Tommy & Co. (Windsor Magazine, 1903-04)/'Good Humour' Obtains the Marble Soap Advertisement
No. V—“GOOD HUMOUR” OBTAINS THE MARBLE SOAP ADVERTISEMENT
PEOPLE said of the new journal, Good Humour—people of taste and judgment, that it was the brightest, the cleverest, the most literary penny weekly that ever had been offered to the public. This made Peter Hope, editor and part-proprietor, very happy. William Clodd, business manager, and also part-proprietor, it left less elated.
“Must be careful,” said William Clodd, “that we don't make it too clever. Happy medium, that's the ideal.”
People said—people of taste and judgment, that Good Humour was more worthy of support than all the other penny weeklies put together. People of taste and judgment even went so far, some of them, as to buy it. Peter Hope, looking forward, saw fame and fortune coming to him. William Clodd, looking round about him, said—
“Doesn't it occur to you, Guv'nor, that we're getting this thing just a trifle too high class?”
“What makes you think that?” demanded Peter Hope.
“Our circulation, for one thing,” explained Clodd. “The returns for last month——”
“I'd rather you didn't mention them, if you don't mind,” interrupted Peter Hope; “somehow, hearing the actual figures always depresses me.”
“Can't say I feel inspired by them myself,” admitted Clodd.
“It will come,” said Peter Hope, “it will come in time. We must educate the public up to our level.”
“If there is one thing, so far as I have noticed,” said William Clodd, “that the public are inclined to pay less for than another, it is for being educated.”
“What are we to do?” asked Peter Hope.
“What you want,” answered William Clodd, “is an office-boy.”
“How will our having an office-boy increase our circulation?” demanded Peter Hope. “Besides, it was agreed that we could do without one for the first year. Why suggest more expense?”
“I don't mean an ordinary office-boy,” explained Clodd. “I mean the sort of boy that I rode with in the train going down to Stratford yesterday.”
“What was there remarkable about him?”
“Nothing. He was reading the current number of the penny paper of fiction. Over two hundred thousand people buy it. He is one of them. He told me so. When he had done with it, he drew from his pocket a copy of the Halfpenny Joker—they guarantee a circulation of seventy thousand. He sat and chuckled over it until we got to Bow.”
“You wait a minute. I'm coming to the explanation. That boy represents the reading public. I talked to him. The papers he likes best are the papers that have the largest sales. He never made a single mistake. The others—those of them he had seen—he dismissed as 'rot.' What he likes is what the great mass of the journal-buying public likes. Please him—I took his name and address, and he is willing to come to us for eight shillings a week—and you please the people that buy. Not the people that glance through a paper when it is lying on the smoking-room table, and tell you it is damned good, but the people that plank down their penny. That's the sort we want.”
Peter Hope, able editor, with ideals, was shocked—indignant. William Clodd, business man, without ideals, talked figures.
“There's the advertiser to be thought of,” persisted Clodd. “I don't pretend to be a George Washington, but what's the use of telling lies that sound like lies, even to one's self while one's telling them? Give me a genuine sale of twenty thousand, and I'll undertake, without committing myself, to convey an impression of forty. But when the actual figures are under eight thousand—well, it hampers you, if you happen to have a conscience.
“Give them every week a dozen columns of good, sound literature,” continued Clodd insinuatingly, “but wrap it up in twenty-four columns of jam. It's the only way they'll take it, and you will be doing them good—educating them without their knowing it. All powder and no jam! Well, they don't open their mouths, that's all.”
Clodd was a man who knew how to get his way. Flipp—spelled Philip—Tweetel arrived in due course of time at 23, Crane Court, ostensibly to take up the position of Good Humour's office-boy; in reality, and without his being aware of it, to act as its literary taster. Stories in which Flipp became absorbed were accepted. Peter groaned, but contented himself with correcting only their grosser grammatical blunders; the experiment should be tried in all good faith. Humour at which Flipp laughed was printed. Peter tried to ease his conscience by increasing his subscription to the fund for destitute compositors, but only partially succeeded. Poetry that brought a tear to the eye of Flipp was given leaded type. People of taste and judgment said Good Humour had disappointed them. Its circulation, slowly but steadily, increased.
“See!” cried the delighted Clodd; “told you so!”
“It's sad to think——” began Peter.
“Always is,” interrupted Clodd cheerfully. “Moral—don't think too much.”
“Tell you what we'll do,” added Clodd. “We'll make a fortune out of this paper. Then when we can afford to lose a little money, we'll launch a paper that shall appeal only to the intellectual portion of the public. Meanwhile——”
A squat black bottle with a label attached, standing on the desk, arrested Clodd's attention.
“When did this come?” asked Clodd.
“About an hour ago,” Peter told him.
“Any order with it?”
“I think so.” Peter searched for and found a letter addressed to “William Clodd, Esq., Advertising Manager, Good Humour.” Clodd tore it open, hastily devoured it.
“Not closed up yet, are you?”
“No, not till eight o'clock.”
“Good! I want you to write me a par. Do it now, then you won't forget it. For the 'Walnuts and Wine' column.”
Peter sat down, headed a sheet of paper: 'For W. and W. Col.'
“What is it?” questioned Peter—“something to drink?”
“It's a sort of port,” explained Clodd, “that doesn't get into your head.”
“You consider that an advantage?” queried Peter.
“Of course. You can drink more of it.”
Peter continued to write: 'Possesses all the qualities of an old vintage port, without those deleterious properties—' “I haven't tasted it, Clodd,” hinted Peter.
“That's all right—I have.”
“And was it good?”
“Splendid stuff. Say it's 'delicious and invigorating.' They'll be sure to quote that.”
Peter wrote on: 'Personally I have found it delicious and—' Peter left off writing. “I really think, Clodd, I ought to taste it. You see, I am personally recommending it.”
“Finish that par. Let me have it to take round to the printers. Then put the bottle in your pocket. Take it home and make a night of it.”
Clodd appeared to be in a mighty hurry. Now, this made Peter only the more suspicious. The bottle was close to his hand. Clodd tried to intercept him, but was not quick enough.
