The Ecstatic Thief
I: The Name of Nadoway
THE name of Nadoway was in one sense famous, and even after a fashion, inspiring and sublime. Alfred the Great had borne it before him like a boon or gift, as he wandered in the woods and awaited the deliverance of Wessex. So at least one would infer from the poster in which he was represented, in flamboyant colours, as repairing the ruin of the Burning Cakes by the offer of Nadoway's Nubs, a superior sort of small biscuit. Shakespeare had heard the name like a trumpet-blast; at least if we may credit the striking picture inscribed "Anne Hathaway Had a Way with Nadoway", and representing the poet lifting a shining morning face on the appearance of these refreshments. Nelson, in the high moment of battle, had seen it written on the sky; at least it is so written on all the gigantic hoardings of the Battle of Trafalgar, with which we are so familiar in the streets; the picture to which are aptly appended the noble lines of Campbell: "Of Nelson and the Nubs, Sing the glorious day's renown." Equally familiar is the more modern patriotic poster representing a British Sailor working a machine-gun, from which a shower of Nubs is perpetually pouring upon the public. This somewhat unjustly exaggerates the deadly character of the Nubs. He who has been privileged to put a Nub to his lips has certainly been somewhat at a loss to distinguish it from other and lesser biscuits. But to have a Nub embedded in the body, by the ordinary process of digestion, has never been known to be actually fatal like a bullet. And, on the whole, many have tended to suspect that the chief difference, between Nadoway's Nubs and anybody else's, lay in the omnipresence of this superb picture-gallery of advertisements, which seemed to surround Nadoway with flamboyant pageantry and splendid heraldic and historic processions.
In the midst of all this encircling blazonry and blowing of trumpets, there was nothing but a little, plain, hard-faced man with a grey, goatish beard and spectacles, who never went anywhere except to business and to a brown brick Baptist Chapel. This was Mr. Jacob Nadoway, later of course Sir Jacob Nadoway, and later still Lord Normandale, the original founder of the firm and fountain of all the Nubs. He still lived very simply himself, but he could afford every luxury. He could afford the luxury of having the Honourable Millicent Milton as private secretary. She was the daughter of a decayed aristocratic house, with which he had been on superficially friendly terms, as they lived in the same neighbourhood, and it was natural that the relative importance of the two should have gradually changed. Mr. Nadoway could afford the luxury of being the Honourable Millicent's patron. The Honourable Millicent could not afford the luxury of not being Mr. Nadoway's secretary.
It was, however, a luxury of which she sometimes had golden dreams. Not that old Nadoway treated her badly, or even paid her badly, or would have ventured to be rude to her in any respect. The old chapel-going Radical was much too shrewd for that. He understood well that there was still something like a bargain and a balance between the New Rich and the New Poor. She had been more or less familiar with the Nadoway household, long before she had an official post there, and could hardly be treated otherwise than as a friend of the family, even if it was not exactly the sort of family she would have sought in which to find her friends. And yet she had found friends there, and had once been even in danger of finding not only friends but a friend. Perhaps, at one time, not only a friend.
Nadoway had two sons, who went to school and college, and in the recognized modern manner were unobtrusively manufactured into gentlemen. The manner of the moulding was indeed somewhat different in the two cases, and in both she watched it with a certain curious interest. It was perhaps symbolic that the elder was John Nadoway, dating from the days when his father retained a taste for plain or preferably Scriptural names. The younger was Norman Nadoway, and the name marked a certain softening towards notions of elegance, foreshadowing the awful possibility of Normandale. There had been a happy time, when John could really be described as Jack. He was a very boyish sort of boy and played cricket and climbed trees with a certain natural grace, like that of a young animal alive and innocent in the sunshine. He was not unattractive and she was not unattracted by him. And yet every time he reappeared, at different stages of his college and early commercial career, she was conscious that something was fading while something was solidifying. He was passing through that mysterious process, by which so many radiant and godlike boys eventually turn into businessmen. She could not help feeling that there must be something wrong with education-or possibly something wrong with life. It seemed somehow as if he was always growing bigger and growing smaller.
Norman Nadoway, on the other hand, began to be interesting just about the moment when Jack Nadoway began to be uninteresting. He was one that flowered late; if the figure of a flower can be used of one who (throughout his early years) resembled a rather pallid turnip. He had a large head and large ears and a colourless face and expression, and for a time passed for something of a mooncalf. But when he was at school, he worked hard at mathematics, and when he was at Cambridge at economics. From this it was but one wild leap to the study of politics and social reform; and from this came the grand bust-up in the House of Nubs and Jacob's wrath, to Nadoway's the direful spring. Norman had begun by shaking the brown brick chapel to its foundations by announcing his intention of being a Curate in the Church of England-nay, in the High Church party of the Church of England. But his father was less troubled by this than by the reports that reached him of his son's highly successful lectures on Political Economy. It was a very different sort of Political Economy from that which his father had successfully preached and practised. It was so different that his father, in a memorable explosion at the breakfast-table, described it as Socialism.
"Somebody must go down to Cambridge and stop him!" said the elder Mr. Nadoway fidgeting in his chair and rapping restlessly on the table. "You must go and talk to him, John; or you must bring him here and I'll talk to him. Otherwise the business will simply go smash."
Both parts of the alternative programme apparently had to be carried out. John, the junior partner of Nadoway and Son, did go down to Cambridge and talked to him, but apparently did not stop him. John did eventually bring him back to Jacob Nadoway, that Jacob might talk to him. Jacob was in no way reluctant to do so, and yet the interview did not turn quite as he had intended. Indeed, it was a rather puzzling interview.
It took place in old Jacob's study, which looked out through round bow-windows at 'The Lawns', after which the house was still named. It was a very Victorian house, of the sort that would have been described at the time as built by Philistines for Philistines. There was a great deal of curved glass about it, in its conservatories and its semi-circular windows. There was a great deal of dome and cupola and canopy about it, with all the porches covered as if by escalloped wooden umbrellas. There was a good deal of rather ugly coloured glass and a good deal of not altogether ugly, but very artificial, clipped hedges and Dutch gardening. In short, it was the sort of comfortable Victorian home that was regarded as very vulgar by the aesthetes of that period. Mr. Matthew Arnold would have passed the house with a gentle sigh. Mr. John Ruskin would have recoiled in horror and called down curses from heaven on it, from a neighbouring hill. Even Mr. William Morris would have grumbled as he passed, about the sort of architecture that was only upholstery. But I am not so sure about Mr. Sacheverall Sitwell. We have reached a time when the curved windows and canopied porticoes of that house have begun to take on something of a dreamy glamour of distance. And I am not sure that Mr. Sitwell might not have been found wandering in its inner chambers and composing a poem about its dusty charms, though it would certainly have surprised Mr. Jacob Nadoway to find him so engaged. Whether, after the interview, even Mr. Sitwell could write a poem about Mr. Nadoway, I will not undertake to decide.
Millicent Milton had come through the garden to the study, at about the same moment as the junior partner arrived there. She was tall and fair and her lifted and pointed chin gave her profile a distinction beyond mere good looks. Her eyelids looked at the first glance a little sleepy and at the second a little haughty, but she was not really either one or the other, but only reasonably resigned. She sat down at her ordinary desk to do her ordinary work, but she very soon rose from it again, as if with a silent offer to withdraw, since the domestic discussion was becoming very domestic. But old Nadoway motioned her back with irritable reassurance and she remained the spectator of the whole scene.
Old Nadoway had barked out rather abruptly, like one bothered for the first time: "But I thought you two had had a talk."
"Yes, father," said John Nadoway, looking at the carpet, "we have had a talk."
"I hope you got Norman to see," went on the old man in a milder tone, "that he simply mustn't chalk out all these wild projects so long as we're all really in the business. My business would be ruined in a month if I tried to carry out those crazy ideal schemes about Bonuses and Co-Partnership. And how can I have my son using my name, and shouting everywhere that my methods are not fit for a dog? Is it reasonable? Didn't John explain to you that it's not reasonable?"
The large, pale face of the curate, rather to everybody's surprise, wrinkled into a dry smile, and he said: "Yes, Jack explained a great deal of that to me, but I also did a little explaining. I explained, for instance, that I have a business, too."
"What about your father's business?" asked Jacob.
"I am about my Father's business," said the priest in a hard voice.
There was a glaring silence, broken rather nervously.
"The fact is, father, it won't do," said John Nadoway heavily, and still studying the carpet. "I believe I said everything for you you could have said yourself. But Norman knows the new conditions, and it won't do."
Old Mr. Nadoway made a motion as if swallowing something, and then said: "Do you mean to sit there and tell me you're against me, too? Against me and the whole concern?"
"I'm in favour of the whole concern, and that's the whole point," said John. "I suppose I shall be responsible for it-well, some time. But I'm damned if I'll be responsible for all the old ways of doing things."
"You're glad enough of the money that was got by the old way of doing things," said his father savagely, "and now you come back to me with this nonsensical namby-pamby Socialism."
"My dear Dad," said John Nadoway, staring stolidly. "Do I look like a Socialist?"
Millicent, as an onlooker, took in the whole of his heavy and handsome figure, from its beautifully blacked boots to its beautifully oiled hair, and could hardly repress a laugh.
The voice of Norman Nadoway clove into it with a sudden vibrancy, not without violence.
"We must clear the Nadoway name."
"Do you dare to tell me," cried the old man fiercely, "that my name needs any clearing?"
