THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM
Author o/ "O/ Human Bondage"
GROSSET & DUNLAP
by arrangement with
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
THE MOON AND
I CONFESS that when first I made acquaintance
with Charles Strickland I never for a moment
discerned that there was in him anything out of
the ordinary. Yet now few will be found to deny his
greatness. I do not speak of that greatness which is
achieved by the fortunate politician or the successful
soldier; that is a quality which belongs to the place
he occupies rather than to the man; and a change of
circumstances reduces it to very discreet proportions.
The Prime Minister out of office is seen, too often,
to have been but a pompous rhetorician, and the Gen-
eral without an army is but the tame hero of a
market town. The greatness of Charles Strickland
was authentic. It may be that you do not like his art,
but at all events you can hardly refuse it the tribute
of your interest. He disturbs and arrests. The time
has passed when he was an object of ridicule, and it
is no longer a mark of eccentricity to defend or of
perversity to extol him. His faults are accepted as
the necessary complement to his merits. It is still
possible to discuss his place in art, and the adulation
of his admirers is perhaps no less capricious than the
disparagement of his detractors; but one thing can
8 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
never be doubtful, and that is that he had genius.
To my mind the most interesting thing in art is the
personality of the artist; and if that is singular, I am
willing to excuse a thousand faults. I suppose Velas-
quez was a better painter than El Greco, but custom
stales one's admiration for him : the Cretan, sensual
and tragic, proffers the mystery of his soul like a
standing sacrifice. The artist, painter, poet, or mu-
sician, by his decoration, sublime or beautiful, satis-
fies the aesthetic sense; but that is akin to the sexual
instinct, and shares its barbarity: he lays before you
also the greater gift of himself. To pursue his secret
has something of the fascination of a detective story.
It is a riddle which shares with the universe the
merit of having no answer. The most insignificant
of Strickland's works suggests a personality which is
strange, tormented, and complex; and it is this surely
which prevents even those who do not like his pic-
tures from being indifferent to them; it is this which
has excited so curious an interest, in his life and
It was not till four years after Strickland's death
that Maurice Huret wrote that article in the Mercure
de France which rescued the unknown painter from
oblivion and blazed the trail which succeeding writ-
ers, with more or less docility, have followed. For
a long time no critic has enjoyed in France a more
incontestable authority, and it was impossible not to
be impressed by the claims he made ; they seemed ex-
travagant; but later judgments have confirmed his es-
timate, and the reputation of Charles Strickland is
now firmly established on the lines which he laid
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 9
down. The rise of this reputation is one of the most
romantic incidents in the history of art. But I do
not propose to deal with Charles Strickland's work
except in so far as it touches upon his character. I
cannot agree with the painters who claim supercil-
iously that the layman can understand nothing of
painting, and that he can best show his appreciation
of their works by silence and a cheque-book. It is
a grotesque misapprehension which sees in art no
more than a craft comprehensible perfectly only to
the craftsman: art is a manifestation of emotion, and
emotion speaks a language that all may understand.
But I will allow that the critic who has not a practical
knowledge of technique is seldom able to say any-
thing on the subject of real value, and my ignorance
of painting is extreme. Fortunately, there is no need
for me to risk the adventure, since my friend, Mr.
Edward Leggatt, an able writer as well as an admir-
able painter, has exhaustively discussed Charles
Strickland's work in a little book* which is a charm-
ing example of a style, for the most part, less happily
cultivated in England than in France.
Maurice Huret in his famous article gave an out-
line of Charles Strickland's life which was well calcu-
lated to whet the appetites of the inquiring. With
his disinterested passion for art, he had a real desire
to call the attention of the wise to a talent which was
in the highest degree original; but he was too good
a journalist to be unaware that the "human interest"
would enable him more easily to effect his purpose.
* "A Modern Artist: Notes on the Work of Charles Strick-
land," by Edward Leggatt, A.R.H.A. Martin Seeker, 1917.
10 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
And when such as had come in contact with Strickland
in the past, writers who had known him in London,
painters who had met him in the cafes of Montmar-
tre, discovered to their amazement that where they
had seen but an unsuccessful artist, like another, au-
thentic genius had rubbed shoulders with them there
began to appear in the magazines of France and
America a succession of articles, the reminiscences
of one, the appreciation of another, which added to
Strickland's notoriety, and fed without satisfying the
curiosity of the public. The subject was grateful,
and the industrious Weitbrecht-Rotholz in his impos-
ing monograph* has been able to give a remarkable
iist of authorities.
The faculty for myth is innate in the human race.
It seizes with avidity upon any incidents, surprising
or mysterious, in the career of those who have at all
distinguished themselves from their fellows, and in-
vents a legend to which it then attaches a fanatical
belief. It is the protest of romance against the com-
monplace of life. The incidents of the legend be-
come the hero's surest passport to immortality. The
ironic philosopher reflects with a smile that Sir Wal-
ter Raleigh is more safely inshrined in the memory
of mankind because he set his cloak for the Virgin
Queen to walk on than because he carried the English
name to undiscovered countries. Charles Strickland
lived obscurely. He made enemies rather than
friends. It is not strange, then, that those who wrote
* "Karl Strickland: sein Leben und seine Kunst," by Hugo
Weitbrecht-Rotholz, Ph.D. Schwingel und Hanisch. Leip-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE U
of him should have eked out their scanty recollections
with a lively fancy, and it is evident that there was
enough in the little that was known of him to give
opportunity to the romantic scribe; there was much
in his life which was strange and terrible, in his char-
acter something outrageous, and in his fate not a lit-
tle that was pathetic. In due course a legend arose
of such circumstantiality that the wise historian
would hesitate to attack it.
Bnt a wise historian is precisely what the Rev.
Robert Strickland is not. He wrote his biogra-
phy* avowedly to "remove certain misconceptions
which had gained currency" in regard to the later
part of his father's life, and which had "caused con-
siderable pain to persons still living." It is obvious
that there was much in the commonly received account
of Strickland's life to embarrass a respectable family.
I have read this work with a good deal of amuse-
ment, and upon this I congratulate myself, since it
is cokmrless and dull. Mr. Strickland has drawn the
portrait of an excellent husband and father, a man
of kindly temper, industrious habits, and moral dis-
position. The modern clergyman has acquired in
his study of the science which I believe is called
exegesis an astonishing facility for explaining things
away, but the subtlety with which the Rev. Robert
Strickland has "interpreted" all the facts in his
father's life which a dutiful son might find it incon-
venient to remember must surely lead him in the full-
ness of time to the highest dignities of the Church.
* "Strickland: The Man and His Work," by his son, Robert
Strickland. Wm. Heinemann, 1913.
12 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
I see already his muscular calves encased in the gait-
ers episcopal. It was a hazardous, though maybe a
gallant thing to do, since it is probable that the legend
commonly received has had no small share in the
growth of Strickland's reputation ; for there are many
who have been attracted to his art by the detestation
in which they held his character or the compassion
frith which they regarded his death; and the son's
well-meaning efforts threw a singular chill upon the
father's admirers. It is due to no accident that when
one of his most important works, The Woman of
Samaria* was sold at Christie's shortly after the dis-
cussion which followed the publication of Mr. Strick-
land's biography, it fetched 235 less than it had
done nine months before when it was bought by the
distinguished collector whose sudden death had
brought it once more under the hammer. Perhaps
Charles Strickland's power and originality would
scarcely have sufficed to turn the scale if the remark-
able mythopoeic faculty of mankind had not brushed
aside with impatience a story which disappointed all
its craving for the extraordinary. And presently Dr.
Weitbrecht-Rotholz produced the work which finally
set at rest the misgivings of all lovers of art.
Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz belongs to that school of
historians which believes that human nature is not
only about as bad as it can be, but a great deal worse;
and certainly the reader is safer of entertainment in
* This was described in Christie's catalogue as follows: "A
nude woman, a native of the Society Islands, is lying on the
ground beside a brook. Behind is a tropical landscape with
palm-trees, bananas, etc. 60 in. x 48 in."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 13
their hands than in those of the writers who take a
malicious pleasure in representing the great figures
of romance as patterns of the domestic virtues. For
my part, I should be sorry to think that there was
nothing between Anthony and Cleopatra but an eco-
nomic situation ; and it will require a great deal more
evidence than is ever likely to be available, thank
God, to persuade me that Tiberius was as blameless
a monarch as King George V. Dr. Weitbrecht-
Rotholz has dealt in such terms with the Rev. Robert
Strickland's innocent biography that it is difficult to
avoid feeling a certain sympathy for the unlucky
parson. His decent reticence is branded as hypocrisy,
his circumlocutions are roundly called lies, and his
silence is vilified as treachery. And on the strength
of peccadillos, reprehensible in an author, but excusa-
ble in a son, the Anglo-Saxon race is accused of prud-
ishness, humbug, pretentiousness, deceit, cunning,
and bad cooking. Personally I think it was rash of
Mr. Strickland, in refuting the account which had
gained belief of a certain "unpleasantness" between
his father and mother, to state that Charles Strick-
land in a letter written from Paris had described her
as "an excellent woman," since Dr. Weitbrecht-
Rotholz was able to print the letter in facsimile, and
it appears that the passage referred to ran in fact as
follows: God damn my wife. She is an excellent
woman. I wish she was in hell. It is not thus that the
Church in its great days dealt with evidence that was
Dr. Weitbrecht-Rotholz was an enthusiastic ad-
mirer of Charles Strickland, and there was no dan-
14 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
ger that he would whitewash him. He had an
unerring eye for the despicable motive in actions that
had all the appearance of innocence. He was a
psycho-pathologist, as well as a student of art, and
the subconscious had few secrets from him. No
mystic ever saw deeper meaning in common things.
The mystic sees the ineffable, and the psycho-pathol-
ogist the unspeakable. There is a singular fascina-
tion in watching the eagerness with which the learned
author ferrets out every circumstance which may
throw discredit on his hero. His heart warms to him
when he can bring forward some example of cruelty
or meanness, and he exults like an inquisitor at the
auto da fe of an heretic when with some forgotten
story he can confound the filial piety of the Rev.
Robert Strickland. His industry has been amazing.
Nothing has been too small to escape him, and you
may be sure that if Charles Strickland left a laun-
dry bill unpaid it will be given you in extenso, and if
he forebore to return a borrowed half-crown no de-
tail of the transaction will be omitted.
WHEN so much has been written about
Charles Strickland, it may seem unnecessary
that I should write more. A painter's mon-
ument is his work. It is true I knew him more inti-
mately than most: I met him first before ever he
became a painter, and I saw him not infrequently dur-
ing the difficult years he spent in Paris ; but I do not
suppose I should ever have set down my recollections
if the hazards of the war had not taken me to Tahiti.
There, as is notorious, he spent the last years of
his life; and there I came across persons who were
familiar with him. I find myself in a position to
throw light on just that part of his tragic career
which has remained most obscure. If they who be-
lieve in Strickland's greatness are right, the personal
narratives of such as knew him in the flesh can hardly
be superfluous. What would we not give for the
reminiscences of someone who had been as intimately
acquainted with El Greco as I was with Strickland?
But I seek refuge in no such excuses. I forget
who it was that recommended men for their soul's
good to do each day two things they disliked : it was
a wise man, and it is a precept that I have followed
scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I
have gone to bed. But there is in my nature a strain
of asceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week
to a more severe mortification. I have never failed
to read the Literary Supplement of The Times. It
16 ff AND SIXPENCE
is ? 5 to consider the vast number
of books that are written, the fair hopes with which
their authors see them published, and the fate which
awaits them. What chance is there that any book
will make its way among that multitude? And the
successful books are but the successes of a season.
Heaven knows what pains the author has been at,
what bitter experiences he has endured and what
heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a
few hours' relaxation or to while away the tedium
of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews,
many of these books are well and carefully written;
much thought has gone to their composition ; to some
even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime*
The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his
reward in the pleasure of his work and in release
from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to
aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure
Now the war has come, bringing with it a new
attitude. Youth has turned to gods we of an earlier
day knew not, and it is possible to see already the
direction in which those who come after us will move.
The younger generation, conscious of strength and
tumultuous, have done with knocking at the door;
they have burst in and seated themselves in our
seats. The air is noisy with their shouts. Of
their elders some, by imitating the antics of youth,
strive to persuade themselves that their day is not
yet over; they shout with the lustiest, but the war
cry sounds hollow in their mouth; they are like poof
wantons attempting with pencil, paint and powder,
THE MOON AND SIX
with shrill gaiety, to recover tlu illusion ~* v*w~
spring. The wiser go their way with a decent grace.
In their chastened smile is an indulgent mockery.
They remember that they too trod down a sated
generation, with just such clamor and with just such
scorn, and they foresee that these brave torch-bear-
ers will presently yield their place also. There is
no last word. The new evangel was old when
Nineveh reared her greatness to the sky. These gal-
lant words which seem so novel to those that speak
them were said in accents scarcely changed a hun-
dred times before. The pendulum swings back-
wards and forwards. The circle is ever travelled
Sometimes a man survives a considerable time from
an era in which he had his place into one which is
strange to him, and then the curious are offered one
of the most singular spectacles in the human comedy.
Who now, for example, thinks of George Crabbe?
He was a famous poet in his day, and the world
recognised his genius with a unanimity which the
greater complexity of modern life has rendered in-
frequent. He had learnt his craft at the school of
Alexander Pope, and he wrote moral stories in
rhymed couplets. Then came the French Revolu-
tion and the Napoleonic Wars, and the poets sang
new songs. Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral
stories in rhymed couplets. I think he must have
read the verse of these young men who were mak-
ing so great a stir in the world, and I fancy he
found it poor stuff. Of course, much of it was. But
the odes of Keats and of Wordsworth, a poem or
18 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
two by Coleridge, a few more by Shelley, discov-
ered vast realms of the spirit that none had explored
before. Mr. Crabbe was as dead as mutton, but
Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral stories in
rhymed couplets. I have read desultorily the writ-
ings of the younger generation. It may be that
among them a more fervid Keats, a more ethereal
Shelley, has already published numbers the world
will willingly remember. I cannot tell. I admire
their polish their youth is already so accomplished
that it seems absurd to speak of promise I marvel
at the felicity of their style; but with all their copi-
ousness (their vocabulary suggests that they fingered
Roget's Thesaurus in their cradles) they say nothing
to me: to my mind they know too much and feel
too obviously; I cannot stomach the heartiness with
which they slap me on the back or the emotion with
which they hurl themselves on my bosom ; their pas-
sion seems to me a little anaemic and their dreams
a trifle dull. I do not like them. I am on the
shelf. I will continue to write moral stories in
rhymed couplets. But I should be thrice a fool
if I did it for aught but my own entertainment
BUT all this is by the way.
I was very young when I wrote my first
By a lucky chance it excited attention, and var-
ious persons sought my acquaintance.
It is not without melancholy that I wander among
my recollections of the world of letters in London
when first, bashful but eager, I was introduced to it.
It is long since I frequented it, and if the novels that
describe its present singularities are accurate much
in it is now changed. The venue is different. Chelsea
and Bloomsbury have taken the place of Hamp-
stead, Notting Hill Gate, and High Street, Kensing-
ton. Then it was a distinction to be under forty,
but now to be more than twenty-five is absurd. I
think in those days we were a little shy of our emo-
tions, and the fear of ridicule tempered the more
obvious forms of pretentiousness. I do not believe
that there was in that genteel Bohemia an intensive
Culture of chastity, but I do not remember so crude
a promiscuity as seems to be practised in the present
day. We did not think it hypocritical to draw over
our vagaries the curtain of a decent silence. The
spade was not invariably called a bloody shovel.
Woman had not yet altogether come into her own.
I lived near Victoria Station, and I recall long
excursions by bus to the hospitable houses of the
literary. In my timidity I wandered up and down
80 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
the street while I screwed up my courage to ring
the bell; and then, sick with apprehension, was ush-
ered into an airless room full of people. I was
introduced to this celebrated person after that one,
and the kind words they said about my book made
me excessively uncomfortable. I felt they expected
me to say clever things, and I never could think of
any till after the party was over. I tried to conceal
my embarrassment by handing round cups of tea
and rather ill-cut bread-and-butter. I wanted no one
to take notice of me, so that I could observe these
famous creatures at my ease and listen to the clever
things they said.
I have a recollection of large, unbending women
with great noses and rapacious eyes, who wore their
clothes as though they were armour; and of little,
mouse-like spinsters, with soft voices and a shrewd
glance. I never ceased to be fascinated by their
persistence in eating buttered toast with their gloves
on, and I observed with admiration the unconcern
With which they wiped their fingers on their chair
ftrhen they thought no one was looking. It must
iave been bad for the furniture, but I suppose the
hostess took her revenge on the furniture of her
friends when, in turn, she visited them. Some of
them were dressed fashionably, and they said they
couldn't for the life of them see why you should
be dowdy just because you had written a novel; if
you had a neat figure you might as well make the
most of it, and a smart shoe on a small foot had
never prevented an editor from taking your "stuff."
But others thought this frivolous, and they wore
THE MOON AND 21
"art fabrics" and barbaric jew J jre
seldom eccentric in appearance. They tried to look
as little like authors as possible. They wished to
be taken for men of the world, and could have
passed anywhere for the managing clerks of a city
firm. They always seemed a little tired. I had
never known writers before, and I found them very
strange, but I do not think they ever seemed to me
I remember that I thought their conversation bril-
liant, and I used to listen with astonishment to the
stinging humour with which they would tear a
brother-author to pieces the moment that his back was
turned. The artist has this advantage over the rest
of the world, that his friends offer not only their
appearance and their character to his satire, but also
their work. I despaired of ever expressing myself
with such aptness or with such fluency. In those
days conversation was still cultivated as an art; a
neat repartee was more highly valued than the crack-
ling of thorns under a pot; and the epigram, not
yet a mechanical appliance by which the dull may
achieve a semblance of wit, gave sprightliness to
the small talk of the urbane. It is sad that I can
remember nothing of all this scintillation. But I
think the conversation never settled down so com-
fortably as when it turned to the details of the trade
which was the other side of the art we practised.
When we had done discussing the merits of the latest
book, it was natural to wonder how many copies
had been sold, what advance the author had re-
ceived, and how much he was likely to make out
22 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
of it. Then we would speak of this publisher and
of that, comparing the generosity of one with the
meanness of another; we would argue whether it
was better to go to one who gave handsome royal-
ties or to another who "pushed'* a book for all it
was worth. Some advertised badly and some well.
Some were modern and some were old-fashioned.
Then we would talk of agents and the offers they
had obtained for us ; of editors and the sort of con-
tributions they welcomed, how much they paid a
thousand, and whether they paid promptly or other-
wise. To me it was all very romantic. It gave me
an intimate sense of being a member of some mystic
NO one was kinder to me at that time than Rose
Waterford. She combined a masculine intel-
ligence with a feminine perversity, and the
novels she wrote were original and disconcerting.
It was at her house one day that I met Charles Strick-
land^ wife. Miss Waterford was giving a tea-party,
and her small room was more than usually full.
Everyone seemed to be talking, and I, sitting in si-
lence, felt awkward; but I was too shy to break into
any of the groups that seemed absorbed in their own
affairs. Miss Waterford was a good hostess, and
seeing my embarrassment came up to me.
"I want you to talk to Mrs. Strickland/ 7 she said.
"She's raving about your book."
"What does she do?" I asked.
I was conscious of my ignorance, and if Mrs.
Strickland was a well-known writer I thought it as
well to ascertain the fact before I spoke to her.
Rose Waterford cast down her eyes demurely to?
give greater effect to her reply.
"She gives luncheon-parties. YouVe only got to
roar a little, and she'll ask you."
Rose Waterford was a cynic. She looked upon
life as an opportunity for writing novels and the
public as her raw material. Now and then she in-
vited members of it to her house if they showed an
appreciation of her talent and entertained with proper
lavishness. She held their weakness for lions in
24 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
good-humoured contempt, but played to them her
part of the distinguished woman of letters with
I was led up to Mrs. Strickland, and for ten
minutes we talked together. I noticed nothing about
her except that she had a pleasant voice. She had
a flat in Westminster, overlooking the unfinished
cathedral, and because we lived in the same neighbour-
hood we felt friendly disposed to one another. The
Army and Navy Stores are a bond of union be-
tween all who dwell between the river and St.
James's Park. Mrs. Strickland asked me for my ad-
dress, and a few days later I received an invitation to
My engagements were few, and I was glad to
accept. When I arrived, a little late, because in my
fear of being too early I had walked three times
round the cathedral, I found the party already
complete. Miss Waterford was there and Mrs.
Jay, Richard Twining and George Road. We were
all writers. It was a fine day, early in spring, and
we were in a good humour. We talked about a
hundred things. Miss Waterford, torn between the
aestheticism of her early youth, when she used to go
to parties in sage green, holding a daffodil, and the
flippancy of her maturer years, which tended to high
heels and Paris frocks, wore a new hat. It put her
in high spirits. I had never heard her more malicious
about our common friends. Mrs. Jay, aware that
impropriety is the soul of wit, made observations
in tones hardly above a whisper that might well
have tinged the snowy tablecloth with a rosy hue.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 25
Richard Twining bubbled over with quaint absurd-
ities, and George Road, conscious that he need not
exhibit a brilliancy which was almost a by-word,
opened his mouth only to put food into it. Mrs.
Strickland did not talk much, but she had a pleasant
gift for keeping the conversation general; and when
there was a pause she threw in just the right remark
to set it going once more. She was a woman of
thirty-seven, rather tall and plump, without being
fat; she was not pretty, but her face was pleasing,
chiefly, perhaps, on account of her kind brown eyes.
Her skin was rather sallow. Her dark hair was
elaborately dressed. She was the only woman of the
three whose face was free of make-up, and by con-
trast with the others she seemed simple and un-
The dining-room was in the good taste of the
period. It was very severe. There was a high dado
of white wood and a green paper on which were
etchings by Whistler in neat black frames. The
green curtains with their peacock design, hung in
straight lines, and the green carpet, in the pattern
of which pale rabbits frolicked among leafy trees,
suggested the influence of William Morris. There
was blue delft on the chimneypiece. At that time
there must have been five hundred dining-rooms in
London decorated in exactly the same manner. It
was chaste, artistic, and dull.
When we left I walked away with Miss Water-
ford, and the fine day and her new hat persuaded us
to saunter through the Park.
"That was a very nice party," I said.
86 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Did you think the food was good? I told her
that if she wanted writers she must feed them well."
"Admirable advice," I answered. "But why does
she want them?"
Miss Waterford shrugged her shoulders.
"She finds them amusing. She wants to be in the
movement. I fancy she's rather simple, poor dear,
and she thinks we're all wonderful. After all, it
pleases her to ask us to luncheon, and it doesn't hurt
us. I like her for it."
Looking back, I think that Mrs. Strickland was
the most harmless of all the lion-hunters that pur-
sue their quarry from the rarefied heights of Hamp-
stead to the nethermost studios of Cheyne Walk.
She had led a very quiet youth in the country, and
the books that came down from Mudie's Library
brought with them not only their own romance, but
the romance of London. She had a real passion for
reading (rare in her kind, who for the most part are
more interested in the author than in his book, in the
painter than in his pictures), and she invented a
world of the imagination in which she lived with a
freedom she never acquired in the world of every
day. When she came to know writers it was like
adventuring upon a stage which till then she had
known only from the other side of the footlights.
She saw them dramatically, and really seemed her-
self to live a larger life because she entertained them
and visited them in their fastnesses. She accepted 1 '
the rules with which they played the game of life as
valid for them, but never for a moment thought of
regulating her own conduct in accordance with the*?.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 27
Their moral eccentricities, like their oddities of dress,
their wild theories and paradoxes, were an enter-
tainment which amused her, but had not the slightest
influence on her convictions.
"Is there a Mr. Strickland?" I asked
"Oh yes ; he's something in the city. I believe he's
a stockbroker. He's very dull."
"Are they good friends?"
"They adore one another. You'll meet him if you
dine there. But she doesn't often have people to
dinner. He's very quiet. He's not in the least in-
terested in literature or the arts."
"Why do nice women marry dull men?"
"Because intelligent men won't marry nice
I could not think of any retort to this, so I asked
if Mrs. Strickland had children.
"Yes; she has a boy and a girl. They're both at
The subject was exhausted, and we began to talk
of other things.
DURING the summer I met Mrs. Strickland
not infrequently. I went now and then to
pleasant little luncheons at her flat, and to
rather more formidable tea-parties. We took a fancy
to one another. I was very young, and perhaps she
liked the idea of guiding my virgin steps on the
hard road of letters; while for me it was pleasant
to have someone I could go to with my small trou-
bles, certain of an attentive ear and reasonable coun-
sel. Mrs. Strickland had the gift of sympathy. It
is a charming faculty, but one often abused by those
who are conscious of its possession: for there is
something ghoulish in the avidity with which they
will pounce upon the misfortune of their friends so
that they may exercise their dexterity. It gushes
forth like an oil-well, and the sympathetic pour out
their sympathy with an abandon that is sometimes
embarrassing to their victims. There are bosoms
on which so many tears have been shed that I cannot
bedew them with mine. Mrs. Strickland used her
advantage with tact. You felt that you obliged her
by accepting her sympathy. When, in the enthusiasm
of my youth, I remarked on this to Rose Waterford,
she said :
"Milk is very nice, especially with a drop of
brandy in it, but the domestic cow is only too glad
to be rid of it. A swollen udder is very uncom-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 29
Rose Waterford had a blistering tongue. No one
could say such bitter things; on the other hand, no
one could do more charming ones.
There was another thing I liked in Mrs. Strick-
land. She managed her surroundings with elegance.
Her flat was always neat and cheerful, gay witH
flowers, and the chintzes in the drawing-room, not-
withstanding their severe design, were bright and
pretty. The meals in the artistic little dining-room
were pleasant; the table looked nice, the two maids
were trim and comely; the food was well cooked.;
It was impossible not to see that Mrs. Strickland was
an excellent housekeeper. And you felt sure that
she was an admirable mother. There were photo-
graphs in the drawing-room of her son and daugh-
ter. The son his name was Robert was a boy of
sixteen at Rugby; and you saw him in flannels and
a cricket cap, and again in a tail-coat and a stand-up
collar. He had his mother's candid brow and fine,
reflective eyes. He looked clean, healthy, and nor-
"I don't know that he's very clever," she said one
day, when I was looking at the photograph, "but I
know he's good. He has a charming character."
The daughter was fourteen. Her hair, thick and
dark like her mother's, fell over her shoulders in
fine profusion, and she had the same kindly expres-
sion and sedate, untroubled eyes.
"They're both of them the image of you," I said.
"Yes; I think they are more like me than their
u Why have you never let me meet him?" I asked*
80 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Would you like to?"
She smiled, her smile was really very sweet, and
she blushed a little; it was singular that a woman
of that age should flush so readily. Perhaps her
naivete was her greatest charm.
"You know, he's not at all literary," she said.
"He's a perfect philistine."
She said this not disparagingly, but affectionately
rather, as though, by acknowledging the worst about
him, she wished to protect him from the aspersions
of her friends.
"He's on the Stock Exchange, and he's a typical
broker. I think he'd bore you to death."
"Does he bore you?" I asked.
"You see, I happen to be his wife. I'm very fond
She smiled to cover her shyness, and I fancied she
had a fear that I would make the sort of gibe that
such a confession could hardly have failed to elicit
from Rose Waterford. She hesitated a little. Her
eyes grew tender.
"He doesn't pretend to be a genius. He doesn't
even make much money on the Stock Exchange. But
he's awfully good and kind."
"I think I should like him very much."
"I'll ask you to dine with us quietly some time,
tut mind, you come at your own risk; don't blame
me if you have a very dull evening."
BUT when at last I met Charles Strickland, it
was under circumstances which allowed me to
do no more than just make his acquaintance.
One morning Mrs. Strickland sent me round a note
to say that she was giving a dinner-party that even-
ing, and one of her guests had failed her. She asked
me to stop the gap. She wrote :
"Its only decent to warn you that you will be
bored to extinction. It was a thoroughly dull party
from the beginning, but if you will come I shall be
uncommonly grateful. And you and I can have a
little chat by ourselves."
It was only neighbourly to accept.
When Mrs. Strickland introduced me to her hus-
band, he gave me a rather indifferent hand to shake.
Turning to him gaily, she attempted a small jest.
"I asked him to show him that I really had a hus-
band. I think he was beginning to doubt it."
Strickland gave the polite little laugh with which
people acknowledge a facetiousness in which they
see nothing funny, but did not speak. New arrivals
claimed my host's attention, and I was left to myself.
When at last we were all assembled, waiting for din-
ner to be announced, I reflected, while I chatted with
the woman I had been asked to "take in," that civ-
ilised man practises a strange ingenuity in wasting on
352 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
tedious exercises the brief span of his life. It was the
kind of party which makes you wonder why the host-
ess has troubled to bid her guests, and why the guests
have troubled to come. There were ten people.
They met with indifference, and would part with re-
lief. It was, of course, a purely social function.
The Stricklands "owed" dinners to a number of
persons, whom they took no interest in, and so had
asked them; these persons had accepted. Why?
To avoid the tedium of dining tete-a-tete, to give their
servants a rest, because there was no reason to re-
fuse, because they were "owed" a dinner.
The dining-room was inconveniently crowded.
There was a K.C. and his wife, a Government official
and his wife, Mrs. Strickland's sister and her hus-
band, Colonel MacAndrew, and the wife of a Mem-
ber of Parliament. It was because the Member of
Parliament found that he could not leave the House
that I had been invited. The respectability of the
party was portentous. The women were too nice to
be well dressed, and too sure of their position to be
amusing. The men were solid. There was about
all of them an air of well-satisfied prosperity.
Everyone talked a little louder than natural in
an instinctive desire to make the party go, and there
was a great deal of noise in the room. But there
was no general conversation. Each one talked to
his neighbour; to his neighbour on the right during
the soup, fish, and entree; to his neighbour on the
left during the roast, sweet, and savoury. They
talked of the political situation and of golf, of their
children and the latest play, of the pictures at the
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 33
Royal Academy, of the weather and their plans for
the holidays. There was never a pause, and the noise
grew louder. Mrs. Strickland might congratulate
herself that her party was a success. Her husband
played his part with decorum. Perhaps he did not
talk very much, and I fancied there was towards the
end a look of fatigue in the faces of the women on
either side of him. They were finding him heavy.
Once or twice Mrs. Strickland's eyes rested on him
At last she rose and shepherded the ladies out of
xne room. Strickland shut the door behind her, and,
moving to the other end of the table, took his place
between the K.C. and the Government official. He
passed round the port again and handed us cigars.
The K.C. remarked on the excellence of the wine,
and Strickland told us where he got it. We began
to chat about vintages and tobacco. The K.C. told
us of a case he was engaged in, and the Colonel
talked about polo. I had nothing to say and so sat
silent, trying politely to show interest in the conversa-
tion; and because I thought no one was in the least
concerned with me, examined Strickland at my ease.
He was bigger than I expected: I do not know why
I had imagined him slender and of insignificant ap-
pearance; in point of fact he was broad and heavy,
with large hands and feet, and he wore his evening
clothes clumsily. He gave you somewhat the idea
of a coachman dressed up for the occasion. He was
a man of forty, not good-looking, and yet not ugly,
for his features were rather good; but they were all
a little larger than life-size, and the effect was un-
34* THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
gainly. He was clean shaven, and his large face
looked uncomfortably naked. His hair was reddish,
cut very short, and his eyes were small, blue or grey.
He looked commonplace. I no longer wondered that
Mrs. Strickland felt a certain embarrassment about
him ; he was scarcely a credit to a woman who wanted
to make herself a position in the world of art and let-
ters. It was obvious that he had no social gifts, but
these a man can do without; he had no eccentricity
even, to take him out of the common run ; he was just
a good, dull, honest, plain man. One would admire
his excellent qualities, but avoid his company. He
was null. He was probably a worthy member of so-
ciety, a good husband and father, an honest broker;
but there was no reason to waste one's time over him.
THE season was drawing to its dusty end, and
everyone I knew was arranging to go away.
Mrs. Strickland was taking her family to the
coast of Norfolk, so that the children might have the
sea and her husband golf. We said good-bye to
one another, and arranged to meet in the autumn.
But on my last day in town, coming out of the Stores v
I met her with her son and daughter; like myself,
she had been making her final purchases before leav-
ing London, and we were both hot and tired. I pro-
posed that we should all go and eat ices in the park.
I think Mrs. Strickland was glad to show me her
Children, and she accepted my invitation with alacrity v
They were even more attractive than their photo-
graphs had suggested, and she was right to be proud
of them. I was young enough for them not to feel
shy, and they chattered merrily about one thing and
another. They were extraordinarily nice, healthy
young children. It was very agreeable under the
When in an hour they crowded into a cab to go
home, I strolled idly to my club. I was perhaps a
little lonely, and it was with a touch of envy that I
thought of the pleasant family life of which I had
had a glimpse. They seemed devoted to one an-
other. They had little private jokes of their own
which, unintelligible to the outsider, amused them
enormously. Perhaps Charles Strickland was dull
36 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
judged by a standard that demanded above all things
verbal scintillation; but his intelligence was adequate
to his surroundings, and that is a passport, not only
to reasonable success, but still more to happiness.
Mrs. Strickland was a charming woman, and she
loved him. I pictured their lives, troubled by no
untoward adventure, honest, decent, and, by reason
of those two upstanding, pleasant children, so obvi-
ously destined to carry on the normal traditions of
their race and station, not without significance. They
would grow old insensibly; they would see their son
and daughter come to years of reason, marry in due
course the one a pretty girl, future mother of
healthy children; the other a handsome, manly fellow,
obviously a soldier; and at last, prosperous in their
dignified retirement, beloved by their descendants,
after a happy, not unuseful life, in the fullness of
their age they would sink into the grave.
That must be the story of innumerable couples, and
the pattern of life it offers has a homely grace. It
reminds you of a placid rivulet, meandering smoothly
through green pastures and shaded by pleasant trees,
till at last it falls into the vasty sea ; but the sea is so
calm, so silent, so indifferent, that you are troubled
suddenly by a vague uneasiness. Perhaps it is only
by a kink in my nature, strong In me even in those
days, that I felt in such an existence, the share of
the great majority, something amiss. I recognised its
social values, I saw its ordered happiness, but a fever
in my blood asked for a wilder course. There seemed
to me something alarming in such easy delights. In
my heart was a desire to live more dangerously. I
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 37
was not unprepared for jagged roclcs and treacherous
shoals if I could only have change change and the
excitement of the unforeseen.
ON reading over what I have written of the
Stricklands, I am conscious that they must
seem shadowy. I have been able to invest
them with none of those characteristics which make
the persons of a book exist with a real life of their
own; and, wondering if the fault is mine, I rack my
brains to remember idiosyncrasies which might lend
them vividness. I feel that by dwelling on some trick
of speech or some queer habit I should be able to
give them a significance peculiar to themselves. As
they stand they are like the figures in an old tapestry;
they do not separate themselves from the background,
and at a distance seem to lose their pattern, so that
you have little but a pleasing piece of colour. My
only excuse is that the impression they made on me
was no other. There was just that shadowiness
about them which you find in people whose lives are
part of the social organism, so that they exist in it
and by it only. They are like cells in the body, es-
sential, but, so long as they remain healthy, engulfed
in the momentous whole. The Stricklands were an
average family in the middle class. A pleasant, hos-
pitable woman, with a harmless craze for the small
lions of literary society; a rather dull man, doing his
duty in that state of life in which a merciful Provi-
dence had placed him ; two nice-looking, healthy chil-
dren. Nothing could be more ordinary. I do not
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 39
know that there was anything about them to excite
the attention of the curious.
When I reflect on all that happened later, I ask
myself if I was thick-witted not to see that there was
in Charles Strickland at least something out of the
common. Perhaps. I think that I have gathered in
the years that intervene between then and now a
'fair knowledge of mankind, but even if when I first
met the Stricklands I had the experience which I
have now, I do not believe that I should have judgecl
them differently. But because I have learnt that man
is incalculable, I should not at this time of day be
so surprised by the news that reached me when in
the early autumn I returned to London.
I had not been back twenty-four hours before I ran
across Rose Waterford in Jermyn Street.
"You look very gay and sprightly," I said.
"What's the matter with you?"
She smiled, and her eyes shone with a malice I
knew already. It meant that she had heard some
scandal about one of her friends, and the instinct of
the literary woman was all alert.
"You did meet Charles Strickland, didn't you?"
Not only her face, but her whole body, gave a
sense of alacrity. I nodded. I wondered if the poor
devil had been hammered on the Stock Exchange or 1
run over by an omnibus.
"Isn't it dreadful ? He's run away 'from his wife."
