Disappointing attitude of Ezekiel. Suggested nuptials of Miss Moonbeam. An occasion for tact and postponement. I am obliged to write a letter. Ezekiel accompanies me to the Empresses Theatre. We are a little taken aback by the numbers to be rescued. An apparently delightful beverage. I address Miss Moonbeam's friends on the subject of temperance. Ezekiel addresses them on the evils of the drama. We arrange a meeting. Description of meeting.
Afterwards, as I have suggested, I was to discover in Miss Moonbeam an almost incredible capacity for evil. But that night, as I emerged from the theatre into the anxious arms of Ezekiel Stool, I could not help feeling in the utmost agreement with him as to her character and physical appearance. Indeed so complete was my endorsement both of his judgement and prevision that I must confess to having been a little surprised by his reception of my news.
`So you're meeting her again?' he said.
`Yes, tomorrow evening,' I replied, `when I hope to draw closer to her in every way.'
He stopped abruptly and began to peer at me suspiciously through the dense tangle that now covered his face.
`How do you mean closer?' he said.
I waved my hand.
`She has so much to learn,' I said, `so much to understand. She's like a little child, Ezekiel, just as you supposed - a female child that has never been properly taught.'
`Yes, very likely,' he said. `But why shouldn't I teach her myself? I'm the president of the Union after all.'
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, I undoubted as are your gifts both as organizer and financier of our movement, do you really consider that you have quite the personality for such intimate soul-work as Miss Moonbeam requires?'
`Absolutely,' said Ezekiel.
`Then I can only say,' I replied, `that I fail to agree with you.
It was an awkward moment, and it was not until the third attempt that Ezekiel succeeded in making himself intelligible.
`And so you mean to imply,' he said, `that for the purposes of approaching Miss Moonbeam, your personality is superior to mine?'
I touched his arm, not without affection.
`Or shall we rather say,' I replied, `that it is more attractive?'
`But I deny it,' he cried. `I deny it most passionately. I deny it with every fibre of my being.'
I withdrew my glove for a moment from his coat-sleeve.
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, `that doesn't alter the position.'
`The position?' he said. `What position?'
`Why, the position,' I replied, `between Mary and myself.'
For a moment the silence was almost terrifying. Then he dropped his umbrella, and I put my foot upon it,
`Between who?' he said. `Between who?'
`Between Mary,' I repeated, `and myself.'
`But do you mean to tell me,' he cried, `that as Vice-President - as Vice-President, I say, of a Union such as ours -
I touched his sleeve again.
`Or shall we say an Union, seeing that Union begins with a vowel?'
But he stamped his foot, evidently losing self-control.
`No, we won't,' he screamed. `We won't say an Union. Why should we say an Union if we don't want to? We don't say an Youth or an Yew-tree.'
`Simply,' I replied, `because the two latter words happen to be inaugurated with a consonant.'
`But I deny it,' he shouted. `I deny it most passionately. I deny it with every fibre of my being.'
For a moment I stood aghast. Hitherto I had been conciliatory. But here was a question upon which there could be no compromise.
`But, Ezekiel Stool,' I said, `as man to man - nay, as Xtian gentleman to Xtian gentleman - do you mean to tell me that you are prepared to deny that the word Yew-tree begins with a Y?'
`No, I don't,' he said, `I deny it completely. I deny it with all the vehemence at my command.'
But I held up my hand.
`Just a moment,' I said. `This is a matter, Ezekiel, upon which I must be absolutely clear. Do you mean to deny that the word does begin with a Y? Or do you mean to deny that you meant to tell me that you were prepared to deny that it did?'
`I deny it all,' said.Ezekiel. `I deny the whole thing.'
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, `that is impossible.'
`But how can it be impossible,' he said, `if I've just done it?'
`Because the two alternatives,' I replied, `are contradictory.'
`Then I deny them both,' he said. `I deny them utterly. I deny them to the utmost limit of my capacity.'
`But by denying one,' I said, `you affirm the other, and by denying the other you affirm the first.'
`Then I deny neither,' he said. `I deny neither of them. I deny neither of them to my last breath.'
`Then you affirm both?' I asked.
`Absolutely and entirely,' he said, `to the remotest follicle of my manhood.'
`But that leaves us,' I said, `just as we were.'
`Very likely,' he replied. `I don't know.'
