"Each of us has a shadow in those places--in those streets."
That saying of Mr. Stone's, which--like so many of his sayings--had travelled forth to beat the air, might have seemed, even "in those days," not altogether without meaning to anyone who looked into the room of Mr. Joshua Creed in Hound Street.
This aged butler lay in bed waiting for the inevitable striking of a small alarum clock placed in the very centre of his mantelpiece. Flanking that round and ruthless arbiter, which drove him day by day to stand up on feet whose time had come to rest, were the effigies of his past triumphs. On the one hand, in a papier-mache frame, slightly tinged with smuts, stood a portrait of the "Honorable Bateson," in the uniform of his Yeomanry. Creed's former master's face wore that dare-devil look with which he had been wont to say: "D---n it, Creed! lend me a pound. I've got no money!" On the other hand, in a green frame which had once been plush, and covered by a glass with a crack in the left-hand corner, was a portrait of the Dowager Countess of Glengower, as this former mistress of his appeared, conceived by the local photographer, laying the foundation-stone of the local almshouse. During the wreck of Creed's career, which, following on a lengthy illness, had preceded his salvation by the Westminster Gazette, these two household gods had lain at the bottom of an old tin trunk, in the possession of the keeper of a lodging-house, waiting to be bailed out. The "Honorable Bateson" was now dead, nor had he paid as yet the pounds he had borrowed. Lady Glengower, too, was in heaven, remembering that she had forgotten all her servants in her will. He who had served them was still alive, and his first thought, when he had secured his post on the "Westminister," was to save enough to rescue them from a dishonourable confinement. It had taken him six months. He had found them keeping company with three pairs of woollen drawers; an old but respectable black tail-coat; a plaid cravat; a Bible; four socks, two of which had toes and two of which had heels; some darning-cotton and a needle; a pair of elastic-sided boots; a comb and a sprig of white heather, wrapped up with a little piece of shaving-soap and two pipe-cleaners in a bit of the Globe newspaper; also two collars, whose lofty points, separated by gaps of quite two inches, had been wont to reach their master's gills; the small alarum clock aforesaid; and a tiepin formed in the likeness of Queen Victoria at the date of her first Jubilee. How many times had he not gone in thought over those stores of treasure while he was parted from them! How many times since they had come back to him had he not pondered with a slow but deathless anger on the absence of a certain shirt, which he could have sworn had been amongst them.
But now he lay in bed waiting to hear the clock go off, with his old bristly chin beneath the bedclothes, and his old discoloured nose above. He was thinking the thoughts which usually came into his mind about this hour--that Mrs. Hughs ought not to scrape the butter off his bread for breakfast in the way she did; that she ought to take that sixpence off his rent; that the man who brought his late editions in the cart ought to be earlier, letting 'that man' get his Pell Mells off before him, when he himself would be having the one chance of his day; that, sooner than pay the ninepence which the bootmaker had proposed to charge for resoling him, he would wait until the summer came 'low class o' feller' as he was, he'd be glad enough to sole him then for sixpence.
And the high-souled critic, finding these reflections sordid, would have thought otherwise, perhaps, had he been standing on those feet (now twitching all by themselves beneath the bedclothes) up to eleven o'clock the night before, because there were still twelve numbers of the late edition that nobody would buy. No one knew more surely than Joshua Creed himself that, if he suffered himself to entertain any large and lofty views of life, he would infallibly find himself in that building to keep out of which he was in the habit of addressing to God his only prayer to speak of. Fortunately, from a boy up, together with a lengthy, oblong, square-jawed face, he had been given by Nature a single-minded view of life. In fact, the mysterious, stout tenacity of a soul born in the neighbourhood of Newmarket could not have been done justice to had he constitutionally seen--any more than Mr. Stone himself--two things at a time. The one thing he had seen, for the five years that he had now stood outside Messrs. Rose and Thorn's, was the workhouse; and, as he was not going there so long as he was living, he attended carefully to all little matters of expense in this somewhat sordid way.