Miss Waterford certainly felt that she could not
do her subject justice on the curb of Jermyn Street,
and so, like an artist, flung the bare fact at me and
declared that she knew no details. I could not do
40 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
her the injustice of supposing that so trifling a circum-
stance would have prevented her from giving them,
but she was obstinate.
"I tell you I know nothing," she said, in reply to
my agitated questions, and then, with an airy shrug
of the shoulders: "I believe that a young person in
a city tea-shop has left her situation. "
She flashed a smile at me, and, protesting an en-
gagement with her dentist, jauntily walked on. I
was more interested than distressed. In those days
my experience of life at first hand was small, and it
excited me to come upon an incident among people I
knew of the same sort as I had read in books. I
confess that time has now accustomed me to inci-
dents of this character among my acquaintance. But
I was a little shocked. Strickland was certainly forty,
and I thought it disgusting that a man of his age
should concern himself with affairs of the heart.
With the superciliousness of extreme youth, I put
thirty-five as the utmost limit at which a man migh;:
fall in love without making a fool of himself. And
this news was slightly disconcerting to me personally,
because I had written from the country to Mrs.
Strickland, announcing my return, and had added that
unless I heard from her to the contrary, I would come
on a certain day to drink a dish of tea with her. This
was the very day, and I had received no word from
Mrs. Strickland. Did she want to see me or did she
not? It was likely enough that in the agitation of
the moment my note had escaped her memory. Per-
haps I should be wiser not to go. On the other hand,
she might wish to keep the affair quiet, and it might
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 41
be highly indiscreet on my part to give any sign that
this strange news had reached me. I was torn be*
tween the fear of hurting a nice woman's feelings and
the fear of being in the way. I felt she must be
suffering, and I did not want to see a pain which I
could not help ; but in my heart was a desire, that I
felt a little ashamed of, to see how she was taking it.
I did not know what to do.
Finally it occurred to me that I would call as
though nothing had happened, and send a message
in by the maid asking Mrs. Strickland if it was con-
venient for her to see me. This would give her the
opportunity to send me away. But I was over*
whelmed with embarrassment when I said to the
maid the phrase I had prepared, and while I waited
for the answer in a dark passage I had to call up aH
my strength of mind not to bolt. The maid came
back. Her manner suggested to my excited fancy a
complete knowledge of the domestic calamity.
"Will you come this way, sir?" she said.
I followed her into the drawing-room. The blinds
were partly drawn to darken the room, and Mrs.
Strickland was sitting with her back to the light.
Her brother-in-law, Colonel MacAndrew, stood in
"front of the fireplace, warming his back at an unlit
fire. To myself my entrance seemed excessively awk-
ward. I imagined that my arrival had taken them
by surprise, and Mrs. Strickland had let me come in
only because she had forgotten to put me off. I
fancied that the Colonel resented the interruption.
"I wasn't quite sure if you expected me," I said,
trying to seem unconcerned.
42 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Of course I did. Anne will bring the tea in a
Even in the darkened room, I could not help see-
ing that Mrs. Strickland's face was all swollen with
tears. Her skin, never very good, was earthy.
"You remember my brother-in-law, don't you?
You met at dinner, just before the holidays."
We shook hands. I felt so shy that I could think
of nothing to say, but Mrs. Strickland came to my
rescue. She asked me what I had been doing with
myself during the summer, and with this help I man-
aged to make some conversation till tea was brought
in. The Colonel asked for a whisky-and-soda.
"You'd better have one too, Amy," he said.
"No; I prefer tea."
This was the first suggestion that anything un-
toward had happened. I took no notice, and did my
best to engage Mrs. Strickland in talk. The Colonel,
still standing in front of the fireplace, uttered no word,
I wondered how soon I could decently take my leave,
and I asked myself why on earth Mrs. Strickland
had allowed me to come. There were no flowers,
and various knick-knacks, put away during the sum-
mer, had not been replaced; there was something
'cheerless and stiff about the room which had always
seemed so friendly; it gave you an odd feeling, as
though someone were lying dead on the other side
of the wall. I finished tea.
"Will you have a cigarette?" asked Mrs. Strick-
She looked about for the box, but it was not to
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 43
"I'm afraid there are none."
Suddenly she burst into tears, and hurried from the
I was startled. I suppose now that the lack of
cigarettes, brought as a rule by her husband, forced
him back upon her recollection, and the new feeling
that the small comforts she was used to were missing
gave her a sudden pang. She realised that the old life
was gone and done with. It was impossible to keep
up our social pretences any longer.
"I dare say you'd like me to go," I said to the
Colonel, getting up.
"I suppose you've heard that blackguard has de-
serted her," he cried explosively.
"You know how people gossip," I answered. "I
was vaguely told that something was wrong."
"He's bolted. He's gone off to Paris .with a
woman. He's left Amy without a penny."
"I'm awfully sorry," I said, not knowing what else
The Colonel gulped down his whisky. He was a
tall, lean man of fifty, with a drooping moustache
and grey hair. He had pale blue eyes and a weak
mouth. I remembered from my previous meeting
with him that he had a foolish face, and was proud
of the fact that for the ten years before he left the
army he had played polo three days a week.
"I don't suppose Mrs. Strickland wants to be both-
ered with me just now," I said. "Will you tell hef
how sorry I am? If there's anything I can do, I shall
be delighted to do it."
34 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
He took no notice of me.
"I don't know what's to become of her. And then
there are the children. Are they going to live on air?
"What about seventeen years?'*
"They've been married," he snapped. "I never
liked him. Of course he was my brother-in-law, and
I made the best of it. Did you think him a gentle-
man? She ought never to have married him."
"Is it absolutely final?"
"There's only one thing for her to do, and that's
to divorce him. That's what I was telling her when
you came in. 'Fire in with your petition, my dear
Amy,' I said. 'You owe it to yourself and you owe
it to the children.' He'd better not let me catch
sight of him. I'd thrash him within an inch of hU
I could not help thinking that Colonel MacAndrew
might have some difficulty in doing this, since Strick-
land had struck me as a hefty fellow, but I did not
say anything. It is always distressing when outraged
morality does not possess the strength of arm to ad-
minister direct chastisement on the sinner. I was
making up my mind to another attempt at going when (
Mrs. Strickland came back. She had dried her eyes
and powdered her nose.
"I'm sorry 1 broke down," she said. "I'm glad
you didn't go away."
She sat down. I did not at all know what to say.
I felt a certain shyness at referring to matters which
were no concern of mine. I did not then know the
besetting sin of woman, the passion to discuss her
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 45
private affairs with anyone who is willing to listen,
Mrs. Strickland seemed to make an effort over her^
"Are people talking about it?" she asked.
I was taken aback by her assumption that I knew
all about her domestic misfortune.
"I've only just come back. The only person I've
seen is Rose Waterford."
Mrs. Strickland clasped her hands.
"Tell me exactly what she said." And when I
hesitated, she insisted. "I particularly want to
"You know the way people talk. She's not very
reliable, is she? She said your husband had left
"Is that all?"
I did not choose to repeat Rose Waterford's
parting reference to a girl from a tea-shop. I
"She didn't say anything about his going with any*
"That's all I wanted to know."
I was a little puzzled, but at all events I understood
that I might now take my leave. When I shook
hands with Mrs. Strickland I told her that if I could
be of any use to her I should be very glad. She
"Thank you so much. I don't know that anybody
can do anything for me."
Too shy to express my sympathy, I turned to say
good-bye to the Colonel. He did not take my hancL
46 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"I'm just coming. If you're walking up Victoria
Street, I'll come along with you."
"All right," I said. "Come on."
i<r X^HIS is a terrible thing/' he said, the moment
we got out into the street.
I realised that he had come away with mi
in order to discuss once more what he had been al-
ready discussing for hours with his sister-in-law.
u We don't know who the woman is, you know,"
he said. "All we know is that the blackguard's gone
"I thought they got on so well."
"So they did. Why, just before you came in Am)
said they'd never had a quarrel in the whole of their
married life. You know Amy. There never was a
better woman in the world."
Since these confidences were thrust on me, I saw
no harm in asking a few questions.
"But do you mean to say she suspected noth-
"Nothing. He spent August with her and the chil-
dren in Norfolk. He was just the same as he'd al-
ways been. We went down for two or three days,
my wife and I, and I played golf with him. He
came back to town in September to let his partner go
away, and Amy stayed on in the country. They'd
taken a house for six weeks, and at the end of her
tenancy she wrote to tell him on which day she was
arriving in London. He answered from Paris. He
said he'd made up his mind not to live with hex any
48 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"What explanation did he give?"
"My dear fellow, he gave no explanation. IVe
seen the letter. It wasn't more than ten lines."
"But that's extraordinary."
We happened then to cross the street, and the
traffic prevented us from speaking. What Colonel
MacAndrew had told me seemed very improb-
able, and I suspected that Mrs. Strickland, for rea-
sons of her own, had concealed from him some part
of the facts. It was clear that a man after sevenr
teen years of wedlock did not leave his wife without
certain occurrences which must have led her to sus-
pect that all was not well with their married life.
The Colonel caught me up.
"Of course, there was no explanation he could give
except that he'd gone off with a woman. I suppose
he thought she could find that out for herself. That's
the sort of chap he was."
"What is Mrs. Strickland going to do?"
"Well, the first thing is to get our proofs. I'm
going over to Paris myself."
"And what about his business?"
"That's where he's been so artful. He's been
drawing in his horns for the last year."
"Did he tell his partner he was leaving?"
"Not a word."
Colonel MacAndrew had a very sketchy knowl-
edge of business matters, and I had none at all, so
I did not quite understand under what conditions
Strickland had left his affairs. I gathered that the
deserted partner was very angry and threatened pro-
ceedings. It appeared that when everything was
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 49
settled he would be four or five hundred pounds out
"It's lucky the furniture in the flat is in Amy's
name. She'll have that at all events."
"Did you mean it when you said she wouldn't
have a bob?"
"Of course I did. She's got two or three hundred
pounds and the furniture."
"But how is she going to live?"
The affair seemed to grow more complicated, and
the Colonel, with his expletives and his indignation,
confused rather than informed me. I was glad that ?
catching sight of the clock at the Army and Navy
Stores, he remembered an engagement to play cardsr
at his club, and so left me to cut across St. James
A DAY or two later Mrs. Strickland sent me
round a note asking if I could go and see her
that evening after dinner. I found her alone.
Her black dress, simple to austerity, suggested her
bereaved condition, and I was innocently astonished
that notwithstanding a real emotion she was able to
dress the part she had to play according to her no-
tions of seemliness.
"You said that if I wanted you to do anything
you wouldn't mind doing it," she remarked.
"It was quite true."
"Will you go over to Paris and see Charlie?"
I was taken aback. I reflected that I had only
seen him once. I did not know what she wanted me
"Fred is set on going." Fred was Colonel Mac-
Andrew. "But I'm sure he's not the man to go.
He'll only make things worse. I don't know who
else to ask."
Her voice trembled a little, and I felt a brute even
"But I've not spoken ten words to your husband.
He doesn't know me. He'll probably just tell me
to go to the devil."
"That wouldn't hurt you," said Mrs. Strickland,
"What is it exactly you want me to do ?"
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 51
She did not answer directly.
"I think it's rather an advantage that he doesn't
know you. You see, he never really liked Fred; he
thought him a fool; he didn't understand soldiers.
Fred would fly into a passion, and there'd be a quar-
rel, and things would be worse instead of better. If
you said you came on my behalf, he couldn't refuse
to listen to you."
"I haven't known you very long," I answered. "I
don't see how anyone can be expected to tackle a case
like this unless he knows all the details. I don't
want to pry into what doesn't concern me. Why
don't you go and see him yourself?"
"You forget he isn't alone."
I held my tongue. I saw myself calling on Charles
Strickland and sending in my card; I saw him come
into the room, holding it between finger and thumb :
"To what do I owe this honour?"
"I've come to see you about your wife."
"Really. When you are a little older you will
doubtless learn the advantage of minding your own
business. If you will be so good as to turn your
head slightly to the left, you will see the door. I wish
I foresaw that it would be difficult to make my exit
with dignity, and I wished to goodness that I had not
returned to London till Mrs. Strickland had com-
posed her difficulties. I stole a glance at her. She
was immersed in thought. Presently she looked up
at me, sighed deeply, and smiled.
"It was all so unexpected," she said. "We'd been
married seventeen years. I never dreamed that
52 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Charlie was the sort of man to get infatuated witK
anyone. We always got on very well together. Of
course, I had a great many interests that he didn^t
"Have you found out who"' I did not quite know
how to express myself "who the person, who it is
he's gone away with?"
"No. No one seems to have an idea. It's so
strange. Generally when a man falls in love with
someone people see them about together, lunching
or something, and her friends always come and tell
the wife. I had no warning nothing. His letter
came like a thunderbolt. I thought he was perfectly
She began to cry, poor thing, and I felt very sorry
for her. But in a little while she grew calmer.
"It's no good making a fool of myself," she said,
drying her eyes. "The only thing is to decide what
is the best thing to do."
She went on, talking somewhat at random, now
of the recent past, then of their first meeting and
their marriage; but presently I began to form a fairly
coherent picture of their lives ; and it seemed to me
that my surmises had not been incorrect. Mrs.
Strickland was the daughter of an Indian civilian,
who on his retirement had settled in the depths of
the country, but it was his habit every August to
take his family to Eastbourne for change of air;
and it was here, when she was twenty, that she met
Charles Strickland. He was twenty-three. They
played together, walked on the front together, lis-
tened together to the nigger minstrels ; and she had
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 5#
mack up her mind to accept him a week before he
proposed to her. They lived in London, first in
IHampstead, and then, as he grew more prosperous,
in town. Two children were born to them.
"He always seemed very fond of them. Even if
he was tired of me, I wonder that he had the heart
to leave them. It's all so incredible. Even now I
can hardly believe it's true."
At last she showed me the letter he had written.
I was curious to see it, but had not ventured to ask
"Mr DEAR AMY,
"/ think you will find everything all right in the
flat. I have given Anne your instructions, and din-
ner will be ready for you and the children when you
come. I shall not be there to meet you. I have made
up my mind to live apart from you, and I am going
to Paris in the morning. I shall post this letter on
my arrival. I shall not come back. My decision is
"Not a word of explanation or regret. Don't you
think it's inhuman?"
"It's a very strange letter under the circumstances,"
"There r s only one explanation, and that is that he's
not himself. I don't know who this woman is who's
got hold of him, but she's made him into another
man. fr's evidently been going on a long time."
54 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"What makes you think that?"
"Fred found that out. My husband said he went
to the club three or four nights a week to play
bridge. Fred knows one of the members, and said
something about Charles being a great bridge-player.
The man was surprised. He said he'd never even
seen Charles in the card-room. It's quite clear now
that when I thought Charles was at his club he was
I was silent for a moment. Then I thought of the
"It must have been difficult to explain to Robert,"
"Oh, I never said a word to either of them. You
see, we only came up to town the day before they
had to go back to school. I had the presence of
mind to say that their father had been called away
It could not have been very easy to be bright and
careless with that sudden secret in her heart, nor to
give her attention to all the things that needed doing
to get her children comfortably packed off. Mrs.
Strickland's voice broke again.
"And what is to happen to them, poor darlings?
How are we going to live?"
She struggled for self-control, and I saw her hands
clench and unclench spasmodically. It was dread-
"Of course I'll go over to Paris if you think I
can do any good, but you must tell me exactly what
you want me to do."
"I want him to come back."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 55
"I understood from Colonel MacAndrew
that you'd made up your mind to divorce
"I'll never divorce him," she answered with a
sudden violence. "Tell him that from me. He'll
never be able to marry that woman. I'm as obsti-
nate as he is, and I'll never divorce him. I have to
think of my children."
I think she added this to explain her attitude to
me, but I thought it was due to a very natural jealousy
rather than to maternal solicitude.
"Are you in love with him still?"
"I don't know. I want him to come back. If he'll
do that we'll let bygones be bygones. After all v
we've been married for seventeen years. I'm a broad-
minded woman. I wouldn't have minded what he did
as long as I knew nothing about it. He must know
that his infatuation won't last. If he'll come back
now everything can be smoothed over, and no one
will know anything about it."
It chilled me a little that Mrs. Strickland should
be concerned with gossip, for I did not know then
how great a part is played in women's life by the
opinion of others. It throws a shadow of insincerity
over their most deeply felt emotions.
It was known where Strickland was staying. His
partner, in a violent letter, sent to his bank, had
taunted him with hiding his whereabouts : and Strick-
land, in a cynical and humourous reply, had told his
partner exactly where to find him. He was apparent-
ly living in an hotel.
"I've never heard of it, 5 * said Mrs. Strickland,
56 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"But Fred knows it well. He says it's very expen-
She flushed darkly. I imagined that she saw her
husband installed in a luxurious suite of rooms, din-
ing at one smart restaurant after another, and she
pictured his days spent at race-meetings and his even-
ings at the play.
"It can't go on at his age," she said. "After all,
he's forty. I could understand it in a young man,
but I think it's horrible in a man of his years, with
children who are nearly grown up. His health will
never stand it."
Anger struggled in her breast with misery.
"Tell him that our home cries out for him. Every-
thing is just the same, and yet everything is differ-
ent. I can't live without him. I'd sooner kill my-
self. Talk to him about the past, and all we've gone
through together. What am I to say to the children
when they ask for him? His room is exactly as it
was when he left it. It's waiting for him. We're
all waiting for him."
Now she told me exactly what I should say. She
gave me elaborate answers to every possible observa-
tion of his.
"You will do everything you can for me?" she
said pitifully. "Tell him what a state I'm in."
I saw that she wished me to appeal to his sym-
pathies by every means in my power. She was weep-
ing freely. I was extraordinarily touched. I felt
indignant at Strickland's cold cruelty, and I promised
to do all I could to bring him back. I agreed to
go over on the next day but one, and to stay in
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 57
Paris till I had achieved something. Then, as It was
growing late and we were both exhausted by so much
emotion, I left her.
DURING the journey I thought over my er-
rand with misgiving. Now that I was free
from the spectacle of Mrs. Strickland's dis-
tress I could consider the matter more calmly. I
was puzzled by the contradictions that I saw in her
behaviour. She was very unhappy, but to excite my
sympathy she was able to make a show of her un-
happiness. It was evident that she had been prepared
to weep, for she had provided herself with a suffi-
ciency of handkerchiefs ; I admired her forethought,
but in retrospect it made her tears perhaps less
moving. I could not decide whether she desired the
return of her husband because she loved him, or
because she dreaded the tongue of scandal; and I
was perturbed by the suspicion that the anguish of
love contemned was alloyed in her broken heart
with the pangs, sordid to my young mind, of wounded
vanity. I had not yet learnt how contradictory is
human nature ; I did not know how much pose there
is in the sincere, how much baseness in the noble,
nor how much goodness in the reprobate.
But there was something of an adventure in my
trip, and my spirits rose as I approached Paris. I
saw myself, too, from the dramatic standpoint, and
I was pleased with my role of the trusted friend
bringing back the errant husband to his forgiving
wife. I made up my mind to see Strickland the
following evening, for I felt instinctively that the
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 59
hour must be chosen with delicacy. An appeal to
the emotions is little likely to be effectual before
luncheon. My own thoughts were then constantly
occupied with love, but I never could imagine con-
nubial bliss till after tea.
I enquired at my hotel for that in which Charles
Strickland was living. It was called the Hotel des
Beiges. But the concierge, somewhat to my surprise,
had never heard of it. I had understood from Mrs.
Strickland that it was a large and sumptuous place
at the back of the Rue de Rivoli. We looked it
out in the directory. The only hotel of that name
was in the Rue des Moines. The quarter was not
fashionable; it was not even respectable. I shook
, "I'm sure that's not it," I said.
The concierge shrugged his shoulders. There was
no other hotel of that name in Paris. It occurred
to me that Strickland had concealed his address,
after all. In giving his partner the one I knew
he was perhaps playing a trick on him. I do not
know why I had an inkling that it would appeal to
Strickland's sense of humour to bring a furious
stockbroker over to Paris on a fool's errand to an
ill-famed house in a mean street. Still, I thought
I had better go and see. Next day about six o'clock
I took a cab to the Rue des Moines, but dismissed
it at the corner, since I preferred to walk to the
hotel and look at it before I went in. It was a
street of small shops subservient to the needs of poor
people, and about the middle of it, on the left as
I walked down, was the Hotel des Beiges. My
60 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
own hotel was modest enough, but it was magnifi-
cent in comparison with this. It was a tall, shabby
building, that cannot have been painted for years,
and it had so bedraggled an air that the houses on
each side of it looked neat and clean. The dirty
windows were all shut. It was not here that Charles
Strickland lived in guilty splendour with the unknown
charmer for whose sake he had abandoned honour
and duty. I was vexed, for I felt that I had been
made a fool of, and I nearly turned away without
making an enquiry. I went in only to be able to
tell Mrs. Strickland that I had done my best.
The door was at the side of a shop. It stood
open, and just within was a sign : Bureau au premier.
I walked up narrow stairs, and on the landing found
a sort of box, glassed in, within which were a desk
and a couple of chairs. There was a bench out-
side, on which it might be presumed the night porter
passed uneasy nights. There was no one about, but
under an electric bell was written Gargon. I rang,
and presently a waiter appeared. He was a young
man with furtive eyes and a sullen look. He was
in shirt-sleeves and carpet slippers.
I do not know why I made my enquiry as casual
"Does Mr. Strickland live here by any chance?"
"Number thirty-two. On the sixth floor."
I was so surprised that for a moment I did not
"Is he in?"
The waiter looked at a board in the bureau.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE at
"He hasn't left his key. Go up and you'll see."
I thought it as well to put one more question.
"Madame est laf"
"Monsieur est seul"
The waiter looked at me suspiciously as I made
my way upstairs. They were dark and airless.
There was a foul and musty smell. Three flights
up a woman in a dressing-gown, with touzled hair,
opened a door and looked at me silently as I passed.
At length I reached the sixth floor, and knocked at
the door numbered thirty-two. There was a sound
within, and the door was partly opened. Charles
Strickland stood before me. He uttered not a word.
He evidently did not know me.
I told him my name. I tried my best to assume
an airy manner.
"You don't remember me. I had the pleasure
of dining with you last July."
"Come in," he said cheerily. "I'm delighted to
see you. Take a pew."
I entered. It was a very small room, overcrowded
with furniture of the style which the French know
as Louis Philippe. There was a large wooden bed-
stead on which was a billowing red eiderdown, and
there was a large wardrobe, a round table, a very
small washstand, and two stuffed chairs covered with
red rep. Everything was dirty and shabby. There
was no sign of the abandoned luxury that Colonel
MacAndrew had so confidently described. Strick-
land threw on the floor the clothes that burdened
one of the chairs, and I sat down on it.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
63 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
In that small room he seemed even bigger than
I remembered him. He wore an old Norfolk jacket,
and he had not shaved for several days. When last
I saw him he was spruce enough, but he looked ill
at ease: now, untidy and ill-kempt, he looked per-
fectly at home. I did not know how he would take
the remark I had prepared.
"I've come to see you on behalf of your wife."
"I was just going out to have a drink before din-
ner. You'd better come too. Do you like absinthe?"
"I can drink it."
"Come on, then."
He put on a bowler hat much in need of brushing.
"We might dine together. You owe me a din*
ner, you know."
"Certainly. Are you alone?"
I flattered myself that I had got in that impor-
tant question very naturally.
"Oh yes. In point of fact I've not spoken to a
soul^ for three days. My French isn't exactly bril-
I wondered as I preceded him downstairs what
had happened to the little lady in the tea-shop. Had
they quarrelled already, or was his infatuation
passed? It seemed hardly likely if, as appeared,
he had been taking steps for a year to make his
desperate plunge. We walked to the Avenue de
Clichy, and sat down at one of the tables on the
ment of a large cafe.
THE Avenue de Clichy was crowded at that
hour, and a lively fancy might see in the
passers-by the personages of many a sordid
romance. There were clerks and shopgirls; old fel-
lows who might have stepped out of the pages of
Honore de Balzac; members, male and female, of
the professions which make their profit of the frail-
ties of mankind. There is in the streets of the
poorer quarters of Paris a thronging vitality which
excites the blood and prepares the soul for the un-
"Do you know Paris well?" I asked.
"No. We came on our honeymoon. I haven't
"How on earth did you find out your hotel?"
"It was recommended to me. I wanted some-
The absinthe came, and with due solemnity we
dropped water over the melting sugar.
"I thought Fd better tell you at once why I had
come to see you," I said, not without embarrassment.
His eyes twinkled.
"I thought somebody would come along sooner
or later. Fve had a lot of letters from Amy."
"Then you know pretty well what I've got to say."
"I've not read them."
I lit a cigarette to give myself a moment's time.
I did not quite know now how to set about my
6* THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
mission. The eloquent phrases I had arranged, pa-
thetic or indignant, seemed out of place on the Ave-
nue de Clichy. Suddenly he gave a chuckle.
"Beastly job for you this, isn't it?"
"Oh, I don't know," I answered.
"Well, look here, you get it over, and then we'll
have a jolly evening."
"Has it occurred to you that your wife is fright-
"She'll get over it."
I cannot describe the extraordinary callousness
with which he made this reply. It disconcerted me,
but I did my best not to show it. I adopted the
tone used by my Uncle Henry, a clergyman, when
he was asking one of his relatives for a subscription
to the Additional Curates Society.
"You don't mind my talking to you frankly?"
He shook his head, smiling.
"Has she deserved that you should treat her like
"Have you any complaint to make against her?"
"Then, isn't it monstrous to leave her in this
fashion, after seventeen years of married life, with-
out a fault to find with her?"
I glanced at him with surprise. His cordial agree*
ment with all I said cut the ground from under my
feet. It made my position complicated, not to say
ludicrous. I was prepared to be persuasive, touch-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 65
5ng, and hortatory, admonitory and expostulating,
if need be vituperative even, indignant and sarcastic;
but what the devil does a mentor do when the sin-
ner makes no bones about confessing his sin? I
had no experience, since my own practice has always
been to deny everything.
"What, then?" asked Strickland.
1 tried to curl my lip.
"Well, if you acknowledge that, there doesn't
seem much more to be said."
"I don't think there is."
I felt that I was not carrying out my embassy with
any great skill. I was distinctly nettled.
"Hang it all, one can't leave a woman without a
"How is she going to live?"
"I've supported her for seventeen years. Why
shouldn't she support herself for a change?"
"Let her try."
Of course there were many things I might have
answered to this. I might have spoken of the eco-
nomic position of woman, of the contract, tacit and
overt, which a man accepts by his marriage, and of
much else; but I felt that there was only one point
which really signified.
"Don't you care for her any more?"
"Not a bit," he replied.
The matter was immensely serious for all the
parties concerned, but there was in the manner of
his answers such a cheerful effrontery that I had to
66 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
bite my lips in order not to laugh. I reminded my-
self that his behaviour was abominable. I worked
myself up into a state of moral indignation.
"Damn it all, there are your children to think
of. They've never done you any 'harm. They
didn't ask to be brought into the world. If you
chuck everything like this, they'll be thrown on the
"They've had a good many years of comfort. It's
much more than the majority of children have. Be-
sides, somebody will look after them. When it comes
to the point, the MacAndrews will pay for their
"But aren't you fond of them? They're such
awfully nice kids. Do you mean to say you don't
want to have anything more to do with them?"
"I liked them all right when they were kids, but
now they're growing up I haven't got any particular
feeling for them."
"It's just inhuman."
"I dare say."
"You don't seem in the least ashamed."
I tried another tack*
"Everyone will think you a perfect swine."
"Won't it mean anything to you to know that
people loathe and despise you?"
His brief answer was so scornful that it made
my question, natural though it was, seem absurd*
L reflected for a minute or two.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 67
"I wonder if one can live quite comfortably when
bne's conscious of the disapproval of one's, fellows?
Are you sure it won't begin to worry you? Every-
one has some sort of a conscience, and sooner or
later it will find you out. Supposing your wife died,
wouldn't you be tortured by remorse?"
He did not answer, and I waited for some time
for him to speak. At last I had to break the silence
"What have you to say to that?"
"Only that you're a damned fool."
"At all events, you can be forced to support your
wife and children," I retorted, somewhat piqued.
"I suppose the law has some protection to offer
"Can the law get blood out of a stone? I
haven't any money. IVe got about a hundred
I began to be more puzzled than before. It was
true that his hotel pointed to the most straitened
"What are you going to do when you've spent
He was perfectly cool, and his eyes kept that
mocking smile which made all I said seem rather
foolish. I paused for a kittle while to consider what
I had better say next. But it was he who spoke
"Why doesn't Amy marry again? She's com-
paratively young, and she's not unattractive. I can
recommend her as an excellent wife. If she wants
68 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
to divorce me I don't mind giving her the necessary
Now it was my turn to smile. He was very cun-
ning, but it was evidently this that he was aiming
af. He had some reason to conceal the fact that
he had run away with a woman, and he was using
every precaution to hide her whereabouts. I an-
swered with decision.
"Your wife says that nothing you can do will
ever induce her to divorce you. She's quite made
up her mind. You can put any possibility of that
definitely out of your head."
He looked at me with an astonishment that was
certainly not feigned. The smile abandoned his lips,
and he spoke quite seriously.
"But, my dear fellow, I don't care. It doesn't
matter a twopenny damn to me one way or the
"Oh, come now; you mustn't think us such fools
as all that. We happen to know that you came
away with a woman."
He gave a little start, and then suddenly burst
into a shout of laughter. He laughed so uproar-
iously that people sitting near us looked rouni, and
some of them began to laugh too.
"I don't see anything very amusing in that.'*
"Poor Amy," he grinned.
Then his face grew bitterly scornful.
"What poor minds women have gotl Love, It's
always love. They think a man leaves only
because he wants others. Do you think I should
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 69
be such a fool as to do what I've done for a woman?"
"Do you mean to say you didn't leave your wife
for another woman?"
"Of course not."
"On your word of honour?"
I don't know why I asked for that. It was very
ingenuous of me.
"On my word of honour."
"Then, what in God's name have you left her
"I want to paint."
I looked at him for quite a long time. I did not
understand. I thought he was mad. It must be
remembered that I was very young, and I looked
upon him as a middle-aged man. I forgot every-
thing but my own amazement.
"But you're forty."
"That's what made me think it was high time
"Have you ever painted?"
"I rather wanted to be a painter when I was a
boy, but my father made me go into business be-
cause he said there was no money in art. I began to
paint a bit a year ago. For the last year I've been
going to some classes at night."
"Was that where you went when Mrs. Strickland
thought you were playing bridge at your club?"
"Why didn't you tell her?"
"I preferred to keep it to myself."
"Can you paint?"
"Not yet. But I shall That's why I've come
70 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
over here. I couldn't get what I wanted in London.
Perhaps I can here."
"Do you think it's likely that a man will do any
good when he starts at your age? Most men begin
painting at eighteen."
"I can learn quicker than I could when I was
"What makes you think you have any talent?"
He did not answer for a minute. His gaze
rested on the passing throng, but I do not think he
saw it. His answer was no answer.
"I've got to paint."
"Aren't you taking an awful chance?"
He looked at me. His eyes had something
strange in them, so that I felt rather uncomfortable.
"How old are you? Twenty-three?"
It seemed to me that the question was beside the
point. It was natural that I should take chances;
but he was a man whose youth was past, a stock-
broker with a position of respectability, a wife and
two children. A course that would have been nat-
ural for me was absurd for him. I wished to be
"Of course a miracle may happen, and you may
be a great painter, but you must confess the chances
are a million to one against it. It'll be an awful
sell if at the end you have to acknowledge you've
made a hash of it."
"I've got to paint," he repeated.
"Supposing you're never anything more than
third-rate,, do you think it will have been worth
while to give up everything? After all, in any other
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 71
walk in life it doesn't matter if you're not very
good; you can get along quite comfortably if
you're just adequate; but it's different with an
"You blasted fool," he said.
"I don't see why, unless it's folly to say the
"I tell you I've got to paint. I can't help myself.
When a man falls into the water it doesn't matter
how he swims, well or badly : he's got to get out or
else he'll drown."
There was real passion in his voice, and in spite
of myself I was impressed. I seemed to feel in him
some vehement power that was struggling within
him; it gave me the sensation of something very
strong, overmastering, that held him, as it were,
against his will. I could not understand. He seemed
really to be possessed of a devil, and I felt that it
might suddenly turn and rend him. Yet he looked
ordinary enough. My eyes, resting on him cur-
iously, caused him no embarrassment. I wondered
what a stranger would have taken him to be, sitting
there in his old Norfolk jacket and his unbrushed
bowler; his trousers were baggy, his hands were not
clean; and his face, with the red stubble of the
unshaved chin, the little eyes, and the large, aggres-
sive nose, was uncouth and coarse. His mouth was
large, his lips were heavy and sensual. No; I could
not have placed him.
"You won't go back to your wife?" I said at last.
"She's willing to forget everything that's hap-
72 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
pened and start afresh. She'll never make you a
"She can go to hell."
"You don't care if people think you an utter black-
guard? You don't care if she and your children have
to beg their bread?"
"Not a damn."
I was silent for a moment in order to give greater
force to my next remark. I spoke as deliberately as
"You are a most unmitigated cad."
"Now that youVe got that off your chest, let's
go and have dinner."
I DARE say it would have been more seemly
to decline this proposal. I think perhaps I
should have made a show of the indignation
I really felt, and I am sure that Colonel MacAndrew
at least would have thought well of me if I had
been able to report my stout refusal to sit at the
same table with a man of such character. But the
fear of not being able to carry it through effectively
has always made me shy of assuming the moral
attitude; and in this case the certainty that my sen-
timents would be lost on Strickland made it peculiarly
embarrassing to utter them. Only the poet or the
saint can water an asphalt pavement in the confi-
dent anticipation that lilies will reward his labour.
I paid for what we had drunk, and we made our
way to a cheap restaurant, crowded and gay, where
We dined with pleasure. I had the appetite of youth
and he of a hardened conscience. Then we went to
a tavern to have coffee and liqueurs.
I had said all I had to say on the subject that
had brought me to Paris, and though I felt it in
a manner treacherous to Mrs. Strickland not to
pursue it, I could not struggle against his indifference.
It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the
same thing three times with unabated zest. I sol-
aced myself by thinking that it would be useful for
me to find out what I could about Strickland's state
74 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
of mind. It also interested me much more. But
this was not an easy thing to do, for Strickland was
not a fluent talker. He seemed to express himself
with difficulty, as though words were not the medium
with which his mind worked; and you had to guess
the intentions of his soul by hackneyed phrases, slang,
and vague, unfinished gestures. But though he said
nothing of any consequence, there was something in
his personality which prevented him from being dull.
Perhaps it was sincerity. He did not seem to care
much about the Paris he was now seeing for the
first time (I did not count the visit with his wife),
and he accepted sights which must have been strange
to him without any sense of astonishment. I have
been to Paris a hundred times, and it never fails to
give me a thrill of excitement; I can never walk its
streets without feeling myself on the verge of ad-
venture. Strickland remained placid. Looking back,
I think now that he was blind to everything but to
some disturbing vision in his soul.
One rather absurd incident took place. There
were a number of harlots in the tavern: some were
sitting with men, others by themselves ; and presently
I noticed that one of these was looking at us. When
she caught Strickland's eye she smiled. I do not
think he saw her. In a little while she went out,
but in a minute returned and, passing our table,
very politely asked us to buy her something to drink.
She sat down and I began to chat with her; but
it was plain that her interest was in Strickland.
I explained that he knew no more than two words
of French. She tried to talk to him, partly by
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 75
signs, partly in pidgin French, which, for some rea-
son, she thought would be more comprehensible to
him, and she had half a dozen phrases of English.
She made me translate what she could only express
in her own tongue, and eagerly asked for the mean-
ing of his replies. He was quite good-tempered, a
little amused, but his indifference was obvious.
"I think you've made a conquest," I laughed.
"I'm not flattered."
In his place I should have been more embarrassed
and less calm. She had laughing eyes and a most
charming mouth. She was young. I wondered what
she found so attractive in Strickland. She made
no secret of her desires, and I was bidden to trans-
"She wants you to go home with her."
"I'm not taking any," he replied.
I put his answer as pleasantly as I could. It seemed
to me a little ungracious to decline an invitation of
that sort, and I ascribed his refusal to lack of money.
"But I like him," she said. "Tell him it's for
When I translated this, Strickland shrugged hh
"Tell her to go to hell," he said.
His manner made his answer quite plain, and the
girl threw back her head with a sudden gesture.
Perhaps she reddened under her paint. She rose to
"Monsieur n'est pas poll" she said.
She walked out of the inn. I was slightly vexed.
"There wasn't any need to insult her that I can
76 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
see," I said. "After all, it was rather a compliment
she was paying you."
