A Ballad and a Tale
By B. Paul Neuman
I.—The Heavenly Lover
IT was the joyful sunrise hour,
The world beneath her lay unrolled,
As from the highest nunnery tower
She watched the shadows turn to gold.
The glistering glory climbed the sky,
It touched the height, and searched the vale.
The forest laid its sackcloth by,
And all its songsters fluted “Hail!”
The splendour lit the slumbering town,
The crowded haunt of busy man,
She looked through tears that trickled down,
Chafing against the iron ban
That barred her from the world whose stir
Makes every morn a glad surprise.
That happy world was not for her,
Save to behold with yearning eyes.
For her the damp and moss-grown walls,
The changeless order of the days,
The fellowship of patient thralls,
The loud monotony of praise.
She wrung her hands, ” Oh hearts of stone !
To cage a little fluttering dove,
Had I but known ! Had I but known !
I still were free for life and love.
” Thou Heavenly Lover, who, they said,
Wouldst come to woo, and stay to win,
Was it a lie, or art thou dead
Or hast thou seen and spurned my sin ? ”
She mourned like any prisoned bird,
Her breast upon the stonework bowed,
Till with a guilty start she heard
A voice that called her, clear and loud.
There came a knocking at the gate.
The wondering portress opened wide ;
With lowly mien, in piteous state
A white-haired beggar stood outside.
His heid all bare, his feet unshod,
In coarsest garments scantly clothed,
Upon his face the brand of God—
The awful scars men feared and loathed.
The meek-eyed sisters held aloof,
But, pointing to a wooden shed,
“A couch of straw, a sheltering roof,
And food are there,” the abbess said.
“And who”—she cast her eyes around—
” Will tend this leper for the sake
Of Him who once on holy ground
The leper s bond of misery brake ? “
In silent fear they stood, and shame,
Their eyes cast down, their cheeks ablaze,
Then from her tower the novice came
With hurrying step and wondering gaze.
” You called me ? ” ” Nay,” they cried, ” not we.”
” I heard the summons, and obeyed.”
” Then go,” the abbess said, ” and see
The burden that is on you laid.”
She heard a tremor in the voice,
The pity in their eyes she saw,
But duty left no room for choice,
The leper called her from his straw.
She raised the latch and stepped within,
The dimness seemed to strike her blind,
She felt the pangs of fear begin
To shake the purpose of her mind.
When, lo ! as o’er the horizon rim
The great sun looks on tropic seas,
And laughs, and at the sight of him
With one quick throb the darkness flees,
So, suddenly a point of light
Shone forth, then burst into a flame,
The shadows spread their wings for flight,
And o er the gloom a glory came.
The ashen laths were cedar wood,
The flagstones priceless marble gleamed,
The bed a jewelled wonder stood,
Such wonder never poet dreamed.
And there were trees with soaring stems,
And spreading leaves of gorgeous t hue,
And dazzling fruits that shone like gems,
And over all an arch of blue.
The lengthening walls were edged with flowers,
The air was fresh with odours sweet,
White blossoms fell in noiseless showers
And made a pathway for her feet.
The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. M
And on the bed as on a throne,
He sat for whom her soul had yearned,
A tender radiance round Him shone,
But o’er His head the aureole burned.
” And hast Thou come indeed ? ” she cried,
“And will Thou love me for Thine own,
And one day set me at Thy side,
Yea even share with me Thy throne ? ”
Then as she felt the splendour grow,
And brighter beams of radiance shine,
She cast her down, and whispered low :
” Nay, not Thy throne, Thy footstool mine.”
With gentle words He bade her rise,
And smiled away her new-born fear,
” Come forth,” He said, ” for Paradise,
The home of those who love, is here.”
The narrowing bounds of time and space
Were straight abolished and forgot,
One glance at that beloved face,
And earthly memories irked her not.
He led her by broad-bosomed streams
Whose waters sparkled clear and blue,
By forests flecked with golden gleams,
And all was fair, and all was new.
The very air she breathed seemed strange,
Strange forms of life stood everywhere,
On everything was written change,
And all was new and all was fair.
With joy she yielded up her will,
The hours might crawl, the aeons fly,
It seemed they two were standing still
While time, and life, and death rushed by.
Great cities rose before their eyes
And fell again to dusty sleep,
They saw the star of empire rise,
And sink into the stormy deep.
They saw a long-drawn vast array
Whose numbers none could count or guess,
Climbing a rugged stony way,
And faint with heat and weariness.
Not one small world alone engrossed
The scene on which their eyes were bent,
To this great struggling suffering host
A thousand stars their legions sent.
all she looked on seemed but naught
(Though everywhere new marvels lay),
Compared to one entrancing thought—
” He loves, has loved, will love for aye.”
One longing still her soul possessed,
” Lord, speak Thy love,” she whispering, cried.
Smiling, he laid her fears to rest ;
” For love of Thee, the leper died.”
With trembling steps, when evening fell,
The abbess sought the lowly shed,
” Did you not hear the vesper bell ?
Come forth, and rest, my child,” she said.
But there was silence. Greater fear
Cast out the less. She pushed the door,
And on the threshold paused to peer
Into the gloom that lowered before.
Her feeble lamp she held on high,
And by its flickering flame she saw
A slender childish figure lie
Stretched out beside the empty straw.
With such a smile upon the face,
And such a gladness in the eyes ;
The abbess from her vantage-place
A little sternly bade her rise.
In vain : no more the iron rule
Could bind the soul that yearned to roam,
From hard routine of dreariest school ;
The Lord of Love had borne her home.
JOHN CROFTS and William Medlett had been friends for many
years. They had come to London together as young men
from the same small country town. Nay, their friendship ran
back to a still earlier date, for they had been at the same gram-
mar school, and had sung as choir-boys in the same old parish
church. And now, as middle-aged men, they had a rare fund of
ancient memories and associations to fall back on, trivial remini-
scences that had a singular interest for them—for them and for
no one else.
This formed, no doubt, the real basis of their friendship, such
as it was. Their acquaintances, sacred and profane, talked of
David and Jonathan, and of Damon and Pythias ; but both these
comparisons were ludicrously inappropriate. There did not
exist in the composition of either of the friends one single
grain of poetry or romance.
Nor were they clever men. Of the two, perhaps Medlett was
the brighter, he certainly had more self-confidence. On the
other hand, Crofts had more perseverance, and rather more taste
for reading. On the whole, the difference in their abilities was
so slight, that for many years they kept a fairly even progress up
the hill of success. They had each obtained employment in a
large wholesale business—Crofts with Barston and Franks, the
great hosiery firm, Medlett with Coningsby, Lord, and Whaler,
who ruled the markets in the matter of waterproofing and rubber
Beginning as office boys at eight shillings a week, they had
steadily worked their way up, till Crofts was head of the woollen
department with a salary of three hundred a year, while Medlett
acted as a kind of general sub-manager with an income of fifty
pounds a year more.
They had both married : Crofts when he was about five and
twenty, his friend a few years later. In consequence, the former
had been burdened with a growing family, while the latter was
still free to save the greater part of his salary. Crofts had found
it a hard struggle, and once or twice had been obliged to
borrow from his friend, who lent readily enough, only taking a
bill of sale on the furniture as a matter of form.
” Better do the thing in a businesslike way,” he said, as he
made the suggestion, and Crofts was glad to agree.
Before very long, however, he was able to repay the loans, for
his wife inherited, on the death of her mother, a sum of between
three and four thousand pounds. On the strength of this he
moved from Holloway to St. John s Wood, and sent his children
to good schools.
His family consisted of five children—two girls and three boys.
The eldest, Nora, was a dark, rather plain girl, with straight,
black hair, marked eyebrows, a thin, firm mouth, and a square
chin and jaw. Next to her came two boys, Jack and Will, of
whom there is little to say but that they were very ordinary,
English, middle-class schoolboys, rather dull at their books, but
well-meaning, wholesome lads. Then came Jane, named after
her mother, dark as Nora, but of a slighter and more delicate
build, inclined to be pretty, and her father’s favourite. Edward
brought up the rear, a little slip of a boy with flaxen hair and a
snub nose, very precocious, and, already, at seven, winning prizes
at his school.
