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Chapter XV

Happy years. A typical day. Simeon Whey is at last ordained. His first sermon at St Sepulchre's, Balham. Intensive campaign of the A.D.S.U. I meet Miss Moonbeam and call her Mary. Affecting appeal not to leave her in darkness. I promise not to do so. A face to lean on. Will I come again? Adventure on the stage of the Empresses Theatre.

I have said that this incident ended satisfactorily, but, as I shall very shortly have to demonstrate, it was subsequently to become associated with what I have always regarded as the most tragic event of my career — an event so annihilating in its ultimate consequences, and so misunderstood in its immediate details, that few less proven and resilient characters could have emerged from it unimpaired. Nor could my physique, I think, have stood the strain but for the four or five years that now intervened, during which I was enabled, in a life of comparative calm, to add very considerably to my bodily weight. Indeed in many respects, uneventful as they were, these were amongst the happiest years of my earlier manhood, and I cannot do better, perhaps, than describe for the benefit of my readers a typical day of this period of my life.

Required, like my father, who was still fortunately able to pursue his secular avocations, to be present at my place of employment by nine o'clock in the morning, my mother would call me at a quarter past seven, bringing a cup of tea to my bedside. This I would permit to cool for three or four minutes while I ate one of the biscuits with which it was accompanied; and then, sitting up in bed with my dressing-gown over my shoulders, I would drink the upper half of it before again eating. I would then eat the second of my two biscuits, and having drunk the remainder of the tea, would ring for my mother, who would then bring my hot water prior to the removal of the tea-things.

I was now ready to dress, and pushing down the bed-clothes, would begin by leaning forward and reaching the trousers which, the night before, I had hung over the end of the bed, with this very purpose in view. Containing my pants, to the lower extremities of which my socks would be still adherent, I was thus enabled, without removing my nightgown, to clothe my lower limbs before actually rising; and it was only then that I would finally leave the bed and cross the room towards the wash-hand stand. I would then fill the basin, leaving sufficient hot water for the purposes of subsequent shaving, and having locked the door and drawn the blinds would remove my nightgown preparatory to washing.

It would now be half-past seven, and if it were at all cold, I would don my vest before bending over the basin, never failing, however, in even the severest weather, to roll up my sleeves as far as my elbows. Then having dried and put on my shirt, I would shave before putting on my shirt-front, always brushing my hair before I put on my coat,but not before putting on my waistcoat. I would then select a clean handkerchief from my top right-hand drawer, and having pulled up my trousers a little to prevent them from becoming baggy, would kneel by my bedside at seven forty-five, assuming an erect position again at five minutes to eight. I would then pull up the blinds, open the windows, fold up my nightgown and put it in my nightgown bag, and by eight o'clock would be sitting at the harmonium in readiness to burst into the morning hymn.

Thus begun, and breakfast having been concluded, the day would next behold me inside an omnibus, unless the weather were warm enough to permit of my sitting upon the top for the purpose of rebuking adjacent smokers; and punctually at nine o'clock, I would enter the show-room and divest myself of my hat, scarf and overcoat. I would then exchange a courteous word or two with Miss Botterill and the youth who had succeeded me as show-room assistant, and immediately apply myself to the various duties that as show-room manager devolved upon my shoulders. Comprising the arrangement of books upon the shelves and counters, as well as of an attractive display in the street window, these would include, of course, my personal attendance upon the more important of our retail customers, the booking of orders, the checking of the show-room takings, and the maintenance of discipline amongst my two subordinates. And I had long ago proved the necessity, in view of such diverse demands, of paying the utmost attention to my physical upkeep.

At eleven o'clock, therefore, I would despatch Miss Botterill to a neighbouring branch of the Aerated Bread Company for a glass of hot milk and a substantial slice of a cake appropriately known as lunch cake. I would then, at twelve-thirty, repair in person to the same branch of this valuable company, where I would generally order from one of the quieter waitresses a double portion of sausages and mashed potatoes, accompanied by a cup of coffee, and followed by an apple dumpling or a segment of baked jam roll. This was the more necessary because the hour from one to two was usually the busiest of the working day, while from two to three, when, my subordinates lunched in turn, I had, of course, only one of them to assist me.

By three o'clock, however, they had both returned, and I would take the opportunity, five minutes later, of again sending Miss Botterill to the Aerated Bread Company for my mid-afternoon cup of tea. This I would drink, unthickened by food, but at half-past four I would send her out for another cup, and with this I would eat a roll and butter, a small dish of honey, and perhaps a single doughnut. Thus fortified I would then continue at work until six o'clock, when the show-room closed, and at half-past six I was sitting down at home to the chief meal of the evening. Taken somewhat earlier than had been my father's custom in the days of my boyhood and adolescence, I had found myself obliged to insist on the alteration in view of the many demands upon my evening hours. Most of my active work, for example, at the doors of public-houses, required an attendance from seven to nine, while few of the local prayer meetings began at a later hour than half-past seven or eight.

