The Collected Complete Works of Compton MacKenzie - Compton Mackenzie - ebook

Sir Compton Mackenzie, OBE was a Scottish writer of fiction, biography, histories and a memoir, as well as a cultural commentator, raconteur and lifelong Scottish nationalist.Collection of 11 Works of Compton MacKenzie________________________________________CarnivalGuy and PaulineKensington RhymesPlashers MeadPoor RelationsRich RelativesSinister Street, vol. 1Sinister Street, vol. 2The Altar StepsThe Early Life and Adventures of SylviaThe Passionate Elopement

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The Collected Complete Works of Compton MacKenzie


Guy and Pauline

Kensington Rhymes

Plashers Mead

Poor Relations

Rich Relatives

Sinister Street, vol. 1

Sinister Street, vol. 2

The Altar Steps

The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia

The Passionate Elopement

Carnival, by Compton Mackenzie






















































Chapter I

: The Birth of Columbine

All day long over the gray Islington Street October, casting pearly mists, had turned the sun to silver and made London a city of meditation whose tumbled roofs and parapets and glancing spires appeared hushed and translucent as in a lake's tranquillity.

The traffic, muted by the glory of a fine autumn day, marched, it seemed, more slowly and to a sound of heavier drums. Like mountain echoes street cries haunted the burnished air, while a muffin-man, abroad too early for the season, swung his bell intermittently with a pastoral sound. Even the milk-cart, heard in the next street, provoked the imagination of distant armor. The houses seemed to acquire from the gray and silver web of October enchantment a mysterious immensity. There was no feeling of stressful humanity even in the myriad sounds that, in a sheen of beauty, floated about the day. The sun went down behind roofs and left the sky plumed with rosy feathers. There was a cold gray minute before dusk came stealing in, richly and profoundly blue: then night sprang upon the street, and through the darkness an equinoctial wind swept, moaning.

Along the gutters the brown leaves danced: the tall plane tree at the end of the street would not be motionless until December should freeze the black branches in diapery against a somber sky. Along the gutters the leaves whispered and ran and shivered and leaped, while the gas-jets flapped in pale lamps.

There was no starshine on the night Jenny Raeburn was born, only a perpetual sound of leaves dancing and the footsteps of people going home.

Mrs. Raeburn had not been very conscious of the day's calm beauty. Her travail had been long: the reward scarcely apprehended. Already two elder children had closed upon her the gates of youth, and she was inclined to resent the expense of so much pain for an additional tie. There was not much to make the great adventure of childbirth endurable. The transitory amazement of a few relatives was a meager consolation for the doubts and agonies of nine slow months. But the muslin curtains, tied back with raffish pink bows, had really worried her most of all. Something was wrong with them: their dinginess or want of symmetry annoyed her.

With one of those rare efforts towards imaginative comprehension, which the sight of pain arouses in dull and stolid men, her husband had inquired, when he came back from work, whether there was anything he could do.

"Those curtains," she had murmured.

"Don't you get worrying yourself about curtains," he had replied. "You've got something better to do than aggravate yourself with curtains. The curtains is all right."

Wearily she had turned her face to the sad-colored wallpaper. Wearily she had transferred her discontent to the absence of one of the small brass knobs at the foot of the bed.

"And that knob. You never remember to get a new one."

"Now it's knobs!" he had exclaimed, wondering at the foolishness of a woman's mind in the shadows of coming events. "Don't you bother your head about knobs, either. Try and get a bit of sleep or something, do."

With this exhortation, he had retired from the darkening room, to wander round the house lighting various jets of gas, turning them down to the faintest blue glimmer, and hoping all the while that one of his wife's sisters would not emerge from the country at the rumor of the baby's arrival, in order to force her advice upon a powerless household.

Edith and Alfred, his two elder children, had been carried off by the other aunt to her residence in Barnsbury, whence in three weeks they would be brought back to home and twilight speculations upon the arrival of a little brother or sister. In parenthesis, he hoped it would not be twins. They would be so difficult to explain, and the chaps in the shop would laugh. The midwife came down to boil some milk and make final arrangements. The presence of this ample lady disturbed him. The gale rattling the windows of the kitchen did not provide any feeling of firelight snugness, but rather made his thoughts more restless, was even so insistent as to carry them on its wings, weak, formless thoughts, to the end of Hagworth Street, where the bar of the "Masonic Arms" spread a wider and more cheerful illumination than was to be found in the harried kitchen of Number Seventeen. So Charlie Raeburn went out to spend time and money in piloting several friends across the shallows of Mr. Gladstone's mind.

Upstairs Mrs. Raeburn, left alone, again contemplated the annoying curtains; though by now they were scarcely visible against the gloom outside. She dragged herself off the bed and, moving across to the window, stood there, rubbing the muslin between her fingers. She remained for a while thus, peering at the backs of the houses opposite that, small though they really were, loomed with menace in the lonely dusk. Shadows of women at work, always at work, went to and fro upon the blinds. They were muffled sounds of children crying, the occasional splash of emptied pails, and against the last glimmer of sunset the smoke of chimneys blown furiously outwards. To complete the air of sadness and desolation, the faded leaf of a dried-up geranium was lisping against the window-pane. She gave up fingering the muslin curtains and came back to the middle of the room, wondering vaguely when the next bout of pain was due and why the "woman" didn't come upstairs and make her comfortable. There were matches on the toilet-table; so she lit a candle, whose light gave every piece of ugly furniture a shadow and made the room ghostly and unfamiliar. Presently she held the light beside her face and stared at herself in the glass, and thought how pretty she still looked, and, flushed by the fever, how young.

She experienced a sensation of fading personality. She seemed actually to be losing herself. Eyes, bright with excitement, glittered back from the mirror, and suddenly there came upon her overwhelmingly the fear of death.

And if she died, would anybody pity her, or would she lie forgotten always after the momentary tribute of white chrysanthemums? Death, death, she found herself saying over to the tune of a clock ticking in the passage. But she had no desire to die. Christmas was near, with its shoplit excursions and mistletoe and merriment. Why should she die? No, she would fight hard. A girl or a boy? What did it matter? Nothing mattered. Perhaps a girl would be nicer, and she should be called Rose. And yet, on second thoughts, when you came to think of it, Rose was a cold sort of a name, and Rosie was common. Why not call her Jenny? That was better--with, perhaps, Pearl or Ruby to follow, when its extravagance would pass unnoticed. A girl should always have two names. But Jenny was the sweeter. Nevertheless, it would be as well to support so homely a name with a really lady-like one--something out of the ordinary.

