GOLLY COYLE was the only granddaughter of a vague and somewhat simple clergyman who existed, with an aunt, solely for Golly’s epistolary purposes. There was, of course, intermediate ancestry,—notably a dead mother who was French, and therefore responsible for any later naughtiness in Golly,—but they have no purpose here. They lived in the Isle of Man. Golly knew a good deal of Man, for even at the age of twelve she was in love with John Gale—only son of Lord Gale, who was connected with the Tempests. Gales, however, were frequent and remarkable along the coast, so that it was not singular that one day she found John “coming on” on a headland where she was sitting. His dog had “pointed” her. “It’s exceedingly impolite to point to anything you want,” said Golly. Touched by this, and overcome by a strange emotion, John Gale turned away and went to Canada. Slight as the incident was, it showed that inborn chivalry to women, that desire for the Perfect Life, that intense eagerness to incarnate Christianity in modern society, which afterward distinguished him. Golly loved him! For all that, she still remained a “tomboy” as she was,—robbing orchards, mimicking tramps and policemen, buttering the stairs and the steps of houses, tying kettles to dogs’ tails, and marching in a white jersey, with the curate’s hat on, through the streets of the village. “Gol dern my skin!” said the dear old clergyman, as he tried to emerge from a surplice which Golly had stitched together; “what spirits the child do have!” Yet everybody loved her! And when John Gale returned from Canada, and looked into her big blue eyes one day at church, small wonder that he immediately went off again to Paris, and an extended Continental sojourn, with a serious leaning to theology! Golly bore his absence meekly but characteristically; got a boat, disported like a duck in the water, attempted to elope with a boy appropriately named Drake, but encountered a half gale at sea and a whole Gale in John on a yacht, who rescued them both. Convinced now that there was but one way to escape from his Fate—Golly!—John Gale took holy orders and at once started for London. As he stood on the deck of the steamer he heard an imbecile chuckle in his ear. It was the simple old clergyman: “You are going to London to join the Church, John; Golly is going there, too, as hospital nurse. There’s a pair of you! He! he! Look after her, John, and protect her Manx simplicity.” Before John could recover himself, Golly was at his side executing the final steps of a “cellar-door flap jig” to the light-hearted refrain:—
And even as her pure young voice arose above the screams of the departure whistle, she threw a double back-somersault on the quarterdeck, cleverly alighting on the spikes of the wheel before the delighted captain.
“Jingle my electric bells,” he said, looking at the bright young thing, “but you’re a regular minx—”
“I beg your pardon,” interrupted John Gale, with a quick flush.
“I mean a regular Manx,” said the captain hurriedly.
A singular paleness crossed the deeply religious face of John. As the vessel rose on the waves, he passed his hand hurriedly first across his brows and then over his high-buttoned clerical waistcoat, that visible sign of a devoted ascetic life! Then murmuring in his low, deep voice, “Brandy, steward,” he disappeared below.
Glorious as were Golly’s spirits, exquisitely simple her worldly ignorance, and irresistible her powers of mimicry, strangely enough they were considered out of place in St. Barabbas’ Hospital. A light-hearted disposition to mistake a blister for a poultice; that rare Manx conscientiousness which made her give double doses to the patients as a compensation when she had omitted to give them a single one, and the faculty of bursting into song at the bedside of a dying patient, produced some liveliness not unmixed with perplexity among the hospital staff. It is true, however, that her performance of clog-dancing during the night-watches drew a larger and more persistent attendance of students and young surgeons than ever was seen before. Yet everybody loved her! Even her patients! “If it amooses you, miss, to make me tyke the pills wot’s meant for the lydy in the next ward, I ain’t complyning,” said an East End newsboy. “When ye tyke off the style of the doctor wot wisits me, miss, and imitates his wyes, Lawd! it does me as much good as his mixtures,” said a consumptive charwoman. Even thus, old and young basked in the radiant youth of Golly. She found time to write to her family:—
DEAR OLD PALS! I’m here. J’y suis! bet your boots! While you’re wondering what has become of the Bright Young Thing, the B. Y. T. is lookin’ out of the winder of St. Barabbas’ Hospital—just taking in all of dear, roaring, dirty London in one gulp! Such a place—Lordy! I’ve been waiting three hours to see the crowd go by, and they haven’t gone yet! Such crowds, such busses,—all green and blue, only a penny fare, and you can ride on top if you want to! Think of that, you dear old Manx people! But there—“the bell goes a-ringing for Sarah!”—they’re calling for Nurse! That’s the worst of this job: they’re always a-dyin’ just as you’re getting interested in something else! Ta-ta!
