From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, and Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11265-11277.
ZANGWILL, ISRAEL, an English novelist of Jewish extraction; born at London in 1864. He was educated at the Jewish Free School in London, and at the London University, becoming subsequently a teacher in the first-named institution. His tastes and ambitions were literary, however, and after a time he accepted a position on the staff of “Ariel,” a small comic publication; and, later, on the “Jewish Standard,” to which he contributed over the signature “Marshallik.” He has also been connected with the “Universal” and the “Idler.” His novels have made him widely popular. In the winter of 1898 and 1899 he visited the United States on a lecturing tour. His published works include “The Premier and the Painter” (1888); “The Bachelors’ Club” (1891); “The Big Bow Mystery” (1891); “The Old Maids’ Club” (1892); “The Children of the Ghetto” (1892); “Merely Mary Ann” (1893); “Ghetto Tragedies” (1894); “The King of Schnorrs” (1894); “The Master” (1895); “Without Prejudice,” essays (1896); “A Nineteenth Century Miracle” (1897); “Dreamers of the Ghetto” (1898).
AUGUST found the premises of the Bachelors’ Club entirely given over to the orgies of the dusky steward, and of Willoughby Jones and the other waiters, for London became too hot to hold us. To escape the heat, Mandeville Browne fled to the Soudan; Moses Fitz-Williams went to Switzerland; M’Gullicuddy was understood to have pitched his tent somewhere amid his native heather; while Oliver Green told us that he had to stay at Brighton with his wealthy uncle, who had returned from India only last year. Poor Oliver! It was by no means the first time he had been forced to endure the society of his old fogy of a relative. He said his uncle required a deal of looking after. Selfish old curmudgeon! I hated Oliver’s uncle, with his parchment-colored visage, and 11266 his gouty toe, and his disordered liver. You might call me prejudiced, for I had never met the man; but who could help disliking an apoplectic old egotist, who cooped his nephew up in scorching, stony Briton, just because he had a few miserable lacs of rupees to leave behind him? If I were Oliver, I thought at first, I would rather die a pauper than live at the beck of a whimsical, capricious autocrat.
But there is one advantage I found in having a rich old uncle; he saves you the trouble of making up your mind. For nights I lay tossing on my bed, unable to settle where I should go. Even when I determined “Heads” should be Continent, and “Tails” Great Britain, I always lost the toss, and was dissatisfied. I thought of Oliver’s wealthy uncle frequently in my indecision, and at last began to wish he had been mine. Then the inspiration came! I had only to fancy he was mine, and my doubts were at an end, my troubles were over. I, too, would go down to Brighton. The burden was lifted from my shoulders; that night I slept like a top. Steaming down by the luxurious express, I felt happier than I had been for a long time, I should not be alone in Brighton. I should be bound to meet Oliver and his uncle, and then I could tell Oliver what I thought of his subjection to his yellow-gilded relative. Perhaps I might even induce him to enfranchise himself. I promised myself to put in a good word for him with his neglected relative after he should have shaken off the dust of Brighton in dudgeon. One owes these things to one’s friends. The task of smoothing down another man’s outraged uncle might not be agreeable, but I registered a mental vow to attempt it.
As soon as I had taken a hurried meal at my hotel, I sallied forth in quest of Oliver; but he was neither on the beach, nor the promenade, nor the pier. I looked into all the bath-chairs, half expecting to find him wheeling his uncle in one. After several wasted hours I returned to my hotel fatigued and dispirited. After several wasted days I returned to London unrefreshed and uneasy. Oliver was not in Brighton. An exhaustive study of all the visitor’s lists for the past fortnight had made this well-nigh certain. Where could he be? Why spread this false report of his movements? Could it be that he was rusticating perforce in London, and that false shame had made him cover up his poverty? Impossible! Oliver had always given proof of ample resources — much more so than myself. It was this that made his subservience to his uncle 11267 so annoying. No, there was some more occult reason behind. The mysteries of my brother-Bachelors had hitherto invariably ended in marriage. Is it to be wondered at that I instantly leapt at the truth in this case too? Alas, that I should have been a true prophet!
