THE ORATOR WAS NOT ELOQUENT; but he had told a human story and all listened with respect. When he paused and looked upward it seemed to many that a light of justice shone upon his haggard face while the tears rolled unwiped down his ragged jerkin. His lank, unkempt hair, caught by the draught from the open doors at the far end of the hall, streamed behind him in grotesque profusion. His hands were clenched and his lips compressed. That which he had told to the sea of questioning faces below him was the story of his life. The name which he had uttered with an oath upon his lips was the name of the man who had deprived him of riches and of liberty. When he essayed to add a woman’s name and to speak of the wrongs which had been done her, the power of utterance left him in an instant and he stood there gasping, his eyes toward the light which none but he could see; a prayer of gratitude upon his lips because he had found the man and would repay.

Look down upon this audience and you shall see a heterogeneous assembly such as London alone of the cities can show you. The hall is a crazy building enough, not a hundred yards from the Commercial Road at Whitechapel. The time is the spring of the year 1903—the hour is eight o’clock at night. Ostensibly a meeting to discuss the news which had come that day from the chiefs of the Revolutionaries in Warsaw, the discussion had been diverted, as such discussions invariably are, to a recital of personal wrongs and of individual resolutions—even to mad talk of the conquest of the world and the crowning of King Anarchy. And to this the wild Asiatics and the sad-faced Poles listened alike with rare murmurs and odd contortions of limbs and body. Let Paul Boriskoff of Minsk be the orator and they knew that the red flag would fly. But never before has Boriskoff been seen in tears and the spectacle enchained their attention as no mere rhetoric could have done.

A man’s confession, if it be honest, must ever be a profoundly interesting document. Boriskoff, the Pole, did not hold these people spellbound by the vigor of his denunciation or the rhythmic chant of his anger. He had begun in a quiet voice, welcoming the news from Warsaw and the account of the assassination of the Deputy Governor Lebinsky. From that he passed to the old question, why does authority remain in any city at all? This London that sleeps so securely, does it ever awake to remember the unnumbered hosts which pitch their tents in the courts and alleys of Whitechapel? “Put rifles into the hands of a hundred thousand men who can be found to-night,” he had said, “and where is your British Government to-morrow? The police—they would be but as dead leaves under the feet of a mighty multitude. The soldiers! Friends,” he put it to them, “do you ever ask yourselves how many soldiers there are in the barracks of London to-night and what would happen to them if the people were armed? I say to you that the house would fall as a house of cards; the rich would flee; the poor would reign. And you who know this for a truth, what do you answer to me? That London harbors you, that London feeds you—aye, with the food of swine in the kennels of the dogs.”

Men nodded their heads to this and some of the women tittered behind their ragged shawls. They had heard it all so often—the grand assault by numbers; the rifle shots ringing out in the sleeping streets by Piccadilly; the sack of Park Lane; the flight of the Government; the downfall of what is and the establishment of what might be. If they believed it possible, they had sense enough to remember that a sacked city of amnesty would be the poorest tribute to their own sagacity. At least London did not flog them. Their wives and sisters were not here dragged to the police stations to be brutally lashed at the command of any underling they had offended. Applause for Boriskoff and his sound and fury might be interpreted as a concession to their vanity. “We could do all this,” they seemed to say; “if we forbear, let London be grateful.” As for Boriskoff, he had talked so many times in such a strain that a sudden change in voice and matter surprised them beyond words. What had happened to him, then? Was the fellow mad when he began to speak of the copper mines and the days of slavery he had spent therein?

A hush fell upon the hall when the demagogue struck this unaccustomed note; rude gas flares shed an ugly yellow glow upon faces which everywhere asked an unspoken question. What had copper mines to do with the news from Warsaw, and what had they to do with this assembly? Presently, however, it came to the people that they were listening to the story of a wrong, that the pages of a human drama were being unfolded before them. In glowing words the speaker painted the miner’s life and that of the stokers who kept the furnaces. What a living hell that labor had been. There were six operations in refining the copper, he said, and he had served years of apprenticeship to each of them. Hungry and faint and weary he had kept watch half the night at the furnace’s door and returned to his home at dawn to see white faces half buried in the ragged beds of his house or to hear the child he loved crying for the food he could not bring. And in those night watches the great idea had come to him.