By this time Medlett had married, and had come to live in
Woronzow Road, a few doors from his friend. They travelled
to and from business together, and found new themes of conver-
sation and discussion in their family experiences.
The years passed on, bringing to the two, only very gradual
changes. Their children grew up, and, curiously enough, showed
no inclination to be friendly. This may have been partly due to
the fact that their wives only just tolerated each other. Mrs.
Crofts, perhaps on the strength of her inheritance, was a little
inclined to play the great lady, while Mrs. Medlett was abnor
mally quick to resent the faintest suggestion of patronage. But
the heads of the two families continued their habits of intercourse
undisturbed by these domestic differences. They had grown so
accustomed to travelling and gossiping together, each looked
upon the other as a necessary part of his life. Affection between
them there was none. In the bosom of his family Crofts often
let fall queer little remarks depreciatory of his friend, and Medlett,
in his own way, did much the same.
One morning, as they were sitting together on the omnibus,
Medlett remarked :
” I wish I had a lot of money to invest. I was told of a first-
class thing yesterday.”
” There are so many first-class things,” said Crofts, senten-
” Yes, but this is a real bonâ fide” (he docked this last word of
one of its syllables) “concern. Plenty of capital and real good
people. One of our governors put me on it. It s a new motor.”
” A new what ? ” asked Crofts.
“Anew motor for driving wheels ; it will work a stationary
engine, or a sewing machine, or a carriage. It can be made in
any size, and burns petroleum.”
” Has it been tried ? ”
” Oh, yes, that’s the beauty of it. It isn’t just an inventor’s
notion. It’s been working in the States for some time now and
the American company is doing a roaring trade. This company
is being formed to work the patent over here.”
Crofts shook his head.
” It sounds rather risky to me,” he said, ” if I were you I should
take good care before I put a penny in.”
” Oh, I’ve gone into it over and over again. It’s as sound as a
thing can be. Of course there’s always some risk, but it’s a
perfectly genuine business. I don’t call it speculative. Trust Mr.
Whaler for that. He’s one of the safest men I know to follow.”
There the conversation dropped for the time, but a week or ten
days later Crofts recurred to it.
” Have you taken any shares in that company ? ” he asked.
” What company ? ” replied the other, as if he were in the
habit of making investments every other day.
” You know. That motor business.”
” Oh yes, of course. Well, I’ve put a few hundreds in.”
Crofts knew that a few hundreds would represent all the savings
of many years, and he was considerably impressed with this proof
of his friend’s faith.
” What interest do you expect to get ? ” he asked.
” Well, Whaler says that the American company pays twelve per
cent, on the original shares, and that they are steadily rising in the
market. He thinks we shall certainly pay seven the first year, and
go on rising. Only last Saturday he said, You mark my words,
in five years time those ten pound shares will be worth thirty. ”
” Two hundred per cent., eh ? ” remarked Crofts, and fell a-
Nora was always bothering to take lessons in music, and paint-
ing, and dancing. She was not exactly her father’s favourite, but
he stood a little in awe of her. She could be very outspoken,
could Nora, and then what a will she had ! And with the
children all growing up, expenses seemed to increase by leaps and
bounds. And whenever Mrs. Crofts was in favour of some
expensive alteration or innovation, she always made objection
difficult, by suggesting that her money was available for the
purpose. A substantial increase in their income would be an
enormous relief. As for the risk, Medlett was no speculator, and
besides he was acting under good advice.
A few days after, as they were returning from town, Crofts
remarked to his companion with rather elaborate carelessness :
” By-the-by have you a prospectus or anything of that motor
company you were speaking about the other day ?
“Yes, I think I have it here,” said Medlett, and as he spoke he
took out his pocket-book and drew forth a paper. ” You can
keep it if you like,” he added, “I have another copy at home.”
Crofts took it home and studied it with great care. It was
skilfully drawn and was backed by a fine array of names.
Finally he introduced the subject to his wife. She was by nature
rather cautious, and at first pooh-poohed the idea altogether. But
gradually he wore down her objections, and in her desire for a
larger income she let suspicion sleep, and believed very much
what she wished to believe.
And so at last, after many doubts and much discussion, a
thousand pounds of Mrs. Crofts’ inheritance was invested in
shares of the Limpan Motor, Limited. The dividends were paid
half-yearly, and after the second payment at the rate of six and
a half per cent, Crofts with his wife’s full assent sold out the
remainder of her stocks, and invested the proceeds in a new issue
of motor shares. In the course of one of their many conversations
he mentioned to his friend the fact that he had put more of his
eggs into this basket, but exactly how many, he did not say.
Then Medlett had his stroke of luck. An old aunt had left
him, some years before, a small house at Brixton, let as a baker’s
shop. The baker was unfortunate, and the rent fell in arrear.
Medlett without being cruel, was not particularly soft-hearted,
and talked of distraining. The tenant pointed out that it was
not by any means every one s house, that it would very likely be
empty for some time, and that in such an event the goodwill of
the business would be utterly lost. He admitted he could not
carry it on himself any longer, but he suggested that Medlett
should take it over, and put him in as manager at a small salary,
with the use of two or three rooms, letting the rest of the house
as lodgings. Medlett’s solicitor, whom he consulted, strongly
advised him to accept the tenant;s terms, and offered to advance
him any reasonable sum on the security of the house. A new
railway was projected which would probably pass through the
street, and might have to take the premises. Then there would
be compensation for disturbance. Medlett admired and agreed.
The lawyer was speedily justified. The railway did come, the
house was required, and the owner of the premises and pro-
prietor of the goodwill, received a really handsome sum as
compensation. Medlett s first idea was to invest the whole of
the proceeds in Limpan Motor shares, if that were possible. He
thought it might perhaps please Mr. Whaler, as well as give him
a better idea of his sub-manager’s social position, if he told him
of his intention. To his great surprise his principal strongly
“I don’t feel easy about those Limpans,” he said. “I was going
to speak to you about them. They’re going back in the market
without any apparent reason. It looks as if somebody knew some
thing. I’ve a great mind to get out at a small loss.” And a few
days after, he came into Medlett’s room and told him he was
instructing his broker to sell.
“If I were you I should do so too ; they may be all right but
I don’t like the look of them,” he said ; and Medlett determined
to follow suit, and did so, losing something like £50 on the
As it happened, Crofts was away on his holiday at this time,
but of course there would have been no difficulty in communi-
cating with him. And Medlett felt as though he ought to let
his friend know what he was doing. Yet he felt also a strong
reluctance to do so. He had praised the investment so highly,
had spoken with such an air of authority as to the unassailable
position of the Company, he felt sure Crofts would twit him
mercilessly on the mistake he had made. Besides, he kept
assuring himself, there was probably no real occasion for selling.
Nay, it might be wiser to keep in, for getting out now would
mean a serious loss. At any rate he would wait a bit and
watch the market. If the shares kept on falling, he would
give Crofts a word of warning as soon as he came back from
But while Crofts was luxuriating at Margate there came to
him, forwarded from Woronzow Road, an important-looking
official envelope bearing the seal of the Limpan Motor, Limited.
” A bonus so soon ! ” he exclaimed as he opened it. Then the
next minute he horrified his eldest daughter, who happened to be
sitting in the room with him, by jerking out a couple of vulgar,
dirty oaths such as she had never before heard him use. She
looked up astonished.
” Why, what ever is the matter ? ” she asked. ” Bad news ? ”
” Hold your tongue, and don’t speak till you’re spoken to,” he
The letter that had so upset him, was simply a call of
thirty shillings on each of his three hundred Limpan shares.
They were ten pounds shares, seven pounds ten paid up. He
remembered speaking to Medlett about the liability, but
his friend had assured him there was no likelihood of any
further call being made for a long time to come. If there
should be, he had added, and it were inconvenient to pay the
call, the shares could always be sold. That was what must be
done, and at once, too. It would be all he could do to find
£450, and then there was the remaining pound still liable to
be called up. Decidedly it would be well to get rid of them
He hurried up to town, and went straight to the office of the
broker through whom he had bought. As soon as he indicated
the object of his coming, the broker shook his head.