"That sort of thing makes me sick," he said
I looked at him curiously. There was a real dis-
taste in his face, and yet it was the face of a coarse
and sensual man. I suppose the girl had been at-
tracted by a certain brutality in it.
"I could have got all the women I wanted in
J-ondon. I didn't come here for that."
DURING the journey back to England I
thought much of Strickland. I tried to set
in order what I had to tell his wife. It
was unsatisfactory, and I could not imagine that
she would be content with me; I was not content
with myself. Strickland perplexed me. I could not
understand his motives. When I had asked him
what first gave him the idea of being a painter, he
was unable or unwilling to tell me. I could make
nothing of it. I tried to persuade myself than an
obscure feeling of revolt had been gradually com-
ing to a head in his slow mind, but to challenge this
was the undoubted fact that he had never shown
any impatience with the monotony of his life. If,
seized by an intolerable boredom, he had deter-
mined to be a painter merely to break with irksome
ties, it would have been comprehensible, and com-
monplace; but commonplace is precisely what I felt
he was not. At last, because I was romantic, I
devised an explanation which I acknowledged to be
far-fetched, but which was the only one that in any
way satisfied me. It was this : I asked myself wheth-
er there was not in his soul some deep-rooted instinct
of creation, which the circumstances of his life had
obscured, but which grew relentlessly, as a cancer
may grow in the living tissues, till at last it took
possession of his whole being and forced him irre-
sistibly to action. The cuckoo lays its egg in the
78 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
strange bird's, nest, and when the young one is
hatched it shoulders its foster-brothers out and breaks
at last the nest that has sheltered it.
But how strange it was that the creative instinct
should seize upon this dull stockbroker, to his own
ruin, perhaps, and to the misfortune of such as
were dependent on him; and yet no stranger than
the way in which the spirit of God has seized men,
powerful and rich, pursuing them with stubborn
vigilance till at last, conquered, they have abandoned
the joy of the world and the love of women for
the painful austerities of the cloister. Conversion
may come under many shapes, and it may be brought
about in many ways. With some men it needs a
cataclysm, as a stone may be broken to fragments by
the fury of a torrent; but with some it comes grad-
ually, as a stone may be worn away by the cease-
less fall of a drop of water. Strickland had the
directness of the fanatic and the ferocity of the
But to my practical mind it remained to be seen
whether the passion which obsessed him would be
justified of its works. When I asked him what his
brother-students at the night classes he had attended
in London thought of his painting, he answered with
"They thought it a joke/'
"Have you begun to go to a studio here?' 1
"Yes. The blighter came round this morning
the master, you know; when he saw my drawing he
just raised his eyebrows and walked on.*'
Strickland chuckled. He did not seem discouraged.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 79
He was independent of the opinion of his fel-
And it was just that which had most disconcerted
me in my dealings with him. When people say they
do not care what others think of them, for the most
part they deceive themselves. Generally they mean
only that they will do as they choose, in the confi-
dence that no one will know their vagaries; and at
the utmost only that they are willing to act con-
trary to the opinion of the majority because they
are supported by the approval of their neighbours.
It is not difficult to be unconventional in the eyes
of the world when your unconventionality is but the
convention of your set. It affords you then an inor-
dinate amount of self-esteem. You have the self-
satisfaction of courage without the inconvenience of
danger. But the desire for approbation is perhaps
the most deeply seated instinct of civilised man. No
one runs so hurriedly to the cover of respectability
as the unconventional woman who has exposed her-
self to the slings and arrows of outraged propriety.
I do not believe the people who tell me they do not
care a row of pins for the opinion of their fellows.
It is the bravado of ignorance. They mean only that
they do not fear reproaches for peccadillos which
they are convinced none will discover.
But here was a man who sincerely did not mind
what people thought of him, and so convention had
no hold on him; he was like a wrestler whose body
is oiled; you could not get a grip on him; it gave
him a freedom which was an outrage. I remember
saying to him :
SO THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Look here, if everyone acted like you, the world
couldn't go on."
"That's a damned silly thing to say. Everyone
doesn't want to act like me. The great majority
are perfectly content to do the ordinary thing.'*
And once I sought to be satirical.
"You evidently don't believe in the maxim: Act
so that every one of your actions is capable of being
made into a universal rule."
"I never heard it before, but it's rotten nonsense."
"Well, it was Kant who said it."
"I don't care; it's rotten nonsense."
Nor with such a man could you expect the appeal
to conscience to be effective. You might as well ask
for a reflection without a mirror. I take it that
conscience is the guardian in the individual of the
rules which the community has evolved for its own
preservation. It is the policeman in all our hearts,
set there to watch that we do not break its laws.
It is the spy seated in the central stronghold of the
ego. Man's desire for the approval of his fellows is
so strong, his dread of their censure so violent, that
he himself has brought his enemy within his gates;
and it keeps watch over him, vigilant always in the
interests of its master to crush any half-formed de-
sire to break away from the herd. It will force
him to place the good of society before his own. It
is the very strong link that attaches the individual to
the whole. And man, subservient to interests he
has persuaded himself are greater than his own,
makes himself a slave to his taskmaster. He sits
him in a seat of honour. At last, like a courtier,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
fawning on the royal stick that is laid about **.-
shoulders, he prides himself on the sensitiveness of
his conscience. Then he has no words hard enough
for the man who does not recognise its sway; for,
a member of society now, he realises accurately
enough that against him he is powerless. When I
saw that Strickland was really indifferent to the
blame his conduct must excite, I could only draw
back in horror as from a monster of hardly human
The last words he said to me when I bade him
good-night were :
"Tell Amy it's no good coming after me. Any*
how, I shall change my hotel, so she wouldn't be able
to find me."
"My own impression is that she's well rid of you,"
"My dear fellow, I only hope you'll be able to
$nake her see it. But women are very unintelligent."
WHEN I reached London I found waiting
for me an urgent request that I should
go to Mrs. Strickland's as soon after din-
ner as I could. I found her with Colonel Mac-
Andrew and his wife. Mrs. Strickland's sister was
older than she, not unlike her, but more faded; and
she had the efficient air, as though she carried the
British Empire in her pocket, which the wives of
senior officers acquire from the consciousness of be-
longing to a superior caste. Her manner was brisk,
and her good-breeding scarcely concealed her con-
viction that if you were not a soldier you might
as well be a counter-jumper. She hated the Guards,
whom she thought conceited, and she could not trust
herself to speak of their ladies, who were so remiss
in calling. Her gown was dowdy and expensive.
Mrs. Strickland was plainly nervous.
"Well, tell us your news," she said.
"I saw your husband. I'm afraid he's quite made
up his mind not to return." I paused a little. "He
wants to paint."
"What do you mean?" cried Mrs. Strickland, with
the utmost astonishment.
"Did you never know that he was keen on that
sort of thing."
"He must be as mad as a hatter," exclaimed the
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 83
Mrs. Strickland frowned a little. She was search-
ing among her recollections.
"I remember before we were married he used
to potter about with a paint-box. But you never saw
such daubs. We used to chaff him. He had abso-
lutely no gift for anything like that."
"Of course it's only an excuse," said Mrs. Mac-
Mrs. Strickland pondered deeply for some time.
It was quite clear that she could not make head
or tail of my announcement. She had put some
order into the drawing-room by now, her housewifely
instincts having got the better of her dismay; and
it no longer bore that deserted look, like a furnished
house long to let, which I had noticed on my first
visit after the catastrophe. But now that I had
seen Strickland in Paris it was difficult to imagine
him in those surroundings. I thought it could hardly
have failed to strike them that there was something
incongruous in him.
"But if he wanted to be an artist, why didn't he
say so?" asked Mrs. Strickland at last. "I should
have thought I was the last person to be unsympa-
thetic to to aspirations of that kind."
Mrs. MacAndrew tightened her lips. I imagine
that she had never looked with approval on her sis-
ter's leaning towards persons who cultivated the arts.
She spoke of "culchaw" derisively.
Mrs. Strickland continued:
"After all, if he had any talent I should be the
first to encourage it, I wouldn't have minded sac-
rifices. I'd much rather be married to a painter
84 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
than to a stockbroker. If it weren't for the children,
I wouldn't mind anything. I could be just as happy
in a shabby studio in Chelsea as in this flat."
"My dear, I have no patience with you," cried
Mrs. MacAndrew. "You don't mean to say you
believe a word of this nonsense ?"
u But I think it's true," I put in mildly.
She looked at me with good-humoured con-
"A man doesn't throw up his business and leave
his wife and children at the age of forty to become
a painter unless there's a woman in it. I suppose
he met one of your artistic friends, and she's
turned his head."
A spot of colour rose suddenly to Mrs. Strick-
land's pale cheeks.
"What is she like?"
I hesitated a little. I knew that I had a bombshell.
"There isn't a woman."
Colonel MacAndrew and his wife uttered expres-
sions of incredulity, and Mrs. Strickland sprang to
"Do you mean to say you never saw her?"
"There's no one to see. He's quite alone."
"That's preposterous," cried Mrs. MacAndrew.
"I knew I ought to have gone over myself," said
the Colonel. "You can bet your boots I'd have
routed her out fast enough."
"I wish you had gone over," I replied, somewhat
tartly. "You'd have seen that every one of your
suppositions was wrong. He's not at a smart hotel.
He's living in one tiny room in the most squalid
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE S3
way. If he's left his home, it's not to live a gay life.
He's got hardly any money."
"Do you think he's done something that we don't
know about, and is lying doggo on account of the
The suggestion sent a ray of hope in all their
breasts, but I would have nothing to do with it.
"If that were so, he would hardly have been such
a fool as to give his partner his address," I retorted
acidly. "Anyhow, there's one thing I'm positive of,
he didn't go away with anyone. He's not in love.
Nothing is farther from his thoughts."
There was a pause while they reflected over my
"Well, if what you say is true," said Mrs. Mac-
Andrew at last, "things aren't so bad as I thought."
Mrs. Strickland glanced at her, but said nothing.
She was very pale now, and her fine brow was dark
and lowering. I could not understand the expression
*f her face. Mrs. MacAndrew continued:
"If it's just a whim, he'll get over it."
"Why don't you go over to him, Amy?" hazarded
the Colonel. "There's no reason why you shouldn't
live with him in Paris for a year. We'll look after
the children. I dare say he'd got stale. Sooner or
later he'll be quite ready to come back to London,
and no great harm will have been done."
"I wouldn't do that," said Mrs. MacAndrew.
"I'd give him all the rope he wants. He'll come
back with his tail between his legs and settle down
again quite comfortably." Mrs. MacAndrew looked
at her sister coolly. "Perhaps you weren't very wise
86 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with him sometimes. Men are queer creatures, and
one has to know how to manage them."
Mrs. MacAndrew shared the common opinion of
her sex that a man is always a brute to leave a
woman who is attached to him, but that a woman is
much to blame if he does. Le cosur a ses raisons que
la raison ne connait pas.
Mrs. Strickland looked slowly from one to an-
other of us.
1 'He'll never come back," she said.
"Oh, my dear, remember what we've just heard.
He's been used to comfort and to having someone
to look after him. How long do you think it'll be
before he gets tired of a scrubby room in a scrubby
hotel? Besides, he hasn't any money. He must
"As long as I thought he'd run away with some
woman I thought there was a chance. I don't be-
lieve that sort of thing ever answers. He'd have got
sick to death of her in three months. But if he
hasn't gone because he's in love, then it's finished."
"Oh, I think that's awfully subtle," said the
Colonel, putting into the word all the contempt he
felt for a quality so alien to the traditions of his call-
ing. "Don't you believe it. He'll come back, and, as
Dorothy says, I dare say he'll be none the worse for
having had a bit of a fling."
"But I don't want him back," she said,
It was anger that had seized Mrs. Strickland, and
her pallor was the pallor of a cold and sudden rage.
She spoke quickly now, with little gasps.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 87
"I could have forgiven it if he'd fallen desperately
in love with someone and gone off with her. I should
have thought that natural. I shouldn't really have
blamed him. I should have thought he was led
away. Men are so weak, and women are so un-
scrupulous. But this is different. I hate him. I'll
never forgive him now."
Colonel MacAndrew and his wife began to talk
to her together. They were astonished. They told
her she was mad. They could not understand. Mrs.
Strickland turned desperately to me.
"Don't you see?" she cried.
"I'm not sure. Do you mean that you could have
forgiven him if he'd left you for a woman, but not
if he's left you for an idea? You think you're a
match for the one, but against the other you're help-
Mrs. Strickland gave me a look in which I read
no great friendliness, but did not answer. Perhaps
I had struck home. She went on in a low and trem-
bling voice :
"I never knew it was possible to hate anyone as
much as I hate him. Do you know, I've been com-
forting myself by thinking that however long it lasted
he'd want me at the end ? I knew when he was dying
he'd send for me, and I was ready to go; I'd have
nursed him like a mother, and at the last I'd have
told him that it didn't matter, I'd loved him always,
and I forgave him everything."
I have always been a little disconcerted by the pas-
sion women have for behaving beautifully at the
death-bed of those they love. Sometimes it seems
88 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
as if they grudge the longevity which postpones their
chance of an effective scene.
"But now now it's finished. I'm as indifferent
to him as if he were a stranger. I should like him
to die miserable, poor, and starving, without a friend.
I hope he'll rot with some loathsome disease. I've
done with him."
I thought it as well then to say what Strickland
"If you want to divorce him, he's quite willing to
do whatever is necessary to make it possible."
"Why should I give him his freedom?"
"I don't think he wants it. He merely thought it
might be more convenient to you."
Mrs. Strickland shrugged her shoulders impatient-
ly. I think I was a little disappointed in her. I
expected then people to be more of a piece than I do
now, and I was distressed to find so much vindictive-
ness in so charming a creature. I did not realise how
motley are the qualities that go to make up a human
being. Now I am well aware that pettiness and gran-
deur, malice and charity, hatred and love, can find
place side by side in the same human heart.
I wondered if there was anything I could say that
would ease the sense of bitter humiliation which at
present tormented Mrs. Strickland. I thought I
"You know, I'm not sure that your husband is
quite responsible for his actions. I do not think he
is himself. He seems to me to be possessed by some
power which is using him for its own ends, and in
whose hold he is as helpless as a fly in a spider's web.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 89
It's as though someone had cast a spell over him.
I'm reminded of those strange stories one sometimes
hears of another personality entering into a man and
driving out the old one. The soul lives unstably in
the body, and is capable of mysterious transforma^
tions. In the old days they would say Charles Strick-
land had a devil."
Mrs. MacAndrew smoothed down the lap of her
gown, and gold bangles fell over her wrists.
U A11 that seems to me very far-fetched," she said
acidly. "I don't deny that perhaps Amy took her
husband a little too much for granted. If she hadn't
been so busy with her own affairs, I can't believe that
she wouldn't have suspected something was the mat-
ter. I don't think that Alec could have something
0n his mind for a year or more without my having
ft pretty shrewd idea of it.'*
The Colonel stared into vacancy, and I wondered
whether anyone could be quite so innocent of guile
as he looked.
"But that doesn't prevent the fact that Charles
Strickland is a heartless beast." She looked at me
severely. "I can tell you why he left his wife from
pure selfishness and nothing else whatever."
"That is certainly the simplest explanation," I said.
But I thought it explained nothing. When, saying I
was tired, I rose to go, Mrs. Strickland made no at-
tempt to detain me.
WHAT followed showed that Mrs. Strickland
was a woman of character. Whatever an-
guish she suffered she concealed. She saw
shrewdly that the world is quickly bored by the recital
of misfortune, and willingly avoids the sight of dis-
tress. Whenever she went out and compassion for
her misadventure made her friends eager to entertain
her she bore a demeanour that was perfect. She
was brave, but not too obviously; cheerful, but not
brazenly; and she seemed more anxious to listen to
the troubles of others than to discuss her own. When-
ever she spoke of her husband it was with pity. Her
attitude towards him at first perplexed me. One day
she said to me :
"You know, I'm convinced you were mistaken about
Charles being alone. From what I've been able to
gather from certain sources that I can't tell you, I
know that he didn't leave England by himself."
"In that case he has a positive genius for covering
up his tracks."
She looked away and slightly coloured.
"What I mean is, if anyone talks to you about it,
please don't contradict it if they say he eloped with
"Of course not."
She changed the conversation as though it were a
matter to which she attached no importance. I dis-
covered presently that a peculiar story was circulating
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 91
among her friends. They said that Charles Strick-
land had become infatuated with a French dancer,
whom he had first seen in the ballet at the Empire,
and had accompanied her to Paris. I could not find
out how this had arisen, but, singularly enough, it
created much sympathy for Mrs. Strickland, and at
the same time gave her not a little prestige. This was
not without its use in the calling which she had de-
cided to follow. Colonel MacAndrew had not exag-
gerated when he said she would be penniless, and it
was necessary for her to earn her own living as quick-
ly as she could. She made up her mind to profit by
her acquaintance with so many writers, and without
loss of time began to learn shorthand and typewrit-
ing. Her education made it likely that she would be
a typist more efficient than the average, and her story
made her claims appealing. Her friends promised
to send her work, and took care to recommend her
to all theirs.
The MacAndrews, who were childless and in easy
circumstances, arranged to undertake the care of the
children, and Mrs. Strickland had only herself to
provide for. She let her flat and sold her furniture.
She settled in two tiny rooms in Westminster, and
faced the world anew. She was so efficient that it
was certain she would make a success of the adven-
IT was about five years after this that I decided to
live in Paris for a while. I was growing stale in
London. I was tired of doing much the same
thing every day. My friends pursued their course
with uneventfulness ; they had no longer any surprises
for me, and when I met them I knew pretty well what
they would say; even their love-affairs had a tedious
banality. We were like tram-cars running on their
lines from terminus to terminus, and it was possible
to calculate within small limits the number of pas*
jsengers they would carry. Life was ordered too
pleasantly. I was seized with panic. I gave up my
small apartment, sold my few belongings, and re-
solved to start afresh.
I called on Mrs. Strickland before I left. I had
not seen her for some time, and I noticed changes in
her : it was not only that she was older, thinner, and
more lined; I think her character had altered. She
had made a success of her business, and now had
an office in Chancery Lane ; she did little typing her-
self, but spent her time correcting the work of the
four girls she employed. She had had the idea of
giving it a certain daintiness, and she made much use
of blue and red inks; she bound the copy in coarse
paper, that looked vaguely like watered silk, in van
ious pale colours ; and she had acquired a reputation
for neatness and accuracy. She was making money.
But she could not get over the idea that to earn her
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 93
living was somewhat undignified, and she was in-
clined to remind you that she was a lady by birth.
She could not help bringing into her conversation the
names of people she knew which would satisfy you
that she had not sunk in the social scale. She was a
little ashamed of her courage and business capacity,
but delighted that she was going to dine the next
night with a K.C. who lived in South Kensington.
She was pleased to be able to tell you that her son
was at Cambridge, and it was with a little laugh that
she spoke of the rush of dances to which her daugh-
ter, just out, was invited. I suppose I said a very
"Is she going into your business?" I asked.
"Oh no; I wouldn't let her do that," Mrs. Strick-
land answered. "She's so pretty. I'm sure she'll
"I should have thought it would be a help to you."
"Several people have suggested that she should go
on the stage, but of course I couldn't consent to that,
I know all the chief dramatists, and I could get her
a part to-morrow, but I shouldn't like her to mix with
all sorts of people."
I was a little chilled by Mrs. Strickland's exclusive-
"Do you ever hear of your husband?"
"No; I haven't heard a word. He may be dead
for all I know."
"I may run across him in Paris. Would you like
me to let you know about him?"
She hesitated a minute.
"If he's in any real want I'm prepared to help
94 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
him a little. Yd send you a certain sum of money, and
you could give it him gradually, as he needed it."
"That's very good of you," I said.
But I knew it was not kindness that prompted the
offer. It is not true that suffering ennobles the char-
acter; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering,
for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.
IN point of fact, I met Strickland before I had
been a fortnight in Paris.
I quickly found myself a tiny apartment on
the fifth floor of a house in the Rue des Dames, and
for a couple of hundred francs bought at a second-
hand dealer's enough furniture to make it habitable.
I arranged with the concierge to make my coffee in
the morning and to keep the place clean. Then I
went to see my friend Dirk Stroeve.
Dirk Stroeve was one of those persons whom, ac-
cording to your character, you cannot think of without
derisive laughter or an embarrassed shrug of the
shoulders. Nature had made him a buffoon. He was
a painter, but a very bad one, whom I had met in
Rome, and I still remembered his pictures. He had a
genuine enthusiasm for the commonplace. His soul
palpitating with love of art, he painted the models
who hung about the stairway of Bernini in the Piazza
de Spagna, undaunted by their obvious picturesque-
ness; and his studio was full of canvases on which
were portrayed moustachioed, large-eyed peasants in
peaked hats, urchins in becoming rags, and women in
bright petticoats. Sometimes they lounged at the
steps of a church, and sometimes dallied among cy-
presses against a cloudless sky; sometimes they made
love by a Renaissance well-head, and sometimes
they wandered through the Campagna by the side of
an ox-waggon. They were carefully drawn and cart-
96 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
fully painted. A photograph could not have been
more exact. One of the painters at the Villa Medici
had called him Le Maitre de la Boite a Chocolats.
To look at his pictures you would have thought that
Monet, Manet, and the rest of the Impressionists had
"I don't pretend to be a great painter," he said.
"I'm not a Michael Angelo, no, but I have some-
thing. I sell. I bring romance into the homes of all
sorts of people. Do you know, they buy my pictures
not only in Holland, but in Norway and Sweden and
Denmark? It's mostly merchants who buy them, and
rich tradesmen. You can't imagine what the winters
are like in those countries, so long and dark and cold.
They like to think that Italy is like my pictures.
That's what they expect. That's what I expected
Italy to be before I came here."
And I think that was the vision that had remained
with him always, dazzling his eyes so that he could
not see the truth; and notwithstanding the brutality
of fact, he continued to see with the eyes of the spirit
an Italy of romantic brigands and picturesque ruins.
It was an ideal that he painted a poor one, common
and shop-soiled, but still it was an ideal; and it gave
his character a peculiar charm.
It was because I felt this that Dirk Stroeve was not
to me, as to others, merely an object of ridicule. His
fellow-painters made no secret of their contempt for
his work, but he earned a fair amount of money, and
they did not hesitate to make free use of his purse.
He was generous, and the needy, laughing at him be-
cause he believed so naively their stones of distress,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 97
borrowed from him with effrontery. He was very
emotional, yet his feeling, so easily aroused, had in
it something absurd, so that you accepted his kind-
ness, but felt no gratitude. To take money from him
was like robbing a child, and you despised him be-
cause he was so foolish. I imagine that a pickpocket,
proud of his light fingers, must feel a sort of indigna-
tion with the careless woman who leaves in a cab a
vanity-bag with all her jewels in it. Nature had
made him a butt, but had denied him insensibility.
He writhed under the jokes, practical and otherwise,
which were perpetually made at his expense, and yet
never ceased, it seemed wilfully, to expose himself
to them. He was constantly wounded, and yet his
good-nature was such that he could not bear malice :
the viper might sting him, but he never learned by ex
perience, and had no sooner recovered from his pain
than he tenderly placed it once more in his bosom.
His life was a tragedy written in the terms of knock-
about farce. Because I did not laugh at him he was
grateful to me, and he used to pour into my sympa-
thetic ear the long list of his troubles. The saddest
thing about them was that they were grotesque, and
the more pathetic they were, the more you wanted to
But though so bad a painter, he had a very delicate
feeling for art, and to go with him to picture-galleries
was a rare treat. His enthusiasm was sincere and his
criticism acute. He was catholic. He had not only
a true appreciation of the old masters, but sympathy
with the moderns. He was quick to discover talent,
and his praise was generous, I think I have never
98 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
known a man whose judgment was surer. And he was
better educated than most painters. He was not,
like most of them, ignorant of kindred arts, and his
taste for music and literature gave depth and variety
to his comprehension of painting. To a young man
like myself his advice and guidance were of incom-
When I left Rome I corresponded with him, and
about once in two months received from him long let-
ters in queer English, which brought before me vivid-
ly his spluttering, enthusiastic, gesticulating conversa-
tion. Some time before I went to Paris he had
married an Englishwoman, and was now settled in
a studio in Montmartre. I had not seen him for four
years, and had never met his wife.
I HAD not announced my arrival to Stroeve, and
when I rang the bell of his studio, on opening
the door himself, for a moment he did not know
me. Then he gave a cry of delighted surprise and
drew me in. It was charming to be welcomed with
so much eagerness. His wife was seated near the
stove at her sewing, and she rose as I came in. He
"Don't you remember?" he said to her. "I've
talked to you about him often." And then to me:
"But why didn't you let me know you were coming?
How long have you been here? How long are you
going to stay ? Why didn't you come an hour earlier,
and we would have dined together?"
He bombarded me with questions. He sat me
down in a chair, patting me as though I were a cush-
ion, pressed cigars upon me, cakes, wine. He could
not let me alone. He was heart-broken because
he had no whisky, wanted to make coffee for me,
racked his brain for something he could possibly do
for me, and beamed and laughed, and in the exuber-
ance of his delight sweated at every pore.
"You haven't changed," I said, smiling, as I looked
He had the same absurd appearance that I remem-
bered. He was a fat little man, with short legs,
young still he could not have been more than thirty
100 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
- but prematurely bald. His face was perfectly
round, and he had a very high colour, a white skin,
red cheeks, and red lips. His eyes were blue and
round too, he wore large gold-rimmed spectacles, and
his eyebrows were so fair that you could not see them.
He reminded you of those jolly, fat merchants that
When I told him that I meant to live in Paris for a
while, and had taken an apartment, he reproached me
bitterly for not having let him know. He would have
found me an apartment himself, and lent me furni-
ture did I really mean that I had gone to the ex-
pense of buying it? and he would have helped me
to move in. He really looked upon it as unfriendly
that I had not given him the opportunity of making
himself useful to me. Meanwhile, Mrs. Stroeve sat
quietly mending her stockings, without talking, and
she listened to all he said with a quiet smile on her
"So, you see, I'm married," he said suddenly;
"what do you think of my wife?"
He beamed at her, and settled his spectacles on
the bridge of his nose. The sweat made them con-
stantly slip down.
"What on earth do you expect me to say to that?"
"Really, Dirk," put in Mrs. Stroeve, smiling.
"But isn't she wonderful? I tell you, my boy, lose
no time; get married as soon as ever you can. I'm
the happiest man alive. Look at her sitting there.
Doesn't she make a picture ? Chardin, eh? I've seen
all the most beautiful women in the world; I've never
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 101
seen anyone more beautiful than Madame Dirk
"If you don't be quiet, Dirk, I shall go away."
"Mon petit choux" he said.
She flushed a little, embarrassed by the passion in
his tone. His letters had told me that he was very
much in love with his wife, and I saw that he could
hardly take his eyes off her. I could not tell if she
loved him. Poor pantaloon, he was not an object to
excite love, but the smile in her eyes was affectionate,
and it was possible that her reserve concealed a very
deep feeling. She was not the ravishing creature that
his love-sick fancy saw, but she had a grave comeli-
ness. She was rather tall, and her gray dress, simple
and quite well-cut, did not hide the fact that her fig-
ure was beautiful. It was a figure that might have
appealed more to the sculptor than to the costumier.
Her hair, brown and abundant, was plainly done,
her face was very pale, and her features were good
without being distinguished. She had quiet gray eyes.
She just missed being beautiful, and in missing it was
not even pretty. But when Stroeve spoke of Chardin
it was not without reason, and she reminded me cu-
riously of that pleasant housewife in her mob-cap
and apron whom the great painter has immortalised.
I could imagine her sedately busy among her pots
and pans, making a ritual of her household duties,
so that they acquired a moral significance; I did not
suppose that she was clever or could ever be amusing,
but there was something in her grave intentness which
excited my interest. Her reserve was not without
mystery. I wondered why she had married Dirft
102 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Stroeve. Though she was English, I could not ex-
actly place her, and it was not obvious from what
rank in society she sprang, what had been her up-
bringing, or how she had lived before her marriage.
She was very silent, but when she spoke it was with
a pleasant voice, and her manners were natural.
I asked Stroeve if he was working.
"Working? I'm painting better than IVe ever
We sat in the studio, and he waved his hand to
an unfinished picture on an easel. I gave a little
start. He was painting a group of Italian peasants,
in the costume of the Campagna, lounging on the
steps of a Roman church.
"Is that what you're doing now?" I asked.
"Yes. I can get my models here just as well as
"Don't you think it's very beautiful?" said Mrs.
"This foolish wife of mine thinks I'm a great
artist," said he.
His apologetic laugh did not disguise the pleasure
that he felt. His eyes lingered on his picture. It
was strange that his critical sense, so accurate and
unconventional when he dealt with the work of others,
should be satisfied in himself with what was hack-
neyed and vulgar beyond belief.
"Show him some more of your pictures," she said.
Though he had suffered so much from the ridicule
of his friends, Dirk Stroeve, eager for praise and
naively self-satisfied, could never resist displaying his
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 103
work. He brought out a picture of two curly-headed
Italian urchins playing marbles.
"Aren't they sweet?" said Mrs. Stroeve.
And then he showed me more. I discovered that
in Paris he had been painting just the same stale,
obviously picturesque things that he had painted for
years in Rome. It was all false, insincere, shoddy;
and yet no one was more honest, sincere, and frank
than Dirk Stroeve. Who could resolve the contra-
I do not know what put it into my head to ask:
"I say, have you by any chance run across a
painter called Charles Strickland ?"
"You don't mean to say you know him?'* cried
"Beast," said his wife.
"Ma pauvre cherie" He went over to her and
kissed both her hands. "She doesn't like him. How
strange that you should know Strickland !"
"I don't like bad manners," said Mrs. Stroeve.
Dirk, laughing still, turned to me to explain.
"You see, I asked him to come here one day and
look at my pictures. Well, he came, and I showed
him everything I had." Stroeve hesitated a moment
with embarrassment. I do not know why he had
begun the story against himself; he felt an awkward-
ness at finishing it. "He looked at at my pictures,
and he didn't say anything. I thought he was re-
serving his judgment till the end. And at last I said :
'There, that's the lot!' He said: 'I came to ask
you to lend me twenty francs.' "
104 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"And Dirk actually gave it him," said his wife in-
"I was so taken aback. I didn't like to refuse. He
put the money in his pocket, just nodded, said
'Thanks,' and walked out."
Dirk Stroeve, telling the story, had such a look of
blank astonishment on his round, foolish face that
it was almost impossible not to laugh.
"I shouldn't have minded if he'd said my pictures
were bad, but he said nothing nothing."
"And you will tell the story, Dirk," said his wife.
It was lamentable that one was more amused by
the ridiculous figure cut by the Dutchman than out-
raged by Strickland's brutal treatment of him.
"I hope I shall never see him again," said Mrs.
Stroeve smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He
had already recovered his good-humour.
"The fact remains that he's a great artist, a very
"Strickland?" I exclaimed. "It can't be the same
"A big fellow with a red beard. Charles Strick-
land. An Englishman."
"He had no beard when I knew him, but if
he has grown one it might well be red. The
man I'm thinking of only began painting five years
"That's it. He's a great artist."
"Have I ever been mistaken?" Dirk asked me. "I
tell you he has genius. I'm convinced of it. In a hun-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 105
dred years, if you and I are remembered at all, it will
be because we knew Charles Strickland."
I was astonished, and at the same time I was very
much excited. I remembered suddenly my last talk
"Where can one see his work?" I asked. "Is he
having any success? Where is he living?"
"No; he has no success. I don't think he's ever
sold a picture. When you speak to men about him
they only laugh. But I know he's a great artist.
After all, they laughed at Manet. Corot never sold
a picture. I don't know where he lives, but I can
take you to see him. He goes to a cafe in the Avenue
de Clichy at seven o'clock every evening. If you like
we'll go there to-morrow."
"I'm not sure if he'll wish to see me. I think I
may remind him of a time he prefers to forget. But
I'll come all the same. Is there any chance of seeing
any of his pictures?"
"Not from him. He won't show you a thing.
There's a little dealer I know who has two or three.
But you musn't go without me ; you wouldn't under-
stand. I must show them to you myself."
"Dirk, you make me impatient," said Mrs. Stroeve*
"How can you talk like that about his pictures when
he treated you as he did?" She turned to me. "Do
you know, when some Dutch people came here to buy
Dirk's pictures he tried to persuade them to buy
Strickland's? He insisted on bringing them here to
"What did you think of them?" I asked her, smil-
106 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"They were awful."
"Ah, sweetheart, you don't understand."
"Well, your Dutch people were furious with you.
They thought you were having a joke with them."
Dirk Stroeve took off his spectacles and wiped
them. His flushed face was shining with excitement.
"Why should you think that beauty, which is the
most precious thing in the world, lies like a stone on
the beach for the careless passer-by to pick up idly?
Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the
artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the
torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it
is not given to all to know it. To recognize it you
must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is a mel-
ody that he sings to you, and to hear it again in your
own heart you want knowledge and sensitiveness and
"Why did I always think your pictures beautiful,
Dirk? I admired them the very first time I saw
Stroeve's lips trembled a little.
"Go to bed, my precious. I will walk a few steps
with our friend, and then I will come back."
DIRK STROEVE agreed to fetch me on the
following evening and take me to the cafe at
which Strickland was most likely to be found.
I was interested to learn that it was the same as that
at which Strickland and I had drunk absinthe when I
had gone over to Paris to see him. The fact that
he had never changed suggested a sluggishness of
habit which seemed to me characteristic.
"There he is," said Stroeve, as we reached the cafe.
Though it was October, the evening was warm, and
the tables on the pavement were crowded. I ran my
eyes over them, but did not see Strickland.
"Look. Over there, in the corner. He's playing
I noticed a man bending over a chess-board, but
could see only a large felt hat and a red beard. We
threaded our way among the tables till we came to
He looked up.
"Hulloa, fatty. What do you want?"
"I've brought an old friend to see you."
Strickland gave me a glance, and evidently did not
recognise me. He resumed his scrutiny of the chess-
"Sit down, and don't make a noise," he said.
He moved a piece and straightway became ab-
sorbed in the game. Poor Stroeve gave me a troubled
108 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
look, but I was not disconcerted by so little. I or-
dered something to drink, and waited quietly till
Strickland had finished. I welcomed the opportunity
to examine him at my ease. I certainly should never
have known him. In the first place his red beard,
ragged and untrimmed, hid much of his face, and his
hair was long ; but the most surprising change in him
;was his extreme thinness. It made his great nose pro-
trude more arrogantly; it emphasized his cheek-
bones; it made his eyes seem larger. There were
deep hollows at his temples. His body was cadaver-
ous. He wore the same suit that I had seen him in
five years before; it was torn and stained, threadbare,
and it hung upon him loosely, as though it had been
made for someone else. I noticed his hands, dirty,
with long nails; they were merely bone and sinew,
large and strong; but I had forgotten that they were
so shapely. He gave me an extraordinary impression
as he sat there, his attention riveted on his game an
impression of great strength; and I could not under-
stand why it was that his emaciation somehow made
it more striking.
Presently, after moving, he leaned back and gazed
with a curious abstraction at his antagonist. This
was a fat, bearded Frenchman. The Frenchman
considered the position, then broke suddenly into
jovial expletives, and with an impatient gesture, gath-
ering up the pieces, flung them into their box. He
cursed Strickland freely, then, calling for the waiter,
paid for the drinks, and left. Stroeve drew his chair
closer to the table.
"Now I suppose we can talk," he said.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 109
Strickland's eyes rested on him, and there was in
them a malicious expression. I felt sure he was seek-
ing for some gibe, could think of none, and so was
forced to silence.
"I've brought an old friend to see you," repeated
Stroeve, beaming cheerfully.
Strickland looked at me thoughtfully for nearly a
minute. I did not speak.
"I've never seen him in my life," he said.
I do not know why he said this, for I felt certain I
had caught a gleam of recognition in his eyes. I was
not so easily abashed as I had been some years earlier.
"I saw your wife the other day," I said. "I felt
sure you'd like to have the latest news of her."
He gave a short laugh. His eyes twinkled.
"We had a jolly evening together," he said. "How
long ago is it?"
He called for another absinthe. Stroeve, with vol-
uble tongue, explained how he and I had met, and by
what an accident we discovered that we both knew
Strickland. I do not know if Strickland listened. He
glanced at me once or twice reflectively, but for the
most part seemed occupied with his own thoughts;
and certainly without Stroeve's babble the conver-
sation would have been difficult. In half an hour the
Dutchman, looking at his watch, announced that he
must go. He asked whether I would come too. I
thought, alone, I might get something out of Strick-
land, and so answered that I would stay.