Then her dear old grandfather wrote:
I’m wondering where my diddleums, Golly, is! We all miss you so much, deary, though we don’t miss so many little things as when you were here. My dear, conscientious, unselfish little girl! You don’t say where John Gale is. Is he still protecting you—he-he!—you giddy, naughty thing! People wonder on the island why I let you go alone to London—they forget your dear mother was a Frenchwoman! If you see anything your dear old grandfather would like—send it on. |
Later, her aunt wrote:—
|Have you seen the Queen yet, and does she wear her crown at breakfast? You might get over the area railing at Buckingham Palace—it would be nothing for a girl like you to do—and see if you can find out.|
To these letters Golly answered, in her own light-hearted way:—
DEAR GRANKINS,—I haven’t seen John much—but I think he’s like the Private Secretary at the play—he “don’t like London.” Lordy! there—I’ve let it out! I’ve been to a theayter. Nurse Jinny Jones and me scrouged into the pit one night without paying, “pertendin’,” as we were in uniform, we had come to take out a “Lydy” that had fainted. Such larks! and such a glorious theayter! I’ll tell you another time. Tell aunty the Queen’s always out when I call. But that’s nothing, everybody else is so affable and polite in London. Gentlemen—“real toffs,” they call ’em—whom you don’t know from Adam—think nothing of speaking to you in the street. Why, Nurse Jinny says—but there another patient’s going off who by rights oughter have died only to-morrow. “To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow,” as that barn-stormer actor said. But they’re always calling for that giddy young thing,
Meantime, John Gale, having abruptly left Golly at the door of St. Barabbas’ hospital, tactfully avoiding an unseemly altercation with the cab-driver regarding her exact fare, pursued his way thoughtfully to the residence of his uncle, the First Lord of the Admiralty. He found his Lordship in his bath-room. He was leaning over the bath-tub, which was half full of water, contemplating with some anxiety the model of a line-of-battle ship which was floating on it, bottom upward. “I don’t think it can be quite right—do you?” he said, nervously grasping his nephew’s hand as he pointed to the capsized vessel; “yet they always do it. Tell me!” he went on appealingly, “tell me, as a professing Christian and a Perfect Man—is it quite right?”
“I should think, sir,” responded John Gale, with uncompromising truthfulness, “that the average vessel of commerce is not built in that way.”
“Yet,” said the First Lord of the Admiralty, with a far-off look, “they all do it! And they don’t steer! The larger they are and the more recent the model, the less they steer. Dear me—you ought to see ’em go round and round in that tub.” Then, apparently recalling the probable purpose of John’s visit, he led the way into his dressing-room. “So you are in London, dear boy. Is there any little thing you want? I have,” he continued, absently fumbling in the drawers of his dressing-table, “a few curacies and a bishopric somewhere, but with these blessed models—I can’t think where they are. Or what would you say to a nice chaplaincy in the navy, with a becoming uniform, on one of those thingummies?” He pointed to the bath-room. “Stay,” he continued, as he passed his hand over his perplexed brows, “now I think of it—you’re quite unorthodox! Dear me! that wouldn’t do. You see, Drake,”—he paused, as John Gale started,—“I mean Sir Francis Drake, once suspended his chaplain for unorthodoxy, according to Froude’s book. These admirals are dreadfully strict Churchmen. No matter! Come again some other time,” he added, gently pushing his nephew downstairs and into the street, “and we’ll see about it.”
With a sinking heart, John turned his steps toward Westminster. He would go and see Golly; perhaps he had not looked after her as he ought. Suddenly a remembered voice, in mimicking accents, fell upon his ear with the quotation, “Do you know?” Then, in a hansom passing swiftly by him, Golly, in hospital dress with flying ribbons, appeared, sitting between Lord Brownstone Ewer and Francis Horatio Nelson Drake, completely grown up. And from behind floated the inexpressibly sad refrain, “Hi tiddli hi!”