“Limpans ? Oh, dear, that’s a bad business. You don’t mean
to say you’ve been holding on. Why we advised our regular
clients to get out six weeks ago. Sell at a small loss ! My dear
sir, it’s not to be done. There’s simply no market for them. A
few big men are holding on, just on the off chance of their pulling
round. With that liability, no man in his senses would give a
threepenny piece for the lot.”
” But what’s the matter with the company?” gasped the un-
The broker shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m sure I can’t say exactly. There’s some roguery over in
America, and the English directors are not a very gay lot—two
M.P.’s and a speculating parson on the board ; you know the kind
of thing. I never really liked it.”
” But it was you that bought the shares for me ! ” cried Crofts,
longing for some one on whom to fasten the blame.
Again the broker gave a little shrug.
” I suppose I acted on your instructions ; you have certainly
never been one of our regular clients.”
” No, it was Medlett who made me do it ; he’ll be pretty hard
” Medlett ? Medlett ? Oh, yes, I know. He’s all right. He
sold his shares with Mr. Whaler s in one lot.”
When ? ” snapped Crofts.
” Oh, three weeks or a month ago. They nearly left it till too
late. As it was, they dropped a bit over it. But they soon re-
couped themselves. Everything they’ve touched since has gone
all right. They did a splendid thing in Argentines last week, and
got out just before the fall. Good-day.”
For Crofts, without a word, had suddenly turned his back and
rushed out of the office.
The very next morning he laid wait for Medlett on his way to
town and had a violet quarrel with him. In spite of their long
and close association there had never been any real affection to
hold them together. Of late years especially, there had been
many little jealousies. The Medlett children were much better-
looking than the young Crofts, and were certainly dressed in
better taste. Then Medlett on the strength of his intimacy with
Mr. Whaler, had taken to assuming airs that irritated Crofts.
And now it was gall and wormwood to Crofts to think that while
he had been left to be robbed and swindled, the man who had led
him to make the investment, had not only escaped unscathed, but
had actually reaped no little gain.
Medlett was genuinely shocked at the news, and if Crofts had
not immediately put him on his defence he would certainly have
offered at least temporary help. But when assailed with the most
violent reproaches, accused of having deliberately and with sinister
motives induced his friend to take the shares, and then purposely
left him to be robbed, he soon lost his temper and told Crofts he
had no one but himself to thank for his loss, and that if he hadn’t
the sense to watch the market, he might at least have got some
one to do it for him. The very fact that he was conscious of a
neglect of duty made him more sensitive to reproach, and he felt
it quite a relief to be able to bluster with some show of reason.
Before they parted he did, however, try to patch up the quarrel,
and made his offer of assistance with some reference to their long
friendship. But Crofts was too angry to listen.
” Friendship ? ” he snarled. ” There’s an end of that, thank
God. That’s one good thing at least out of all this. No, I’ve
done with you and yours for good and all. Jenny will be glad of
that. Often and often she s begged me to have nothing more to
do with you. They’re a low lot. Those were her very words. I
wish I’d listened to her.”
Medlett was angry too, by this time.
” Low, indeed,” he answered ; ” I like that. You can just tell
your Jenny that if it hadn’t been for me, you’d have been sold up
long ago, you and she, and brats and all.”
They were crossing Manchester Square. Their loud voices,
and violent gestures, for they had both lost control of themselves,
had excited attention, and several people turned round as they
passed. Crofts incensed by the other’s last remark, would certainly
have struck him, had not a judicious policeman who had been
quietly following them for some little distance, come up and
touch his arm :
” Now then, gentlemen, if you please—
They both started, for the appearance of the man in uniform
recalled them to themselves. Crofts crossed the road hastily,
while Medlett hailed a passing hansom and drove down to the
And, there, for many a long day, all intercourse between them
ceased. Medlett indeed was astute to prevent any chance meet
ings, changing his routes and times. But Crofts took no such
precautions, and rather gloried at the opportunity of scowling at, or
turning his back upon his ancient crony.
Meanwhile the Limpan Motor had, under the safe conduct of
an eminent firm of city solicitors, rapidly gone from bad to
worse, and from worse into voluntary liquidation. Crofts at-
tended every meeting he possibly could, having recourse to all
kinds of excuses to account to Messrs. Barston and Franks for his
frequent absences. Coming away from one of these meetings he
made the acquaintance of two other shareholders who were also
full of their losses. Their common misfortune made them
mutually sympathetic. Half an hour spent together in a
neighbouring Bodega strengthened the tie so much that, from a
general brooding over their wrongs, they advanced to a resolve to
take concerted action to right themselves. The two treated Crofts
with deference for they had only two or three hundred apiece in
the Limpan. One of them mentioned the name of a solicitor he
knew in Basinghall Street, a real good man and no mistake, up to
every dodge. Crofts agreed at once—the description attracted him
in his present mood. Whereupon the others suggested that he
should go down and instruct Mr. Pledgcut.
” You seem to understand all about the law,” they added. He
accepted with a sense of importance ; it was about the first pleasant
feeling he had experienced since the crash.
But now he began to realise the truth of the venerable maxim,
that the law is a jealous mistress. His constant brooding over his
wrongs, and his possible remedies, were sadly interfered with by the
demands upon his time made by Messrs. Barston and Franks. And
there came an hour when in spite of all his ingenious and plausible
excuses, he received a warning from his employers, so forcible, and
so free from ambiguity, that for a time at least, he resumed his
habits of regular and punctual attendance.
Meantime his losses had entailed great changes at home. With
an income diminished by a third, it was impossible to go on living
at Woronzow Road. They were fortunate in being able to sub-let
their house from the next quarter day, and thereupon moved to a
smaller one at Kilburn. This involved a considerable sacrifice of
household gods, over every one of which Mrs. Crofts shed weak
and irritating tears. Indeed the poor woman became a sad burden
to herself, and to her husband. She could not forget that it was
her money that had been lost, or rather her dear mother’s, and was
constantly invoking that awful shade to behold the ruin and
desolation that a husband’s recklessness had brought about. In
prosperity she had been rather a fine-looking womin with what
young Frank Medlett called ” no end of cheap side upon her.”
Now it was pitiful to see the way in which she collapsed. Life-
less, spiritless, she spent the mornings in bed, the rest of the day
in the parlour, her hands in her lap, bewailing their misfortunes,
and cultivating a crop of ailments, which whatever they may have
been originally, soon became real enough to justify a doctor’s
visits. And so by a kind of tacit abdication the reins of domestic
power slipped from her nerveless grasp into the keeping of her
Nora was at this time just past her majority. She was a plain
girl, the outline of her face being too square, and the features too
strongly marked for beauty, but her dark eyes were unmistakably
fine and her hair was like black silk. She had from the first
espoused her father’s quarrel with a fierceness that sometimes
over-awed him. The deterioration of his character which had
already begun to appear, the illness and incompetence of her
mother—these were to her so many items entered in that long
account which she hoped one day to present to Medlett for
payment. As each fresh shadow fell across their path, she
arraigned her father’s enemy anew, and thought with fierce and
gloomy satisfaction of the day of reckoning.
Meanwhile economy had to be rigidly practised. She had an
instinctive horror of running up bills, but every month she
found it harder and harder to get money from her father for the
ordinary household expenses. She suspected that he was spending
more than he could afford on the lawyers, but beside this she soon
discovered that there was another and a more humiliating reason.
One night he came in very late—it was after midnight. She had
been sitting mending the boys’ socks. She went into the hall
with her candle, and there, vainly trying to put his umbrella in
the stand, stood her father obviously, unmistakably drunk.