When the fat man had left I said:
"Dirk Stroeve thinks you're a great artist. "
110 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"What the hell do you suppose I care?"
"Will you let me see your pictures?''
"Why should I?"
"I might feel inclined to buy one."
"I might not feel inclined to sell one."
"Are you making a good living?" I asked, smiling.
"Do I look it?"
"You look half starved."
"I am half starved."
"Then come and let's have a bit of dinner."
"Why do you ask me?"
"Not out of chanty," I answered coolly. "I don't
really care a twopenny damn if you starve or not."
His eyes lit up again.
"Come on, then," he said, getting up. "I'd like
a decent meal."
I LET him take me to a restaurant of his choice,
but on the way I bought a paper. When we had
ordered our dinner, I propped it against a bottle
of St. Galmier and began to read. We ate in silence.
I felt him looking at me now and again, but I took
no notice. I meant to force him to conversation.
"Is there anything in the paper?" he said, as
we approached the end of our silent meal.
I fancied there was in his tone a slight note of
"I always like to read the Jeuilleton on the drama,"
I folded the paper and put it down beside me.
"I've enjoyed my dinner," he remarked.
"I think we might have our coffee here, don't
We lit our cigars. I smoked in silence. I noticed
that now and then his eyes rested on me with a faint
smile of amusement. I waited patiently.
"What have you been up to since I saw you last?"
he asked at length.
I had not very much to say. It was a record of
hard work and of little adventure; of experiments
in this direction and in that; of the gradual acquisition
of the knowledge of books and of men. I took care
to ask Strkkland nothing about his own doings. I
showed not the least interest in him, and at last I was
112 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
rewarded. He began to talk of himself. But with
his poor gift of expression he gave but indications
of what he had gone through, and I had to fill up
the gaps with my own imagination. It was tanta-
lising to get no more than hints into a character that
interested me so much. It was like making one's way^
through a mutilated manuscript. I received the im-
pression of a life which was a bitter struggle against
every sort of difficulty ; but I realised that much which
would have seemed horrible to most people did not
in the least affect him. Strickland was distinguished
from most Englishmen by his perfect indifference
to comfort; it did not irk him to live always in one
shabby room; he had no need to be surrounded by
beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever no-
ticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of thd
room in which on my first visit I found him. He did
not want arm-chairs to sit in; he really felt more at
his ease on a kitchen chair. He ate with appetite,
but was indifferent to what he ate ; to him it was only
food that he devoured to still the pangs of hunger;
and when no food was to be had he seemed capable
of doing without. I learned that for six months he;
had lived on a loaf of bread and a bottle of milk a
day. He was a sensual man, and yet was indifferent
to sensual things. He looked upon privation as no
hardship. There was something impressive in the
manner in which he lived a life wholly of the spirit.
When the small sum of money which he brougnt
with him from London came to an end he suffered
[from no dismay. He sold no pictures; I think he
made little attempt to sell any; he set about finding
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 113
some way to make a bit of money. He told me with
grim humour of the time he had spent acting as guide
to Cockneys who wanted to see the night side of life
in Paris; it was an occupation that appealed to his
sardonic temper and somehow or other he had ac-
quired a wide acquaintance with the more disrep-
utable quarters of the city. He told me of the long
hours he spent walking about the Boulevard de la
Madeleine on the look-out for Englishmen, prefer-
ably the worse for liquor, who desired to see things
which the law forbade. When in luck he was able
to make a tidy sum; but the shabbiness of his clothes
at last frightened the sight-seers, and he could not
find people adventurous enough to trust themselves
to him. Then he happened on a job to translate the
advertisements of patent medicines which were sent
broadcast to the medical profession in England. Dur-
ing a strike he had been employed as a house-painter*
Meanwhile he had never ceased to work at his art;
but had soon tiring of the__s&idios, entirely by him-
self. He had never been so poor that he could not
buy canvas and paint, and really he needed nothing
else. So far as I could make out, he painted with
great difficulty, and in his unwillingness to accept
help from anyone lost much time in finding out for
himself the solution of technical problems which pre-
ceding generations had already worked out one by
one. He was aiming at something, I knew not what,
land perhaps he hardly knew himself; and I got again
more strongly the impression of a man possessed.
He did not seem quite sane. It seemed to me that
he would not show his pictures because he was really
114 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
not interested in them. He lived in a dream, and
the reality meant nothing to him. I had the feeling
that he worked on a canvas with all the force of his
violent personality, oblivious of everything in his ef-
fort to get what he saw with the mind's eye; and
then, having finished, not the picture perhaps, for I
had an idea that he seldom brought anything to com-
pletion, but the passion that fired him, he lost all care
for it. He was never satisfied with what he had done ;
it seemed to him of no consequence compared with
the vision that obsessed his mind.
"Why don't you ever send your work to exhibi-
tions?" I asked. "I should have thought you'd like
to know what people thought about it."
I cannot describe the unmeasurable contempt he put
into the two words.
"Don't you want fame? It's something that most
artists haven't been indifferent to."
"Children. How can you care for the opinion of
the crowd, when you don't care twopence for the
opinion of the individual?"
"We're not all reasonable beings," I laughed.
"Who makes fame ? Critics, writers, stockbrokers,
"Wouldn't it give you a rather pleasing sensation
to think of people you didn't know and had never seen
receiving emotions, subtle and passionate, from the
work of your hands ? Everyone likes power. I can't
imagine a more wonderful exercise of it than to move
the souls of men to pity or terror."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 115
"Why do you mind if you paint well or
"I don't. I only want to paint what I see."
"I wonder if I could write on a desert island, with
the certainty that no eyes but mine would ever see
what I had written."
Strickland did not speak for a long time, but his
eyes shone strangely, as though he saw something
that kindled his soul to ecstasy.
"Sometimes IVe thought of an island lost in a
boundless sea, where I could live in some hidden val-
ley, among strange trees, in silence. There I think
I could find what I want."
He did not express himself quite like this. He
used gestures instead of adjectives, and he halted.
I have put into my own words what I think he wanted
"Looking back on the last five years, do you think
it was worth it?" I asked.
He looked at me, and I saw that he did not know
what I meant. I explained.
"You gave up a comfortable home and a life as
happy as the average. You were fairly prosperous.
You seem to have had a rotten time in Paris. If you
had your time over again would you do what you
"Do you know that you Haven't asked anything
about your wife and children? Do you never think
"I wish you weren't so damned monosyllabic.
116 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Have you never had a moment's regret for all the
unhappiness you caused them?"
His lips broke into a smile, and he shook his head.
"I should have thought sometimes you couldn't
help thinking of the past. I don't mean the past of
seven or eight years ago, but further back still, when
you first met your wife, and loved her, and married
her. Don't you remember the joy with which you
first took her in your arms?"
"I don't think of the past. The only thing that
matters is the everlasting present."
I thought for a moment over this reply. It was
obscure, perhaps, but I thought that I saw dimly his
"Are you happy?" I asked.
I was silent. I looked at him reflectively. He held
my stare, and presently a sardonic twinkle lit up his
"I'm afraid you disapprove of me?"
"Nonsense," I answered promptly; "I don't dis-
approve of the boa-constrictor; on the contrary, I'm
interested in his mental processes."
"It's a purely professional interest you take in
"It's only right that you shouldn't disapprove of
me. You have a despicable character."
"Perhaps that's why you feel at home with me,"
He smiled dryly, but said nothing. I wish I knew
how to describe his smile. I do not know that it
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 117
was attractive, but it lit up his face, changing the ex-
pression, which was generally sombre, and gave it a
look of not ill-natured malice. It was a slow smile,
starting and sometimes ending in the eyes; it was
very sensual, neither cruel nor kindly, but suggested
rather the inhuman glee of the satyr. It was his
smile that made me ask him :
"Haven't you been in love since you came to
"I haven't got time for that sort of nonsense. Life
isn't long enough for love and art."
"Your appearance doesn't suggest the anchorite."
"All that business fills me with disgust."
"Human nature is a nuisance, isn't it?" I said.
"Why are you sniggering at me?"
"Because I don't believe you."
"Then you're a damned fool."
I paused, and I looked at him searchingly.
"What's the good of trying to humbug me?" I
"I don't know what you mean."
"Let me tell you. I imagine that for months the
matter never comes into your head, and you're able
to persuade yourself that you've finished with it for
good and all. You rejoice in your freedom, and you
feel that at last you can call your soul your own.
You seem to walk with your head among the stars.
And then, all of a sudden you can't stand it any more,
and you notice that all the time your feet have been
walking in the mud. And you want to roll yourself
in it. And you find some woman, coarse and low and
118 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
vulgar, some beastly creature in whom all the horror
of sex is blatant, and you fall upon her like a wild
animal. You drink till you're blind with rage."
He stared at me without the slightest movement.
I held his eyes with mine. I spoke very slowly.
'Til tell you what must seem strange, that when
it's over you feel so extraordinarily pure. You feel
like a disembodied spirit, immaterial; and you seem
to be able to touch beauty as though it were a palpable
thing; and you feel an intimate communion with the
breeze, and with the trees breaking into leaf, and
with the iridescence of the river. You feel like God.
Can you explain that to me?"
He kept his eyes fixed on mine till I had finished,
and then he turned away. There was on his face a
strange look, and I thought that so might a man
look when he had died under the torture. He was
silent, I knew that our conversation was ended.
I SETTLED down in Paris and began to write
a play. I led a very regular life, working in
the morning, and in the afternoon lounging
about the gardens of the Luxembourg or sauntering
through the streets. I spent long hours in the Louvre,
the most friendly of all galleries and the most con-
venient for meditation ; or idled on the quays, finger-
ing second-hand books that I never meant to buy.
I read a page here and there, and made acquaintance
with a great many authors whom I was content to
know thus desultorily. In the evenings I went to see
my friends. I looked in often on the Stroeves, and
sometimes shared their modest fare. Dirk Stroeve
flattered himself on his skill in cooking Italian dishes,
and I confess that his spaghetti were very much bet-
ter than his pictures. It was a dinner for a King
when he brought in a huge dish of it, succulent with
tomatoes, and we ate it together with the good house-
hold bread and a bottle of red wine. I grew more in-
timate with Blanche Stroeve, and I think, because I
was English and she knew few English people, she
was glad to see me. She was pleasant and simple,
but she remained always rather silent, and I knew
not why, gave me the impression that she was con-
cealing something. But I thought that was perhaps
no more than a natural reserve accentuated by the
verbose frankness of her husband. Dirk never con-
cealed anything. He discussed the most intimate
120 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
matters with a complete lack of self-consciousnesi.
Sometimes he embarrassed his wife, and the only
time I saw her put out of countenance was when he
insisted on telling me that he had taken a purge, and
went into somewhat realistic details on the subject.
The perfect seriousness with which he narrated his
misfortunes convulsed me with laughter, and this
added to Mrs. Stroeve's irritation.
"You seem to like making a fool of yourself," she
His round eyes grew rounder still, and his brow
puckered in dismay as he saw that she was angry.
"Sweetheart, have I vexed you? I'll never take
another. It was only because I was bilious. I lead
a sedentary life. I don't take enough exercise. For
three days I hadn't . . ."
"For goodness sake, hold your tongue," she in-
terrupted, tears of annoyance in her eyes.
His face fell, and he pouted his lips like a scolded
child. He gave me a look of appeal, so that I
might put things right, but, unable to control myself,
I shook with helpless laughter.
We went one day to the picture-dealer in whose
shop Stroeve thought he could show me at least two
or three of Strickland's pictures, but when we arrived
were told that Strickland himself had taken them
away. The dealer did not know why.
"But don't imagine to yourself that I make myself
bad blood on that account. I took them to oblige
Monsieur Stroeve, and I said I would sell them if I
could. But really " He shrugged his shoulders*
"I'm interested in the young men, but voyons, yoir
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 121
yourself, Monsieur Stroeve, you don't think there's
any talent there."
"I give you my word of honour, there's no one
painting to-day in whose talent I am more convinced.
Take my word for it, you are missing a good affair.
Some day those pictures will be worth more than all
you have in your shop. Remember Monet, who could
not get anyone to buy his pictures for a hundred
francs. What are they worth now?"
"True. But there were a hundred as good painters
as Monet who couldn't sell their pictures at that time,
and their pictures are worth nothing still. How can
one tell? Is merit enough to bring success? Don't
helieve it. Du reste, it has still to be proved that this
friend of yours has merit. No one claims it for him
but Monsieur Stroeve."
"And how, then, will you recognise merit?" asked
Dirk, red in the face with anger.
"There is only one way by success."
"Philistine," cried Dirk.
"But think of the great artists of the past Ra-
phael, Michael Angelo, Ingres, Delacroix they were
"Let us go," said Stroeve to me, "or I shall kill
I SAW Strickland not infrequently, and now and
then played chess with him. He was of uncer-
tain temper. Sometimes he would sit silent and
abstracted, taking no notice of anyone ; and at others,
when he was in a good humour, he would talk in his
own halting way. He never said a clever thing, but
he had a vein of brutal sarcasm which was not in-
effective, and he always said exactly what he thought.
[He was indifferent to the susceptibilities of others,
and when he wounded them was amused. He was
constantly offending Dirk Stroeve so bitterly that he
flung away, vowing he would never speak to him
again; but there was a solid force in Strickland that
attracted the fat Dutchman against his will, so that
he came back, fawning like a clumsy dog, though he
knew that his only greeting woulb! be the blow he
I do not know why Strickland put up with me.
Our relations were peculiar. One day he asked me
to lend him fifty francs.
"I wouldn't dream of it," I replied.
"It wouldn't amuse me."
"I'm frightfully hard up, you know."
"I don't care."
"You don't care if I starve?"
"Why on earth should I?" I asked in my turn.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 123
He looked at me for a minute or two, pulling his
untidy beard. I smiled at him.
"What are you amused at?" he said, with a gleam
of anger in his eyes.
"You're so simple. You recognise no obligations.
No one is under any obligation to you."
"Wouldn't it make you uncomfortable if I went
and hanged myself because I'd been turned out of
my room as I couldn't pay the rent?"
"Not a bit."
"You're bragging. If I really did you'd be over-
whelmed with remorse."
"Try it, and we'll see," I retorted.
A smile flickered in his eyes, and he stirred his
absinthe in silence.
"Would you like to play chess?" I asked.
"I don't mind."
We set up the pieces, and when the board was
ready he considered it with a comfortable eye. There
is a sense of satisfaction in looking at your men all
ready for the fray.
"Did you really think I'd lend you money?" I
"I didn't see why you shouldn't."
"You surprise me."
"It's disappointing to find that at heart you are
sentimental. I should have liked you better if you
hadn't made that ingenuous appeal to my sympathies."
"I should have despised you if you'd been moved
by it," he answered.
124 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"That's better," I laughed.
We began to play. We were both absorbed in the
game. When it was finished I said to him :
"Look here, if you're hard up, let me see your pic-
tures. If there's anything I like I'll buy it."
"Go to hell," he answered.
He got up and was about to go away. I stopped
"You haven't paid for your absinthe," I said, smil-
He cursed me, flung down the money and left.
I did not see him for several days after that, but
one evening, when I was sitting in the cafe, reading
a paper, he came up and sat beside me.
"You haven't hanged yourself after all," I re-
"No. I've got a commission. I'm painting the
portrait of a retired plumber for two hundred
"How did you manage that?"
"The woman where I get my bread recommended
me. He'd told her he was looking out for someone
to paint him. I've got to give her twenty francs."
"What's he like?"
"Splendid. He's got a great red face like a leg
of mutton, and on his right cheek there's an enormous
mole with long hairs growing out of it."
Strickland was in a good humour, and when DirK
* This picture, formerly in the possession of a wealthy
manufacturer at Lille, who fled from that city on the ap-
proach of the Germans, is now in the National Gallery at
Stockholm. The Swede is adept at the gentle pastime of
fishing in troubled waters.
THE MDON AND SIXPENCE 125
Stroeve came up and sat down with us he attacked him
with ferocious banter. He showed a skill I should
never have credited him with in finding the places
where the unhappy Dutchman was most sensitive.
Strickland employed not the rapier of sarcasm but
the bludgeon of invective. The attack was so un-
provoked that Stroeve, taken unawares, was defence-
less. He reminded you of a frightened sheep running
aimlessly hither and thither. He was startled and
amazed. At last the tears ran from his eyes. And
the worst of it was that, though you hated Strickland,
and the exhibition was horrible, it was impossible
not to laugh. Dirk Stroeve was one of those un-
lucky persons whose most sincere emotions are ridicu-
But after all when I look back upon that winter in
Paris, my pleasantest recollection is of Dirk Stroeve.
There was something very charming in his little
household. He and his wife made a picture which
the imagination gratefully dwelt upon, and the sim-
plicity of his love for her had a deliberate grace. He
remained absurd, but the sincerity of his passion ex-
cited one's sympathy. I could understand how his
wife must feel for him, and I was glad that her af-
fection was so tender. If she had any sense of
humour, it must amuse her that he should place her
on a pedestal and worship her with such an honest
idolatry, but even while she laughed she must have
been pleased and touched. He was the constant
lover, and though she grew old, losing her rounded
lines and her fair comeliness, to him she would cer-
tainly never alter. To him she would always be die
126 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
loveliest woman in the world. There was a pleasing
grace in the orderliness of their lives. They had but
the studio, a bedroom, and a tiny kitchen. Mrs.
Stroeve did all the housework herself ; and while Dirk
painted bad pictures, she went marketing, cooked the
luncheon, sewed, occupied herself like a busy ant all
the day; and in the evening sat in the studio, sewing
again, while Dirk played music which I am sure was
far beyond her comprehension. He played with taste,
but with more feeling than was always justified, and
into his music poured all his honest, sentimental, ex-
Their life in its own way was an idyl, and it man-
aged to achieve a singular beauty. The absurdity that
clung to everything connected with Dirk Stroeve gave
it a curious note, like an unresolved discord, but made
it somehow more modern, more human ; like a rough
joke thrown into a serious scene, it heightened the
poignancy which all beauty has.
SHORTLY before Christmas Dirk Stroeve came
to ask me to spend the holiday with him. He
had a characteristic sentimentality about the
day and wanted to pass it among his friends with suit-
able ceremonies. Neither of us had seen Strickland
for two or three weeks I because I had been busy
with friends who were spending a little while in Paris,
and Stroeve because, having quarreled with him more
violently than usual, he had made up his mind to
have nothing more to do with him. Strickland was
impossible, and he swore never to speak to him again.
But the season touched him with gentle feeling, and
he hated the thought of Strickland spending Christ-
mas Day by himself; he ascribed his own emotions to
him, and could not bear that on an occasion given up
to good-fellowship the lonely painter should be aban-
doned to his own melancholy. Stroeve had set up a
Christmas-tree in his studio, and I suspected that we
should both find absurd little presents hanging on its
festive branches ; but he was shy about seeing Strick-
land again; it was a little humiliating to forgive so
easily insults so outrageous, and he wished me to be
present at the reconciliation on which he was de-
We walked together down the Avenue de Clichy v
but Strickland was not in the cafe. It was too cold to
sit outside, and we took our places on leather benches
within. It was hot and stuffy, and the air was gray
128 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with smote. Strickland did not come, but presently
we saw the French painter who occasionally played
chess with him. I had formed a casual acquaintance
with him, and he sat down at our table. Stroeve
asked him if he had seen Strickland.
"He's ill," he said. "Didn't you know?"
"Very, I understand."
Stroeve's face grew white.
"Why didn't he write and tell me? How stupid
of me to quarrel with him We must go to him at
once. He can have no one to look after him. Where
does he live ?"
"I have no idea," said the Frenchman.
We discovered that none of us knew how to find
him. Stroeve grew more and more distressed.
"He might die, and not a soul would know any-
thing about it. It's dreadful. I can't bear the
thought. We must find him at once."
I tried to make Stroeve understand that it was ab-
surd to hunt vaguely about Paris. We must first
think of some plan.
"Yes ; but all this time he may be dying, and when
we get there it may be too late to do anything."
"Sit still and let us think," I said impatiently.
The only address I knew was the Hotel des Beiges,
but Strickland had long left that, and they would
have no recollection of him. With that queer idea of
his to keep his whereabouts secret, it was unlikely
that, on leaving, he had said where he was going.
Besides, it was more than five years ago. I felt pretty
sure that he had not moved far. If he continued to
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 129
frequent the same cafe as when he had stayed at the
hotel, it was probably because it was the most con-
venient. Suddenly I remembered that he had got his
commission to paint a portrait through the baker
from whom he bought his bread, and it struck me
that there one might find his address. I called for
a directory and looked out the bakers. There were
five in the immediate neighbourhood, and the only
thing was to go to all of them. Stroeve accompanied
me unwillingly. His own plan was to run up and
down the streets that led out of the Avenue de Clichy
and ask at every house if Strickland lived there. My
commonplace scheme was, after all, effective, for in
the second shop we asked at the woman behind the
counter acknowledged that she knew him. She was
not certain where he lived, but it was in one of the
three houses opposite. Luck favoured us, and in the
first we tried the concierge told us that we should find
him on the top floor.
"It appears that he's ill," said Stroeve.
"It may be," answered the concierge indifferently.
"En effet, I have not seen him for several days."
Stroeve ran up the stairs ahead of me, and when I
reached the top floor I found him talking to a work-
man in his shirt-sleeves who had opened a door at
which Stroeve had knocked. He pointed to another
door. He believed that the person who lived there
was a painter. He had not seen him for a week.
Stroeve made as though he were about to knock, and
then turned to me with a gesture of helplessness. I
saw that he was panic-stricken.
"Supposing he's dead? M
130 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Not he," I said.
I knocked. There was no answer. I tried the
handle, and found the door unlocked. I walked in,
and Stroeve followed me. The room was in dark-
ness. I could only see that it was an attic, with a
sloping roof; and a faint glimmer, no more than a
less profound obscurity, came from a skylight.
"Strickland," I called.
There was no answer. It was really rather myste-
rious, and it seemed to me that Stroeve, standing just
behind, was trembling in his shoes. For a moment
I hesitated to strike a light. I dimly perceived a bed
in the corner, and I wondered whether the light
would disclose lying on it a dead body.
"Haven't you got a match, you fool?"
Strickland's voice, coming out of the darkness,
harshly, made me start.
Stroeve cried out.
"Oh, my God, I thought you were dead."
I struck a match, and looked about for a candle. I
had a rapid glimpse of a tiny apartment, half room,
half studio, in which was nothing but a bed, canvases
with their faces to the wall, an easel, a table, and a
chair. There was no carpet on the floor. There was
no fire-place. On the table, crowded with paints,
palette-knives, and litter of all kinds, was the end of
a candle. I lit it. Strickland was lying in the bed,
uncomfortably because it was too small for him, and
he had put all his clothes over him for warmth. It
was obvious at a glance that he was in a high fever.
Stroeve, his voice cracking with emotion, went up to
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 131
"Oh, my poor friend, what is the matter with
you? I had no idea you were ill. Why didn't you
let me know? You must know I'd have done any-
thing in the world for you. Were you thinking of
what I said? I didn't mean it. I was wrong. It
was stupid of me to take offence.'*
"Go to hell," said Strickland.
"Now, be reasonable. Let me make you com-
fortable. Haven't you anyone to look after
He looked round the squalid attic in dismay. He
tried to arrange the bed-clothes. Strickland, breath'-
ing laboriously, kept an angry silence. He gave me a
resentful glance. I stood quite quietly, looking at
"If you want to do something for me, you can get
me some milk," he said at last. "I haven't been able
to get out for two days."
There was an empty bottle by the side of the be4,
which had contained milk, and in a piece of news-
paper a few crumbs.
"What have you been having?" I asked.
"For how long?" cried Stroeve. "Do you mean to
say you've had nothing to eat or drink for two days?
"I've had water."
His eyes dwelt for a moment on a large can within
reach of an outstretched arm.
"I'll go immediately," said Stroeve. "Is there
anything you fancy?"
I suggested that he should get a thermometer, and
132 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
a few grapes, and some bread. Stroeve, glad to make
himself useful, clattered down the stairs.
"Damned fool," muttered Strickland.
I felt his pulse. It was beating quickly and feebly.
I asked him one or two questions, but he would not
answer, and when I pressed him he turned his face
irritably to the wall. The only thing was to wait in
silence. In ten minutes Stroeve, panting, came back.
Besides what I had suggested, he brought candles, and
meat-juice, and a spirit-lamp. He was a practical
little fellow, and without delay set about making
bread-and-milk. I took Strickland's temperature. It
was a hundred and four. He was obviously very ill.
PRESENTLY we left him. Dirk was going
home to dinner, and I proposed to find a doc-
tor and bring him to see Strickland; but when
we got down into the street, fresh after the stuffy
attic, the Dutchman begged me to go immediately to
his studio. He had something in mind which he
would not tell me, but he insisted that it was very
necessary for me to accompany him. Since I did not
think a doctor could at the moment do any more than
we had done, I consented. We found Blanche
Stroeve laying the table for dinner. Dirk went up
to her, and took both her hands.
"Dear one, I want you to do something for me,"
She looked at him with the grave cheerfulness
which was one of her charms. His red face was shin-
ing with sweat, and he had a look of comic agitation,
but there was in his round, surprised eyes an eager
" Strickland is very ill. He may be dying. He is
alone in a filthy attic, and there is not a soul to look
after him. I want you to let me bring him here."
She withdrew her hands quickly, I had never seen
Her make so rapid a movement,; and her cheeks
"Oh, my dear one, don't refuse. I couldn't bear to
134 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
leave him where he is. I shouldn't sleep a wink for
thinking of him."
"I have no objection to your nursing him."
Her voice was cold and distant.
"But he'll die."
Stroeve gave a little gasp. He wiped his face. He
turned to me for support, but I did not know what to
"He's a great artist."
"What do I care ? I hate him."
"Oh, my love, my precious, you don't mean that.
I beseech you to let me bring him here. We can
make him comfortable. Perhaps we can save him.
He shall be no trouble to you. I will do everything.
We'll make him up a bed in the studio. We can't let
him die like a dog. It would be inhuman."
"Why can't he go to a hospital?"
"A hospital ! He needs the care of loving hands.
He must be treated with infinite tact."
I was surprised to see how moved she was. She
went on laying the table, but her hands trembled.
<T I have no patience with you. Do you think if you
were ill he would stir a finger to help you ?"
"But what does that matter? I should have you
to nurse me. It wouldn't be necessary. And besides^
I'm different; I'm not of any importance."
"You have no more spirit than a mongrel cur.
You lie down on the ground and ask people to tram-
ple on you."
Stroeve gave a little laugh. He thought he under-
stood the reason of his wife's attitude.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 135
"Oh, my poor dear, you're thinking of that day he
came here to look at my pictures. What does it mat-
ter if he didn't think them any good? It was stupid
of me to show them to him. I dare say they're not
He looked round the studio ruefully. On the easel
was a half-finished picture of a smiling Italian peas-
ant, holding a bunch of grapes over the head of a
"Even if he didn't like them he should have been
civil. He needn't have insulted you. He showed
that he despised you, and you lick his hand. Oh, I
"Dear child, he has genius. You don't think I
believe that I have it. I wish I had; but I know it
when I see it, and I honour it with all my heart. It's
the most wonderful thing in the world. It's a great
burden to its possessors. We should be very tolerant
with them, and very patient."
I stood apart, somewhat embarrassed by the do-
mestic scene, and wondered why Stroeve had insisted
on my coming with him. I saw that his wife was on
the verge of tears.
"But it's not only because he's a genius that I ask
you to let me bring him here; it's because he's a
human being, and he is ill and poor."
"I will never have him in my house never."
Stroeve turned to me.
"Tell her that it's a matter of life and death. It's
impossible to leave him in that wretched hole."
"It's quite obvious that it would be much easier to
nurse him here," I said, "but of course it would b*
136 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
very inconvenient I have an idea that someone will
have to be with him day and night."
"My love, it's not you who would shirk a little
"If he comes here, I shall go," said Mrs. Stroeve
"I don't recognize you. You're so good and kind."
"Oh, for goodness sake, let me be. You drive me
Then at last the tears came. She sank into a chair,
and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders
shook convulsively. In a moment Dirk was on his
knees beside her, with his arms round her, kissing her,
calling her all sorts of pet names, and the facile tears
ran down his own cheeks. Presently she released
herself and dried her eyes.
"Leave me alone," she said, not unkindly; and then
to me, trying to smile: "What must you think of
Stroeve, looking at her with perplexity, hesitated.
His forehead was all puckered, and his red mouth set
in a pout. He reminded me oddly of an agitated
"Then it's No, darling?" he said at last.
She gave a gesture of lassitude. , She was ex-
"The studio is yours. Everything belongs to you.
If you want to bring him here, how can I prevent
A sudden smile flashed across his round face.
"Then you consent? I knew you would. Oh, my
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 137
Suddenly she pulled herself together. She looked
at him with haggard eyes. She clasped her hands
over her heart as though its beating were intolerable.
"Oh, Dirk, I've never since we met asked you to
Ho anything for me."
"You know there's nothing in the world that I
wouldn't do for you."
"I beg you not to let Strickland comfehere. Any-
one else you like. Bring a thief, a drunkard, any
outcast off the streets, and I promise you I'll do
everything I can for them gladly. But I bese^li you
not to bring Strickland here."
"I'm frightened of him. I don't know why, but
there's something in him that terrifies me. He'll do
us some great harm. I know it. I feel it If you
bring him here it can only end badly."
"But how unreasonable!"
"No, no. I know I'm right. Something terrible
will happen to us."
"Because we do a good action?"
She was panting now, and in her face was a terror
which was inexplicable. I do not know what she
thought. I felt that she was possessed by some shape-
less dread which robbed her of all self-control. As
a rule she was so calm ; her agitation now was amaz-
ing. Stroeve looked at her for a while with puzzled
"You are my wife; you are dearer to me than any-
one in the world. No one shall come here without
your entire consent."
She closed her eyes for a moment, and I thought
138 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
she was going to faint. I was a little impatient with
her; I had not suspected that she was so neurotic a
woman. Then I heard Stroeve's voice again. It
seemed to break oddly on the silence.
"Haven't you been in bitter distress once when a
helping hand was held out to you? You know how
much it means. Wouldn't you like to do someone a
good turn when you have the chance?"
The words were ordinary enough, and to my mind
there was in them something so hortatory that I al-
most smiled. I was astonished at the effect they had
on Blanche Stroeve. She started a little, and gave
her husband a long look. His eyes were fixed on the
ground. I did not know why he seemed embarrassed.
A faint colour came into her cheeks, and then her
face became white more than white, ghastly; you
felt that the blood had shrunk away from the whole
surface of her body; and even her hands were pale.
A shiver passed through her. The silence of the
studio seemed to gather body, so that it became an
almost palpable presence. I was bewildered.
"Bring Strickland here, Dirk. I'll do my best for
"My precious," he smiled.
He wanted to take her in his arms, but she avoided
"Don't be affectionate before strangers, Dirk,"
she said. "It makes me feel such a fool."
Her manner was quite normal again, and no one
could have told that so shortly before she had been
shaken by such a great emotion.
NEXT day we moved Strickland. It needed a
good deal of firmness and still more patience
to induce him to come, but he was really too
ill to offer any effective resistance to Stroeve's en-
treaties and to my determination. We 'dressed him,
while he feebly cursed us, got him downstairs, into
a cab, and eventually to Stroeve's studio. He was
so exhausted by the time we arrived that he allowed
us to put him to bed without a word. He was ill for
six weeks. At one time it looked as though he could
not live more than a few hours, and I am convinced
that it was only through the Dutchman's doggedness
that he pulled through. I have never known a more
difficult patient. It was not that he was exacting and
querulous ; on the contrary, he never complained, he
asked for nothing, he was perfectly silent; but he
seemed to resent the care that was taken of him ; he
received all inquiries about his feelings or his needs
with a jibe, a sneer, or an oath. I found him de-
testable, and as soon as he was out of danger I had
no hesitation in telling him so.
"Go to hell/' he answered briefly.
Dirk Stroeve, giving up his work entirely, nursed
Strickland with tenderness and sympathy. He was
dexterous to make him comfortable, and he exercised
a cunning of which I should never have thought him
capable to induce him to take the medicines prescribed
by the doctor. Nothing was too much trouble for
140 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
him. Though his means were adequate to the needs
of himself and his wife, he certainly had no money
to waste; but now he was wantonly extravagant in
the purchase of delicacies, out of season and dear,
which might tempt Strickland's capricious appetite.
I shall never forget the tactful patience with which
he persuaded him to take nourishment. He was never
put out by Strickland's rudeness; if it was merely
sullen, he appeared not to notice it; if it was aggres-
sive, he only chuckled. When Strickland, recovering
somewhat, was in a good humour and amused him-
^self by laughing at him, he deliberately did absurd
things to excite his ridicule. Then he would give
me little happy glances, so that I might notice hi
how much better form the patient was. Stroeve was
But it was Blanche who most surprised me. She
proved herself not only a capable, but a devoted
nurse. There was nothing in her to remind you
that she had so vehemently struggled against her
husband's wish to bring Strickland to the studio. She
insisted on doing her share of the offices needful to
the sick. She arranged his bed so that it was pos-
sible to change the sheet without disturbing him. She
washed him. When I remarked on her competence,
she told me with that pleasant little smile of hers
that for a while she had worked in a hospital. She
gave no sign that she hated Strickland so desperately.
She did not speak to him much, but she was quick
to forestall his wants. For a fortnight it was neces-
sary that someone should stay with him all night, and
she took turns at watching with her husband. I
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 141
wondered what she thought during the long darkness
as she sat by the bedside. Strickland was a weird
figure as he lay there, thinner than ever, with his
ragged red beard and his eyes staring feverishly into
vacancy; his illness seemed to have made them larger,
and they had an unnatural brightness.
"Does he ever talk to you in the night?" I asked
"Do you dislike him as much as you did?"
"More, if anything."
She looked at me with her calm gray eyes. Her
expression was so placid, it was hard to believe that
she was capable of the violent emotion I had wit-
"Has he ever thanked you for what you do for
"No," she smiled.
Stroeve was, of course, delighted with her. He
could not do enough to show his gratitude for the
whole-hearted devotion with which she had accepted
the burden he laid on her. But he was a little puz-
zled by the behaviour of Blanche and Strickland
towards one another.
"Do you know, I've seen them sit there for hours
together without saying a word?"
On one occasion, when Strickland was so much
better that in a day or two he was to get up, I sat
with them in the studio. Dirk and I were talking.
Mrs. Stroeve sewed, and I thought I recognised the
142 JCHE MOON AND SIXPENCE
shirt she was mending as Strickland's. He lay on his
back; he did not speak. Once I saw that his eyes
were fixed on Blanche Stroeve, and there was in them
a curious irony. Feeling their gaze, she raised her
own, and for a moment they stared at one another.
I could not quite understand her expression. Her
eyes had in them a strange perplexity, and perhaps
but why ? alarm. In a moment Strickland looked
away and idly surveyed the ceiling, but she continued
to stare at him, and now her look was quite inex-
In a few days Strickland began to get up. He was
nothing but skin and bone. His clothes hung upon
him like rags on a scarecrow. With his untidy beard
and long hair, his features, always a little larger than
life, now emphasised by illness, he had an extraordi-
nary aspect; but it was so odd that it was not quite
ugly. There was something monumental in his un-
gainliness. I do not know how to express precisely
the impression he made upon me. It was not exactly
spirituality that was obvious, though the screen of the
flesh seemed almost transparent, because there was
in his face an outrageous sensuality; but, though it
sounds nonsense, it seemed as though his sensuality
were curiously spiritual. There was in him some-
thing primitive. He seemed to partake of those ob-
scure forces of nature which the Greeks personified
in shapes part human and part beast, the satyr and
the faun. I thought of Marsyas, whom the god
flayed because he had dared to rival him in song.
Strickland seemed to bear in his heart strange har-
monies and unadventured patterns, and I foresaw for
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 143
him an end of torture and despair. I had again the
feeling that he was possessed of a devil; but you
could not say that it was a devil of evil, for it was
a primitive force that existed before good and ill.
He was still too weak to paint, and he sat in the
studio, silent, occupied with God knows what dreams,
or reading. The books he liked were queer; some-
times I would find him poring over the poems of
Mallarme, and he read them as a child reads, form-
ing the words with his lips, and I wondered what
strange emotion he got from those subtle cadences
and obscure phrases; and again I found him absorbed
in the detective novels of Gaboriau. I amused my-
self by thinking that in his choice of books he showed
pleasantly the irreconcilable sides of his fantastic
nature. It was singular to notice that even in the
weak state of his body he had no thought for its
comfort. Stroeve liked his ease, and in his studio
were a couple of heavily upholstered arm-chairs and
a large divan. Strickland would not go near them,
not from any affectation of stoicism, for I found him
seated on a three-legged stool when I went into the
studio one day and he was alone, but because he
did not like them. For choice he sat on a kitchen
chair without arms. It often exasperated me to see
him. I never knew a man so entirely indifferent
to his surroundings.