“Friends,” he said, “the first conception of the Meltka furnace was mine. The white heat of the night gave it to me; a child’s cry, ‘thou art my father and thou wilt save me,’ was my inspiration. Some of you will have heard that there are smelting works to-day where the sulphurous acid, which copper pyrites supplies when it is roasted, is used for the manufacture of sulphuric acid. That was my discovery. Many have claimed it since, but the Meltka furnace was mine—as God is in heaven it was mine. Why, then, do I stand among you wanting bread, I who should own the riches of kings? My friends, I will tell you. A devil stole my secret from me and has traded it in the markets of the world. I trusted him. I was poor and he was rich. ‘Sell for me and share my gains,’ I said. His honor would be my protection, I thought, his knowledge my security. Ah, God, what reward had I? He named me to the police and their lashes cut the flesh from my body. I lay three years in the prison at Irkutsk and five at Saghalin. The white faces were turned to the earth they sprang from, my son was heard at the foot of God’s throne when they bade me go and set my foot in Poland no more. This I knew even in that island of blood and death. Letters had come to me from my dear wife; the Committee had kept me informed even there at the end of the earth. I knew that my home had perished; that of all my family, my daughter Lois alone remained to me; I knew that the days of the tyranny were numbered and that I, even I, might yet have my work to do. Did they keep me from Poland? I tell you that I lived there three years in spite of them, searching for the man who should answer me. Maxim Gogol, where had he hidden himself? The tale at the mines was that he had gone to America, sold his interest and embarked in new ventures. I wrote to our friends in New York and they knew nothing of such a man. I had search made for him in Berlin, in Vienna and Paris. The years were not too swift for my patience, but the harvest went ungathered. I came to London and bent my neck to this yoke of starvation and eternal night. I have worked sixteen hours a day in the foul holds of ships that I might husband my desire and repay. Friends, ten days ago in London I passed the man I am seeking and knew him for my own. Maxim Gogol may hide from me no more. With these eyes have I seen him—ah, God give me strength to speak of it—with these eyes have I seen him, with these hands have I touched him, with this voice have I accused him. He lives and he is mine—to suffer as I have suffered, to repay as I have paid—until the eternal justice of God shall decide between us both.”

There would have been loud applause in any other assembly upon the conclusion of such an impassioned if verbally conventional an harangue; but these Asiatics who heard Paul Boriskoff, who watched the tears stream down his hollowed cheeks and beheld the face uplifted as in ecstasy, had no applause to give him. Had not they also suffered as he had suffered? What wrong of his had not been, in some phase or other, a wrong of theirs? How many of them had lost children well beloved, had known starvation and the sweater’s block? Such sympathy as they had to give was rather the cold systematical pity of their order which ever made the individual’s cause its own. This unknown Maxim Gogol, if he were indeed in London so much the worse for him. The chosen hand would strike him down when his hour had come—even if it were not the hand of the man he had wronged. In so far as Boriskoff betrayed intense emotion before them, it may be that they despised him. What nation had been made free by tears? How would weeping put bread into the children’s mouths? This was the sentiment immediately expressed by a lank-haired Pole who followed thespeaker. Let Paul Boriskoff write out his case and the Committee would consider it, he said. If Maxim Gogol were adjudged guilty, let him be punished. For himself he would spare neither man, woman, or child sheltered in the house of the oppressor. A story had been told to them of an unusual order. He did not wholly regret that Paul Boriskoff had not made a fortune, for, had he done so, he would not be a brother among them to-night. Let him be assured of their sympathy. The Committee would hear him when and where he wished.

There were other speakers in a similar mood, but the immediate interest in the dramatic recital quickly evaporated. A little desultory talk was followed by the serving of vodki and of cups of steaming coffee to the women. The younger people at the far end of the hall, who had been admitted to hear the music which should justify the gathering, grew weary of waiting and pushed their way into the street. There they formed little companies to speak, not of the strange entertainment which had been provided for them, but of commonplace affairs—the elder women of infantile sufferings, the girls of the songs they had heard on Saturday at the Aldgate Empire or of the shocking taste in feathers of more favored rivals. But here and there a black-eyed daughter of Poland or a fair-haired Circassian edged away discreetly from the company and was as warily followed by the necessary male. The dirty street caught snatches of music-hall melodies. Windows were opened above and wit exchanged. A voice, that of a young girl evidently, asked what had become of the Hunter, and to this another voice replied immediately, as though greatly satisfied, that Alban Kennedy had gone down toward the High Street with Lois Boriskoff.