`But I don't understand,' I said.
`Nor do I,' he said.
We stood staring at one another in silence.
`Then we'd better go back,' I said, `to the original Yew-tree.'
`What Yew-tree?' inquired Ezekiel.
`Why, the one you referred to,' I said, `as not requiring an an.
`But I've already told you,' he said, `that I deny that.'
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, `you can't deny things like that.'
`I not only can,' he said, `but I do.'
`But you'll soon be denying,' I cried, `that I'm the Vice-President of the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union.'
`I certainly shall,' he said, `if you continue to go about referring to actresses by their Xtian names.'
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, `it was entirely at her own request that I referred to Miss Moonbeam as Mary.'
He stepped back a pace, obviously shaken.
`Do you mean to tell me,' he said, `that she asked you to?'
`Most certainly,' I replied, `and if you would like to hear them, I can repeat her actual words.'
`Please do,' he said.
` ``Oh, Mr Carp,'' '- I said, -` ``won't you call me Mary?'' '
His face brightened a little.
`Then she didn't call you Augustus?' he said.
`She hasn't done so,' I answered, `as yet.'
`And perhaps she never will,' he said, `never will.'
`I don't quite see,' I said, `why you should say that.'
`Perhaps not,' he replied. `But I do say it.'
`Of course I shouldn't encourage her to,' I said, `until she had altered her profession.'
`And perhaps she won't,' he said, `perhaps she won't.'
`Won't what?' I asked.
`Alter her profession.'
`But don't you want her to?' I cried.
`Oh, of course,' he said. `But they seldom do, you know, unless they marry.'
`Precisely,' I said, `unless they marry.'
He opened his mouth for a moment, but only breathed through it.
`But you don't mean to tell me,' he said, `that as Vice-President -?'
`It might be my duty,' I said, `to sacrifice myself.'
`So much as that?' he said. `So much as that, Augustus?'
He covered his eyes for a moment with his gloved hands. Then he suddenly remembered that he had dropped his umbrella.
`It's here,' I said, `under my foot.'
`Oh, thank you,' he said, `thank you.'
Then he held out his hands to me with frank contrition.
`Oh, my dear friend,' he said, `forgive me for misjudging you. But as your President, I could never permit it.'
`But why not?' I said, trying to release my hands.
`Why, because as President,' he cried, `it is clearly the sort of sacrifice that I ought to make myself.'
`But I don't see why,' I said, again trying to release myself
`But don't you see,' he cried, still holding my hands, `how symbolic it would then become - the marriage of one of the most prominent of our younger ex-actresses with the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union?'
`But she wouldn't be marrying the Union,' I said.
`Not if she married you,' he said, `Who are merely the Vice-President. But if she married me, Augustus, it would be different. It would become the sacrifice of the whole Union.'
`But, my dear Ezekiel,' I said, `ought you to sacrifice the whole Union without consulting all its members?'
`Oh, but I should,' he said, `I certainly should, and any that objected I should ask to resign.'
I reflected for a moment. Admirable as was his character, it was in many respects singularly bigoted, while his intelligence, sometimes so brilliant, was at others inferior even to that of his sisters. Since the burial of his parents, too, a couple of years previously, and the consequent augmentation of his own income, I had been conscious in him of a rather unexpected and somewhat disturbing vein of arrogance. I therefore decided, for the present at any rate, that the wisest policy was one of postponement.
`But surely in that case,' I said, `they should have an opportunity of seeing her.'
`Oh, of course,' he said, `of course.'
`Before they married her, I mean - as an Union.'
`Oh, certainly,' he said, `certainly.'
Then his hair parted for a moment, revealing his teeth.
`In fact, I was just going to suggest,' he smiled, `asking her to one of our meetings.'
`I'll certainly do so,' I said. `I'll ask her tomorrow.'
`We'll both ask her,' he replied.
`But you won't be there,' I said.
`Yes, I shall,' he answered. `I shall come with you.'
`But she hasn't invited you,' I said, again trying to free my hands.
`But, my dear Augustus,' he said, gripping them a little tighter, `surely you don't expect me to wait for that? Does the powerful swimmer refrain from plunging until the drowning victim has asked him to do so, or the hurrying policeman refuse to cut the rope because the would-be suicide has not invited it? Does the fireman hesitate before the smouldering nightgown until the female inside it has shown him her card?'