"By the new standards, yes," said John after a silence.
The old merchant sat down suddenly and silently in his chair and turned to his secretary, as if the interview were ended.
"I find I shall not want you this evening," he said. "You had better take a little time off."
She rose rather waveringly and went towards the french windows that gave upon the garden. The pale evening sky had been suddenly turned to night by the contrast of a large luminous moon coming up behind dark trees and striping the grey-green lawns with dark shadows. She had always been puzzled by the fact that there seemed to be something romantic about the garden and even the grotesque house, which was inhabited by such highly prosaic people. She was already outside the glass doors and in the garden, when she heard old Nadoway speak again.
"The hand of the Lord is heavy upon me," he said. "It seems hard that I have had three sons and they all turned against me."
"There is no question of turning against you, father," said John rapidly and smoothly. "It is only a question of reconstructing the business so as to suit new conditions and a rather different public opinion. I am sure that neither of your sons intends to show ingratitude or impertinence."
"If either of your sons did that," said Norman in his deep voice, "it would be every bit as wicked as going on in the old way."
"Well," said his father rather wearily, "we will leave it at that just now. I shall not go on much longer."
But Millicent Milton was staring at the dark house in a new fit of mystification. The two brothers had ignored and slurred over, with something resembling skill, a certain phrase used by their father. But she had quite unmistakably heard the old man say: "Three sons."
She had never heard of any other son. She remained staring at the rococo outline of that rather ridiculous and yet romantic villa, with its domes and ornamental verandas dark against the moon; with its bulbous windows and plants in bloated pots; its clumsy statues and congested garden-beds and all the swollen outline of the thing made almost monstrous by moonshine and darkness, and she wondered for the first time if it held a secret.
II: The Burglar and the Brooch
IT was the scare of the burglary that actually started the story towards the discovery of rather strange things. As a burglary it was trivial enough, in the sense that the thief did not apparently succeed in taking anything, being surprised before he could do so. But it was certainly not only the burglar who was surprised.
Jacob Nadoway had provided his secretary with some excellent apartments leading out of the central hall and not far from his own. He had fitted up the suite with every elegant convenience, including an aunt. It was indeed doubtful, at times, whether the aunt was to be classed as a convenience or an inconvenience. She was supposed in a vague way to regularize the Victorian household and add even to the secretary an extra touch of gentility. But there was a difference, because the aunt, who was a Mrs. Milton-Mowbray, was given to suddenly getting back on the high-horse and then sliding off again, while her niece, with a more negative dignity, trod the dusty path of duty as a proud pedestrian. On this occasion Millicent Milton had been engaged all the evening in soothing her aunt, and after that experience, felt she would like to spend a little time in soothing herself. Instead of going to bed, she took up a book and began reading by the dying fire. She read on till it was very late, without realizing that everybody else had presumably retired to rest, when she heard in the utter stillness a new and unmistakable sound from the central hall without, which led into her employer's study. It was a sort of whirring and grinding sound, such as is produced by metal working its way into metal. And she remembered that in the angle between the two rooms stood the safe.
She had the best sort of quite unconscious courage, and she simply walked out into the hall and looked. What she saw astounded her by being so ordinary. She had seen it in so many films and read about it in so many novels, that she could hardly believe that it really looked like that. The safe stood open and a shabby man was kneeling in front of it, with his back to her, so that she could see nothing but his shabbiness, his head being covered by a battered and shapeless broad-brimmed hat. On one side of him on the floor glittered the steel of a centre-bit and some other tools of his art; on the other side glittered even more brilliantly the silver and stones of some ornament, looking like a chain and clasp, presumably a portion of his spoils. There seemed somehow to be nothing sharp or unexpected about the experience; it was almost conventional, in being so like what it was supposed to be. She only spoke as she felt, in a tone entirely cold and commonplace, when she said: "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I'm not climbing the Matterhorn or playing the trombone at present," grunted the man in a gruff and distant voice. "I suppose it's plain enough what I am doing."
Then, after a silence, he resumed in a warning tone: "Don't you go saying that brooch thing there is yours, because it isn't. I didn't even get it out of this safe; let's say I lifted it off another family earlier in the evening. It's a pretty thing-sort of imitation fourteenth century, with Amor Vincit Omnia on it. It's all very well to say that love conquers everything, and force is no remedy and all that. But I've forced this safe: I never found a safe I could open by just loving what was inside."
There was something rather paralysing about the way in which the burglar placidly went on talking without even looking round; and she thought it a little odd that he should know the meaning of the Latin inscription, simple as it was. Nor could she bring herself to scream or run or stop him in any way, when he went on with the same conversational composure.
"Must be meant for a model of the big clasp that Chaucer's Prioress wore; that had the same motto on it. Don't you think Chaucer was a corker in the way he hit off social types-even social types that are there still? Why, the Prioress is an immortal portrait in a few lines of a most extraordinary creature called the English Lady. You can pick her out in foreign hotels and pensions. The Prioress was nicer than most of those, but she's got all the marks; fussing about her little dogs; being particular about table-manners; not liking mice killed; the whole darned thing even down to talking French, but talking it so that Frenchmen can't understand."
He turned very slowly and stared at her.
"Why, you're an English Lady!" he cried as if astonished. "Do you know they are getting rare?"
Miss Millicent Milton probably did possess, like the Prioress of Chaucer, the more gracious virtues of the English Lady. But it must in honesty be admitted that she also possessed some of the vices of the type. One of the crimes of the English Lady is an unconscious class-consciousness. Nothing could alter the fact that, the moment the shabby criminal had begun to talk about English literature in the tones of her own class, her whole judgement was turned upside down, and she had a chaotic idea that he could not really be a criminal at all. In abstract logic, she would have been obliged to admit that it ought not to make any difference. In theory, she would concede that a student of medieval English has no more business to break open other people's safes than anybody else. In principle she might confess that a man does not purchase a right to steal silver brooches, even by showing an intelligent interest in the Canterbury Tales. But something of uncontrollable custom in her mind made her feel that the case was altered. Her feeling could only have been conveyed by the very vague colloquialisms which such people employ; as that he wasn't exactly a real burglar, or that it was "Quite Different", or that there was "some mistake". What she really meant (to the grave disadvantage of all her culture and her world) was that there were some people, criminals or no, whom she could see from the inside, and all other people she saw from the outside, whether they were burglars or bricklayers.
The young man who was staring at her was dark, shaggy and unshaven, but the neglect of shaving had passed its most repellent stage of transition and might be regarded as a rather imperfect beard. Its patchiness reminded her of the quaintly divided beards of certain foreigners, and gave him something of the general look of a cultivated Italian organ-grinder. There was something else that was abnormal about his face, which she could not immediately define, but she thought it was the fact that his mouth was always twisting with mockery, rather as if it had taught itself always to mock, and yet his dark, sunken eyes were not only grave but in some sort of mad way, enthusiastic. If the grotesque beard could have completely covered the mouth like a mask, they might have been the eyes of a fanatic in the desert shouting a battle-cry of belief. He must be deeply indignant with society to have turned to this lawless life; or perhaps he had had a tragedy with a woman or something. She wondered what the real story was, and what the woman was like.
While she was forming these confused impressions, the remarkable burglar went on talking; whatever else he felt, he seemed to feel no embarrassment about talking.
"It's jolly fine of you to stand there like that-well, that's another trait. The English Lady is brave; Edith Cavell was a type of the tribe. But there are other tribes now, and that sort of brooch generally belongs to the last sort of person for whom it was made. That alone would be a justification for the trade of burglary, which keeps things briskly in circulation, doesn't allow them to stagnate in incongruous surroundings. If that brooch had really been worn by Chaucer's Prioress at the moment, you don't imagine I'd have taken it, do you? On the contrary, if I really met anybody as nice as the Prioress, I might be tempted to give it to her straight away, at the expense of my professional profits. But why should some vulgar cockatoo of a sham Countess own a thing like that? We want more theft, house-breaking and highway robbery to shift and rearrange the furniture of society; to regroup-if you follow me-its goods and chattels, as if after a spring-cleaning; to--"
At this important point in the social programme, it was interrupted by a gasp and snort as startling as a trumpet-blast. And Millicent, looking across, saw her employer, the aged Nadoway, standing framed in the doorway, and looking a very small and shrunken figure in an enormous purple dressing-gown. It was not until that moment that she awoke to astonishment at her own silence and composure; or saw anything odd in the fact that she had stood listening to the criminal in front of the safe, as if he had been talking to her over the tea-table.
"What! A burglar?" gasped Mr. Nadoway.
Almost at the same moment there was a scurry of running and the big, breathless figure of the Junior Partner, John Nadoway, dressed in his shirt and trousers, also burst into the room, with a revolver in his hand. But he almost instantly lowered the weapon he had lifted and said, in the same incredulous and curiously emphatic voice: "Damn it all! A burglar!"
The Rev. Norman Nadoway was not long behind his brother-he was respectably muffled in a greatcoat and looked very pale and solemn. But perhaps the most curious thing about him was that he also confined himself to saying, with the same inscrutable intensity: "A burglar!"
Millicent thought there was, on the face of it, something singularly inept about this triple emphasis. It was about as obvious that the burglar was a burglar as that the safe was a safe. She could not imagine why the three men should all talk as if a burglar were a griffin, or something they had never heard of before, until it suddenly dawned on her that their surprise was not at a burglar paying them a particular visit, but rather at this particular visitor being a burglar.
