
involved a premium upon the rich amateur, he merely replied that riches
had nothing to do with the question, and that the starver in the garret
was not excused for his poverty's sake from the observance of the
implacable conditions. He spoke literally of the "need" to create,
usually in the French term, besogne; and he was inclined to regard the
imposition of this need on a man rather as a curse laid upon him than as
a privilege and a pleasure. But I must not enlarge upon this further than
to observe that this portion of his "Life" which I was approaching
coincided in point of time with that period of my own life at which I had
been confronted with the alternative of starving for Art's sake or
becoming rich by supplying a clamorous trade demand.
It came, this check I have spoken of, one night, as I was in the very
middle of a sentence; and though I have cudgelled my brains in seeking
how best I can describe it, I am reduced to the simple statement that it
was as arresting, as sharp, actual and impossible to resist, as if my
hand had been seized and pinned down in its passage across the paper. I
can even see again the fragment of the sentence I had written: "… and
the mere contemplation of a betrayal so essential—" Then came that
abrupt and remarkable stop. It was such an experience as I had formerly
known only in nightmare.
I sat there looking blankly and stupidly at my own hand. And not only was
my hand arrested, but my brain also had completely ceased to work. For
the life of me I could not recall the conclusion of the sentence I had
planned a moment before.
I looked at my hand, and looked again; and as I looked I remembered
something I had been reading only a few days before—a profoundly
unsettling description of an experiment in auto-suggestion. The
experiment had consisted of the placing of a hand upon a table, and the
laying upon it the conjuration that, the Will notwithstanding, it should
not move. And as I watched my own hand, pale on the paper in the pearly
light, I knew that, by some consent to the nullification of the Will that
did not proceed from, the Self I was accustomed to regard as my own, that
injunction was already placed upon it. My conscious and deliberate Will
was powerless. I could only sit there and wait until whatever inhibition
had arrested my writing hand should permit it to move forward again.
It must have been several minutes before such a tingling of the nerves as
announces that the blood is once more returning to a cramped member
warned me that I was about to be released. Warily I awaited my moment;
then I plucked my hand to myself again with a suddenness that caused a
little blot of ink to spurt from my fountain-pen on to the surface of the
paper. I drew a deep breath. I was free again. And with the freedom came
a resolve—that whatever portion of myself had been responsible for this
prank should not repeat it if I could possibly prevent it.
But scarcely had I come, as I may say (and not without a little gush of
alarm now that it was over), to myself, when I was struck by a thought.
It was a queer wild sort of thought. It fetched me out of my chair and
set me striding across the library to a lower shelf in the farthest
corner. This shelf was the shelf on which I kept my letter-files. I
stooped and ran my fingers along the backs of the dusty row. I drew out
the file for 1900, and brought it back to my writing-table. My contracts,
I ought to say, reposed in a deed-box at my agent's office; but my files
contained, in the form of my agent's letters, a sufficient record of my
I opened the file concertina-wise, and turned to the section lettered
"R." I drew out the correspondence that related to the sale of the first
series of the Martin Renards. As I did so I glanced at the movable
calendar on my table. The date was January 20th.
The file contained no letters for January of any significance whatever.
The thought that had half formed in my brain immediately became nonsense.
I replaced the letters in their compartment, and took the file back to
its shelf again. For some minutes I paced the library irresolutely; then
I decided I would work no more that night. When I gathered together my
papers I was careful to place that with the half-finished sentence on the
top, so that with the first resting of my eyes upon it on the morrow my
memory might haply be refreshed.
I tried again to finish that sentence on the morrow. With certain
modifications that I need not particularise here, my experience was the
same as on the previous night.
It was the same when I made the attempt on the day after that.
At ten o'clock of the night of the fourth day I completed the sentence
without difficulty. I just sat down in my chair and wrote it.
With equal ease I finished the chapter on professional artists.
It was not likely that Schofield would have refrained from telling
Maschka of our little difference on our last meeting; and within a week
of the date I have just mentioned I learned that she knew all about it.
And, as the circumstances of my learning this were in a high degree
unusual, I will relate them with such clearness as I am able.
