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 THE PRINCESS OF THE GOLDEN LOCKS SENDS PAUL A RING. It took me three years to win that handshake. For the first six months I remained in Deptford. There was excellent material to be found there for humorous articles, essays, stories; likewise for stories and pathetic. But I owed a hundred and fifty pounds—a little over two hundred it reached to, I found, when I came to add up the actual figures. So I paid strict attention to business, left the tears to be by others—better fitted maybe for the task; kept to my own patch, reaped and took to market only the laughter.
At the beginning I sent each manuscript to Norah; she had it copied out, me with the cost received payment, and sent me the balance. At first my were small; but Norah was an excellent agent; rapidly they increased. Dan grew quite cross with her, wrote in pained surprise at her greed. The “matter” was fair, but in no way . Any friend of hers, of course, he was anxious to assist; but business was business. In justice to his , he could not and would not pay more than the market value. Miss Deleglise, replying in the third person, found herself in perfect accord with Mr. Brian as to business being business. If Mr. Brian could not afford to pay her price for material so excellent, other editors with whom Miss Deleglise was equally well acquainted could and would. Answer by return would greatly oblige, which the manuscript then in her hands she retained. Mr. Brian, understanding he had found his match, but paid. Whether he had any suspicion who “Jack Homer” might be, he never confessed; but he would have played the game, pulled his end of the rope, in either case. Nor was he allowed to decide the question for himself. Competition was introduced into the argument. Of purpose a certain proportion of my work my agent sent elsewhere. “Jack Homer” grew to be a commodity in demand. For, seated at my rickety table, I laughed as I wrote, the fourth wall of the room fading before my eyes revealing beyond.
Still, it was slow work. Humour is not an maid; declines to be , will work only when she feels inclined—does not often feel inclined; gives herself a good many unnecessary airs; if worried, packs up and goes off, Heaven knows where! comes back when she thinks she will: a somewhat unreliable young person. To my literary labours I found it necessary to add . I lacked Dan's magnificent assurance. Fate never befriends the nervous. Had I burst into the editorial sanctum, the editor most surely would have been out; if in, would have been a man of short ways, would have seen to it that I went out quickly. But the idea was not to be thought of; Robert Macaire himself in my one coat would have been diffident, apologetic. I joined the ranks of the penny-a-liners—to be exact, three halfpence a liners. In company with half a dozen other shabby outsiders—some of them young men like myself seeking to climb; others, older men who had sunk—I attended inquests, police courts; flew after fire engines; rejoiced in street accidents; for murders. Somewhat vulture-like we lived upon the misfortunes of others. We made occasional half crowns by providing the public with scandal, occasional crowns by keeping our information to ourselves.
“I think, gentlemen,” would explain our spokesman in a whisper, on returning to the table, “I think the corpse's brother-in-law is anxious that the affair, if possible, should be kept out of the papers.”
The closeness and attention with which we would follow that particular case, the fulness and completeness of our notes, would be quite remarkable. Our spokesman would rise, drift carelessly away, to return five minutes later, wiping his mouth.
“Not a very interesting case, gentlemen, I don't think. Shall we say five shillings apiece?” Sometimes a sense of the dignity of our calling would induce us to stand out for ten.
And here also my sense of humour came to my aid; gave me perhaps an advantage over my competitors. Twelve good men and true had been asked to say how a Lascar sailor had met his death. It was clear how he had met his death. A , working on the roof of a small two-storeyed house, had slipped and fallen on him. The plumber had escaped with a few ; the unfortunate sailor had been picked up dead. Some blame attached to the plumber. His mate, an excellent witness, told us the whole story.
“I was fixing a gas-pipe on the first floor,” said the man. “The prisoner was on the roof.”
“We won't call him 'the prisoner,'” interrupted the coroner, “at least, not yet. Refer to him, if you please, as the 'last witness.'”
“The last witness,” corrected himself the man. “He shouts down the chimney to know if I was ready for him.”
“'Ready and waiting,' I says.
“'Right,' he says; 'I'm coming in through the window.'
“'Wait a bit,' I says; 'I'll go down and move the ladder for you.