"Yes," said the visitor, looking round at them with a smile, "it's quite true I'm a burglar now. I think I was only a begging-letter writer when we last met. Thus do we rise on our dead selves to higher things; it was a very paltry little misdemeanour compared to this, wasn't it, for which father first turned me out?"
"Alan," said Norman Nadoway very gravely, "why do you come back here like this? Why here, of all places?"
"Why, to tell you the truth," said the other, "I thought that our respected Papa might want a little moral support."
"What the devil do you mean?" asked John Nadoway irritably. "A nice sort of moral support you are!"
"I am a very moral support," observed the stranger with proper pride. "Don't you realize it? I am the only real son and heir. I am the only man who is really carrying on the business. I am an example of atavism; I am a reversion to type."
"I don't know what you're talking about," cried old Nadoway with sudden fury.
"Jack and Norman know," said the burglar grimly. "They know what I'm talking about. They know what I mean when I say I'm the real representative of Nadoway and Son. It's the fact they've been trying to cover up, poor old chaps, for the last five or six years."
"You were born to disgrace me," said the old man, trembling with anger; "you would have dragged my name in the dirt, if I hadn't sent you to Australia and got rid of you, and now you come back as a common thief."
"And the real representative," said the other, "of the methods that made Nadoway's Nubs." Then he said with sudden scorn: "You say you're ashamed of me. Good Lord, my dear Dad! Haven't you discovered yet that both your other sons are ashamed of you? Look at their faces!"
It was enough that the other two sons involuntarily turned their faces away, and even as it was, turned them too late.
"They are ashamed of you. But I am not ashamed of you. We are the Adventurers of the family."
Norman Nadoway raised a protesting hand, but the other went on with a sweep of spontaneous satire.
"Do you think I don't know? Do you think everybody doesn't know? Don't I know that's why Norman and Jack are announcing new industrial methods and preaching new social ideals and all the rest? Cleansing the Name of Nadoway-because the Name of Nadoway stinks to the ends of the earth! Because the business was founded on every sort of swindling and sweating and grinding the faces of the poor and cheating the widow and orphan. And, above all, on robbery-on robbing rivals and partners and everybody else, exactly as I have robbed that safe!"
"Do you think it decent," asked his brother angrily, "to come here and not only rob your father's safe, but insult and attack your father before his face?"
"I am not attacking my father," said Alan Nadoway; "I am defending my father. And I am the only man here who can defend him. For I am a criminal, too."
He let loose the next few words with an energy that made everybody jump. "What do you know about it? You go to college with his money; you get a partnership in his firm; you live on the money he made and are ashamed of the way he made it. But he didn't begin like that, any more than I did. He was thrown out into the gutter, just as I was thrown out into the gutter. You try it, and see what sort of dirt you will eat! You don't know anything about the way men are turned into criminals; the shifts and the delays and the despair, and the hopes that an honest job may turn up, that end by taking a dishonest one. You've no right to be so damned superior to the Two Thieves of the family."
Old Nadoway made an abrupt movement, adjusting his spectacles, and Millicent, who was an acute observer, suspected that for one instant he was not only staggered but strongly moved.
"All this," said John Nadoway after a silence, "doesn't explain what you're doing here. As you probably know, there's practically nothing in that safe, and the thing you've got there certainly doesn't come out of it. I can't quite make out what you're up to, in any case."
"Well," said Alan, with his ironical smile, "you can examine the safe and the rest of the premises after I've gone. Perhaps you may make a few discoveries. And perhaps on the whole I--"
In the middle of his words there arose, faint but shrill and unmistakable, upon Millicent's ear, the sound of something at once alarming and amusing; something she had been subconsciously expecting for a long time past. In the room beyond, her aunt had awakened; probably she had awakened to all the melodramatic possibilities of an interruption in the middle of the night. The Victorian tradition had still its living witness. Millicent herself had been frozen into a cool acceptance of the adventure-an acceptance she could not fully explain even to herself. But somebody at least had shrieked, in a respectable manner, on hearing a house-breaker.
The five people looked at each other and realized that, after that shriek, the extraordinary family situation could no longer be kept in the family. The only chance was for the burglar to bolt with the promptitude of any other burglar. He turned and darted through the apartments on his left, which happened to be the apartments of Miss Milton and Mrs. Mowbray, so that shriek after shriek now rent the air. But a crash of glass from a remote window told the rest that the intruder had managed to burst out of the house and disappear in the darkness of the garden, and they all, for varied and rather complex reasons, heaved their separate sighs of relief.
Millicent, needless to say, had to resume in a serious manner the duties of soothing an aunt; so that the shriek faded into shrill questions. Then she went into her own room, beyond which the hole in the burst window showed a black star in the slate-green of the glass. Then she realized that, right in the path of the disappearing robber, there was deliberately spread out for inspection, on her own dressing-table, as crown jewels are spread out upon velvet, the silver chain and studded clasp which had been fancifully dedicated to the Prioress, and on which was written in Latin "Love Conquers All".
III: A Queer Reformation
MILLICENT MILTON could not help wondering a good deal, especially when walking about the garden in her off hours, whether she would ever see the burglar again. In the ordinary way, it would seem improbable. But then, nobody could say that this criminal was connected with the household in an ordinary way. As a burglar, he would presumably vanish; as a brother, he would not improbably turn up again. Especially as he was a rather disreputable brother, for they always turn up again. She tentatively asked questions of the other two brothers, but could get very little light on the situation. The acquisitive Alan had mockingly advised them to examine the house for the traces of his depredations. But he must have conducted them with great secrecy and selection, for nobody seemed sure of how much he had taken. It was one of the many problems in the story that she could not solve, and could not see any particular probability that she ever would solve, when she looked up idly and saw him standing quite calmly on the top of the garden wall and looking down into the garden. The wind plucked the plumes of his dark hair one by one and turned them over as he was turning the leaves of the tree nearest his perch.
"Another way to burgle a house," he said, in a clear distant voice like a popular lecturer, "is to get over the garden wall. It sounds simple, but stealing things is generally simple. Only, in this case, I can't quite make up my mind what to steal. I think," he added calmly, "that I shall begin by stealing a little of your time. But don't be alarmed, in any secretarial sense. I assure you I have an appointment."
He jumped from the wall and alighted on the turf beside her, but without in any way disturbing the flow of his remarks.
"Yes; it is really true that I am summoned to quite a family council; an inquiry into the possibility of rehabilitating my affairs. But, thank God, I can't be rehabilitated for another hour or so. While I am still in a completely criminal state of mind, I should rather like to have a talk with you."
She said nothing but gazed at the distant line of rather grotesque palm-trees planted as a frontier in the garden and felt returning upon her that irrational sense that this place had always been rather romantic, in spite of the people who lived in it.
"I suppose you know," said Alan Nadoway, "that my father flew into a frightful rage with me when I was only eighteen, and flung me bodily all the way to Australia. Looking back on it now, I can see that there was something to be said for his business standards in the matter. I had given one of my boon companions a handful of money which I really regarded as my own, but which my father regarded rigidly as belonging to the firm. From his point of view, it was stealing. But I didn't really know much about stealing then, compared with the close and conscientious study I have given to it since. But what I want to tell you is what happened to me on my way back from Australia."
"Wouldn't your family like to hear about it?" she could not help asking, with a touch of experimental irony.
"I dare say they would," he said. "But I am not sure they'd understand the story, even if they did hear it." Then after a brief reflective silence he said: "You see, my story is too simple to be understood. Too simple to be believed. It sounds exactly like a parable; that is, it sounds like a fable and not a fact. There's my brother Norman now-he's a sincere man and very serious. He reads the parables in the New Testament every Sunday. But he could hardly believe in anything so simple as one of those parables, if it happened in real life."
"Do you mean that you are the Prodigal Son?" she asked, "and he is the Elder Brother?"
"Rather hard if the Australians had to be the Swine," said Alan Nadoway. "But I don't mean that at all. On the one hand, it underrates the magnanimity of my brother Norman. On the other hand, it perhaps slightly exaggerates the leaping and ecstatic hospitality of my father."
She could not repress a smile, but, filled with the loftiest secretarial traditions, refrained from comment.
"No; what I mean," he said, "is that stories told in that simple way, for the sake of illustration, always sound as if they weren't true. It's just the same with the parables of political economy. Norman has read a lot of political economy too, if you come to that. He must often have read those textbooks that begin with the statement: 'There is a man on an island.' Somehow the student or the schoolboy always feels inclined to say there never was any man on any island. All the same, there was."
She began to feel a little bewildered. "Was what?" she asked.
"There was me," said Alan. "You can't believe this story because there's a desert island in it. It's like telling a story with a dragon in it. All the same, there's a moral to the dragon."
"Do you mean," she asked, growing rather impatient, "that you have been on a desert island?"