“You're not used to temperance drinks,” urged Clodd. “Your palate is not accustomed to them.”
“I can tell whether it's 'delicious' or not, surely?” pleaded Peter, who had pulled out the cork.
“It's a quarter-page advertisement for thirteen weeks. Put it down and don't be a fool!” urged Clodd.
“I'm going to put it down,” laughed Peter, who was fond of his joke. Peter poured out half a tumblerful, and drank—some of it.
“Like it?” demanded Clodd, with a savage grin.
“You are sure—you are sure it was the right bottle?” gasped Peter.
“Bottle's all right,” Clodd assured him. “Try some more. Judge it fairly.”
Peter ventured on another sip. “You don't think they would be satisfied if I recommended it as a medicine?” insinuated Peter—“something to have about the house in case of accidental poisoning?”
“Better go round and suggest the idea to them yourself. I've done with it.” Clodd took up his hat.
“I'm sorry—I'm very sorry,” sighed Peter. “But I couldn't conscientiously——”
Clodd put down his hat again with a bang. “Oh! confound that conscience of yours! Don't it ever think of your creditors? What's the use of my working out my lungs for you, when all you do is to hamper me at every step?”
“Wouldn't it be better policy,” urged Peter, “to go for the better class of advertiser, who doesn't ask you for this sort of thing?”
“Go for him!” snorted Clodd. “Do you think I don't go for him? They are just sheep. Get one, you get the lot. Until you've got the one, the others won't listen to you.”
“That's true,” mused Peter. “I spoke to Wilkinson, of Kingsley's, myself. He advised me to try and get Landor's. He thought that if I could get an advertisement out of Landor, he might persuade his people to give us theirs.”
“And if you had gone to Landor, he would have promised you theirs provided you got Kingsley's.”
“They will come,” thought hopeful Peter. “We are going up steadily. They will come with a rush.”
“They had better come soon,” thought Clodd. “The only things coming with a rush just now are bills.”
“Those articles of young McTear's attracted a good deal of attention,” expounded Peter. “He has promised to write me another series.”
“Jowett is the one to get hold of,” mused Clodd. “Jowett, all the others follow like a flock of geese waddling after the old gander. If only we could get hold of Jowett, the rest would be easy.”
Jowett was the proprietor of the famous Marble Soap. Jowett spent on advertising every year a quarter of a million, it was said. Jowett was the stay and prop of periodical literature. New papers that secured the Marble Soap advertisement lived and prospered; the new paper to which it was denied languished and died. Jowett, and how to get hold of him; Jowett, and how to get round him, formed the chief topic of discussion at the council-board of most new papers, Good Humour amongst the number.
“I have heard,” said Miss Ramsbotham, who wrote the Letter to Clorinda that filled each week the last two pages of Good Humour, and that told Clorinda, who lived secluded in the country, the daily history of the highest class society, among whom Miss Ramsbotham appeared to live and have her being; who they were, and what they wore, the wise and otherwise things they did—“I have heard,” said Miss Ramsbotham one morning, Jowett being as usual the subject under debate, “that the old man is susceptible to female influence.”
“What I have always thought,” said Clodd. “A lady advertising-agent might do well. At all events, they couldn't kick her out.”
“They might in the end,” thought Peter. “Female door-porters would become a profession for muscular ladies if ever the idea took root.”
“The first one would get a good start, anyhow,” thought Clodd.
The sub-editor had pricked up her ears. Once upon a time, long ago, the sub-editor had succeeded, when all other London journalists had failed, in securing an interview with a certain great statesman. The sub-editor had never forgotten this—nor allowed anyone else to forget it.
“I believe I could get it for you,” said the sub-editor.
The editor and the business-manager both spoke together. They spoke with decision and with emphasis.
“Why not?” said the sub-editor. “When nobody else could get at him, it was I who interviewed Prince——”
“We've heard all about that,” interrupted the business-manager. “If I had been your father at the time, you would never have done it.”
“How could I have stopped her?” retorted Peter Hope. “She never said a word to me.”
“You could have kept an eye on her.”
“Kept an eye on her! When you've got a girl of your own, you'll know more about them.”
“When I have,” asserted Clodd, “I'll manage her.”
“We know all about bachelor's children,” sneered Peter Hope, the editor.
“You leave it to me. I'll have it for you before the end of the week,” crowed the sub-editor.
“If you do get it,” returned Clodd, “I shall throw it out, that's all.”
“You said yourself a lady advertising-agent would be a good idea,” the sub-editor reminded him.
“So she might be,” returned Clodd; “but she isn't going to be you.”
“Because she isn't, that's why.”
“See you at the printer's at twelve,” said Clodd to Peter, and went out suddenly.
“Well, I think he's an idiot,” said the sub-editor.
“I do not often,” said the editor, “but on this point I agree with him. Cadging for advertisements isn't a woman's work.”
“But what is the difference between——”
“All the difference in the world,” thought the editor.
“You don't know what I was going to say,” returned his sub.
“I know the drift of it,” asserted the editor.
“But you let me——”
“I know I do—a good deal too much. I'm going to turn over a new leaf.”
“All I propose to do——”
“Whatever it is, you're not going to do it,” declared the chief. “Shall be back at half-past twelve, if anybody comes.”
“It seems to me——” But Peter was gone.
“Just like them all,” wailed the sub-editor. “They can't argue; when you explain things to them, they go out. It does make me so mad!”
Miss Ramsbotham laughed. “You are a downtrodden little girl, Tommy.”
“As if I couldn't take care of myself!” Tommy's chin was high up in the air.
“Cheer up,” suggested Miss Ramsbotham. “Nobody ever tells me not to do anything. I would change with you if I could.”
“I'd have walked into that office and have had that advertisement out of old Jowett in five minutes, I know I would,” bragged Tommy. “I can always get on with old men.”
“Only with the old ones?” queried Miss Ramsbotham.
The door opened. “Anybody in?” asked the face of Johnny Bulstrode, appearing in the jar.
“Can't you see they are?” snapped Tommy.
“Figure of speech,” explained Johnny Bulstrode, commonly called “the Babe,” entering and closing the door behind him.
“What do you want?” demanded the sub-editor.