`Perhaps not,' I said, stepping a pace backwards.
`Certainly not,' he said, following me.
`But on the other hand,' I said, stepping sideways, `if a powerful swimmer has already plunged, if a hurrying policeman is already there, if a soaring fireman has already stooped -'
`Then that is all the more reason,' he said, also stepping sideways, `why the hero should be helped as I mean to help you.'
`Well, I can't promise,' I said, `that she will be willing to receive you.'
`Not when she knows,' he asked, `that I'm the Adult Gripe Water?'
`Well, she might,' I said. `I'll do my best, of course.'
`Dear Augustus,' he replied, `I thought you would.'
Then he dropped my hands, now seriously congested, and stooping down, picked up his umbrella.
`And I don't want you to feel,' he added, now that I propose to take charge of the work, that your share in it has been unappreciated.'
Then we climbed into the omnibus that was to take us to Camberwell and sat side by side in it in silence, parting as usual, however, with a mutual benediction, though I could not conceal from myself that his attitude had disappointed me. For though it would have been inevitable, and indeed desirable, that subsequent to redemption Miss Moonbeam should have met him, this was scarcely the moment, I felt, for the sudden intrusion of a second deliverer. Nor were the nuptials that he had proposed for her other than profoundly distasteful to me, though a glance at my mirror sufficed to reassure me of their extreme unlikelihood. Nevertheless, I deemed it wise before retiring to bed to send a brief note to Miss Moonbeam, regretting the pertinacity that would probably result in my being accompanied by Ezekiel, but at the same time indicating that he was not to be dismissed as a wholly valueless acquaintance. `Nor must you forget,' I concluded, `that he is at least the President of the great Union that has brought us together.' A difficult letter, it had needed all the tact that I had been able to summon to its composition, and the clock had struck eleven, I remember, before I was able to open my nightgown bag, preparatory to taking out my nightgown.
I was a little pale, therefore, when I arrived at the theatre at six o'clock the next evening, and though fully confident of my ability to control the situation, I was naturally somewhat anxious as to the effect upon Miss Moonbeam of a night's consideration. Had the latent thirst for a higher life, that my person had aroused in her the night before, been submerged again by wicked companions or quickened by my absence? Had she gone to sleep dreaming of the footlights or of an Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory future? And how had the poor child, reared in sin and ignorance, received the letter that I had been obliged to write to her?
Such were the questions that occupied my mind as Ezekiel came hurrying to meet me, and we walked upstairs to the same room in which I had talked with her the night before. For the first moment, too, I was a trifle dazzled both by the brilliance of its illumination and the clamour of conversation that greeted our entrance from the large number of persons whom we found assembled in it. This died down instantly, however, when our names were announced, and as we stood framed for a moment in the doorway, nothing could have been more striking than the effect of our presence upon the actors and actresses huddled before us. I say huddled because, as so often happens when evil-doers are taken by surprise, they had unanimously winced and drawn closer together, while at least two of them had murmured `Help!' Moreover, it was quite clear that some of them had been drinking, since their wine glasses were still in their hands, and indeed I was almost certain, to my deep consternation, that Miss Moonbeam herself had been one of these.* Her hands were empty, however, when she came forward to greet us, and although Ezekiel had abruptly stiffened, I could not see my way to refuse the manual courtesy, to which she was evidently looking forward.
`Oh, Mr Carp,' she said, `this is indeed sweet of you. I was beginning to be afraid that you weren't coming.'
`My dear Miss Moonbeam,' I began.
`Mary,' she said.
`My dear Mary,' I said, `I never break my word.'
`No, no, you wouldn't,' she said, `and my friends will be so pleased. Let me introduce you to them. This is Mr Augustus Carp.'
I bowed to them gravely.
`And you've brought your friend?' she said.
`The President of our Union,' I said, `Mr Ezekiel Stool.'
She held out her hand to him.
`I'm sure we shall be great friends,' she said. But he was still staring suspiciously at her colleagues.
`They've been drinking,' he said. `What have they been drinking?'
`Oh, nothing much,' she said. `Only my health.'
`Your health?' he repeated.
`Yes, it's my birthday,' she said.
`My dear Miss Mary,' I said. `Let me congratulate you.'
`Yes, yes, yes,' said Ezekiel. `But what's the fluid?'
