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MUCH DARKER DAYS

by Andrew Lang

[AKA A. Huge Longway]



1884




PREFACE

A belief that modern Christmas fiction is too cheerful in tone, too
artistic in construction, and too original in motive, has inspired the
author of this tale of middle-class life. He trusts that he has escaped,
at least, the errors he deplores, and has set an example of a more
seasonable and sensational style of narrative.



Contents:

CHAPTER I.—The Curse (Registered).

CHAPTER II.—A Villain's By-Blow.

CHAPTER III.—Mes Gages! Mes Gages!

CHAPTER IV.—As A Hatter!

CHAPTER V.—The White Groom.

CHAPTER VI.—Hard As Nails.

CHAPTER VII.—Rescue And Retire!

CHAPTER VIII.—Local Colour.

CHAPTER IX.—Saved! Saved!

CHAPTER X.—Not Too Mad, But Just Mad Enough.

CHAPTER XI.—A Terrible Temptation.

CHAPTER XII.—Judge Juggins.

CHAPTER XIII.—Cleared Up. (From The 'Green Park Gazette.')




MUCH DARKER DAYS.




CHAPTER I.--The Curse (Registered).

WHEN this story of my life, or of such parts of it as are not deemed
wholly unfit for publication, is read (and, no doubt, a public which
devoured 'Scrawled Black' will stand almost anything), it will be found
that I have sometimes acted without prim cautiousness--that I have, in
fact, wallowed in crime. Stillicide and Mayhem I (rare old crimes!) are
child's play to _me_, who have been an 'accessory after the fact!' In
excuse, I can but plead two things-the excellence of the opportunity to
do so, and the weakness of the resistance which my victim offered.

If you cannot allow for these, throw the book out of the
railway-carriage window! You have paid your money, and to the verdict
of your pale morality or absurd sense of art in fiction I am therefore
absolutely indifferent. You are too angelic for me; I am too fiendish
for you. Let us agree to differ. I say nothing about my boyhood.
Twenty-five years ago a poor boy-but no matter. _I_ was that boy! I
hurry on to the soaring period of manhood, 'when the strength, the
nerve, the intellect is or should be at its height,' or _are_ or should
be at _their_ height, if you _must_ have grammar in a Christmas Annual.
_My_ nerve was at its height: I was thirty.

Yet, what was I then? A miserable moonstruck mortal, duly entitled to
write M.D. (of Tarrytown College, Alaska) after my name--for the title
of Doctor is useful in the profession--but with no other source of
enjoyment or emotional recreation in a cold, casual world. Often and
often have I written M.D. after my name, till the glowing pleasure
palled, and I have sunk back asking, 'Has life, then, no more than this
to offer?'

Bear with me if I write like this for ever so many pages; bear with me,
it is such easy writing, and only thus can I hope to make you understand
my subsequent and slightly peculiar conduct.

How rare was hers, the loveliness of the woman I lost--of her whose loss
brought me down to the condition I attempt to depict!

How strange was her rich beauty! She was at once dark and fair--_la
blonde et la brune!_ How different from the Spotted Girls and Two-headed
Nightingales whom I have often seen exhibited, and drawing money too, as
the types of physical imperfections! Warm Southern blood glowed darkly
in one of Philippa's cheeks--the left; pale Teutonic grace smiled in the
other--the right. Her mother was a fair blonde Englishwoman, but it
was Old Calabar that gave her daughter those curls of sable wool,
contrasting so exquisitely with her silken-golden tresses. Her English
mother may have lent Philippa many exquisite graces, but it was from her
father, a pure-blooded negro, that she inherited her classic outline of
profile.

Philippa, in fact, was a natural arrangement in black and white. Viewed
from one side she appeared the Venus of the Gold Coast, from the other
she outshone the Hellenic Aphrodite. From any point of view she was
an extraordinarily attractive addition to the Exhibition and Menagerie
which at that time I was running in the Midland Counties.

Her father, the nature of whose avocation I never thought it necessary
to inquire into, was a sea cook on board a Peninsular and Oriental
steamer. His profession thus prevented him from being a permanent
resident in this, or indeed in any other country.

Our first meeting was brought about in a most prosaic way. Her mother
consulted me professionally about Philippa's prospects. We did not at
that time come to terms. I thought I might conclude a more advantageous
arrangement if Philippa's _heart_ was touched, if she would be mine. But
she did not love me. Moreover, she was ambitious; she knew, small blame
to her, how unique she was.

'The fact is,' she would observe when I pressed my suit, 'the fact is
I look higher than a mere showman, even if he can write M.D. after his
name.' Philippa soon left the circuit 'to better herself.'