“As if you didn’t know, Chris. Gawsh, you should ‘ave seen her feathers waggin’ at the Union jess now. Fawther’s took wiv the jumps, I hear, and Alb’s gone to the Pav to give her hair. Oh, the fine gentleming—I seed his poor toes through his bloomin’ boots this night, s’welp me Gawd I did.”

The admission was received with a shout of laughter from the window above, where a red-haired girl leaned pensively upon the rail of a broken balcony. The speaker, in her turn, moved away with a youth who asked her, with much unnecessary emphasis, “what the ‘ell she had to do with Albey’s feet and why she couldn’t leave Chris Denham alone.”

“If I ain’t ‘xactly gawn on Russian taller myself, wot’s agen Albey a-doin’ of it,” he asked authoritatively. “Leave the lidy alone and don’t arst no questions. They say as the old man is took with spasms round at the Union. S’welp me if Albey ain’t in luck—at his time of life too.”

He winked at the girl, who had put her arm boldly round his waist, and marched on with the proud consciousness that his cleverness had not failed to make a just impression. The red-haired girl of the pensive face still gazed dreamily down the court and her head inclined a little toward the earth as though she were listening for the sound of a footstep. Not only the dreamer of dreams in that den of squalor, this Alban Kennedy was her idol to-night as he had been the idol of fifty of her class since he came to live among them. What cared she for his ragged shoes or the frayed collar about his neck? Did not the whole community admit him to be a very aristocrat of aristocrats, a diamond of class in a quarry of ashes, a figure at once mysterious and heroical? And this knight of the East, what irony led him away with that white-faced Pole, Lois Boriskoff? What did he see in her? What was she to him?

The pensive head was withdrawn sadly from the window at last. Silence fell in the dismal court. The Russians who had been breathing fire and vengeance were now eating smoked sturgeon and drinking vodki. A man played the fiddle to them and some danced. After all, life has something else than the story of wrong to tell us sometimes.




THE BOY AND THE GIRL halted together by one of the great lights at the corner of the Commercial Road and there they spoke of the strange confession which had just fallen from Paul Boriskoff’s lips. Little Lois, white-faced as a mime at the theatre, her black hair tousled and unkempt, her eyes shining almost with the brightness of fever, declared all her heart to the gentle Alban and implored him for God’s sake to take her from London and this pitiful home. He, as discreet as she was rash, pitied her from his heart, but would not admit as much.

“If I could only speak Polish, Lois—but you know I can’t,” he said. “Bread and salt, that’s about what I should get in your country—and perhaps be able to count the nails in the soles of my boots. What’s the good of telling me all about it? I saw that your father was angry, but you people are always angry. And, little girl, he does his best for you. Never forget that—he would sooner lose anything on earth than you.”

“I don’t believe it,” said the girl, tossing her head angrily, “what’s he care about anything but that ole machine of his which he says they stole from him? Ten hours have I been sewing to-day, Alb, and ten it will be to-morrow. Truth, dear, upon my soul. What’s father care so long as the kettle boils and he can read the papers? And you’re no better—you’d take me away if you were—right away from here to the gardens where he couldn’t find me, and no one but you would ever find me any more. That’s what you’d do if you were as I want you to be. But you ain’t, Alb—you’ll never care for any girl—now will you, Alb, dear?”

She clutched his arm and pressed closely to him, regardless of passers-by so accustomed to love-making on the pavements that neither man nor woman turned a head because of it. Alban Kennedy, however, was frankly ashamed of the whole circumstance, and he pushed the girl away from him as though her very touch offended.

“Look here, Lois, that’s nonsense—let’s go and see something, let’s go into the New Empire for an hour. Your father will be all right when he’s had a glass or two of vodki. You know he’s always like this when there’s been news from Warsaw. Let’s go and hear a turn and then you can tell me what you want me to do.”

They walked on a little way, she clinging to his arm timidly and looking up often into his eyes as though for some expression of that affection she hungered for unceasingly. The “Court” had named them for lovers long ago, but the women declared that such an aristocrat as Alban Kennedy would look twice before he put his neck into Paul Boriskoff’s matrimonial halter.