“'It's all right,' he says; 'I can reach it.'
“'No, you can't,' I says. 'It's the other side of the chimney.'
“'I can get round,' he says.
“Well, before I knew what had happened, I hears him go, ! I rushes to the window and looks out: I see him on the pavement, sitting up like.
“'Hullo, Jim,' I says. 'Have you hurt yourself?'
“'I think I'm all right,' he says, 'as far as I can tell. But I wish you'd come down. This bloke I've fallen on looks a bit sick.'”
The others headed their flimsy “Sad Accident,” a title but not . I altered mine to “Plumber in a Hurry—Fatal Result.” Saying as little as possible about the unfortunate sailor, I called the attention of generally to the coroner's very just remarks upon the of undue haste; out to them, as a body, the trouble that would arise if somehow they could not cure themselves of this tendency to rush through their work without a moment's loss of time.
It established for me a useful reputation. The sub-editor of one evening paper so far as to come out in his shirt-sleeves and shake hands with me.
“That's the sort of thing we want,” he told me; “a light touch, a bit of humour.”
I snatched fun from fires (I sincerely trust the insurance were not overdue); from street rows; extracted merriment from the most painful, and .
Though often within a stone's throw of the street, I unremittingly avoided the old house at Poplar. I was suffering inconvenience at this period by reason of finding myself two distinct individuals, contending with each other. My object was to encourage the new Paul—the sensible, practical, pushful Paul, whose career began to look ; to drive away from with me his strangely unlike twin—the old childish Paul of the sad, far-seeing eyes. Sometimes out of the cracked looking-glass his wistful, face would plead to me; but I would sternly shake my head. I knew well his cunning. Had I let him have his way, he would have led me through the of streets he knew so well, past the broken railings (outside which he would have left my body ), along the weedy pathway, through the cracked and door, up the creaking staircase to the dismal little where we once—he and I together—had sat dreaming foolish dreams.
“Come,” he would whisper; “it is so near. Let us push aside the chest of drawers very quietly, softly raise the broken sash, it open with the Latin dictionary, lean our elbows on the sill, listen to the voices of the weary city, voices calling to us from the darkness.”
But I was too to be caught. “Later on,” I would reply to him; “when I have made my way, when I am stronger to withstand your . Then I will go with you, if you are still in existence, my little friend. We will dream again the old , foolish dreams—and laugh at them.”
So he would fade away, and in his place would nod to me approvingly a businesslike-looking, wide-awake young fellow.
But to one sentimental temptation I . My position was by now assured; there was no longer any reason for my hiding myself. I to move . I had not intended to soar so high, but passing through Guildford Street one day, the creeper-covered corner house that my father had once thought of taking recalled itself to me. A card was in the fanlight. I knocked and made enquiries. A bed-sitting-room upon the third floor was vacant. I remembered it well the moment the opened its door.
“This shall be your room, Paul,” said my father. So clearly his voice sounded behind me that I turned, forgetting for the moment it was but a memory. “You will be quiet here, and we can shut out the bed and washstand with a screen.”
So my father had his way. It was a pleasant, sunny little room, overlooking the gardens of the hospital. I followed my father's suggestion, shut out the bed and washstand with a screen. And sometimes of an evening it would amuse me to hear my father turn the handle of the door.
“How are you getting on—all right?”
Often there came back to me the words he had once used. “You must be the practical man, Paul, and get on. Myself, I have always been somewhat of a dreamer. I meant to do such great things in the world, and somehow I suppose I aimed too high. I wasn't—practical.”
“But ought not one to aim high?” I had asked.
My father had fidgeted in his chair. “It is very difficult to say. It is all so—so very ununderstandable. You aim high and you don't hit anything—at least, it seems as if you didn't. Perhaps, after all, it is better to aim at something low, and—and hit it. Yet it seems a pity—one's ideals, all the best part of one—I don't know why it is. Perhaps we do not understand.”