Early as was this meal, however, it was none the less welcome, consisting as it usually did of a joint and two vegetables followed by a wholesome pudding, tea, bread and jam, and perhaps a slice or two of home-made cake. Then after evening prayers, I would embrace my father, who was now always in bed by a quarter to nine, and leave the house upon some such holy errand as I have described in the previous paragraph. I did not fail, however, on returning home to drink a bowl of arrowroot and eat some digestive biscuits, and whenever possible, in the interests of my health, I would retire to my bedroom at ten fifteen.

Here I would find my windows closed for the night, the blinds drawn for the sake of decency, a jug of hot water standing in my basin, while a hot-water bottle would be within the bed. All would be in readiness, therefore, for my quick disrobing, a process that I would begin as soon as I had locked the door; and within five minutes, I would be bending over the basin clad as I have described myself some fifteen hours earlier. I would then brush my teeth, using some mild disinfectant, open my nightgown bag and extract my nightgown, and having taken off my vest, would slip on my nightgown prior to the removal of my lower garments. These I would then detach from myself with a single downward movement, subsequently hanging them over the end of the bed, after which I would put on my dressing-gown and bedroom slippers and utter a brief but fervent supplication. I would then pull up the blinds so that the stars could shine upon my bed, swallow a tablespoon of the Adult Gripe Water, unlock the door, extinguish the light, and by ten thirty-five be composed for slumber.

Such was a typical day of this period of my life, during which, as I have said, I increased in weight, and in which, as I am glad to believe, my moral stature also expanded and became consolidated. This was, at any rate, the conviction of my friend Simeon Whey, who took the opportunity of my twenty-sixth birthday to describe me in his diary as ‘now in the full flower of his southern Metropolitan Xtian manhood’. Indeed, the whole passage is well worth transcribing, written as it was on the eve of his ordination, and following a happy hour together discussing the price-lists of various clerical tailors.

‘By a moving coincidence,’ he wrote, ‘the eve of my ordination has coincided with the twenty-sixth birthday of my old and dear friend Augustus Carp of Angela Gardens. And yet perhaps old is scarcely the right word, for mature as he is, he is now in the full flower of his southern Metropolitan Xtian manhood. Nor have I ever seen him looking so large as when he came to see me at 2.35 to receive the hand-painted toothbrush, with which I had promised to present him, and to give me his benediction for the morrow. Fully a stone heavier than this time last year, his moustache has become noticeably more abundant, and his every movement possesses the weight and gravity of a man twenty years his senior. Admirable as was his diction, too, even as a boy, it has now attained a level of sonorous grandeur, from which it never lapses in even the most trivial pronouncements imposed upon him by necessary human intercourse. Is it surprising, therefore, that I daily thank P,* for so noble and inspiring an example?’

Dear Simeon, loyal and appreciative, for many a long year hadst thou been trying to get ordained, but now thou hadst succeeded, and well do I remember thy first sermon at St Sepulchre's, Balham. Cast thy bread, thou preachedst, upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days — and mark, thou didst say, it is not demanded of us to cast our jewels or financial securities. No, no, thou saidst, it was well recognized that the former would sink and the latter become unintelligible, whereas bread was nutriment for the fishes of the deep, and in due course would return to our tables. Moreover, bread was cheap, thou didst say, and even the poorest of us was sometimes tempted to waste his bread, and for him there was a message — kck — in these beautiful words to place his bread, as it were, out at interest. Let us all, then, take heed, thou saidst, never to waste our bread but to collect it earnestly with both hands, and whenever we saw any water, yea, no matter how little, to cast it upon it in faith fearing not. And then it would return to us, if not in the form of fish, then in some other form which we wotted not of. For what was bred in the bone could never be cast down, nay, not until seventy times seven.

Good Simeon, such was thy first sermon, and I doubt if thou hast ever preached a better.

Little as we dreamt it, however, Providence was now hurrying towards me with the heaviest cross of my adult life, a cross so heavy that even now I cannot help shuddering at its weight, and one that compelled me not only to retire from business, but to remove from Camberwell to Stoke Newington. Nor was it less bitter in that the instrument of deposit was a young and exceptionally attractive female, with whom I had been brought into contact in the course of my work for the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union.