TWO or three weeks passed. One morning,
having come to a pause in my work, I thought
I would give myself a holiday, and I went to
the Louvre. I wandered about looking at the pic-
tures I knew so well, and let my fancy play idly with
the emotions they suggested. I sauntered into the
long gallery, and there suddenly saw Stroeve. I
smiled, for his appearance, so rotund and yet so
startled, could never fail to excite a smile, and then
as I came nearer I noticed that he seemed singularly
disconsolate. He looked woebegone and yet ridicu-
lous, like a man who has fallen into the water with
all his clothes on, and, being rescued from death,
frightened still, feels that he only looks a fool. Turn-
ing round, he stared at me, but I perceived that he
did not see me. His round blue eyes looked harassed
behind his glasses.
"Stroeve," I said.
He gave a little start, and then smiled, but his
smile was rueful.
"Why are you idling in this disgraceful fashion?"
J asked gaily.
"It's a long time since I was at the Louvre. I
thought I'd come and see if they had anything new."
"But you told me you had to get a picture fin-
ished this week."
"Strickland's painting in my studio."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 145
"I suggested it myself. He's not strong enough to
go back to his own place yet. I thought we could
both paint there. Lots of fellows in the Quarter
share a studio. I thought it would be fun. I've
always thought it would be jolly to have someone to
talk to when one was tired of work."
He said all this slowly, detaching statement from
statement with a little awkward silence, and he kept
his kind, foolish eyes fixed on mine. They were full
"I don't think I understand," I said.
"Strickland can't work with anyone else in the stu-
"Damn it all, it's your studio. That's his look-
He looked at me pitifully. His lips were trem-
"What happened?" I asked, rather sharply.
He hesitated and flushed. He glanced unhappily
at one of the pictures on the wall.
"He wouldn't let me go on painting. He told me
to get out."
"But why didn't you tell him to go to hell?"
"He turned me out. I couldn't very well struggle
with him. He threw my hat after me, and locked
I was furious with Strickland, and was indignant
with myself, because Dirk Stroeve cut such an ab-
surd figure that I felt inclined to laugh.
"But what did your wife say?"
"She'd gone out to do the marketing."
"Is he going to let her in?"
146 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"I don't know."
I gazed at Stroeve with perplexity. He stood like
a schoolboy with whom a master is finding fault.
"Shall I get rid of Strickland for you?" I asked.
He gave a little start, and his shining face grew
"No. You'd better not do anything."
He nodded to me and walked away. It was clear
that for some reason he did not want to discuss the
matter. I did not understand.
THE explanation came a week later. It was
about ten o'clock at night; I had been dining
by myself at a restaurant, and having returned
to my small apartment, was stiting in my parlour,
reading. I heard the cracked tinkling of the bell, and,
going into the corridor, opened the door. Stroeve
stood before me.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
In the dimness of the landing I could not see him
very well, but there was something in his voice that
surprised me. I knew he was of abstemious habit
or I should have thought he had been drinking. I
led the way into my sitting room and asked him to
"Thank God I've found you," he said.
"What's the matter?" I asked in astonishment at
I was able now to see him well. As a rule he
was neat in his person, but now his clothes were
in disorder. He looked suddenly bedraggled. I
was convinced he had been drinking, and I smiled.
I was on the point of chaffing him on his
"I didn't know where to go," he burst out. "I
came here earlier, but you weren't in."
"I dined late," I said.
I changed my mind: it was not liquor that had
148 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
driven him to this obvious desperation. His face,
usually so rosy, was now strangely mottled. His
"Has anything happened?" I asked.
"My wife has left me."
He could hardly get the words out. He gave a
little gasp, and the tears began to trickle down his
round cheeks. I did not know what to say. My
first thought was that she had come to the end of
her forbearance with his infatuation for Strickland,
and, goaded by the latter's cynical behaviour, had
insisted that he should be turned out. I knew her
capable of temper, for all the calmness of her man-
ner; and if Stroeve still refused, she might easily
have flung out of the studio with vows never to re-
turn. But the little man was so distressed that I
could not smile.
"My dear fellow, don't be unhappy. She'll come
back. You mustn't take very seriously what women 1
say when they're in a passion."
"You don't understand. She's in love with Strick-
"What!" I was startled at this, but the idea had
no sooner taken possession of me than I saw it was
absurd. "How can you be so silly? You don't mean
to say you're jealous of Strickland?" I almost
laughed. "You know very well that she can't bear
the sight of him."
"You don't understand," he moaned.
"You're an hysterical ass," I said a little impa-
tiently. "Let me give you a whisky-and-soda, and
you'll feel better."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 149
I supposed that for some reason or other and
Heaven knows what ingenuity men exercise to tor-
ment themselves Dirk had got it into his head that
his wife cared for Strickland, and with his genius
for blundering he might quite well have offended her
so that, to anger him, perhaps, she had taken pains
to foster his suspicion.
"Look here," I said, "let's go back to your studio.
If youVe made a fool of yourself you must eat hum-
ble pie. Your wife doesn't strike me as the sort of
woman to bear malice."
"How can I go back to the studio?" he said wear-
ily. "They're there. I've left it to them."
"Then it's not your wife who's left you; it's you
who've left your wife."
"For God's sake don't talk to me like that."
Still I could not take him seriously. I did not for
a moment believe what he had told me. But he was
In very real distress.
"Well, you've come here to talk to me about it.
You'd better tell me the whole story."
"This afternoon I couldn't stand it any more. I
went to Strickland and told him I thought he was
quite well enough to go back to his own place. I
wanted the studio myself."
"No one but Strickland would have needed tell-
ing," I said. "What did he say?"
"He laughed a little ; you know how he laughs, not
as though he were amused, but as though you were
a damned fool, and said he'd go at once. He began
to put his things together. You remember I fetched
from his room what I thought he needed, and he
150 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
asked Blanche for a piece of paper and some string
to make a parcel."
Stroeve stopped, gasping, and I thought he was
going to faint. This was not at all the story I had
expected him to tell me.
"She was very pale, but she brought the paper
and the string. He didn't say anything. He made
the parcel and he whistled a tune. He took no
notice of either of us. His eyes had an ironic smile
in them. My heart was like lead. I was afraid
something was going to happen, and I wished I
hadn't spoken. He looked round for his hat. Then
" Tm going with Strickland, Dirk,' she said. 'I
can't live with you any more.'
"I tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come.
Strickland didn't say anything. He went on
whistling as though it had nothing to do with
Stroeve stopped again and mopped his face. I
kept quite still. I believed him now, and I was
astounded. But all the same I could not under-
Then he told me, in a trembling voice, with the
tears pouring down his cheeks, how he had gone up
to her, trying to take her in his arms, but she had
drawn away and begged him not to touch her. He
implored her not to leave him. He told her how
passionately he loved her, and reminded her of all
the devotion he had lavished upon her. He spoke
to her of the happiness of their life. He was not
angry with her. He did not reproach her.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 151
"Please let me go quietly, Dirk," she said at last.
"Don't you understand that I love Strickland? Where
he goes I shall go."
"But you must know that he'll never make you
happy. For your own sake don't go. You don't
know what you've got to look forward to."
"It's your fault. You insisted on his coming here."
He turned to Strickland.
"Have mercy on her," he implored him. "You
can't let her do anything so mad."
"She can do as she chooses," said Strickland.
"She's not forced to come."
"My choice is made," she said, in a dull voice.
Strickland's injurious calm robbed Stroeve of the
rest of his self-control. Blind rage seized him, and
without knowing what he was doing he flung himself
on Strickland. Strickland was taken by surprise and
he staggered, but he was very strong, even after his
illness, and in a moment, he did not exactly know
how, Stroeve found himself on the floor.
"You funny little man," said Strickland.
Stroeve picked himself up. He noticed that his
wife had remained perfectly still, and to be made
ridiculous before her increased his humiliation. His
spectacles had tumbled off in the struggle, and he
could not immediately see them. She picked them up
and silently handed them to him. He seemed sud-
denly to realise his unhappiness, and though he knew
he was making himself still more absurd, he began
to cry. He hid his face in his hands. The others
watched him without a word. They did not move
from where they stood.
152 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Oh, my dear," he groaned at last, "how can you
be so cruel?"
"I can't help myself, Dirk," she answered.
"I've worshipped you as no woman was ever
worshipped before. If in anything I did I displeased
you, why didn't you tell me, and I'd have changed.
I've done everything I could for you."
She did not answer. Her face was set, and he
saw that he was only boring her. She put on a coat
and her hat. She moved towards the door, and he
saw that in a moment she would be gone. He went
up to her quickly and fell on his knees before her,
seizing her hands: he abandoned all self-respect.
"Oh, don't go, my darling. I can't live without
you; I shall kill myself. If I've done anything to
offend you I beg you to forgive me. Give me an-
other chance. I'll try harder still to make you
"Get up, Dirk. You're making yourself a perfect
He: staggered to his feet, but still he would not
let her go.
"Where are you going?" he said hastily. "You
don't know what Strickland's place is like. You can't
live there. It would be awful."
"If I don't care, I don't see why you should."
"Stay a minute longer. I must speak. After all,
you can't grudge me that."
"What is the good? I've made up my mind.
Nothing that you can say will make me alter it."
He gulped, and put his hand to his heart to ease
its painful beating.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 153
"I'm not going to ask you to change your mind,
but I want you to listen to me for a minute. It's
the last thing I shall ever ask you. Don't refuse me
She paused, looking at him with those reflective
eyes of hers, which now were so different to him.
She came back into the studio and leaned against
Stroeve made a great effort to collect himself.
"You must be a little reasonable. You can't live
on air, you know. Strickland hasn't got a penny."
"You'll suffer the most awful privations. You
know why he took so long to get well. He was half
"I can earn money for him."
"I don't know. I shall find a way."
A horrible thought passed through the Dutchman's
mind, and he shuddered.
"I think you must be mad. I don't know what
has come over you."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Now may I go?"
"Wait one second longer."
'He looked round his studio wearily; he Had lovecl
it because her presence had made it gay and home-
like; he shut his eyes for an instant; then he gave
her a long look as though to impress on his mind
the picture of her. He got up and took his hat*
"No; I'll go."
154 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
She was startled. She did not know what he
"I can' (3 bear to think of you living in that hor-
rible, filthy attic. After all, this is your home just
as much as mine. You'll be comfortable here. You'll
be spared at least the worst privations."
He went to the drawer in which he kept his money
and took out several bank-notes.
"I would like to give you half what I've got here."
He put them on the table. Neither Strickland nor
his wife spoke.
Then he recollected something else.
"Will you pack up my clothes and leave them with
the concierge ? I'll come and fetch them to-morrow."
He tried to smile. "Good-bye, my dear. I'm grate-
ful for all the happiness you gave me in the past."
He walked out and closed the door behind him.
With my mind's eye I saw Strickland throw his hat
on a table, and, sitting down, begin to smoke a cig-
I KEPT silence for a little while, thinking of what
Stroeve had told me. I could not stomach his
weakness, and he saw my disapproval.
"You know as well as I do how Strickland lived,"
he said tremulously. "I couldn't let her live in those
circumstances I simply couldn't."
"That's your business," I answered.
"What would you have done?" he asked.
"She went with her eyes open. If she had to put
up with certain inconveniences it was her own look-
"Yes; but, you see, you don't love her."
"Do you love her still?"
"Oh, more than ever. Strickland isn't the man to
make a woman happy. It can't last. I want her to
know that I shall never fail her."
"Does that mean that you're prepared to take her
"I shouldn't hesitate. Why, she'll want me more
than ever then. When she's alone and humiliated
and broken it would be dreadful if she had nowhere
He seemed to bear no resentment. I suppose it
was commonplace in me that I felt slightly outraged
at his lack of spirit. Perhaps he guessed what was
in my mind, for he said:
"I couldn't expect her to love me as I loved her.
I'm a buffoon. I'm not the sort of man that women
156 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
love. IVe always known that. I can't blame Her
if she's fallen in love with Strickland."
"You certainly have less vanity than any man IVe
ever known," I said.
"I love her so much better than myself. It seems
to me that when vanity comes into love it can only
be because really you love yourself best. After all,
it constantly happens that a man when he's married
falls in love with somebody else ; when he gets over
it he returns to his wife, and she takes him back, and
everyone thinks it very natural. Why should it be
different with women?"
"I dare say that's logical," I smiled, "but most
men are made differently, and they can't."
But while I talked to Stroeve I was puzzling over
the suddenness of the whole affair. I could not imag-
ine that he had had no warning. I remembered the
curious look I had seen in Blanche Stroeve's eyes;
perhaps its explanation was that she was growing
dimly conscious of a feeling in her heart that sur-
prised and alarmed her.
"Did you have no suspicion before to-day that there
was anything between them?" I asked.
He did not answer for a while. There was a
pencil on the table, and unconsciously he drew a head
on the blotting-paper.
"Please say so, if you hate my asking you ques-
tions," I said.
"It eases me to talE Oh, if you knew the fright-
ful anguish in my heart." He threw the pencil
down. "Yes, IVe known it for a fortnight. I
knew it before she did."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 1ST
"Why on earth didn't you send Strickland paclc-
"I couldn't believe it. It seemed so improbable.
She couldn't bear the sight of him. It was more
than improbable ; it was incredible. I thought it was
merely jealousy. You see, I've always been jealous,
but I trained myself never to show it; I was jealous
of every man she knew; I was jealous of you. I
knew she didn't love me as I loved her. That was
only natural, wasn't it? But she allowed me to love
her, and that was enough to make me happy. I
forced myself to go out for hours together in order
to leave them by themselves; I wanted to punish
myself for suspicions which were unworthy of me;
2nd when I came back I found they didn't want me
* not Strickland, he didn't care if I was there or
not, but Blanche. She shuddered when I went to
kiss her. When at last I was certain I didn't know
what to do; I knew they'd only laugh at me if I
made a scene. I thought if I held my tongue and
pretended not to see, everything would come right.
I made up my mind to get him away quietly, with-
out quarrelling. Oh, if you only knew what I've suf-
Then he told me again of his asking Strickland to
go. He chose his moment carefully, and tried to
make his request sound casual; but he could not
master the trembling of his voice; and he felt him-
self that into words that he wished to seem jovial
and friendly there crept the bitterness of his jeal-
ousy. He had not expected .Strickland to take him
up on the spot and make his preparations to go there
158 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
and then; above all, he had not expected his wife's
decision to go with him. I saw that now he wished
with all his heart that he had held his tongue. He
preferred the anguish of jealousy to the anguish of
"I wanted to kill him, and I only made a fool of
He was silent for a long time, and then he said
what I knew was in his mind.
"If I'd only waited, perhaps it would have gone all
right I shouldn't have been so impatient. Oh, poor
child, what have I driven her to?"
I shrugged my shoulders, but did not speak. I
had no sympathy for Blanche Stroeve, but knew that
it would only pain poor Dirk if I told him exactly
what I thought of her.
He had reached that stage of exhaustion when he
could not stop talking. He went over again every
word of the scene. Now something occurred to him
that he had not told me before; now he discussed
what he ought to have said instead of what he did
say; then he lamented his blindness. He regretted
that he had done this, and blamed himself that he
had omitted the other. It grew later and later, and
at last I was as tired as he.
"What are you going to do now?" I said finally.
"What can I do? I shall wait till she sends for
"Why don't you go away for a bit?"
"No, no; I must be at hand when she wants me."
For the present he seemed quite lost. He had
made no plans. When I suggested that he should
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 159
go to bed he said he could not sleep; he wanted to
go out and walk about the streets till day. He was
evidently in no state to be left alone. I persuaded
him to stay the night with me, and I put him into
my own bed. I had a divan in my sitting-room, and
could very well sleep on that. He was by now so
worn out that he could not resist my firmness. I gave
him a sufficient dose of veronal to insure his uncon-
sciousness for several hours, I thought that was the
best service I could render him.
BUT the bed I made up for myself was suffi*
ciently uncomfortable to give me a wakeful
night, and I thought a good deal of what the
unlucky Dutchman had told me. I was not so much
puzzled by Blanche Stroeve's action, for I saw in
that merely the result of a physical appeal. I do
not suppose she had ever really cared for her hus-
band, and what I had taken for love was no more
than the feminine response to caresses and comfort
which in the minds of most women passes for it.
It is a passive feeling capable of being roused for
any object, as the vine can grow on any tree; and
the wisdom of the world recognises its strength when
it urges a girl to marry the man who wants her with
the assurance that love will follow. It is an emotion
made up of the satisfaction in security, pride of
property, the pleasure of being desired, the grat-
ification of a household, and it is only by an amiable.
Vanity that women ascribe to it spiritual value. It
is an emotion which is defenceless against passion.
I suspected that Blanche Stroeve's violent dislike of
'Strickland had in it from the beginning a vague ele-
ment of sexual attraction. Who am I that I should
seek to unravel the mysterious intricacies of sex?
Perhaps Stroeve's passion excited without satisfying
that part of her nature, and she hated Strickland
because she felt in him the power to give her what
she needed. I think she was quite sincere when she
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 161
Struggled against her husband's desire to bring him
into the studio; I think she was frightened of him,
though she knew not why; and I remembered how
she had foreseen disaster. I think in some curious
way the horror which she felt for him was a trans-
ference of the horror which she felt for herself be-
cause he so strangely troubled her. His appearance
was wild and uncouth ; there was aloofness in his eyes
and sensuality in his mouth; he was big and strong;
he gave the impression of untamed passion; and
perhaps she felt in him, too, that sinister element
which had made me thinK of those wild beings of
the world's early history when matter, retaining its
early connection with the earth, seemed to possess
yet a spirit of its own. If he affected her at all,
it was inevitable that she should love or hate him.
She hated him.
And then I fancy that the daily intimacy with the
sick man moved her strangely. She raised his head
to give him food, and it was heavy against her hand ;
when she had fed him she wiped his sensual mouth
and his red beard. She washed his limbs ; they were
povered with thick hair; and when she dried his hands,
even in his weakness they were strong and sinewy.
His fingers were long; they were the capable, fashion-
ing fingers of the artist; and I know not what trou-
bling thoughts they excited in her. He slept very
quietly, without a movement, so that he might have
been dead, and he was like some wild creature of
the woods, resting after a long chase; and she won-
dered what fancies passed through his dreams. Did
he dream of the nymph flying through the woods of
162 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Greece with the satyr in hot pursuit? She fled, swift
cf foot and desperate, but he gained on her step by
step, till she felt his hot breath on her neck; and still
she fled silently, and silently he pursued, and when
at last he seized her was it terror that thrilled her
heart or was it ecstasy?
Blanche Stroeve was in the cruel grip of appetite.
Perhaps she hated Strickland still, but she hungered
for him, and everything that had made up her life
till then became of no account. She ceased to be a
woman, complex, kind and petulant, considerate and
thoughtless; she was a Maenad. She was desire.
But perhaps this is very fanciful; and it may be
that she was merely bored with her husband and
went to Strickland out of a callous curiosity. She may
have had no particular feeling for him, but suc-
cumbed to his wish from propinquity or idleness, to
find then that she was powerless in a snare of her
own contriving. How did I know what were the
thoughts and emotions behind that placid brow and
those cool gray eyes?
But if one could be certain of nothing in dealing
with creatures so incalculable as human beings, there
were explanations of Blanche Stroeve's behaviour
which were at all events plausible. On the other
hand, I did not understand Strickland at all. I
racked my brain, but could in no way account for
an action so contrary to my conception of him. It
was not strange that he should so heartlessly have
betrayed his friends* confidence, nor that he hesitated
not at all to gratify a whim at the cost of another's
misery. That was in his character. He was a man
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 163
without any conception of gratitude. He had no
compassion. The emotions common to most of us
simply did not exist in him, and it was as absurd to
blame him for not feeling them as for blaming the
tiger because he is fierce and cruel. But it was the
whim I could not understand.
I could not believe that Strickland had fallen in,
love with Blanche Stroeve. I did not believe him
capable of love. That is an emotion in which ten-
derness is an essential part, but Strickland had no
tenderness either for himself or for others; there is
in love a sense of weakness, a desire to protect, an
eagerness to do good and to give pleasure if not
unselfishness, at all events a selfishness which mar-
vellously conceals itself; it has in it a certain diffi-
dence. These were not traits which I could imagine
in Strickland. Love is absorbing; it takes the lover
out of himself; the most clear-sighted, though he may
know, cannot realise that his love will cease ; it gives
body to what he knows is illusion, and, knowing it
is nothing else, he loves it better than reality. It
makes a man a little more than himself, and at the
same time a little less. He ceases to be himself. He
is no longer an individual, but a thing, an instrument
to some purpose foreign to his ego. Love is never
quite devoid of sentimentality, and Strickland was
the least inclined to that infirmity of any man I have
known. I could not believe that he would ever suf-
fer that possession of himself which love is ; he could
never endure a foreign yoke. I believed him capa-
ble of uprooting from his heart, though it might be
with agony, so that he was left battered and en-
164 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
sanguined, anything that came between himself and
that uncomprehended craving that urged him con-
stantly to he knew not what. If I have succeeded at
all in giving the complicated impression that Strick-
land made on me, it will not seem outrageous to
say that I felt he was at once too great and too small
But I suppose that everyone's conception of the
passion is formed on his own idiosyncrasies, and it
is different with every different person. A man like
Strickland would love in a manner peculiar to him-
self. It was vain to seek the analysis of his emo-
NEXT day, though I pressed him to remain,
Stroeve left me. I offered to fetch his things
from the studio, but he insisted on going him-
self; I think he hoped they had not thought of get-
ting them together, so that he would have an op-
portunity of seeing his wife again and perhaps in-
ducing her to come back to him. But he found his
traps waiting for him in the porter's lodge, and the
concierge told him that Blanche had gone out. I do
not think he resisted the temptation of giving her an
account of his troubles. I found that he was telling
them to everyone he knew; he expected sympathy,
but only excited ridicule.
He bore himself most unbecomingly. Knowing at
what time his wife did her shopping, one day, unable
any longer to bear not seeing her, he waylaid her
in the street. She would not speak to him, but he
insisted on speaking to her. He spluttered out
words of apology for any wrong he had committed
towards her; he told her he loved her devotedly and
begged her to return to him. She would not answer;
she walked hurriedly, with averted face. I imagined
him with his fat little legs trying to keep up with
her. Panting a little in his haste, he told her how
miserable he was; he besought her to have mercy on
him; he promised, if she would forgive him, to do
everything she wanted. He offered to take her for
166 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
a journey. He told her that Strickland would soon
tire of her. When he repeated to me the whole
sordid little scene I was outraged. He had shown
neither sense nor dignity. He had omitted nothing
that could make his wife despise him. There is no
cruelty greater than a woman's to a man who loves
her and whom she does not love; she has no kind-
ness then, no tolerance even, she has only an insane
irritation. Blanche Stroeve stopped suddenly, and as
hard as she could slapped her husband's face. She
took advantage of his confusion to escape, and ran
up the stairs to the studio. No word had passed
When he told me this he put his hand to his cheek
as though he still felt the smart of the blow, and in
his eyes was a pain that was heartrending and an
amazement that was ludicrous. He looked like an
overblown schoolboy, and though I felt so sorry for
him, I could hardly help laughing.
Then he took to walking along the street which
she must pass through to get to the shops, and he
would stand at the corner, on the other side, as she
went along. He dared not speak to her again, but
sought to put into his round eyes the appeal that
was in his heart. I suppose he had some idea that
the sight of his misery would touch her. She never
made the smallest sign that she saw him. She never
even changed the hour of her errands or sought an
alternative route. I have an idea that there was some
cruelty in her indifference. Perhaps she got enjoy-
ment out of the torture she inflicted. I wondered why
she hated him so much.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 167
I begged Stroeve to behave more wisely. His want
of spirit was exasperating.
"You're doing no good at all by going on like
this," I said. "I think you'd have been wiser if you'd
hit her over the head with a stick. She wouldn't
have despised you as she does now."
I suggested that he should go home for a while.
He had often spoken to me of the silent town, some-
where up in the north of Holland, where his parents
still lived. They were poor people. His father was
a carpenter, and they dwelt in a little old red-brick
house, neat and clean, by the side of a sluggish canal.
The streets were wide and empty; for two hundred
years the place had been dying, but the houses had
the homely stateliness of their time. Rich merchants,
sending their wares to the distant Indies, had lived
in them calm and prosperous lives, and in their de-
cent decay they kept still an aroma of their splendid
past. You could wander along the canal till you came
to broad green fields, with windmills here and there,
in which cattle, black and white, grazed lazily. I
thought that among those surroundings, with their
recollections of his boyhood, Dirk Stroeve would for-
get his unhappiness. But he would not go.
"I must be here when she needs me," he repeated.
"It would be dreadful if something terrible hap-
pened and I were not at hand."
"What do you think is going to happen?" I asked.
"I don't know. But I'm afraid."
I shrugged my shoulders.
For all his pain, Dirk Stroeve remained a ridicu-
lous object. He might have excited sympathy if
168 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
he had grown worn and thin. He did nothing of the
kind. He remained fat, and his round, red cheeks
shone like ripe apples. He had great neatness of
person, and he continued to wear his spruce black coat
and his bowler hat, always a little too small for him,
in a dapper, jaunty manner. He was getting some-
thing of a paunch, and sorrow had no effect on it.
He looked more than ever like a prosperous bag-
man. It is hard that a man's exterior should tally
so little sometimes with his soul. Dirk Stroeve had
the passion of Romeo in the body of Sir Toby Belch.
He had a sweet and generous nature, and yet was
always blundering; a real feeling for what was beau-
tiful and the capacity to create only what was com-
monplace ; a peculiar delicacy of sentiment and gross
manners. He could exercise tact when dealing with
the affairs of others, but none when dealing with his
own. What a cruel practical joke old Nature played
when she flung so many contradictory elements to-
gether, and left the man face to face with the per-
plexing callousness of the universe.
I DID not see Strickland for several weeks. I was
disgusted with him, and if I had had an oppor-
tunity should have been glad to tell him so, but
I saw no object in seeking him out for the purpose.
I am a little shy of any assumption of moral indig-
nation; there is always in it an element of self-sat-
isfaction which makes it awkward to anyone who has
a sense of humour. It requires a very lively passion
to steel me to my own ridicule. There was a sar-
donic sincerity in Strickland which made me sensitive
to anything that might suggest a pose.
But one evening when I was passing along the
lAvenue de Clichy in front of the cafe which Strick-
land frequented and which I now avoided, I ran
straight into him. He was accompanied by Blanche
Stroeve, and they were just going to Strickland's fa-
"Where the devil have you been all this time?"
said he. "I thought you must be away."
His cordiality was proof that he knew I had no
wish to speak to him. He was not a man with whom
it was worth while wasting politeness.
"No," I said; "I haven't been away. 11
"Why haven't you been here?"
"There are more cafes in Paris than one, at which
to trifle away an idle hour."
Blanche then held out her hand and! bade me
good-evening. I do not know why I had expected her
170 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
to be somehow changed; she wore the same gray
dress that she wore so often, neat and becoming, and
her brow was as candid, her eyes as untroubled, as
when I had been used to see her occupie'd with her
household duties in the studio.
"Come and have a game of chess," said Strick-
I do not know why at the moment I could think
of no excuse. I followed them rather sulkily to the
table at which Strickland always sat, and he called
for the board and the chessmen. They both took
the situation so much as a matter of course that I felt
it absurd to do otherwise. Mrs. Stroeve watched the
game with inscrutable face. She was silent, but she
had always been silent. I looked at her mouth for
an expression that could give me a clue to what she
felt; I watched her eyes for some tell-tale flash, some
hint of dismay or bitterness ; I scanned her brow for
any passing line that might indicate a settling emo-
tion. Her face was a mask that told nothing. Her
hands lay on her lap motionless, one in the other
loosely clasped. I knew from what I had heard
that she was a woman of violent passions; and that
injurious blow that she had given Dirk, the man who
had loved her so devotedly, betrayed a sudden tern-,
per and a horrid cruelty. She had abandoned the
safe shelter of her husband's protection and the com-
fortable ease of a well-provided establishment for
what she could not but see was an extreme hazard.
It showed an eagerness for adventure, a readiness for
the hand-to-mouth, which the care she took of her
home and her love of good housewifery made not a
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 171
little remarkable. She must be a woman of com-
plicated character, and there was something dramatic
in the contrast of that with her demure appearance.
I was excited by the encounter, and my fancy
worked busily while I sought to concentrate myself
on the game I was playing. I always tried my best
to beat Strickland, because he was a player who
despised the opponent he vanquished; his exultation
in victory made defeat more difficult to bear. On
the other hand, if he was beaten he took it with
complete good-humour. He was a bad winner and
a good loser. Those who think that a man betrays
his character nowhere more clearly than when he
is playing a game might on this draw subtle infer-
When he had finished I called the waiter to pay
for the drinks, and left them. The meeting had
been devoid of incident. No word had been said to
give me anything to think about, and any surmises
I might make were unwarranted. I was intrigued.
I could not tell how they were getting on. I would
have given much to be a disembodied spirit so that
I could see them in the privacy of the studio and
hear what they talked about. I had not the smallest
indication on which to let my imagination work.
TWO or three days later Dirk Stroeve called on
""I hear you've seen Blanche, he said.
"How on earth did you find out?"
"I was told by someone who saw you sitting with
them, Why didn't you tell me?"
"I thought it would only pain you."
"What do I care if it does? You must know that
I want to hear the smallest thing about her."
I waited for him to ask me questions.
"What does she look like?" he said.
"Does she seem happy?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"How can I tell? We were in a cafe; we were
playing chess ; I had no opportunity to speak to her."
"Oh, but couldn't you tell by her face?"
I shook my head. I could only repeat that by no
word, by no hinted gesture, had she given an indi-
cation of her feelings. He must know better than
I how great were her powers of self-control. He
clasped his hands emotionally.
"Oh, I'm so frightened. I know something is
going to happen, something terrible, and I can do
nothing to stop it."
"What sort of thing?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know," he moaned, seizing his head
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 173
with his hands. "I foresee some terrible catastro-
Stroeve had always been excitable, but now he was
beside himself; there was no reasoning with him. I
thought it probable enough that Blanche Stroeve
would not continue to find life with Strickland toler-
able, but one of the falsest of proverbs is that you
must lie on the bed that you have made. The experi-
ence of life shows that people are constantly doing
things which must lead to disaster, and yet by some
chance manage to evade the result of their folly.
When Blanche quarrelled with Strickland she had
only to leave him, and her husband was waiting hum-
bly to forgive and forget. I was not prepared to
feel any great sympathy for her.
"You see, you don't love her," said Stroeve.
"After all, there's nothing to prove that she is
unhappy. For all we know they may have settled
down into a most domestic couple."
Stroeve gave me a look with his woeful eyes.
"Of course it doesn't much matter to you, but
to me it's so serious, so intensely serious."
I was sorry if I had seemed impatient or flippant.
"Will you do something for me?" asked Stroeve.
"Will you write to Blanche for me?"
"Why can't you write yourself?"
"I've written over and over again. I didn't expect
her to answer. I don't think she reads the letters."
"You make no account of feminine curiosity.
you think she could resist?"
"She could mine."
174 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
I looked at him quickly. He lowered his eyes.
That answer of his seemed to me strangely humil-
iating. He was conscious that she regarded him with
an indifference so profound that the sight of his
handwriting would have not the slightest effect on
"Do you really believe that she'll ever come back
to you?" I asked.
"I want her to know that if the worst comes to
the worst she can count on me. That's what I want
you to tell her."
I took a sheet of paper.
"What is it exactly you wish me to say?"
This is what I wrote :
DEAR MRS. STROEVE,
Dirk wishes me to tell you that if at any time
you want him he will be grateful for the opportunity
of being of service to you. He has no ill-feeling
towards you on account of anything that has hap*
pened. His love for you is unaltered. You will always
find him at the following address:
BUT though I was no less convinced than
Stroeve that the connection between Strick-
land and Blanche would end disastrously, I
did not expect the issue to take the tragic form it
did. The summer came, breathless and sultry, and
even at night there was no coolness to rest one's
jaded nerves. The sun-baked streets seemed to give
back the heat that had beat down on them during
the day, and the passers-by dragged their feet along
them wearily. I had not seen Strickland for weeks.
Occupied with other things, I had ceased to think
of him and his affairs. Dirk, with his vain lamen-
tations, had begun to bore me, and I avoided his so-
ciety. It was a sordid business, and I was not in-
clined to trouble myself with it further.
One morning I was working. I sat in my py-
jamas. My thoughts wandered, and I thought of
the sunny beaches of Brittany and the freshness of
the sea. By my side was the empty bowl in which
the concierge had brought me my cafe au lait and
the fragment of croissant which I had not had appe-
tite enough to eat. I heard the concierge in the next
room emptying my bath. There was a tinkle at my
bell, and I left her to open the door. In a moment I
heard Stroeve's voice asking if I was in. Without
moving, I shouted to him to come. He entered the
room quickly, and came up to the table at which I
176 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"She's killed herself," he said hoarsely.
"What do you mean?" I cried, startled.
He made movements with his lips as though he
were speaking, but no sound issued from them. Hfe
gibbered like an idiot. My heart thumped against
my ribs, and, I do not know why, I flew into a
"For God's sake, collect yourself, man," I said.
"What on earth are you talking about?"
He made despairing gestures with his hands, but
still no words came from his mouth. He might have
been struck dumb. I do not know what came over
me; I took him by the shoulders and shook him.
Looking back, I am vexed that I made such a fool
of myself; I suppose the last restless nights had
shaken my nerves more than I knew.
"Let me sit down," he gasped at length.
I filled a glass with St. Galmier, and gave it to
him to drink. I held it to his mouth as though
he were a child. He gulped down a mouthful, and
some of it was spilt on his shirt-front.
"Who's killed herself?"
I do not know why I asked, for I knew whom he
meant. He made an effort to collect himself.
"They had a row last night. He went away."
"Is she dead?"
"No ; they've taken her to the hospital."
"Then what are you talking about?" I cried im-
patiently. "Why did you say she'd killed her-
"Don't be cross with me. I can't tell you anything
if you talk to me like that."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 177
I clenched my hands, seeking to control my irri-
tation. I attempted a smile.
"I'm sorry. Take your time. Don't hurry, there's
a good fellow."
His round blue eyes behind the spectacles were
ghastly with terror. The magnifying-glasses he wore
"When the concierge went up this morning to take
a letter she could get no answer to her ring. She
heard someone groaning. The door wasn't locked,
and she went in. Blanche was lying on the bed. She'd
been frightfully sick. There was a bottle of oxalic
acid on the table."
Stroeve hid his face in his hands and swayed back-
wards and forwards, groaning.
"Was she conscious?"
"Yes. Oh, if you knew how she's suffering! I
can't bear it. I can't bear it."
His voice rose to a shriek.
"Damn it all, you haven't got to bear it," I cried
impatiently. "She's got to bear it."
"How can you be so cruel?"
"What have you done?"
"They sent for a doctor and for me, and they told
the police. I'd given the concierge twenty francs,
and told her to send for me if anything happened."
He paused a minute, and I saw that what he had
to tell me was very hard to say.
"When I went she wouldn't speak to me. She
told them to send me away. I swore that I forgave
her everything, but she wouldn't listen. She tried
to beat her head against the wall. The doctor told
178 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
me that I mustn't remain with her. She kept on
saying, 'Send him away!' I went, and waited in the
studio. And when the ambulance came and they
put her on a stretcher, they made me go in the
kitchen so that she shouldn't know I was there."
While I dressed for Stroeve wished me to go
at once with him to the hospital he told me that
he had arranged for his wife to have a private room,
so that she might at least be spared the sordid pro-
miscuity of a ward. On our way he explained to me
why he desired my presence; if she still refused to
see him, perhaps she would see me. He begged me
to repeat to her that he loved her still; he would
reproach her for nothing, but desired only to help
her; he made no claim on her, and on her recovery
would not seek to induce her to return to him; she
would be perfectly free.
But when we arrived at the hospital, a gaunt, cheer-
less building, the mere sight of which was enough to
make one's heart sick, and after being directed from
this official to that, up endless stairs and through
long, bare corridors, found the doctor in charge of
the case, we were told that the patient was too ill
to see anyone that day. The doctor was a little
bearded man in white, with an offhand manner. He
evidently looked upon a case as a case, and anxious
relatives as a nuisance which must be treated with
firmness. Moreover, to him the affair was common-
place ; it was just an hysterical woman who had quar-
relled with her lover and taken poison; it was con-
stantly happening. At first he thought that Dirk was
the cause of the disaster, and he was needlessly
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 179
brusque with him. When I explained that he was the
husband, anxious to forgive, the doctor looked at him
suddenly, with curious, searching eyes. I seemed to
see in them a hint of mockery ; it was true that Stroeve
had the head of the husband who is deceived. The
doctor faintly shrugged his shoulders.