I ought first to say, however, that the selection of the drawings that
were to illustrate the book having been made (the drawings for which my
own text was to serve as commentary would be the better expression), the
superintendence of their production had been left to Schofield. He,
Maschka, and I passed the proofs in consultation. The blocks were almost
ready; and the reason for their call that evening was to consider the
possibility of having all ready for production in the early spring—a
possibility which was contingent on the state of advancement of my own
share of the book.
That evening I had experienced my second check. (I omit those that had
immediately succeeded the first one, as resembling that one so closely in
the manner of their coming.) It had not come by any means so completely
and definitively as the former one, but it had sufficed to make my
progress, both mentally and mechanically, so sluggish and struggling
a performance that for the time being I had given up the attempt, and was
once more regarding with a sort of perturbed stupor my hand that held the
pen. Andriaovsky's portrait stood in its usual place, on the chair at the
end of my writing-table; but I had eyes for nothing but that refractory
hand of mine.
Now it is true that during the past weeks I had studied Andriaovsky's
portrait thoroughly enough to be able to call up the vivid mental image
of it at will; but that did not entirely account for the changed aspect
with which it now presented itself to that uncomprehended sense within
us that makes of these shadows such startling realities. Flashing and
life-like as was the presentation on the canvas (mind you, I was not
looking at it, but all the time at my own hand), it was dead paint by
comparison with that mental image which I saw (if I may so use a term
of which custom has restricted the meaning to one kind of seeing) as
plainly as I ever saw Andriaovsky in his life. I know now that it was
by virtue of that essential essence that bound us heart and brain and
soul together that I so saw him, eyes glittering, head sardonically
wagging, fine mouth shaping phrases of insight and irony. And the strange
thing was, that I could not have located this so living image by
confining it to any portion of the space within the four walls of my
library. It was before me, behind me, within my head, about me, was me,
invading and possessing the "me" that sat at the table. At one moment
the eyes mockingly invited me to go on with my work; the next, a frown
had seated itself on that massive pylon of his forehead; and then
suddenly his countenance changed entirely…. A wave of horror broke
over me. He was suddenly as I had seen him that last time in the
Hampstead "Home"—sitting up on his pillow, looking into my eyes with
that terrible look of profundity and familiarity, and asking me who I
was…. "Harrison—ha ha!… You shall very soon know that I know you,
It is but by the accidence of our limited experience that sounds are loud
or soft to that inner ear of us; these words were at one and the same
time a dreadful thunder and a voice interstellarly inaccessible and
withdrawn. They, too, were before, behind, without, and within. And
incorporated (I know not how else to express it) with these words were
other words, in the English I knew, in the Hebrew in which he had quoted
them from the sacred Books of his People, in all languages, in no
language save that essential communication of which languages are but the
inessential husk and medium—words that told me that though I took the
Wings of the Morning and fled into the uttermost parts of the earth, yea,
though I made my bed in Hell, I could not escape him….
He had kept his word. I did know that he knew who and what I was….
I cannot tell whether my lips actually shaped the question that even in
that moment burst from me.
"But Form—and Forms? It is then true that all things are but aspects
of One thing?…"
"Yes—in death," the voice seemed to reply.
My next words, I know, were actually spoken aloud.
"Then tell me—tell me—do you not wish me to write it?"
Suddenly I leapt out of my chair with a gulping cry. A voice had
"Of course we wish you to write it…."
For one instant of time my vision seemed to fold on itself like smoke;
then it was gone. The face into which I was wildly staring was Maschka's,
and behind her stood Schofield. They had been announced, but I had heard
nothing of it.
"Were you thinking of not writing it?" she demanded, while Schofield
scowled at me.
"No—no—," I stammered, as I got up and tardily placed them chairs.
Schofield did not speak, but he did not remove his eyes from me. Somehow
I could not meet them.
"Well," she said, "Jack had already told me that you seemed in two minds
about it. That's what we've called about—to know definitely what it is
you propose to do."
I saw that she had also called, if necessary, to quarrel. I began to
recover a little.
"Did you tell her that?" I demanded of Schofield. "If you did,
In my house, he ignored the fact that I was in the room. He replied to
"I understood Mr. Harrison to say definitely, and in those words, that if
I didn't like the way in which he was writing Michael's 'Life,' I might
write and publish one myself," he said.