This is how it happened. One morning, Jinny Jones, another hospital nurse, had said to her, “Have you any objection, dear, to seeing a friend of another gent, a friend of mine?”
“None in the least, dear,” said Golly. “I want to see all that can be seen, and do all that can be done in London, and know the glory thereof. I only require that I shall be allowed to love John Gale whenever he permits it, which isn’t often, and that I may be permitted to write simple letters to my doting relations at the rate of twelve pages a day, giving an account—my own account—of my doings. There! Go on now! Bring on your bears.”
They had visited the chambers which Lord Brownstone and Drake occupied together, and in girlish innocence had put on the gentlemen’s clothes and danced before them. Then they all went to the theatre, where Golly’s delightful simplicity and childish ignorance of the world had charmed them. Everything to her was new, strange, and thrilling. She even leaned from the carriage windows to see the “wheels go round.” She was surprised at the number of people in the theatre, and insisted on knowing if it was church, because they all sat there in their best clothes so quietly. She believed that the play was real, and frequently, from a stage box, interrupted the acting with explanations. She informed the heroine of the design of the villain waiting at the wings. And when the aged mother of the heroine was dying of starvation in a hovel, and she threw a bag of bonbons on the stage, with the vociferous declaration that “Lord Brownstone had just given them to her—but—Lordy!—she didn’t want them,” they were obliged to lead her away, closely followed by an usher and a policeman. “To think,” she wrote to John Gale, “that the audience only laughed and shouted, and never offered to help! And yet look at the churches in London, where they dare to preach the gospel!”
Fired by this simple letter, and alarmed by Golly’s simplicity, John Gale went to his clerical chief, Archdeacon Luxury, and demanded permission to preach next Sunday. “Certainly,” said the Archdeacon; “you shall take my curate’s place. I shall inform the congregation that you are the son of Lord Gale. They are very particular churchmen—all society people—and of course will be satisfied with the work of the Lord, especially,” he added, with a polite smile, “when that work happens to be—the Lord Gale’s son.” Accordingly, the next Sunday, John Gale occupied the pulpit of St. Swithin. But an unexpected event happened. His pent-up eagerness to denounce the present methods of Christianity, his fullness of utterance, defeated his purpose. He was overcome with a kind of pulpit fright. His ideas of time and place fled him. After beginning, “Mr. Chairman, in rising to propose the toast of our worthy Archdeacon—Fellow Manxmen—the present moment—er—er—the proudest in my—er—life—Dearly beloved Golly—unaccustomed as I am to public speaking,” he abruptly delivered the benediction and sat down. The incident, however, provoked little attention. The congregation, accustomed to sleep through the sermon, awoke at the usual time and went home. Only a single Scotchwoman said to him in passing: “Verra weel for a beginning, laddie. But give it hotter to ’em next time.” Discomfited and bewildered, he communed with himself gloomily. “I can’t marry Golly. I can’t talk. I hate society. What’s to be done? I have it! I’ll go into a monastery.”
He went into a monastery in Bishopsgate Street, reached by a threepenny ’bus. He gave out vaguely that he had got into “Something Good, in the City.” Society was satisfied. Only Golly suspected the truth. She wrote to her grandfather:—
“I saw John Gale the other day with a crowd following him in the Strand. He had on only a kind of brown serge dressing-gown, tied around his waist by a rope, and a hood on his head. I think his poor ‘toe-toes’ were in sandals, and I dare say his legs were cold, poor dear. However, if he calls that protection of Golly—I don’t! I might be run off at any moment—for all he’d help. No matter! If this Court understands herself, and she thinks she do, Golly can take care of herself—you bet.”
Nevertheless, Golly lost her place at the hospital through her heroic defense of her friend Jinny Jones, who had been deceived by Lord Brownstone Ewer. “You would drive that poor girl into the street,” she said furiously to the Chairman of the Board, throwing her cap and apron in their faces. “You’re a lot of rotten old hypocrites, and I’m glad to get shut of you.” Not content with that, she went to Drake and demanded that he should make his friend Lord Brownstone marry Jinny.