Why had she married Charlie? All her relatives said she had married beneath her. Father had been a butcher--a prosperous man--and even he, in the family tradition, had not been considered good enough for her mother, who was a chemist's daughter. Yet, she, Florence Unwin, had married a joiner. Why had she married Charlie? Looking back over the seven years of their married life, she could not remember a time when she had loved him as she had dreamed of love in the airy room over the busy shop, as she had dreamed of love staring through the sunny window away beyond the Angel, beyond the great London skies. Charlie was so stupid, so dull; moreover, though not a drunkard, he was fond of half-pints and smelt of sawdust and furniture polish. Her sisters never liked, never would like him. She had smirched the great tradition of respectability. What would her grandfather, the chemist, have said, that dignified old man in brown velvet coat, treated always with deference, even by her father, the jolly, handsome butcher? Florence Unwin married to a joiner--a man unable to afford to keep his house free from the inevitable lodger who owned the best bedroom--the bedroom that by right should have been hers. She had disgraced the family and for no high motive of passion--and once she was young and pretty. And still young, after all, and still pretty. She was only thirty-three now. Why had she married at all? But then her sisters did give themselves airs, and the jolly, handsome butcher had enjoyed too well and too often those drives to Jack Straw's Castle on fine Sunday afternoons under the rolling Hampstead clouds, had left little enough when he died, and Charlie came along, and perhaps even marriage with him had been less intolerable than existence among the frozen sitting-rooms of her two sisters, drapers wives though they both were.

And the aunts, those three severe women? She might, perhaps, have lived with them when the jolly, handsome butcher died, with them in their house at Clapton, with them eternally dusting innumerable china ornaments and correcting elusive mats. The invitation had been extended, but was forbidding as a mourning-card or the melancholy visit of an insurance agent with his gossip of death. Death? Was she going to die?

It did not matter. The pain was growing more acute. She dragged herself to the door and called down to the midwife; called two or three times.

There was no answer except from the clock, with its whisper of Death and Death. Where was the woman? Where was Charlie? She called again. Then she remembered, through what seemed years of grinding agony, that the street door was slammed some time ago. Charlie must have gone out. With the woman? Had he run away with her? Was she, the wife, forever abandoned? Was there no life in all the world to reach her solitude? The house was fearfully, unnaturally silent. She reached up to the cold gas bracket, and the light flared up without adding a ray of cheerfulness to the creaking passage. Higher still she turned it, until it sang towards the ceiling, a thin geyser of flame. The chequers upon the oil-cloth became blurred, as tears of self-pity welled up in her eyes. She was deserted, and in pain.

Her mind sailed off along morbid channels to the grim populations of hysteria. She experienced the merely nervous sensation of many black beetles running at liberty around the empty kitchen. It was a visualization of tingling nerves, and, fostered by the weakening influence of labor pains, it extended beyond the mere thought to the endowment of a mental picture with powerful and malign purpose, so that, after a moment or two, she came to imagining that between her and the world outside black beetles were creating an impassable barrier.

Could Charlie and the woman really have run away? She called again and peered over the flimsy balustrade down to the ground floor. Or was the woman lying in the kitchen drunk? Lying there, incapable of action, among the black beetles? She called again:

"Mrs. Nightman! Mrs. Nightman!"

How dry her hands were, how parched her tongue; and her eyes, how they burned.

Was she actually dying? Was this engulfing silence the beginning of death? What was death?

And what was that? What were those three tall, black figures, moving along the narrow passage downstairs? What were they, so solemn and tall and silent, moving with inexorable steps, higher and higher?

"Mrs. Nightman, Mrs. Nightman!" she shrieked, and stumbled in agony of body and horror of mind back to the flickering bedroom, back to the bed.

And then there was light and a murmur of voices, saying: "We have come to see how you are feeling, Florence," and sitting by her bed she recognized the three aunts from Clapton, in their bugles and cameos and glittering bonnets.

There was a man, too, whom she had only just time to realize was the doctor, not the undertaker, before she was aware that the final effort of her tortured body was being made without assistance from her own will or courage.

She waved away the sympathizers. She was glad to see the doctor and Mrs. Nightman herding them from the room, like gaunt, black sheep; but they came back again as inquisitive animals will when, after what seemed a thousand thousand years of pain, she could hear something crying and the trickle of water and the singing of a kettle.

Perhaps it was Aunt Fanny who said: "It's a dear little girl."

The doctor nodded, and Mrs. Raeburn stirred, and with wide eyes gazed at her baby.

"It is Jenny, after all," she murmured; then wished for the warmth of a new-born child against her breast.

Chapter II

: Fairies at the Christening

A fortnight after the birth of Jenny, her three great-aunts, black and stately as ever, paid a second visit to the mother.

"And how is Florrie?" inquired Aunt Alice.

"Going on fine," said Florrie.

"And what is the baby to be called?" asked Aunt Fanny.

"Jenny, and perhaps Pearl as well."



"Jenny Pearl?"

The three aunts disapproved the choice with combined interrogation.

"We were thinking," announced Aunt Alice; "your aunts were thinking, Florrie, that since we have a good deal of room at Carminia House----"

"It would be a capital plan for the baby to live with us," went on Aunt Mary.

"For since our father died" (old Frederick Horner, the chemist, had been under a laudatory stone slab at Kensal Green for a quarter of a century), "there has been room and to spare at Carminia House," said Aunt Fanny.

"The baby would be well brought up," Aunt Alice declared.

"Very well brought up, and sent to a genteel academy for young--ladies." The break before the last word was due to Miss Horner's momentary but distinctly perceptible criticism of the unladylike bedroom, where her niece lay suckling her baby girl.

"We should not want her at once, of course," Aunt Fanny explained. "We should not expect to be able to look after her properly--though I believe there are now many infant foods very highly recommended even by doctors."