"I did say that," I admitted; "but I never said that whatever you did I
should not go on with mine."
"Yours!" cried Maschka. "What right have you in my brother's 'Life'?"
I quickly told her.
"I have the right to write my recollections of him, and, subject to
certain provisions of the Law, to base anything on them I think fit," I
"But," she cried aghast, "there can't be two 'Lives'!…"
"It's news to me that two were contemplated," I returned. "The point is,
that I can get mine published, and you can't."
Schofield's harsh voice sounded suddenly—but again to Maschka, not to
"Ye might remind Mr. Harrison that others have capabilities in business
besides himself. Beyond a doubt our sales will be comparatively small,
but they'll be to such as have not made the great refusal."
Think of it!… I almost laughed.
"Oh!… Been trying it?" I inquired.
He made no reply.
"Well, those who have made the refusal have at least had something to
refuse," I said mildly. Then, realising that this was mere quarrelling, I
returned to the point. "Anyhow, there's no question of refusing to write
the 'Life.' I admit that during the last fortnight I've met with certain
difficulties; but the task isn't so easy as perhaps it looks…. I'm
"I suppose," she said hesitatingly, after a pause, "that you don't care
to show it as far as it is written?"
For a moment I also hesitated. I thought I saw where she was. Thanks to
that Lancashire jackanapes, there was division between us; and I had
pretty well made up my mind, not only that he thought himself quite
capable of writing Andriaovsky's "Life," himself, but that he had
actually made an attempt in that direction. They had come in the
suspicion that I was throwing them over, and, though that suspicion was
removed, Maschka wished, if there was any throwing over to be done, to do
it herself. In a word, she wanted to compare me with Schofield.
"To see it as far as it is written," I repeated slowly…. "Well, you
may. That is, you, Michael's sister, may. But on the condition that
you neither show it to anybody else nor speak of it to anybody else."
"Ah!" she said…. "And only on those conditions?"
"Only on those conditions."
I saw a quick glance between them. "Shall we tell him?" it seemed to
"Including the man Michael's sister is going to marry?" she said
My attitude was deeply apologetic, but, "Including anybody whomsoever," I
"Then," she said, rising, "we won't bother. But will you at least let us
know, soon, when we may expect your text?"
"I will let you know," I replied slowly, "one week from to-day."
On that assurance they left; and when they had gone I crossed once more
to the lower shelf that contained my letter-files. I turned up the file
for 1900 once more. During their visit I had had an idea.
I ran through the letters, and then replaced them….
Yes, I ought to be able to let them know within the week.
Against the day when I myself shall come to die, there are in the
pigeon-holes of the newspaper libraries certain biographical records
that deal roughly with the outward facts of my life; and these,
supplemented by documents I shall place in the hands of my executors,
will tell the story of how I leaped at a bound into wealth and fame with
the publication of The Cases of Martin Renard. I will set down as much
of that story as has its bearing on my present tale.
Martin Renard was not immediately accepted by the first editor to whom
it was offered. It does not suffice that in order to be popular a thing
shall be merely good—or bad; it must be bad—or good—in a particular
way. For taking the responsibility when they happen to miss that
particular way editors are paid their salaries. When they happen to hit
it they grow fat on circulation-money: Since it becomes me ill to quarrel
with the way in which any man earns his money, I content myself with
merely stating the fact.
By the time the fourth editor had refused my series I was about at my
last gasp. To write the things at all I had had to sink four months in
time; and debts, writs and pawnshops were my familiars. I was little
better off than Andriaovsky at his very worst. I had read the first of
the Martin Renards to him, by the way; the gigantic outburst of mirth
with which he had received it had not encouraged me to read him a second.
I wrote the others in secret.
I wrote the things in the spring and summer of 1900; and by the last day
of September I was confident that I had at last sold them. Except by a
flagrant breach of faith, the editor in whose desk they reposed could
hardly decline them. As it subsequently happened, I have now nothing but
gratitude for him that he did, after all, decline them; for I had a
duplicate copy "on offer" in another quarter.