He tilted his face a little, sniffing the air.
`Oh, I see,' said Miss Moonbeam. `How stupid of me. Reggie, come forward and show them your glass.'
She glanced over her shoulder, and a young man, whom I instantly recognized as the naval officer, then approached us carrying a wine glass, filled with a dark, translucent liquid.
`It's delightful stuff,' he said. `It is really. Won't you taste a little before you begin your sermon?'
But Ezekiel started back, gripping my left elbow, while the hair covering his face extended itself protectively.
`No, no,' he cried. `Augustus, keep close to me. I don't like the smell of it. Ask him what it's made of.'
I drew myself up a little, facing the naval officer, while Ezekiel clung to my elbow.
`You must pardon us,' I cried, `but in addition to our connection with the Anti-Dramatic and Saltatory Union, we are also officials - and in this particular work, I hold a higher position than my comrade - we are also officials of the Society for the Prevention of the Strong Drink Traffic. It is therefore not only important to us, since we have been invited to rescue you, to learn whether this also is one of your vices, but doubly necessary that we ourselves should take every possible precaution. You will consequently perceive, I hope, the imperative necessity of our assuring ourselves, before we partake of it, that the composition of the liquor you have proffered us is such as our consciences can approve of.'
`Oh, I'm sure of it,' he said. `Just smell it.'
`Personally,' I replied, `I do not object to the smell.'
`And the taste,' he added, `is even pleasanter.'
`I can quite believe it,' I said. `But what is it made of?'
`Oh, just fruit,' said Miss Moonbeam. `It's a sort of fruit squash, you know - a fruit squash, made of fruit.'
Ezekiel advanced a little and put his face against it.
`I prefer the colour,' he said, `to the smell.'
`Yes, isn't it beautiful?' said the naval officer, and several of the other actors said the same thing.
`But what's it called?' said Ezekiel.
`Portugalade,' said Miss Moonbeam.
`That's because it comes from Portugal,' said the naval officer.
`And one gets used to the smell,' said Ezekiel. `But why does one drink it out of wine glasses?'
`Oh, but one needn't,' said Miss Moonbeam. `One can drink it out of tumblers.'
`One just used wine glasses,' said the naval officer, `because one happened to find them in the cupboard.'
I looked at him piercingly.
`But surely that seems to indicate,' I said, `that they have been used for other and less innocent beverages.'
He hung his head, and as my glance swept his companions, I observed that most of them hung theirs also.
Then he lifted it again, not without a certain honesty.
`Mr Carp,' he said, `it's no use deceiving you. And I'm afraid I must confess that I haven't confined myself to such health-giving drinks as this Portugalade.'
`Nor we,' said his companions. `Nor we.'
`But we hope to do better,' said Miss Moonbeam, `in the future.' I
`Then, ladies and gentlemen,' I said, sipping the Portugalade, which seemed to me exceptionally agreeable, `I can only implore you -and I speak not only for myself, but for my friend Mr Stool -'
`Of the Adult Gripe Water,' said Ezekiel. `It was invented by my late father.'
`You don't say so?' said the naval officer.
`Was that what made him late?' asked Miss Moonbeam.
Ezekiel stared at her over the glass of Portugalade, which I had handed on to him before beginning my speech.
`How do you mean late?' he said.
`Wasn't that what you said?' asked Miss Moonbeam.
`Yes, but I meant dead,' said Ezekiel. `He's been dead some time.'
`You don't mean it?' said the naval officer.
`Yes. It's rather nice,' said Ezekiel.
`I see,' said Miss Moonbeam. `You didn't get on together?'
`I meant the Portugalade,' said Ezekiel.
`- I can only implore you,' I continued, `while there's still time - before the craving for stimulants has finally overcome you - to cast them away from you. with both hands, to crush them under foot, to leave them for ever.'
I glanced at Ezekiel, who was wiping his mouth.
`And, ladies and gentlemen,' I said, `why should you hesitate? Have you not here - or had you not there, rather -in the very glass that my friend has just emptied, a drink as genial, as palatable and invigorating as the most debauched of you could desire?'
`We have, we have,' they cried.
`Then, ladies and gentlemen,' I said, `before we further address you on the evils of the drama, may I not beg of you to make up your minds to drink nothing less healthful than this in the future?'
`You may, you may,' they said.
I turned to Ezekiel.