Perhaps it was the pride of chemical ancestry that sustained Miss Frances Horner through the indelicacy of the last announcement. But old maids' flesh was weak, and the carmine suffusing her waxen cheeks drove the eldest sister into an attempt to cover her confusion by adding that she, for one, was glad in these days of neglected duties to see a mother nursing her own child.

"We feel," she went on, "that the arrival of a little girl shows very clearly that the Almighty intended us to adopt her. Had it--had she proved to be a boy, we should have made no suggestions about her, except, perhaps, that her name should be Frederick after our father, the chemist."

"With possibly Philip as a second name," Miss Mary Horner put in.

"Philip?" her sisters asked.

And now Miss Mary blushed, whether on account of a breach of sisterly etiquette, or whether for some guilty memory of a long-withered affection, was never discovered by her elders or any one else, either.

"Philip?" her sisters repeated.

"It is a very respectable name," said Miss Mary apologetically, and for the life of her could only recall Philip of Spain, whose admirable qualities were not enough marked to justify her in breaking in upon Miss Horner's continuation of the discussion.

"Feeling as we do," the latter said, "that a divine providence has given a girl-child to the world on account of our earnest prayers, we think we have a certain right to give our advice, to urge that you, my dear Florence, should allow us the opportunity of regulating her education and securing her future. We enjoy between us a comfortable little sum of money, half of which we propose to set aside for the child. The rest has already been promised to the Reverend Williams, to be applied as he shall think fit."

"Like an ointment, I suppose," said Florrie.

"Like an ointment? Like what ointment?"

"You seem to think that money will cure everything--if it's applied. But who's going to look after Jenny if you die? Because," she went on, before they had time to answer, "Jenny isn't going to be applied to the Reverend Williams. She isn't going to mope all day with Bibles as big as tramcars on her knees. No, thank you, Aunt Alice, Jenny'll stay with her mother."

"Then you won't allow us to adopt her?" snapped Miss Horner, sitting up so straight in the cane-bottomed chair that it creaked again and again.

"I don't think," Aunt Fanny put in, "that you are quite old enough to understand the temptations of a young girl."

"Aren't I?" said Florence. "I think I know a sight more about 'em than you do, Aunt Fanny. I am a mother, when all's said and done."

"But have you got salvation?" asked Miss Horner.

"I don't see what salvation and that all's got to do with my Jenny," Mrs. Raeburn argued.

"But you would like her to be sure of everlasting happiness?" inquired Miss Fanny mildly, amazed at her niece's obstinacy.

"I'd like her to be a good girl, yes."

"But how can she be good till she has found the Lord? We're none of us good," declared Miss Mary, "till we have been washed in the blood of the Lamb."

"I quite believe you're in earnest, Aunt Alice," declared Mrs. Raeburn, "in earnest, and anxious to do well by Jenny, but I don't hold and never did hold with cooping children up. Poor little things!"

"There wouldn't be any cooping up. As a child of grace, she would often go out walking with her aunts, and sometimes, perhaps often, be allowed to carry the tracts."

Mrs. Raeburn looked down in the round blue eyes of Jenny.

"Perhaps you'd like her to jump to glory with a tambourine?" she said.

"Jump to glory with a tambourine?" echoed Miss Horner.

"Or bang the ears off of Satan with a blaring drum? Or go squalling up aloft with them saucy salvation hussies?"

The austere old ladies were deeply shocked by the levity of their niece's inquiries.

Sincerely happy, sincerely good, they were unable to understand any one not burning to feel at home in the whitewashed chapel which to them was an abode of murmurous peace. They wanted everybody to recognize with glad familiarity every text that decorated the bleak walls with an assurance of heavenly joys. Their quiet encounters with spiritual facts had nothing in common with those misguided folk who were escorted by brass bands along the shining road to God. They were happy in the exclusiveness of their religion, not from any conscious want of charity, but from the exaltation aroused by the privilege of divine intimacy and the joyful sense of being favorites in heavenly places. The Rev. Josiah Williams, for all his liver-colored complexion and clayey nose, was to them a celestial ambassador. His profuse outpourings of prayer took them higher than any skylark with its quivering wings. His turgid discourses, where every metaphor seemed to have escaped from a store's price-list, were to them more fruitful of imaginative results than any poet's song. His grave visits, when he seemed always to be either washing his hands or wiping his boots, left in the hearts of the three old maids memories more roseate than any sunset of the Apennines. Therefore, when Mrs. Raeburn demanded to know if they were anxious for Jenny to jump to glory with a tambourine, the religious economy of the three Miss Horners was upset. On consideration, even jumping to glory without a tambourine struck them as an indelicate method of reaching Paradise.

"And wherever did you get the notion of adopting Jenny?" continued the niece. "For I'm sure I never suggested any such thing."

"We got the notion from above, Florence," explained Miss Fanny. "It was a direct command from our Heavenly Father. I had a vision."

"Your Aunt Fanny," proclaimed the elder sister, "dreamed she was nursing a white rabbit. Now, we have not eaten rabbits since, on an occasion when the Reverend Williams was taking a little supper with us, we unfortunately had a bad one--a high one. There had been nothing to suggest rabbits, let alone white rabbits, to your Aunt Fanny. So I said: 'Florence is going to have a baby. It must be a warning.' We consulted the Reverend Williams, who said it was very remarkable, and must mean the Almighty was calling upon us as he called upon the infant Samuel. We inquired first if either of your sisters was going to have a baby, also. Caroline Threadgale wrote an extremely rude letter, and Mabel Purkiss was even ruder. So, evidently, it is the will of God that we should adopt your baby girl. We prayed to Him to make it a little girl, because we are more familiar with little girls, never having had a brother and our father having died a good while ago now. Well, it is a girl. So plainly--oh, my dear niece, can't you see how plainly--God commands you to obey Him?"

Then Miss Horner stood up and looked so tall and severe that her niece was frightened for a moment, and half expected to see the flutter of an angel's wing over the foot of the bedstead. She nerved herself, however, to resist the will of Heaven.

"Dreaming of rabbits hasn't got nothing to do with babies. I forget what it does mean--burglars, or something, but not babies, and you sha'n't have Jenny."