“Nothing in particular,” replied the Babe.
“Wrong time of the day to come for it, half-past eleven in the morning,” explained the sub-editor.
“What's the matter with you?” asked the Babe.
“Feeling very cross,” confessed the sub-editor.
The childlike face of the Babe expressed sympathetic inquiry.
“We are very indignant,” explained Miss Ramsbotham, “because we are not allowed to rush off to Cannon Street and coax an advertisement out of old Jowett, the soap man. We feel sure that if we only put on our best hat, he couldn't possibly refuse us.”
“No coaxing required,” thought the sub-editor. “Once get in to see the old fellow and put the actual figures before him, he would clamour to come in.”
“Won't he see Clodd?” asked the Babe.
“Won't see anybody on behalf of anything new just at present, apparently,” answered Miss Ramsbotham. “It was my fault. I was foolish enough to repeat that I had heard he was susceptible to female charm. They say it was Mrs. Sarkitt that got the advertisement for The Lamp out of him. But, of course, it may not be true.”
“Wish I was a soap man and had got advertisements to give away,” sighed the Babe.
“Wish you were,” agreed the sub-editor.
“You should have them all, Tommy.”
“My name,” corrected him the sub-editor, “is Miss Hope.”
“I beg your pardon,” said the Babe. “I don't know how it is, but one gets into the way of calling you Tommy.”
“I will thank you,” said the sub-editor, “to get out of it.”
“I am sorry,” said the Babe.
“Don't let it occur again,” said the sub-editor.
The Babe stood first on one leg and then on the other, but nothing seemed to come of it. “Well,” said the Babe, “I just looked in, that's all. Nothing I can do for you?”
“Nothing,” thanked him the sub-editor.
“Good morning,” said the Babe.
“Good morning,” said the sub-editor.
The childlike face of the Babe wore a chastened expression as it slowly descended the stairs. Most of the members of the Autolycus Club looked in about once a day to see if they could do anything for Tommy. Some of them had luck. Only the day before, Porson—a heavy, most uninteresting man—had been sent down all the way to Plaistow to inquire after the wounded hand of a machine-boy. Young Alexander, whose poetry some people could not even understand, had been commissioned to search London for a second-hand edition of Maitland's “Architecture.” Since a fortnight nearly now, when he had been sent out to drive away an organ that would not go, Johnny had been given nothing.
Johnny turned the corner into Fleet Street feeling bitter with his lot. A boy carrying a parcel stumbled against him.
“Beg yer pardon——” the small boy looked up into Johnny's face, “miss,” added the small boy, dodging the blow and disappearing into the crowd.
The Babe, by reason of his childlike face, was accustomed to insults of this character, but to-day it especially irritated him. Why at twenty-two could he not grow even a moustache? Why was he only five feet five and a half? Why had Fate cursed him with a pink-and-white complexion, so that the members of his own club had nicknamed him “the Babe,” while street-boys as they passed pleaded with him for a kiss? Why was his very voice, a flute-like alto, more suitable—— Suddenly an idea sprang to life within his brain. The idea grew. Passing a barber's shop, Johnny went in.
“'Air cut, sir?” remarked the barber, fitting a sheet round Johnny's neck.
“No, shave,” corrected Johnny.
“Beg pardon,” said the barber, substituting a towel for the sheet. “Do you shave up, sir?” later demanded the barber.
“Yes,” answered Johnny.
“Pleasant weather we are having,” said the barber.
“Very,” assented Johnny.
From the barber's, Johnny went to Stinchcombe's, the costumier's, in Drury Lane.
“I am playing in a burlesque,” explained the Babe. “I want you to rig me out completely as a modern girl.”
“Peeth o' luck!” said the shopman. “Goth the very bundle for you. Juth come in.”
“I shall want everything,” explained the Babe, “from the boots to the hat; stays, petticoats—the whole bag of tricks.”
“Regular troutheau there,” said the shopman, emptying out the canvas bag upon the counter. “Thry 'em on.”
The Babe contented himself with trying on the costume and the boots.
“Juth made for you!” said the shopman.
A little loose about the chest, suggested the Babe.
“Thath's all right,” said the shopman. “Couple o' thmall towelths, all thath's wanted.”
“You don't think it too showy?” queried the Babe.
“Thowy? Sthylish, thath's all.”
“You are sure everything's here?”
“Everythinkth there. 'Thept the bit o' meat inthide,” assured him the shopman.
The Babe left a deposit, and gave his name and address. The shopman promised the things should be sent round within an hour. The Babe, who had entered into the spirit of the thing, bought a pair of gloves and a small reticule, and made his way to Bow Street.
“I want a woman's light brown wig,” said the Babe to Mr. Cox, the perruquier.
Mr. Cox tried on two. The deceptive appearance of the second Mr. Cox pronounced as perfect.
“Looks more natural on you than your own hair, blessed if it doesn't!” said Mr. Cox.
The wig also was promised within the hour. The spirit of completeness descended upon the Babe. On his way back to his lodgings in Great Queen Street, he purchased a ladylike umbrella and a veil.
Now, a quarter of an hour after Johnny Bulstrode had made his exit by the door of Mr. Stinchcombe's shop, one, Harry Bennett, actor and member of the Autolycus Club, pushed it open and entered. The shop was empty. Harry Bennett hammered with his stick and waited. A piled-up bundle of clothes lay upon the counter; a sheet of paper, with a name and address scrawled across it, rested on the bundle. Harry Bennett, given to idle curiosity, approached and read the same. Harry Bennett, with his stick, poked the bundle, scattering its items over the counter.
“Donth do thath!” said the shopman, coming up. “Juth been putting 'em together.”
“What the devil,” said Harry Bennett, “is Johnny Bulstrode going to do with that rig-out?”
“How thoud I know?” answered the shopman. “Private theathricals, I suppoth. Friend o' yourth?”
“Yes,” replied Harry Bennett. “By Jove! he ought to make a good girl. Should like to see it!”
“Well arthk him for a ticket. Donth make 'em dirty,” suggested the shopman.
“I must,” said Harry Bennett, and talked about his own affairs.