“A lot of good the Empire will do me to-night,” Lois exclaimed presently. “I feel more like dancing on my own grave than seeing other people do it. What with father’s temper and your cold shoulder, Alb—”

“Lois, that’s unfair, dear; you know that I am sorry. But what can I do, what can any one do for men who talk such nonsense as those fellows in that hall? ‘Seize London and the Government’—you said it was that, didn’t you?—well, they’re much more likely to get brain fever and wake up in the hospital. That’s what I shall tell your father if he asks me. And, Lois, how can you and I talk about anything serious when I haven’t a shilling to call my own and your father won’t let you out of his sight lest he should want something. It will all be different soon—bad things always are. I shall make a fortune myself some day—I’m certain of it as though I had the money already in the bank. People who make fortunes always know that they are going to do so. I shall make a lot of money and then come back for you—just my little Lois sewing at the window, the same old dirty court, the same ragged fellows talking about sacking London, the same faces everywhere—but Lois unchanged and waiting for me—now isn’t it that, dear, won’t you be unchanged when I come back for you?”

They stood for an instant in the shadow of a shuttered shop and, leaping up at his question, she lifted warm red lips to his own—and the girl of seventeen and the boy of mature twenty kissed as ardently as lovers newly sworn to eternal devotion.

“I do love you, Alb,” she cried, “I shall never love any other man—straight, my dear, though there ain’t much use in a-telling you. Oh, Alb, if you meant it, you wouldn’t leave me in this awful place; you’d take me away, darling, where I could see the fields and the gardens. I’d come, Alb, as true as death—I’d go this night if you arst me, straight away never to come back—if it were to sleep on the hard road and beg my bread from house to house—I’d go with you, Alb, as heaven hears me, I’d be an honest wife to you and you should never regret the day. What’s to keep us, Alb, dear? Oh, we’re fine rich, ain’t we, both of us, you with your fifteen shillings from the yard and me with nine and six from the fronts. Gawd’s truth, Rothschild ain’t nothink to you and me, Alb, when we’ve the mind to play the great lidy and gentleman. Do you know that I lay abed some nights and try to think as it’s a kerridge and pair and you a-sittin’ beside of me and nothink round us but the green fields and the blue sky, and nothink never more to do but jess ride on with your hand in mine and the sun to shine upon us. Lord, what a thing it is to wake up then, Alb, and ‘ear the caller cryin’ five and see my father like a white ghost at the door. And that’s wot’s got to go on to the end—you know it is; you put me off ‘cause you think it’ll please me, same as you put Chris Denham off when you danced with her at the Institoot Ball. You won’t never love no girl truly, Alb—it isn’t in you, my dear. You’re born above us and we never shall forget it, not none of us as I’m alive to-night.”

She turned away her head to hide the tears gathering in her black eyes, while Alban’s only answer to her was a firm pressure upon the little white hand he held in his own and a quicker step upon the crowded pavement. Perhaps he understood that the child spoke the truth, but of this he could not be a wise judge. His father had been a poor East End parson, his mother was the daughter of an obstinate and flinty Sheffield steel factor, who first disowned her for marrying a curate and then went through the bankruptcy court as a protest against American competition. So far Alban knew himself to be an aristocrat—and yet how could he forget that among that very company of Revolutionaries he had so lately quitted there were sons of men whose nobility was older than Russia herself. That he understood so much singled him out immediately as a youth of strange gifts and abnormal insight—but such, indeed, he was, and as such he knew himself to be.

“I won’t quarrel with you, Lois, though I see that you wish it, dear,” he said presently, “you know I don’t care for Chris Denham and what’s the good of talking about her. Let’s go and cheer up—I’m sure we can do with a bit and that’s the plain truth, now isn’t it, Lois?”

He squeezed her arm and drew her closer to him. At the Empire they found two gallery seats and watched a Japanese acrobat balance himself upon five hoops and a ladder. A lady in far from immaculate evening dress, who sang of a flowing river which possessed eternal and immutable qualities chiefly concerned with love and locks and unswerving fidelity, appealed to little Lois’ sentiment and she looked up at Alb whenever the refrain recurred as much as to say, “That is how I should love you.” So many other couples about them were squeezing hands and cuddling waists that no one took any notice of their affability or thought it odd. A drunken sailor behind them kept asking the company with maudlin reiteration what time the last train left for Plymouth, but beyond crying “hush” nobody rebuked him. In truth, the young people had come there to make love, and when the lights were turned down and the curtain of the biograph revealed, the place seemed paradise itself.

Lois crept very close to Alban during this part of the entertainment, nor did he repulse her. Moments there were undeniably when he had a great tenderness toward her; moments when she lay in his embrace as some pure gift from this haven of darkness and of evil, a fragile helpless figure of a girlhood he idolized. Then, perchance, he loved her as Lois Boriskoff hungered for love, with the supreme devotion, the abject surrender of his manhood.