This was about a year after Simeon's ordination and soon after I had inaugurated, in my capacity as Vice-President, an intensive campaign of personal exhortation at all the most notorious West End theatres. Thus I had arranged that there should be posted at the stage entrances of all these more popular haunts of vice earnest young workers of the male sex plentifully provided with the Union's literature. These would then approach the in-coming actors and actresses with a few well-chosen words of warning, pointing out to them the iniquity of their occupation and inviting them to embrace some other profession. Having had our evening meals, Ezekiel and myself would each then visit a group of theatres to encourage our representatives and lend them the personal aid of our riper experience and more gifted oratory.

Ezekiel Stool (drawn from a portrait once in the possession of the A.D.S.U.)

This, then, was the occasion of my being present at about half-past seven on a January evening at the stage door of the Empresses Theatre, where a play called The Peach Girl was about to be performed. This was a drama, accompanied by music, and frequently interrupted, I believe, by amatory dances, which had already been presented nearly three hundred times and was still attracting enormous audiences. I had not myself seen it, but Ezekiel, who had witnessed a considerable portion of it before making his protest at its first performance, had particularly deplored the abbreviated costumes of most of the female dancers. He had made an exception, however, in favour of the principal actress, by whose singular beauty he had been greatly impressed, and in whom he had discerned, he thought, in spite of her surroundings, an appreciable degree of natural goodness. By name Mary Moonbeam, she had been assigned the part, it appeared, of a quite simple seller of fruit, to whom a naval officer, accompanied upon the stage by a large number of female midshipmen, had immediately begun, in a voluptuous baritone, to address words of affection.

What had happened subsequently Ezekiel did not, of course, know, since he had then made his protest and been compelled to leave. But he had felt assured, from the sweetness of her expression, that she had been more sinned against than sinning, and that in other surroundings she might easily have developed into an almost ideal district visitor. On the other hand, it was quite clear, from the letter-press outside the theatre, that she was the chief attraction of the play, and she had twice refused to discuss her future with our young representative at the stage door. It was with as open a mind, therefore, as it was at all possible for me to possess in respect of an actress, that I perceived her alighting from an expensive-looking vehicle soon after I had reached the stage door. Nor was I at first able, owing to the speed of her movements — she was ten minutes later, it appeared, than usual — and the voluminous furs, in which she had ensconced herself, to obtain a clear view of her face. In fact, when I first touched her, she brushed me aside, and it was only after she had glanced at me a second time that she stopped for a moment and began to stare at me with her exceptionally limpid, hazel eyes.

‘Hullo,’ she said, ‘you’re not the same man.’

‘I am the Vice-President,’ I said, ‘of the Anti-Dramatic Union.’

‘And Saltatory,’ she said. ‘Don’t forget the Saltatory part.’

‘Would that it were possible,’ I replied. ‘But it isn’t.’

She gave a little sigh.

‘No, I suppose not,’ she said, ‘not with all us girls earning our living by it.’

’ And hurling others,’ I said, ‘to their deaths.’

‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘not really?’

‘Every night,’ I replied, ‘in thousands and thousands.’

‘Oh, good gracious,’ she said, ‘not every night?’

I nodded gravely.

‘Every night,’ I said, ‘in thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands.’

‘But goodness me,’ she cried, ‘that's more than ever.’

‘It's more and more,’ I said, ‘every night.’

‘Well, I never,’ she said. ‘What a fearful mortality.’

‘Fearful indeed,’ I replied, ‘and you are responsible.’

‘Oh, my aunt,’ she said, ‘how perfectly horrible. Can’t you come and talk to me after the first act?’

‘I should be only too glad,’ I said, ‘if you would tell me where to come.’

‘Oh, anybody’ll tell you,’ she said. ‘Nine-fifteen.’

Then she disappeared, and at a quarter past nine, when I returned to the theatre after consulting Ezekiel, I was eventually shown into a small room, where she appeared to be undressing herself to a marked extent. She waved her hand, however, and bade me take a chair, assuring me that the worst was already over, and introducing me to a woman, whom she described as her dresser. and whose name was Mrs Montgomery.

‘This is Mr Carp,’ she said, ‘the Vice-President of the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union.’

Mrs Montgomery wiped her hands on her apron prior to greeting me with great cordiality.

‘Happy to meet you,’ she said. ‘I’ve read a lot of your tracts, and mark my words, there's a lot of truth in 'em.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Moonbeam, ‘and isn’t it awful, Bags?* He says we kill thousands of people every night.’

‘Well, I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Mrs Montgomery, ‘not for a moment, I shouldn’t. What with this modern dancing and all. Hold your chin up, dearie.’

She was applying some powder to Miss Moonbeam's neck, and presently stood back a little, eyeing her critically.