The discovery of Oliver’s whereabouts came in this wise. I was cudgelling my brains to remember if he had ever given any signs of defection of the heart from us. As I pondered over the past I could not help being reminded of the young man’s intense truthfulness. On such occasions as I had taken the trouble to test his autobiographical statements, I had always found fifty per cent of truth in them. The conviction grew upon me that I had wronged him, that he was at Brighton after all, even if with a nearer relative than his uncle, for perchance he was spending his honeymoon there. I had but skimmed the faces of the bi-sexual couples, seeking only a male pair — an old man and a young. What if I had skipped Mr. and Mrs. Green?
I resolved to return to Brighton. I consulted an A B C railway guide. As I gazed, I gave a convulsive start. A name caught my eye — New Brighton. My instinct is seldom at fault. I started for Liverpool at once. The same afternoon I saw Oliver Green lying on the beach. A little dark-featured toddler, of about five or six, emptied buckets of sand upon his gently heaving waistcoat. Recumbent in half-sitting posture by his side was a well-dressed lady, whose face I could not see, for it was shaded by a red parasol, but from the irritating way the little tyrant occasionally tugged with his tiny hands at the parasol I could see it was his mother’s. It did not need a second glance to establish the child’s relationship to Oliver. The likeness was unmistakable; I could see Green in his eye, Oliver in his mouth, and father in the way he allowed the slimy-shoed bantling to dance on his breast. I kept cool with a great effort, for it was a broiling day. I was not so overwhelmed as I should have been six months before; bitter experience had schooled me. Still, this was the worst case of all. For some minutes I looked on in silence at the domestic idyll. I did not intrude upon it. I stole away, my breast in a tumult. This, then, was the meaning of Oliver’s periodical visits to his uncle! He was such an inveterate evader of a lie that he might even have referred to the raising of money for surreptitious household expenses.11268
The next morning I met Oliver in the Atlantic. I swam up to him, and in a jocund tone gave him good-morning.
He was so startled that he imbibed a mouthful of sea-water, retired for a moment, and came up gurgling and spluttering.
In answer to his spasmodic syllables, I replied that my coming was fortuitous. I then wished him joy of his marriage, and remarked cheerfully that his name would be handed down to eternal execration.
He stared at me with a fishy eye from between the billows, then threw up his arms and sank. On his return he replied that he had been laughing like a submarine telephone. He was not married at all.
It was now my turn to feel for the bottom of the Atlantic. As I rose I felt that Oliver did not deserve to live. Oh the poor trusting woman with the red parasol! Oh the pocket-edition of Oliver with the spade and the sand-bucket!
We met outside our machines, but I turned away in disgust. Oliver was about to speak, when his little boy ran up, pursued by a fat, panting ayah. Oliver caught the little lad up in his arms and kissed him, and remarked “Oopsi-daisey,” and dandled him over his head, after which he surrendered him to the lady with the red parasol, who had by this time toiled up.
“How did you like your bath, Oliver?” she asked, with a loving glance.
“Glorious!” he said; “I wish I could persuade you to try a dip.”
She shook her head.
“But to-morrow the little man must — ”
Again she shook her head. Her face was still half obscured by a veil, but nothing less opaque that corduroy could hide its harshness and irregularity. It was bronzed and bearded like a trooper’s. Her figure was less uncomely, being plump and passable. Her age was uncertain; it was over half a century. I wondered at Oliver’s taste. Still, she might have been beautiful in the far-off happy days.
He turned to me, as I stood glued to the spot.
“Paul,” said to me, “Let me introduce you to Julia — I mean Miss Blossom.”
I blushed for him, as he effected the introduction.
“You have n’t introduced me to this little chap,” I said genially, caressing the child’s curls.11269
I was glad to see Oliver blush in his turn. His embarrassment was most painful. He hummed and hawed and stammered.
“This — this — is little Oliver.”
I let a moment of severe silence pass by, then I said smiling, “And little Oliver is your — ”
“Uncle!” he said desperately, — “precisely.”