"Think, my dear niece, before you refuse," Miss Horner remonstrated. "Think before you condemn your child to everlasting damnation, for nothing but the gates of Hell can come from denying the Heavenly Will. Think of your child growing up in wickedness and idle places, growing old in ignorance and contempt of God. Think of her dancing along the broad ways of Beelzebub, eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree, kissing and waltzing and making love and theater-going and riding outside omnibuses. Think of her journeying from vanity unto vanity and becoming a prey to evil and lascivious men. Remember the wily serpent who is waiting for her. Give her to us, that she may be washed in the blood of the Lamb, and crying Hallelujah, may have a harp in the Kingdom of Heaven.

"If you reject us," the old lady went on, her marble face taking on the lively hues of passion, her eyes on fire with the greatness of her message, "you reject God. Your daughter will go by ways you know not of; she will be lost in the mazes of destruction, she will fall in the pit of sin. She will be trampled under foot on the Day of Judgment, and be flung forever into wailing and gnashing of teeth. Her going out and coming in will be perilous. Her path will be set with snares of the giant of Iniquity. Listen to us, my dear niece, lest your child become a daughter of pleasure, a perpetual desire to the evil-minded. Give her us that we may keep her where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and no thieves break in and steal."

The old lady, exhausted by the force of her prophecy, sank down into the chair, and, elated by the splendors of the divine wrath, seemed indeed to be a noble and fervid messenger from God.

In Mrs. Raeburn, however, these denunciations wakened a feeling of resentment.

"Here," she cried, "are you cursing my Jenny?"

"We are warning you."

"Well, don't sit nodding there like three crows; your cursing will come to nothing, because you don't know nothing about London, nor about life, nor about nothing. What's the good of joring about the way to Heaven, when you don't know the way to Liverpool Street without asking a policeman? I say Jenny shall be happy. I say she shall be jolly and merry and laugh when she's a mind to, bless her, and never come to no harm with her mother to look after her. She sha'n't be a Plain Jane and No Nonsense, with her hair screwed back like a broom, but she shall be Jenny, sweet and handsome, with lips made for kissing and eyes that will sparkle and shine like six o'clock of a summer morning."

Mrs. Raeburn was sitting up in bed, holding high the unconscious infant.

"And she shall be happy, d'ye hear? And you sha'n't have her, so get out, and don't wag your bonnets at my Jenny."

The three aunts looked at each other.

"I see the footprints of Satan in this room," said Miss Horner.

"Not a bit of it," contradicted her niece. "It's your own muddy feet."

Outside, a German band, seduced from hibernation by St. Luke's summer, played the "March of the Priests" from "Athalie," leaving out the more important notes, and soon a jaded omnibus, with the nodding bonnets of the three Miss Horners, jogged slowly back to Clapton.

When the Miss Horners withdrew from the dingy bedroom the swish and rustle of their occupation, Mrs. Raeburn was at first relieved, afterwards indignant, finally anxious.

Could this strawberry-colored piece of womanhood beside her really be liable to such a life of danger and temptation and destruction? Could this wide-eyed stolidity ever become a spark to set men's hearts afire? Would those soft, uncrumpling hands know some day love's fever? No, no, her Jenny should be a home-bird--always a home-bird, and marry some nice young chap who could afford to give her a comfortable house where she could smile at children of her own, when the three old aunts had moldered away like dry sticks of lavender. All that babble of flames and hell was due to religion gone mad, to extravagant perusal of brass-bound Bibles, to sour virginity. With some perception of human weakness, Mrs. Raeburn began to realize that her aunts' heads were full of heated imaginations because they had never possessed an outlet in youth. The fierce adventures of passion had been withheld from them, and now, in old age, they were playing with fires that should have been extinguished long ago. Fancy living with those terrible old women at Clapton, hearing nothing but whispers of hell-fire. All that talk of looking after Jenny's soul was just telling the tale. There must be some scheme behind it all. Perhaps they wanted to save money in a servant, and thought to bring on Jenny by degrees to a condition of undignified utility.

Mrs. Raeburn was by no means a harsh judge of human nature, but her aunts having arrived at an unpropitious moment, she could not see their offer from a reasonable standpoint. Moreover, she had the proud woman's invariable suspicion of a gift; withal, there was a certain cynicism which made her say "presents weren't given for nothing in this world." Anyway, she decided, they were gone, and a good riddance, and she wouldn't ask them to Hagworth Street again in a hurry. The problem of getting in a woman to help now arose. Mrs. Nightman was off to-morrow; Alf and Ede would be back in a week, and Charlie's breakfast must be attended to. Mrs. Nightman informed her she knew where a likely girl of fifteen was to be found--a child warranted to be willing and clean and truthful. To-morrow, Mrs. Raeburn settled, this paragon must be interviewed.

To-morrow dawned, and in the wake of sunrise came the paragon. She still wore the dresses of childhood, but paid toll to responsibleness by screwing up her mouse-colored hair to the likeness of a cockle-shell, adding thereby, in her mother's estimation, eighteen months, in her own, ten years, to her age. She was a plum-faced child, with glazed cheeks. Her nose, Mrs. Raeburn observed with pleasure, did not drip like palings on a wet day. The paragon was just an ordinary old little girl, pitched into life with a pair of ill-fitting boots, a pinafore, and half a dozen hairpins. But she would do. Wait a minute. Was she inclined to loll or mouch? No. Was she bound to tilt a perambulator? No. Must she read light fiction when crossing a road? She didn't like reading.

Mrs. Raeburn decided more than ever that she would do.

Was she good at washing unwilling children? She washed many brothers and sisters with yellow soap and dried them thoroughly every Saturday night. Did she want the place? Mother would be glad if she got it. What was her name? Ruby. Mrs. Raeburn thanked goodness she had abandoned Ruby as a possible suffix to Jenny. Her surname? O'Connor. Irish? She didn't know. Yes, she should have a week's trial.

So the paragon became a part of the household as integral as the furniture and almost as ugly, and, as she grew older, almost as unnecessarily decorated. Alfie, the young Tartar, tried to break her in by severe usage, but succumbed to the paragon's complete imperviousness. Edie was too young to regard her as anything but an audience for long and baseless fits of weeping.

The two children were brought back by Aunt Mabel from her house at Barnsbury, where they had sojourned during the birth of their sister.