‘Yes,’ said Miss Moonbeam. ‘But oughtn’t we to do something? It doesn't seem right just to let it go on.’

‘Oh, no,’ I cried. ‘Nor it is. Nor it is, Miss Moonbeam. Believe me.’

‘I do,’ she said. ‘I do believe you. Get out of the light, Bags. I want to look at him.’

For a moment I sat in silence, permitting her to feast her eyes. Then she bent forward a little, holding out her hands.

‘Oh, Mr Carp,’ she said, ‘I’m only a poor actress. Help me to be better. Help me to be like you.’

Withdrawing my gloves and putting them in my left-hand pocket, I advanced towards her and took hold of her hands.

‘My dear Miss Moonbeam,’ I said.

But she looked at me rather pathetically.

‘Oh, Mr Carp,’ she said, ‘won't you call me Mary?’

I considered for a moment. It was a difficult position. For though I could not help feeling that she was a little presumptuous, I had to remember that this was probably the first occasion on which she had met a really good man. I therefore decided to grant her petition.

‘My dear Mary,’ I said, ‘I shall be only too happy.’

She breathed a sigh and removed her hands.

‘Oh, how lovely of you,’ she said. ‘Now I must go on dressing.’

‘But, my dear Mary,’ I said, 'is that necessary?’

‘Oh, I think so,’ she said. ‘You see, if I didn’t —’

I waved my hand.

‘I’m afraid you've misunderstood me,’ I said.

‘Very likely,’ she said. ‘I’m so stupid. But you're going to help me, Mr Carp, aren't you?’

I bowed sympathetically.

‘Nothing could please me more,’ I said, ‘than to lead you out of darkness into the membership of our Union. But would it not be better to rise up at once — to rise up at once, I say, and come away?’

But she shook her head.

‘You see, I’m bound by a contract,’ she said, ‘and I have to support rather a large family.’

Involuntarily I staggered a little.

‘But, Mary,’ I cried.

‘Brothers and sisters,’ she explained. ‘I’m paying for their education.’

Profoundly relieved, and not a little touched, I regained my equilibrium and invited her to confide in me. Her mother was dead, it appeared, and her father had been unfortunate and was now unable to provide for his children.

‘And so they batten,’ I said, ‘on your ill-gotten earnings.’

She turned and looked at me for a moment in silence. Then she smiled again as she put on her slippers.

‘You seem to understand things,’ she said, ‘so quickly.’

Then a small boy looked round the door.

‘Curtain's up, miss,’ he said, and disappeared again.

‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ she cried, ‘how the time flies. Can’t you come and talk to me after the show?’

I smiled at her not unkindly.

‘By ten-fifteen,’ I said, ‘I shall be in my bedroom.’

‘But what am I to do?’ she said. ‘I’ve begun to lean on you. You aren't going to leave me here wallowing?’

I stared at her.

‘Wallowing in what?’ I asked.

‘Why, in the darkness,’ she said, ‘killing all those people.’

I took her hands again.

‘My dear Mary,’ I said, ‘it is in order to remove you that I am here.’

She gave a little sigh.

‘Oh, I was sure I could trust you,’ she said. ‘I knew I could trust you, the moment I saw you.’

‘Yes, it's his face,’ said Mrs Montgomery. ‘Isn’t it, dearie? It's one of those faces one wants to lean on.’

‘Oh yes, yes,’ she cried, ‘with all one's weight. Couldn’t you bring it round tomorrow after the matinée. And then very likely you'll meet some of my friends, and perhaps you'll be able to remove us all.’

‘But not before six,’ I said, ‘or a quarter past.’

‘That’ll do nicely,’ she said. ‘There's my call.’

Then she ran from the room, just as an electric bell began to sound in the corner, and Mrs Montgomery was kind enough to tell me the quickest way to leave the theatre.

Unfortunately, however, she was either inaccurate, or by some odd chance I failed to understand her, for a moment later I found myself on the stage, just as the naval officer was about to embrace Miss Moonbeam. By a curious coincidence, too, my appearance synchronized with the dramatic utterance by Miss Moonbeam of the words, ‘Hush, Reginald, he comes,’ which added for the moment to my perplexity. For while it was possible (and this proved to be the case) that the words bore reference to some fellow-actor, it was also possible, I thought, that she might have been informing him of my own presence in the theatre. Nor could I be certain from the attitude of the audience, as it unanimously rose with roars of applause, that my recent efforts to rescue their favourite might not have become known to it and touched its heart. I conceived it my duty, therefore, without prejudicing my position, to make a courteous bow or two before retiring, and I took the opportunity of handing the naval officer an illustrated copy of Did Wycliffe Waltz?

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