"There is no immediate danger," he said, in answer
to our questioning. "One doesn't know how much she
took. It may be that she will get off with a fright.
Women are constantly trying to commit suicide for
love, but generally they take care not to succeed. It's
generally a gesture to arouse pity or terror in their
There "was in his tone a frigid contempt. It was
obvious that to him Blanche Stroeve was only a unit
to be added to the statistical list of attempted suicides
in the city of Paris during the current year. He was
busy, and could waste no more time on us. He told
us that if we came at a certain hour next day, should
Blanche be better, it might be possible for her hus-
band to see her.
I SCARCELY know how we got through that day.
Stroeve could not bear to be alone, and I exhaust-
ed myself in efforts to distract him. I took him
to the Louvre, and he pretended to look at pictures,
but I saw that his thoughts were constantly with his
wife. I forced him to eat, and after luncheon I in-
duced him to lie down, but he could not sleep. He
accepted willingly my invitation to remain for a few
days in my apartment. I gave him books to read,
but after a page or two he would put the book down
and stare miserably into space. During the evening
we played innumerable games of piquet, and bravely,
not to disappoint my efforts, he tried to appear in-
terested. Finally I gave him a draught, and he sank
into uneasy slumber.
When we went again to the hospital we saw a nurs-
ing sister. She told us that Blanche seemed a little
better, and she went in to ask if she would see her
husband. We heard voices in the room in which she
lay, and presently the nurse returned to say that the
patient refused to see anyone. We had told her that
if she refused to see Dirk the nurse was to ask if she
would see me, but this she refused also. Dirk's lips
"I dare not insist," said the nurse. "She is too ill.
Perhaps in a day or two she may change her mind."
"Is there anyone else she wants to see?" asked
Dirk, in a voice so low it was almost a whisper.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 181
"She says she only wants to be left in peace."
Dirk's hands moved strangely, as though they had
nothing to do with his body, with a movement of their
u WilI you tell her that if there is anyone else she
wishes to see I will bring him? I only want her to be
The nurse looked at him with her calm, kind eyes,
which had seen all the horror and pain of the world,
and yet, filled with the vision of a world without sin,
1 'I will tell her when she is a little calmer."
Dirk, filled with compassion, begged her to take.,
the message at once.
"It may cure her. I beseech you to ask her now."
With a faint smile of pity, the nurse went back into
the room. We heard her low voice, and then, in a
voice I did not recognise the answer:
"No. No. No."
The nurse came out again and shook her head.
"Was that she who spoke then?" I asked. "Her
voice sounded so strange."
"It appears that her vocal cords have been burnt
by the acid."
Dirk gave a low cry of distress. I asked him to go
on and wait for me at the entrance, for I wanted to
say something to the nurse. He did not ask what it
was, but went silently. He seemed to have lost all
power of will; he was like an obedient child.
"Has she told you why she did it?" I asked.
"No. She won't speak. She lies on her back quite
quietly. She doesn't move for hours at a time. But
182 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
she cries always. Her pillow is all wet. She's toe
weak to use a handkerchief, and the tears just run
down her face."
It gave me a sudden wrench of the heart-strings.
I could have killed Strickland then, and I knew that
my voice was trembling when I bade the nurse good-
I found Dirk waiting for me on the steps. He
seemed to see nothing, and did not notice that I had
joined him till I touched him on the arm. We walked
along in silence. I tried to imagine what had hap-
pened to drive the poor creature to that dreadful
step. I presumed that Strickland knew what had hap-
pened, for someone must have been to see him from
the police, and he must have made his statement. I
did not know where he was. I supposed he had gone
back to the shabby attic which served him as a studio.
It was curious that she should not wish to see him.
Perhaps she refused to have him sent for because she
knew he would refuse to come. I wondered what an
abyss of cruelty she must have looked into that in hor-
ror she refused to live.
THE next week was dreadful. Stroeve went
twice a day to the hospital to enquire after
his wife, who still declined to see him; and
came away at first relieved and hopeful because
he was told that she seemed to be growing better,
and then in despair because, the complication which
the doctor had feared having ensued, recovery was
impossible. The nurse was pitiful to his distress,
but she had little to say that could console him. The
poor woman lay quite still, refusing to speak, with
her eyes intent, as though she watched for the com-
ing of death. It could now be only the question
of a day or two ; and when, late one evening, Stroeve
came to see me I knew it was to tell me she was
dead. He was absolutely exhausted. His volubility
had left him at last, and he sank down wearily on
my sofa. I felt that no words of condolence availed,
and I let him lie there quietly. I feared he would
think it heartless if I read, so I sat by the window,
smoking a pipe, till he felt inclined to speak.
"YouVe been very kind to me," he said at last.
"Everyone's been very kind."
"Nonsense," I said, a little embarrassed.
"At the hospital they told me I might wait. They
gave me a chair, and I sat outside the door. When
she became unconscious they said I might go in.
Her mouth and chin were all burnt by the acid.
It was awful to see her lovely skin all wounded. She
184, THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
died very peacefully, so that I didn't know she was
dead till the sister told me."
He was too tired to weep. He lay on his back
limply, as though all the strength had gone out
of his limbs, and presently I saw that he had fallen
asleep. It was the first natural sleep he had had
for a week. Nature, sometimes so cruel, is some-
times merciful. I covered him and turned down
the light. In the morning when I awoke he was
still asleep. He had not moved. His gold-rimmed
spectacles were still on his nose.
THE circumstances of Blanche Stroeve's death
necessitated all manner of dreadful formalities,
but at last we were allowed to bury her. Dirk
and I alone followed the hearse to the cemetery. We
went at a foot-pace, but on the way back we trotted,
and there was something to my mind singularly hor-
rible in the way the driver of the hearse whipped
up his horses. It seemed to dismiss the dead with
a shrug of the shoulders. Now and then I caught
sight of the swaying hearse in front of us, and our
own driver urged his pair so that we might not re-
main behind. I felt in myself, too, the desire to
get the whole thing out of my mind. I was begin-
ning to be bored with a tragedy that did not really
concern me, and pretending to myself that I spoke
in order to distract Stroeve, I turned with relief to
"Don't you think you'd better go away for a bit?'*
I said. "There can be no object in your staying in
He did not answer, but I went on ruthlessly:
"Have you made any plans for the immediate
"You must try and gather together the threads
again. Why don't you go down to Italy and start
Again he made no reply, but the driver of our
186 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
carriage came to my rescue. Slackening his pace for
a moment, he leaned over and spoke. I could not
hear what he said, so I put my head out of the win-
dow; he wanted to know where we wished to be
set down. I told him to wait a minute.
"You'd better come and have lunch with me," I
said to Dirk. "I'll tell him to drop us in the Place
"I'd rather not. I want to go to the studio."
I hesitated a moment.
"Would you like me to come with you?" I asked
"No; I should prefer to be alone."
I gave the driver the necessary direction, and in
renewed silence we drove on. Dirk had not been
to the studio since the wretched morning on which
they had taken Blanche to the hospital. I was glad
he did not want me to accompany him, and when I
left him at the door I walked away with relief. I
took a new pleasure in the streets of Paris, and
I looked with smiling eyes at the people who hur-
ried to and fro. The day was fine and sunny, and
I felt in myself a more acute delight in life. I could
not help it; I put Stroeve and his sorrows out of
my mind. I wanted to enjoy.
I DID not see him again for nearly a week. Then,
he fetched me soon after seven one evening and
took me out to dinner. He was dressed in the
deepest mourning, and on his bowler was a broad
black band. He had even a black border to his
handkerchief. His garb of woe suggested that he
had lost in one catastrophe every relation he had in
the world, even to cousins by marriage twice re-
moved. His plumpness and his red, fat cheeks made
his mourning not a little incongruous. It was cruel
that his extreme unhappiness should have in it some-
thing of buffoonery.
He told me he had made up his mind to go away,
though not to Italy, as I had suggested, but to Hol-
"I'm starting to-morrow. This is perhaps the
last time we shall ever meet."
I made an appropriate rejoinder, and he smiled
"I haven't been home for five years. I think I'd
forgotten it all; I seemed to have come so far away
from my father's house that I was shy at the idea
of revisiting it; but now I feel it's my only refuge."
He was sore and bruised, and his thoughts went
back to the tenderness of his mother's love. The
ridicule he had endured for years seemed now to
weigh him down, and the final blow of Blanche's
treachery had robbed him of the resiliency whicH
188 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
had made him take it so gaily. He could no longer
laugh with those who laughed at him. He was an
outcast. He told me of his childhood in the tidy
brick house, and of his mother's passionate orderli-
ness. Her kitchen was a miracle of clean bright-
ness. Everything was always in its place, and no-
where could you see a speck of dust. Cleanliness,
indeed, was a mania with her. I saw a neat little
old woman, with cheeks like apples, toiling away
from morning to night, through the long years, to
keep her house trim and spruce. His father was
a spare old man, his hands gnarled after the work
of a lifetime, silent and upright; in the evening h'e
read the paper aloud, while his wife and daughter
(now married to the captain of a fishing smack),
unwilling to lose a moment, bent over their sewing.
Nothing ever happened in that little town, left be-
hind by the advance of civilisation, and one year
followed the next till death came, like a friend, to
give rest to those who had laboured so diligently.
"My father wished me to become a carpenter like
himself. For five generations we've carried on the
same trade, from father to son. Perhaps that is
the wisdom of life, to tread in your father's steps,
and look neither to the right nor to the left. When
I was a little boy I said I would marry the daugh-
ter of the harness-maker who lived next door. She
was a little girl with blue eyes and a flaxen pigtail.
She would have kept my house like a new pin, and
I should have had a son to carry on the business after
Stroeve sighed a little and was silent. His
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 189
thoughts dwelt among pictures of what might have
been, and the safety of the life he had refused filled
him with longing.
"The world is hard and cruel. We are here
none knows why, and we go none knows whither.
We must be very humble. We must see the beauty
of quietness. We must go through life so incon-
spicuously that Fate does not notice us. And let us
seek the love of simple, ignorant people. Their
ignorance is better than all our knowledge. Let us
be silent, content in our little corner, meek and gentle
like them. That is the wisdom of life."
To me it was his broken spirit that expressed itself,
and I rebelled against his renunciation. But I kep't
my own counsel.
"What made you think of being a painter?" I
He shrugged his shoulders.
"It happened that I had a knack for drawing.
I got prizes for it at school. My poor mother was
very proud of my gift, and she gave me a box of
water-colours as a present. She showed my sketches
to the pastor and the doctor and the judge. And
they sent me to Amsterdam to try for a scholar-
ship, and I won it. Poor soul, she was so proud;
and though it nearly broke her heart to part from
me, she smiled, and would not show me her grief.
She was pleased that her son should be an artist.
They pinched and saved so that I should have enough
to live on, and when my first picture was exhibited
they came to Amsterdam to see it, my father and
mother and my sister, and my mother cried when
190 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
she looked at it." His kind eyes glistened. "And
now on every wall of the old house there is one of
my pictures in a beautiful gold frame."
He glowed with happy pride. I thought of those
cold scenes of his, with their picturesque peasants
and cypresses and olive-trees. They must look queer
in their garish frames on the walls of the peasant
"The dear soul thought she was doing a wonder-
ful thing for me when she made me an artist, but
perhaps, after all, it would have been better for me
if my father's will had prevailed and I were now
but an honest carpenter."
"Now that you know what art can offer, would
you change your life? Would you have missed all
the delight it has given you?"
"Art is the greatest thing in the world," he an-
swered, after a pause.
He looked at me for a minute reflectively; he
seemed to hesitate; then he said:
"Did you know that I had been to see Strickland?"
I was astonished. I should have thought he could
not bear to set eyes on him. Stroeve smiled faintly.
"You know already that I have no proper pride."
"What do you mean by that?"
He told me a singular story.
WHEN I left him, after we had buried poor
Blanche, Stroeve walked into the house
with a heavy heart. Something impelled
him to go to the studio, some obscure desire for self-
torture, and yet he dreaded the anguish that he
foresaw. He dragged himself up the stairs; his
feet seemed unwilling to carry him; and outside the
door he lingered for a long time, trying to summon
up courage to go in. He felt horribly sick. He had
an impulse to run down the stairs after me and beg
me to go in with him; he had a feeling that there
was somebody in the studio. He remembered how
often he had waited for a minute or two on the
landing to get his breath after the ascent, and how
absurdly his impatience to see Blanche had taken it
away again. To see her was a delight that never
staled, and even though he had not been out an
hour he was as excited at the prospect as if they
had been parted for a month. Suddenly he could
not believe that she was dead. What had hap-
pened could only be a dream, a frightful dream;
and when he turned the key and opened the door,
he would see her bending slightly over the table in
the gracious attitude of the woman in Chardin's
Benedicite, which always seemed to him so exquisite.
Hurriedly he took the key out of his pocket, opened,
and walked in.
192 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
The apartment had no look of desertion. His
wife's tidiness was one of the traits which had so
much pleased him; his own upbringing had given
him a tender sympathy for the delight in orderliness ;
and when he had seen her instinctive desire to put
each thing in its appointed place it had given him
a little warm feeling in his heart. The bedroom
looked as though she had just left it: the brushes
were neatly placed on the toilet-table, one on each
side of the comb; someone had smoothed down the
bed on which she had spent her last night in the
studio; and her nightdress in a little case lay on the
pillow. It was impossible to believe that she would
never come into that room again.
But he felt thirsty, and went into the kitchen to
get himself some water. Here, too, was order. On
a rack were the plates that she had used for dinner
on the night of her quarrel with Strickland, and they
had been carefully washed. The knives and forks
were put away in a drawer. Under a cover were
the remains of a piece of cheese, and in a tin box
was a crust of bread. She had done her marketing
from day to day, buying only what was strictly need-
ful, so that nothing was left over from one day to
the next. Stroeve knew from the enquiries made
by the police that Strickland had walked out of the
house immediately after dinner, and the fact that
Blanche had washed up the things as usual gave him
a little thrill of horror. Her methodicalness made
her suicide more deliberate. Her self-possession was
frightening. A sudden pang seized him, and his
knees felt so weak that he almost fell. He wsnt
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 193
back into the bedroom and threw himself on the
bed. He cried out her name.
The thought of her suffering was intolerable. He
had a sudden vision of her standing in the kitchen
it was hardly larger than a cupboard washing the
plates and glasses, the forks and spoons, giving the
knives a rapid polish on the knife-board; and then
putting everything away, giving the sink a scrub,
and hanging the dish-cloth up to dry it was there
still, a gray torn rag; then looking round to see
that everything was clean and nice. He saw her
roll down her sleeves and remove her apron the
apron hung on a peg behind the door and take
the bottle of oxalic acid and go with it into the
The agony of it drove him up from the bed and
out of the room. He went into the studio. It was
dark, for the curtains had been drawn over the great
window, and he pulled them quickly back; but a
sob broke from him as with a rapid glance he took
in the place where he had been so happy. Nothing
was changed here, either. Strickland was indiffer-
ent to his surroundings, and he had lived in the
other's studio without thinking of altering a thing.
It was deliberately artistic. It represented Stroeve's
idea of the proper environment for an artist. There
were bits of old brocade on the walls, and the piano
was covered with a piece of silk, beautiful and tar-
nished; in one corner was a copy of the Venus
of Milo, and in another of the Venus of the Medici.
Here and there was an Italian cabinet surmounted
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with Delft, and here and there a bas-relief. In a
handsome gold frame was a copy of Velasquez''' Inno-
cent X., that Stroeve had made in Rome, and placed
so as to make the most of their decorative effect
were a number of Stroeve's pictures, all in splendid
frames. Stroeve had always been very proud of his
taste. He had never lost his appreciation for the
romantic atmosphere of a studio, and though now
the sight of it was like a stab in his heart, without
thinking what he was at, he changed slightly the
position of a Louis XV. table which was one of
his treasures. Suddenly he caught sight of a canvas
with its face to the wall. It was a much larger
one than he himself was in the habit of using, and
lie wondered what it did there. He went over to
It and leaned it towards him so that he could see
the painting. It was a nude. His heart began
to beat quickly, for he guessed at once that it was
one of Strickland's pictures. He flung it back
against the wall angrily what did he mean by leav-
ing it there? but his movement caused it to fall,
face downwards, on the ground. No matter whose
the picture, he could not leave it there in the dust,
and he raised it; but then curiosity got the better
of him. He thought he would like to have a proper
look at it, so he brought it along and set it on the
easel. Then he stood back in order to see it at
He gave a gasp. It was the picture of a woman
lying on a sofa, with one arm beneath her head
and the other along her body; one knee was raised,
and the other leg was stretched out. The pose wa
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 195
classic. Stroeve's head swam. It was Blanche.
Grief and jealousy and rage seized him, and he cried
out hoarsely; he was inarticulate; he clenched his
fists and raised them threateningly at an invisible
enemy. He screamed at the top of his voice. He
was beside himself. He could not bear it. That
was too much. He looked round wildly for some
instrument; he wanted to hack the picture to pieces;
it should not exist another minute. He could see
nothing that would serve his purpose; he rummaged
about his painting things; somehow he could not
find a thing; he was frantic. At last he came
upon what he sought, a large scraper, and he
pounced on it with a cry of triumph. He seized
it as though it were a dagger, and ran to the
As Stroeve told me this he became as excited as
,when the incident occurred, and he took hold of a
dinner-knife on the table between us, and brandished
it. He lifted his arm as though to strike, and then,
opening his hand, let it fall with a clatter to the
ground. He looked at me with a tremulous smile.
He did not speak.
"Fire away," I said.
"I don't know what happened to me. I was just
going to make a great hole in the picture, I had
my arm all ready for the blow, when suddenly I
seemed to see it."
"The picture. It was a work of art. I couldn't
touch it. I was afraid."
Stroeve was silent again, and he stared at me
W6 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with his mouth open and his round blue eyes start-
ing out of his head.
"It was a great, a wonderful picture. I was
seized with awe. I had nearly committed a dreadful
crime. I moved a little to see it better, and my
foot knocked against the scraper. I shuddered."
I really felt something of the emotion that had
caught him. I was strangely impressed. It was
as though I were suddenly transported into a world
in which the values were changed. I stood by, at
a loss, like a stranger in a land where the reac-
tions of man to familiar things are all different
from those he has known. Stroeve tried to talk to
me about the picture, but he was incoherent, and I
had to guess at what he meant. Strickland had burst
the bonds that hitherto had held him. He had
found, not himself, as the phrase goes, but a new
soul with unsuspected powers. It was not only the
bold simplification of the drawing which showed so
rich and so singular a personality; it was not only
the painting, though the flesh was painted with a
passionate sensuality which had in it something mi-
raculous; it was not only the solidity, so that you
felt extraordinarily the weight of the body; there
was also a spirituality, troubling and new, which led
the imagination along unsuspected ways, and sug-
gested dim empty spaces, lit only by the eternal stars,
where the soul, all naked, adventured fearful to the
discovery of new mysteries.
If I am rhetorical it is because Stroeve was rhetor-
ical. (Do we not know that man in moments of
emotion expresses himself naturally in the terms of
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 197
a novelette?) Stroeve was trying to express a feel-
ing which he had never known before, and he did
not know how to put it into common terms. He
was like the mystic seeking to describe the ineffable.
But one fact he made clear to me; people talk of
beauty lightly, and having no feeling for words, they
use that one carelessly, so that it loses its force;
and the thing it stands for, sharing its name with
a hundred trivial objects, is deprived of dignity.
They call beautiful a dress, a dog, a sermon; and
when they are face to face with Beauty cannot rec-
ognise it. The false emphasis with which they try
to deck their worthless thoughts blunts their suscep-
tibilities. Like the charlatan who counterfeits a
spiritual force he has sometimes felt, they lose the
power they have abused. But Stroeve, the uncon-
querable buffoon, had a love and an understanding
of beauty which were as honest and sincere as was
his own sincere and honest soul. It meant to him
what God means to the believer, and when he saw
it he was afraid.
"What did you say to Strickland when you saw,
"I asked him to come with me to Holland."
I was dumbfounded. I could only look at Stroeve
in stupid amazement.
"We both loved Blanche. There would have
been room for him in my mother's house. I think
the company of poor, simple people would have done
his soul a great good. I think he might have learnt
from them something that would be very useful to
198 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"What did he say?"
"He smiled a little. I suppose he thought nte
very silly. He said he had other fish to fry."
I could have wished that Strickland had used
some other phrase to indicate his refusal.
"He gave me the picture of Blanche."
I wondered why Strickland had done that. But
I made no remark, and for some time we kept si-
"What have you done with all your things?" I
said at last.
"I got a Jew in, and he gave me a round sum
for the lot. I'm taking my pictures home with me.
Beside them I own nothing in the world now but a
box of clothes and a few books."
"I'm glad you're going home," I said.
I felt that his chance was to put all the past
behind him. I hoped that the grief which now
seemed intolerable would be softened by the lapse
of time, and a merciful forgetfulness would help him
to take up once more the burden of life. He was
young still, and in a few years he would look back
on all his misery with a sadness in which there
would be something not unpleasurable. Sooner or
later he would marry some honest soul in Holland,
and I felt sure he would be happy. I smiled at the
thought of the vast number of bad pictures he would
paint before he died.
Next day I saw him off for Amsterdam.
FOR the next month, occupied with my own af-
fairs, I saw no one connected with this la-
mentable business, and my mind ceased to be
occupied with it. But one day, when I was walking
along, bent on some errand, I passed Charles
Strickland. The sight of him brought back to me
all the horror which I was not unwilling to forget,
and I felt in me a sudden repulsion for the cause
of it. Nodding, for it would have been childish to
cut him, I walked on quickly; but in a minute I felt
a hand on my shoulder.
"You're in a great hurry," he said cordially.
It was characteristic of him to display geniality
with anyone who showed a disinclination to meet
him, and the coolness of my greeting can have left
him in little doubt of that.
"I am," I answered briefly.
"I'll walk along with you," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"For the pleasure of your society."
I did not answer, and he walked by my side si-
lently. We continued thus for perhaps a quarter
of a mile. I began to feel a little ridiculous. At
last we passed a stationer's, and it occurred to me
that I might as well buy some paper. It would be
an excuse to be rid of him.
"I'm going in here," I said. "Good-bye. n
'Til wait for you."
200 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
I shrugged my shoulders, and went into the shop.
I reflected that French paper was bad, and that,
foiled of my purpose, I need not burden myself with
a purchase that I did not need. I asked for some-
thing I knew could not be provided, and in a min-
ute came out into the street.
"Did you get what you wanted?" he asked.
We walked on in silence, and then came to a place
where several streets met. I stopped at the curb.
"Which way do you go?" I enquired.
"Your way," he smiled.
"I'm going home."
"I'll come along with you and smoke a pipe."
"You might wait for an invitation," I retorted
"I would if I thought there was any chance of
"Do you see that wall in front of you?" I said,
"In that case I should have thought you could
see also that I don't want your company."
"I vaguely suspected it, I confess."
I could not help a chuckle. It is one of the defects
of my character that I cannot altogether dislike any*
one who makes me laugh. But I pulled myself to-
"I think you're detestable. You're the most loath-
some beast that it's ever been my misfortune to meet.
Why do you seek the society of someone who hates
and despises you?"
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 201
"My dear fellow, what the hell do you suppose I
care what you think of me?"
"Damn it all," I said, more violently because I
had an inkling my motive was none too creditable,
"I don't want to know you."
"Are you afraid I shall corrupt you?"
His tone made me feel not a little ridiculous. I
knew that he was looking at me sideways, with a
"I suppose you are hard up," I remarked inso-
"I should be a damned fool if I thought I had
any chance of borrowing money from you."
"YouVe come down in the world if you can bring
yourself to flatter."
"You'll never really dislike me so long as I give
you the opportunity to get off a good thing now
I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from laugh-
ing. What he said had a hateful truth in it, and
another defect of my character is that I enjoy the
company of those, however depraved, who can give
me a Roland for my Olive'r. I began to feel that
my abhorrence for Strickland could only be sus-
tained by an effort on my part. I recognised my
moral weakness, but saw that my disapprobation had
in it already something of a pose; and I knew that
if I felt it, his own keen instinct had discovered it,
too. He was certainly laughing at me up his sleeve.
I left him the last word, and sought refuge in $
shrug of the shoulders and taciturnity.
WE arrived at the house in which I lived.
I would not ask him to come in with me,
but walked up the stairs without a word.
He followed me, and entered the apartment on my
heels. He had not been in it before, but he never
gave a glance at the room I had been at pains to
make pleasing to the eye. There was a tin of
tobacco on the table, and, taking out his pipe, he
filled it. He sat down on the only chair that had
no arms and tilted himself on the back legs.
"If you're going to make yourself at home, why
don't you sit in an arm-chair ?" I asked irritably.
"Why are you concerned about my comfort?"
"I'm not," I retorted, "but only about my own.
It makes me uncomfortable to see someone sit on
an uncomfortable chair."
He chuckled, but did not move. He smoked on
in silence, taking no further notice of me, and ap-
parently was absorbed in thought. I wondered why
he had come.
Until long habit has blunted the sensibility, there
is something disconcerting to the writer in the in-
stinct which causes him to take an interest in the
singularities of human nature so absorbing that his
moral sense is powerless against it. He recognises
in himself an artistic satisfaction in the contempla-
tion of evil which a little startles him; but sincerity
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 203
forces him to confess that the disapproval he feels
for certain actions is not nearly so strong as his
curiosity in their reasons. The character of a scoun-
drel, logical and complete, has a fascination for his
creator which is an outrage to law and order. I
expect that Shakespeare devised lago with a gusto
which he never knew when, weaving moonbeams
with his fancy, he imagined Desdemona. It may be
that in his rogues the writer gratifies instincts deep-
rooted in him, which the manners and customs of
a civilised world have forced back to the mysterious
recesses of the subconscious. In giving to the char-
acter of his invention flesh and bones he is giving
life to that part of himself which finds no other
means of expression. His satisfaction is a sense
The writer is more concerned to know than to
There was in my soul a perfectly genuine horror
of Strickland, and side by side with it a cold curi-
osity to discover his motives. I was puzzled by him,
and I was eager to see how he regarded the tragedy
he had caused in the lives of people who had used
him with so much kindness. I applied the scalpel
"Stroeve told me that picture you painted of his
wife was the best thing youVe ever done."
Strickland took his pipe out of his mouth, and a
smile lit up his eyes.
"It was great fun to do."
"Why did you give it him?"
Td finished it. It wasn't any good to me."
804 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Do you know that Stroeve nearly destroyed it?"
"It wasn't altogether satisfactory.'*
He was quiet for a moment or two, then he tooK
his pipe out of his mouth again, and chuckled.
"Do you know that the little man came to see
"Weren't you rather touched by what he had
"No; I thought it damned silly and sentimental."
"I suppose it escaped your memory that you'd
ruined his life?" I remarked.
He rubbed his bearded chin reflectively.
"He's a very bad painter."
"But a very good man."
"And an excellent cook," Strickland added de-
His callousness was inhuman, and in my indig-
nation I was not inclined to mince my words.
"As a mere matter of curiosity I wish you'd tell
me, have you felt the smallest twinge of remorse for
Blanche Stroeve's death?"
I watched his face for some change of expression,
but it remained impassive.
"Why should I?" he asked
"Let me put the facts before you. You were
dying, and Dirk Stroeve took you into his own
house. He nursed you like a mother. He sacri-
ficed his time and his comfort and his money for
you. He snatched you from the jaws of death."
Strickland shrugged his shoulders.
"The absurd little man enjoys doing things for
other people. That's his life."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 205
"Granting that you owed him no gratitude, were
you obliged to go out of your way to take his wife
from him? Until you came on the scene they were
happy. Why couldn't you leave them alone? 11
"What makes you think they were happy?'*
"It was evident."
"You are a discerning fellow. Do you think she
could ever have forgiven him for what he did for
"What do you mean by that?"
"Don't you know why he married her?"
I shook my head.
"She was a governess in the family of some
Roman prince, and the son of the house seduced
her. She thought he was going to marry her. They
turned her out into the street neck and crop. She
was going to have a baby, and she tried to commit
suicide. Stroeve found her and married her."
"It was just like him. I never knew anyone witH
so compassionate a heart."
I had often wondered why that ill-assorted pair
had married, but just that explanation had never
occurred to me. That was perhaps the cause of
the peculiar quality of Dirk's love for his wife. I
had noticed in it something more than passion. I
remembered also how I had always fancied that her
reserve concealed I knew not what; but now I saw
in it more than the desire to hide a shameful secret.
Her tranquillity was like the sullen calm that broods
over an island which has been swept by a hurricane.
Her cheerfulness was the .cheerfulness of despair.
Strickland interrupted my reflections with an ob
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
; servation the profound cynicism of which startled
"A woman can forgive a man for the harm he
does her," he said, "but she can never forgive him
for the sacrifices he makes on lier account."
"It must be reassuring to you to know that you
certainly run no risk of incurring the resentment of
the women you come in contact with," I retorted.
A slight smile broke on his lips.
"You are always prepared to sacrifice your prin-
ciples for a repartee," he answered.
"What happened to the child?"
"Oh, it was still-born, three or four months after
they were married."
Then I came to the question which had seemed
to me most puzzling.
"Will you tell me why you bothered about
Blanche Stroeve at all?"
He did not answer for so long that I nearly
"How do I know?" he said at last. "She couldn't
bear the sight of me. It amused me."
He gave a sudden flash of anger.
"Damn it all, I wanted her."
But he recovered his temper immediately, and
looked at me with a smile.
"At first she was horrified."
"Did you tell her?"
"There wasn't any need. She knew. I never
said a word. She was frightened. At last I took
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 207
I do not know what there was in the way he told
me this that extraordinarily suggested the violence
of his desire. It was disconcerting and rather hor-
rible. His life was strangely divorced from ma-
terial things, and it was as though his body at times
wreaked a fearful revenge on his spirit. The satyr
in him suddenly took possession, and he was power-
less in the grip of an instinct which had all the
strength of the primitive forces of nature. It was
an obsession so complete that there was no room
in his soul for prudence or gratitude.
"But why did you want to take her away with
you?" I asked.
"I didn't," he answered, frowning. "When she
said she was coming I was nearly as surprised as
Stroeve. I told her that when I'd had enough of
her she'd have to go, and she said she'd risk that."
He paused a little. "She had a wonderful body,
and I wanted to paint a nude. When I'd finished
my picture I took no more interest in her."
"And she loved you with all her heart."
He sprang to his feet and walked up and down
the small room.
"I don't want love. I haven't time for it. It's
weakness. I am a man, and sometimes I want a
woman. When I've satisfied my passion I'm ready
for other things. I can't overcome my desire, but
I hate it; it imprisons my spirit; I look forward to
the time when I shall be free from all desire and
can give myself without hindrance to my work. Be-
cause women can do nothing except love, they've
given it a ridiculous importance. They want to per-
208 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
suade us that it's the whole of life. It's an insig-
nificant part. I know lust. That's normal and
healthy. Love is a disease. Women are the instru-
ments of my pleasure ; I have no patience with their
claim to be helpmates, partners, companions."
I had never heard Strickland speak so much at
one time. He spoke with a passion of indignation.
But neither here nor elsewhere do I pretend to
give his exact words; his vocabulary was small, and
he had no gift for framing sentences, so that one
had to piece his meaning together out of interjec-
tions, the expression of his face, gestures and hack-
"You should have lived at a time when women
were chattels and men the masters of slaves," I
"It just happens that I am a completely normal
I could not help laughing at this remark, made
in all seriousness; but he went on, walking up and
down the room like a caged beast, intent on express-
ing what he felt, but found such difficulty in putting
"When a woman loves you she's not satisfied until
she possesses your soul. Because she's weak, she
has a rage for domination, and nothing less will
satisfy her. She has a small mind, and she resents
the abstract which she is unable to grasp. She is
occupied with material things, and she is jealous
of the ideal. The soul of man wanders through the
uttermost regions of the universe, and she seeks
to imprison it in the circle of her account-book. Do
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 209
you remember my wife? I saw Blanche little by
little trying all her tricks. With infinite patience
she prepared to snare me and bind me. She wanted
to bring me down to her level; she cared nothing
for me, she only wanted me to be hers. She was
willing to do everything in the world for me except
the one thing I wanted: to leave me alone."
I was silent for a while.
"What did you expect her to do when you left
"She could have gone back to Stroeve," he said
irritably. "He was ready to take her."
"You're inhuman," I answered. "It's as useless
to talk to you about these things as to describe col-
ours to a man who was born blind."
He stopped in front of my chair, and stood look-
ing down at me with an expression in which I read
a contemptuous amazement.
"Do you really care a twopenny damn if Blanche
Stroeve is alive or dead?"
I thought over his question, for I wanted to an-
swer it truthfully, at all events to my soul.
"It may be a lack of sympathy in myself if it
does not make any great difference to me that she
is dead. Life had a great deal to offer her. I think
it's terrible that she should have been deprived of
it in that cruel way, and I am ashamed because I do
not really care."
"You have not the courage of your convictions.
Life has no value. Blanche Stroeve didn't commit
suicide because I left her, but because she was a
foolish and unbalanced woman. But we've talked
**, tfU ^ K^U%U --t~a rr* <&>
210 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
about her quite enough; she was an entirely unim-
portant person. Come, and I'll show you my pic-
He spoke as though I were a child that needed
to be distracted. I was sore, but not with him so
much as with myself. I thought of the happy life
that pair had led in the cosy studio in Montmartre,
Stroeve and his wife, their simplicity, kindness, and
hospitality; it seemed to me cruel that it should
have been broken to pieces by a ruthless chance;
but the cruellest thing of all was that in fact it
made no great difference. The world went on, and
no one was a penny the worse for all that wretched-
ness. I had an idea that Dirk, a man of greater
emotional reactions than depth of feeling, would
soon forget; and Blanche's life, begun with who
knows what bright hopes and what dreams, might
just as well have never been lived. It all seemed
useless and inane.
Strickland had found his hat, and stood looking
"Are you coming?"
"Why do you seek my acquaintance?" I asked
him. "You know that I hate and despise you."
He chuckled good-humouredly.
"Your only quarrel with me really is that I don't
care a twopenny damn what you think about rne."
I felt my cheeks grow red with sudden anger. It
was impossible to make him understand that one
might be outraged by his callous selfishness. I
longed to pierce his armour of complete indiffer-
ence. I knew also that in the end there was truth,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 211
in what he said. Unconsciously, perhaps, we treas-
ure the power we have over people by their regard
for our opinion of them, and we hate those upon
whom we have no such ^influence. I suppose it is
the bitterest wound to human pride. But I would
not let him see that I was put out.
"Is it possible for any man to disregard others
entirely?" I said, though more to myself than to
him. "You're dependent on others for everything
in existence. It's a preposterous attempt to try to
live only for yourself and by yourself. Sooner or
later you'll be ill and tired and old, and then you'll
crawl back into the herd. Won't you be ashamed
when you feel in your heart the desire for comfort
and sympathy? You're trying an impossible thing.
Sooner or later the human being in you will yearn
for the common bonds of humanity."
"Come and look at my pictures."
"Have you ever thought of death?"
"Why should I? It doesn't matter."
I stared at him. He stood before me, motion-
less, with a mocking smile in his eyes ; but for all that,
for a moment I had an inkling of a fiery, tortured
spirit, aiming at something greater than could be
conceived by anything that was bound up with the
flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of the
ineffable. I looked at the man before me in his
shabby clothes, with his great nose and shining eyes,
his red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strange
sensation that it was only an envelope, and I was
in the presence of a disembodied spirit.
"Let us go and look at your pictures," I said.
K/r-^c,, ^ *~ -*-M
I DID not know why Strickland had suddenly of-
fered to show them to me. I welcomed the
opportunity. A man's work reveals him. In
social intercourse he gives you the surface that he
wishes the world to accept, and you can only gain
a true knowledge of him by inferences from little
actions, of which he is unconscious, and from fleet-
ing expressions, which cross his face unknown to
him. Sometimes people carry to such perfection
the mask they have assumed that in due course they
actually become the person they seem. But in his
book or his picture the real man delivers himself
defenceless. His pretentiousness will only expose
his vacuity. The lathe painted to look like iron is
seen to be but a lathe. No affectation of peculiar-
ity can conceal a commonplace mind. To the acute
observer no one can produce the most casual work
without disclosing the innermost secrets of his soul.