If I had not been resting on a stick I should have sat down on the sand. Miss Blossom did so instead, and took out some crochet, while Oliver’s uncle went trapezing about the beach, pursued by the ayah.
“Your uncle from India?” I managed to ejaculate at last.
“The same! Be quiet, Oliver!” he snapped, as his uncle ran between his legs and nearly upset him. “Yes, that is he. He is an orphan, and was brought over last year by his aunt, Miss Blossom. I am his guardian and trustee under my grandfather’s will, and I feel it my duty to go and see the little beggar three or four times a year. As I told you before, he requires a lot of looking after. But please don’t tell anybody. It ’s such an abnormal case. It makes me look so awfully ridiculous, and I try to keep the real fact dark. You know if there is one thing in the world I hate it ’s being made ridiculous; especially when I ’m not a whit to blame.”
“Oh, you may rely on me,” I said, gripping his hand sympathetically. “But is it possible that a mite of a lad like that should be your uncle?”
“I wish it was n’t,” he said gloomily. “But it ciphers out very simply, extraordinary and unique as it all is. My grandfather married my grandmother out in India when she was fourteen. It ’s the climate, you know. She had a daughter at fifteen, who was my mother. This daughter also married young — at fifteen, and I was born before she was sixteen. Her mother — my grandmother — had gone on bearing children, and her latest success was won at the abnormal age of forty-eight, which is almost the extreme possible limit. But she died in the attempt, leaving little Oliver motherless. That was six years ago, and his father — my grandfather — dying last year, the orphan was bequeathed to the care of Miss Blossom (his aunt) and myself.”
“I understand,” I said mendaciously; “but would you mind putting it down on paper?”
Between us we got down the figures. While I was studying 11270 them a sudden thought flashed upon me that almost stopped my pulse.
“Why, Oliver!” I thundered, “this makes you only twenty-three!”
He turned sea-green, and his knees shook. His sin had found him out.
“O Paul!” he said, “don’t betray me. I know I have made and procured false declarations of age. But what does it matter? My Indian descent ripened me early. I had a thick beard at seventeen, almost as thick as I have now. There was curry in my blood, remember that, Paul. I may be twenty-three in the letter, but in the flesh and spirit I am thirty. Ah! let me be thirty-one still to Mandeville Browne and M’Gullicuddy. Is it not a sufficient counterweight that my mature appearance makes my avuncular relation all the more ridiculous? Ah, Paul, you will keep that secret too — at least till the child grows up?”
“Till death, I replied solemnly.
Oliver thanked me with a look, then ran to disengage his uncle from the irate clutches of a little girl whom he had playfully prodded in the nose with his spade. He carried his struggling and kicking relative back to where I stood. Then he shook his uncle from India, and slapped his hands, and said, “Naughty, naughty.”
His uncle from India yelled like a Cherokee on the warpath.
“And is he so rich?” I asked.
“Beastly rich,” he said.
He seated his wealthy uncle from India on his shoulder, and tried to pacify him, but in vain. The avuncular yoke sat by no means lightly upon his shoulders. Aunt Julia had to get up and entreat the demon to leave off.
“Tan’t leave off till you give me a penny,” said the poor young uncle, sobbing hysterically.
“Where ’s the penny I gave you last night?” said Oliver.
“I spent it on seed-cake,” said his wealthy uncle from India.
The nephew shook his head at his reprobate, profligate, prodigal young uncle.
“Well, well,” he said sternly, “Here you are, but not another penny do you get from me to-day.”
The uncle received his nephew’s bounties without gratitude. 11271 He grabbed the coin and climbed down from Oliver’s shoulders. The next minute he was twenty yards up the beach dissipating his nephew’s hoardings in the society of an apple-woman. O woman! woman!
“It’s no small responsibility to be a nephew,” sighed Oliver, “when one is saddled with a scapegrace young uncle. O Paul, I cannot describe how acutely I feel the absurdity of this relationship, and I hope you will not either.”
Again I crushed his fingers between mine.