There was a dreadful kind of half simper on his face as though he
were conscious of his condition, and could not quite make up
his mind whether to try and conceal it, or to carry it off as a
joke. She saved him the trouble of decision. One low cry she
uttered of shame and disgust, then set her candle down on the
stairs and rushed up to her bedroom. For the first time since
their troubles began she gave way to despair. But even then she
did not forget to lay this too at the door of their enemy, and the
larger part of her prayer that night was concerned with him.
From this time things went still worse with the devoted family.
The elder boys were taken from school. They were both wild to
go to sea, and through the good offices of the clergyman whose
church they attended, this was arranged, though their necessary
The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. N
outfit was only procured with the very greatest difficulty. Then
Mrs. Crofts took a severe chill, and having apparently no particular
desire to live, passed away, feebly lamenting her troubles, and
prophesying unutterable things to come. Again Nora had
desperate work to get from her father the money for the funeral.
And in order to pay for mourning for herself and Jane, she had to
begin giving music lessons, the clergyman’s little girls being her
first pupils. The loss of his wife, so far from steadying Crofts,
seemed to have exactly the opposite effect. For some time after
that evening when he had horrified Nora, he had mounted guard
over himself, and taken good care there should be no repetition of
the scene in the hall. Now he relaxed his efforts, and took small
pains to conceal his weakness. And so the housekeeping supplies
grew harder and harder to obtain, and Nora was driven more and
more to depend upon her own earnings to eke out her father’s
small and spasmodic cheques.
One momentary thrill of joy came to her. It was on the
morning when Jane came running in, full of the news that there
was a board up at the Medletts’ house. She was astonished to see
her sister’s dark eyes light up, and an exultant smile transfigure
” I knew it would come,” she said. ” God is just.”
The younger girl was much impressed, but a few days after,
she brought in the information that, far from implying disaster,
the move only meant a great rise up the social ladder. The
Medletts had taken a large new house at Hampstead, near the
Heath. This time Nora said not a word, but the expression of
her face as she bent over her work was so hard and forbidding, the
child was afraid to pursue the subject.
Before their troubles Nora had felt little, and had professed still
le c s interest in religion. She had attended church as regularly as she
considered the conventions demanded, and she had been obliged to
“get up” one of the gospels at school. But when the blow fell,
she began to feel an awful joy in the stern sanctions of the moral
law. Her own prayers, once so empty and formal, suddenly
became a living reality when she found that in them she could
summon her enemy to answer at the judgment seat of God.
And now as she thought of his prosperity, and compared it with
what she called their undeserved misfortunes, she felt as she had
never felt before, the need of some new life to redress the wrongs
and injustices of the old. Reserved and self-contained as she had
always been, she shared these feelings with one, and one only. It
was her younger brother, Ted as they called him, to whom she
confided her anticipations of retribution. It was upon this boy that
she looked as the chosen instrument by which the family wrongs
were one day to be righted. He was unmistakably very clever
indeed, and his school career so far had been a series of unbroken
successes. Whatever else happened, she was determined, even if she
had to starve herself to do it, that his chances should not be inter-
fered with. Perhaps in her anxiety for him she was less than just
to the others. Jane, who was not clever, was taken from school
to be a little drudge at home that Ted might be able to go
among his companions without blushing for his clothes. To him
she constantly talked of their enemy and his wickedness. She
hunted out passages in the Bible that portrayed in vivid colours
the requital of the transgressor. In these she gloried. The
roll and ring of the words, seemed to fire her blood. And
when the boy once asked her whether we ought not to for-
give our enemies, she answered that punishment must come
first. When they had been well punished, then would be the
time to think about forgiveness. And when, unconvinced,
he still urged his difficulties, she grew so angry even with
him, that he was glad to let his doubts and perplexities
Soon after Mrs. Crofts’ death the Medletts made a great effort
to be reconciled. Nora happened to be working at the window
one afternoon, when she saw a smart-looking fly drive up to the
door, and Mrs. Medlett got out, leaving some children inside.
She rang the bell, but before the little maid-of-all-work had
mounted half the kitchen stairs, Nora herself, a dangerous light in
her eyes, had opened the door and stood waiting for her visitor to
speak, making no sign of recognition, meeting her rather nervous
approaches with an icy stare.
” Oh, Nora, my dear, we were so sorry to hear—” she began,
as she mounted the top step and held out her hand.
And Nora, looking full at her, very deliberately shut the hall
door in her face.
Thenceforth for many a day the two families pursued their
separate paths, holding no intercourse with each other, the one
steadily climbing upwards, the other just as steadily slipping down.
One night, about six months later, John Crofts came home
very drunk, and—a rather unusual thing for him—in a very bad
temper. Next morning, instead of going out at his usual time,
he loafed about doing nothing, evidently in a state of severe
depression. The day after, he told Nora that what she had
dreaded for a long time had at last taken place—he had been dis-
missed from his post as manager of his department. She urged
him to go at once to see his principals with a view to reinstate-
ment, but the decisiveness of his refusal suggested to her at once
that the occasion of his dismissal must have been very serious
indeed, or—and this seemed more probable—that it was the last
of a long series.
It would be wearisome and profitless to trace the steps by
which the family s fortunes declined as its head lost situation after
situation, sinking gradually from the managership of a large
department to the desk of a clerk at thirty shillings a week.
Before this was reached, the house had of necessity been given up.
They had gone into lodgings, and within four years from the
winding-up of the Limpan Motor, Limited, those lodgings were
on the top floor of a shabby-genteel lodging-house in a street off
the Edgware Road.
For the full thirty shillings never reached Nora s hands. Crofts
had become a confirmed, though seldom a violent drinker. It was
only by desperately hard work that she could manage to keep up
the semblance of respectability. Jane did a great deal of the
mending and cooking now, while Nora gave lessons in music and
drawing, in both of which she was proficient after the manner of
amateurs. As for Ted, his continued success formed the one
break in the cloud. For the last year and a half he had kept
himself at school by prizes and scholarships. He was now thirteen
and growing fast. Upon him Nora lavished all the affection for
which her vengeful heart could find room. And when at
Christmas he won an exhibition of fifteen pounds she rejoiced
exceedingly, not so much perhaps for the success itself, but because
among the beaten boys was Oscar Medlett, a big boy of fifteen.
From that time Nora had no doubt. Evidently Ted was to be
the chosen instrument. She had long since given up all hopes of
her father. When at night she brooded over the family wrongs,
she set down as equally accomplished facts, the death of her
mother, and the ruin of her father’s character.
And ever as the days went by and the clouds gathered darker,
religion became to her more and more a reality—an awful reality
it is true, and yet one to which she clung with an ever-increasing
intensity of purpose. She felt the universe to be incomplete with-
out Someone at its centre to enforce with unsparing hand the
sanctions of the moral law. The texts and phrases which speak
of the wrath of God thrilled her heart with a feeling akin to joy.
” He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh ; the Lord shall have
them in derision. ” ” Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, there
shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These are types of the
passages on which her soul, hungry and thirsty, loved to dwell.
She thought her cup of sorrow pretty full already ; but what
would she have said had she known that the bitterest drop was yet
to come ?
John Crofts had for some time been descending the ladder with
accelerated speed. He was now rapidly approaching the bottom
rung. His last piece of work—some copying—he had obtained
by pestering the solicitor whom he had formerly instructed to act
for him in the Limpan winding-up. By a similar process he had
extracted a couple of shillings on account, and this he had expended
at the nearest public-house. Consequently the work, when he
brought it back the next morning, was not only three hours late,
but so badly done, so full of mistakes and inaccuracies, he was
paid the balance due to him and told very curtly it was no use
applying for any more work there.
Half an hour afterwards he found himself in Fleet Street,
” stony-hearted Fleet Street,” without a penny in his pocket, and
without the prospect of getting one, while within he felt an
imperious demand for more liquor, that simply must be satisfied
somehow. He knew it was no use going to Nora. It was, he
was well aware, only with the greatest difficulty she could find the
bare necessaries of life, and he was by no means anxious to enter
into any conflict with her ; he had already learned to dread her
plain speaking. To look for work and then wait for a week
before getting any money, would be, he felt, quite intolerable.