No meaner taint of passion inspired these outbreaks, nor might the most critical student of character have found them blameworthy. Alban Kennedy’s rule of life defied scrutiny. His ignorance was often that of a child, his faith that of a trusting woman—and yet he had traits of strength which would have done no dishonor to those in the highest places. Lois loved him and there were hours when he responded wholly to her love and yet had no more thought of evil in his response than of doing any of those forbidding things against which his dead mother had schooled him so tenderly. Here were two little outcasts from the civilized world—why should they not creep close together for that sympathy and loving kindness which destiny had denied them.

“I darsn’t be late to-night, Alb,” Lois said when the biograph was over and they had left the hall, “you know how father was. I must go back and get his supper.”

“Did he really mean all that about the copper mines and his invention?” Alban asked her in his practical way, and added, “Of course I couldn’t understand much of it, but I think it’s pretty awful to see a man crying, don’t you, Lois?”

“Father does that often,” she rejoined, “often when he’s alone. I might not be in the world at all, Alb, for all he thinks of me. Some one robbed him, you know, and just lately he thinks he’s found the man in London. What’s the good of it all—who’s goin’ to help a poor Pole get his rights back? Oh, yer bloomin’ law and order, a lot we sees of you in Thrawl Street, so help me funny. That’s what I tell father when he talks about his rights. We’ll take ours home with us to Kingdom come and nobody know much about ‘em when we get there. A sight of good it is cryin’ out for them in this world, Alb—now ain’t it, dear?”

Alban was in the habit of taking questions very seriously, and he took this one just as though she had put it in the best of good faith.

“I can’t make head or tail of things, Lois,” he said stoically, “fact is, I’ve given up trying. Why does my father die without sixpence after serving God all his life, and another man, who has served the devil, go under worth thousands? That’s what puzzles me. And they tell us it will all come right some day, just as we’re all going to drive motor-cars when the Socialists get in. Wouldn’t I be selling mine cheap to-night if anyone came along and offered me five pounds for it—wouldn’t I say ‘take it’ and jolly glad to get the money. Why, Lois, dear, think what we would do with five pounds.”

“Go to Southend for Easter, Alb.”

“Buy you a pretty ring and take you to the Crystal Palace.”

“Drive a pony to Epping, Alb, and come back in the moonlight.”

“Down to Brighton for the Saturday and two in the water together.”

“Flash it on ‘em in Thrawl Street and make Chris Denham cry.”

They laughed together and cuddled joyously at a dream so bewildering. Their united wealth that night was three shillings, of which Alb had two and four pence. What untold possibilities in five pounds, what sunshine and laughter and joy. Ah, that the dark court should be waiting for them, the squalor, the misery, the woe of it. Who can wonder that the shadows so soon engulfed them?

“Kiss me, Alb,” she said at the corner, “shall I see you to-morrow night, dear?”

“Outside the Pav at nine. You can tell me how your father took it. Say I hope he’ll get his rights. I think he always liked me rather, Lois.”

“A sight more than ever he liked me, Alb, and that’s truth. Ah, my dear, you’ll take me away from here some day, won’t you, Alb? You’ll take me away where none shall ever know, where I shall see the world and forget what I have been. Kiss me, Alb—I’m that low to-night, dear, I could cry my heart out.”

He obeyed her instantly. A voice of human suffering never failed to make an instant appeal to him.

“As true as God’s in heaven, if ever I get rich, I’ll come first to Lois with the story,” he said—and so he bent and kissed her on the lips as gently as though she had been his little sister.




ALBAN’S GARRET LAY WITHIN A stone’s throw of the tenement occupied by the Boriskoffs; but, in truth, it knew very little of him. They called him “The Hunter,” in the courts and alleys round about; and this was as much as to say that his habits were predatory. He loved to roam afar in quest, not of material booty, but of mental sensation. An imagination that was simply wonderful helped him upon his way. He had but to stand at the gate of a palace to become in an instant one of those who peopled it. He could create himself king, or prince, or bishop as the mood took him. If a holiday sent him to the theatre, he was the hero or villain at his choice. In church he would preach well-imagined sermons to spellbound listeners. The streets of the West End were his true world—the gate without the scene of his mental pleasures.