"Yes, and on one or two other odd things. But the extraordinary thing was that everything was all right till I came to an inhabited island. Well, I spent several years, to start with, in a pretty uninhabited part of a more or less inhabited island. I mean, of course, the one marked on the map as Australia. I was trying to farm in a very remote part of the bush, till a run of bad luck forced me to crawl as best I could back to the towns. I was going to say back to civilization, but that sounds odd, if you know the towns. By the final stroke of luck my transport animals fell sick and died in a wilderness and I was left as if I had been on the other side of the moon. Nobody in these historical countries, of course, has an idea of what the earth is like, or how a great lot of it might just as well be the moon. There seemed no more chance of getting across those infinities of futile soil patched with wattle, than of persuading a comet that had knocked you into space to take you back home again. I trudged along quite senselessly, till I saw something like a tall blue bush that wasn't one of the monotonous mass of blue-grey bushes, and I saw it was smoke. It's a good proverb, by God, that where there's smoke there's fire. It's a greater proverb, and one too near to God to be written often, that where there's fire there's man, and nobody knows which is the greater miracle.
"Well, I found somebody; he wasn't anybody in particular; I dare say you would have found all sorts of deficiencies in him if he'd been in the village or the club. But he was a magician all right; to me he had powers not given to beast or bird or tree, and he gave me some cooked food and set me on the right road to a settlement. At the settlement, a little outpost in the wilds, it was the same. They didn't do much for me; they couldn't; but they did something and didn't think it particularly unusual to be asked. The long and short of it was that I got to a seaport at last and managed to make a bargain to work my passage with the master of a small craft. He wasn't a particularly nice man and I wasn't particularly comfortable, but it was not suicide but a sea-wave that swept me off suddenly one night, early enough to be seen and raise the cry of 'Man overboard!' That nasty little boat, with its still more nasty little captain, coasted about for four hours trying to pick me up, but it couldn't be done, and I was eventually picked up by a sort of native canoe, rowed by a sort of half-native lunatic who really and truly lived on a desert island. I hailed him as I had just been vainly hailing the ship, and he gave me brandy and shelter and the rest of it, as a matter of course. He was quite a character, a white man, or whitish man, who had gone fantee and wore nothing but a pair of spectacles and worshipped a god of his own he had made out of an old umbrella. But he didn't think it odd that I should ask him for help, and in his own way he gave it. Then came the day when we sighted a ship, very far out, but passing the island, and I hailed and hailed and waved long sheets and towels and lit flares and all the rest. And eventually the ship did alter her course and touched at the island to take us off; everybody was pretty dry and official, but they did it as a regular matter of duty. And all this time, and especially on that last stretch of homeward voyage, I was singing to myself a song as old as the world: Coelum non animam-"By the waters of Babylon"-or, in other words, of all things the worst is exile, and it will be well with a man in his own home. After all my wild hairbreadth escapes I stepped on to the dock in Liverpool, as a schoolboy enters his father's house on the first day of the Christmas holidays. I had forgotten that I had practically no money, and I asked a man to give or lend me some. I was immediately arrested for begging and began my career as a criminal by sleeping in jail.
"Now I suppose you see the point of the economic parable. I had been in the ends of the earth, and among the scum of the earth; I had been among all sorts of ragamuffins who had very little to give and were often quite unwilling to give it. I had waved to passing ships and hallooed to passing travellers and doubtless been heartily cursed for doing so. But nobody ever thought it odd that I should ask for the help. Nobody certainly thought it criminal that I should shriek at a ship when I was drowning, or crawl towards a camp-fire when I was dying. In all those wild seas and waste places people did assume that they had to rescue the drowning and the dying. I was never actually punished for being in want till I came to a civilized city. I was never called a criminal for asking for sympathy, till I returned to my own home.
"Well, if you have understood that parable of the New Prodigal Son, you may possibly understand why he thinks he found the Swine when he came home; a lot more Swine than Fatted Calves. The rest of the story consisted largely of assaults on the police, breaking and entering various premises and all the rest. My family has at last woken up to the fact that I might be reclaimed or my position regularized; chiefly, I imagine-in the case of some of them at least-because people like yourself and your aunt having been let into the secret is liable to be socially awkward. Anyhow, we are to meet here this afternoon and form a committee for turning me into a respectable character. But I don't think they quite realize the job they've taken on. I don't think they quite know what happens inside people like me; and it's because I rather want you to understand it, before they begin jabbering, that I've told you what I call the parable of the exile. Always remember that as long as he was among strangers, not to say scoundrels, he had a chance."
They had been sitting on a garden seat during the conversation and Millicent rose from it, as she saw the black-clad group of the father and brothers approaching across the lawn.
Alan Nadoway remained seated with somewhat ostentatious languor, and its significance was sharpened when she realized that old Jacob Nadoway was walking well ahead of the others and that his brows were black as a thunderstorm in the sunshine. It was instantly apparent that something new and nasty had occurred.
"Perhaps it would be affectation to inform you," said the father with heavy bitterness, "that there has been another burglary in the neighbourhood."
"Another?" said Alan, raising his eyebrows. "That, when you come to think of it, is a rather curious word. And what is the other?"
"Mrs. Mowbray," said the father sternly, "went over yesterday to visit her friend, Lady Crayle. She was naturally disturbed about what had happened in our own house, and it seems that something happened about an hour earlier at the Crayles."
"What did they lift off the Crayles?" asked the young man, with patient interest. "How did they know there was a burglary?"
"The burglar was surprised and bolted," said Jacob Nadoway. "Unfortunately, he dropped something and left it behind in the haste of his flight."
"Unfortunately!" repeated Alan with an air of being mildly and conventionally shocked. "Unfortunately for whom?"
"Unfortunately for you," said his father. There was a painful silence and John Nadoway broke into it in his blundering but unconquerably good-humoured way.
"Look here, Alan," he said. "If anybody is going to help you, these sort of games have got to stop. We could pass it off as a practical joke of a sort, when you did it to us, but even then you frightened Miss Milton, and Mrs. Mowbray is all up in the air. But how the devil are we to keep you out of the police-court if you break into the neighbours' houses and leave your cigar-case with a card inside?"
"Careless-careless," said Alan in a vexed tone, rising with his hands in his pockets. "You must remember I am only at the beginning of my career as a burglar."
"You are at the end of your career as a burglar," said old Nadoway, "or else at the beginning of your career as a convict for five years in Dartmoor. With that case and card, Lady Crayle can convict you, and will if I give the word. I've only come here to offer you a last chance, when you've thrown away a thousand chances. Drop this thieving business, here and now, and I'll find you a job. Take it or leave it."
"Your father and I," said Norman Nadoway, in his detached and delicate accent, "have not always agreed about the treatment of hard cases. But he is obviously justified in this, I have a great deal of sympathy with you in many ways, but it is one thing to forgive a man thieving when he may be starving-it is quite another to forgive him, when he would rather go on starving, if only he may go on thieving."
"That's the point," assented the stolid John in fraternal admiration. "We're willing to recognize a brother who isn't any longer a burglar. The only other thing we could recognize would be a burglar who isn't any longer a brother. Are you just Alan, to whom father's ready to give a job, or a fellow out of the street whom we have simply to hand over to the police? But, by God, you can't be both."
Alan's eyes roamed round the family house and garden and rested for a moment on Millicent, with a certain expression of pathos. Then he sat down on the garden seat again, with his elbows on his knees and buried his head in his hands as if he were wrestling in prayer, or at least in perplexity of spirit. The three other men stood watching him with an awkward rigidity.
At last he threw up his head again, flinging back his black, plume-like locks, and they all saw instantly that his pale face had a new expression.
"Well," said old Jacob, not without a new note of appeal, "won't you give up all this blackguard burglary business?"
Alan Nadoway rose. "Yes, father," he said gravely. "Now I come to look at it seriously, I see you have a right to my promise. I will give up the burglary business."
"Thank God for that," said his brother Norman, his hard delicate voice shaken for the first time. "I'm not going to moralize now, but you'll find there is one thing about any other job you get; it will be one in which a man need not hide."
"After all, it's a rotten job, burglary," said John with his jerky attempt at joviality and general reconciliation. "Must be a perfect nightmare always getting into the wrong house at the wrong end, something like putting on your trousers upside down. It'll pay you better really, and you'll get peace of mind."
"Yes," said Alan thoughtfully; "all that you say is true, and there is a sort of hampering complication about the life; learning the whereabouts of treasures and so on. No, I am going to turn over a new leaf. I am going to reform and go into a different line of life altogether. A simpler, more straightforward line. I am told that picking pockets is much more lucrative nowadays."
He continued to gaze thoughtfully at the distant palms, but all the other faces were turned towards him with an incredulous stare.
"A friend of mine down Lambeth way," said Alan, "does most frightfully well with people coming out of tube stations and so on. Of course, they're much poorer than the people who own all these safes and jewels and things, but then there are a lot of them, and it's wonderful what you can collect by the end of the day. My friend got fifteen shillings in sixpences and coppers off people coming out of the cinema, but then he's awfully nifty with his fingers. I reckon I can learn the knack."
There was a startled silence and then Norman said in a controlled voice: "It would be of some importance to me to know that this is a joke. I will risk my reputation for humour."
"Joke," said Alan, with an absent-minded air. "Joke.... Oh, no, it isn't a joke. It's a job. And a jolly sight better job than any my father will offer me."
"Then you can follow it to jail!" said the old man, and his voice rang out in the garden like a gun announcing sunset. "Clear out of this place in three minutes and I will not call the policeman down the road."
And with that he turned his back and strode away followed by his other sons, and Alan remained standing alone by the garden seat, and he might have been a statue in the garden.