He declined them, I say; and I was free to possess my soul again among my
writs, debts and pawnshops.
But four days later I received the alternative offer. It was from the
Falchion. The Falchion, as you may remember, has since run no less
than five complete series of Martin Renards. It bought "both sides,"
that is to say, both British and American serial rights. Of the twelve
Martin Renards I had written, my wise agent had offered the Falchion
six only. On his advice I accepted the offer.
Instantaneously with the publication of those six stories came my
success. In two continents I was "home"—home in the hearts of the
public. I had my small cheque—it was not much more than a hundred
pounds—but "Wait," said my agent; "let's see what we can do with the
Precisely what he did with them only he and I know; but I don't mind
saying that £3000 did not buy my first serial rights. Then came second
and third rights, and after them the book rights, British, American, and
Colonial. Then came the translation rights. In French, my creation is, of
course, as in English, Martin Renard; in German he is Martin Fuchs; and
by a similar process you can put him—my translators have put him—into
Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Russian, and three-fourths of the tongues of
Europe. And this was the first series only. It was only with the second
series that the full splendour of my success appeared. My very imitators
grew rich; my agent's income from his comparatively small percentage on
my royalties was handsome; and he chuckled and bade me wait for the
dramatic rights and the day when the touring companies should get to
I had "got there."
And I remember, sadly enough now, my first resolution when the day came
when I was able to survey the situation with anything approaching calm.
It was, "Enough." For the rest of my days I need not know poverty again.
Thenceforward I need not, unless I chose, do any but worthy work. Martin
Renard had served his purpose handsomely, and I intended to have nothing
more to do with him.
Then came that dazzling offer for the second series….
I accepted it.
I accepted the third likewise; and I have told you about the fourth….
I have tried to kill Martin Renard. He was killing me. I have, in
the pages of the Falchion, actually killed him; but I have had to
resuscitate him. I cannot escape from him….
I am not setting down one word more of this than bears directly on my
tale of Andriaovsky's "Life." For those days, when my whole future had
hung in the balance, were the very days covered by that portion of
Andriaovsky's life at which I had now arrived. I had reached, and was
hesitating at, our point of divergence. Those checks and releases which I
had at first found so unaccountable corresponded with the vicissitudes of
the Martin Renard negotiations.
The actual dates did not, of course, coincide—I had quickly discovered
the falsity of that scent. Neither did the intervals between them, with
the exception of those few days in which I had been unable to complete
that half-written sentence—the few days immediately prior to my
(parallel) acceptance by the Falchion. But, by that other reckoning
of time, of mental and spiritual experience, they tallied exactly.
The gambling chances of five years ago meant present stumblings and
haltings; the breach of faith of an editor long since meant a present
respite; and another week should bring me to that point of my so
strangely reduplicated experience that, allowing for the furious mental
rate at which I was now living, would make another node with that other
point in the more slowly lived past that had marked my acceptance of the
offer for the second half-dozen of the Martin Renards.
It had been on this hazardous calculation that I had made my promise to
I passed that week in a state of constantly increasing apprehension.
True, I worked at the "Life," even assiduously; but it was plain sailing,
mere cataloguing of certain of Andriaovsky's works, a chapter I had
deliberately planned pour mieux sauter—to enhance the value of the
penultimate and final chapters. These were the real crux of the "Life."
These were what I was reserving myself for. These were to show that only
his body was dead, and that his spirit still lived and his work was
still being done wherever a man could be found whose soul burned within
him with the same divine ardour.
But I was now realising, day by day, hour by hour more clearly, what I
was incurring. I was penning nothing less than my own artistic damnation.
Self-condemned, indeed, I had been this long time; but I was now making
the world a party to the sentence. The crowning of Andriaovsky involved
my own annihilation; his "Life" would be my "Hic Jacet." And yet I was
prepared, nay, resolved, to write it. I had started, and I would go
forward. I would not be spewed with the lukewarm out of the mouth of that
Spirit from which proceeds all that is bright and pure and true. The
vehemence with which I had rejected its divine bidding should at least be
correspondent with my adoration of it. The snivelling claims of the
Schofields I spurned. If, as they urged, "an artist must live," he must
live royally or starve with a tight mouth. No complaining….