In a short time a telegram from her apprised me that she was an orphan.
I flew to where she lodged, in a quiet, respectable street, near
Ratcliff Highway. She expressed her intention of staying here for some
time.

'But alone, Philippa?'

(She was but eight-and-thirty).

'Not so much alone as you suppose,' she replied archly.

This should have warned me, but again I passionately urged my plea. I
offered most attractive inducements. A line to herself in the bills!
Everything found!

'Basil,' she observed, blushing in her usual partial manner, 'you are a
day after the fair.'

'But there are plenty of fairs,' I cried, 'all of which we attend
regularly. What can you mean? Has another----'

'He hev,' said Philippa, demurely but decidedly.

'You are engaged?' She raised her lovely hand, and was showing me a gold
wedding circlet, when the door opened, and a strikingly handsome man of
some forty summers entered.

There was something written in his face (a dark contusion, in fact,
under the left eye) which told me that he could not be a pure and
high-souled Christian gentleman.

'Basil South, M.D.' said Philippa, introducing us. 'Mr. Baby Farmer'
(obviously a name of endearment), and again a rosy blush crept round her
neck in the usual partial manner, which made one of her most peculiar
charms.

I bowed mechanically, and, amid a few dishevelled remarks on the
weather, left the house the most disappointed showman in England.

'Cur, sneak, coward, villain!' I hissed when I felt sure I was well out
of hearing. 'Farewell, farewell, Philippa!'

To drown remembrance and regret, I remained in town, striving in a
course of what moralists call 'gaiety' to forget what I had lost.

How many try the same prescription, and seem rather to like it! I often
met my fellow-patients.

One day, on the steps of the Aquarium, I saw the man whom I suspected of
not being Philippa's husband.

'Who is that cove?' I asked.

'Him with the gardenia?' replied a friend, idiomatically. 'That is Sir
Runan Errand, the amateur showman--him that runs the Live Mermaid, the
Missing Link, and Koot Hoomi, the Mahatma of the Mountain.'

'What kind of man is he?'

'Just about the usual kind of man you see generally here. Just about
as hot as they make them. Mad about having a show of his own; crazed on
two-headed calves.'

'Is he married?'

'If every lady who calls herself Lady Errand had a legal title to do
so, the "Baronetage" would have to be extended to several supplementary
volumes.'

And this was Philippa's husband!

What was she among so many?

My impulse was to demand an explanation from the baronet, but for
reasons not wholly unconnected with my height and fighting weight, I
abstained.

I did better. I went to my hotel, called for the hotel book, and
registered an oath, which is, therefore, copyright. I swore that in
twenty-five years I would be even with him I hated. I prayed, rather
inconsistently, that honour and happiness might be the lot of her I had
lost. After that I felt better.




CHAPTER II.--A Villain's By-Blow.

PHILIPPA was another's! Life was no longer worth living. Hope was
evaluated; ambition was blunted. The interest which I had hitherto felt
in my profession vanished. All the spring, the elasticity seemed taken
out of my two Bounding Brothers from the Gutta Percha coast. For months
I did my work in a perfunctory manner. I added a Tattooed Man to my
exhibition and a Two-headed Snake, also a White-eyed Botocudo, who
played the guitar, and a pair of Siamese Twins, who were fired out of a
double-barrelled cannon, and then did the lofty trapeze business. They
drew, but success gave me no pleasure. So long as I made money enough
for my daily needs (and whisky was cheap), what recked I? My mood was
none of the sweetest. My friends fell off from me; ay, they fell like
nine-pins whenever I could get within reach of them. I was alone in the
world.

You will not be surprised to hear it; the wretched have no friends. So
things went on for a year. I became worse instead of better. My gloom
deepened, my liver grew more and more confirmed in its morbid inaction.
These are not lover's rhapsodies, they merely show the state of my body
and mind, and explain what purists may condemn. In this condition I
heard without hypocritical regret that a distant relative (a long-lost
uncle) had conveniently left me his vast property. I cared only
because it enabled me to withdraw from the profession. I disposed of my
exhibition, or rather I let it go for a song. I simply handed over the
Tattooed Man, the Artillery Twins, and the Double-headed Serpent to the
first-comer, who happened to be a rural dean. Far in the deeps of the
country, near the little town of Roding, on a lonely highway, where no
man ever came, I took a 'pike. Here I dwelt like a hermit, refusing to
give change to the rare passers-by in carts and gigs, and attended by
a handy fellow, William Evans, stolid as the Sphynx, which word, for
reasons that may or may not appear later in this narrative, I prefer to
spell with a _y_, contrary to the best authorities and usual custom.

It was midwinter, and midnight. My room lay in darkness. Heavy snow was
falling.



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