The garden indeed had grown more still, and in a manner grey and statuesque, with the creeping advance of twilight, and something of its too florid character was veiled by dusk and damp vapours beginning to rise from the surrounding meadows, though overhead the sky was clear and beginning to show the points of stars in the general greyness. The points brightened and the dusk sank deeper and deeper, and it did not seem for the moment that the two human statues left in the garden would move. Then the woman moved very swiftly, walking straight across the lawn to where the man stood by the garden seat, and in that greater gravity and stillness he became conscious of the last incongruity. Her face, which was commonly very grave, was puckered with derision, like that of an elf.
"Well," she said, "you've done it now."
"If you mean," he answered, "that I've done for my prospects here, I never thought I had any."
"No, I don't mean that," she said. "When I say you've done it, I mean you've overdone it."
"Overdone what?" he asked in the same stony style.
"Overdone the lie," she said, smiling steadily. "Overdressed the part, if you like. I don't understand what it all means, but it doesn't mean what it says, certainly not what you say. I could bring myself to believe that you were a burglar and broke into rich houses. But when you say you're a pickpocket who pinches sixpences off poor people coming out of the pictures, I simply know you're not, and there's an end of it. It's the last finishing touch that spoils a work of art."
"What do you suppose I am?" he asked harshly.
"Well, won't you tell me?" she inquired with a certain brightness.
After a strained silence he said with a curious intonation, "I would do anything for you."
"Well," she answered, "everybody knows that the curse of my sex is curiosity."
He buried his head in his hands and after a silence said with a great groan: "Amor Vincit Omnia."
A moment or two later he lifted his head again and began to talk, and her eyes grew starry with astonishment as she stood and listened under the stars.
IV: The Problems of Detective Price
MR. PETER PRICE, the private inquiry agent, did not glow with that historic appreciation of the type known as the English Lady which was such a credit to the heads and hearts of Mr. Geoffrey Chaucer and Mr. Alan Nadoway. The English Lady is a jewel of many facets, or even a flower including some botanical variations. And Mr. Price had seen, on many occasions, that face of the goddess which is turned upon foreign waiters, discontented cabmen, people who want windows shut or open at inappropriate times, and other manifest enemies of human society. And he was just recovering from an interview with a very pronounced specimen of the type, a certain Mrs. Milton-Mowbray, who had talked to him in clear and decisive tones for about three-quarters of an hour, without telling him anything of which he could make any sort of sense.
So far as he could piece it out from his notes, it was something like this. She was sure there had been a burglary in Mr. Nadoway's house, where she and her niece were staying, and that they were keeping it from her, so that she might not find out she had been robbed. She was sure the burglary was at the Nadoways' house, because property belonging to young Mr. Nadoway had been found after a burglary at another house. The other house was Lady Crayle's house, and the burglar must have gone there from the Nadoways, taking the Nadoway things with him and then dropping them in his flight. As a matter of fact, he must have dropped something at the Nadoways too, as she was sure her niece had picked up a sort of brooch thing, that nobody had seen before. But her niece wouldn't say anything about it; they were all keeping things from her-that is, from the indignant Mrs. Milton-Mowbray.
"He seems to be rather a careless burglar," Mr. Price had said, looking at the ceiling, "and not what you might call fortunate in his profession. First he steals something from somebody and leaves it at Mr. Nadoway's. Then he steals something from Mr. Nadoway and leaves it at Lady Crayle's. Did he actually steal anything from Lady Crayle? And at whose house did he leave that?"
He was a short, fat, baldish man whose features seemed to fold in on themselves so that it was impossible to say for certain whether he smiled, but the lady at any rate was neither of the temper nor in the mood to search his face for irony.
"That," she said triumphantly, "is just what I say! Nobody will tell me. Everybody is perfectly vague. Even Lady Crayle is vague. She says she supposes it must have been a burglary, or why should the man run away? And the Nadoways are vaguer still. I've told them again and again they needn't consider my feelings, I'm not going to faint, even if I have been robbed. But I really think I have a right to know."
"Perhaps it would assist them a little," said the private detective, "if you first of all told them whether you had been robbed. You see, this seems to me a rather puzzling business in a good many ways, but what I'm trying to get at is what has been taken from whom. We'll grant, for the sake of argument, that there were two robberies. And we'll grant, for the sake of argument, that there was only one robber. It's presumed he was a robber, because he leaves about in other people's houses, things you think cannot have belonged to him. But none of these things, so far as I understand, belonged to any of the people he was then in the act of robbing. None of these things, for instance, belonged to you."
"How can I tell?" she said with a sweeping gesture of agnosticism. "Nobody will tell me the truth. I am--"
"My dear madam," said Mr. Price with belated firmness, "you cannot require anybody to tell you the truth about yourself. Have you lost anything yourself? Have you missed anything yourself? For that matter, has Lady Crayle missed anything herself?"
"Lady Crayle wouldn't know whether she'd missed anything or not," said Mrs. Mowbray with sudden acrimony. "She's the very vaguest of the lot."
"I see," said Mr. Price, nodding thoughtfully. "Lady Crayle wouldn't know whether she'd missed anything or not. And I rather gather that you yourself are in the same difficulty."
Then, before she could realize the affront sufficiently to reply he said rapidly: "I always thought Lady Crayle was supposed to be very capable, a great organizer and all that."
"Oh, she can organize meetings and movements and all that nonsense," said the Victorian lady scornfully. "Talk about her League Against Tobacco or her controversy about defining drugs, and she's all there. But she never notices anything that's lying about in her own house."
"Does she notice her husband, for instance?" inquired Mr. Price. "Is he left lying about in the house much? I always understood he was a very distinguished man in his day, and, of course, it's an awfully old family. I'm told Lord Crayle suffered badly when the Russian debt was beyond recovery, and I don't suppose his wife gets a salary for attacking tobacco. So they must be pretty poor, and would surely know whether they've lost anything of great value."
He was silent for a moment, ruminating and then said as suddenly as a pistol-shot: "What was it exactly they picked up after the burglar bolted?"
"I believe it was nothing but cigars," replied Mrs. Mowbray shortly. "A whole big case stuffed with them. But as it had a card of one of the Nadoways, we presume the burglar had stolen it from their house."
"Quite so," he answered. "And now about the other things he had stolen from their house. I am sure you understand that, if I am to help you, I must be excused for assuming a more or less confidential position. I gather that your niece has become the secretary of Mr. Jacob Nadoway. I think I may infer that her taking such a position implies to some extent the necessity of working for her living."
"I was against her going to work for such people at all," said Mrs. Mowbray. "But when all these Socialistic Governments have taken away all our money, what can we do?"
"I know-I know," said the detective, nodding in an almost dreamy fashion; his eyes were again fixed on the ceiling and he seemed to be following a train of thought thousands of miles away. At last he said: "We sometimes see these things in pictures that are quite impersonal. No personalities are intended. Let us suppose we are talking about nobody in particular. But the picture I see is that of a girl who once knew all about luxury and pretty things, who has accepted a duller and plainer life because there is nothing else to be done, and who earns her salary from a rather mean old man without expecting anything like a windfall. And then there's another curious picture. A man who's been an ordinary man of the world but driven to live the simple life, partly by poverty and partly by having a Puritanical wife with a fad against all his old luxuries and especially against tobacco. . . . Does that suggest anything to you?"
"No, it doesn't," said Mrs. Mowbray, rising and rustling. "I consider all this most unsatisfactory, and I don't know what you're talking about."
"He was really a very absent-minded housebreaker," said the detective. "If he had known what he was about, he would have dropped two brooches."
Ten minutes later Mrs. Mowbray had shaken the dust of the very dusty detective office off her feet and gone on to pour out her woes elsewhere; and Mr. Peter Price went to the telephone with a smile that he seemed to be hiding even from himself. He rang up a certain friend of his in the official police department, and their conversation was long and detailed. It largely concerned the prevalence of petty crime, especially larceny, in some of the very poorest districts of London. And yet, oddly enough, Mr. Price added the notes of this telephone conversation to his notes of the conversation with the aristocratic Mrs. Milton-Mowbray.
Then he once more leaned back in his chair and remained staring at the ceiling, plunged in profound thought and with an almost Napoleonic expression, for, after all, Napoleon also was short and in his later years fat, and in Mr. Peter Price also it is possible that there was more than met the eye.
The truth was that Mr. Peter Price was awaiting another arrival, in accordance with another appointment. The two were not unconnected, though it would have surprised Mrs. Mowbray very much if she had seen a figure so familiar as that of Mr. John Nadoway, of Nadoway and Son, enter the detective's office so soon after she had left. But many years before, the Junior Partner had been put to considerable difficulties in covering up some of the early exploits of the Senior Partner. Long after the elder Nadoway had become rich, and the younger Nadoway had so tardily decided that he should also become respectable, there were old scandals trailing behind the business like a tradition of blackmail, and malcontents whom it was still rather difficult to quash. Young John Nadoway had betaken himself to the private agency and practical experience of Mr. Price, who had paid off or scared off the malcontents so successfully that the new reputation of Nadoways was fairly secure. To Mr. Price, therefore, young Nadoway once more betook himself, when faced with a family scandal on a far more ghastly and gigantic scale.
For Alan Nadoway, no longer acting anonymously or even like a thief in the night, but announcing his name even more plainly than when he left his visiting-card, had declared that it was his intention to pick pockets for a living in the neighbourhood of Lambeth; and that if he were put into the dock and the police news, it would not be under an alias. In the curious communication he had sent his brother, he gravely declared that while there was obviously nothing morally wrong about picking pockets, he could not reconcile it with his conscience (perhaps, he admitted, a too sensitive conscience) to deceive a kind policeman by giving a false name. He had tried three times, he pathetically declared, to call himself Nogglewop and in each case his voice had failed through emotion.
It was three or four days after the receipt of this letter that the thunderbolt fell. The Name of Nadoway, the subject of so many strivings, blazed in black and white in the headlines of all the evening papers; in a very different manner from that in which it blazed from so many of the parallel advertisements. Alan Nadoway, announcing himself as the eldest son of Sir Jacob Nadoway (for such was already the father's title), appeared in the police court, charged with picking pockets not only once but regularly and successfully for several weeks.
The situation was the more sensationally insulting or exasperating, because the thief had not only robbed the poor in a most heartless and cynical fashion, but had selected the poor of the very district where his brother, the Rev. Norman Nadoway, had recently become a charitable and popular parish priest, abounding in every kind of good works.
"It seems incredible," said John Nadoway with heavy emphasis, "that any man could be so wicked."
"Yes," said Peter Price, a little sleepily; "it seems incredible." Then he got up with his hands in his pockets and looked out of the window and remarked: "You know, when you come to think of it, that's just the word for it. It seems incredible."
"And yet it's happened," said John with a groan.
Peter Price was silent so long that John suddenly jumped up as a man might on hearing a noise. "What the devil is the matter with you?" he asked. "Isn't it quite certain that it has happened?"
Price nodded and answered: "If you say it has happened, yes, I am quite certain. But if you ask what has happened, I am not certain at all. Only I begin to have a large general sort of suspicion."
Then after another silence he said abruptly: "Look here, I won't risk raising hopes or suspicions yet, but if you'll let me see the solicitor who's arranging the defence of your brother, I rather think I might have something to suggest to him."
John Nadoway left the offices of the detective with a slow gait and a puzzled expression, which he continued to wear all the way down to his country house, which he reached that evening, driving his own car with his usual competence, but without any shedding of his unusual perplexity and gloom. Everything had grown so puzzling, as well as so painful, that he found himself forced against the edges of existence, in a manner rare in the experience of men of his type. He would have said in all simplicity that he was not a thinker, and he would have seen nothing unnatural in the notion of a man walking through life to death, without stopping anywhere to think. But everything, down to the demeanour of that practical little private detective, was so damned mysterious. Even the dark trees before his father's house seemed to stand up in serpentine shapes like enormous notes of interrogation. The stars looked like those other stars called asterisks, which stand in the suppressed passages of a puzzle or a cipher. And the single window lighted in the dark bulk of the house was like a leering eye. He knew only too well that a cloud of shame and doom was on that house, like a thunder-cloud about to burst. It was the sort of doom he had tried to avert all his life, and now it had come he could hardly even pretend it was not deserved.
In the shadow of the veranda, with a sort of silent shock, he came upon Millicent, sitting in a garden chair and gazing out into the dark. And in all that black and tragic house of riddles, perhaps her face was the darkest and most inscrutable riddle, for it was happy.
As she gazed, indeed, and became conscious of the sturdy figure of the businessman blackening the faint shimmer of light on the lawn, a sort of misty change came across her eyes, that was not pain but had in it something of pathos. She felt a sort of sad friendship go out in a sympathetic wave towards this strong, successful and unfortunate man-as towards something deaf or blind. She could not analyse the softening, which was also a severing, until she remembered that she had nearly been in love with him when he was a boy in that garden. She did not know why she should feel so sharply and almost tragically that she was not in love with him now. That she could never, never, be in love with that kind of man now. That kind of man-well, he was the kind of thoroughly good man who thought that telling the truth was as right as cleaning the teeth. It would be like loving somebody quite flat-only in two dimensions.
For she felt that in herself a depth had opened like a new dimension, full of topsy-turvy stars and the inverted infinities of Einstein. She hardly looked into that abyss behind her, she hardly took in the positive novelty, but only the sharp negative, that she was not in love with John Nadoway.
All the more her cold compassion went out to him, without shyness, as to a brother. "I am so sorry," she cried, "for all you must be suffering just now. It must seem so dreadful to you."
"Thank you," he said, not without emotion. "We are having a trying time, of course-and sympathy from old friends does not hurt."
"I know how good you have been," she said, "and how hard you worked to keep off anything like discredit. And this must seem to you so discreditable."
The repetition of the one word "seem" at last penetrated his solid mind as a little queer.
"I'm afraid it doesn't only seem so," he said, "a Nadoway picking pockets is about the worst one could imagine."
"That is it," she said, nodding rather strangely. "Through the worst one could imagine comes the best one could not imagine."
"I'm afraid I don't follow," said the Junior Partner.
"You go through the worst to the best, as you go through the west to the east," she said, "and there really is a place, at the back of the world, where the east and the west are one. Can't you feel there is something so frightfully and frantically good that it must seem bad?"
He stared at her blankly, and she went on as if thinking aloud.
"A blaze in the sky makes a blot on the eyesight. And after all," she added, almost in a whisper, "the sun was blotted out, because one man was too good to live."
The Junior Partner resumed his plodding march with the new addition to his list of worries; that among the inmates of the house, was a lady who was a lunatic.
V: The Theif of Trial
THERE was an extraordinary amount of fuss and delay about the hearing of the case of Alan Nadoway, considering that it was merely the trial of a common pickpocket. First of all, it was repeated everywhere, apparently on good authority, that the prisoner was going to plead Guilty. Then came all sorts of commotion in his original social circle, and a series of privileged interviews between the prisoner and members of his family. But it was not until his father, old Sir Jacob Nadoway, had sent his private secretary to the prison, apparently to conduct unprecedentedly long interviews with the prisoner, that the news went round that he was pleading Not Guilty after all. Then there was the same sort of rumour and dispute about his choice of a counsel, and finally it was announced that he had insisted on conducting his own defence.
He had been committed for trial after purely formal evidence, and in his earlier stages of silence and surrender. It was before a judge and jury that the case against him was fully opened, and the prosecuting counsel opened it in tones of stern regret. The prisoner was unfortunately the son of a great and distinguished family, the blot on the escutcheon of a noble, a generous and a philanthropic house. All were acquainted with the great reforms in the conditions of employment which would always be associated with the name of his elder brother, Mr. John Nadoway. Many who could not approve the ritualistic practices, or submit their intellects to the ecclesiastical dogmas upheld by his other brother, the Rev. Norman Nadoway, had none the less respect for the solid social work and active charity of that clergyman among the poor. But, however it might be in other countries, the English law was no respecter of persons and was bound to follow crime even to its most respectable retreats. This unfortunate man, Alan Nadoway, had always been a ne'er-do-well and a burden and disgrace to his family. He had been suspected, and indeed convicted, of attempts at burglary in the houses of his family and friends.
Here the judge intervened, saying: "That is a most improper remark. I find nothing about burglary in the indictment on which the prisoner is being tried." On this the prisoner remarked in a cheerful voice: "I don't mind, my lord." But nobody took the least notice of him, in the presence of a really improper legal procedure, and the judge and the barrister continued to look at each other with lugubrious countenances, until the barrister apologized and resumed. In any case, he said, there could be little doubt upon the charge of petty larceny, in face of the witnesses whom he intended to put in the box.
Police-constable Brindle was sworn and gave his evidence in one long rippling monotone, without any apparent punctuation, as if it were not only all one sentence but all one word.
"Acting on information received I followed the prisoner from the house of the Rev. Norman Nadoway towards the Yperion Cinema Theatre at about a hundred yards distant I saw the prisoner put his hand in the overcoat pocket of a man standing under a lamp-post after warning the man to examine his pockets I followed the prisoner who had joined the crowd outside the theatre a man in the crowd turned round and accused the prisoner of picking his pockets he offered to fight the prisoner and I came up to stop the fight I said do you charge this man and he said yes the prisoner said suppose I charge him with assault while I was questioning the other man the prisoner ran on and put his hand in the tail-coat pocket of a man in the queue. I then told this man to examine his pockets and took the prisoner into custody."
"Do you wish to cross-examine this witness?" asked the judge.
"I am sure your lordship will pardon me in the circumstances," said the prisoner, "If I am not well acquainted with the forms of this court. But may I at this stage ask whether the prosecution is going to call these three persons whom I am supposed to have robbed?"
"I have no objection to stating," said the prosecuting counsel, "that we are calling Harry Hamble, bookmaker's clerk, the man who is said to have threatened to fight the prisoner, and Isidor Green, music-teacher, the last man robbed by the prisoner before his arrest."
"And what about the first man?" asked the prisoner. "Why isn't he being called?"
"As a matter of fact, my lord," said the counsel, "the police have been unable to discover his name and address."
"May I ask the witness," said Alan Nadoway, "how this curious state of things came about?"
"Well," said the constable, "the fact is that as soon as I'd turned my back on him for a minute, he was gone."
"Do you mean to say," asked Nadoway, "that you told a man he was the victim of theft and might recover his money, and he instantly bolted without leaving his name, as if he were a thief himself?"
"Well, I don't understand it, and that's flat," said the policeman.
"Under your lordship's indulgence," said the prisoner, "there is another point. While two names figure as witnesses, only one name, that of Mr. Hamble, appears as prosecuting. It looks as if there was something vague about the third witness, too. Did you think so, constable?"
Outside the inhuman hurdy-gurdy of his official evidence, the policeman was a human being and capable of being amused.