Mrs. Raeburn was softer and plumper and shorter than her sister. She had a rosy complexion, and eyes as bright as a bird's. She had, too, the merriest laugh in the world till Jenny grew older and made it sound almost mirthless beside her own. It was this capacity for laughter which made her resent the aunts' attempt to capture Jenny for melancholy.

Although, before the child's birth, she had not been particularly enthusiastic about its arrival, the baby already possessed a personality so compelling that the mother esteemed her above both the elder children, not because she was the last born, but because she genuinely felt the world was the richer by her baby. If she had been asked to express this conviction in words, she would have been at a loss. She would have been embarrassed and self-conscious, sure that you were laughing at her. She did venture once to ask Mabel if she thought Jenny prettier than the other two; but Mabel laughed indulgently, and Mrs. Raeburn could not bring herself to enlarge upon the point.

She wished somehow that her mother could have lived to see Jenny, and her father, too. Of this desire she was not aware when Alfie and Edie arrived. She felt positive her father would have considered Jenny full of life. Paradoxically enough for a butcher, Mr. Unwin had admired life more than anything else. Perhaps Mrs. Raeburn experienced an elation akin to that felt of old by wayside nymphs who bore children to Apollo and other divine philanderers. She knew that, however uneventful the rest of her life might be, in achieving Jenny she had done something comparable to her dreams as a girl in the sunny Islington window that looked away down to the Angel. She could not help feeling a subtle pity for her elder sister, whose first-born was due in May. Boy or girl, it would be a putty statuette beside her Jenny. The latter was alive. How amazingly she was conscious of that vitality in the darkness, when she felt the baby against her breast.

Her own eyes were bright, but Jenny's eyes were stars that made her own look like pennies beside them. Such fancies she found herself weaving, lying awake in the night-time.

Chapter III

: Dawn Shadows

Jenny reached the age of two years and a few months without surprising her relatives by any prodigious feats of intelligence or wickedness. But in Hagworth Street there was not much leisure to regard the progress of babyhood. There was no time for more than physical comparisons with other children. It would be pleasant to pretend that Jenny gazed at the stars, clapping a welcome to Caesiopea and singing to the Pleiades; but, as a matter of fact, it was not very easy to regard the heavens from the kitchen window of Number Seventeen. I should be happy to say that flowers were a joy to her from the beginning, but very few flowers came to Hagworth Street--groundsel for the canary sometimes, and plantains, but not much else. The main interest of Jenny's earliest days lay rather with her mother than herself.

The visit of the three old aunts roused Mrs. Raeburn to express her imagination at first, but gradually assumed a commonplace character as the months rolled by without another visit and as Jenny, with a chair pushed before her, learned to walk rather earlier than most children, but showed no other sign of suffering or benefiting by that grim intervention. Perhaps, when she pushed her wooden guide so quickly along the landing that chair and child bumped together down every stair, her mother was inclined to think she was lucky not to be killed. Anyway, she said so to the child, who was shrieking on the mat in the hall; and in after years Jenny could remember the painful incident. Indeed, that and a backward splash into the washtub on the first occasion of wearing a frock of damson velveteen, were the only events of her earliest life that impressed themselves at all sharply or completely upon her mind. Through time's distorted haze she could also vaguely recall an adventure with treacle when, egged on by Alfie, she had explored the darkness of an inset cupboard and wedged the stolen tin of golden syrup so tightly round her silvery curls that Alfie had shouted for help. The sensation of the sticky substance trickling down her face in numerous thin streams remained with her always.

People were only realized in portions. For example, Ruby O'Connor existed as a rough, red hand, descending upon her suddenly in the midst of baby enjoyments. Alfie and Edie were two noises, acquiring with greater nearness the character of predatory birds. That is to say, in Jenny's mind the intimate approach of either always announced loss or interruption of a pleasure. Her father she first apprehended as a pair of legs forming a gigantic archway, vast as the Colossus of Rhodes must have loomed to the triremes of the Confederacy. Better than kisses or admonitions, she remembered her mother's skirt, whether as support or sanctuary. The rest of mankind she did not at all distinguish from trees walking. She was better able to conceive a smile than a face, but the realization of either largely depended upon its association with the handkerchief of "peep-bo."

Seventeen Hagworth Street was familiar, first of all, through the step of the front door, which she invariably was commanded to beware. She did not grasp its propinquity from the perambulator, for, when lifted out of the latter and told to run in to mother, it was only the step which assured her of the vast shadowy place of warmth and familiar smells in which she spent most of her existence. Of the smells, the best remembered in after-life was that of warm blankets before the kitchen fire. Her only approach to an idea of property rested in the security of a slice of bread and butter, which could be devoured slowly without wakening Alfie's cupidity. On the other hand, when jam was added, the slice must be gobbled, not from greediness, but for fear of losing it. This applied also to the incidental booty of stray chocolates or paints. Her notion of territory was confined to places where she could sit or lie at ease. The patchwork hearthrug, which provided warmth, softness, something to tug at, and, sometimes, pieces of coal to chew, was probably her earliest conception of home, and perhaps her first disillusionment was due to a volatile spark burning her cheek. Bed struck her less as a prelude to the oblivion of sleep than as a spot where she was not worried about sucking her thumb. Perhaps her first emotion of mere sensuousness was the delicious anticipation of thumb-sucking as Ruby O'Connor propelled her upstairs with the knee, a sensuousness that was only very slightly ruffled by the thought of soap and flannelette. Suspicion was born when once she was given a spoonful of jam, whose melting sweetness disclosed a clammy sediment of gray powder, so that ever afterwards the offer of a spoon meant kicks and yells, dribbles and clenched resistance. Her first deception lay in pretending to be asleep when she was actually awake, as animals counterfeit death to avoid disturbance. Whether, however, she had any idea of being what she was not, is unlikely, as she did not yet possess a notion of being. Probably "peep-bo," when first practiced by herself, helped to formulate an embryonic egotism.

The birth of light on summer mornings kindled a sense of wonder when she realized that light did not depend on human agency. Later on, dawn was connected in her mind with the suddenly jerky movement of the night-light's luminous reflection upon the ceiling, at which she would stare for hours in meditative content. This movement was always followed by the splutter and hiss of the drowning wick, and her first feeling of nocturnal terror was experienced when once these symptoms occurred and were followed, not by morning light, but by darkness. Then she shrieked, not because she feared anything in the darkness yet, but because she could not understand it.