As I walked up the endless stairs of the house in
which Strickland lived, I confess that I was a little
excited. It seemed to me that I was on the thresh-
old of a surprising adventure. I looked about the
room with curiosity. It was even smaller and more
bare than I remembered it. I wondered what those
friends of mine would say who demanded vast stu-
dios, and vowed they could not work unless all the
conditions were to their liking.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"You'd better stand there," he said, pointing to a
spot from which, presumably, he fancied I could
see to best advantage what he had to show me.
"You don't want me to talk, I suppose," I said.
"No, blast you; I want you to hold your tongue."
He placed a picture on the easel, and let me look
at it for a minute or two; then took it down and
put another in its place. I think he showed me
about thirty canvases. It was the result of the six
years during which he had been painting. He had
never sold a picture. The canvases were of differ-
ent sizes. The smaller were pictures of still-life and
the largest were landscapes. There were about half
a dozen portraits.
"That is the lot," he said at last.
I wish I could say that I recognised at once
their beauty and their great originality. Now that
I have seen many of them again and the rest are
familiar to me in reproductions, I am astonished
that at first sight I was bitterly disappointed. I
felt nothing of the peculiar thrill which it is the
property of art to give. The impression that Strick-
land's pictures gave me was disconcerting; and the
fact remains, always to reproach me, that I never
even thought of buying any. I missed a wonderful
chance. Most of them have 'found their way into
museums, and the rest are the treasured possessions
of wealthy amateurs. I try to find excuses for my-
self. I think that my taste is good, but I am con-
scious that it has no originality. I know very little
about painting, and I wander along trails that others
liave blazed for me. At that time I had the great-
214 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
est admiration for the Impressionists. I longed to
possess a Sisley and a Degas, and I worshipped
Manet. His Olympia seemed to me the greatest
picture of modern times, and Le Dejeuner sur
I'Herbe moved me profoundly. These works seemed
to me the last word in painting.
I will not describe the pictures that Strickland
showed me. Descriptions of pictures are always
dull, and these, besides, are familiar to all who take
an interest in such things. Now that his influence
has so enormously affected modern painting, now
that others have charted the country which he was
among the first to explore, Strickland's pictures, seen
for the first time, would find the mind more pre-
pared for them; but it must be remembered that I
had never seen anything of the sort. First of all
I was taken aback by what seemed to me the clumsi-
ness of his technique. Accustomed to the drawing
of the old masters, and convinced that Ingres was
the greatest draughtsman of recent times, I thought
that Strickland drew very badly. I knew nothing of
the simplification at which he aimed. I remember
a still-life of oranges on a plate, and I was both-
ered because the plate was not round and the oranges
were lop-sided. The portraits were a little larger
than life-size, and this gave them an ungainly look.
To my eyes the faces looked like caricatures. They
were painted in a way that was entirely new to me.
The landscapes puzzled me even more. There were
two or three pictures of the forest at Fontainebleau
and several of streets in Paris : my first feeling was
that they might have been painted by a drunken cab*
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 215
driver. I was perfectly bewildered. The colour
seemed to me extraordinarily crude. It passed
through my mind that the whole thing was a stu-
pendous, incomprehensible farce. Now that I look
back I am more than ever impressed by Strocve's
acuteness. He saw from the first that here was a
revolution in art, and he recognised in its beginnings
the genius which now all the world allows.
But if I was puzzled and disconcerted, I was not
unimpressed. Even I, in my colossal ignorance,
could not but feel that here, trying to express itself,
was real power. I was excited and interested. I
felt that these pictures had something to say to me
that was very important for me to know, but I
could not tell what it was. They seemed to me
ugly, but they suggested without disclosing a secret
of momentous significance. They were strangely
tantalising. They gave me an emotion that I could
not analyse. They said something that words were
powerless to utter. I fancy that Strickland saw
vaguely some spiritual meaning in material things
that was so strange that he could only suggest it
with halting symbols. It was as though he found
in the chaos of the universe a new pattern, and
were attempting clumsily, with anguish of soul, to
set it down. I saw a tormented spirit striving for
the release of expression.
I turned to him.
"I wonder if you haven't mistaken your medium,"
"What the hell do you mean?"
"I think you're trying to say something, I don't
216 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
quite know what it is, but I'm not sure that the best
way of saying it is by means of painting."
When I imagined that on seeing his pictures I
should get a clue to the understanding of his strange
character I was mistaken. They merely increased
the astonishment with which he filled me. I was
more at sea than ever. The only thing that seemed
clear to me and perhaps even this was fanciful
was that he was passionately striving for liberation
from some power that held him. But what the
power was and what line the liberation would take
remained obscure. Each one of us is alone in the
world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can
communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the
signs have no common value, so that their sense is
vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey
* to ot ^ ers tne treasures of our heart, but they have
not t ^ le P ower to accept them, and so we go lonely,
side by side but not together, unable to know our
fellows and unknown by them. We are like people
"living in a country whose language they know so
little that, with all manner of beautiful and pro-
found things to say, they are condemned to the
banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain
is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you
that the umbrella of the gardener's aunt is in the
The final impression I received was of a pro-
digious effort to express some state of the soul,
and in this effort, I fancied, must be sought the
explanation of what so utterly perplexed me. It
was evident that colours and forms had a signif-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 217
icance for Strickland that was peculiar to himself.
He was under an intolerable necessity to convey
something that he felt, and he created them with
that intention alone. He did not hesitate to sim-
plify or to distort if he could get nearer to that
unknown thing he sought. Facts were nothing to
him, for beneath the mass of irrelevant incidents
he looked for something significant to himself. It
was as though he had become aware of the soul of
the universe and were compelled to express it.
Though these pictures confused and puzzled me, I
could not be unmoved by the emotion that was pat*
ent in them; and, I knew not why, I felt in myself
a feeling that with regard to Strickland was the
last I had ever expected to experience. I felt an
"7. think I know now why you surrendered to
your feeling for Blanche Stroeve," I said to him.
"I think your courage failed. The weakness of
your body communicated itself to your soul. I do
not know what infinite yearning possesses you, so
that you are driven to a perilous, lonely search for
some goal where you expect to find a final release
from the spirit that torments you. I see you as
the eternal pilgrim to some shrine that perhaps does
not exist I do not know to what inscrutable Nir-
vana you aim. Do you know yourself? Perhaps A /#
it is Truth and Freedom that you seek, and for a
moment you thought that you might find release in *<*'-
Love. I think your tired soul sought rest iru a
woman's arms, and when you found no rest there
S18 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
you hated her. You had no pity for her, because
you have no pity for yourself. And you killed her
out of fear, because you trembled still at the danger
you had barely escaped.
He smiled dryly and pulled his beard.
"You are a dreadful sentimentalist, my poor
A week later I heard by chance that Strickland
had gone to Marseilles. I never saw him again.
L .COKING back, I realise that what I have
written about Charles Strickland must seem
very unsatisfactory. I have given incidents
that came to my knowledge, but they remain ob-
scure because I do not know the reasons that led
to them. The strangest, Strickland's determination
to become a painter, seems to be arbitrary; and
though it must have had causes in the circumstances
of his life, I am ignorant of them. From his own.
conversation I was able to glean nothing. If I
were writing a novel, rather than narrating such
Jacts as I know of a curious personality, I should
have invented much to account for this change of
heart. I think I should have shown a strong voca-
tion in boyhood, crushed by the will of his father
or sacrificed to the necessity of earning a living;
I should have pictured him impatient of the re-
straints of life; and in the struggle between his pas-
sion for art and the duties of his station I could
have aroused sympathy for him. I should so have
made him a more imposing figure. Perhaps it would
have been possible to see in him a new Prometheus.
There was here, maybe, the opportunity for a mod-
ern version of the hero who for the good of man-
kind exposes himself to the agonies of the damned.
It is always a moving subject.
On the other hand, I might have found his mo-
lives in the influence of the married relation. There
220 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
are a dozen ways in which this might be managed.
A latent gift might reveal itself on acquaintance with
the painters and writers whose society his wife
sought; or domestic incompatability might turn him
upon himself; a love affair might fan into bright
flame a fire which I could have shown smouldering
dimly in his heart. I think then I should have
drawn Mrs. Strickland quite differently. I should
have abandoned the facts and made her a nagging,
tiresome woman, or else a bigoted one with no sym-
pathy for the claims of the spirit. I should have
made Strickland's marriage a long torment from
which escape was the only possible issue. I think
I should have emphasised his patience with the un-
suitable mate, and the compassion which made him
unwilling to throw off the yoke that oppressed
him. I should certainly have eliminated the chil-
An effective story might also have been made by
bringing him into contact with some old painter
whom the pressure of want or the desire for com-
mercial success had made false to the genius of his
youth, and who, seeing in Strickland the possibili-
ties which himself had wasted, influenced him to
forsake all and follow the divine tyranny of art. I
think there would have been something ironic in the
picture of the successful old man, rich and hon-
oured, living in another the life which he, though
knowing it was the better part, had not had the
strength to pursue.
The facts are much duller. Strickland, a boy
Sfresh from school, went into a broker's office with-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 221
out any feeling of distaste. Until he married he
led the ordinary life of his fellows, gambling mildly;
on the Exchange, interested to the extent of a sov-
ereign or two on the result of the Derby or the
Oxford and Cambridge Race. I think he boxed a
little in his spare time. On his chimney-piece he
had photographs of Mrs. Langtry and Mary An-
derson. He read Punch and the Sporting Times*
He went to dances in Hampstead.
It matters less that for so long T should have
lost sight of him. The years during which he was
struggling to acquire proficiency in a difficult art
were monotonous, and I do not know that there was
anything significant in the shifts to which he was
put to earn enough money to keep him. An ac-
count of them would be an account of the things
he had seen happen to other people. I do not think
they had any effect on his own character. He must
have acquired experiences which would form abun-
dant material for a picaresque novel of modern
Paris, but he remained aloof, and judging from his
conversation there was nothing in those years that
had made a particular impression on him. Perhaps
when he went to Paris he was too old to fall a
victim to the glamour of his environment. Strange
as it may seem, he always appeared to me not only
practical, but immensely matter-of-fact. I suppose
his life during this period was romantic, but he
certainly saw no romance in it. It may be that in
order to realise the romance of life you must have
something of the actor in you; and, capable of
standing outside yourself, you must be able to watch*
222 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
your actions with an interest at once detached and
absorbed. But no one was more single-minded than
Strickland. I never knew anyone who was less self-
conscious. But it is unfortunate that I can give no
description of the arduous steps by which he reached
such mastery over his art as he ever acquired; for
if I could show him undaunted by failure, by an
unceasing effort of courage holding despair at bay,
doggedly persistent in the face of self-doubt, which
is the artist's bitterest enemy, I might excite some
sympathy for a personality which, I am all too
conscious, must appear singularly devoid of charm.
But I have nothing to go on. I never once saw
Strickland at work, nor do I know that anyone else
did. He kept the secret of his struggles to himself.
If in the loneliness of his studio he wrestled des-
perately with the Angel of the Lord he never al-
lowed a soul to divine his anguish.
When I come to his connection with Blanche
Stroeve I am exasperated by the fragmentariness of
the facts at my disposal. To give my story coher-
ence I should describe the progress of their tragic
union, but I know nothing of the three months
during which they lived together. I do not know
how they got on or what they talked about. After,
all, there are twenty-four hours in the day, and the
summits of emotion can only be reached at rare
intervals. I can only imagine how they passed the
rest of the time. While the light lasted and so long
as Blanche's strength endured, I suppose that Strick-
land painted, and it must have irritated her when
she saw him absorbed in his work. As a mistress
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 223
she did not then exist for him, but only as a model;
and then there were long hours in which they lived
side by side in silence. It must have frightened her.
When Strickland suggested that in her surrender
to him there was a sense of triumph over Dirk
Stroeve, because he had come to her help in her
extremity, he opened the door to many a dark con-
jecture. I hope it was not true. It seems to me
rather horrible. But who can fathom the subtleties
of the human heart? Certainly not those who expect
from it only decorous sentiments and normal emo-
tions. When Blanche saw that, notwithstanding his
moments of passion, Strickland remained aloof, she
must have been filled with dismay, and even in those
moments I surmise that she realised that to him
she was not an individual, but an instrument of
pleasure; he was a stranger still, and she tried to
bind him to herself with pathetic arts. She strove
to ensnare him with comfort and would not see that
comfort meant nothing to him. She was at pains
to get him the things to eat that he liked, and would
not see that he was indifferent to food. She was
afraid to leave him alone. She pursued him with
attentions, and when his passion was dormant
sought to excite it, for then at least she had the il-
lusion of holding him. Perhaps she knew with her
intelligence that the chains she forged only aroused
his instinct of destruction, as the plate-glass window
makes your fingers itch for half a brick; but her
heart, incapable of reason, made her continue on a
course she knew was fatal. She must have been
very unhappy. But the blindness of love led her
224 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
to believe what she wanted to be true, and her love
was so great that it seemed impossible to her that it
should not in return awake an equal love.
But my study of Strickland's character suffers
from a greater defect than my ignorance of many
facts. Because they were obvious and striking, I
have written of his relations to women; and yet
they were but an insignificant part of his life. It
is an irony that they should so tragically have af-
fected others. His real life consisted of dreams
and of tremendously hard work.
Here lies the unreality of fiction. For in men, as
a rule, love is but an episode which takes its place
among the other affairs of the day, and the emphasis
laid on it in novels gives it an importance which
is untrue to life. There are few men to whom it
is the most important thing in the world, and they
are not very interesting ones; even women, with
whom the subject is of paramount interest, have a
contempt for them. They are nattered and excited
by them, but have an uneasy feeling that they are
poor creatures. But even during the brief intervals
in which they are in love, men do other things which
distract their mind; the trades by which they earn
their living engage their attention; they are ab-
sorbed in sport; they can interest themselves in art.
For the most part, they keep their various activities
in various compartments, and they can pursue one
to the temporary exclusion of the other. They have
a faculty of concentration on that which occupies
them at the moment, and it irks them if one en-
croaches on the other. As lovers, the difference be-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 225
tween men and women is that women can love all
day long, but men only at times. ^uu j
With Strickland the sexual appetite took a very
small place. It was unimportant. It was irksome. #Zt^AfOU
His soul aimed elsewhither. He had violent pas-
sions, and on occasion desire seized his body so
that he was driven to an orgy of lust, but he hated
the instincts that robbed him of his self-possession.
I think, even, he hated the inevitable partner in his
debauchery. When he had regained command over
himself, he shuddered at the sight of the woman
he had enjoyed. His thoughts floated then serenely
in the empyrean, and he felt towards her the horror
that perhaps the painted butterfly, hovering about
the flowers, feels to the filthy chrysalis from which
it has triumphantly emerged. I suppose that art
is a manifestation of the sexual instinct. It is the
same emotion which is excited in the human heart
by the sight of a lovely woman, the Bay of Naples
under the yellow moon, and the Entombment of
Titian. It is possible that Strickland hated the nor-
mal release of sex because it seemed to him brutal
by comparison with the satisfaction of artistic crea-
tion. It seems strange even to myself, when I have
described a man who was cruel, selfish, brutal and
sensual, to say that he was a great idealist. The
He lived more poorly than an artisan. He worked
harder. He cared nothing for those things which
with most people make life gracious and beautiful.
He was indifferent to money. He cared nothing >o~mfr&
about fame. You cannot praise him because he re-
226 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
sisted the temptation to make any of those com-
promises with the world which most of us yield to.
He had no such temptation. It never entered his
head that compromise was possible. He lived in
Paris more lonely than an anchorite in the deserts
of Thebes. He asked nothing from his fellows
except that they should leave him alone. He was
single-hearted in his aim, and to pursue it he was
^ willing to sacrifice not only himself many can do
^j that but others. He had a vision.
Strickland was an odious man, but I still think
was a great one.
A CERTAIN importance attaches to the views
on art of painters, and this is the natural
place for me to set down what I know of
Strickland's opinions of the great artists of the past.
I am afraid I have very little worth noting. Strick-
land was not a conversationalist, and he had no
gift for putting what he had to say in the striking
phrase that the listener remembers. He had no
wit. His humour, as will be seen if I have in any
way succeeded in reproducing the manner of his
conversation, was sardonic. His repartee was rude.
He made one laugh sometimes by speaking the truth,
but this is a form of humour which gains its force
only by its unusualness; it would cease to amuse
if it were commonly practised.
Strickland was not, I should say, a man of great
intelligence, and his views on painting were by no
means out of the ordinary. I never heard him speak
of those whose work had a certain analogy with his
own of Cezanne, for instance, or of Van Gogh;
and I doubt very much if he had ever seen their
pictures. He was not greatly interested in the Im-
pressionists. Their technique impressed him, but I
fancy that he thought their attitude commonplace.
When Stroeve was holding forth at length on the
excellence of Monet, he said: "I prefer Winterhal-
ter." But I dare say he said it to annoy, and if
he did he certainly succeeded.
228 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
I am disappointed that I cannot report any ex-
travagances in his opinions on the old masters.
There is so much in his character which is strange
that I feel it would complete the picture if his views
were outrageous. I feel the need to ascribe to him
fantastic theories about his predecessors, and it is
with a certain sense of disillusion that I confess he
thought about them pretty much as does everybody
else. I do not believe he knew El Greco. He had
a great but somewhat impatient admiration for
Velasquez. Chardin delighted him, and Rembrandt
moved him to ecstasy. He described the impres-
sion that Rembrandt made on him with a coarseness
I cannot repeat. The only painter that interested
him who was at all unexpected was Brueghel the
Elder. I knew very little about him at that time,
and Strickland had no power to explain himself.
1 remember what he said about him because it was
"He's all right," said Strickland. "I bet he
found it hell to paint."
When later, in Vienna, I saw several of Peter
Brueghel's pictures, I thought I understood why he
had attracted Strickland's attention. Here, too, was
a man with a vision of the world peculiar to himself.
I made somewhat copious notes at the time, intending
to write something about him, but I have lost them,
and have now only the recollection of an emotion.
He seemed to see his fellow-creatures grotesquely,
and he was angry with them because they were
grotesque; life was a confusion of ridiculous, sordid
happenings, a fit subject for laughter, and yet it
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 229
made him sorrowful to laugh. Brueghel gave me
the impression of a man striving to express in one
medium feelings more appropriate to expression in
another, and it may be that it was the obscure con-
sciousness of this that excited Strickland's sympathy.
Perhaps both were trying to put down in paint ideas
which were more suitable to literature.
Strickland at this time must have been nearly
I HAVE said already that but for the hazard of
a journey to Tahiti I should doubtless never
have written this book. It is thither that after
many wanderings Charles Strickland came, and it
is there that he painted the pictures on which his
fame most securely rests. I suppose no artist achieves
completely the realisation of the dream that obsesses
him, and Strickland, harassed incessantly by his
struggle with technique, managed, perhaps, less than
others to express the vision that he saw with his
mind's eye; but in Tahiti the circumstances were
favourable to him; he found in his surroundings the
accidents necessary for his inspiration to become
effective, and his later pictures give at least a sug-
gestion of what he sought. They offer the imagina-
tion something new and strange. It is as though
in this far country his spirit, that had wandered
disembodied, seeking a tenement, at last was able
to clothe itself in flesh. To use the hackneyed
phrase, here he found himself.
It would seem that my visit to this remote island
should immediately revive my interest in Strickland,
but the work I was engaged in occupied my atten-
tion to the exclusion of something that was irrele-
vant, and it was not till I had been there some days
that I even remembered his connection with it. After
all, I had not seen him for fifteen years, and it was
nine since he died. But I think my arrival at Tahiti
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 231
would have driven out of my head matters of much
more immediate importance to me, and even after a
week I found it not easy to order myself soberly.
I remember that on my first morning I awoke early,
and when I came on to the terrace of the hotel no
one was stirring. I wandered round to the kitchen,
but it was locked, and on a bench outside it a native
boy was sleeping. There seemed no chance of
breakfast for some time, so I sauntered down to
the water-front. The Chinamen were already busy
in their shops. The sky had still the pallor of
dawn, and there was a ghostly silence on the lagoon.
Ten miles away the island of Murea, like some
high fastness of the Holy Grail, guarded its mystery.
I did not altogether believe my eyes. The days
that had passed since I left Wellington seemed ex-
traordinary and unusual. Wellington is trim and
neat and English; it reminds you of a seaport town
on the South Coast. And for three days afterwards
the sea was stormy. Gray clouds chased one an-
other across the sky. Then the wind dropped, and
the sea was calm and blue. The Pacific is more
desolate than other seas; its spaces seem more vast,
and the most ordinary journey upon it has somehow
the feeling of an adventure. The air you breathe
is an elixir which prepares you for the unexpected
Nor is it vouchsafed to man in the flesh to know
aught that more nearly suggests the approach to the
golden realms of fancy than the approach to Tahiti.
Murea, the sister isle, comes into view in rocky splen-
dour, rising from the desert sea mysteriously, like
the unsubstantial fabric of a magic wand. With its
232 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
jagged outline it is like a Monseratt of the Pacific,
and you may imagine that there Polynesian knights
guard with strange rites mysteries unholy for men to
know. The beauty of the island is unveiled as dimin-
ishing distance shows you in distincter shape its
lovely peaks, but it keeps its secret as you sail by,
and, darkly inviolable, seems to fold itself together
in a stony, inaccessible grimness. It would not sur-
prise you if, as you came near seeking for an open-
ing in the reef, it vanished suddenly from your view,
and nothing met your gaze but the blue loneliness
of the Pacific.
Tahiti is a lofty green island, with deep folds of
a darker green, in which you divine silent valleys;
there is mystery in their sombre depths, down which
murmur and plash cool streams, and you feel that in
those umbrageous places life from immemorial times
has been led according to immemorial ways. Even
here is something sad and terrible. But the impres-
sion is fleeting, and serves only to give a greater
acuteness to the enjoyment of the moment. It is
like the sadness which you may see in the jester's
eyes when a merry company is laughing at his sallies ;
his lips smile and his jokes are gayer because in the
communion of laughter he finds himself more intol-
erably alone. For Tahiti is smiling and friendly; it
is like a lovely woman graciously prodigal of her
charm and beauty; and nothing can be more concilia-
tory than the entrance into the harbour at Papeete.
The schooners moored to the quay are trim and
neat, the little town along the bay is white and ur-
^ and the flamboyants, scarlet against the blue
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 233
sky, flaunt their colour like a cry of passion. They
are sensual with an unashamed violence that leaves
you breathless. And the crowd that throngs the
wharf as the steamer draws alongside is gay and
debonair; it is a noisy, cheerful, gesticulating crowd.
It is a sea of brown faces. You have an impres-
sion of coloured movement against the flaming blue
of the sky. Everything is done with a great deal
of bustle, the unloading of the baggage, the examina-
tion of the customs; and everyone seems to smile at
you. It is very hot. The colour dazzles you.
I HAD not been in Tahiti long before I met Cap-
tain Nichols. He came in one morning when I
was having breakfast on the terrace of the hotel
and introduced himself. He had heard that I was
interested in Charles Strickland, and announced that
he was come to have a talk about him. They are
as fond of gossip in Tahiti as in an English village,
and one or 'two enquiries I had made for pictures by
Strickland had been quickly spread. I asked the
stranger if he had breakfasted.
"Yes; I have my coffee early," he answered, "but
I don't mind having a drop of whisky."
I called the Chinese boy.
"You don't think it's too early?" said the Captain.
"You and your liver must decide that between
you," I replied.
"I'm practically a teetotaller," he said, as he
poured himself out a good half-tumbler of Canadian
When he smiled he showed broken and discoloured
teeth. He was a very lean man, of no more than
average height, with gray hair cut short and a
stubbly gray moustache. He had not shaved for a
couple of days. His face was deeply lined, burned
brown by long exposure to the sun, and he had a
pair of small blue eyes which were astonishingly
shifty. They moved quickly, following my smallest
gesture, and they gave him the look of a very
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 235
thorough rogue. But at the moment he was all
heartiness and good-fellowship. He was dressed jn
a bedraggled suit of khaki, and his hands would
have been all the better for a wash.
"I knew Strickland well,'* he said, as he leaned
back in his chair and lit the cigar I had offered him.
"It's through me he came out to the islands."
" Where did you meet him?" I asked.
"What were you doing there?"
He gave me an ingratiating smile.
"Well, I guess I was on the beach."
My friend's appearance suggested that he was
now in the same predicament, and I prepared myself
to cultivate an agreeable acquaintance. The society
of beach-combers always repays the small pains you
need be at to enjoy it. They are easy of approach
and affable in conversation. They seldom put on
airs, and the offer of a drink is a sure way to their
hearts. You need no laborious steps to enter upon
familiarity with them, and you can earn not only
their confidence, but their gratitude, by turning an
attentive ear to their discourse. They look upon
conversation as the great pleasure of life, thereby,
proving the excellence of their civilisation, and for
the most part they are entertaining talkers. The
extent of their experience is pleasantly balanced by
the fertility of their imagination. It cannot be said
that they are without guile, but they have a tolerant
respect for the law, when the law is supported by
strength. It is hazardous to play poker with them,
but their ingenuity adds a peculiar excitement to
236 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
the best game in the world. I came to know Cap-
tain Nichols very well before I left Tahiti, and I
am the richer for his acquaintance. I do not con-
sider that the cigars and whisky he consumed at
my expense (he always refused cocktails, since he
was practically a teetotaller), and the few dollars,
borrowed with a civil air of conferring a favour
upon me, that passed from my pocket to his, were in
any way equivalent to the entertainment he afforded
me. I remained his debtor. I should be sorry if
my conscience, insisting on a rigid attention to the
matter in hand, forced me to dismiss him in a couple
I do not know why Captain Nichols first left
England. It was a matter upon which he was retic
cent, and with persons of his kidney a direct ques-
tion is never very discreet. He hinted at undeserved
misfortune, and there is no doubt that he looked
upon himself as the victim of injustice. My fancy
played with the various forms of fraud and violence,
and I agreed with him sympathetically when he
remarked that the authorities in the old country were
so damned technical. But it was nice to see that any
unpleasantness he had endured in his native land
had not impaired his ardent patriotism. He fre-
quently declared that England was the finest country
in the world, sir, and he felt a lively superiority
over Americans, Colonials, Dagos, Dutchmen, and
But I do not think he was a happy man. He suf-
fered from dyspepsia, and he might often be seen
sucking a tablet of pepsin; in the morning his appe-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 237
tite was poor; but this affliction alone would hardly
have impaired his spirits. He had a greater cause
of discontent with life than this. Eight years before
he had rashly married a wife. There are men whom
a merciful Providence has undoubtedly ordained to
a single life, but who from wilfulness or through
circumstances they could not cope with have flown
in the face of its decrees. There is no object more
deserving of pity than the married bachelor. Of
such was Captain Nichols. I met his wife. She
was a woman of twenty-eight, I should think, though
of a type whose age is always doubtful; for she can-
not have looked different when she was twenty, and
at forty would look no older. She gave me an im-
pression of extraordinary tightness. Her plain face
with its narrow lips was tight, her skin was stretched
tightly over her bones, her smile was tight, her hair
was tight, her clothes were tight, and the white drill
she wore had all the effect of black bombazine. I
could not imagine why Captain Nichols had married
her, and having married her why he had not deserted
her. Perhaps he had, often, and his melancholy
arose from the fact that he could never succeed.
However far he went and in howsoever secret a place
he hid himself, I felt sure that Mrs. Nichols, inex-
orable as fate and remorseless as conscience, would
presently rejoin him. He could as little escape her
as the cause can escape the effect.
The rogue, like the artist and perhaps the gentle-
man, belongs to no class. He is not embarrassed
by the sans gene of the hobo, nor put out of coun-
tenance by the etiquette of the prince. But Mrs.
23S THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Nichols belonged to the well-defined class, of late
become vocal, which is known as the lower-middle.
Her father, in fact, was a policeman. I am certain
that he was an efficient one. I do not know what
her hold was on the Captain, but I do not think it
was love. I never heard her speak, but it may be that
in private she had a copious conversation. At any
rate, Captain Nichols was frightened to death of her."
Sometimes, sitting with me on the terrace of the
hotel, he would become conscious that she was walk-
ing in the road outside. She did not call him; she
gave no sign that she was aware of his existence ; she
merely walked up and down composedly. Then a
strange uneasiness would seize the Captain; he would
look at his watch and sigh.
"Well, I must be off," he said.
Neither wit nor whisky could detain him then.
Yet he was a man who had faced undaunted hurri-
cane and typhoon, and would not have hesitated to
fight a dozen unarmed niggers with nothing but a
revolver to help him. Sometimes Mrs. Nichols
would send her daughter, a pale-faced, sullen child
of seven, to the hotel.
"Mother wants you," she said, in a whining tone.
I "Very well, my dear," said Captain Nichols.
He rose to his feet at once, and accompanied his
daughter along the road. I suppose it was a very
pretty example of the triumph of spirit over mat-
ter, and so my digression has at least the advantage
of a moral.
I HAVE tried to put some connection into the
various things Captain Nichols told me about
Strickland, and I here set them down in the best
order I can. They made one another's acquain-
tance during the latter part of the winter following
my last meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he
had passed the intervening months I do not know,
but life must have been very hard, for Captain Nich-
ols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit There was
a strike at Marseilles at the time, and Strickland,
having come to the end of his resources, had ap-
parently found it impossible to earn the small sum
he needed to keep body and soul together.
The Asile de Nuit is a large stone building where
pauper and vagabond may get a bed for a week,
provided their papers are in order and they can
persuade the friars in charge that they are working-
men. Captain Nichols noticed Strickland for his
size and his singular appearance among the crowd
that waited for the doors to open; they waited list-
lessly, some walking to and fro, some leaning against
the wall, and others seated on the curb with their
feet in the gutter; and when they filed into the
office he heard the monk who read his papers address
him in English. But he did not have a chance to
speak to him, since, as he entered the common-room,
a monk came in with a huge Bible in his arms,
mounted a pulpit which was at the end of the room,
240 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
and began the service which the wretched outcasts
had to endure as the price of their lodging. He
and Strickland were assigned to different rooms, and
when, thrown out of bed at five in the morning by
a stalwart monk, he had made his bed and washed
his face, Strickland had already disappeared. Cap-
tain Nichols wandered about the streets for an hour
of bitter cold, and then made his way to the Place
Victor Gelu, where the sailor-men are wont to con-
gregate. Dozing against the pedestal of a statue, he
saw Strickland again. He gave him a kick to awaken
"Come and have breakfast, mate," he said.
"Go to hell," answered Strickland.
I recognised my friend's limited vocabulary, and
I prepared to regard Captain Nichols as a trust-
"Busted?" asked the Captain.
"Blast you," answered Strickland.
"Come along with me. I'll get you some break-
After a moment's hesitation, Strickland scrambled
to his feet, and together they went to the Bouchee
de Pain, where the hungry are given a wedge of
bread, which they -must eat there and then, for it is
forbidden to take it away; and then to the Cuillere
de Soupe, where for a week, at eleven and four, you
may get a bowl of thin, salt soup. The two build-
ings are placed far apart, so that only the starving
should be tempted to make use of them. So they
had breakfast, and so began the queer companion-
ship of Charles Strickland and Captain Nichols,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 241
They must have spent something like four monthi
at Marseilles in one another's society. Their ca
reer was devoid of adventure, if by adventure you
mean unexpected or thrilling incident, for their days
were occupied in the pursuit of enough money to
get a night's lodging and such food as would stay
the pangs of hunger. But I wish I could give here
the pictures, coloured and racy, which Captain Nich-
ols' vivid narrative offered to the imagination. His
account of their discoveries in the low life of a sea-
port town would have made a charming book, and
in the various characters that came their way the
student might easily have found matter for a very
complete dictionary of rogues. But I must content
myself with a few paragraphs. I received the im-
pression of a life intense and brutal, savage, multi-
coloured, and vivacious. It made the Marseilles
that I knew, gesticulating and sunny, with its com-
fortable hotels and its restaurants crowded with
the well-to-do, tame and commonplace. I envied
men who had seen with their own eyes the sights
that Captain Nichols described.
When the doors of the Asile de Nuit were closed
to them, Strickland and Captain Nichols sought the
hospitality of Tough Bill. This was the master
of a sailors' boarding-house, a huge mulatto with a
heavy fist, who gave the stranded mariner food and
shelter till he found him a berth. They lived with
him a month, sleeping with a dozen others, Swedes,
negroes, Brazilians, on the floor of the two bare
rooms in his house which he assigned to his charges;
and every day thev went with him to the Place Victor
242 THE MOON AISTD SIXPENCE
Gelu, whither came ships' captains in search of a
man. He was married to an American woman, obese
and slatternly, fallen to this pass by Heaven knows
what process of degradation, and every day the
boarders took it in turns to help her with the house-
work. Captain Nichols looked upon it as a smart
piece of work on Strickland's part that he had got
out of this by painting a portrait of Tough Bill.
Tough Bill not only paid for the canvas, colours,
and brushes, but gave Strickland a pound of smug-
gled tobacco into the bargain. For all I know, this
picture may still adorn the parlour of the tumble-
down little house somewhere near the Quai de la
Joliette, and I suppose it could now be sold for fif-
teen hundred pounds. Strickland's idea was to ship
on some vessel bound for Australia or New Zealand,
and from there make his way to Samoa or TahitL
I do not know how he had come upon the notion of
going to the South Seas, though I remember tha*
his imagination had long been haunted by an island,
all green and sunny, encircled by a sea more blue
than is found in Northern latitudes. I suppose that
he clung to Captain Nichols because he was acquaint-
ed with those parts, and it was Captain Nichols
who persuaded him that he would be more comfort-
able in Tahiti.
"You see, Tahiti's French," he explained to me.
"And the French aren't so damned technical."
I thought I saw his point.
Strickland had no papers, but that was not a mat-
ter to disconcert Tough Bill when he saw a profit (he
took the first month's wages of the sailor for whom
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 243
he found a berth), and he provided Strickland with
those of an English stoker who had providentially
died on his hands. But both Captain Nichols and
Strickland were bound East, and it chanced that the
only opportunities for signing on were with ships
sailing West. Twice Strickland refused a berth on
tramps sailing for the United States, and once on
a collier going to Newcastle. Tough Bill had no
patience with an obstinacy which could only result
in loss to himself, and on the last occasion he flung
both Strickland and Captain Nichols out of his house
without more ado. They found themselves once
Tough Bill's fare was seldom extravagant, and
you rose from his table almost as hungry as you sat
down, but for some days they had good reason to
regret it. They learned what hunger was. The
Cuillere de Soupe and the Asile de Nuit were both
closed to them, and their only sustenance was the
wedge of bread which the Bouchee de Pain provided.
They slept where they could, sometimes in an empty
truck on a siding near the station, sometimes in a
cart behind a warehouse; but it was bitterly cold,
and after an hour or two of uneasy dozing they
would tramp the streets again. What they felt the
lack of most bitterly was tobacco, and Captain Nich-
ols, for his part, could not do without it; he took
to hunting the "Can o' Beer," for cigarette-ends and
the butt-end of cigars which the promenaders of the
night before had thrown away.
"I've tasted worse smoking mixtures in a pipe,"
he added, with a philosophic shrug of his shoulders,
244 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
as he took a couple of cigars from the case I offered
him, putting one in his mouth and the other in his
Now and then they made a bit of money. Some-
times a mail steamer would come in, and Captain
Nichols, having scraped acquaintance with the time-
keeper, would suceed in getting the pair of them a
job as stevedores. When it was an English boat,
they would dodge into the forecastle and get a hearty
breakfast from the crew. They took the risk of run-
ning against one of the ship's officers and being
hustled down the gangway with the toe of a boot
to speed their going.
"There's no harm in a kick in the hindquarters
when your belly's full," said Captain Nichols, "and
personally I never take it in bad part. An officer's
got to think about discipline."
I had a lively picture of Captain Nichols flying
headlong down a narrow gangway before the up-
lifted foot of an angry mate, and, like a true
Englishman, rejoicing in the spirit of the Mercantile
There were often odd jobs to be got about the
fish-market. Once they each of them earned a franc
by loading trucks with innumerable boxes of oranges
that had been dumped down on the quay. One daj)
they had a stroke of luck: one of the boarding-
masters got a contract to paint a tramp that had
come in from Madagascar round the Cape of Good
Hope, and they spent several days on a plank hang-
ing over the side, covering the rusty hull with paint.
It was a situation that must have appealed to Strick
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 245
land's sardonic humour. I asked Captain Nichols
how he bore himself during these hardships.
4 'Never knew him say a cross word,'* answered
the Captain. "He'd be a bit surly sometimes, but
when we hadn't had a bite since morning, and we
hadn't even got the price of a lie down at the Chink's,
h^'d be as lively as a cricket."