The rig-out and the wig did not arrive at Johnny's lodgings within the hour as promised, but arrived there within three hours, which was as much as Johnny had expected. It took Johnny nearly an hour to dress, but at last he stood before the plate-glass panel of the wardrobe transformed. Johnny had reason to be pleased with the result. A tall, handsome girl looked back at him out of the glass—a little showily dressed, perhaps, but decidedly chic.
“Wonder if I ought to have a cloak,” mused Johnny, as a ray of sunshine, streaming through the window, fell upon the image in the glass. “Well, anyhow, I haven't,” thought Johnny, as the sunlight died away again, “so it's no good thinking about it.”
Johnny seized his reticule and his umbrella and opened cautiously the door. Outside all was silent. Johnny stealthily descended; in the passage paused again. Voices sounded from the basement. Feeling like an escaped burglar, Johnny slipped the latch of the big door and peeped out. A policeman, pasting, turned and looked at him. Johnny hastily drew back and closed the door again. Somebody was ascending from the kitchen. Johnny, caught between two terrors, nearer to the front door than to the stairs, having no time, chose the street. It seemed to Johnny that the street was making for him. A woman came hurriedly towards him. What was she going to say to him? What should he answer her? To his surprise she passed him, hardly noticing him. Wondering what miracle had saved him, he took a few steps forward. A couple of young clerks coming up from behind turned to look at him, but on encountering his answering stare of angry alarm, appeared confused and went their way. It began to dawn upon him that mankind was less discerning than he had feared. Gaining courage as he proceeded, he reached Holborn. Here the larger crowd swept around him indifferent.
“I beg your pardon,” said Johnny, coming into collision with a stout gentleman.
“My fault,” replied the stout gentleman, as, smiling, he picked up his damaged hat.
“I beg your pardon,” repeated Johnny again two minutes later, colliding with a tall young lady.
“Should advise you to take something for that squint of yours,” remarked the tall young lady with severity.
“What's the matter with me?” thought Johnny. “Seems to be a sort of mist——” The explanation flashed across him. “Of course,” said Johnny to himself, “it's this confounded veil!”
Johnny decided to walk to the Marble Soap offices. “I'll be more used to the hang of things by the time I get there if I walk,” thought Johnny. “Hope the old beggar's in.”
In Newgate Street, Johnny paused and pressed his hands against his chest. “Funny sort of pain I've got,” thought Johnny. “Wonder if I should shock them if I went in somewhere for a drop of brandy?”
“It don't get any better——” reflected Johnny, with some alarm, on reaching the corner of Cheapside. “Hope I'm not going to be ill. Whatever——” The explanation came to him. “Of course, it's these stays! No wonder girls are short-tempered, at times.”
At the offices of the Marble Soap, Johnny was treated with marked courtesy. Mr. Jowett was out, was not expected back till five o'clock. Would the lady wait, or would she call again? The lady decided, now she was there, to wait. Would the lady take the easy-chair? Would the lady have the window open or would she have it shut? Had the lady seen the Times?
“Or the Ha'penny Joker?” suggested a junior clerk, who thereupon was promptly sent back to his work.
Many of the senior clerks had occasion to pass through the waiting-room. Two of the senior clerks held views about the weather which they appeared wishful to express at length. Johnny began to enjoy himself. This thing was going to be good fun. By the time the slamming of doors and the hurrying of feet announced the advent of the chief, Johnny was looking forward to his interview.
It was briefer and less satisfactory than he had anticipated. Mr. Jowett was very busy—did not as a rule see anybody in the afternoon; but of course, a lady—— “Would Miss——”
“Would Miss Montgomery inform Mr. Jowett what it was he might have the pleasure of doing for her?”
Miss Montgomery explained.
Mr. Jowett seemed half angry, half amused.
“Really,” said Mr. Jowett, “this is hardly playing the game. Against our fellow-men we can protect ourselves, but if the ladies are going to attack us—really it isn't fair.”
Miss Montgomery pleaded.
“I'll think it over,” was all that Mr. Jowett could be made to promise. “Look me up again.”
“When?” asked Miss Montgomery.
“What's to-day?—Thursday. Say Monday.” Mr. Jowett rang the bell. “Take my advice,” said the old gentleman, laying a fatherly hand on Johnny's shoulder, “leave business to us men. You are a handsome girl. You can do better for yourself than this.”
A clerk entered, Johnny rose. “On Monday next, then,” Johnny reminded him.
“At four o'clock,” agreed Mr. Jowett. “Good afternoon.”
Johnny went out feeling disappointed, and yet, as he told himself, he hadn't done so badly. Anyhow, there was nothing for it but to wait till Monday. Now he would go home, change his clothes, and get some dinner. He hailed a hansom.
“Number twenty-eight—no. Stop at the Queen's Street corner of Lincoln's Inn Fields,” Johnny directed the man.
“Quite right, miss,” commented the cabman pleasantly. “Corner's best—saves all talk.”
“What do you mean?” demanded Johnny.
“No offence, miss,” answered the man. “We was all young once.”
Johnny climbed in. At the corner of Queen Street and Lincoln's Inn Fields, Johnny got out. Johnny, who had been pondering other matters, put his hand instinctively to where, speaking generally, his pocket should have been; then recollected himself.
“Let me see, did I think to bring any money out with me, or did I not?” mused Johnny, as he stood upon the kerb.
“Look in the ridicule, miss,” suggested the cabman.
Johnny looked. It was empty.
“Perhaps I put it in my pocket,” thought Johnny.
The cabman hitched his reins to the whip-socket and leant back.
“It's somewhere about here, I know, I saw it,” Johnny told himself. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” Johnny added aloud to the cabman.
“Don't you worry about that, miss,” replied the cabman civilly; “we are used to it. A shilling a quarter of an hour is what we charge.”
“Of all the silly tricks!” muttered Johnny to himself.
Two small boys and a girl carrying a baby paused, interested.
“Go away,” told them the cabman. “You'll have troubles of your own one day.”
The urchins moved a few steps further, then halted again and were joined by a slatternly woman and another boy.
“Got it!” cried Johnny, unable to suppress his delight as his hand slipped through a fold. The lady with the baby, without precisely knowing why, set up a shrill cheer. Johnny's delight died away; it wasn't the pocket-hole. Short of taking the skirt off and turning it inside out, it didn't seem to Johnny that he ever would find that pocket.
Then in that moment of despair he came across it accidentally. It was as empty as the reticule!
“I am sorry,” said Johnny to the cabman, “but I appear to have come out without my purse.”
The cabman said he had heard that tale before, and was making preparations to descend. The crowd, now numbering eleven, looked hopeful. It occurred to Johnny later that he might have offered his umbrella to the cabman; at least it would have fetched the eighteenpence. One thinks of these things afterwards. The only idea that occurred to him at the moment was that of getting home.
“'Ere, 'old my 'orse a minute, one of yer,” shouted the cabman.
Half-a-dozen willing hands seized the dozing steed and roused it into madness.
“Hi! stop 'er!” roared the cabman.
“She's down!” shouted the excited crowd.
“Tripped over 'er skirt,” explained the slatternly woman. “They do 'amper you.”
“No, she's not. She's up again!” vociferated a delighted plumber, with a sounding slap on his own leg. “Gor blimy, if she ain't a good 'un!”
Fortunately the Square was tolerably clear and Johnny a good runner. Holding now his skirt and petticoat high in his left hand, Johnny moved across the Square at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. A butcher's boy sprang in front of him with arms held out to stop him. The thing that for the next three months annoyed that butcher boy most was hearing shouted out after him “Yah! who was knocked down and run over by a lidy?” By the time Johnny reached the Strand, viâ Clement's Inn, the hue and cry was far behind. Johnny dropped his skirts and assumed a more girlish pace. Through Bow Street and Long Acre he reached Great Queen Street in safety. Upon his own doorstep he began to laugh. His afternoon's experience had been amusing; still, on the whole, he wasn't sorry it was over. One can have too much even of the best of jokes. Johnny rang the bell.
The door opened. Johnny would have walked in had not a big, raw-boned woman barred his progress.
“What do you want?” demanded the raw-boned woman.
“Want to come in,” explained Johnny.
“What do you want to come in for?”
This appeared to Johnny a foolish question. On reflection he saw the sense of it. This raw-boned woman was not Mrs. Pegg, his landlady. Some friend of hers, he supposed.
“It's all right,” said Johnny, “I live here. Left my latchkey at home, that's all.”
“There's no females lodging here,” declared the raw-boned lady. “And what's more, there's going to be none.”
All this was very vexing. Johnny, in his joy at reaching his own doorstep, had not foreseen these complications. Now it would be necessary to explain things. He only hoped the story would not get round to the fellows at the club.
“Ask Mrs. Pegg to step up for a minute,” requested Johnny.
“Not at 'ome,” explained the raw-boned lady.
“Not—not at home?”
“Gone to Romford, if you wish to know, to see her mother.”
“Gone to Romford?”
“I said Romford, didn't I?” retorted the raw-boned lady, tartly.
“What—what time do you expect her in?”
“Sunday evening, six o'clock,” replied the raw-boned lady.
Johnny looked at the raw-boned lady, imagined himself telling the raw-boned lady the simple, unvarnished truth, and the raw-boned lady's utter disbelief of every word of it. An inspiration came to his aid.
“I am Mr. Bulstrode's sister,” said Johnny meekly; “he's expecting me.”
“Thought you said you lived here?” reminded him the raw-boned lady.
“I meant that he lived here,” replied poor Johnny still more meekly. “He has the second floor, you know.”
“I know,” replied the raw-boned lady. “Not in just at present.”
“Went out at three o'clock.”
“I'll go up to his room and wait for him,” said Johnny.
“No, you won't,” said the raw-boned lady.
For an instant it occurred to Johnny to make a dash for it, but the raw-boned lady looked both formidable and determined. There would be a big disturbance—perhaps the police called in. Johnny had often wanted to see his name in print: in connection with this affair he somehow felt he didn't.
“Do let me in,” Johnny pleaded; “I have nowhere else to go.”
“You have a walk and cool yourself,” suggested the raw-boned lady. “Don't expect he will be long.”
“But, you see——”
The raw-boned lady slammed the door.
Outside a restaurant in Wellington Street, from which proceeded savoury odours, Johnny paused and tried to think.
“What the devil did I do with that umbrella? I had it—no, I didn't. Must have dropped it, I suppose, when that silly ass tried to stop me. By Jove! I am having luck!”
Outside another restaurant in the Strand Johnny paused again. “How am I to live till Sunday night? Where am I to sleep? If I telegraph home—hang it! how can I telegraph? I haven't got a penny. This is funny,” said Johnny, unconsciously speaking aloud; “upon my word, this is funny! Oh! you go to——” Johnny hurled this last at the head of an overgrown errand-boy whose intention had been to offer sympathy.
“Well, I never!” commented a passing flower-girl. “Calls 'erself a lidy, I suppose.”
“Nowadays,” observed the stud and button merchant at the corner of Exeter Street, “they make 'em out of anything.”
Drawn by a notion that was forming in his mind, Johnny turned his steps up Bedford Street. “Why not?” mused Johnny. “Nobody else seems to have a suspicion. Why should they? I'll never hear the last of it if they find me out. But why should they find me out? Well, something's got to be done.”
Johnny walked on quickly. At the door of the Autolycus Club he was undecided for a moment, then took his courage in both hands and plunged through the swing doors.
“Is Mr. Herring—Mr. Jack Herring—here?”
“Find him in the smoking-room, Mr. Bulstrode,” answered old Goslin, who was reading the evening paper.
“Oh, would you mind asking him to step out a moment?”
Old Goslin looked up, took off his spectacles, rubbed them, put them on again.
“Please say Miss Bulstrode—Mr. Bulstrode's sister.”
Old Goslin found Jack Herring the centre of an earnest argument on Hamlet—was he really mad?
“A lady to see you, Mr. Herring,” announced old Goslin.
“Miss Bulstrode—Mr. Bulstrode's sister. She's waiting in the hall.”
“Never knew he had a sister,” said Jack Herring, rising.