The sensations of this Islington baby may have resembled those of a full-grown Carib or Hottentot in their simple acceptance of primary facts, in a desire for synthetic representation which distinguishes an unsophisticated audience of plays, in that odd passion for accuracy whose breach upsets a habit, whose observance confirms dogs, children and savages in their hold upon life.

As was natural for one more usually occupied with effects than causes, Jenny took delight in colored chalks and beads, and probably a vivid scarlet pélisse first awoke her dormant sense of beauty. The appearance of this vestment was more important than its purpose, but the tying on of her "ta-ta"--at first a frilled bonnet, later on a rakish Tam o' Shanter--was clapped as the herald of drowsy glidings in cool airs. She would sit in the perambulator staring solemnly at Ruby, and only opening her eyes a little wider when she was bumped down to take a crossing and up to regain the pavement. Passers-by, who leaned over to admire her, gained no more appreciation than a puzzled blink, less than was vouchsafed to the sudden shadow of a bird's flight across her vision.

Then came hot summer days and a sailor hat which enrolled her in the crew of the H.M.S. Goliath. This hat she disliked on account of the elastic, which Alfie loved to catch hold of and let go with a smacking sound that hurt her chin dreadfully; and sometimes in tugging at it, she would herself let it slip so that it caught her nose like a whip.

These slow promenades up and down the shady side of Hagworth Street were very pleasant; although the inevitable buckling of the strap began to impede her ideas of freedom, so much so in time that it became a duty to herself to wriggle as much as possible before she let Ruby fasten it round her waist. Perhaps the first real struggle for self-expression happened on a muddy day, when she discovered that, by letting her podgy hand droop over the edge of the perambulator, the palm of it could be exquisitely tickled by the slow and moist revolutions of the wheel. Ruby instantly forbade this. Jenny declined to obey the command. Ruby leaned over and slapped the offending hand. Jenny shrieked and kicked. Edie fell down and became involved with the wheels of the perambulator. Alfie knelt by a drain to pretend he was fishing. Jenny screamed louder and louder. An errand-boy looked on. An old lady rebuked the flustered Ruby. The rabbit-skin rug palpitated with angry little feet, Ruby put up the hood and tightened the strap round Jenny, making her more furious than ever. It came on to rain. It came on to blow. It was altogether a thoroughly unsatisfactory morning.

"I'll learn you, Miss Artful, when I gets you home. You will have your own way, will you? Young Alfie, come out of the gutter, you naughty boy. I'll tell your father. Get up, do, Edie."

At last they reached Number Seventeen. Summoned by yells, Mrs. Raeburn came to the door.

"Whatever have you been doing to the children, Ruby?"

"Lor', mum, they've been that naughty, I haven't known if I was on my head or my heels."

The interfering old lady came up at this moment.

"That girl of yours was beating your baby disgracefully."

"No, I never," declared Ruby.

"I shall report you to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children."

"That's right, Mother Longnose, you'll do a lot," said Ruby, whose Irish ancestry was flooding her cheeks.

"Were you whipping Jenny?" inquired Mrs. Raeburn.

"I slapped her wrist."

"What for?"

"Because she wouldn't keep her hands off of the wheel. I told her not to, but she would go on."

"I shall report you all," announced the old lady.

This irritated Mrs. Raeburn, who replied that she would report the old lady as a wandering lunatic. Jenny's right to act as she wished was in the balance. The old lady, like many another before, ruined freedom's cause by untimely propaganda. Mrs. Raeburn plucked her daughter from the perambulator, shook her severely, and said: "You bad, naughty girl," several times in succession. Jenny paused for a moment in surprise, then burst into yells louder by far than she had ever achieved before, and was carried into the house out of reach of sympathy.

From that moment she was alert to combat authority. From that moment to the end of her days, life could offer her nothing more hateful than attempted repression. That this struggle over the wheel of a perambulator endowed her with a consciousness of her own personality, it would be hard to assert positively, but it is significant that about this age (two years and eight months) she no longer always spoke of herself as Jenny, but sometimes took the first personal pronoun. Also, about this age, she began to imagine that people were laughing at her, and, being taken by her mother into a shop on one occasion, set up a commotion of tears, because, she insisted, the ladies behind the counter were laughing at her, when really the poor ladies were trying to be particularly pleasant. When Jenny was three, another baby came to Hagworth Street--dark-eyed, puny, and wan-looking. Jenny was put on the bed beside her.

"This is May," said her mother.

"I love May," said Jenny.

"Very much, do you love her?"

"Jenny loves May. I love May. May is Jenny's dolly."

And from that moment, notwithstanding the temporary interruptions of many passionate quarrels, Jenny made that dark-eyed little sister one of the great facts in her life. This was well for May, because, as she grew older, she grew into a hunchback.

Two more years went by of daily walks and insignificant adventures. Jenny was five. Alfie and Edie were now stalwart scholars, who rushed off in the mornings, the former armed, according to the season, with chestnuts, pegtops or bags of marbles, the latter full of whispers and giggles, always one of a bunch of other little girls distinguishable only by dress. About this time Jenny came to the conclusion she did not want to be a girl any longer. But the bedrock of sexual differences puzzled her: obviously one vital quality of boyishness was the right to wear breeches. Jenny took off her petticoats and stalked about the kitchen.

"You rude thing!" said Ruby, shocked by the exhibition.

"I'm not a rude thing," Jenny declared; "I'm being a boy."

"And wherever is your petticoats?"

"I frowed 'em away," said Jenny. "I'm a boy."

"You're rude little girl."

"I'm not a girl. I won't be a girl. I want to be a boy." Jenny darted for the street, encountering by the gate the outraged blushes of Edie and her bunch of secretive companions.

"Did you ever?" said the ripest. "Look at Edie's sister."

Boys opposite began to "holler." Alfie appeared bent double in an effort to secure a blood ally. He lost at once the marble and the respect of his schoolfellows. His confusion was terrible. His sister skirtless before the public eye! Young Jenny making him look like a fool!

"Go on in, you little devil," he shouted. He ground his teeth.

"Go on in!"

