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The Inside Story of the Peace Conference By Emile Joseph Dillon Characters: 25299

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

ARCADIA STREET, on a warm July evening some twelve months after that surprising day when Mr. Daniel Meggison had waved farewell to the Arcadia Arms for ever, looked much the same as it had ever done. Even the children who played wonderfully with no toys on the pavement seemed to be the same that had followed a certain Mr. Jordan Tant, on the occasion of his first visit to the street; and there were the same loungers (or others very like them) propping up that institution so necessary to Arcadia Street and the immediate neighbourhood-the Arcadia Arms.

Even in the house where Bessie had once toiled and struggled and dreamt there was a card propped up against the window-frame, announcing that within were rooms to let; quite as though that particular house had been marked from the beginning for that particular purpose, and could not change. Only in these days the house did not wear quite that air of neatness that it had worn when Bessie Meggison had presided there.

It was growing late this July evening, and the dusk was falling, and softening the outlines of the ugly houses, when a four-wheeled cab, after a preliminary objection on the part of the horse to entering the street at all, turned into Arcadia Street, and jerked and bumped and rattled its way along, until it came to a standstill at the door of that particular house. As the then landlady of the house afterwards stated, "it put her all of a quiver"-cabs of any sort being rare indeed in Arcadia Street. On the top of the cab were a couple of old and shabby portmanteaus, and a small square wooden box; inside was another box, and a smaller bag, and a young man. The young man got out, and, pushing his way through the small knot of children that had gathered to watch the proceedings, knocked quickly at the door, and then stood waiting. The cabman knelt upon his seat, with a hand on the foremost of the portmanteaus, and waited also.

Mrs. Laws-the landlady in question-a stout and elderly woman with a chronic aversion to stairs-removed her eyes from the window of the front room, and crossed the room heavily, and went to open the door. When it was opened the young man nodded pleasantly, and indicated the card in the window.

"You have rooms to let?" he said. "I was walking through here yesterday, and saw the card, and thought the place might suit me."

"W'ich it's a sweet room, sir-or p'raps I should say two rooms-one hopenin' out of the other-and cheap at any price. On the second floor, sir-an' if you cared to walk in--"

"Thank you," said the young man. "I know the sort of rooms; I'll take them, if the price is all right. I can't afford very much-but I dare say we can arrange that."

It was arranged then and there-the landlady a little surprised at the suddenness with which the young man accepted an offer that was half a crown in advance of what the landlady would really have taken. The luggage was brought in, with the assistance of the cabman, who turned on each occasion as he got to the door with a box or a bag on his shoulder to shout sternly at the horse-"Whoa!"-as though that patient steed, apparently half asleep, had made up its mind to seize the opportunity to run away. Then the cabman was paid, and the cab was gone; and the young man, after declining to have any little thing cooked for him, was left in the shabby room to himself. He shut the door, and looked about him.

He was a tall young man, with broad shoulders, and he was rather shabbily dressed. He presently walked through into the back room, and looked out over those apologies for gardens common to Arcadia Street and other places; shrugged his shoulders, and sighed a little, and shook his head.

"Just the same as ever-nothing changed, and yet everything changed," he muttered. "All the spirit of Arcadia Street-all that peopled it and made it beautiful-is gone; there's no one left to look for Fairyland within its limits. Well-it's as good a place for a poor man to live in as any other; and after all there are certain memories that float about its grimy chimneys."

He was roused by a knock at the door of the other room. Believing it to be the anxious Mrs. Laws with another appeal to the new lodger to partake of food, he walked into that further room, and called out somewhat impatiently-

"Come in!"

The door opened, and a man came in; nodded grimly on seeing the young man, and closed the door again. A thick-set man, with head thrust well forward between his shoulders, and standing now with his hands clasped behind his back. A man called Simon Quarle.

"Well, Mr. Byfield-and what's brought you back here?" asked Quarle suspiciously. "I heard your voice on the stairs; also I happened to be looking out of the window when you drove up. I should have thought you had done with Arcadia Street long ago."

Gilbert Byfield laughed, and held out his hand. "Why treat me as an enemy still, Mr. Quarle?" he asked pleasantly. "I always rather liked you, and we've been through some curious adventures, one way and another. Won't you shake hands?"

"I will-when I know what new game's afoot," said Quarle. "As I told you once, you have no place in Arcadia Street; go back to your own world, and stop there."

Gilbert dropped on one knee beside a portmanteau, and began to unstrap it. "As a matter of fact," he said, "I think I have more right in Arcadia Street even than you have."

"How's that?" asked Quarle.

"Well, if I remember rightly, you have something of an income, even if it's a small one; I am under the impression that you retired from something or other, with just enough money to live upon."

"I did," said the other, with a nod. "I was thrifty in my young days, and I saved up the pence."

"Well, I wasn't thrifty in my young days, and I didn't save anything. Consequently"-Gilbert looked up at him with a whimsical smile-"I have now no money at all, except such as I may be able to earn. All my affairs have gone to smash, Mr. Quarle; I've come to Arcadia Street, because in the old days I found it cheap, when I was playing a certain game for the fun of the thing-and I may find it cheap now, when I am playing that game in solid sober earnest. Now do you understand?"

Mr. Simon Quarle leaned forward, and peered down at this new wonder. "You mean to tell me that you are no longer the rich Mr. Byfield we used to know? You mean to tell me that you have got to set to work to earn your living?" he asked.

"Yes-and with no particular qualifications for doing it," said Gilbert. "I'm not afraid, because I think that it's really the life for which I was fitted; idleness never really suited me. It's too long a story to tell, but my affairs got out of order during that time I disappeared from the world; and when I came back they went from bad to worse. I have nothing save what I may earn-and I rather think I want friends."

Mr. Simon Quarle stretched out a hand, and Byfield grasped it quickly. After a moment of silence the elder man asked-"And that is the only thing that has brought you back to Arcadia Street-eh?"

"That-and the memory of the best woman I ever met. I've had a long year to think about her since she ran away from me-to wonder about her. I've looked back over it all-and I've seen what I was, and what I did, and how I strove to make her something that should please myself only. I wanted a toy-someone to be good to, and help-someone who would look up at me, and say how good I was, and how kind I had been-and so forth. I didn't understand her then; I didn't know the value of what I was striving to bend or break in my own direction. I don't know where she is-I don't hope ever to have anything to do with her again; because if I met her she must carry that resentment in her heart for me always. But I'd give a good deal to call her back here, if only for an hour-just to tell her what I think about it all. I suppose you know nothing about her?"

"Am I likely to know anything?" snapped the other, in the old fashion. "I came back here because I liked the place, and because she had lived here; that's all. I can tell you about some of the others, and about what's happened to them, if you like; I've heard vague things from time to time."

"Do you think it likely that she has gone back to her father?" asked Gilbert eagerly. "Because if you know where he is I might be able--"

"Mr. Daniel Meggison has done rather well for himself-and I don't think he wants anything to do with his daughter," said Quarle, seating himself and folding his arms. "It appears that he wandered about a bit in Ireland, and finally drifted to Liverpool; and there he took up his quarters in a little public-house. The public-house was owned by a confiding widow-and Daniel Meggison was ever plausible. He married the widow, and settled down in some sort of comfort."

"Ungrateful brute!" exclaimed Gilbert. "And the son?"

"Cast off by his father, and unable to find his sister, he really did something for himself at last, in his own particular fashion. I think he does a little in the way of billiard-marking, and a little in the way of racing, and more still in the way of borrowing. He'll never starve, you may be sure of that. The Stockers got back in due course to Clapham, and have doubtless settled down into their own old way of life; that exhausts my list."

"You will be interested to know, perhaps," said Gilbert in his turn, "that Mr. Tant married Miss Ewart-Crane some months ago; I've seen very little of him, but I believe their extraordinary adventures on a desert island are already quite the talk in their own particular sphere. Pringle-most wonderful of servants-is no longer a servant of mine, but is, I believe, doing well for himself. When last I saw him he had got in touch with the captain and crew of the lost Blue Bird; they were all picked up."

Simon Quarle got to his feet, and stood for a moment thoughtfully scratching his chin. "I suppose," he said at last slowly, without looking at Byfield-"I suppose that if the child ever came into your life again you'd make the same muddles-and do the same foolish things you did before-wouldn't you? Don't frown; I'm an old man, and I was very fond of the girl. I only ask because one likes to know the point of view of other people. You're never likely to see her again, you know-so that you needn't answer if you don't want to."

"If I ever found her-and she ever forgave me-I should tell her simply and truly what I told her before-that I love her," said Gilbert. "If she'd let me I'd work for her with a better heart than I can ever work for myself only. Because I tell you," he finished simply-"there's no other woman like her in all the world."

"Amen to that!" said Quarle, moving to the door. "But you're a bit late; you're not likely to see her again, you know."

Simon Quarle, with a final nod, went out of the room, closing the door behind him. He went thoughtfully down to his own quarters, and for a long time paced about there, as though he had some problem in his mind difficult of solution. More than once he stopped in his restless walk, with his eyes upon the ground; more than once he shook his head, as though he felt that the way to solve the problem had not been found yet. And at last sat down in his shabby arm-chair, with his hands clasped on his knees, to think it out afresh.

The lamplighter had drifted in from the bigger world outside, and had lit the lamps in Arcadia Street-performing that duty in a casual perfunctory manner, as though it didn't matter very much whether Arcadia Street was lighted or not. The Arcadia Arms was doing a great trade, with its doors swinging and banging every minute or two, and the roar of the greater world outside Arcadia Street had not yet finished for the day. Out from that greater world there drifted into Arcadia Street a little figure that came with lagging feet-a little figure that had come into Arcadia Street many many times through the years that had once, as it seemed, been happily left behind. A shabbier figure even than of old, although as neat as ever; a white-faced girl, carrying bundles and parcels. She stopped at the door of that house that had so recently swallowed up a new lodger, and let herself in with a key.

"Sich goin's on since you went out," said Mrs. Laws, nodding her head solemnly at the girl. "Cabs arrivin'-an' things bein' took upstairs-bags an' boxes, an' bundles an' things; an' as nice a young man as ever I set my two eyes on-though shy. An' goodness knows in these 'ard times a extra lodger is a puffeck gift of Providence."

"I hope he won't be unreasonable," said the girl, with

a little sigh. "Some of them have such a way of ringing bells for no particular reason-and one gets so tired sometimes. But I'm glad-for your sake, Mrs. Laws."

Simon Quarle had been on the look out; he bent over the stair head, and called in a hoarse whisper-


She looked up at him with a smile, and climbed the stairs; she thought, as she looked at him, that he seemed strangely excited. He held her hand for a moment as they stood together on the landing, and he patted it softly, and seemed almost (although that, of course, was absurd) to be chuckling. He drew her into his room, and closed the door.

"Why-what's the matter, Mr. Quarle?" asked the girl.

* * *

* * *

* * *

"Bessie Meggison-have you heard about the new lodger?" asked Simon Quarle, holding her hand and speaking very solemnly.

"Yes-of course I've heard about him," replied Bessie wonderingly. "Mrs. Laws told me. What does it matter?-to me it only means so many more stairs to climb so many times a day. You forget that I'm nothing more than a servant here."

"I try not to remember it," said Simon Quarle, gently touching her cheek with one hand with a touch as light as that of a woman. "When you came back here, little woman-hoping to get shelter in the old Arcadia Street on which you had so gladly turned your back once upon a time-you found me-didn't you?"

She nodded quickly. "And you made it all right with Mrs. Laws, so that I might have food and shelter and a very little money in return for my work. Why-I might have starved but for you."

"Not quite so bad as that, perhaps-but still, you were pretty low down," said the man. "The world hasn't treated you well, my dear-but then the world never does treat the timid ones well. You didn't fight hard enough; you hadn't cheek enough. Only I want you to understand, Bessie dear, that you're not the only one that has suffered."

"I know that," she said quickly. "Poor father went through a lot of privations before he found someone to take pity on him; and dear Aubrey must find it hard sometimes to make a living."

"I wasn't thinking about poor father or dear Aubrey," exclaimed Quarle snappishly. "They'll get on all right for themselves. But there is someone else, my child-someone perhaps we have not quite understood."

She tried to withdraw her hand, but he held it firmly, and patted it as he went on speaking.

"I know, my dear-I know all about it, and I know what you feel," said Simon Quarle. "Only in this poor strange topsy-turvy world of ours we are all a little like children-wilful and headstrong, and always so sure that we know what is best for us. And the great god Chance happens along one day, and sees that we are in a bit of a muddle, and are spoiling our lives; and shakes us up, and tumbles us about-and perhaps sets us straight again. This one has a gilded toy, and doesn't know how much it's worth; and so the toy is snatched away and given to another; and this one has nothing, and gets perhaps not the gift it craved, but something better yet. What if I told you, Bessie, that the man who played that great game of make-believe with you had touched disaster too, and was as poor as you are?"

"You have heard from him?" she asked quickly.

He nodded slowly. "I have heard from him-and he has been through rather a bad time. The game of make-believe for him is ended; he has come down to the realities. All his money is gone; he's got to work and fight and strive, as every other man must work and fight and strive in this world, if he's to be worthy to be called a man at all. And he wanted to know about you, Bessie."

"Only the old whim-only the old feeling that he's sorry for me. I'm only a little patient drudge again, in the house where he first saw me; and even the poor old garden that I think he laughed at secretly to himself is gone, and blotted out. You mustn't tell him where I am; I don't want him to know."

"Did you love him, Bess?" Simon Quarle stood squarely before her, with his hands clasped behind his back.

She hesitated for a moment, and then looked up at him, with a little touch of colour stealing over her white face, and with a smile in her eyes. "Yes," she said slowly-"I loved him very dearly. If he blundered, he blundered rather finely; and I shall always think of him as I knew him first-someone frank and friendly, coming out of the great world, and liking me a little because I liked him. There-there-don't talk about it; he has his own friends, I suppose, even in his poverty. You said he was poor-didn't you?"

"Yes-very poor. Poor enough, I should think, to live in Arcadia Street in real earnest," said Simon. "Well-I'm sorry if I've touched on anything that has pained you; best forget it. Love's a queer business, and I'm not sure that you're not well out of it. Let the brute starve; it'll do him good."

"Mr. Quarle-you know I didn't mean that at all," faltered Bessie. "You're the unkindest man I've ever met."

"Sorry you think so," said Quarle, turning upon her frowningly. "But you needn't stop and bully me; if you remembered your duties properly you'd know that this new lodger by this time probably requires some attention. Go away and look after him; personally, I'm disappointed in you."

"Oh, no, you're not," she coaxed, putting her arms about his neck. "You always growl at me, I think, when you love me the most."

"Perhaps I do," he snapped, thrusting her away from him. "But go and attend to the new lodger."

She climbed the stairs wearily, thinking a little of what Simon Quarle had said-wondering why it happened that life must be always a grey and profitless thing to some, and not to others. She knocked softly at the door, and heard a shout from within, commanding her to enter; caught her breath for a moment, and passed her hand across her eyes, as though she felt that she might still be dreaming. Then, as the shout was renewed, she opened the door, and went slowly in.

* * *

The stars had come out even over Arcadia Street, to help the lamps a little; and still the two sat at the window of that room, looking out into an Arcadia Street that was strangely beautified. So much there was for them to say to each other-so much that had never been said before by any man or woman in all the great world-or so at least they thought. Only once, smiling through her tears, Bessie drew away from him, and looked at him for a moment with the old perplexed frown.

"If you should be cheating me again!" she whispered. "If, instead of this poor room for your home, you should really be rich, and should be trying to steal me out of my poverty by a trick! For the love of God, don't do that again; be fair to me-be just to me!"

"My darling, that particular game of make-believe ended a long time ago," he said-"but a new one begins from to-night. We shall have to work hard, you and I, to keep the wolf from the door; and we shall have to make-believe hard to show that we like it."

"That won't be any make-believe for me, dear," she whispered.

Simon Quarle took it into his head to climb the stairs presently, and after knocking softly in vain, to look in and see them. They came forward a little guiltily, hand in hand, to bear his scrutiny; he shook his head over them whimsically enough.

"Well," he growled to Gilbert-"does she believe you now?"

"I think so," said Gilbert softly.

"Little fool!" said Simon Quarle, touching the girl's cheek with rough tenderness. He turned on his heel and walked out of the room; and his eyes were shining.


* * *

* * *

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Author of "The Malefactor," etc.

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For his latest hero, Mr. Oppenheim has taken a modern leader who has elected to stand aloof from the conflict of the political world, but he has created a strong, distinct personality, and not merely exploited one already familiar. "A Lost Leader" is as fascinating a story of modern life as novelist has yet conceived, and one that arrests the mind by its fine strenuousness of purpose.

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Mr. Whitson has struck a new idea for a romance plot.-New York World.

A love story that is as novel as anything in print.-Lowell (Mass.) Courier.

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Love and politics are nicely blended in this romance. . . . Mr. Sage has worked out the plot admirably and the story is one of great power.-Philadelphia Record.

Mr. Sage appears to have as accurate a knowledge of the female heart as of the twists and turns of machine politics.-New York Evening Sun.

Strong, vigorous story of the struggle for political supremacy in their State between United States Senator Fordyce and Governor Thayer. . . . The book is crisply written, full of dramatic incidents, and is most entertaining.-Boston Journal.

Especially good points in the story are the subordination of the love interest to the stronger motives by which the normal man is guided, and the vivid manner in which the author shows a good woman's inevitable misunderstanding, both of essential right and of policy in matters concerning those whom she loves.-New York Times.


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Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 112, "herelf" changed to "herself" (not help herself)

Page 157, "ocasion" changed to "occasion" (occasion I think)

Page 198, "Meggson" changed to "Meggison" (Aubrey Meggison instructed)

Page 246, "posible" changed to "possible" (possible, that he)

Page 266, "though" changed to "thought" (I thought it might)

Page 290, "addel" changed to "added" (he added, with a sigh)

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