Slowly and carefully—for he had learned to love loafing—he
reviewed every source from which he could raise money, and one
by one he pronounced them all sealed. Then a sudden inspiration
seized him. There was Medlett ! True, he had ruined him—
curse him ! but wasn’t that all the more reason for getting every
farthing he could, out of him ? Another thing struck him. On
two or three occasions he had received five-pound notes enclosed in
a blank sheet of paper, directed in a boy’s hand. He had wondered
whether they could have come from his former friend ; now he
felt sure of it, and at the thought of his wasted opportunities he
could have wept. Drink, which had killed his self-respect, had at
least scotched his yearning for revenge. In the light of those five-
pound notes and of future possibilities, he began to reconsider his
judgment. Perhaps Medlett was not so much to blame after all.
Anyway, it was foolish keeping up that sort of feud for ever. It
was absurd to talk about it as Nora did. That was just the
difference between a man of sense, a man of the world, and a
silly, hot-headed girl. Medlett must have a rare lot in him ; there
could be no doubt of that. He was junior partner now in his
firm and rolling in money, simply rolling in money. What a
lovely house he had, and as for hansoms, of course he never went
about in anything else. And to think that for years they kept
side by side as it were, rising step by step together. If it hadn’t
been for that stupid quarrel he should have been just where
Medlett was now.
The result of these cogitations was that he went home, and to
his great joy found his eldest daughter out. He made an excuse
to get rid of Jane, and going into Norah s room took from her desk
a sheet of paper, an envelope, and a stamp. Then he sat down and
composed a long letter to his former friend.
It was not an easy letter to write, but he was thirsty ; and
before long the deed was done. He pictured his destitution in
terms which were not ill-chosen, admitted that he had felt bitterly
against his friend, but added that time and the memories of the
past had softened his resentment, or he could never have brought
himself to ask for help. He besought his friend to procure him
work if he possibly could, and at the promptings of the aforesaid
thirst, introduced a postscript.
” A small loan for pressing necessities would be very ac-
Medlett received the letter the same evening, and carried it off
to his little smoking-room to digest with his dinner. He was
shrewd enough to read between the lines, knowing, as he did, a
good deal, and guessing more of Crofts’ present condition. As
he looked round the cosy room, self-complacency began to don-
tlie garb of kindness. The world had indeed gone well with
him. A quite remarkable success had attended his speculations.
It really seemed, he said to himself, reverentially, as if Provi-
dence were bent on rewarding his industrious and persevering
youth. And this poor devil had gone utterly to the wall—no
doubt there was a good reason for it somewhere ; Providence
knew how to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff.
Still, there he was, practically penniless.
” It’s no good finding him work, but I ll send him another
fiver,” was his conclusion ; for Crofts had been quite right
in his surmise : the previous notes had come from Hamp-
stead. Crofts, it need hardly be said, was delighted with
the result of his application, and spent a full week in the
public-house looking for work, returning home at night with
more and more of the Devil’s hall-mark upon his flabby, sodden
At the end of the week he managed to find some more copy-
ing work, which brought in a few shillings. He never thought,
now, of taking anything home; but he was forced to spend a
few shillings on boots. The rest went, of course, to, or rather
towards, satisfying his thirst. Then he found himself once more
in the picturesque but uncomfortable condition of the empty-
pocketed. The idea of applying again to Medlett suggested
itself, and he quickly went through the various stages of indig-
nant refusal, calm consideration, enthusiastic adoption. Once
more he paid a surreptitious visit to Nora’s desk in her absence,
and once more he renewed his application for work, and managed
to introduce a statement to the effect that arrears of rent had
swallowed up the greater part of the five-pound note, and how to
provide the children with warm clothing for the winter he did
not know. As he wrote this, he said to himself that if this
appeal produced any substantial result, he would see that Ted had
an overcoat and Jane some new boots.
The letter reached Medlett at a favourable moment. The
fates were still propitious. He had followed his senior partner
into a speculation from which they had escaped with the spoils of
victory in the very nick of time, and his banking account was at
least £350 to the good by that transaction.
” Poor devil ! Again, so soon ? ” he murmured, and put his
hand into his pocket, fingering the loose silver. Then the Lim-
pan shares came into his mind.
” I ought to have told him ; I wish I had,” he thought, and
put his hand into another pocket. He drew from his pocket-
book a bank-note, slipped it into a sheet of paper, across which
he wrote without any attempt to conceal his handwriting :
” You must make this do. It is enough to give you a start. I
cannot find you work”
When Crofts received the letter and found a ten-pound note
enclosed, he shed copious tears of joy. And to prove to himself
that he could keep his word, and was a most tenderhearted father,
he walked Ted straight off to a ready-made clothes shop, and to
the boy’s undisguised amazement, selected and paid for a warm
winter overcoat at twenty-eight and sixpence. Such a coat as
Ted had not worn since the days of adversity began.
Now Ted was a very sharp lad and unusually observant. When
his father wanted to pay for the coat, he wondered where the
money was coming from. He saw him take an envelope from
his pocket, open it, unfold a sheet of paper, and produce a bank-
note. As he handed the note to the shopman the envelope
fluttered to the ground. Crofts had not noticed the fall. But
Ted as he picked it up, noticed three things : the handwriting
which was large and clear, the postmark which was Hampstead,
and the engraved seal which was a large, antique M. M and
Hampstead gave him a clue, and it occurred to him that perhaps
the wicked Medlett of whose iniquities Nora was constantly
talking, had been trying to make atonement. He had an in-
stinctive feeling, however, that his father would be annoyed at his
conjecture, and so handed back the envelope without a word.
But the hasty snatch, the guilty look, the quick suspicious glance
at him, all these confirmed in the boy s mind the truth of his
On their way back Crofts suddenly asked :
” Do you know of anything Nora wants badly ?
The boy’s first inclination was to answer ” food,” but he
checked it, and after a little consideration replied by mentioning a
pair of gloves.
His father nodded and smiled. At the next draper’s they
stopped, and Crofts bought two pairs of the best ladies’ gloves.
It was nearly dark when they reached home, but Nora was stand
ing by the window, trying to mend her one, shabby-genteel pair,
and to economise lamp oil at the same time. Crofts went up to
her, kissed her—a very unusual thing for him to do—and taking
out the gloves put them in her hands. She uttered an exclama
tion of surprise and looked up with startled eyes. He smiled.
” Take them, my dear. You needn t looked so scared. It’s
all right. Things seem to have taken a turn.”
She opened the paper and stared mechanically at the gloves.
Then she raised her eyes and saw Ted in the glory of his new
” Oh, that is good,” she exclaimed, ” I have been wondering
what he would do this winter for a coat.”
” Don’t you care for your gloves ? ” asked her father, in rather
an injured tone.
” Oh, yes,” she answered, ” one must wear some when one
goes out teaching, and these are mostly holes. But father, what
has happened ? Have the Limpans paid anything at last ? ”
Crofts was one of those who even under the pressure of trouble
can only tell the truth when it is, as it were, fortified by a certain
proportion of falsehood. And his conscience had the very con-
venient habit of crediting him with the truth, and ignoring the
rest. He had often repeated to Nora the story of the Limpan
shares, and the villany of Medlett had lost nothing of picturesque-
ness in his telling. But he had never been able to tell her the
absolute truth—that his law expenses had swallowed up all, and
far more than all the paltry sum he received after the winding-up
was carried through. Perhaps he may never have said so in so
many words, but he had certainly succeeded in leaving on her
mind the impression that there might still be something consider
able recovered when everything had been settled, and he had
even talked vaguely but largely of reconstruction. And though
she had learned long since that his statements must be accepted
with caution, yet this impression had somehow remained unshaken.
Her father shook his head.
” No. Don’t talk of Limpans, I hate the name.” Nora looked
at him with a smile whose meaning he could not read.
“Never mind, father,” she said. “A time will come.
Vengeance is mine. I will repay”
“Yes, my dear, certainly,” answered Crofts weakly, feeling
uncomfortably conscious of the scene that would ensue if Nora
should find out in any way the source of this new wealth, “but
we mustn’t bear malice.”