Ruby was by this time in pursuit of the rebel. Mrs. Raeburn had been warned and was already at the gate. Alfie, haunted by a thousand mocking eyes, fled to his room and wept tears of shame. Edie broke away from her friends, and stood, breathing very fast, in petrified anticipation. Jenny was led indoors and up to bed.

"Why can't I be a boy?" she moaned.

"Well, there's a sauce!" said Ruby. "However on earth can you be a boy when you've been made a girl?"

"But I don't want to be a girl."

"Well, you've got to be, and that's all about it. You'll be fidgeting for the moon next. Besides, if you go trapesing round half-dressed, the policeman'll have you."

Jenny had heard of the powers of the policeman for a long time. Those guardians of order stood for her as sinister, inhuman figures, always ready to spring on little girls and carry them off to unknown places. She was never taught to regard them as kindly defenders on whom one could rely in emergencies, but looked upon them with all the suspicion of a dog for a uniform. Their large quiescence and their habit of looming unexpectedly round corners shed a cloud upon the sunniest moment. They were images of vengeance at whose approach even boys huddled together, shamefaced.

Mrs. Raeburn came upstairs to interview her discontented daughter.

"Don't you ever do any such thing again. Behaving like a tomboy!"

"Why mayn't I be a boy?"

"Because you're a girl."

"Who said so?"


"Who's God?"

"That's neither here nor there."

God was another shadow upon enjoyment. He was not to be found by pillar boxes. He did not lurk in archways, it is true. He was apparently not a policeman, but something bigger, even, than a policeman. She had seen His picture--old and irritable, among the clouds.

"Why did God say so?"

"Because He knows best."

"But I want to be a boy."

"Would you like me to cut off all your curls?"


"Well, if you want to be a boy, off they'll have to come. Don't make any mistake about that--every one, and I'll give them to May. Then you'll be a sight."

"Am I a girl because I'm pretty?"


"Is that what girls are for?"


This adventure made Jenny much older because it set her imagination working, or rather it made her imagination concentrate. Reasons and causes began to float nebulously before her mind. She began to ask questions. Gone was the placid acceptance of facts. Gone was the stolid life of babyhood. Darkness no longer terrified her because it was not light, but because it was populated with inhabitants both dismal and ill-minded. At first these shapes were undefined, mere cloudy visualizations of Ruby's vague threats. Bogymen existed in cupboards and other places of secluded darkness, but without any appearance capable of making a pictorial impression. It was a Punch and Judy show that first endowed the night with visible and malicious shadows.

The sound of the drum boomed from the far end of Hagworth Street. The continual reiteration of the pipes' short phrase of melody summoned boys and girls from every area. The miniature theater stood up tall in a mystery of curtains. Row after row of children was formed, row upon row waited patiently till the showman left off his two instruments and gave the word to begin. Down below, ineffably magical, sounded the squeaking voice of Punch. Up he came, swinging his little legs across the sill; up he came in a glory of red and yellow, and a jingle of bells. Jenny gazed spell-bound from her place in the very front row. She laughed gayly at this world of long noses and squeaking merriment, of awkward, yet incredibly agile movement. She turned round to see how the bigger children behind enjoyed it all, and fidgeted from one foot to the other in an ecstasy of appreciation. She laughed when Punch hit Judy; she laughed louder still when he threw the baby into the street. She gloried in his discomfiture of the melancholy showman with squeaky wit. He was a wonderful fellow, this Punch; always victorious with stick and tongue. His defeat of the beadle was magnificent; his treatment of Jim Crow a triumph of strategy. To be sure, he was no match for Joey, the clown. But lived there the mortal who could have contended successfully with such a jovial and active and indefatigable assailant?

Jenny was beginning to see the world with new eyes. The kitchen of Number Seventeen became a dull place; the street meant more to her than ever now, with the possibility of meeting in reality this enchanted company, to whom obedience, repression, good-behavior were just so many jokes to be laughed out of existence. How much superior to Jenny's house was Punch's house. How delicious it would be to bury dogs in coffins. But the clown! After all, he could have turned even Jenny's house into one long surprise. He summed up all Jenny's ideas of enjoyment. She heard Ruby behind her commenting upon his action as "owdacious." The same unsympathetic tyrant had often called her "owdacious," and here, before her dancing deep eyes, was audacity made manifest. How she longed to be actually of this merriment, not merely a spectator at the back of whose mind bed loomed as the dull but inevitable climax of all delight.

Then came the episode of the hangman, and the quavering note of fear in Punch's voice found a responsive echo in her own.

"He's going to be hanged," said Ruby gloatingly.

Jenny began to feel uneasy. Even in this irresponsible world, there was unpleasantness in the background.

Then came the ghost--a terrifying figure. And then came a green dragon, with cruel, snapping jaws--even more terrifying--but most terrifying of all was Ruby's answer to her whispered inquiry:

"Why was all that?"

"Because Punch was a bad, wicked man."

The street so crudely painted on the back of the puppet-show took on suddenly a strange and uninviting emptiness, seemed to stand out behind the figures with a horrid likeness to Hagworth Street, to Hagworth Street in a bad dream devoid of friendly faces. Was a green dragon the end of pleasure? It was all very disconcerting.

The play was over; the halfpennies had been gathered in. The lamplighter was coming round, and through the dusk the noise of pipe and drums slowly grew faint in the distance with a melancholy foreboding of finality.

Jenny's brain was buzzing with a multitude of self-contradictory impressions. For once, in a way, she was glad to hold tightly on to Ruby's rough, red hand. But the conversation between Ruby and another big girl on the way home was not encouraging.

"And she was found in an area with her throat cut open in a stream of blood, and the man as did it got away and ain't been caught yet."

"There's been a lot of these murders lately," said Ruby.

"Hundreds," corroborated her friend.

"Every night," added Ruby, "sometimes two."

"I've been afraid to sleep alone. You can hear the paper boys calling of 'em out."

True enough, that very night, Jenny, lying awake, heard down the street cries gradually coming nearer in colloquial announcement of sudden death, in hoarse revelations of blood and disaster.

"Could I be murdered?" she asked next day.

"Of course you could," was Ruby's cheerful reply. "Especially if you isn't a good girl."

Jenny went over in her mind the drama of Punch and Judy. Murder meant being knocked on the head with a stick and thrown out of the window.