For some months I had been writing over my own name. One day a letter was forwarded to me by an editor to whose care it had been addressed. It was a short, formal note from the Sellars, me to the wedding of her daughter with a Mr. Reginald Clapper. I had almost forgotten the incident of the Lady 'Ortensia, but it was not unsatisfactory to learn that it had terminated pleasantly. Also, I judged from an invitation having been sent me, that the lady wished me to be witness of the fact that my desertion had not left her . So much gratification I felt I owed her, and accordingly, purchasing a present as expensive as my means would permit, I made my way on the following Thursday, clad in frock coat and light grey trousers, to Kennington Church.
The ceremony was already in progress. Creeping on tiptoe up the , I was about to slip into an empty pew, when a hand was laid upon my sleeve.
“We're all here,” whispered the O'Kelly; “just room for ye.”
Squeezing his hand as I passed, I sat down between the Signora and Mrs. Peedles. Both ladies were weeping; the Signora silently, one tear at a time clinging fondly to her pretty face as though to fall from it; Mrs. Peedles , with explosive gurgles, as of water from a bottle.
“It is such a beautiful service,” murmured the Signora, pressing my hand as I settled myself down. “I should so—so love to be married.”
“Me darling,” whispered the O'Kelly, seizing her other hand and kissing it behind his open Prayer Book, “perhaps ye will be—one day.”
The Signora through her tears smiled at him, but with a sigh shook her head.
Mrs. Peedles, clad, so far as the dim November light enabled me to judge, in the costume of Queen Elizabeth—nothing regal; the sort of thing one might assume to have been Her Majesty's second best, say third best, frock—explained that weddings always reminded her how a thing was love.
“The poor dears!” she . “But there, there's no telling. Perhaps they'll be happy. I'm sure I hope they may be. He looks harmless.”
Jarman, stretching out a hand to me from the other side of Mrs. Peedles, urged me to cheer up. “Don't wear your 'eart upon your sleeve,” he advised. “Try and smile.”
In the vestry I met old friends. The maternal Sellars, than ever, had been accommodated with a chair—at least, I assumed so, she being in a sitting ; the chair itself was not in evidence. She greeted me with more graciousness than I had expected, after my health with and an amount of tender that, until the explanation broke upon me, somewhat puzzled me.
Mr. Reginald Clapper was a small but energetic gentleman, much impressed, I was glad to notice, with a conviction of his own good fortune. He expressed the greatest delight at being introduced to me, shook me by the hand, and hoped we should always be friends.
“Won't be my fault if we're not,” he added. “Come and see us whenever you like.” He repeated this three times. I gathered the general sentiment to be that he was , if anything, with excess of .
Mrs. Reginald Clapper, as I was relieved to know she now was, received my to a of applause. She looked to my eyes handsomer than when I had last seen her, or maybe my taste was growing less . She also trusted she might always regard me as a friend. I replied that it would be my hope to deserve the honour; whereupon she kissed me of her own accord, and embracing her mother, shed some tears, explaining the reason to be that everybody was so good to her.
Brother George, less than , by a pair of enormous white kid gloves, superintended my signing of the register, whispering to me sympathetically: “Better luck next time, old cock.”
The fat young lady—or, maybe, the lean young lady, grown stouter, I cannot say for certain—who feared I had forgotten her, a thing I assured her impossible, was good enough to say that, in her opinion, I was worth all the others put together.
“And so I told her,” added the fat young lady—or the lean one grown stouter, “a dozen times if I told her once. But there!”
I murmured my obligations.
Cousin Joseph, 'whom I found no difficulty in recognising by reason of his eyes, appeared not so chirpy as of yore.
“You take my tip,” advised Cousin Joseph, drawing me aside, “and keep out of it.”
“You speak from experience?” I suggested.
“I'm as fond of a joke,” said the watery-eyed Joseph, “as any man. But when it comes to buckets of water—”
A from the maternal Sellars that breakfast had been ordered for eleven o'clock caused a general movement and arrested Joseph's revelations.
“See you again, perhaps,” he murmured, and pushed past me.
What Mrs. Sellars, I suppose, would have to as a cold col-la-shon had been arranged for at a restaurant near by. I walked there in company with Uncle and Aunt Gutton; not because I particularly desired their companionship, but because Uncle Gutton, seizing me by the arm, left me no alternative.
“Now then, young man,” commenced Uncle Gutton , but so soon as we were in the street, at some little distance behind the others, “if you want to pitch into me, you pitch away. I shan't mind, and maybe it'll do you good.”
I informed him that nothing was further from my desire.
“Oh, all right,” returned Uncle Gutton, seemingly disappointed. “If you're willing to forgive and forget, so am I. I never liked you, as I daresay you saw, and so I told Rosie. 'He may be cleverer than he looks,' I says, 'or he may be a bigger fool than I think him, though that's hardly likely. You take my advice and get a full-grown article, then you'll know what you're doing.'”
I told him I thought his advice had been admirable.
“I'm glad you think so,” he returned, somewhat puzzled; “though if you wanted to call me names I shouldn't have blamed you. Anyhow, you've took it like a sensible chap. You've got over it, as I always told her you would. Young men out of story-books don't die of broken hearts, even if for a month or two they do feel like standing on their head in the water-butt.”
“Why, I was in love myself three times,” explained Uncle Gutton, “before I married the old woman.”
Aunt Gutton sighed and said she was afraid gentlemen didn't feel these things as much as they ought to.
“They've got their living to earn,” retorted Uncle Gutton.
I agreed with Uncle Gutton that life could not be wasted in vain regret.
“As for the rest,” admitted Uncle Gutton, handsomely, “I was wrong. You've turned out better than I expected you would.”
I thanked him for his improved opinion, and as we entered the restaurant we shook hands.
Minikin we found there waiting for us. He explained that having been able to obtain only limited leave of absence from business, he had concluded the time would be better employed at the restaurant than at the church. Others were there also with whom I was unacquainted, young sparks, admirers, I presume, of the Lady 'Ortensia in her professional capacity, fellow-clerks of Mr. Clapper, who was something in the City. Altogether we must have numbered a score.
Breakfast was laid in a large room on the first floor. The wedding presents stood displayed upon a side-table. My own, with my card attached, had not been seen by Mrs. Clapper till that moment. She and her mother lingered, examining it.
“Real silver!” I heard the maternal Sellars whisper, “Must have paid a ten pound note for it.”
“I hope you'll find it useful,” I said.
The maternal Sellars, drifting away, joined the others gathered together at the opposite end of the room.
“I suppose you think I set my cap at you merely because you were a gentleman,” said the Lady 'Ortensia.
“Don't let's talk about it,” I answered. “We were both foolish.”
“I don't want you to think it was merely that,” continued the Lady 'Ortensia. “I did like you. And I wouldn't have disgraced you—at least, I'd have tried not to. We women are quick to learn. You never gave me time.”
“Believe me, things are much better as they are,” I said.
“I suppose so,” she answered. “I was a fool.” She glanced round; we still had the corner to ourselves. “I told a rare pack of lies,” she said; “I didn't seem able to help it; I was feeling sore all over. But I have always been ashamed of myself. I'll tell them the truth, if you like.”
I thought I saw a way of making her mind easy. “My dear girl,” I said, “you have taken the blame upon yourself, and let me go scot-free. It was generous of you.”
“You mean that?” she asked.
“The truth,” I answered, “would shift all the shame on to me. It was I who broke my word, acted shabbily from beginning to end.”
“I hadn't looked at it in that light,” she replied. “Very well, I'll hold my tongue.”
My place at breakfast was to the left of the maternal Sellars, the Signora next to me, and the O'Kelly opposite. Uncle Gutton faced the bride and bridegroom. The Joseph was hidden from me by flowers, so that his voice, raised from time to time, fell upon my ears, with the mysterious significance of the unseen .
For the first quarter of an hour or so the meal proceeded almost in silence. The maternal Sellars when not engaged in whispered argument with the waiter, was occupied in working sums upon the table-cloth by aid of a blunt pencil. The Signora, strangely unlike her usual self, was not in talkative mood.
“It was so kind of them to invite me,” said the Signora, speaking low. “But I feel I ought not to have come.
“Why not?” I asked
“I'm not fit to be here,” murmured the Signora in a broken voice. “What right have I at wedding breakfasts? Of course, for dear Willie it is different. He has been married.”
The O'Kelly, who never when ............
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