I was not surprised at this. Strickland was just
the man to rise superior to circumstances, when they
were such as to occasion despondency in most; but
whether this was due to equanimity of soul or to con-
trsdictoriness it would be difficult to say.
The Chink's Head was a name the beach-combers
gave to a wretched inn off the Rue Bouterie, kept by
a one-eyed Chinaman, where for six sous you could
sleep in a cot and for three on the floor. Here they
made friends with others in as desperate condition
as themselves, and when they were penniless and
the night was bitter cold, they were glad to borrow
from anyone who had earned a stray franc during
the day the price of a roof over their heads. They
were not niggardly, these tramps, and he who had
money did not hesitate to share it among the rest.
They belonged to all the countries in the world, but
this was no bar to good-fellowship; for they felt
themselves freemen of a country whose frontiers in-
clude them all, the great country of Cockaine.
"But I guess Strickland was an ugly customer
when he was roused," said Captain Nichols, re-
flectively. "One day we ran into Tough Bill in the
Place, and he asked Charlie for the papers he'd given
246 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
" 'You'd better come and take them if you want
them/ says Charlie.
"He was a powerful fellow, Tough Bill, but he
didn't quite like the look of Charlie, so he began curs-
ing him. He called him pretty near every name he
could lay hands on, and when Tough Bill began curs-
ing it was worth listening to him. Well, Charlie
stuck it for a bit, then he stepped forward and he
just said: 'Get out, you bloody swine.' It wasn't so
much what he said, but the way he said it. Tough
Bill never spoke another word; you could see him
go yellow, and he walked away as if he'd remem-
bered he had a date."
Strickland, according to Captain Nichols, did not
use exactly the words I have given, but since this
book is meant for family reading I have thought it
better, at the expense of truth, to put into his mouth
expressions familiar to the domestic circle.
Now, Tough Bill was not the man to put up with
humiliation at the hands of a common sailor. His
power depended on his prestige, and first one, then
another, of the sailors who lived in his house told
them that he had sworn to do Strickland in.
One night Captain Nichols and Strickland were
sitting in one of the bars of the Rue Bouterie. The
Rue Bouterie is a narrow street of one-storeyed
houses, each house consisting of but one room; they
are like the booths in a crowded fair or the cages of
animals in a circus. At every door you see a woman.
Some lean lazily against the side-posts, humming to
themselves or calling to the passer-by in a raucous
voice, and some listlessly read. They are French,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 247
Italian, Spanish, Japanese, coloured; some are fat
and some are thin; and under the thick paint on
their faces, the heavy smears on their eyebrows,
and the scarlet of their lips, you see the lines of age
and the scars of dissipation. Some wear black shifts
and flesh-coloured stockings; some with curly hair,
dyed yellow, are dressed like little girls in short mus-
lin frocks. Through the open door you see a red-
tiled floor, a large wooden bed, and on a deal table
a ewer and a basin. A motley crowd saunters along
die streets Lascars off a P. and O., blond North-
men from a Swedish barque, Japanese from a man-
pf-war, English sailors, Spaniards, pleasant-looking
fellows from a French cruiser, negroes off an Ameri-
can tramp. By day it is merely sordid, but at night,
lit only by the lamps in the little huts, the street has
a sinister beauty. The hideous lust that pervades
the air is oppressive and horrible, and yet there is
something mysterious in the sight which haunts and
troubles you. You feel I know not what primitive
force which repels and yet fascinates you. Here all
the decencies of civilisation are swept away, and you
feel that men are face to face with a sombre reality.
There is an atmosphere that is at once intense and
In the bar in which Strickland and Nichols sat a
mechanical piano was loudly grinding out dance
music. Round the room people were sitting at table,
here half a dozen sailors uproariously drunk, there a
group of soldiers; and in the middle, crowded to-
gether, couples were dancing. Bearded sailors with
brown faces and large horny hands clasped their
248 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
partners in a tight embrace. The women wore noth-
ing but a shift. Now and then two sailors would get
up and dance together. The noise was deafening.
People were singing, shouting, laughing; and when
a man gave a long kiss to the girl sitting on his knees,
cat-calls from the English sailors increased the din.
The air was heavy with the dust beaten up by the
heavy boots of the men, and gray with smoke. It
was very hot. Behind the bar was seated a woman
nursing her baby. The waiter, an undersized youth
with a flat, spotty face, hurried to and fro carrying
a tray laden with glasses of beer.
In a little while Tough Bill, accompanied by two
huge negroes, came in, and it was easy to see that he
was already three parts drunk. He was looking for
trouble. He lurched against a table at which three
soldiers were sitting and knocked over a glass of
beer. There was an angry altercation, and the owner
of the bar stepped forward and ordered Tough Bill
to go. He was a hefty fellow, in the habit of stand-
ing no nonsense from his customers, and Tough
Bill hesitated. The landlord was not a man he
cared to tackle, for the police were on his side, and
with an oath he turned on his heel. Suddenly he
caught sight of Strickland. He rolled up to him.
He did not speak. He gathered the spittle in his
mouth and spat full in Strickland's face. Strickland
seized his glass and flung it at him. The dancers
stopped suddenly still. There was an instant of
complete silence, but when Tough Bill threw himself
on Strickland the lust of battle seized them all, and in
a moment there was a confused scrimmage. Tables
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 2*9
were overturned, glasses crashed to the ground.
There was a hellish row. The women scattered to
the door and behind the bar. Passers-by surged in
from the street. You heard curses in every tongue
the sound of blows, cries; and in the middle of the
room a dozen men were fighting with all their might.
On a sudden the police rushed in, and everyone who
could made for the door. When the bar was more
or less cleared, Tough Bill was lying insensible on
the floor with a great gash in his head. Captain
Nichols dragged Strickland, bleeding from a wound
in his arm, his clothes in rags, into the street. His
own face was covered with blood from a blow on th<X
"I guess you'd better get out of Marseilles before
Tough Bill comes out of hospital," he said to Strick-
land, when they had got back to the Chink's Head
and were cleaning themselves.
"This beats cock-fighting," said Strickland.
I could see his sardonic smile.
Captain Nichols was anxious. He knew Tough
Bill's vindictiveness. Strickland had downed the
mulatto twice, and the mulatto, sober, was a man
to be reckoned with. He would bide his time stealth-
ily. He would be in no hurry, but one night Strick-
land would get a knife-thrust in his back, and in a
day or two the corpse of a nameless beach-comber
would be fished out of the dirty water of the harbour.
Nichols went next evening to Tough Bill's house and
made enquiries. He was in hospital still, but his
wife, who had been to see him, said he was swear-
ing hard to kill Strickland when they let him out.
250 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
A week passed.
"That's what I always say,' 7 reflected Captain
Nichols, "when you hurt a man, hurt him bad. It
gives you a bit of time to look about and think what
you'll do next."
Then Strickland had a bit of luck. A ship bound
for Australia had sent to the Sailors 1 Home for a
stoker in place of one who had thrown himself over-
board off Gibraltar in an attack of delirium tremens.
"You double down to the harbour, my lad," said
the Captain to Strickland, "and sign on. You've
got your papers."
Strickland set off at once, and that was the last
Captain Nichols saw of him. The ship was only in
port for six hours, and in the evening Captain
Nichols watched the vanishing smoke from her fun-
nels as she ploughed East through the wintry sea.
I have narrated all this as best I could, because I
like the contrast of these episodes with the life that I
had seen Strickland live in Ashley Gardens when he
was occupied with stocks and shares; but I am aware
that Captain Nichols was an outrageous liar, and I
dare say there is not a word of truth in anything he
told me. I should not be surprised to learn that he
had never seen Strickland in his life, and owed his
knowledge of Marseilles to the pages of a magazine.
IT is here that I purposed to end my book. My
first idea was to begin it with the account of
Strickland's last years in Tahiti and with his hor-
rible death, and then to go back and relate what I
knew of his beginnings. This I meant to do, not
from wilfulness, but because I wished to leave Strick-
land setting out with I know not what fancies in his
lonely soul for the unknown islands which fired his
imagination. I liked the picture of him starting at
the age of forty-seven, when most men have already
settled comfortably in a groove, for a new world. I
saw him, the sea gray under the mistral and foam-
flecked, watching the vanishing coast of France,
which he was destined never to see again; and I
thought there was something gallant in his bearing
and dauntless in his soul. I wished so to end on a
note of hope. It seemed to emphasise the uncon-
querable spirit of man. But I could not manage it.
Somehow I could not get into my story, and after
trying once or twice I had to give it up; I started
from the beginning in the usual way, and made up
my mind I could only tell what I knew of Strickland's
life in the order in which I learnt the facts.
Those that I have now are fragmentary. I am in
the position of a biologist who from a single bone
must reconstruct not only the appearance of an ex-
tinct animal, but its habits. Strickland made no par-
ticular impression on the people who came in contact
23* THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more than
a beach-comber in constant need of money, remark-
able only for the peculiarity that he painted pictures
which seemed to them absurd; and it was not till he
had been dead for some years and agents came from
the dealers in Paris and Berlin to look for any pic-
tures which might still remain on the island, that
they had any idea that among them had dwelt a
man of consequence. They remembered then that
they could have bought for a song canvases which
now were worth large sums, and they could not for-
give themselves for the opportunity which had es-
caped them. There was a Jewish trader called
Cohen, who had come by one of Strickland's pictures
in a singular way. He was a little old Frenchman,
with soft kind eyes and a pleasant smile, half trader
and half seaman, who owned a cutter in which he
wandered boldly among the Paumotus and the Mar-
quesas, taking out trade goods and bringing back
copra, shell, and pearls. I went to see him because
I was told he had a large black pearl which he was
willing to sell cheaply, and when I discovered that
it was beyond my means I began to talk to him
about Strickland. He had known him well.
"You see, I was interested in him because he
was a painter," he told me. "We don't get many
painters in the islands, and I was sorry for him
because he was such a bad one. I gave him his
first job. I had a plantation on the peninsula, and
I wanted a white overseer. You never get any work
out of the natives unless you have a white man
over them. I said to him: 'You'll have plenty of
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 53
time for painting, and you can earn a bit of money.'
I knew he was starving, but I offered him good
"I can't imagine that he was a very satisfactory
overseer," I said, smiling.
"I made allowances. I have always had a sym-
pathy for artists. It is in our blood, you know.
But he only remained a few months. When he had
enough money to buy paints and canvases he left
me. The place had got hold of him by then, and
he wanted to get away into the bush. But I con-
tinued to see him now and then. He would turn
up in Papeete every few months and stay a little
while; he'd get money out of someone or other
and then disappear again. It was on one of these
visits that he came to me and asked for the loan
of two hundred francs. He looked as if he hadn't
had a meal for a week, and I hadn't the heart to
refuse him. Of course, I never expected to see my
money again. Well, a year later he came to see
me once more, and he brought a picture with him.
He did not mention the money he owed me, but
he said: 'Here is a picture of your plantation
that I've painted for you.' I looked at it. I did
not know what to say, but of course I thanked
him, and when he had gone away I showed it to my
"What was it like?" I asked.
"Do not ask me. I could not make head or tail
of it. I never saw such a thing in my life. 'What
shall we do with it?' I said to my wife. 'We can
never hang it up/ she said. 'People would laugh
25* THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
at us.' So she took it into an attic and put it
away with all sorts of rubbish, for my wife can
never throw anything away. It is her mania. Then,
imagine to yourself, just before the war my brother
wrote to me from Paris, and said: 'Do you know
anything about an English painter who lived in
Tahiti? It appears that he was a genius, and his
pictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay your
hands on anything and send it to me. There's
money to be made.' So I said to my wife: 'What
about that picture that Strickland gave me?' Is it
possible that it is still in the attic?' 'Without doubt,'
she answered, 'for you know that I never throw
anything away. It is my mania.' We went up
to the attic, and there, among I know not what
rubbish that had been gathered during the thirty
years we have inhabited that house, was the pic-
ture. I looked at it again, and I said : 'Who would
have thought that the overseer of my plantation
on the peninsula, to whom I lent two hundred francs,
had genius? Do you see anything in the picture?'
'No,' she said, 'it does not resemble the plantation
and I have never seen cocoa-nuts with blue leaves;
but they are mad in Paris, and it may be that your
brother will be able to sell it for the two hundred
francs you lent Strickland.' Well, we packed it up
and we sent it to my brother. And at last I re-
ceived a letter from him. What do you think he
said? 'I received your picture,' he said, 'and I
confess I thought it was a joke that you had played
on me. I would not have given the cost of post-
age for the picture. I was half afraid to show it
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 255
to the gentleman who had spoken to me about it
Imagine my surprise when he said it was a master-
piece, and offered me thirty thousand francs. I
dare say he would have paid more, but frankly
I was so taken aback that I lost my head; I accepted
the offer before I was able to collect myself.' '
Then Monsieur Cohen said an admirable thing.
"I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive.
I wonder what he would have said when I gave
him twenty-nine thousand eight hundred francs for
1 LIVED at the Hotel de la Fleur, and Mrs.
Johnson, the proprietress, had a sad story to
tell of lost opportunity. After Strickland's death
certain of his effects were sold by auction in the
market-place at Papeete, and she went to it her-
self because there was among the truck an American
stove she wanted. She paid twenty-seven francs
"There were a dozen pictures," she told me, "but
they were unframed, and nobody wanted them. Some
of them sold for as much as ten francs, but mostly
they went for five or six. Just think, if I had
bought them I should be a rich woman now."
But Tiare Johnson would never under any cir-
cumstances have been rich. She could not keep
money. The daughter of a native and an English
sea-captain settled in Tahiti, when I knew her she
was a woman of fifty, who looked older, and of
enormous proportions. Tall and extremely stout,
she would have been of imposing presence if the
great good-nature of her face had not made it im-
possible for her to express anything but kindliness.
Her arms were like legs of mutton, her breasts
like giant cabbages; her face, broad and fleshy,
gave you an impression of almost indecent naked'
ness, and vast chin succeeded to vast chin. I do
not know how many of them there were. They fell
away voluminously into the capaciousness of her
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 257
bosom. She was dressed usually in a pink Mother
Hubbard, and she wore all day long a large straw
hat. But when she let down her hair, which she
did now and then, for she was vain of it, you saw
that it was long and dark and curly; and her eyes
had remained young and vivacious. Her laughter
was the most catching I ever heard; it would begin,
a low peal in her throat, and would grow louder and
louder till her whole vast body shook. She loved
three things a joke, a glass of wine, and a hand-
some man. To have known her is a privilege.
She was the best cook on the island, and she
adored good food. From morning till night yo2
saw her sitting on a low chair in the kitchen, sur-
rounded by a Chinese cook and two or three native
girls, giving her orders, chatting sociably with all
and sundry, and tasting the savoury messes she de-
vised. When she wished to do honour to a friend
she cooked the dinner with her own hands. Hos-
pitality was a passion with her, and there was no
one on the island who need go without a dinner
when there was anything to eat at the Hotel de la
Fleur. She never turned her customers out of her
house because they did not pay their bills. She al-
ways hoped they would pay when they could. There
was one man there who had fallen on adversity, and
to him she had given board and lodging for several
months. When the Chinese laundryman refused to
wash for him without payment she had sent his
things to be washed with hers. She could not allow
the poor fellow to go about in a dirty shirt, she
said, and since he was a man, and men must smoke/
258 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
she gave him a franc a day for cigarettes. She
used him with the same affability as those of her
clients who paid their bills once a week.
Age and obesity had made her inapt for love, but
she took a keen interest in the amatory affairs of
the young. She looked upon venery as the natural
occupation for men and women, and was ever ready
with precept and example from her own wide ex-
"I was not fifteen when my father found that I
had a lover," she said. "He was third mate on the
Tropic Bird. A good-looking boy."
She sighed a little. They say a woman always
remembers her first lover with affection; but per-
haps she does not always remember him.
"My father was a sensible man."
"What did he do?" I asked.
"He thrashed me within an inch of my life, and
then he made me marry Captain Johnson. I did
not mind. He was older, of course, but he was
Tiare her father had called her by the name of
the white, scented flower which, they tell you, if you
have once smelt, will always draw you back to Tahiti
in the end, however far you may have roamed
Tiare remembered Strickland very well.
"He used to come here sometimes, and I used
to see him walking about Papeete. I was sorry
for him, he was so thin, and he never had any money.
When I heard he was in town, I used to send a boy
to find him and make him come to dinner with me.
I got him a job once or twice, but he couldn't stick
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 259
to anything. After a little while he wanted to get
back to the bush, and one morning he would be
Strickland reached Tahiti about six months after
he left Marseilles. He worked his passage on a sail-
ing vessel that was making the trip from Auckland
to San Francisco, and he arrived with a box of
paints, an easel, and a dozen canvases. He had a
few pounds in his pocket, for he had found work
in Sydney, and he took a small room in a native
house outside the town. I think the moment he
reached Tahiti he felt himself at home. Tiare told
me that he said to her once :
"I'd been scrubbing the deck, and all at once a
chap said to me : 'Why, there it is.' And I looked
up and I saw the outline of the island. I knew
right away that there was the place I'd been leok-
ing for all my life. Then we came near, and I
seemed to recognise it. Sometimes when I walk
about it all seems familiar. I could swear I've lived
"Sometimes it takes them like that," said Tiare.
"I've known men come on shore for a few hours
while their ship was taking in cargo, and never go
back. And I've known men who came here to be
in an office for a year, and they cursed the place,
and when they went away they took their dying oath
they'd hang themselves before they came back again,
and in six months you'd see them land once more,
and they'd tell you they couldn't live anywhere else."
1HAVE an idea that some men are born out of
their due place. Accident has cast them amid
certain surroundings, but they have always a nos-
talgia for a home they know not They are stran-
gers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have
known from childhood or the populous streets in
which they have played, remain but a place of pass-
age. They may spend their whole lives aliens among
their kindred and remain aloof among the only
scenes they have ever known. Perhaps it is this
sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide
in the search for something permanent, to which
they may attach themselves. Perhaps some deep-
rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands
which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of
history. Sometimes a man hits upon a place to
which he mysteriously feels that he belongs. Here
is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes
that he has never seen before, among men he has
never known, as though they were familiar to him
from his birth. Here at last he finds rest.
I told Tiare the story of a man I had known
at St. Thomas's Hospital. He was a Jew named
Abraham, a blond, rather stout young man, shy and
very unassuming; but he had remarkable gifts. He
entered the hospital with a scholarship, and during
the five years of the curriculum gained every prize
that was open to him. He was made house-phy-
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 261
sician and house-surgeon. His brilliance was allowed
by all. Finally he was elected to a position on the
staff, and his career was assured. So far as human
things can be predicted, it was certain that he would
rise to the greatest heights of his profession. Hon-
ours and wealth awaited him. Before he entered
upon his new duties he wished to take a holiday,
and, having no private means, he went as surgeon
on a tramp steamer to the Levant. It did not gen-
erally carry a doctor, but one of the senior surgeons
at the hospital knew a director of the line, and Abra-
ham was taken as a favour.
In a few weeks the authorities received his resigna*
tion of the coveted position on the staff. It created
profound astonishment, and wild rumours were cur-
rent. Whenever a man does anything unexpected,
his fellows ascribe it to the most discreditable mo-
tives. But there was a man ready to step into Abra-
ham's shoes, and Abraham was forgotten. Nothing
more was heard of him. He vanished.
It was perhaps ten years later that one morning on
board ship, about to land at Alexandria, I was bid-
den to line up with the other passengers for the doc-
tor's examination. The doctor was a stout man in
shabby clothes, and when he took off his hat I no-
ticed that he was very bald. I had an idea that I
had seen him before. Suddenly I remembered.
"Abraham," I said.
He turned to me with a puzzled look, and then,
recognizing me, seized my hand. After expressions
of surprise on either side, hearing that I meant to
spend the night in Alexandria, he asked me to dine
262 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
with him at the English Club. When we met again
I declared my astonishment at finding him there. It
was a very modest position that he occupied, and
there was about him an air of straitened circumstance.
Then he told me his story. When he set out on his
holiday in the Mediterranean he had every intention
of returning to London and his appointment at St.
Thomas's. One morning the tramp docked at Alex-
andria, and from the deck he looked at the city,
white in the sunlight, and the crowd on the wharf;
he saw the natives in their shabby gabardines, the
blacks from the Soudan, the noisy throng of Greeks
and Italians, the grave Turks in tarbooshes, the sun-
shine and the blue sky; and something happened to
him. He could not describe it. It was like a thun-
der-clap, he said, and then, dissatisfied with this, he
said it was like a revelation. Something seemed to
twist his heart, and suddenly he felt an exultation,
a sense of wonderful freedom. He felt himself at
home, and he made up his mind there and then, in
a minute, that he would live the rest of his life in
Alexandria. He had no great difficulty in leaving
the ship, and in twenty-four hours, with all his be-
longings, he was on shore.
"The Captain must have thought you as mad as
a hatter," I smiled.
"I didn't care what anybody thought. It wasn't
I that acted, but something stronger within me. I
thought I would go to a little Greek hotel, while I
looked about, and I felt I knew where to find one.
And do you know, I walked straight there, and when
I saw it, I recognised it at once."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 263
"Had you been to Alexandria before?"
"No; I'd never been out of England in my life."
Presently he entered the Government service, and
there he had been ever since.
"Have you never regretted it?"
"Never, not for a minute. I earn just enough to
live upon, and I'm satisfied. I ask nothing more
than to remain as I am till I die. I've had a won-
I left Alexandria next day, and I forgot about
Abraham till a little while ago, when I was dining
with another old friend in the profession, Alec Car-
michael, who was in England on short leave. I ran
across him in the street and congratulated him on the
knighthood with which his eminent services during
the war had been rewarded. We arranged to spend
an evening together for old time's sake, and when
I agreed to dine with him, he proposed that he should
ask nobody else, so that we could chat without in-
terruption. He had a beautiful old house in Queen
Anne Street, and being a man of taste he had fur-
nished it admirably. On the walls of the dining-
room I saw a charming Bellotto, and there was a
pair of Zoffanys that I envied. When his wife, a
tall, lovely creature in cloth of gold, had left us,
I remarked laughingly on the change in his present
circumstances from those when we had both been
medical students. We had looked upon it then as an
extravagance to dine in a shabby Italian restaurant
in the Westminster Bridge Road. Now Alec Car-
michael was on the staff of half a dozen hospitals.
I should think he earned ten thousand a year, an3
264 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
his knighthood was but the first of the honours
which must inevitably fall to his lot.
"I've done pretty well," he said, "but the strange
thing is that I owe it all to one piece of luck."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, do you remember Abraham? He was the
man who had the future. When we were students
he beat me all along the line. He got the prizes
and the scholarships that I went in for. I always
played second fiddle to him. If he'd kept on he'd
be in the position I'm in now. That man had a
genius for surgery. No one had a look "in with
him. When he was appointed Registrar at Thom-
as's I hadn't a chance of getting on the staff. I
should have had to become a G.P., and you know
what likelihood there is for a G.P. ever to get out
of the common rut. But Abraham fell out, and I
got the job. That gave me my opportunity."
"I dare say that's true."
"It was just luck. I suppose there was some kink
in Abraham. Poor devil, he's gone to the dogs al-
together. He's got some twopenny-halfpenny job
in the medical at Alexandria sanitary officer or
something like that. I'm told he lives with an ugly
old Greek woman and has half a dozen scrofulous
kids. The fact is, I suppose, that it's not enough
to have brains. The thing that counts is character.
Abraham hadn't got character."
Character? I should have thought it needed a
good deal of character to throw up a career after
half an hour's meditation, because you saw in an-
other way of living a more intense significance. And
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 265
it required still more character never to regret the
sudden step. But I said nothing, and Alec Car-
michael proceeded reflectively:
"Of course it would be hypocritical for me to
pretend that I regret what Abraham did. After all,
I've scored by it." He puffed luxuriously at the long
Corona he was smoking. "But if I weren't person-
ally concerned I should be sorry at the waste. It
seems a rotten thing that a man should make such
a hash of life."
I wondered if Abraham really had made a hash
of life. Is to do what you most want, to live under
the conditions that please you, in peace with your-
self, to make a hash of life; and is it success to be
an eminent surgeon with ten thousand a year and
a beautiful wife? I suppose it depends on what
meaning you attach to life, the claim which you ac-
knowledge to society, and the claim of the individual.
But again I held my tongue, for who am I to argue
with a knight?
TIARE, when I told her this story, praised my
prudence, and for a few minutes we worked in
silence, for we were shelling peas. Then her
eyes, always alert for the affairs of her kitchen, fell
on some action of the Chinese cook which aroused
her violent disapproval. She turned on him with
a torrent of abuse. The Chink was not backward
to defend himself, and a very lively quarrel ensued.
They spoke in the native language, of which I had
learnt but half a dozen words, and it sounded as
though the world would shortly come to an end;
but presently peace was restored and Tiare gave
the cook a cigarette. They both smoked comfort-
"Do you know, it was I who found him his wife?"
said Tiare suddenly, with a smile that spread all
over her immense face.
"But he had one already."
"That is what he said, but I told him she was in
England, and England is at the other end of the
"True," I replied.
"He would come to Papeete every two or three
months, when he wanted paints or tobacco or money,
and then he would wander about like a lost dog. I
was sorry for him. I had a girl here then called
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 267
Ata to do the rooms ; she was some sort of a relation
of mine, and her father and mother were dead, so
I had her to live with me. Strickland used to come
here now and then to have a square meal or to play
chess with one of the boys. I noticed that she looked
at him when he came, and I asked her if she liked
him. She said she liked him well enough. You
know what these girls are; they're always pleased
to go with a white man."
"Was she a native?" I asked.
"Yes; she hadn't a drop of white blood in her.
Well, after I'd talked to her I sent for Strickland,
and I said to him : 'Strickland, it's time for you to
settle down. A man of your age shouldn't go play-
ing about with the girls down at the front. They're
bad lots, and you'll come to no good with them.
You've got no money, and you can never keep a job
for more than a month or two. No one will employ
you now. You say you can always live in the bush
with one or other of the natives, and they're glad
to have you because you're a white man, but it's not
decent for a white man. Now, listen to me, Strick-
Tiare mingled French with English in her con-
versation, for she used both languages with equal
facility. She spoke them with a singing accent
which was not unpleasing. You felt that a bird
would speak in these tones if it could speak Eng-
" 'Now, what do you say to marrying Ata? She's
a good girl and she's only seventeen. She's never
been promiscuous like some of these girls a cap-
268 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
tain or a first mate, yes, but she's never been touched
by a native. Elle se respecte, vois-tu. The purser
of the Oahu told me last journey that he hadn't met
a nicer girl in the islands. It's time she settled down
too, and besides, the captains and the first mates
like a change now and then. I don't keep my girls
too long. She has a bit of property down by Tara-
vao, just before you come to the peninsula, and with
copra at the price it is now you could live quite com-
fortably. There's a house, and you'd have all the
time you wanted for your painting. What do you
say to it?"
Tiare paused to take breath.
"It was then he told me of his wife in England.
*My poor Strickland,' I said to him, 'they've all got
a wife somewhere ; that is generally why they come to
the islands. Ata is a sensible girl, and she doesn't
expect any ceremony before the Mayor. She's a
Protestant, and you know they don't look upon these
things like the Catholics.'
"Then he said: 'But what does Ata say to it?' 'It
appears that she has a begum for you,' I said. 'She's
willing if you are. Shall I call her?' He chuckled
in a funny, dry way he had, and I called her. She
knew what I was talking about, the hussy, and I saw
her out of the corner of my eyes listening with all
her ears, while she pretended to iron a blouse that
she had been washing for me. She came. She was
laughing, but I could see that she was a little shy,
and Strickland looked at her without speaking."
"Was she pretty?" I asked.
"Not bad. But you must have seen pictures of
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 269
her. He painted her over and over again, some-
times with a pareo on and sometimes with nothing at
all. Yes, she was pretty enough. And she knew
how to cook. I taught her myself. I saw Strick-
land was thinking of it, so I said to him : Tve given
her good wages and she's saved them, and the cap-
tains and the first mates she's known have given her
a little something now and then. She's saved sev-
eral hundred francs. 1
"He pulled his great red beard and smiled.
" 'Well, Ata,' he said, 'do you fancy me for a hus-
"She did not say anything, but just giggled.
" 'But I tell you, my poor Strickland, the girl has
a beguin for you,' I said.
" 'I shall beat you,' he said, looking at her.
" 'How else should I know you loved me,' she an-
Tiare broke off her narrative and addressed her-
self to me reflectively.
"My first husband, Captain Johnson, used to
thrash me regularly. He was a man. He was
handsome, six foot three, and when he was drunk
there was no holding him. I would be black
and blue all over for days at a time. Oh, I
cried when he died. I thought I should never
get over it. But it wasn't till I married George
Rainey that I knew what I'd lost. You can never
tell what a man is like till you live with him. I've
never been so deceived in a man as I was in George
Rainey. He was a fine, upstanding fellow too. He
was nearly as tall as Captain Johnson, and he looked
270 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
strong enough. But it was all on the surface. He
never drank. He never raised his hand to me. He
might have been a missionary. I made love with the
officers of every ship that touched the island, and
George Rainey never saw anything. At last I was
disgusted with him, and I got a divorce. What was
the good of a husband like that? It's a terrible
thing the way some men treat women."
I condoled with Tiare, and remarked feelingly
that men were deceivers ever, then asked her to go
on with her story of Strickland.
" Well,' I said to him, 'there's no hurry about it.
Take your time and think it over. Ata has a very
nice room in the annexe. Live with her for a month,
and see how you like her. You can have your meals
here. And at the end of a month, if you decide you
want to marry her, you can just go and settle down
on her property.'
"Well, he agreed to that. Ata continued to do the
housework, and I gave him his meals as I said I
would. I taught Ata to make one or two dishes I
knew he was fond of. He did not paint much. He
wandered about the hills and bathed in the stream.
And he sat about the front looking at the lagoon,
and at sunset he would go down and look at Murea.
He used to go fishing on the reef. He loved to
moon about the harbour talking to the natives. He
was a nice, quiet fellow. And every evening after
dinner he would go down to the annexe with Ata.
I saw he was longing to get away to the bush, and at
the end of the month I asked him what he intended
to do. He said if Ata was willing to go, he was
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 271
willing to go with her. So I gave them a wedding
dinner. I cooked it with my own hands. I gave
them a pea soup and lobster a la portugaise, and a
curry, and a cocoa-nut salad you've never had one
of my cocoa-nut salads, have you ? I must make you
one before you go and then I made them an ice.
We had all the champagne we could drink and
liqueurs to follow. Oh, I'd made up my mind to do
things well. And afterwards we danced in the draw-
ing-room. I was not so fat, then, and I always loved
The drawing-room at the Hotel de la Fleur was
a small room, with a cottage piano, and a suite of
mahogany furniture, covered in stamped velvet,
neatly arranged around the walls. On round tables
were photograph albums, and on the walls enlarged
photographs of Tiare and her first husband, Cap-
tain Johnson. Still, though Tiare was old and fat,
on occasion we rolled back the Brussels carpet,
brought in the maids and one or two friends of
Tiare's, and danced, though now to the wheezy
music of a gramaphone. On the verandah the air
was scented with the heavy perfume of the tiare,
and overhead the Southern Cross shone in a cloudless
Tiare smiled indulgently as she remembered the
gaiety of a time long passed.
"We kept it up till three, and when we went to
bed I don't think anyone was very sober. I had told
them they could have my trap to take them as far as
the road went, because after that they had a long
walk. Ata's property was right away in a fold of the
272 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
mountain. They started at dawn, and tHe boy I
sent with them didn't come back till next day.
"Yes, that's how Strickland was married."
I SUPPOSE the next three years were the hap-
piest of Strickland's life. Ata's house stood
about eight kilometres from the road that runs
round the island, and you went to it along a wind-
ing pathway shaded by the luxuriant trees of the
tropics. It was a bungalow of unpainted wood, con-
sisting of two small rooms, and outside was a small
shed that served as a kitchen. There was no fur-
niture except the mats they used as beds, and a rock-
ing-chair, which stood on the verandah. Bananas
with their great ragged leaves, like the tattered ha-
biliments of an empress in adversity, grew close up
to the house. There was a tree just behind which
bore alligator pears, and all about were the cocoa-
nuts which gave the land its revenue. Ata's father
had planted crotons round his property, and they
grew in coloured profusion, gay and brilliant; they
fenced the land with flame. A mango grew in front
of the house, and at the edge of the clearing were
two flamboyants, twin trees, that challenged the gold
of the cocoa-nuts with their scarlet flowers.
Here Strickland lived, coming seldom to Papeete,
on the produce of the land. There was a little
stream that ran not far away, in which he bathed,
and down this on occasion would come a shoal of
fish. Then the natives would assemble with spears,
and with much shouting would transfix the great
startled things as they hurried down to the sea.
274 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Sometimes Strickland would go down to the reef,
and come back with a basket of small, coloured fish
that Ata would fry in cocoa-nut oil, or with a lobster;
and sometimes she would make a savoury dish of the
great land-crabs that scuttled away under your feet.
Up the mountain were wild-orange trees, and now
and then Ata would go with two or three women
from the village and return laden with the green,
sweet, luscious fruit. Then the cocoa-nuts would
be ripe for picking, and her cousins (like all the
natives, Ata had a host of relatives) would swarm
up the trees and throw down the big ripe nuts. They
split them open and put them in the sun to dry.
Then they cut out the copra and put it into sacks,
and the women would carry it down to the trader at
the village by the lagoon, and he would give in ex-
change for it rice and soap and tinned meat and a
little money. Sometimes there would be a feast in
the neighbourhood, and a pig would be killed. Then
they would go and eat themselves sick, and dance,
and sing hymns.
But the house was a long way from the village,
and the Tahitians are lazy. They love to travel and
they love to gossip, but they do not care to walk,
and for weeks at a time Strickland and Ata lived
alone. He painted and he read, and in the evening,
when it was dark, they sat together on the verandah,
smoking and looking at the night. Then Ata had
a baby, and the old woman who came up to help
her through her trouble stayed on. Presently the
granddaughter of the old woman came to stay with
her, and then a youth appeared no one quite knew
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 275
where from or to whom he belonged but he set-
tled down with them in a happy-go-lucky way, and
they all lived together*
" 'ITIENEZ, voila le Capltaine Brunot" said
i Tiare, one day when I was fitting together
what she could tell me of Strickland. "He
knew Strickland well; he visited him at his house."
I saw a middle-aged Frenchman with a big black
beard, streaked with gray, a sunburned face, and
large, shining eyes. He was dressed in a neat suit
of ducks. I had noticed him at luncheon, and Ah
Lin, the Chinese boy, told me he had come from
the Paumotus on the boat that had that day arrived.
Tiare introduced me to him, and he handed me his
card, a large card on which was printed Rene Brunot,
and underneath, Capltalne au Long Cours. We were
sitting on a little verandah outside the kitchen, and
Tiare was cutting out a dress that she was making
for one of the girls about the house. He sat down
"Yes; I knew Strickland well," he said. "I am
very fond of chess, and he was always glad of a
game. I come to Tahiti three or four times a year
for my business, and when he was at Papeete he
would come here and we would play. When ne
married"- Captain Brunot smiled and shrugged his
shoulders "enfin, when He went to live with the
girl that Tiare gave him, he asked me to go and see
him. I was one of the guests at the wedding feast."
He looked at Tiare, and they both laughed. "He
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 27?
did not come much to Papeete after that, and about
a year later it chanced that I had to go to that part
of the island for I forgot what business, and when
I had finished it I said to myself: 'Foyons, why
should I not go and see that poor Strickland?' I
asked one or two natives if they knew anything about
him, and I discovered that he lived not more than
five kilometres from where I was. So I went. I
shall never forget the impression my visit made on
me. I live on an atoll, a low island, it is a strip of
land surrounding a lagoon, and its beauty is the
beauty of the sea and sky and the varied colour of
the lagoon,, and the grace of the cocoa-nut trees ; but
the place where Strickland lived had the beauty of
the Garden of Eden. Ah, I wish I could make you
see the enchantment of that spot, a corner hidden
away from all the world, with the blue sky overhead
and the rich, luxuriant trees. It was a feast of colour.
And it was fragrant and cool. Words cannot de-
scribe that paradise. And here he lived, unmindful
of the world and by the world forgotten. I suppose
to European eyes it would have seemed astonishingly
sordid. The house was dilapidated and none too
clean. Three or four natives were lying on the ver-
andah. You know how natives love to herd together.
There was a young man lying full length, smoking a
cigarette, and he wore nothing but a pareo"
The pareo is a long strip of trade cotton, red or
blue, stamped with a white pattern. It is worn round
the waist and hangs to the knees.
"A girl of fifteen, perhaps, was plaiting pandanus-
leaf to make a hat, and an old woman was sitting on
878 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
her haunches smoking a pipe. