Modern Melodrama

Modern Melodrama

By

Hubert Crackanthorpe

THE pink shade of a single lamp supplied an air of subdued
mystery ; the fire burned red and still ; in place of door
and windows hung curtains, obscure, formless; the furniture,
dainty, but sparse, stood detached and incoordinate like the furni-
ture of a stage-scene ; the atmosphere was heavy with heat,
and a scent of stale tobacco ; some cut flowers, half withered,
tissue-paper still wrapping their stalks, lay on a gilt, cane-bottomed
chair.

" Will you give me a sheet of paper, please ? "

He had crossed the room, to seat himself before the prin-
cipal table. He wore a fur-lined overcoat, and he was tall,
and broad, and bald ; a sleek face, made grave by gold-rimmed
spectacles.

The other man was in evening dress ; his back leaning against
the mantelpiece, his hands in his pockets : he was moodily scraping
the hearthrug with his toe. Clean-shaved ; stolid and coarsely
regular features ; black, shiny hair, flattened on to his head ;
under-sized eyes, moist and glistening ; the tint of his face uniform,
the tint of discoloured ivory ; he looked a man who ate well and
lived hard.

" Certainly, sir, certainly," and he started to hurry about the room.

"Daisy,"

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" Daisy," he exclaimed roughly, a moment later, " where the
deuce do you keep the note-paper ? "

" I don't know if there is any, but the girl always has some."
She spoke in a slow tone—insolent and fatigued.

A couple of bed-pillows were supporting her head, and a scarlet
plush cloak, trimmed with white down, was covering her feet, as
she lay curled on the sofa. The fire-light glinted on the metallic
gold of her hair, which clashed with the black of her eyebrows ;
and the full, blue eyes, wide-set, contradicted the hard line of her
vivid-red lips. She drummed her ringers on the sofa-edge,
nervously.

" Never mind," said the bald man shortly, producing a note
book from his breast-pocket, and tearing a leaf from it.

He wrote, and the other two stayed silent ; the man returned to
the hearthrug, lifting his coat-tails under his arms ; the girl went
on drumming the sofa-edge.

"There," sliding back his chair, and looking from the one to
the other, evidently uncertain which of the two he should address.
" Here is the prescription. Get it made up to-night, a table-
spoonful at a time, in a wine-glassful of water at lunch-time, at
dinner-time and before going to bed. Go on with the port wine
twice a day, and (to the girl, deliberately and distinctly) you must
keep quite quiet ; avoid all sort of excitement—that is extremely
important. Of course you must on no account go out at night.
Go to bed early, take regular meals, and keep always warm."

"I say," broke in the girl, " tell us, it isn't bad—dangerous, I
mean?"

" Dangerous !—no, not if you do what I tell you."

He glanced at his watch, and rose, buttoning his coat.

" Good-evening," he said gravely.

At first she paid no heed ; she was vacantly staring before her :

then,

By Hubert Crackanthorpe

225
then, suddenly conscious that he was waiting, she looked up at
him.

" Good-night, doctor."

She held out her hand, and he took it.

" I'll get all right, won't I ? " she asked, still looking up at him.

" All right—of course you will—of course. But remember
you must do what I tell you."

The other man handed him his hat and umbrella, opened the
door for him, and it closed behind them.

****

The girl remained quiet, sharply blinking her eyes, her whole
expression eager, intense.

A murmer of voices, a muffled tread of footsteps descending
the stairs—the gentle shutting of a door—stillness.

She raised herself on her elbow, listening ; the cloak slipped
noiselessly to the floor. Quickly her arm shot out to the bell-
rope : she pulled it violently ; waited, expectant ; and pulled again.

A slatternly figure appeared a woman of middle-age her
arms, bared to the elbows, smeared with dirt ; a grimy apron
over her knees.

" What's up ?—I was smashin' coal," she explained.

" Come here," hoarsely whispered the girl—" here—no—nearer
—quite close. Where's he gone ?"

"Gone? 'oo?"

"That man that was her."

" I s'ppose ee's in the downstairs room. I ain't 'eard the front
door slam."

"And Dick, where's he?"

"They're both in there together, I s'ppose."

" I want you to go down quietly without making a noise
listen at the door—come up, and tell me what they're saying."

"What?

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"What? down there?" jerking her thumb over her
shoulder.

"Yes, of course—at once," answered the girl, impatiently.

"And if they catches me—a nice fool I looks. No, I'm jest
blowed if I do ! " she concluded. " Whatever's up ? "

"You must," the girl broke out excitedly. "I tell you, you
must."

" Must—must—an' if I do, what am I goin' to git out of it ? "
She paused, reflecting ; then added : " Look 'ere—I tell yer
what—I'll do it for half a quid, there?"

" Yes—yes—all right—only make haste."

"An' 'ow d' I'know as I'll git it?" she objected doggedly.
" It's a jolly risk, yer know."

The girl sprang up, flushed and feverish.

" Quick—or he'll be gone. I don't know where it is but you
shall have it—I promise—quick—please go—quick."

The other hesitated, her lips pressed together ; turned, and
went out.

And the girl, catching at her breath, clutched a chair.

****

A flame flickered up in the fire, buzzing spasmodically. A
creak outside. She had come up. But the curtains did not move.
Why didn't she come in ? She was going past. The girl hastened
across the room, the intensity of the impulse lending her strength.

" Come—come in," she gasped. "Quick—I'm slipping."

She struck at the wall ; but with the flat of her hand, for
there was no grip. The woman bursting in, caught her, and led
her back to the sofa.

"There, there, dearie," tucking the cloak round her feet.
"Lift up the piller, my 'ands are that mucky. Will yer 'ave
anythin'?"

She

By Hubert Crackanthorpe

227

She shook her head. " It's gone," she muttered. " Now—tell
me."

" Tell yer ?—tell yer what! Why—why—there ain't jest
nothin' to tell yer."

" What were they saying ? Quick."

" I didn't 'ear nothin' . They was talking about some ballet-
woman."

The girl began to cry, feebly, helplessly, like a child in pain.

" You might tell me, Liz. You might tell me. I've been a
good sort to you."

"That yer 'ave. I knows yer'ave, dearie. There, there,
don't yer take on like that. Yer'll only make yerself bad again."

"Tell me—tell me," she wailed. "I've been a good sort to
you, Liz."

" Well, they wasn't talkin' of no ballet-woman—that's straight,"
the woman blurted out savagely.

" What did he say ?—tell me," Her voice was weaker now.

" I can't tell yer—don't yer ask me—for God's sake, don't yer
ask me."

With a low crooning the girl cried again.

" Oh ! for God's sake, don't yer take on like that—it's awful—
I can't stand it. There, dearie, stop that cryin' an' I'll tell yer—I
will indeed. It was jest this way—I slips my shoes off, an' I goes
down as careful—jest as careful as a cat—an' when I gets to
the door I crouches myself down, listenin' as 'ard as ever I
could. The first things as I 'ears was Mr. Dick speakin' thick-
like—like as if 'ee'd bin drinkin'—an' t'other chap 'ee says some-
thin' about lungs, using some long word—I missed that—there
was a van or somethin' rackettin' on the road. Then 'ee says
'gallopin' , gallopin' , jest like as 'ee was talkin' of a 'orse. An'
Mr. Dick,'ee says,'ain't there no chance—no'ow ?' and 'ee give a

sort

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Modern Melodrama

sort of a grunt. I was awful sorry for 'im, that I was, 'ee must
'ave been crool bad, 'ee's mostly so quiet-like, ain't ee ? An', in
a minute, 'ee sort o' groans out somethin , 'an t'other chap 'es
answer 'im quite cool-like, that 'ee don't properly know ; but,
anyways, it 'ud be over afore the end of February. There I've
done it. Oh ! dearie, it s awful, awful, that's jest what it is.
An I 'ad no intention to tell yer—not a blessed word—that I
didn't—may God strike me blind if I did ! Some 'ow it all come
out, seein' yer chokin' that 'ard an' feelin' at the wall there. Yer
'ad no right to ask me to do it—'ow was I to know 'ee was a
doctor ? "

She put the two corners of her apron to her eyes, gurgling
loudly.

"Look e're, don't yer b'lieve a word of it—I don't—I tell yer
they're a 'umbuggin' lot, them doctors, all together. I know it.
Yer take my word for that—yer'll git all right again. Yer'll be
as well as I am, afore yer've done—Oh, Lord ! it's jest awful—I
feel that upset I'd like to cut my tongue out, for 'avin' told yer
—but I jest couldn't 'elp myself." She was retreating towards
the door, wiping her eyes, and snorting out loud sobs—" An',
don't you offer me that half quid—I couldn't take it of yer—that
I couldn't."

****

She shivered, sat up, and dragged the cloak tight round her
shoulders. In her desire to get warm she forgot what had
happened. She extended the palms of her hands towards the
grate : the grate was delicious. A smoking lump of coal clattered
onto the fender: she lifted the tongs, but the sickening remembrance
arrested her. The things in the room were receding, dancing
round : the fire was growing taller and taller. The woollen scarf
chafed her skin : she wrenched it off. Then hope, keen and

bitter,

By Hubert Crackanthorpe

229
bitter, shot up, hurting her. " How could he know ? Of course
he couldn't know. She'd been a lot better this last fortnight—
the other doctor said so—she didn't believe—it she didn't care—
Anyway, it would be over before the end of February ! "

Suddenly the crooning wail started again : next, spasms of
weeping, harsh and gasping.