But he might just as well not have exacted a promise from me, for the whole story was in the “Porcupine,” a Liverpool satirical paper, before the week was out. The port roared; and busy Liverpudlians went down to their watering-place just to see the uncle and nephew. The particulars were stated in the big Liverpool dailies, and the paragraphs were copied by the general press, and been formed the staple of an article in the “Daily Wire,” which considered the freak of genealogy in the light of the Bhagavad Gita, the folklore of Japan, the Œdipus of Sophocles, the careers of Charlemagne, Octavius Cæsar, Hamlet, and Heinrich Heine, the habits of the Ornithorhynchus, Mr. Gladstone, and various other associated topics. That settled poor Oliver. After he had read the jokes in the local comic paper he never smiled again. But when the “Daily Wire” leader, with its elephantine humor, came within his ken, he was a ruined man. Within a week the banns were up in New Brighton for the marriage of Oliver Green and Henrietta Blossom.
I went to Oliver to point out the error of his ways.
“Go away, sir,” he shouted, “You have made me the laughing-stock of the country.”
“I?” I exclaimed indignantly.
“Yes, you. Who else sent the facts to the ‘Porcupine’?”
“I don’t know,” I said hotly, for I was exceedingly annoyed at having lost the opportunity. Since some one was to reap the reward of indiscretion, why not I as well as another?
“You are too modest,” he sneered.
“Wring my withers as you will,” I answered, remembering my high mission, “I have come to save you.”
“Pray save yourself — the trouble,” he said; “I know what I am about.”
“I doubt it,” I retorted.
“Do you insinuate that I am mad?”11272
“No; only headstrong.”
“A euphemism for weak-headed, I suppose. However, you shall hear. Then you will judge me more leniently. Do you know why I am marrying Miss Blossom?”
Assuming you are sane — no.”
“Miss Blossom is little Oliver’s aunt.”
He paused impressively, as if he had revealed the secret of the universe. My doubts of his sanity vanished. They were changed into certainties.
“You don’t seem to take it in.”
“No wonder,” I said, “I knew the fact long ago.”
“Yes, but put two and two together, man. As Oliver’s nephew I am the scoff and by-word of the kingdom. By marrying his aunt I become his uncle. As his uncle I shall regain the respect which I have forfeited by your blabbing.”
I allowed the libel to pass unchallenged. I could hardly utter a syllable for sheer blank astonishment. The floodgates of speech were checked by a dam.
“Swear away!” said Oliver. “Add insult to injury. Don’t put yourself in my place. Don’t remember how thin my skin is, and how it quivers under the lash of ridicule. Tell me that I ought to bear the flail, as if I were a rhinoceros. Oh, to drag on a wretched existence, the butt of all the witlings, pointed out by the digit of derisive Demos, — anything rather than that! anything rather than that!”
“Wretch! Coward!” I cried sternly. “And for mere petty personal considerations you would eclipse the gayety of nations!”
“I would. I never set up as an altruist. There are only two exits from this frightful situation. One is by murder. I can take him out bathing, and lose him. But in this Philistine country that is not, I fear, a practicable exit. The other is marriage. Only by becoming my ward’s uncle and making him his guardian’s nephew can the normal rôles be restored. Then I shall be able to hold up my head again in the world. I shall be able to present my young ward without blushing. A new matrimonial relation will spring up between me and him. He will be the nephew and I shall be the uncle.”
Murder or suicide! It was indeed a horny dilemma!
“But what does Miss Blossom say?” I asked.
“She is willing to sacrifice herself on the altar of my salvation,” he said, in moved tones.11273
A world of unspoken emotion surged in my chest as I turned away.
Next day a gleam of hope visited me. In return I visited Miss Blossom in her private room. She lived on the Parade, locally known as the Hamanegg Terrace. I went straight to the point. I said, “I have come to warn you. Mr. Green cannot marry you.”
She put her hand to her bosom.
“Why not?” she breathed.
“Because there is a secret in his life — something that you do not know.”
“Oh my heart,” she gasped, “I feared so; he is — ”
“A Bachelor,” I said unrelentingly, yet a tremor of sympathy in my voice.
She briefly informed me of the position of the door. I was prepared for the discourtesy, so was not put out by it. I appealed to her to have some regard for Oliver’s relatives. She curled her moustache haughtily and asked what I meant.