He had no friends among the youths and lads of Thrawl Street and its environment, nor did he seek them. Those who hung about him were soon repelled by his secretive manner and a diffidence which was little more than natural shyness. If he fell now and then into the speech of the alleys, constant association was responsible for the lapse. Sometimes, it is true, an acquaintance would defy the snub and thrust himself stubbornly upon the unwilling wanderer. Alban was never unkind to such as these. He pitied these folk from his very heart; but before them all, he pitied himself.

His favorite walk was to the precincts of Westminster School, where he had spent two short terms before his father died. The influence of this life had never quite passed away. Alban would steal across London by night and stand at the gate of Little Dean’s Yard as though wondering still what justice or right of destiny had driven him forth. He would haunt St. Vincent’s Square on Saturday afternoons, and, taking his stand among all the little ragged boys who watched the cricket or football, he would, in imagination, become a “pink” delighting the multitude by a century or kicking goals so many that the very Press was startled. In the intervals he revisited the Abbey and tried to remember the service as he had known it when a schoolboy. The sonorous words of Tudor divines remained within his memory, but the heart of them had gone out. What had he to be thankful for now? Did he not earn his bitter bread by a task so laborious that the very poor might shun it. His father would have made an engineer of him if he had lived—so much had been quite decided. He could tell you the names of lads who had been at Westminster with him and were now at Oxford or Cambridge enjoying those young years which no subsequent fortune can recall. What had he done to the God who ruled the world that these were denied to him? Was he not born a gentleman, as the world understands the term? Had he not worn good clothes, adored a loving mother, been educated in his early days in those vain accomplishments which society demands from its children? And now he was an “East-ender,” down at heel and half starved; and there were not three people in all the city who would care a straw whether he lived or died.

This was the lad who went westward that night of the meeting in Union Street, and such were his frequent thoughts. None would have taken him for what he was; few who passed him by would have guessed what his earlier years had been. The old gray check suit, frayed at the edges, close buttoned and shabby, was just such a suit as any loafer out of Union Street might have worn. His hollow cheeks betrayed his poverty. He walked with his hands thrust deep into his pockets, his shoulders slightly bent, his eyes roving from face to face as he numbered the wayfarers and speculated upon their fortunes and their future. Two or three friends who hailed him were answered by a quickening of his step and a curt nod of the handsome head. Alb’s “curl,” a fair flaxen curl upon a broad white forehead, had become a jest in Thrawl Street. “‘E throws it at yer,” the youths said—and this was no untrue description.

Alban walked swiftly up the Whitechapel Road and was going on by Aldgate Station when the Reverend “Jimmy” Dale, as all the district called the cheery curate of St. Wilfred’s Church, slapped him heartily on the shoulder and asked why on earth he wasted the precious hours when he might be in bed and asleep.

“Now, my dear fellow, do you really think it is wise? I am here because I have just been to one of those exhibitions of unadorned gluttony they call a City Banquet. Do you know, Alban, that I don’t want to hear of food and drink again for a month. It’s perfectly terrible to think that men can do such things when I could name five hundred children who will go wanting bread to-morrow.”

Alban rejoined in his own blunt way.

“Then why do you go?” was his disconcerting question.

“To beg of them, that’s why I go. They are not uncharitable—I will hold to it anywhere. And, I suppose, from a worldly point of view, it was a very good dinner. Now, let us walk back together, Alban. I want to talk to you very much.”

“About what, sir?”

“Oh, about lots of things. Why don’t you join the cricket club, Alban?”

“I haven’t got the money, sir.”

“But surely—five shillings, my dear boy—and only once a year.”

“If you haven’t got the five shillings, it doesn’t make any difference how many times a year it is.”

“Well, well, I think I must write to Sir James Hogg about you. He was telling me to-night—”

“If he sent me the money, I’d return it to him. I’m not a beggar, Mr. Dale.”

“But are you not very proud, Alban?”

“Would you let anybody give you five shillings—for yourself, Mr. Dale?”

“That would depend how he offered it. In the plate I should certainly consider it acceptable.”

“Yes, but sent to you in a letter because you were hard up, you know. I’m certain you wouldn’t. No decent fellow would. When I can afford to play cricket, I’ll play it. Good night, Mr. Dale. I’m not going back just now.”

The curate shook his head protestingly.

“Do you know it is twelve o’clock, Alban?”

“Just the time the fun begins—in the world—over there, sir.”

He looked up at the Western sky aglow with that crimson haze which stands for the zenith of London’s night. The Reverend “Jimmy” Dale had abandoned long ago the idea of understanding Alban Kennedy. “He will either die in a lunatic asylum or make his fortune,” he said to himself—and all subsequent happenings did not alter this dogged opinion. The fellow was either a lunatic or an original. “Jimmy” Dale, who had rowed in the Trinity second boat, did not wholly appreciate either species.

“What is the world to you, Alban—is not sleep better?”

“In a garret, sir, where you cannot breathe?”

“Oh, come, we must all be a little patient in adversity. I saw Mr. Browning at the works yesterday. He tells me that the firm is very pleased with you—you’ll get a rise before long, Alban.”

“Half a crown for being good. Enough to sole my boots. When I have shops of my own, I’ll let the men live to begin with, sir. The shareholders can come afterwards.”

“It would never do to preach that at a city dinner.”

“Ah, sir, what’s preached at a city dinner and what’s true in Thrawl Street, Whitechapel, don’t ride a tandem together. Ask a hungry man whether he’ll have his mutton boiled or roast, and he’ll tell you he doesn’t care a damn. It’s just the same with me—whether I sleep in a cellar or a garret, what’s the odds? I’ll be going on now, sir. You must feel tired after so much eating.”

He turned, but not rudely, and pushing his way adroitly through the throng about the station disappeared in a moment. The curate shook his head and resumed his way moodily eastward, wondering if his momentary lapse from the straight and narrow way of self-sacrificing were indeed a sin. After all, it had been a very good dinner, and a man would be unwise to be influenced by a boy’s argument. The Reverend “Jimmy” was a thousand miles from being a hypocrite, as his life’s work showed, and this matter of the dinner really troubled him exceedingly. How many of his parishioners could have been fed for such an expenditure? On the other hand, city companies did a very great deal of good, and it would be churlish to object to their members dining together two or three times a year. In the end, he blamed the lad, Alban, for putting such thoughts into his head.

“The fellow’s off to sleep in Hyde Park, I suppose,” he said to himself, “or in one of his pirate’s caves. What a story he could write if he had the talent. What a freak of chance which set him down here amongst us—well born and educated and yet as much a prisoner as the poorest. Some day we shall hear of him—I am convinced of it. We shall hear of Alban Kennedy and claim his acquaintance as wise people do when a man has made a success.”

He carried the thought home with him, but laid it aside when he entered the clergy house, dark and stony and cheerless at such an hour. Alban was just halfway down the Strand by that time and debating whether he should sleep in the “caves,” as he called those wonderful subterranean passages under Pall Mall and the Haymarket, or chance the climate upon a bench in Hyde Park. A chilly night of April drove him to the former resolution and he passed on quickly; by the theatres now empty of their audiences; through Trafalgar Square, where the clubs and the hotels were still brilliantly lighted; up dark Cockspur Street; through St. James’ Square; and so to an abrupt halt at the door of a great house, open to the night and dismissing its guests.

Alban despised himself for doing it, but he could never resist the temptation of staring through the windows of any mansion where a party happened to be held. The light and life of it all made a sure appeal to him. He could criticise the figures of beautiful women and remain ignorant of the impassable abyss between their sphere and his own. Sometimes, he would try to study the faces thus revealed to him, as in the focus of a vision, and to say, “That woman is utterly vain,” or again, “There is a doll who has not the sense of an East End flower girl.” In a way he despised their ignorance of life and its terrible comedies and tragedies. Little Lois Boriskoff, he thought, must know more of human nature than any woman in those assemblies where, as the half-penny papers told him, cards and horses and motor-cars were the subjects chiefly talked about. It delighted him to imagine the abduction of one of these society beauties and her forcible detention for a month in Thrawl Street. How she would shudder and fear it all—and yet what human lessons might not she carry back with her. Let them show him a woman who could face such an ordeal unflinchingly and he would fall in love with her himself. The impertinence of his idea never once dawned upon him. He knew that his father’s people had been formerly well-to-do and that his mother had often talked of birth and family. “I may be better than some of them after all,” he reflected; and this was his armor against humiliation. What did money matter? The fine idealist of twenty, with a few coppers in his pocket, declared stoically that money was really of no consequence at all.