That night again the cries went surging up and down the street. Details of mutilation floated in through the foggy air till the flickering night-light showed peeping hangmen in every dim corner. Jenny covered herself with the blankets and pressed hot, sleepless eyelids close to her eyes, hoping to distract herself from the contemplation of horror by the gay wheels of dazzling colors which such an action always produces. The wheels appeared, but presently turned to the similitude of blood-red spots. She opened her eyes again. The room seemed monstrously large. Edie was beside her. She shook her sleeping sister.

"Wake up; oh, Edie, do wake up!"

"Whatever is it, you great nuisance?"

In the far distance, "Another Horrible Murder in Whitechapel," answered Edie's question, and Jenny began to scream.

Chapter IV

: The Ancient Mischief

There was nothing to counterbalance the terrors of childhood in Hagworth Street. Outside the hope of one day being able to do as she liked, Jenny had no ideals. Worse, she had no fairyland. Soon she would be given at school a bald narrative of Cinderella or Red Riding Hood, where every word above a monosyllable would be divided in such a way that hyphens would always seem of greater importance than elves.

About this time Jenny's greatest joy was music, and in connection with this an incident occurred which, though she never remembered it herself, had yet such a tremendous importance in some of its side-issues as to deserve record.

It was a fine day in early summer. All the morning, Jenny, on account of household duties, had been kept indoors, and, some impulse of freedom stirring in her young heart, she slipped out alone into the sunlit street. Somewhere close at hand a piano-organ was playing the intermezzo from "Cavalleria," and the child tripped towards the sound. Soon she came upon the player, and stood, finger in mouth, abashed for a moment, but the Italian beamed at her--an honest smile of welcome, for she was obviously no bringer of pence. Wooed by his friendliness, Jenny began to dance in perfect time, marking with little feet the slow rhythm of the tune.

In scarlet serge dress and cap of scarlet stockinette, she danced to the tinsel melody. Unhampered by anything save the need for self-expression, she expressed the joyousness of a London morning as her feet took the paving-stones all dappled and flecked with shadows of the tall plane tree at the end of Hagworth Street. She was a dainty child, with silvery curls and almond eyes where laughter rippled in a blue so deep you would have vowed they were brown. The scarlet of her dress, through long use, had taken on the soft texture of a pastel.

Picture her, then, dancing alone in the quiet Islington street to this faded tune of Italy, as presently down the street that seemed stained with the warmth of alien suns shuffled an old man. He stopped to regard the dancing child over the crook of his ebony walking-stick.

"Aren't you Mrs. Raeburn's little girl?" he asked.

Jenny melted into shyness, lost nearly all her beauty, and became bunched and ordinary for a moment.

"Yes," she whispered.

"Humph!" grunted the old man, and solemnly presented the organ grinder with a halfpenny.

Ruby O'Connor's voice rang out down the street.

"Come back directly, you limb!" she called. Jenny looked irresolute, but presently decided to obey.

That same evening the old man tapped at the kitchen door.

"Come in," said Mrs. Raeburn. "Is that you, Mr. Vergoe? Something gone wrong with your gas again? I do wish Charlie would remember to mend it."

"No, there's nothing the matter with the gas," explained the lodger. (For Mr. Vergoe was the lodger of Number Seventeen.) "Only I think that child of yours'll make a dancer some day."

"Make a what?" said the mother.

"A dancer. I was watching her this morning. Wonderful notion of time. You ought to have her trained, so to speak."

"My good gracious, whatever for?"

"The stage, of course."

"No, thank you. I don't want none of my children gadding round theaters."

"But you like a good play yourself?"

"That's quite another kettle of fish. Thank you all the same, Mr. Vergoe, Jenny'll not go on to the stage."

"You're making a great mistake," he insisted. "And I suppose I know something about dancing, or ought to, as it were."

"I have my own ideas what's good for Jenny."

"But ain't she going to have a say in the matter, so to speak?"

"My dear man, she isn't seven yet."

"None too early to start dancing."

"I'd rather not, thank you, and please don't start putting fancies in the child's head."

"Of course, I shouldn't. Of course not. That ain't to be thought of."

But the very next day Mr. Walter Vergoe invited Jenny to come and see some pretty picture-books, and Jenny, with much finger and pinafore sucking and buried cheeks, followed him through the door near which she had always been commanded not to loiter.

"Come in, my dear, and look at Mr. Vergoe's pretty pictures. Don't be shy. Here's a bag of lollipops," he said, holding up a pennyworth of bull's-eyes.

On the jolly June morning the room where the old clown had elected to spend his frequently postponed retirement was exceedingly pleasant. The sun streamed in through the big bay-window: the sparrows cheeped and twittered outside, and on the window-sill a box of round-faced pansies danced in the merry June breeze. The walls were hung with silhouettes of the great dead and tinsel pictures of bygone dramas and harlequinades and tragedies. There were daguerreotypes of beauties in crinolines, of ruddy-cheeked actors and apple-faced old actresses. There was a pinchbeck crown and scepter hung below a small sword with guard of cut steel. There were framed letters and testimonials on paper gradually rusting, written with ink that was every day losing more and more of its ancient blackness. There were steel engravings of this or that pillared Theatre Royal, stuck round with menus of long-digested suppers; and on the mantlepiece was a row of champagne corks whose glad explosions happened years ago. There was a rosewood piano, whose ivory keys were the color of coffee, whose fretwork displayed a pleated silk that once was crimson as wine. But the most remarkable thing in the room was a clown's dress hanging below a wreath of sausages from a hook on the door. It used, in the days of the clown's activity, to hang thus in his dressing-room, and when he came out of the stage door for the last time and went home to stewed tripe and cockles with two old friends, he took the dress with him in a brown-paper parcel and hung it up after supper. It confronted him now like a disembodied joy whose race was over. Rheumatic were the knees that once upon a time were bent in the wide laugh of welcome, while in the corner a red-hot poker's vermilion fire was harmless forevermore. Dreaming on winter eves near Christmas time, Mr. Vergoe would think of those ample pockets that once held inexhaustible supplies of crackers. Dreaming on winter eves by the fireside, he would hear out of the past the laughter of children and the flutter of the footlights, and would murmur to himself in whistling accents: "Here we are again."

There he was again, indeed, an old man by a dying fire, sitting among the ashes of burnt-out jollities.