” Bear malice ? ” and her eyes seemed to blaze as she spoke the
words. ” It isn’t a question of malice. He has ruined you,
killed poor mother yes,” she went on with increasing excitement,
” killed her, as surely as if he had strangled the life out of her with
his own fingers, and brought us all to beggary. Bear malice,
indeed ! Why, to forgive or to forget such wrongs as these, would
be to encourage wickedness.”
” Well, well, well,” exclaimed Crofts fretfully, half irritated,
half cowed by her vehemence, ” you needn’t work yourself up into
a passion, Nora. What is there for supper ? Stale bread and
Dutch cheese I suppose. I think I’ll run out for a minute and
see if I can get a bit of something.”
But Nora knew what running out for a minute meant.
“Let Jane go,” she said. “She hasn’t been out all day, and
she’s a capital little shopper.”
” No,” he answered, ” she’d be sure not to get what I want.”
Which was perfectly true.
He went out about nine, and came back half an hour after
closing time quite drunk and very cheerful.
As he pulled himself up to the top flight of stairs, Nora opened
the sitting-room door, a candle in her hand, and crossed the passage
to the box-room in which she and Jane made shift to sleep.
He saw the light and looked up.
” Shay, Nora, hey ! Do n go bed yet. Wansh hav’ li’l talk—
Shtop, d’y—ear ! there’s goo’ girl—I’m all ri’ tell you—Medlett
sholly goo’ f’ler—been drinkin’ ‘shealth.”
The light disappeared. Fortunately perhaps for him, Nora had
not caught the last sentence. But she had heard enough to fill
her with a feeling only too nearly akin to loathing. She blew
out the candle, for the moon was full, and artificial light was
an extravagance. As she undressed, she looked round the miser
able little room, and each squalid detail from the. cracked, rickety
glass to the torn and dirty window curtain, seemed to mock and
exult over her. Inch by inch, in spite of all her efforts, they
were sinking. Jane was growing up a simple drudge, and her
hands were beginning to look like those of any litttle maid-of-all-
work. There was Ted to be sure, and that thought generally
brought back courage if not cheerfulness. But to-night her
gloom was too deep for any dispersal. No matter how successful
he might be, his success would come too late to save the rest of
them. She could not go on like this for another twelvemonth,
whatever happened. Then another thought, never far remote,
leapt to the front—yes she could. One year, two years, ten years
if need be, till the day of recompense. He, no doubt, was lying
in his snug bed, sleeping the sleep of the just, surrounded by
every luxury, heaping up riches month by month. Ah, she must
pray. And then with clenched hands and eyes staring straight
upwards, she poured forth a silent passion of imprecation so eager,
so vehement, that though no word was uttered, it seemed to
choke her. She ended with ” Our Father,” which she repeated
from old habit. The forgiveness clause presented no more
difficulty to her than does the Sermon on the Mount to an army
“If he had merely injured me, I daresay I could have forgiven
easily enough,” was the only explanation she vouchsafed her
conscience, but it was quite sufficient.
A fortnight later Nora returned home one dull, foggy night,
between nine and ten. It was her late evening, and she was
fairly tired out. Her feet were damp, for the soles of her boots
were in holes, and the long walk home—her pupil lived in Camden
Town—had left her limp and cross. However, Jane had some
hot tea ready, and though she felt too tired to eat the bread and
butter which was ready cut for her, the mild stimulant refreshed
her. She sent the child off to bed, and sat down to her nightly
task of mending clothes. Ted was doing some extra work with
a view to some new prize he was trying for. About eleven his
yawns became so frequent that in spite of his protests she insisted
on his going to bed. Then for some time she was left alone to
her mending and her thoughts. These were as usual of a sombre
description. The gleam of brightness which had come with the
last accession of wealth had vanished. Indeed the mysterious air
assumed by Crofts when she pressed him as to his source, had
occasioned her fresh uneasiness. Her faith in her father was so
grievously shaken that his honesty did not seem to her quite above
suspicion. But she never forgot where to lay the ultimate burden
of blame. ” It is all his doing,” she murmured. ” How long, oh
Lord, how long ? ”
She was surprised to hear the hall door open. It must be her
father she knew, every one else was in, but for the last week he
had been drinking, and seldom came home before midnight. She
was still more astonished to hear the sound of conversation, faint
at first, but growing louder as the talkers mounted the rickety
stairs. One voice she soon recognised—that of her father,
evidently half intoxicated. The other voice sounded familiar,
yet she could not say to whom it belonged. Every time she
heard it she seemed to be on the brink of recognition, but when
it ceased she found it had eluded her. The staircase was a long
one, with a rather sharp turn about half-way between the floors.
She could not imagine who her father’s companion could be. For
one moment the idea that it was a policeman crossed her mind,
but she instantly rejected it ; her father’s voice, though she could
not distinguish the words, sounded perfectly placid. Then it
struck her that he was probably bringing one of his public-house
acquaintances home with him. He had never done such a thing
before, but the unforeseen had happened so often in her experience,
she felt as though nothing could surprise her greatly. Meanwhile
the steps were mounting, but very slowly, the narrow, creaking
stairs. She knew the landing was quite dark, for the floor under-
neath was unoccupied, and she felt no inclination to show a light.
And now as the footsteps turned the angle of the staircase, she
could distinguish what was said. Her father’s articulation was
subject to what he himself sometimes alluded to as ” a slight
affection.” The stranger spoke, and again she racked her memory
to link that voice with its appropriate name.
” That’ll do—I won’t come any further. I’m quite satisfied.
I will send to you to-morrow.”
Then she heard her father speaking in a manner laboriously
slow and portentously solemn.
” Berrer come up now you’r ‘ere. You shtand there. I’ll go
Then silence, followed by the sound of an unsteady step, and
the creaking of the crazy baluster as if some one were clinging to,
or leaning heavily on it. And then after a moment’s pause there
came a strange shuffling sound succeeded by a noise—half-sob,
half-scream—and that followed by a horrid thud, thud, thud, the
sound of something heavy falling down stairs.
Nora sprang to her feet, took the candle from the table, and
threw the door wide open. As she did so she heard the other
voice exclaim in a horror-stricken tone :
“Good God, Crofts ! what have you done ? Are you much
hurt ? ”
The draught from the quickly opened door extinguished her
candle, but before it went out she saw for one short moment
the face of the stranger. It was Medlett—the enemy of the
The shock of the discovery drove the thought of her father out
of her mind for the minute. The one idea that seemed to
dominate every other was this—that the very man upon whose
head she had for years been invoking the wrath of heaven had,
in some mysterious way which as yet she could not divine, been
delivered into her hands.
It was his voice that broke the spell.
” For God’s sake, Nora, get a light ; your father has tumbled
down those cursed stairs and hurt himself. Hark how he groans.”
The door of the third room opened and Ted appeared in his
night-shirt, a candle in his hand. He had been reading over his
lessons in bed.
As the flickering light revealed Medlett’s face all white and
drawn, her tongue was loosed :
“You killed my mother, and now you have murdered my
father,” she said in a strong, harsh voice.
Medlett had not sufficient imagination to be susceptible to
” Don’t talk rubbish,” he said, roughly. ” Here, you boy, bring
Ted obeyed, and at the same moment Mrs. Rouch, the land-
lady, in a very ancient, pink flannel dressing-gown, hastily tied
round the waist with a piece of sash-line, came puffing upstairs, a
kerosene lamp in her hand.
“Dear, dear,” she panted. “Whatever ‘as ‘appened ? Oh, the
turn it give me, to be sure. I thought it was the chimbly gone.
Oh, bless ‘is ‘eart, poor man, ‘is ‘ead must ‘ave caught the edge of
one of the stairs ; they re beastly sharp at the sides. Look, ‘e’s all
smothered in blood. Oh, Mr. Worrall,” she added, as the first-
floor lodger appeared in his shirt sleeves, “just bring a nip o’
brandy ; there’s a good soul.”
” All right, mum,” replied Mr. Worrall, who was a railway
porter, and had an ambulance certificate. ” Let s look at ‘im fust.
Alcol’s the very wust thing in many cases.”
He spoke very slowly, in a deep bass, and Mrs. Rouch was
silenced. And as he stooped and straightened out the huddled
figure, and then gently felt for the wound, they all gathered round,
” There’s a ‘ole, sure enough,” he at last pronounced, ” and a
fracture I should say, but whether comminooted or not I can’t
tell. It’ll be a orspital case, mum. I’d better get a policeman to
bring the ambulance round.”
“No, no,” exclaimed Medlett. “Get a cab and take him to
the nearest hospital at once—St. Mary’s, I suppose.”
” What I want to know is ‘ow did all this ‘appen ? ” suddenly
interjected a sharp, thin voice. It was Mr. Rouch who appeared on
the scene, fully dressed, having stayed behind to complete his toilet.
The Yellow Book—Vol. XI. O
Nora stepped forward and pointed to Medlett.
“That man pushed him down stairs. He ruined us years ago.
I suppose he came to gloat over his work. I heard them quarrel-
ing on the stairs.”
She spoke in short, jerky sentences. Her words seemed to
choke her. Her father would die, she had no doubt of that, but
he should not die alone or unavenged. And as she stood there,
” white as chalk and ‘er eyes all a blazin'” —so Mrs. Rouch sub-
sequently described her appearance—the intensity of her passion
powerfully impressed her audience. Even Medlett, to whom the
possibility of such a charge had never occurred, felt a sudden chill
of fear as he realised the position in which he might find himself.
He showed, however, no sign of this, when he answered, addressing
Mr. and Mrs. Rouch :
” It is true I used to know him years ago, and lately he has
come begging over and over again. I helped him time after time.
To-night I happened to meet him. There was a block near the
Marble Arch, and my cab had to stop. He saw me, got on
the step, and asked me to lend him a couple of sovereigns to get a
sewing-machine for his girl—”
” Liar ! ” interjected Nora, going, if possible, a shade whiter.
” I saw,” continued Medlett, taking no notice of the in-
terruption, ” that he was half intoxicated, and it suddenly
struck me that he might be imposing on me by his tales of
poverty, and at the same time he did not seem in a state to find
his way home safely, so I told him I would give him the money
he wanted, and perhaps more, if he would take me home with
him. He got in. When we reached this house the lights were
out. He had no matches. I had only two, and these went out
in the passage. We had to feel our way upstairs, and he, in his
condition, kept lurching and slipping about. Before we got to
the top landing, I told him I was satisfied and would send him
what he wanted. He wouldn t hear of my going, and asked me
to wait while he went up alone and got a light. A minute after
I heard a lurch and a sort of scream. Then his body come bump-
ing down, and nearly knocked me over.”
Nora stamped her foot with rage, for she saw that the mention
of “my cab” and the sovereigns had produced a marked effect.
“Isn’t it enough,” she cried, “to have killed our mother and
murdered our father, but you must slander him before the breath
is out of his body. As though he would have touched a penny or
your miserable money. He would have died sooner. He hated
you almost as much as I do. ‘Slip,’ indeed, when I heard you
say, “Good God ! what have I done ?'”
“That looks bad if it’s true,” said Mr. Rouch, in an audible
aside to his wife.
“I’ll swear I never said anything of the kind,” cried Medlett,
who had entirely forgotten what he had said.
Ted, who had set down his candle and gone over to where his
father lay, with a roughly extemporised pad under the wound, looked
up quickly, and was upon the point of speaking, when he caught
sight of Nora’s eyes fixed on him with a peculiarly stern and
forbidding expression. And the moment she saw she had arrested
his attention, she made a hurried, imperious gesture, which he
rightly interpreted as a command to hold his tongue.
So for a few minutes they kept their watch in silence. The
injured man seemed to labour more and more in his breathing,
and his face grew, or seemed to grow, more dreadfully livid. At
last the street-door opened, and Mr. Worrall appeared, followed
by a policeman and an exceedingly well-groomed man, whom
both Mr. Worrall and the policeman treated with marked respect.
The doctor—for such he was—knelt down at once by the
patient’s side and commenced his examination. He felt his pulse,
pulled open his eyes, held a light to the pupils, and then felt with
his fingers for the wound in the back of the head. Then he
” Better take him to the hospital at once. It’s just possible he
may become conscious before—before the end. You have the
ambulance there ? ”
The policeman nodded. ” The other man’s got it downstairs.”
” Is there no hope ? ” asked Nora, in a low, husky voice. Her
mouth and throat were parched, as if burned with fever.
The doctor shook his head gravely, but gave no verbal answer.
“Then I charge that man with the murder,” she cried, pointing
to Medlett, her concentratedjiassion seeming suddenly to liberate
her voice, which rang out clear and strong.
“Can’t do that, mum, while the party’s alive,” said C 68, the
suspicion of a smile hovering over his expressionless countenance.
” You can make any statement you like at the inquest, you know,”
he added, soothingly.
She made no further remark, and Medlett, after giving his name
and address, and requesting the doctor, on his behalf, to super-
intend the removal to the hospital, drove home in a cab.
Nora accompanied the little party, and waited till she heard the
doctor s verdict, that there was no immediate danger, that in all
probability there would be no marked change for several hours ;
recovery was absolutely hopeless.
It was striking one when she got back. She had the key with
her, and let herself in quietly. The reaction from the intense
excitement of the last hour or two was upon her ; for the first
time, perhaps, in the course of years, she felt a craving for
sympathy. It would have been a comfort to have had even Mrs.
Rouch to talk to ; anything was better than this cold, black
solitariness. But the distant sound of muffled snoring was the
only sound that fell upon her as she carefully felt her way upstairs.
Would there be a light up there, she wondered. She shuddered
at the thought of the dark, silent rooms, and she stopped, pressing
her hands upon her forehead, trying to remember where she had
put the matches. But as she turned the fatal angle in the staircase,
she saw with joy the sitting-room door slightly open, and within the
glow of light. Still walking warily, for fear of waking Jane, who
had slept undisturbed through all the commotion, she nevertheless
quickened her steps, and pushed open the door with a sigh of
relief. To many people the close, untidy, ill-furnished room
would have looked cheerless enough ; but compared with what she
had pictured and expected, it was delightful. There was a little
fire in the grate, and a kettle on the hob. Two candles stood on
the table, and half a loaf and a piece of butter, accompanied the
teapot and cup that were set opposite her usual chair. On
another chair drawn up to the table, asleep, his head resting on
his outstretched arms, sat Ted. As she saw him and noted the
preparations for her return, her eyes filled with unwonted tears,
and with a sudden impulse she stooped and kissed his forehead very
Gentle as the touch was it woke him. He looked up for a
moment half dazed, then came to himself with a start.
” Oh, Nor, is that you ? I was dreaming about the old house.
I thought I was a little chap in bed and mother came up to kiss
She smiled on him, but laid her fingers on her lips and softly
closed the door.
” What do they say at the hospital ? ” asked the boy.
The question recalled her from her melting mood. The lines
round her mouth seemed to harden, as she answered quietly :
” They say there is no hope. He may live a day or two, and
may possibly be conscious. We must go the first thing in the
The boy looked down and his lip quivered. Partly to make a
diversion she asked :
” Did you get all this ready for me, Ted ? ”
Yes,” he answered ; ” I had to borrow the butter and the
coals from Mrs. Rouch ; I couldn t find any in the cupboard.”
” It was very good of you, dear,” she said, fetching another cup
and filling one for him and one for herself.
They drank their tea in silence, and to please him she tried to
eat a piece of bread and butter. The tea, the light, the fire, the
simple sitting still, all seemed to refresh her; but deeper and most
comforting of all was the sense of human love and sympathy that
for the moment drove out the dogs of hate, and gave her peace
as well as rest.
Not for long though. The boy fidgeted about, and after
several false starts, suddenly said :
” Nor, I am sure you are wrong about Mr. Medlett.”
“What do you mean ?” she asked quietly enough, but every
nerve tense in a moment, and the dogs out on the trail again.