And one other claim I urged in the teeth of this Spirit, which, if it
was a human Spirit at all, it could not disregard. Those pigeon-holed
obituaries of mine will proclaim to the world, one and all, the virtues
of my public life. In spite of my royal earnings, I am not a rich man. I
have not accepted wealth without accepting the personal responsibility
for it. Sick men and women in more than one hospital lie in wards
provided by Martin Renard and myself; and I am not dishonoured in my
Institution at Poplar. Those vagrant wanderings with Andriaovsky have
enabled me to know the poor and those who help the poor. My personal
labours in the administration of the Institute are great, for outside
the necessary routine I leave little to subordinates. I have declined
honours offered to me for my "services to Literature," and I have never
encouraged a youth, of parts or lacking them, to make of Literature a
profession. And so on and so forth. All this, and more, you will read
when the day comes; and I don't doubt the Falchion will publish my
memoir in mourning borders…
But to resume.
I finished the chapter I have mentioned. Maschka and her fiancé kept
punctiliously away. Then, before sitting down to the penultimate
chapter, I permitted myself the relaxation of a day in the country.
I can't tell you precisely where I went; I only know it was somewhere in
Buckinghamshire, and that, ordering the car to await me a dozen miles
farther on, I set out to walk. Nor can I tell you what I saw during that
walk; I don't think I saw anything. There was a red wintry disc of a sun,
I remember, and a land grey with rime; and that is all. I was entirely
occupied with the attempt I was about to make. I think that even then
I had the sense of doom, for I know not how otherwise I should have
found myself several times making little husbandings of my force, as if
conscious that I should need it all. For I was determined, as never in my
life have I been determined, to write that "Life." And I intended, not to
wait to be challenged, but to challenge…. I met the car, returning in
search of me; and I dined at a restaurant, went home to bed, and slept
On the morrow I deliberately refrained from work until the evening. My
challenge to Andriaovsky and the Powers he represented should be boldly
delivered at the very gates of their own Hour. Not until half-past eight,
with the curtains drawn, the doors locked, and orders given that on no
account whatever was I to be disturbed, did I switch on the pearly light,
place Andriaovsky's portrait in its now accustomed place, and draw my
chair up to my writing-table.
But before I could resume the "Life" at the point at which I had left it,
I felt that there were certain preliminaries to be settled. It was not
that I wished to sound a parley with any view of coming to terms; I had
determined what the terms were to be. As a boxer who leaps from his
corner the moment the signal is given, astounding with suddenness his
less prompt antagonist, so I should be ready when the moment came. But I
wished the issue to be defined. I did not propose to submit the whole of
my manhood to the trial. I was merely asserting my right to speak of
certain things which, if one chose to exaggerate their importance by a
too narrow and exclusive consideration of them, I might conceivably be
thought to have betrayed.
I drew a sheet of paper towards me, and formally made out my claim. It
occupied not more than a dozen lines, and its nature has already been
sufficiently indicated. I put my pen down again, leaned back in my chair,
I waited, but nothing happened. It seemed that if this was my attempt to
justify myself, the plea was certainly not disallowed. But neither had I
any sign that it was allowed; and presently it occurred to me that
possibly I had couched it in terms too general. Perhaps a more particular
claim would meet with a different reception.
During the earlier stages of the book's progress I had many times
deliberated on the desirability of a Preface that should state succinctly
what I considered to be my qualifications for the task. Though I had
finally decided against any such statement, the form of the Preface might
nevertheless serve for the present occasion. I took another sheet of
paper, headed it "Preface," and began once more to write.
I covered the page; I covered a second; and half-way down the third I
judged my statement to be sufficient. Again I laid down my pen, leaned
back, and waited.
The Preface also produced no result whatever.
Again I considered; and then I saw more clearly. It came to me that, both
in the first statement and in the Preface, I was merely talking to
myself. I was convincing myself, and losing both time and strength in
doing so. The Power with which I sought to come to grips was treating my
vapourings with high disregard. To be snubbed thus by Headquarters
would never, never do….