“Sorry—awfully sorry—my dear Golly, but he’s engaged to a rich American girl who is to pay his debts; but I’ll see that he does something handsome for Jinny. And you, my child, what are you going to do without a situation?” he added, with touching sympathy. “You see, I’ve some vague idea of marrying you myself,” he concluded meditatively.
“Thank you for nothing,” interrupted Golly gayly, “but I can take care of myself and follow out my mission like John Gale.”
“There’s a pair of you, certainly,” said Drake, with a tinge of jealous bitterness.
“You bet it’s ‘a pair’ that will take your ‘two knaves,’ you and your Lord Brownstone,” returned Golly, dropping a mock courtesy. “Ta-ta; I’m going on the stage.”
She went first into a tobacconist’s—and sold cigarettes. Sometimes she suffered from actual want, and ate fried fish. “Do you know how nice fried fish tastes in London,—you on ‘the Oilan’?” she wrote gayly. “I’m getting on splendidly; so’s John Gale, I suppose, though he’s looking cadaverous from starving himself all round. Tell aunty I haven’t seen the Queen yet, though after all I really believe she has not seen me.”
Then, after a severe struggle, she succeeded in getting on the stage as a song and dance girl. She sang melodiously and danced divinely, so remarkably that the ignorant public, knowing her to be a Manx girl, and vaguely associating her with the symbol of the Isle of Man, supposed she had three legs. She was the success of the season; her cup of ambition was filled. It was slightly embittered by the news that her friend Jinny Jones had killed herself in the church at the wedding of her recreant lover and the American heiress. But the affair was scarcely alluded to by the Society papers—who were naturally shocked at the bad taste of the deceased. And even Golly forgot it all—on the stage.
Meanwhile John Gale, or Brother Boreas, as he was known in the monastery, was submitting—among other rigors—to an exceptionally severe winter in Bishopsgate Street, which seemed to have an Arctic climate of its own,—possibly induced by the “freezing-out” process of certain stock companies in its vicinity.
“You are miserable, and eager to get out in the wicked world again, my son”, said the delightful old Superior, as he sat by the only fire, sipping a glass of mulled port, when John came in from shoveling snow outside. “I, therefore, merely to try you, shall make you gatekeeper. The keys of the monastery front door are under the door-mat in my cell, but I am a sound sleeper.” He smiled seraphically, and winked casually as he sipped his port. “We will call it, if you please—a penance.”
John threw himself in an agony of remorse and shame at the feet of the Superior. “It isn’t of myself I’m thinking,” he confessed wildly, “but of that poor young man, Brother Bones, in the next cell to mine. He is a living skeleton, has got only one lung and an atrophied brain. A night out might do him good.”
The Father Superior frowned. “Do you know who he is?”
“His real name is Jones. Why do you start? You have heard it before?”
John had started, thinking of Jinny Jones, Golly’s deserted and self-immolated friend.
“It is an uncommon name,” he stammered—“for a monastery, I mean.”
“He is or was an uncommon man!” said the Superior gravely. “But,” he added resignedly, “we cannot pick and choose our company here. Most of us have done something and have our own reasons for this retreat. Brother Polygamus escaped here from the persecutions of his sixth wife. Even I,” continued the Superior with a gentle smile, putting his feet comfortably on the mantelpiece, “have had my little fling, and the dear boys used to say—ahem!—but this is mere worldly vanity. You alone, my dear son”, he went on with slight severity, “seem to be wanting in some criminality, or—shall I say?—some appropriate besetting sin to qualify you for this holy retreat. An absolutely gratuitous and blameless idiocy appears to be your only peculiarity, and for this you must do penance. From this day henceforth, I make you doorkeeper! Go on with your shoveling at present, and shut the door behind you; there’s a terrible draught in these corridors.”
For three days John Gale underwent an agony of doubt and determination, and it still snowed in Bishopsgate Street.
On the fourth evening he went to Brother Bones.
“Would you like to have an evening out?”
“I would,” said Brother Bones.
“What would you do?”
“I would go to see my remaining sister.” His left eyelid trembled slowly in his cadaverous face.
“But if you should hear she was ruined like the other? What would you do?”
A shudder passed over the man. “I have not got my little knife,” he said vacantly.
True, he had not! The Brotherhood had no pockets,—or rather only a corporate one, which belonged to the Superior. John Gale lifted his eyes in sublime exaltation. “You shall go out,” he said with decision. “Muffle up until you are well out of Bishopsgate Street, where it still snows.”
“But how did you get the keys?” said Brother Bones.
“From under the Father Superior’s door-mat.”
“But that was wrong, Brother.”
“The mat bore the inscription, ‘Salve,’ which you know in Latin means ‘Welcome,’” returned John Gale. “It was logically a permission.”
The two men gazed at each other silently. A shudder passed over the two left eyelids of their wan spiritual faces.
“But I have no money,” said Brother Bones.
“Nor have I. But here is a ’bus ticket and a free pass to the Gaiety. You will probably find Golly somewhere about. Tell her,” he said in a hollow voice, “that I’m getting on.”
“I will,” said Brother Bones, with a deep cough.
The gate opened and he disappeared in the falling snow. The bloodhound kept by the monastery—one of the real Bishopsgate breed—bayed twice, and licked its huge jaws in ghastly anticipation. “I wonder,” said John Gale as he resumed his shoveling, “if I have done exactly right. Candor compels me to admit that it is an open question.”
Early the next morning, Brother Bones was brought home by Policeman X, his hat crushed, his face haggard, his voice husky and unintelligible. He only said vaguely, “Washertime?”
“It is,” said John Gale timidly, in explanation to Policeman X, “a case of spiritual exhaustion following a vigil.”
“That warn’t her name,” said Policeman X sternly. “But don’t let this ’ere appen again.”
John Gale turned to Brother Bones. “Then you saw her—Golly?”
“No,” said Brother Bones.
“Why? What on earth have you been doing?”
“Dunno! Found myself in stashun—zis morning! Thashall!”
Then John Gale sought the Superior in an agony of remorse, and confessed all. “I am unfit to remain doorkeeper. Remove me,” he groaned bitterly.
The old man smiled gently. “On the contrary, I should have given you the keys myself. Hereafter you can keep them. The ways of our Brotherhood are mysterious,—indeed, you may think idiotic,—but we are not responsible for them. It’s all Brother Caine’s doing—it’s ‘All Caine!”
Nevertheless, John Gale left the monastery. “The Bishopsgate Street winter does not suit me,” he briefly explained to the Superior. “I must go south or southwest.”
But he did neither. He saw Golly, who was living west. He upbraided her for going on the stage. She retorted: “Whose life is the more artificial, yours or mine? It is true that we are both imperfectly clothed,” she added, glancing at a photograph of herself in a short skirt, “and not always in our right mind—but you’ve caught nothing but a cold! Nevertheless, I love you and you love me.”
Then he begged her to go with him to the South Seas and take the place of Father Damien among the colony of lepers. “It is a beautiful place, and inexpensive, for we shall live only a few weeks. What do you say, dearest? You know,” he added, with a faint, sad smile, glancing at another photograph of her,—executing the high kick,—“you’re quite a leaper yourself.”
But that night she received an offer of a new engagement. She wrote to John Gale: “The South Seas is rather an expensive trip to take simply to die. Couldn’t we do it as cheaply at home? Or couldn’t you prevail on your Father Superior to set up his monastery there? I’m afraid I’m not up to it. Why don’t you try the old ‘Oilan,’ nearer home? There’s lots of measles and diphtheria about there lately.”
When the heartbroken John Gale received this epistle, he also received a letter from his uncle, the First Lord of the Admiralty. “I don’t fancy this Damien whim of yours. If you’re really in earnest about killing yourself, why not take a brief trial trip in one of our latest ironclads? It’s just as risky, although—as we are obliged to keep these things quiet in the Office—you will not of course get that publicity your noble soul craves.”
Abandoned by all in his noble purposes, John Gale took the first steamer to the Isle of Man.
But he did not remain there long. Once back in that epistolary island, he wrote interminable letters to Golly. When they began to bore each other, he returned to London and entered the Salvation Army. Crowds flocked to hear him preach. He inveighed against Society and Wickedness as represented in his mind by Golly and her friends, and praised a perfect Christianity represented by himself and his friends. A panic of the same remarkable character as the Bishopsgate Street winter took possession of London. Old Moore’s, Zadkiel’s, and Mother Shipton’s prophecies were to be fulfilled at an early and fixed date, with no postponement on account of weather. Suddenly Society, John Drake, and Antichrist generally combined by ousting him from his church, and turning it into a music-hall for Golly! Then John Gale took his last and sublime resolve. His duty as a perfect Christian was to kill Golly! His logic was at once inscrutable, perfect, and—John Galish!
With this sublime and lofty purpose, he called upon Golly. The heroic girl saw his purpose in his eye—an eye at once black, murderous, and Christian-like. For an instant she thought it was better to succumb at once and thus end this remarkable attachment. Suddenly through this chaos of Spiritual, Religious, Ecstatic, Super-Egotistic whirl of confused thought, darted a gleam of Common, Ordinary Horse Sense! John Gale saw it illumine her blue eyes, and trembled. God in Mercy! If it came to that!
“Sit down, John,” she said calmly. Then, in her sweet, clear voice, she said: “Did it ever occur to you, dearest, that a more ridiculous, unconvincing, purposeless, insane, God-forsaken idiot than you never existed? That you eclipse the wildest dreams of insanity? That you are a mental and moral ‘What-is-it?’”
“It has occurred to me,” he replied simply. “I began life with vast asinine possibilities which fall to the lot of few men; yet I cannot say that I have carried even them to a logical conclusion! But you, love! you, darling! conceived in extravagance, born to impossibility, a challenge to credulity, a problem to the intellect, a ‘missing word’ for all ages,—are you aware of any one as utterly unsympathetic, unreal, and untrue to nature as you are, existing on the face of the earth, or in the waters under the earth?”
“You are right, dearest; there are none,” she returned with the same calm, level voice. “It is true that I have at times tried to do something real and womanly, and not, you know, merely to complicate a—a”—her voice faltered—“theatrical situation—but I couldn’t! Something impelled me otherwise. Now you know why I became an actress! But even there I fail! They are allowed reasoning power off the stage—I have none at any time! I laugh in the wrong place—I do the unnecessary, extravagant thing. Endowed by some strange power with extraordinary attributes, I am supposed to make everybody love me, but I don’t—I satisfy nobody; I convince none! I have no idea what will happen to me next. I am doomed to—I know not what.”
“And I,” he groaned bitterly, “I, in some rare and lucid moments, have had a glimpse of this too. We are in the hands of some inscrutable but awful power. Tell me, Golly, tell me, darling, who is it?”
Again that gleam of Common or Ordinary Horse Sense came in her eye.
“I have found out who,” she whispered. “I have found out who has created us, and made us as puppets in his hands.”
“Is it the Almighty?” he asked.
“No; it is”—she said, with a burst of real laughter—“it is—The ‘All Caine!’”
“What! our countryman the Manxman? The only great Novelist? The beloved of Gladstone?” he gasped.
“Yes—and he intends to kill you—and we’re only to be married at your deathbed!”
John Gale arose with a look of stern determination. “I have suffered much and idiotically—but I draw a line at this. I shall kick!”
Golly clapped her hands joyfully. “We will!”
“And we’ll chuck him.”
They were choking with laughter.
“And go and get married in a natural, simple way like anybody else—and try—to do our duty—to God—to each other—and to our fellow-beings—and quit this—damned—nonsense—and in-fer-nal idiocy forever!”
PUBLISHER’S NOTE.—“In that supreme work of my life, ‘The Christian,’” said the gifted novelist to a reporter in speaking of his methods, “I had endowed the characters of Golly and John Gale with such superhuman vitality and absolute reality that—as is well known in the experience of great writers—they became thinking beings, and actually criticised my work, and even interfered and rebelled to the point of altering my climax and the end!” The present edition gives that ending, which of course is the only real one.