`Then I'll ask Mr Stool,' I said, `to inaugurate our second appeal.'
I then stood aside while Ezekiel cleared his throat preparatory to delivering his usual oration, and it was during the course of this that Miss Moonbeam drew me aside and informed me how much she had appreciated my letter.
`I thought it was so dear of you,' she said, `to let your friend down without seeming to want to do anything of the kind.'
`It was certainly difficult, I said.
`But you managed it so beautifully,' she said. `How long do you suppose he will go on speaking?'
`Twenty minutes,' I said. `This is his half-hour harangue.'
She was looking a little pale, I thought. But she smiled bravely.
`Well, I suppose we deserve it,' she said.
`Oh, undoubtedly.' I replied, `and he wants you to attend one of our meetings.'
`What - all of us?' she asked.
`You would all be welcome,' I said.
`And would you be there too?' she asked, pressing my hand.
`Why, of course,' I said, permitting her to continue pressing, `I am the Vice-President.'
`Yes, I know,' she whispered.
Here Ezekiel paused for a moment and glanced at us keenly. But Miss Moonbeam at once smiled at him and clapped her hands.
`You don't think he's jealous?' she said, as he continued.
`Jealous of what?' I asked.
`Why, of you and me,' she said.
She was pressing my hand again and endeavouring to draw closer to me.
`Well, I'm rather afraid,' I said, `that he may be.'
`You see,' said Miss Moonbeam, `if I'm to be rescued by anybody, I should so like it to be by you.'
`Dear Mary,' I said, `and so it shall, at whatever cost, at whatever sacrifice.'
`Dear Augustus,' she said. `May I call you Augustus? It sounds so ungrateful to say Mr Carp.'
`Yes, yes,' I said. `I can quite understand it. But I would rather you suppressed the familiarity in public.'
Then Ezekiel concluded, and after some words from myself, a special meeting of the Union was arranged, at which all our listeners, including Miss Moonbeam, solemnly engaged themselves to be present. It was to take place, we agreed, on the following Sunday week, at the Porter Street Drill Hall in Camberwell, and at Miss Moonbeam's suggestion, Mr Chrysostom Lorton was to be invited to say a few words.
`I didn't know you knew him,' I said.
`Nor I do,' she replied. `But as he's the publisher of all these beautiful booklets, I thought it would be so nice if he would just stoop for a moment to mingle with the sinners for whom they are intended.'
`A splendid idea,' I said, `and a most intelligent one, and we'll circularize the churches and chapels, and hold the meeting at nine in the evening, when the congregations will be able to be present.'.
`Oh, that'll be capital,' she said. `I should love to see a congregation.'
`And Ezekiel and myself,' I said, `will be the chief speakers.'
She clapped her hands and looked at Ezekiel.
`Oh, Mr Stool,' she cried, `what a meeting.'
Ezekiel beamed at her.
`Yes, it ought to be worth going to,' he said, I and I shall reserve a chair for you next the President.'
Then she drew me aside again.
`And you must have supper with me first,' she said, `just you and me and a few of my friends.'
`My dear Mary,' I said, `nothing would delight me more.
`I feel a whole new world,' she said, `opening before me.'
Upon the following Sunday week, therefore, at half-past seven, I stood outside her house in Bedford Square, and the next moment I was being led upstairs by a modestly dressed parlourmaid in a white cap. Clad myself in a well-fitting morning coat with a hand-knitted waistcoat and a velveteen tie, I found Miss Moonbeam with her men and women companions eagerly awaiting me in evening dress. About a dozen in all, they included the naval officer and two young men, whom she introduced as her brothers, while there were several females who greeted me with deference, but whose chests, as I pointed out to them, were inadequately covered. They begged my pardon, however, with the not unreasonable excuse that the standards I had set them were not easily reached, and at my urgent request, Miss Moonbeam provided them with napkins to make good the deficiency. This having been attended to, we then went downstairs to a capacious dining-room on the ground floor, where an excellent meal was ushered in with some admirably prepared chicken soup.