He lingered some five minutes outside the great house in St. James’ Square, watching the couples in the rooms above, and particularly interested in one face which appeared in, and disappeared from, a brilliantly lighted alcove twice while he was standing there. A certain grace of girlhood attended this apparition; the dress was rich and costly and exquisitely made; but that which held Alban’s closer attention was the fact that the wearer of it unquestionably was a Pole, and not unlike little Lois Boriskoff herself. He would not say, indeed, that the resemblance was striking—it might have been merely that of nationality. When the girl appeared for the second time, he admitted that the comparison was rather wild. None the less, he liked to think that she resembled Lois and might also have heard the news from Warsaw to-day. Evidently she was the daughter of some rich foreigner in London, for she talked and moved with Continental animation and grace. The type of face had always made a sure appeal to Alban. He liked those broad contrasts of color; the clear, almost white, skin; the bright red lips; the open expressive eyes fringed by deep and eloquent lashes. This unknown was taller than little Lois certainly—she had a maturer figure and altogether a better carriage; but the characteristics of her nationality were as sure—and the boy fell to wondering whether she was also capable of that winsome sentiment and jealous frenzy which dictated many of the seemingly inconsequent acts of the little heroine of Thrawl Street. This he imagined to be quite possible. “They are great as a nation,” he thought, “but most of them are mad. I will tell Lois to-morrow that I have seen her sister in St. James’ Square. I shouldn’t wonder if she knew all about this house and the party—and Boriskoff will, if she doesn’t.”

He contented himself with this; and the girl having disappeared from the alcove and a footman announced, in a terrible voice, that Lady Smigg’s carriage barred the way, he turned from the house and continued upon his way to the “caves.” It was then nearly one o’clock, and save for an occasional hansom making a dash to a club door, St. James’ Street was deserted. Alban took one swift look up and down, crossed the street at a run and disappeared down the court which led to those amazing “tombs” of which few in London save the night-birds and the builders so much as suspect the existence.

He did not go alone; he was not, as he thought, unwatched. A detective, commissioned by an unknown patron to follow him, crossed the road directly he had disappeared, and saying, “So that’s the game,” began to wonder if he also might dare the venture.

He, at least, knew well what he was doing and the class of person he would be likely to meet down there in the depths of which even the police were afraid.




THE “LABYRINTH” BENEATH THE WEST End of London was rediscovered in our own time when the foundations for the Carlton Hotel and his Majesty’s Theatre were laid. It is a network of old cellars, subterranean passages and, it may even be, of disused conduits, extended from the corner of Suffolk Street, Pall Mall, away to the confines of St. James’ Park—and, as more daring explorers aver, to the river Thames itself. Here is a very town of tunnels and arches, of odd angled rooms, of veritable caves and depths as dark as Styx. If, in a common way, it be shut by the circumstance of the buildings above to the riff-raff and night-hawks who would frequent it, there are seasons, nevertheless, when the laying of new foundations, the building of hotels and the demolition of ancient streets in the name of “improvement” fling its gates open to the more cunning of the “destitutes,” and they flock there as rooks to a field newly sown.

Of these welcome opportunities, the building of the Carlton Hotel is the best remembered within recent times; but the erection of new houses off St. James’ Street in the year 1903 brought the ladies and the gentlemen of the road again to its harborage; and they basked there for many weeks in undisputed possession. Molesting none and by none molested, it was an affair neither for the watchmen (whose glances askance earned them many a handsome supper) or for the police who had sufficient to do in the light of the street lamps that they should busy themselves with supposed irregularities where that light was not. The orgies thus became a nightly feature of the vagrant’s life. There was no more popular hotel in London than the “Coal Hole,” as the wits of the company delighted to style their habitation.

A city below a city! Indeed imagination might call it that. A replica of famous catacombs with horrid faces for your spectres, ghoulish women and unspeakable men groping in the darkness as though, vampire-like, afraid of the light. Why Alban Kennedy visited this place, he himself could not have said. Possibly a certain morbid horror of it attracted him. He had, admittedly, such a passport to the caves as may be the reward of a shabby appearance and a resolute air. The criminal company he met with believed that he also was a criminal. Enjoying their confidence because he had never excited their suspicion, they permitted him to lie his length before reddened embers and hear tales which fire the blood with every passion of anger and of hate. Here, in these caverns, he had seen men fight as dogs—with teeth and claws and resounding yells; he had heard the screams of a woman and the cries of helpless children. A sufficient sense of prudence compelled him to be but an apathetic spectator of these infamies. The one battle he had fought had been impotent to save the object of his chivalry.

When first he came here, heroic resolutions followed