“See here,” I said; “if Oliver is Oliver’s uncle, and Oliver is Oliver’s nephew, then if Oliver marries you, who are Oliver’s aunt, Oliver will become Oliver’s nephew, and Oliver will become Oliver’s uncle, therefore Oliver becomes his own great-uncle, and Oliver — ”
“Hold on,” she said. “Which Oliver is Oliver’s uncle, and which Oliver is Oliver’s nephew?”
“Both are either, and each is the other,” I said. “It ’s as plain as a pikestaff. If Oliver — ”
“Which Oliver?” she said desperately.
In deference to her inferior intellect, I went out of my way to make it as childish as A, B, C.
“Well, let ’s call old Oliver, Oliver the First, and little Oliver, Oliver the Second.”
“Yes, yes,” she said eagerly.
“Well, then, if Oliver the First, who is the nephew of Oliver the Second, become Oliver the Second’s uncle by marrying Oliver the Second’s aunt, then Oliver the First becomes his own mother’s uncle, as well as his own great-uncle and great-nephew to himself; and as his mother is his niece, he is his grandmother’s brother, and as he is both his uncle’s uncle and his nephew’s uncle, his uncle is plainly his nephew’s brother, and this uncle is therefore the son of his own sister 11274 (which is rank incest), while his mother becomes his grandmother, and as — ”
“For Heaven’s sake, stop a moment!” Miss Blossom cried.
I did so, and she sprinkled her forehead with eau-de-Cologne.
Why she could not have waited to do so till she was in her own boudoir, I could not understand, but ladies will be ladies.
“Where was I?” said I, a little nettled, for it is so easy to lose the thread of the most babyish argument when you are dealing with the weaker-headed sex.
“Never mind, go on to Oliver the Second,” Miss Blossom murmured.
I smiled in triumph. Her spirit was crushed, her conscience weakened. The enormity of what she had been about to do in pure lightheartedness was coming home to her.
“Well, it ’s worse with Oliver the Second,” I said. “Because if Oliver the First becomes his uncle, and he is already the uncle of Oliver the First, then he becomes the son of his own great-grandfather at a bound, thus annihilating two generations — his grandfather and his father, for whose disappearance you are responsible in justice if not in law; and, further, by suppressing his father you make him illegitimate at one stroke, by which shameful act you not only make a pariah of him for life, you exclude him from the succession to the Somerville estate, which thus escheats to the Crown; furthermore, as Oliver the First — ”
Miss Blossom uttered a groan and swayed helplessly forward. I caught her in my arms. Somebody knocked at the door, and came in without waiting for an answer. It was Oliver Green. We looked at each other.
“She has fainted,” I said. The information gave him no concern. He made no effort to relieve me of the burden.
“How came you here?” he said. “And what have you been doing to her?”
“Through the door,” I said curtly. “And telling her she must n’t marry you.”
“Because you are a Bachelor. Also because the marriage would be so mixed. She got a little mixed herself in following my line of thought.”
“What do you mean by a mixed marriage?”
He glared at me as if ready to pounce upon me. I glared 11275 back at him across the lady from India. I held her to my breast like a shield. With her head pillowed on my shoulder I felt a sweet sense of security from all pugilistic life.
“O woman, in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please;
When anger threats to wring the nose,
Thou guardest us from bullies’ blows.”*
Oliver and I had split many a soda together in effusive amity, little dreaming of the day when a woman would come between us.
“What do you mean by mixed?” Oliver repeated with stern white lips.
I was about to relate afresh the catalogue of family complications. Suddenly a new solution made my heart thump like a steam-hammer cracking a nut.
“You cannot marry your uncle’s aunt,” I said. “You ’re collaterally consanguineous.”
Oliver staggered back. His jaw fell.
“It ’s a lie!” cried Miss Blossom, extricating herself from my arms.