” I was awake, reading in bed, and I heard them come up.
They weren’t quarrelling at all ; and what Mr. Medlett said was :
Good God, Crofts ! what have you done ? I heard it quite
The dogs were in full cry now, but the fear that she might be
baulked of her vengeance just as the opportunity seemed to have
so wonderfully arisen, made her calm and wary.
” Look here, Ted,” she answered, ” you may be right about
that, or I may—I don’t know which is. But one thing is
absolutely clear ; that man—don’t call him ‘Mister’—ruined us.
Mother never got over it, it was that killed her ; and, as for poor
father, you know it lost him his work and drove him to drink.
If this fall were a pure accident, Medlett would be his murderer
just as much, only he would get off scot-free—and that he
And she shut her lips tightly.
Ted sat thinking, and a pink flush mounted to his cheek.
Nora herself, with all her faith in his cleverness, had no idea how
he would carry himself in such a crisis. Like most strong-willed
persons she had great confidence in her own ability to bear down
opposition ; the only question in her mind was how long the
process would take.
After a pause the lad began again.
” Of course you can say what you think you heard ; but they
will be sure to ask me. And I shall have to speak the truth.”
” And let the man who killed your father and mother escape ?
Oh, for shame, Ted. Why savages have more feeling than that.”
” Savages know it is wrong to lie,” answered the boy slowly,
but with a hint of doggedness in his tone that irritated his sister
intensely. She began to feel with dismay her helplessness in face
of this new and unexpected obstacle.
They were both overwrought, and it was a toss-up which
temper would break down the sooner.
Nora made one more eftort.
” Ted, I am older than you, a good deal ; you have obeyed me
for years in little things ; now that I ask you to obey me in a
big thing, I am sure you won’t refuse and break my heart. If
that wretch escapes, I shall lie down and die.”
There was another pause, a long one this time. She leaned
back and watched his face with devouring eagerness. If this appeal
failed she had no resource, no hope.
It seemed to her an interminable time before he spoke. He
was rather incoherent but quite resolved.
” It’s no use, Nor, I can’t tell a lie like that to get a man hanged
when I don’t believe he’s done it. I’m sure it was right what he
said—that he had been sending father money for ever so long. It
was his money bought my coat and your gloves.”
She saw she was beaten, and the tension of the strain she had
been putting on herself was too great for her self-control. She
abandoned herself to a storm of passion, hysterical in its violence.
One sign of restraint she still showed—she made no loud noise.
She showered on the boy every adjective of reproach and contempt
her not particularly abundant vocabulary supplied—mean-spirited,
ungrateful, cruel, cowardly, stupid, these were some of the epithets
which preceded what sounded like a half-finished curse.
Half-finished, for before she could complete her sentence, the
boy jumped to his feet, his cheeks crimson, his eyes sparkling, his
breast heaving with passion.
” Cowardly, mean, cruel, ungrateful, am I ? ” he cried, ” and
what are you ? You who would swear away a man’s life. Yes,
I know you heard the same as I did. You daren’t look me in the
face and say you didn’t. Why, you’re no better than a murderess
yourself. You are no sister of mine ; there, I’d sooner die than
go on living with you.”
And he rushed out of the room, slamming the door after him.
The sight of his fury and the sound of the door sobered her.
She sat up and listened for any sign of movement in the house.
She heard Ted go into his own room ; then there was silence.
Jane even if she had been awakened was evidently not alarmed.
Relieved as to this, she lay back and began to think. Once
more she lay as if waterlogged in the trough of a storm. She felt
very, very tired ; the future seemed utterly blank of hope, and yet
she must think, think, think. Her head was aching with a dull,
persistent pain that seemed part of the universal misery that sur-
rounded her life. She kept losing the thread of thought, begin-
ning with the events of the night, then wondering what she was
thinking about, and having painfully and laboriously to go over
the ground again. At last with infinite pains she fixed her
attention on Medlett, and slowly, clinging to him as the central
figure, reconstructed the whole story. Then she remembered
what the boy had said about his sending money. Had her father
really stooped to beg from their enemy ? It seemed impossible,
and yet—now she came to think of it there were several things
that occurred to her, and made her shudder lest it should indeed
prove to have been so. As she looked round the room, her eyes
rested on a coat that hung against the wall. It was the jacket
Crofts used to sit in while at home. She got up and walked
across the room, for a sudden idea had struck her. She put her
hand into the breast pocket and took out half a dozen letters and
papers. She opened the first, it was an answer to an application
for work. The second gave her the information she was seeking.
The envelope had the monogram M on the flap, and the sheet of
paper inside was headed with the Medletts’ address at Hampstead.
On it was written the following brief message :
” You have had £30 in less than three months. I cannot send
more at present.—W.M.”
It was all true then. Medlett s money had been helping them
to live. The thought was almost intolerable. She went to the
work-basket and took out two pairs of gloves. With the aid of
the scissors she cut them into shreds, and threw them into the
fire. This done she once more sat down in the chair and took
up the burden of her thoughts. She had made revenge—justice
she called it to herself—the goal of her life, but how it was to be
reached she had never been able to divine. And now when quite
suddenly the opportunity presented itself, only one obstacle
stood in the way. The boy for whom she had worked and
sacrificed and half-starved herself, of whom she had grown so
proud and of late so fond, in whom she had seen the chosen
instrument of vengeance, this boy was the fatal hindrance that
had ruined her plans and blighted the one strong hope of her life.
She knew nothing of the irony of fate as the old Greeks conceived
of it, but she felt as if she had been made the sport and jest of an
unseen power against whom it was useless to fight.
And as she realised the fact that the last five years of her life,
with all its pains and humiliations and heartburnings, had been
simply thrown away in utter futility, another thought pierced her
with poignant pain. One element in her daily life had sweetened
and made it tolerable. It was the affection of her favourite
brother. And now that had gone too, gone irretrievably, the
last, and perhaps the most futile sacrifice on the altar of revenge.
She remembered his thoughtfulness for her this very evening. It
had been like healing to her bruised and angry spirit. It had
called up, or called back for a few blessed moments another and a
better Nora. And now he hated her—would have nothing more
to do with her, would not call her sister, called her murderess
instead. And she had cursed him, the boy whom she now dis-
covered she loved with a love stronger even than her hate.
Ill-nourished, overworked, her nerves shattered by this night’s
experiences, the thought of all her misery fairly overcame her.
She threw herself on the floor and broke out into hysterical sobs,
biting her lips hard to prevent their being audible, and in a last
attempt to keep some vestige of self-control. Her loneliness
appalled and crushed her. She had sacrificed Jane and the other
boys to Ted that through him she might taste revenge. She had
never gained their love, and his she had won only to fling it away
again. And so at last, after all these years, it dawned upon her
too late that she was the victim not of blind fate or of malignant
powers and principalities, but of her own hard heart and stubborn
will. It was she herself who with cruel and relentless hand had
exacted from her own starved and prisoned soul the very uttermost
” Oh ! dear Nor, what is the matter ? Do wake up. You
frightened me so dreadfully.”
She had fallen asleep, utterly worn out ; and woke to find
herself still on the floor, with Ted kneeling by her side, in his
shirt sleeves, his face stained with tears.
” Please forgive me, Nor. I didn’t know what I was saying.
I think I must have been mad. Please don’t make me do that.
Any other way I will help you to get your revenge.”
She raised her head from his coat which he had slipped under
her as a pillow. As she saw his anxious expression and the signs
of recent tears, as she heard the tone of his voice, the lines of her
face relaxed into a smile almost like that of a happy child. She
had been living for years among people whose language was
more forcible than polite. She was still under the influence of
strong excitement. The joy of rinding again that which was lost
overcame her. Let one or all of these mitigating circumstances
excuse her manner of speech as she sprang to her feet and kissed
him on the lips :
” Damn revenge ! It’s love I want.”
Neuman, B. Paul. “A Ballad and a Tale.” The Yellow Book, vol. 11, October 1896, pp. 184-229. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV11_neuman_ballad/