“Wait a minute,” said Harry Bennett. “Shut that door. Don't go.” This to old Goslin, who closed the door and returned. “Lady in a heliotrope dress with a lace collar, three flounces on the skirt?”
“That's right, Mr. Bennett,” agreed old Goslin.
“It's the Babe himself!” asserted Harry Bennett.
The question of Hamlet's madness was forgotten.
“Was in at Stinchcombe's this morning,” explained Harry Bennett; “saw the clothes on the counter addressed to him. That's the identical frock. This is just a 'try on'—thinks he's going to have a lark with us.”
The Autolycus Club looked round at itself.
“I can see verra promising possibilities in this, provided the thing is properly managed,” said the Wee Laddie, after a pause.
“So can I,” agreed Jack Herring. “Keep where you are, all of you. 'Twould be a pity to fool it.”
The Autolycus Club waited. Jack Herring re-entered the room.
“One of the saddest stories I have ever heard in all my life,” explained Jack Herring in a whisper. “Poor girl left Derbyshire this morning to come and see her brother; found him out—hasn't been seen at his lodgings since three o'clock; fears something may have happened to him. Landlady gone to Romford to see her mother; strange woman in charge, won't let her in to wait for him.”
“How sad it is when trouble overtakes the innocent and helpless!” murmured Somerville the Briefless.
“That's not the worst of it,” continued Jack. “The dear girl has been robbed of everything she possesses, even of her umbrella, and hasn't got a sou; hasn't had any dinner, and doesn't know where to sleep.”
“Sounds a bit elaborate,” thought Porson.
“I think I can understand it,” said the Briefless one. “What has happened is this. He's dressed up thinking to have a bit of fun with us, and has come out, forgetting to put any money or his latchkey in his pocket. His landlady may have gone to Romford or may not. In any case, he would have to knock at the door and enter into explanations. What does he suggest—the loan of a sovereign?”
“The loan of two,” replied Jack Herring.
“To buy himself a suit of clothes. Don't you do it, Jack. Providence has imposed this upon us. Our duty is to show him the folly of indulging in senseless escapades.”
“I think we might give him a dinner,” thought the stout and sympathetic Porson.
“What I propose to do,” grinned Jack, “is to take him round to Mrs. Postwhistle's. She's under a sort of obligation to me. It was I who got her the post-office. We'll leave him there for a night, with instructions to Mrs. P. to keep a motherly eye on him. To-morrow he shall have his 'bit of fun,' and I guess he'll be the first to get tired of the joke.”
It looked a promising plot. Seven members of the Autolycus Club gallantly undertook to accompany “Miss Bulstrode” to her lodgings. Jack Herring excited jealousy by securing the privilege of carrying her reticule. “Miss Bulstrode” was given to understand that anything any of the seven could do for her, each and every would be delighted to do, if only for the sake of her brother, one of the dearest boys that ever breathed—a bit of an ass, though that, of course, he could not help. “Miss Bulstrode” was not as grateful as perhaps she should have been. Her idea still was that if one of them would lend her a couple of sovereigns, the rest need not worry themselves further. This, purely in her own interests, they declined to do. She had suffered one extensive robbery that day already, as Jack reminded her. London was a city of danger to the young and inexperienced. Far better that they should watch over her and provide for her simple wants. Painful as it was to refuse a lady, a beloved companion's sister's welfare was yet dearer to them. “Miss Bulstrode's” only desire was not to waste their time. Jack Herring's opinion was that there existed no true Englishman who would grudge time spent upon succouring a beautiful maiden in distress.
Arrived at the little grocer's shop in Rolls Court, Jack Herring drew Mrs. Postwhistle aside.
“She's the sister of a very dear friend of ours,” explained Jack Herring.
“A fine-looking girl,” commented Mrs. Postwhistle.
“I shall be round again in the morning. Don't let her out of your sight, and, above all, don't lend her any money,” directed Jack Herring.
“I understand,” replied Mrs. Postwhistle.
“Miss Bulstrode” having despatched an excellent supper of cold mutton and bottled beer, leant back in her chair and crossed her legs. “I have often wondered,” remarked Miss Bulstrode, her eyes fixed upon the ceiling, “what a cigarette would taste like.”
“Taste nasty, I should say, the first time,” thought Mrs. Postwhistle, who was knitting.
“Some girls, so I have heard,” remarked Miss Bulstrode, “smoke cigarettes.”
“Not nice girls,” thought Mrs. Postwhistle.
“One of the nicest girls I ever knew,” remarked Miss Bulstrode, “always smoked a cigarette after supper. Said it soothed her nerves.”
“Wouldn't 'ave thought so if I'd 'ad charge of 'er,” said Mrs. Postwhistle.
“I think,” said Miss Bulstrode, who seemed restless, “I think I shall go for a little walk before turning in.”
“Perhaps it would do us good,” agreed Mrs. Postwhistle, laying down her knitting.
“Don't you trouble to come,” urged the thoughtful Miss Bulstrode. “You look tired.”
“Not at all,” replied Mrs. Postwhistle. “Feel I should like it.”
In some respects Mrs. Postwhistle proved an admirable companion. She asked no questions, and only spoke when spoken to, which, during that walk, was not often. At the end of half an hour, Miss Bulstrode pleaded a headache and thought she would return home and go to bed. Mrs. Postwhistle thought it a reasonable idea.
“Well, it's better than tramping the streets,” muttered Johnny, as the bedroom door was closed behind him, “and that's all one can say for it. Must get hold of a smoke to-morrow, if I have to rob the till. What's that?” Johnny stole across on, tiptoe. “Confound it!” said Johnny, “if she hasn't locked the door!”
Johnny sat down upon the bed and took stock of his position. “It doesn't seem to me,” thought Johnny, “that I'm ever going to get out of this mess.” Johnny, still muttering, unfastened his stays. “Thank Heaven, that's off!” ejaculated Johnny piously, as he watched his form slowly expanding. “Suppose I'll be used to them before I've finished with them.”
Johnny had a night of dreams.
For the whole of next day, which was Friday, Johnny remained “Miss Bulstrode,” hoping against hope to find an opportunity to escape from his predicament without confession. The entire Autolycus Club appeared to have fallen in love with him.
“Thought I was a bit of a fool myself,” mused Johnny, “where a petticoat was concerned. Don't believe these blithering idiots have ever seen a girl before.”
They came in ones, they came in little parties, and tendered him devotion. Even Mrs. Postwhistle, accustomed to regard human phenomena without comment, remarked upon it.
“When you are all tired of it,” said Mrs. Postwhistle to Jack Herring, “let me know.”
“The moment we find her brother,” explained Jack Herring, “of course we shall take her to him.”
“Nothing like looking in the right place for a thing when you've finished looking in the others,” observed Mrs. Postwhistle.
“What do you mean?” demanded Jack.
“Just what I say,” answered Mrs. Postwhistle.
Jack Herring looked at Mrs. Postwhistle. But Mrs. Postwhistle's face was not of the expressive order.
“I think it will be all right about the post-office.” Jack Herring told her.
“It's very kind of you,” said Mrs. Postwhistle.
They brought her presents—nothing very expensive, more as tokens of regard: dainty packets of sweets, nosegays of simple flowers, bottles of scent. To Somerville “Miss Bulstrode” hinted that if he really did desire to please her, and wasn't merely talking through his hat—“Miss Bulstrode” apologised for the slang, which, she feared, she must have picked up from her brother—he might give her a box of Messani's cigarettes, size No. 2. The suggestion pained him. Somerville the Briefless was perhaps old-fashioned. “Miss Bulstrode” cut him short by agreeing that he was, and seemed disinclined for further conversation.
They took her to Madame Tussaud's. They took her up the Monument. They took her to the Tower of London. In the evening they took her to the Polytechnic to see Pepper's Ghost. They made a merry party wherever they went.
“Seem to be enjoying themselves!” remarked other sightseers, surprised and envious.
“Girl seems to be a bit out of it,” remarked others, more observant.
“Sulky-looking bit o' goods, I call her,” remarked some of the ladies.
The fortitude with which Miss Bulstrode bore the mysterious disappearance of her brother excited admiration.
“Hadn't we better telegraph to your people in Derbyshire?” suggested Jack Herring.
“Don't do it,” vehemently protested the thoughtful Miss Bulstrode; “it might alarm them. The best plan is for you to lend me a couple of sovereigns and let me return home quietly.”
“You might be robbed again,” feared Jack Herring. “I'll go down with you.”
“Perhaps he'll turn up to-morrow,” thought Miss Bulstrode. “Expect he's gone on a visit.”
“He ought not to have done it,” thought Jack Herring, “knowing you were coming.”
“Oh! he's like that,” explained Miss Bulstrode.
“If I had a young and beautiful sister——” said Jack Herring.
“Oh! let's talk of something else,” suggested Miss Bulstrode. “You make me tired.”
With Jack Herring, in particular, Johnny was beginning to lose patience. That “Miss Bulstrode's” charms had evidently struck Jack Herring all of a heap, as the saying is, had in the beginning amused Master Johnny. Indeed, as in the seclusion of his bedchamber over the little grocer's shop he told himself with bitter self-reproach, he had undoubtedly encouraged the man. From admiration Jack had rapidly passed to infatuation, from infatuation to apparent imbecility. Had Johnny's mind been less intent upon his own troubles, he might have been suspicious. As it was, and after all that had happened, nothing now could astonish Johnny. “Thank Heaven,” murmured Johnny, as he blew out the light, “this Mrs. Postwhistle appears to be a reliable woman.”
Now, about the same time that Johnny's head was falling thus upon his pillow, the Autolycus Club sat discussing plans for their next day's entertainment.
“I think,” said Jack Herring, “the Crystal Palace in the morning when it's nice and quiet.”
“To be followed by Greenwich Hospital in the afternoon,” suggested Somerville.
“Winding up with the Moore and Burgess Minstrels in the evening,” thought Porson.
“Hardly the place for the young person,” feared Jack Herring. “Some of the jokes——”
“Mr. Brandram gives a reading of 'Julius Cæsar' at St. George's Hall,” the Wee Laddie informed them for their guidance.
“Hallo!” said Alexander the Poet, entering at the moment. “What are you all talking about?”
“We were discussing where to take Miss Bulstrode to-morrow evening,” informed him Jack Herring.
“Miss Bulstrode,” repeated the Poet in a tone of some surprise. “Do you mean Johnny Bulstrode's sister?”
“That's the lady,” answered Jack. “But how do you come to know about her? Thought you were in Yorkshire.”
“Came up yesterday,” explained the Poet. “Travelled up with her.”
“Travelled up with her?”
“From Matlock Bath. What's the matter with you all?” demanded the Poet. “You all of you look——”
“Sit down,” said the Briefless one to the Poet. “Let's talk this matter over quietly.”
Alexander the Poet, mystified, sat down.
“You say you travelled up to London yesterday with Miss Bulstrode. You are sure it was Miss Bulstrode?”
“Sure!” retorted the Poet. “Why, I've known her ever since she was a baby.”
“About what time did you reach London?”
“And what became of her? Where did she say she was going?”
“I never asked her. The last I saw of her she was getting into a cab. I had an appointment myself, and was—I say, what's the matter with Herring?”
Herring had risen and was walking about with his head between his hands.
“Never mind him. Miss Bulstrode is a lady of about—how old?”
“Eighteen—no, nineteen last birthday.”
“A tall, handsome sort of girl?”
“Yes. I say, has anything happened to her?”
“Nothing has happened to her,” assured him Somerville. “She's all right. Been having rather a good time, on the whole.”
The Poet was relieved to hear it.
“I asked her an hour ago,” said Jack Herring, who was still holding his head between his hands as if to make sure it was there, “if she thought she could ever learn to love me. Would you say that could be construed into an offer of marriage?”
The remainder of the Club was unanimously of opinion that, practically speaking, it was a proposal.
“I don't see it,” argued Jack Herring. “It was merely in the nature of a remark.”
The Club was of opinion that such quibbling was unworthy of a gentleman.
It appeared to be a case for prompt action. Jack Herring sat down and then and there began a letter to Miss Bulstrode, care of Mrs. Postwhistle.
“But what I don't understand——” said Alexander the Poet.
“Oh! take him away somewhere and tell him, someone,” moaned Jack Herring. “How can I think with all this chatter going on?”
“But why did Bennett——” whispered Porson.
“Where is Bennett?” demanded half a dozen fierce voices.
Harry Bennett had not been seen all day.
Jack's letter was delivered to “Miss Bulstrode” the next morning at breakfast-time. Having perused it, Miss Bulstrode rose and requested of Mrs. Postwhistle the loan of half a crown.
“Mr. Herring's particular instructions were,” explained Mrs. Postwhistle, “that, above all things, I was not to lend you any money.”
“When you have read that,” replied “Miss Bulstrode,” handing her the letter, “perhaps you will agree with me that Herring is—an ass.”
Mrs. Postwhistle read the letter and produced the half-crown.
“Better get a shave with part of it,” suggested Mrs. Postwhistle. “That is, if you are going to play the fool much longer.”
“Miss Bulstrode” opened his eyes. Mrs. Postwhistle went on with her breakfast.
“Don't tell them,” said Johnny; “not just for a little while, at all events.”
“Nothing to do with me,” replied Mrs. Postwhistle.
Twenty minutes later, the real Miss Bulstrode, on a visit to her aunt in Kensington, was surprised at receiving, enclosed in an envelope, the following hastily scrawled note:—
“Want to speak to you at once—alone. Don't yell when you see me. It's all right. Can explain in two ticks.—Your loving brother, Johnny.”
It took longer than two ticks; but at last the Babe came to an end of it.
“When you have done laughing——” said the Babe.
“But you look so ridiculous,” said his sister.
“They didn't think so,” retorted the Babe. “I took them in all right. Guess you've never had as much attention, all in one day.”
“Are you sure you took them in?” queried his sister.
“If you will come to the Club at eight o'clock this evening,” said the Babe, “I'll prove it to you. Perhaps I'll take you on to a theatre afterwards—if you're good.”
The Babe himself walked into the Autolycus Club a few minutes before eight and encountered an atmosphere of restraint.
“Thought you were lost,” remarked Somerville coldly.
“Called away suddenly—very important business,” explained the Babe. “Awfully much obliged to all you fellows for all you have been doing for my sister. She's just been telling me.”
“Don't mention it,” said two or three.
“Awfully good of you, I'm sure,” persisted the Babe. “Don't know what she would have done without you.”
A mere nothing, the Club assured him. The blushing modesty of the Autolycus Club at hearing of their own good deeds was touching. Left to themselves, they would have talked of quite other things. As a matter of fact, they tried to.
“Never heard her speak so enthusiastically of anyone as she does of you, Jack,” said the Babe, turning to Jack Herring.
“Of course, you know, dear boy,” explained Jack Herring, “anything I could do for a sister of yours——”
“I know, dear boy,” replied the Babe; “I always felt it.”
“Say no more about it,” urged Jack Herring.
“She couldn't quite make out that letter of yours this morning,” continued the Babe, ignoring Jack's request. “She's afraid you think her ungrateful.”
“It seemed to me, on reflection,” explained Jack Herring, “that on one or two little matters she may have misunderstood me. As I wrote her, there are days when I don't seem altogether to quite know what I'm doing.”
“Rather awkward,” thought the Babe.
“It is,” agreed Jack Herring. “Yesterday was one of them.”
“She tells me you were most kind to her,” the Babe reassured him. “She thought at first it was a little uncivil, your refusing to lend her any money. But as I put it to her——”
“It was silly of me,” interrupted Jack. “I see that now. I went round this morning meaning to make it all right. But she was gone, and Mrs. Postwhistle seemed to think I had better leave things as they were. I blame myself exceedingly.”
“My dear boy, don't blame yourself for anything. You acted nobly,” the Babe told him. “She's coming here to call for me this evening on purpose to thank you.”
“I'd rather not,” said Jack Herring.
“Nonsense,” said the Babe.
“You must excuse me,” insisted Jack Herring. “I don't mean it rudely, but really I'd rather not see her.”
“But here she is,” said the Babe, taking at that moment the card from old Goslin's hand. “She will think it so strange.”
“I'd really rather not,” repeated poor Jack.
“It seems discourteous,” suggested Somerville.
“You go,” suggested Jack.
“She doesn't want to see me,” explained Somerville.
“Yes she does,” corrected him the Babe. “I'd forgotten, she wants to see you both.”
“If I go,” said Jack, “I shall tell her the plain truth.”
“Do you know,” said Somerville, “I'm thinking that will be the shortest way.”
Miss Bulstrode was seated in the hall. Jack Herring and Somerville both thought her present quieter style of dress suited her much better.
“Here he is,” announced the Babe, in triumph. “Here's Jack Herring and here's Somerville. Do you know, I could hardly persuade them to come out and see you. Dear old Jack, he always was so shy.”
Miss Bulstrode rose. She said she could never thank them sufficiently for all their goodness to her. Miss Bulstrode seemed quite overcome. Her voice trembled with emotion.
“Before we go further, Miss Bulstrode,” said Jack Herring, “it will be best to tell you that all along we thought you were your brother, dressed up as a girl.”
“Oh!” said the Babe, “so that's the explanation, is it? If I had only known——” Then the Babe stopped, and wished he hadn't spoken.
Somerville seized him by the shoulders and, with a sudden jerk, stood him beside his sister under the gas-jet.
“You little brute!” said Somerville. “It was you all along.” And the Babe, seeing the game was up, and glad that the joke had not been entirely on one side, confessed.
Jack Herring and Somerville the Briefless went that night with Johnny and his sister to the theatre—and on other nights. Miss Bulstrode thought Jack Herring very nice, and told her brother so. But she thought Somerville the Briefless even nicer, and later, under cross-examination, when Somerville was no longer briefless, told Somerville so himself.
But that has nothing to do with this particular story, the end of which is that Miss Bulstrode kept the appointment made for Monday afternoon between “Miss Montgomery” and Mr. Jowett, and secured thereby the Marble Soap advertisement for the back page of Good Humour for six months, at twenty-five pounds a week.