Followed by fish, partridges and salad, bowls of stewed fruit and Devonshire cream, it was concluded with a savoury consisting of stuffed eggs mounted on triangular pieces of toast, and I was gratified to observe that, apart from water, the only other beverage was Portugalade. It was again, to my annoyance, however, served in wine glasses, although Miss Moonbeam immediately apologized pouring, out a tumblerful for me with her own hand, just as I was beginning my second partridge. Nor did I find it any less agreeable than upon my first acquaintance with it at the theatre, and indeed I had seldom experienced such a sense of warmth and comfort as it very quickly began to endow me with. Peculiarly attractive to the nostril, it was no less grateful to the tongue, while upon its downward passage, it lent an extraordinary balm to a naturally irritable digestive system.
Nay, it did more, for as it enriched the blood mounting to an always responsive brain, I found myself the vehicle of a delightful flow of new and most valuable ideas. I say valuable, and this was indeed the case, but many of them were also outstandingly humorous, and time after time I was obliged to call for silence so that none of those present might fail to hear them. I was glad to perceive, too, that they met with an instant response both in laughter and rapt attention, and I was soon convinced that, beneath the trappings of guilt, there was a spark of goodness in most of my listeners. Nor had Miss Moonbeam, who kept my tumbler filled, ever appeared to me to be so well worth saving, and when I accidentally upset my fruit, she was solicitude's self as she wiped my waistcoat.
By a second mischance, too, I spilt my coffee, which was served at the supper-table just before we rose; and on this occasion also she was instantly at hand to remove the stains from the upper part of my trousers. Then we rose for grace, which I proposed should be sung, and into the singing of which I threw my whole being; and when I found myself swaying a little, owing to the consequent fatigue, both she and the naval officer kindly supported me. Indeed so acute was the resulting vertigo that I was not only obliged for a moment to sit down, but I found myself only too glad to rely on their aid as we descended the front steps to the waiting vehicles. Glad as I was, however, they both assured me that they were gladder even than I was, while the others assured us, as we glanced across the pavement, that they were gladder even than we were. In fact, we were all glad, and although I had been a little perturbed by the physical disability to which I have referred, I was soon restored by the night air, the motion of the vehicle, and the prospects of the meeting. Moreover, the naval officer had brought with him a large bottle of the Portugalade, and a further draught of this it once completed, and indeed augmented, my sense of well-being.
`Yes, it ought to be grand,' I said, `a grand meeting, the grandest meeting we've ever had,' and I remember putting my head out of the right-hand window and inviting the passers-by to come and join us.
`Yes, there's no doubt of it,' I said, `it'll be a grand meeting, a grand, grand meeting, grander and grander.'
`As grand as grand,' said the naval officer.
`Yes, and grander than that,' I said, `ever so grand.'
Then I started a hymn just to clear my chest again, and finding, to my satisfaction, that it was surprisingly supple, I led my companions through chorus after chorus of a brisk but devotional character. Indeed we were in the middle of one when we arrived at the Drill Hall, and so intent had I become on the music that I unfortunately tripped as I alighted upon the pavement and struck my abdomen rather violently. Two of Miss Moonbeam's brothers, however, who were waiting to receive us, at once readjusted me upon my legs, while the naval officer came to their assistance in conducting me to my chair upon the platform.
Nor had I been in error in foreseeing an audience that filled the hall to its utmost capacity, Miss Moonbeam herself and several of her companions being audibly recognized on their way to their seats. Many of our members, too, in different parts of the hall, were standing on their feet, I noticed, to give me a personal welcome; and no sooner had I hailed these in affectionate terms than others took their places to be hailed in turn. So prolonged, in fact, did these greetings become, and to such a pitch of heartiness did they climb, that Ezekiel's own arrival upon the platform, accompanied by Mr Chrysostom Lorton, was scarcely noticed.
That was probably the reason, I inferred, why his expression was almost less pleasant than I had ever known it, and why he obviously resented the attentions of Miss Moonbeam's brothers, who were still standing, one on each side of me. Mr Chrysostom, too, seemed curiously distant, I thought, as I swung round and clasped his hand, although I assured him, in tones that rang through the hall, of my intense delight at his presence.
`Simply overwhelmed,' I said, `simply overwhelmed, Mr Chrysostom. Let me introduce you to Miss Moonbeam. Miss Moonbeam, Mr Chrysostom Lorton. Mr Chrysostom Lorton, Miss Moonbeam.'
Then I turned to the audience with a great shout.
`Three cheers,' I cried, `for Mr Chrysostom Lorton. Hip - hip -'
But Ezekiel held up his hand.