Then I saw more clearly still. It seemed that my right to challenge
was denied. I was not an adversary, with the rights and honours of an
adversary, but a trangressor, whose trangression had already several
times been sharply visited, and would be visited once more the moment it
was repeated. I might, in a sense, please myself whether I brought myself
into Court; but, once there, I was not the arraigner in the box, but the
arraigned in the dock.
And I rebelled hotly. Did I sit there, ready for the struggle, only to be
told that there could be no struggle? Did that vengeful Angel of the Arts
ignore my very existence?… By Yea and Nay I swore that he should take
notice of me! Once before, a mortal had wrestled a whole night with an
angel, and though he had been worsted, it had not been before he had
compelled the Angel to reveal himself! And so would I…
Challenge, title to challenge, tentatives, preliminaries, I suddenly cast
them all aside. We would have it in deeds, not in further words. I opened
a drawer, took out the whole of the "Life" so far written, and began to
read. I wanted to grasp once more the plan of it in its entirety.
Page after page, I read on, with deepening attention. Quickly I ran
through half of it. Then I began to concentrate myself still more
closely. There would come a point at which I should be flush with the
stream of it again, again feel the force of its current; I felt myself
drawing nearer to that point; when I should reach it I would go ahead
without a pause…
I read to the end of Chapter Fifteen, the last completed chapter. Then
instantly I took my pen and wrote, "Chapter Sixteen…."
I felt the change at the very first word.
* * * * *
I will not retraverse any ground I have covered before. If I have not
already made clear my former sensations of the petrefaction of hand and
brain, I despair of being able to do so any better now. Suffice it that
once more I felt that inhibition, and that once more I was aware of the
ubiquitous presence of the image of the dead artist. Once more I heard
those voices, near as thunder and yet interstellarly remote, crying that
solemn warning, that though I took the Wings of the Morning, made my bed
in Hell, or cried aloud upon the darkness to cover me, there was one
Spirit from which I could not hope to escape. I felt the slight crawling
of my flesh on my bones as I listened.
But there was now a difference. On the former occasion, to hear again
those last horrible words of his, "You shall very soon know I know who
you are if…" had been the signal for the total unnerving of me and for
that uncontrollable cry, "Don't you then want me to write it?" But now
I intended to write it if I could. In order that I might tell him so I
was now seeking him out, in what heights or depths I knew not, at what
peril to myself I cared not. I cared not, since I now felt that I could
not continue to live unless I pressed to the uttermost attempt. And I
must repeat, and repeat again, and yet repeat, that in that hour
Andriaovsky was immanent about me, in the whole of me, in the last fibre
and cell of me, in all my thoughts, from my consciousness that I was
sitting there at my own writing-table to my conception of God Himself.
It may seem strange—whether it does so or not will depend on the kind
of man you yourself are—that as long as I was content to recognise this
immanence of Andriaovsky's enlarged and liberated spirit, and not to
dispute with it, I found nothing but mildness and benignity in my
hazardous experience. More, I felt that, in that clear region to which
in my intensified state of consciousness I was lifted, I was able to move
(I must trust you to understand the word aright) without restraint, nay,
with an amplitude and freedom of movement past setting down, as long as
I was satisfied to possess my soul in quiescence. The state itself was
inimical neither to my safety nor to my sanity. I was conscious of it
as a transposition into another register of the scale of life. And, as
in this life we move in ignorance and safety only by accepting the
hair-balance of stupendous forces, so now I felt that my safety depended
on my observation of the conditions that governed that region of light
and clarity and Law.
Of clarity and Law; save in the terms of the great abstractions I may not
speak of it. And that is well-nigh equal to saying that I may not speak
of it at all. The hand that would have written of it lay (I never for one
moment ceased to be conscious) heavy as stone on a writing-table in some
spot quite accidental in my new sense of locality; the tongue that would
have spoken of it seemed to slumber in my mouth. And I knew that both
dumbness and stillness were proper. Their opposites would have convicted
me (the flat and earthly comparison must be allowed) of intrusion into
some Place of beauty and serenity for which the soilure of my birth
For beauty and serenity, austerity and benignity and peace, were the
conditions of that Place. To other Places belonged the wingy and robed
and starry and golden things that made the heavens of other lives than
that which I had shared with Andriaovsky; here, white and shapely Truth
alone reigned. None questioned, for all knew; none sinned, for sin was
already judged and punished in its committal; none demonstrated, for
all things were evident; and those eager to justify themselves were
permitted no farther than the threshold….