“It ’s the truth,” I said, shifting my position to the other side of the table. “If you, Miss Blossom, are Oliver the Second’s aunt, then you cannot avoid being related to Oliver the Second’s nephew on the line of direct descent. It ’s a collateral anti-connubial consanguinity of the third degree, and unless it ’s of the fourth degree according to Roman law, you and Oliver the First cannot marry. By Oliver the First, I mean you, I explained to Green.”
“I don’t care,” Oliver the First answered. “We shall see what the authorities will say.”
“Archbishop Parker’s ‘Table of Kindred and Affinity,’ according to Leviticus, and the Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical of 1603, distinctly say — ”
“And I distinctly say that there ’s the door.”
“But will you imperil your position thus, Miss Blossom?” I pleaded. “Will you risk your marriage being null and void?”
Having said this, I picked myself up from the Hamanegg Terace, bought some arnica, and lodged a protest with the officiating clergyman, stating that the bride was the bridegroom’s 11276 great-aunt. Yet, two days after, Oliver the First married his uncle’s aunt, and his uncle was the worst boy at the wedding. Oliver the Second actually made faces at the pew-opener. I wondered his nephew — I mean his uncle — did not give him away. I was in church, for my sympathy was not entirely extinguished by the careless manner in which I had been treated. Julia Blossom did not live up to her name, even on her wedding-day, despite the tulle and the jasmine. She remained a prosaic cauliflower to the last. India was chosen for the honeymoon. The wedding-party drove straight to the station. It consisted of Oliver Green, Julia Green, their little nephew, and the native nurse. I was anxious to see the last of the detestable quartette, and was on the platform. To my surprise, the ayah and Oliver the Second were transferred to the care of an unknown lady. In a flash I saw through the whole idea. Oliver the First was determined to carry the comedy through to the bitter end. From the unknown lady — after the train was gone — I learnt that Julia Blossom was one of the greatest heiresses of Bombay. It was clear that nothing less would satisfy my poor friend than to return from India not only an uncle, but a wealthy uncle. Thus, and only thus, would the reversal be complete, and the sting of ridicule be entirely extracted.
I went the next day to the clergyman to inquire why he had gone on with this forbidden marriage. What he told me quite compensated for the annoyance I had experienced.
“Almost on your heels,” he said, “the last Miss Blossom called to see me. She said there was an idea about that she was related to her intended husband, but that this report was premature. Her husband, whom she called Oliver the First, believed that she was the aunt of his uncle, whom she called Oliver the Second. ‘But this,’ said she, and proved it by documents, ‘is a very natural false impression. I am not Oliver the Second’s aunt at all. I am related to him, but in a relationship not yet recognized in law. The fact is, Oliver the Second’s father, before he became Oliver the Second’s mother’s husband, asked me to be his wife. I said I could never think of him in that way but I would be a sister to him. So it was settled; I became his sister by refusal of marriage, and thus in due course I became Oliver the Second’s aunt by refusal of marriage. So you see, my relationship to Oliver the First’s parental stock was a purely moral and never a legal one. I 11277 often stayed at the house of my sister-in-law by refusal of marriage, and when she died she commended Oliver the Second to my care with her dying breath, her husband doing ditto last year with his.’ The explanation was quite satisfactory, and as the poor lady seemed quite distracted by the idea of the marriage being delayed by even a day, I made no unnecessary difficulties.”
Thus the clergyman to my sardonic satisfaction.
I saw it all now. The infatuated woman had traded upon her supposed relationship to Oliver the Second to bring Oliver the First to her feet. It was she who had put the matrimonial idea into his head, and goaded him on by sending that paragraph to the “Porcupine.” My collateral consanguineous discovery had threatened to upset her amorous structure, and the woman who had become morally related to Oliver the Second by refusal of marriage, bade fair to be debarred from legal relationship by the same cause. But she had out-manœuvred me.
I hugged the revenge which had fallen into my hands to my bosom, and kept it warm.
· · · · · · · ·
When Oliver Green, turned yellow, came back from India, I was on the landing-stage to meet him, and I had the satisfaction of informing him that he had wasted a liver complaint, and that the little seven-year-old fellow who climbed up his white flannel trousers to kiss him was his uncle still.
* These lines are from Canto VI of Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott. — Elf.Ed.