By-and-by she understood that she was crying noisily, and that
she was alone in the room : like a light in a wind, the sobbing
fit ceased.

"Let me live—let me live—I'll be straight—I'll go to Lucy Rimmerton
—I'll do anything ! Take it away—it hurts—I can't bear it !"

Once more the sound of her own voice in the empty room
calmed her. But the tension of emotion slackened, only to
tighten again: immediately she was jeering at herself. What
was she wasting her breath for ? What had Jesus ever done for
her ? She'd had her fling, and it was no thanks to Him.

"'Dy-sy—Dy-sy-——'"

From the street below, boisterous and loud, the refrain came up.
And, as the footsteps tramped away, the words reached her once
more, indistinct in the distance ;

" 'I'm jest cryzy, all for the love o'you.' "

She felt frightened. It was like a thing in a play. It was as
if some one was there, in the room—hiding—watching her.

Then a coughing fit started, racking her. In the middle, she
struggled to cry for help; she thought she was going to suffocate.

Afterwards she sank back, limp, tired, and sleepy.

The end of February—she was going to die—it was important,
exciting—what would it be like ? Everybody else died. Midge
had died in the summer—but that was worry and going the pace.
And they said that Annie Evans was going off too. Damn it !
she wasn't going to be chicken-hearted. She'd face it. She'd

had

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had a jolly time. She d be game till the end. Hell-fire—that
was all stuff and nonsense—she knew that. It would be just
nothing—like a sleep. Not even painful : she'd be just shut
down in a coffin, and she wouldn't know that they were doing it.
Ah ! but they might do it before she was quite dead ! It had
happened sometimes. And she wouldn't be able to get out. The
lid would be nailed, and there would be earth on the top. And if
she called, no one would hear.

Ugh ! what a fit of the blues she was getting ! It was beastly,
being alone. Why the devil didn't Dick come back?

That noise, what was that ?

Bah ! only some one in the street. What a fool she was !

She winced again as the fierce feeling of revolt swept through
her, the wild longing to fight. It was damned rough four
months ! A year, six months even, was a long time. The pain
grew acute, different from anything she had felt before.

" Good Lord ! what am I maundering on about ? Four
months—I'll go out with a fizzle like a firework. Why the
devil doesn't Dick come ? or Liz or somebody ? What do
they leave me alone like this for ? "

She dragged at the bell-rope.

****

He came in, white and blear-eyed.

" Whatever have you been doing all this time ? " she began
angrily.

"I've been chatting with the doctor." He was pretending to
read a newspaper : there was something funny about his voice.

"It's ripping. He says you'll soon be fit again, as long as you
don't get colds, or that sort of thing. Yes, he says you'll soon be
fit again "—a quick, crackling noise—he had gripped the news
paper in his fist.

She

By Hubert Crackanthorpe

231

She looked at him, surprised, in spite of herself. She would
never have thought he'd have done it like that. He was a good
sort, after all. But—she didn't know why—she broke out
furiously :

" You infernal liar—!—I know. I shall be done for by the end
of February—ha ! ha ! "

Seizing a vase of flowers, she flung it into the grate. The
crash and the shrivelling of the leaves in the flames brought her
an instant's relief. Then she said quietly :

"There—I've made an idiot of myself; but" (weakly) "I
didn't know—I didn't know—I thought it was different."

He hesitated, embarrassed by his own emotion. Presently he
went up to her and put his hands round her cheeks.

" No," she said, "that's no good, I don't want that. Get me
something to drink. I feel bad."

He hurried to the cupboard and fumbled with the cork of a
champagne bottle. It flew out with a bang. She started
violently.

" You clumsy fool ! " she exclaimed.

She drank off the wine at a gulp.

" Daisy," he began.

She was staring stonily at the empty glass.

" Daisy," he repeated.

She tapped her toe against the fender-rail.

At this sign, he went on :

" How did you know ? "

" I sent Liz to listen," she answered mechanically.

He looked about him, helpless.

"I think I'll smoke," he said feebly.

She made no answer.

" Here, put the glass down," she said.

He

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He obeyed.

He lit a cigarette over the lamp, sat down opposite her, puffing
dense clouds of smoke.

And, for a long while, neither spoke.

" Is that doctor a good man ? "

"I don't know. People say so," he answered.





MLA citation: Crackanthorpe, Hubert. "Modern Melodrama." The Yellow Book 1 (Apr. 1894): 223-32. The Yellow Nineties Online. Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2010. Web. [Date of access]. http://www.1890s.ca/HTML.aspx?s=YBV1_crackanthorpe_modern.html