And it was to justify, to challenge, to maintain a right, that I was
there. I was there to wrestle, if needs be, with the Angel of that Place,
to vanquish him or to compel him to reveal himself. I had not been
summoned; I had thrust myself there unbidden. There was a moment in which
I noticed that my writing-table was a little more than ordinarily removed
from me, but very little, not more than if I had been looking over the
shoulder of another writer at it; and I saw my chapter heading. At the
sight of it something of the egotism that had prompted me to write it
stirred in me again; everywhere was Andriaovsky's calm face, priest and
Angel himself; and I became conscious that I was trying to write a
phrase. I also became conscious that I was being pitifully warned not to
Suddenly my whole being was flooded with a frightful pang of pain.
It was not local. It was no more to be located than the other immanences
of which I have spoken. It was Pain, pure, essential, dissociated; and
with the coming of it that fair Place had grown suddenly horrible and
And I knew that the shock came of my own resistance, and that it would
cease to afflict me the moment I ceased to resist.
I did cease. Instantly the pain passed. But as when a knife is plucked
from a wound, so only with its passing did I shriek aloud….
For I know not how many minutes I sat in stupefaction. Then, as with
earthly pains, that are assuaged with the passing of accidental time, the
memory of it softened a little. Blunderingly and only half consciously, I
cast about to collect my dispersed force.
For—already I was conscious of it—there still remained one claim that
even in thought I had not advanced. I would, were I permitted, still
write that "Life," but, since it was decreed so, I would no longer urge
that in writing it I justified myself. So I might but write it, I would
embrace my own portion, the portion of doom; yea, though it should be a
pressing of the searing-iron to my lips, I would embrace it; my name
should not appear. For the mere sake of the man I had loved I would write
it, in self-scorn and abasement, humbly craving not to be denied….
"Oh, let me but do for Love of you what a sinful man can!" I
A moment later I had again striven to do so. So do we all, when we
think that out of a poor human Love we can alter the Laws by which our
state exists. And with such a hideous anguish as was again mine are we
And I knew now what that anguish was. It was the twining of body from
spirit that is called the bitterness of Death; for not all of the body
are the pangs of that severance. With that terrible sword of impersonal
Pain the God of Peace makes sorrowful war that Peace may come again. With
its flame He ringed the bastions of Heaven when Satan made assault. Only
on the Gorgon-image of that Pain in the shield may weak man look; and
its blaze and ire had permeated with deadly nearness the "everywhere"
where I was…
"Oh, not for Love? Not even for Love?" broke the agonised question from
The next moment I had ceased, and ceased for ever, to resist.
Instantaneously the terrible flashing of that sword became no more
than the play of lightning one sees far away in the wide cloudfields
on a peaceful summer's twilight. I felt a gentle and overpowering
sleep coming over me; and as it folded me about I saw, with the last
look of my eyes, my own figure, busily writing at the table.
Had I, then, prevailed? Had Pain so purged me that I was permitted to
finish my task? And had my tortured cry, "Oh, not even for Love?"
I did not know.
* * * * *
I came to myself to find that my head had fallen on my desk. The light
still shone within its pearly shade, and in the penumbra of its shadow
the portrait of Andriaovsky occupied its accustomed place. About me were
my papers, and my pen lay where it had fallen from my hand.
At first I did not look at my papers. I merely saw that the uppermost of
them was written on. But presently I took it up, and looked at it
stupidly. Then, with no memory at all of how I had come to write what was
upon it, I put it down again.
It was indeed a completion.
But it was not of Andriaovsky's "Life" that it was the completion. As you
may or may not know, Andriaovsky's "Life" is written by "his friend John
Schofield." I had been allowed to write, but it was my own condemnation
that, in sadness and obedience, in the absence of wrath but also in the
absence of mercy, I had written. By the Law I had broken I was broken in
my turn. It was the draft for the fifth series of The Cases of Martin
No, not for Love—not even for Love….