While attending thus, he heard a scream. Having by temperament considerable caution, but little fear, he waited till he heard another, and then got out of bed. Taking the poker in his hand, and putting on his spectacles, he hurried to the door. Many a time and oft in old days had he risen in this fashion to defend the plate of the "Honorable Bateson" and the Dowager Countess of Glengower from the periodical attacks of his imagination. He stood with his ancient nightgown flapping round his still more ancient legs, slightly shivering; then, pulling the door open, he looked forth. On the stairs just above him Mrs. Hughs, clasping her baby with one arm, was holding the other out at full length between herself and Hughs. He heard the latter say: "You've drove me to it; I'll do a swing for you!" Mrs. Hughs' thin body brushed past into his room; blood was dripping from her wrist. Creed saw that Hughs had his bayonet in his hand. With all his might he called out: "Ye ought to be ashamed of yourself!" raising the poker to a position of defence. At this moment--more really dangerous than any he had ever known--it was remarkable that he instinctively opposed to it his most ordinary turns of speech. It was as though the extravagance of this un-English violence had roused in him the full measure of a native moderation. The sight of the naked steel deeply disgusted him; he uttered a long sentence. What did Hughs call this--disgracin' of the house at this time in the mornin'? Where was he brought up? Call 'imself a soldier, attackin' of old men and women in this way? He ought to be ashamed!
While these words were issuing between the yellow stumps of teeth in that withered mouth, Hughs stood silent, the back of his arm covering his eyes. Voices and a heavy tread were heard. Distinguishing in that tread the advancing footsteps of the Law, Creed said: "You attack me if you dare!"
Hughs dropped his arm. His short, dark face had a desperate look, as of a caged rat; his eyes were everywhere at once.
"All right, daddy," he said; "I won't hurt you. She's drove my head all wrong again. Catch hold o' this; I can't trust myself." He held out the bayonet.
"Westminister" took it gingerly in his shaking hand.
"To use a thing like that!" he said. "An' call yourself an Englishman! I'll ketch me death standin' here, I will."
Hughs made no answer leaning against the wall. The old butler regarded him severely. He did not take a wide or philosophic view of him, as a tortured human being, driven by the whips of passion in his dark blood; a creature whose moral nature was the warped, stunted tree his life had made it; a poor devil half destroyed by drink and by his wound. The old butler took a more single-minded and old-fashioned line. 'Ketch 'old of 'im!' he thought. 'With these low fellers there's nothin' else to be done. Ketch 'old of 'im until he squeals.'
Nodding his ancient head, he said:
"Here's an orficer. I shan't speak for yer; you deserves all you'll get, and more."
Later, dressed in an old Newmarket coat, given him by some client, and walking towards the police-station alongside Mrs. Hughs, he was particularly silent, presenting a front of some austerity, as became a man mixed up in a low class of incident like this. And the seamstress, very thin and scared, with her wounded wrist slung in a muffler of her husband's, and carrying the baby on her other arm, because the morning's incident had upset the little thing, slipped along beside him, glancing now and then into his face.
Only once did he speak, and to himself:
"I don't know what they'll say to me down at the orffice, when I go again-missin' my day like this! Oh dear, what a misfortune! What put it into him to go on like that?"
At this, which was far from being intended as encouragement, the waters of speech broke up and flowed from Mrs. Hughs. She had only told Hughs how that young girl had gone, and left a week's rent, with a bit of writing to say she wasn't coming back; it wasn't her fault that she was gone--that ought never to have come there at all, a creature that knew no better than to come between husband and wife. She couldn't tell no more than he could where that young girl had gone!
The tears, stealing forth, chased each other down the seamstress's thin cheeks. Her face had now but little likeness to the face with which she had stood confronting Hughs when she informed him of the little model's flight. None of the triumph which had leaped out of her bruised heart, none of the strident malice with which her voice, whether she would or no, strove to avenge her wounded sense of property; none of that unconscious abnegation, so very near to heroism, with which she had rushed and caught up her baby from beneath the bayonet, when, goaded by her malice and triumph, Hughs had rushed to seize that weapon. None of all that, but, instead, a pitiable terror of the ordeal before her--a pitiful, mute, quivering distress, that this man, against whom, two hours before, she had felt such a store of bitter rancour, whose almost murderous assault she had so narrowly escaped, should now be in this plight.
The sight of her emotion penetrated through his spectacles to something lying deep in the old butler.
"Don't you take on," he said; "I'll stand by yer. He shan't treat yer with impuniness."
To his uncomplicated nature the affair was still one of tit for tat. Mrs. Hughs became mute again. Her torn heart yearned to cancel the penalty that would fall on all of them, to deliver Hughs from the common enemy--the Law; but a queer feeling of pride and bewilderment, and a knowledge, that, to demand an eye for an eye was expected of all self-respecting persons, kept her silent.
Thus, then, they reached the great consoler, the grey resolver of all human tangles, haven of men and angels, the police court. It was situated in a back street. Like trails of ooze, when the tide, neither ebb nor flow, is leaving and making for some estuary, trails of human beings were moving to and from it. The faces of these shuffling "shadows" wore a look as though masked with some hard but threadbare stuff-the look of those whom Life has squeezed into a last resort. Within the porches lay a stagnant marsh of suppliants, through whose centre trickled to and fro that stream of ooze. An old policeman, too, like some grey lighthouse, marked the entrance to the port of refuge. Close to that lighthouse the old butler edged his way. The love of regularity, and of an established order of affairs, born in him and fostered by a life passed in the service of the "Honorable Bateson" and the other gentry, made him cling instinctively to the only person in this crowd whom he could tell for certain to be on the side of law and order. Something in his oblong face and lank, scanty hair parted precisely in the middle, something in that high collar supporting his lean gills, not subservient exactly, but as it were suggesting that he was in league against all this low-class of fellow, made the policeman say to him:
"What's your business, daddy?"
"Oh!" the old butler answered. "This poor woman. I'm a witness to her battery."
The policeman cast his not unkindly look over the figure of the seamstress. "You stand here," he said; "I'll pass you in directly."
And soon by his offices the two were passed into the port of refuge.
They sat down side by side on the edge of a long, hard, wooden bench; Creed fixing his eyes, whose colour had run into a brownish rim round their centres, on the magistrate, as in old days sun-worshippers would sit blinking devoutly at the sun; and Mrs. Hughs fixing her eyes on her lap, while tears of agony trickled down her face. On her unwounded arm the baby slept. In front of them, and unregarded, filed one by one those shadows who had drunk the day before too deeply of the waters of forgetfulness. To-day, instead, they were to drink the water of remembrance, poured out for them with no uncertain hand. And somewhere very far away, it may have been that Justice sat with her ironic smile watching men judge their shadows. She had watched them so long about that business. With her elementary idea that hares and tortoises should not be made to start from the same mark she had a little given up expecting to be asked to come and lend a hand; they had gone so far beyond her. Perhaps she knew, too, that men no longer punished, but now only reformed, their erring brothers, and this made her heart as light as the hearts of those who had been in the prisons where they were no longer punished.
The old butler, however, was not thinking of her; he had thoughts of a simpler order in his mind. He was reflecting that he had once valeted the nephew of the late Lord Justice Hawthorn, and in the midst of this low-class business the reminiscence brought him refreshment. Over and over to himself he conned these words: "I interpylated in between them, and I says, 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself; call yourself an Englishman, I says, attackin' of old men and women with cold steel, I says!'" And suddenly he saw that Hughs was in the dock.
The dark man stood with his hands pressed to his sides, as though at attention on parade. A pale profile, broken by a line of black moustache, was all "Westminister" could see of that impassive face, whose eyes, fixed on the magistrate, alone betrayed the fires within. The violent trembling of the seamstress roused in Joshua Creed a certain irritation, and seeing the baby open his black eyes, he nudged her, whispering: "Ye've woke the baby!"
Responding to words, which alone perhaps could have moved her at such a moment, Mrs. Hughs rocked this dumb spectator of the drama. Again the old butler nudged her.
"They want yer in the box," he said.
Mrs. Hughs rose, and took her place.
He who wished to read the hearts of this husband and wife who stood at right angles, to have their wounds healed by Law, would have needed to have watched the hundred thousand hours of their wedded life, known and heard the million thoughts and words which had passed in the dim spaces of their world, to have been cognisant of the million reasons why they neither of them felt that they could have done other than they had done. Reading their hearts by the light of knowledge such as this, he would not have been surprised that, brought into this place of remedy, they seemed to enter into a sudden league. A look passed between them. It was not friendly, it had no appeal; but it sufficed. There seemed to be expressed in it the knowledge bred by immemorial experience and immemorial time: This law before which we stand was not made by us! As dogs, when they hear the crack of a far whip, will shrink, and in their whole bearing show wary quietude, so Hughs and Mrs. Hughs, confronted by the questionings of Law, made only such answers as could be dragged from them. In a voice hardly above a whisper Mrs. Hughs told her tale. They had fallen out. What about? She did not know. Had he attacked her? He had had it in his hand. What then? She had slipped, and hurt her wrist against the point. At this statement Hughs turned his eyes on her, and seemed to say: "You drove me to it; I've got to suffer, for all your trying to get me out of what I've done. I gave you one, and I don't want your help. But I'm glad you stick to me against this Law!" Then, lowering his eyes, he stood motionless during her breathless little outburst. He was her husband; she had borne him five; he had been wounded in the war. She had never wanted him brought here.
No mention of the little model....
The old butler dwelt on this reticence of Mrs. Hughs, when, two hours afterwards, in pursuance of his instinctive reliance on the gentry, he called on Hilary.
The latter, surrounded by books and papers--for, since his dismissal of the girl, he had worked with great activity--was partaking of lunch, served to him in his study on a tray.
"There's an old gentleman to see you, sir; he says you know him; his name is Creed."
"Show him in," said Hilary.
Appearing suddenly from behind the servant in the doorway, the old butler came in at a stealthy amble; he looked round, and, seeing a chair, placed his hat beneath it, then advanced, with nose and spectacles upturned, to Hilary. Catching sight of the tray, he stopped, checked in an evident desire to communicate his soul.
"Oh dear," he said, "I'm intrudin' on your luncheon. I can wait; I'll go and sit in the passage."
Hilary, however, shook his hand, faded now to skin and bone, and motioned him to a chair.
He sat down on the edge of it, and again said:
"I'm intrudin' on yer."
"Not at all. Is there anything I can do?"
Creed took off his spectacles, wiped them to help himself to see more clearly what he had to say, and put them on again.
"It's a-concerning of these domestic matters," he said. "I come up to tell yer, knowing as you're interested in this family."
"Well," said Hilary. "What has happened?"
"It's along of the young girl's having left them, as you may know."
"It's brought things to a crisax," explained Creed.
"Indeed, how's that?"
The old butler related the facts of the assault. "I took 'is bayonet away from him," he ended; "he didn't frighten me."
"Is he out of his mind?" asked Hilary.
"I've no conscience of it," replied Creed. "His wife, she's gone the wrong way to work with him, in my opinion, but that's particular to women. She's a-goaded of him respecting a certain party. I don't say but what that young girl's no better than what she ought to be; look at her profession, and her a country girl, too! She must be what she oughtn't to. But he ain't the sort o' man you can treat like that. You can't get thorns from figs; you can't expect it from the lower orders. They only give him a month, considerin' of him bein' wounded in the war. It'd been more if they'd a-known he was a-hankerin' after that young girl--a married man like him; don't ye think so, sir?"
Hilary's face had assumed its retired expression. 'I cannot go into that with you,' it seemed to say.
Quick to see the change, Creed rose. "But I'm intrudin' on your dinner," he said--"your luncheon, I should say. The woman goes on irritatin' of him, but he must expect of that, she bein' his wife. But what a misfortune! He'll be back again in no time, and what'll happen then? It won't improve him, shut up in one of them low prisons!" Then, raising his old face to Hilary: "Oh dear! It's like awalkin' on a black night, when ye can't see your 'and before yer."
Hilary was unable to find a suitable answer to this simile.
The impression made on him by the old butler's recital was queerly twofold; his more fastidious side felt distinct relief that he had severed connection with an episode capable of developments so sordid and conspicuous. But all the side of him--and Hilary was a complicated product--which felt compassion for the helpless, his suppressed chivalry, in fact, had also received its fillip. The old butler's references to the girl showed clearly how the hands of all men and women were against her. She was that pariah, a young girl without property or friends, spiritually soft, physically alluring.
To recompense "Westminister" for the loss of his day's work, to make a dubious statement that nights were never so black as they appeared to be, was all that he could venture to do. Creed hesitated in the doorway.
"Oh dear," he said, "there's a-one thing that the woman was a-saying that I've forgot to tell you. It's a-concernin' of what this 'ere man was boastin' in his rage. 'Let them,' he says, 'as is responsive for the movin' of her look out,' he says; 'I ain't done with them!' That's conspiracy, I should think!"
Smiling away this diagnosis of Hughs' words, Hilary shook the old man's withered hand, and closed the door. Sitting down again at his writing-table, he buried himself almost angrily in his work. But the queer, half-pleasurable, fevered feeling, which had been his, since the night he walked down Piccadilly, and met the image of the little model, was unfavourable to the austere process of his thoughts.
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