"Well, I must say he was vague enough," he admitted with a faint grin. "He's one of these artistic musical chaps, and his notions of counting money is something chronic. I told him to look if he'd lost any and he added it up six times. And sometimes it was 2s. 8d. and sometimes it was 3s. 4d. and sometimes it got as far as 4s. So we thought he wasn't quite enough on the spot...."
"This is most irregular," said the judge. "I understand that the witness, Isidor Green, is to give his own evidence later. The prosecution had better begin calling their witnesses as soon as possible."
Mr. Harry Hamble wore a very sporting tie and that expression of demure joviality which is seen in those who value their respectability even in the Saloon Bar. He was not incapable, however, of hearty outbursts, and he admitted that he had punched the head of the fellow who tried to pick his pocket. In answer to the prosecution, he told the story very much as the policeman had done, not without a gentle exaggeration of his own pugnacity. In answer to the prisoner, he admitted that he had immediately adjourned to the Pig and Whistle at the corner.
The prosecuting counsel, springing up with theatrical indignation, demanded the meaning of this insinuation.
"I imagine," said the judge somewhat severely, "that the prisoner implies that the witness did not know exactly what he had lost."
"Yes," said Alan Nadoway, and there was something odd and arresting in the roll of his deep voice; "I do mean to imply that he did not know exactly what he had lost."
Then, turning to the witness, he said briskly: "Did you go to the Pig and Whistle and stand drinks all round, in a regular festive style?"
"My lord," exploded the prosecuting counsel, "I must emphatically protest against the prisoner wantonly aspersing the character of the witness."
"Aspersing his character! Why, I am glorifying his character!" cried Nadoway warmly. "I am exalting and almost deifying his character! I am pointing out that he exercised on a noble scale the ancient virtue of hospitality. If I say you give very good dinners, am I aspersing your character? If you ask six other barristers to lunch, and do them well, do you conceal it like a crime? Are you ashamed of your handsome hospitality, Mr. Hamble? Are you a miser and a man-hater?"
"Oh, no, sir," said Mr. Hamble, who appeared slightly dazed.
"Are you an enemy of the human race, Mr. Hamble?"
"Well, no, sir," said Mr. Hamble, almost modestly. "No, certainly not, sir," he added more firmly.
"You always, I take it," went on the prisoner, "feel friendly to your fellow-creatures, and especially your chosen companions. You would always do them a good turn or stand them a drink, if you could."
"I hope so, sir," said the virtuous bookmaker.
"You do not always do it, of course," went on Alan smoothly, "because you are not always in a position to do so. Why did you do so on this occasion?"
"Well," admitted Mr. Hamble, a little puzzled, "I suppose I must have been rather flush that evening."
"Immediately after being robbed?" said Nadoway. "Thank you, that is all I want to ask."
Mr. Isidor Green, professional teacher of the violin, with long, stringy hair and a coat faded to bottle-green, was certainly as vague as the policeman had represented him. During the examination in chief, he got through well enough by saying that he certainly had a sort of feeling as if his pockets were being rifled; but even under Nadoway's comparatively gentle and sympathetic cross examination he became extraordinarily hazy. It seemed that he had eventually, with the assistance of two or three friends of superlative mathematical talent, reached the firm conclusion that he still possessed 4s. 7d. after he had been robbed. But the light thus thrown upon the robbery was a little dimmed by the fact that he had then realized, for the first time, that he had never had any notion of what he possessed before he was robbed.
"My thoughts are considerably concentrated on my artistic work," he said, with not a little dignity. "It is possible that my wife might know."
"An admirable idea, Mr. Green," said Alan Nadoway heartily. "As a matter of fact, I am calling your wife as a witness for the defence."
Everybody stared, but it was plain that Nadoway was serious, and with a gravity tinged with courtliness he proceeded to summon his own witnesses, who actually were no other than the two wives of the two witnesses for the prosecution.
The wife of the violinist was a straightforward and, save for one point, a simple bearer of testimony. She was a solid, jolly looking woman, like a superior cook; probably just the right woman to look after the unmathematical Mr. Green. She said in a comfortable voice that she knew all about Isidor's money-what there was of it; that he was a good husband with no extravagant tastes and had certainly had 2s. 8d. in his pocket that afternoon.
"In that case, Mrs. Green," said Alan, "it would seem that your husband's taste in mathematical friends is as eccentric as his taste in mathematics. He and his friends finally added it up and brought it out as 4s. 7d."
"Well, he's a genius," she said with some pride. "He could bring out anythink as anythink."
Mrs. Harry Hamble was a very different type; and, by comparison with Mr. Harry Hamble, a somewhat depressing one. She had the long, sallow features and sour mouth not unknown in the wives of those who find refuge in the Pig and Whistle. Asked by Nadoway whether the date in question counted for anything in her domestic memories, she answered grimly: "It orter 'ave if 'e'd told me. 'E must 'ave 'ad a raise in wages and not told me."
"I understand," Nadoway asked, "that he treated several of his friends to drinks that afternoon?"
"Treated!" cried the amiable lady, in a withering voice. "Treated to drinks! Cadged for drinks, more likely! 'E got all the drinks 'e could for nothink, I daresay. But 'e didn't pay for nobody else's."
"And how do you know that?" asked the prisoner.
"'Cos he brought back his usual wages and a bit more," said Mrs. Hamble, as if this alone were a sufficient grievance.
"This is all very puzzling," said the judge and leaned back in his chair.
"I think I can explain it," said Alan Nadoway, "if your lordship will allow me to go into the box for two minutes, before I wind up for the defence."
There was no official difficulty, of course, about the prisoner appearing in both capacities.
Alan Nadoway took the oath and stood gazing at the prosecuting counsel with gloomy composure.
"Do you deny," asked the barrister, "that you were caught by the policeman with your hand in the pockets of these people?"
"No," said Nadoway, mournfully shaking his head. "Oh, no."
"This is very extraordinary," said the examiner. "I understood that you were pleading Not Guilty."
"Yes," said Nadoway sadly. "Oh, yes."
"What on earth does all this mean?" said the judge in sudden irritation.
"My lord," said Alan Nadoway, "I can put it all straight in five words. Only in this court one can't put things straight; one has to do what you call prove them. Well, it's all simple enough. I did put my hands in their pockets. Only I put money in their pockets, instead of taking it out. And if you look at it, you'll see that explains everything."
"But why in the world should you do such a crazy thing?" asked the judge.
"Ah," said Nadoway; "I'm afraid that would take longer to explain, and perhaps this isn't the best place to explain it."
The explanation of the practical problem was indeed set forth in further detail, in the final speech which the prisoner made in his own defence. He pointed out the obvious solution of the first problem; the abrupt disappearance of the first victim. He, that nameless economist, was a much shrewder person than the festive Mr. Hamble or the artistic Mr. Green. One glance at his pockets had shown him that he had got somebody else's money in addition to his own. A dark familiarity with the police led him to doubt strongly whether he would ultimately be allowed to keep it. He had therefore vanished with the presence of mind of a magician or a fairy. Mr. Hamble, in a hazier state of conviviality, had been mildly surprised at finding more and more pocket-money flowing from his pockets, and, to his everlasting credit, had dedicated it largely to the entertainment of his friends. But even after that, there was a little more than his normal salary left, to raise sinister doubts in the mind of his wife. Lastly, incredible as it may seem, Mr. Green and his friends did eventually arrive at a correct calculation of the number of coins in his pocket. And if it was in excess of his wife's estimate, it was for the simple reason that more coins had been added, since she sent him out, carefully brushed and buttoned up, in the morning. Everything, in fact, supported the prisoner's strange contention-that he had filled pockets and not emptied them.
Amid a dazed silence, the judge could only find it possible to charge the jury to acquit, and the jury acquitted. But Mr. Alan Nadoway made a very rapid dart out of court, eluding journalists and friends and especially his family. For one thing, he had seen two pinch-faced men with spectacles, who looked as if they might be psychologists.
VI: The Cleansing of the Name
THE trial and acquittal of Alan Nadoway in a court of law was only an epilogue to the real drama. He would perhaps have said that it was only a harlequinade at the end of the fairy play. The real concluding scene and curtain had taken place on that green stage of "The Lawns", which Millicent, oddly enough, had always felt to be like a sort of stage scenery, stiff and yet extravagant, with the jagged outlines of the foreign plants like the jaws of sharks and the low line of bow windows like the motor-goggles of a monster. With all its grotesqueness there had always mingled in her mind something almost operatic and yet genuine; something of real sentiment or passion that there was in the Victorian nineteenth century, despite all that is said of Victorian primness and restraint. It was that essentially innocent, that faulty but not cynical thing, the Romantic Movement. The man standing before her, with his quaint and foreign half-beard, had about him something indescribable that belonged to Alfred de Musset or to Chopin. She did not know in what sort of harmony these fanciful thoughts were mingling, but she knew that the music was like an old tune.
She had just said the words: "I cannot bear the silence, because it is unjust. It is unjust to you."
And he had answered: "It is because it is unjust to me that it is just. That is the whole story; though I suppose you would call it a strange story."
"I do not mind your talking in riddles," answered Millicent Milton steadily, "but I want you to understand something more. It is unjust to me."
After a silence he said in a low voice: "Yes; that is what has got me. That is what has broken me across. I've come up against something bigger than the whole plan I made for my life. Well, I suppose I shall have to tell you my story."