`I propose to open this meeting,' he said, `with prayer.'
For a moment I was staggered. Indeed I almost fell down. It was the directest insult I had ever received. And it was not only an insult to myself, but to Mr Chrysostom, who was deprived of his cheers.
`Oh, how dare you?' I cried. `How dare you, Ezekiel? Oh, Mr Chrysostom, how dare he? Hip, hip, I say - Hip, hip,' but the audience remained silent and evidently confused. In fact, the effect upon them of Ezekiel's proposal must have been exasperating in the extreme, since they had all opened their mouths and protruded their upper lips preparatory to cheering, as I had suggested. They had then been obliged, just as they had taken their breaths, to retract their upper lips again and close their mouths, and were naturally reluctant, in spite of my further exhortation, to resume a process once frustrated. Nevertheless, many of them did so, although they failed in its final consummation, with the lamentable result that they resembled nothing so much as goldfish breathing in a bowl.
`Goldfish,' I cried. `That's what they are. Poor lost goldfish, without a shepherd. Oh, Ezekiel, Ezekiel Stool! How could you do such a thing as that?'
With incredible determination, however, he was already on his knees and in the second paragraph of his supplication; and it was only after I had shaken him several times that he sprang to his feet with a sort of yelp.
`Oh, Ezekiel,' I said, `what a horrible noise.'
`Leave me alone,' he snarled. `Can't you see I'm busy?'
`Horrible noise,' I said, `horrible, horrible. Isn't it a horrible noise, Mr Chrysostom?'
Then I turned to the audience again.
`Let's say it all together,' I said. `One, two, three, horrible noise. That's better. Now let's say it again. One, two -'
Then I stopped abruptly, for as I advanced to the brink of the platform, with Miss Moonbeam's brothers at my elbows, I suddenly became aware of a solitary grey eye regarding me objectionably from the front row. Its fellow was of glass, and the face that contained them, with its high cheekbones and gaunt cheeks, was that of none other than Mr Archibald Maidstone, the show-room manager whom I had succeeded.
For a moment I could scarcely believe it. But hardly had I recovered myself than I found myself in his arms, with Miss Moonbeam's brothers left upon the platform, each holding a moiety of the tail of my coat.
`Well, laddie,' he said, `it's your turn now.'
I endeavoured to push myself away from him.
`Take him away,' I shouted. `Take that man away. Where's Mr Chrysostom? Where's Miss Moonbeam?'
The tumult in the hall was now indescribable. Glasses of water were on every side of me. But I thrust them all aside and shouted to the naval officer to bring me the bottle that he had placed upon the table.
`The bottle,' I cried. `Bring me the bottle. Never mind the glass. Give me the bottle.'
But the naval officer, evidently at his request, had handed the bottle to Mr Chrysostom. I saw him examine it through his spectacles in his usual pompous and deliberate fashion and then, with a heightened colour and protuberant eyes, exhibit it to Ezekiel and the members of the committee.
`Disgraceful,' he said, `perfectly disgraceful. The fellow's drunk, I say. just look at that. Vintage Port, and he's been drinking it out of a tumbler. Perfectly disgraceful. Show me the way out.'
I rose to my feet and caught sight of Miss Moonbeam's brothers.
`Give me that bottle,' I cried. `Give me the tails of my coat. Who says I'm drunk? Where's the Portugalade? Take that man away. Where's Miss Moonbeam?'
`But he's my father,' she said.
I tried to stare at her. But her face kept advancing and retreating.
`Stand still, woman,' I cried. `But his name's Maidstone.'
`So's mine,' she said, `when I'm not acting.'
I snatched at her wrist, but it proved to be my own.
`Do you mean to say,' I asked, `that you're Mary Maidstone?'
`Polly Maidstone,' she said. `Don't you remember? The same Polly that made a face at you.'
I sank to the floor for a moment, but rose on my hands, again.
`Throw her out,' I yelled. `Throw that woman out.'
She looked at Ezekiel.
`Hadn't we better take him home?' she asked.
`But I haven't made my speech,' I said, 'speech to the meeting.'
Ezekiel stared at me with incredible bitterness.
`There isn't a meeting left,' he said, `to make a speech to.'
I pointed at the clocks. They were all at half-past nine.
'But we've hardly begun,' I said. `Where's the platform?'
Mr Maidstone bent over me -*