"I thought," she said with a faint smile, "that you had already told me your story."
"Yes," replied Alan; "I told you my story all right. All quite true, with nothing but the important things left out."
"Well," said Millicent, "I should certainly like to hear it with the important things put in."
"The difficulty is," he said, "that the important things can't be described. The words all go wrong when you describe such things. They were bigger than shipwrecks or desert islands, but they all happened inside my head."
After a silence he resumed, more slowly, like a man trying to find new words.
"When I was drowning in the Pacific, I think I had a Vision. I rose for the third time to the top of a great wave and I saw a Vision. I think that what I saw was Religion."
Something in the involuntary mental movements of the English Lady was halted and almost chilled. She felt faintly antagonistic to some associations, she hardly knew what. She was herself reverently, if rather vaguely, attached to a High Church tradition, but she only half realized the prejudice that had stirred in her. Men who come from the colonies and the ends of the earth, and say they have got religion, almost always mean that they have "found Jesus" or been to a revivalist meeting somewhere; and the whole thing seemed socially incongruous with his culture and hers. It was not in the least like Alfred de Musset.
With the uncanny clairvoyance of the mystic he seemed to seize on her passing doubt and said cheerfully: "Oh, I don't mean that I met a Baptist missionary. There are two kinds of missionaries: the right kind and the wrong kind, and they're both wrong. At least they're both wrong as to the thing I am thinking about. The stupid missionaries say the savages grovel in the mud before mud idols, and will all go to hell for idolatry unless they turn teetotallers and wear billycock hats. The intelligent missionaries say the savages have great possibilities and often quite a high moral code, which is quite true, but isn't the point. What they don't see is that very often the savages have really got hold of religion, and that lots of people with a high moral code don't know what religion means. They would run screaming with terror, if they got so much as a glimpse of Religion. It's an awful thing.
"I learnt something about it from the lunatic with whom I lived on the desert island. I told you he had practically gone mad, as well as gone native. But there was something to learn from him, that can't be learnt from ethical societies and popular preachers. The poor fellow had floated to shore by hanging on to a queer, old-fashioned umbrella, that happened to have the head carved in a grotesque face, and when he came raving out of his delirium, so far as he ever came out of it, he regarded the umbrella as the god that had saved him, and stuck it up in a sort of shrine and grovelled before it and offered it sacrifices. That's the point.... Sacrifices. When he was hungry he would burn some of his food before it. When he was thirsty, he would still pour out some of the native beer that he brewed. I believe he might have sacrificed me to his idol. I'm sure he would have sacrificed himself. I don't mean"-he spoke more slowly still and very thoughtfully-"I don't exactly mean that the cannibals are right, or human sacrifice or all that. They're wrong-if you come to think of it-they're really wrong, because people don't want to be eaten. But if I want to be sacrificed who is going to stop me? Nobody, not God himself, will stop me, if I want to suffer injustice. To forbid me to suffer injustice would be the greatest injustice of all."
"You are rather disconnected," she said, "but I begin to have a glimmering of what you mean. I presume you don't mean that you saw from the top of the wave the vision of the divine umbrella."
"And do you think," he asked, "that what I saw was a picture of angels playing harps out of the Family Bible? What I saw, so far as I can be said to have merely seen anything, was my father sitting at the head of the table, in some great dinner or directors' meeting, and perhaps everybody drinking his health in champagne, while he sat gravely smiling, with his glass of water beside him, because he is a strict temperance man. Oh, my God!"
"Well," said Millicent, the smile rising slowly to the surface again; "it certainly seems rather different from heaven and the harps."
"But I," went on Alan, "was lost like loose seaweed and sinking like a stone, to be forgotten in the slime under the sea."
"It was horribly hard," she said in a trembling voice.
To her surprise he answered with a rather jarring laugh. "Do you think I mean that I envied him?" he cried. "That would be a rum way of realizing religion. It was all the other way. From the top of the wave I looked down and saw him with a clear horror of pity. From the top of the wave I prayed, for one passionate instant, that my miserable death might avail to deliver him from that hell.
"Horrible hospitality, horrible courtesy, horrible compliments and congratulations, praise and publicity and popularity of the old firm, the old sound business traditions, and the sun of success high in heaven and glittering everywhere on one great ghastly whited sepulchre of human hypocrisy. And I knew that within, it was full of dead men's bones, of men who had died of drink or starvation or despair, in prisons and workhouses and asylums, because this hateful thing had ruined a hundred businesses to build one. Horrible robbery, horrible tyranny, horrible triumph. And most horrible of all, to add to all the horrors, that I loved my father.
"He had been good to me when I was little, and when he was poorer and simpler, and as a boy I began by making hero-worship of his success. The first great coloured advertisements were to me what coloured toy-books are to other children. They were a fairy tale, but, alas, the one fairy tale one could not continue to believe. So there I was, feeling what I felt and yet knowing what I knew. You have to love as I loved and hate as I hated, before you see afar off the thing called Religion, and the other name of it is Human Sacrifice."
"But surely," said Millicent, "things are ever so much better with the business now."
"Yes," he said, "things are better and that is what makes it worse. That is the worst of all."
He paused a moment and went on in a lower key: "Jack and Norman are good fellows, as good as they can be," he said; "they have done their best, but for what? Their best to make the best of it. To cover it up. To put a new coat of whitewash on the whited sepulchre. Things are to be forgotten, things are to be dropped out of conversation, things are to be thought better of-more charitably-after all it's an old story now. But that's nothing to do with what things are, in the world where things are, and always are; in the world of heaven and hell. Nobody has apologized. Nobody has confessed. Nobody has done penance. And in that moment, from the top of the wave, I cried to God that I might do penance, if it were only by dying in the sea. . . . Oh, don't you understand? Don't you understand how shallow all these moderns are, when they tell you there is no such thing as Atonement or Expiation, when that is the one thing for which the whole heart is sick before the sins of the world? The whole universe was wrong, while the lie of my father flourished like the green bay-tree. It was not respectability that could redeem it. It was religion, expiation, sacrifice, suffering. Somebody must be terribly good, to balance what was so bad. Somebody must be needlessly good, to weigh down the scales of that judgement. He was cruel and got credit for it. Somebody else must be kind and get no credit for it. Don't you understand?"
"Yes, I begin to understand," she said. "I think you are rather incredible."
"I swore in that moment," said Alan, "that I would be called everything that he ought to be called. I would have the name of a thief, because he deserved it. I would be despised and rejected and perhaps go to jail, because I chose after that fashion to be my father. Yes, I would inherit. I would be his heir."
He spoke the last words upon a note that shook her out of her statuesque stillness, and she came towards him with an unconscious movement, crying: "You are the most wonderful and amazing man in the world-to have done such a stupendously stupid thing."
He caught her as she came forward, with an abrupt and crushing compression of the hands, and then answered: "You are the most wonderful and amazing woman in the world, to have stopped me doing it."
"And that seems terrible, too," she said. "I don't want to feel that I smashed such a magnificent mad thing; perhaps I was wrong after all. But don't you think yourself it was getting impossible-in other ways."
He nodded gravely, continuing to gaze into her eyes, which no one now would have thought languid and proud. "You know the story from the inside by this time. I began as a burglar of the Santa Claus sort, breaking into houses and leaving presents in safes and cupboards. I was sorry for old Crayle, whose confounded prig of a wife would not let him smoke, so I chucked him some cigars. But I'm not sure even there I may not have done more harm than good. Then I thought I was only sorry for you. I should be sorry for anybody who was secretary in our family."
She laughed on a low and tremulous note. "And so you chucked me a silver clasp and chain to cheer me up."
"But in that case," he said, "the clasp caught and held."
"It also scratched my aunt a bit," she said. "And altogether, it did make complications, didn't it? And all that business of the poor people's pockets-well, somehow I couldn't help feeling it might get them as well as you into trouble."
"The poor people are always in trouble," he said gloomily. "They're all what you call known to the police. It was perfectly genuine, when I told you how it riles me that they aren't even allowed to beg, and that's why I started giving them alms before they started begging. But it's quite true that it couldn't have been kept up for long. And that has taught me another lesson as well, and I understand something in human life and history I never understood before. Why the people who do have those wild visions and vows, who want to expiate and to pray for this wicked world, can't really do it anyhow and all over the place. They have to live by rule. They have to go into monasteries and places; it's only fair on the rest of the world. But henceforward, when I see these great prisons of prayer and solitude, or have a glimpse of their cold corridors and bare cells, I shall understand. I shall know that in the heart of that rule and routine there is the wildest freedom of the will of man; a whirlwind of liberty."
"Alan, you frighten me again," she said, "as if you yourself were something strange and solitary, as if you also. ..."
He shook his head, with a complete understanding. "No," he said; "I've found out all about myself as well. A good many people make that mistake about themselves when they're young. But a man is either of that sort or the other sort, and I'm the other sort. Do you remember when we first met and talked about Chaucer and the chain with Amor Vincit Omnia..?"
And without moving his eyes or hands from where they rested, he repeated the opening words of Theseus in the Knight's Tale about the sacrament of marriage, and as he spoke those noble words as if they were a living language, I will so write them here, to the distress of literary commentators: "... The first Mover of the Cause above When he first made the fair chain of love Great was the effect and high was his intent: Well wist he why, and what thereof he meant."
And then he bent swiftly towards her; and she understood why that garden had always seemed to hold a secret and to be waiting for a surprise.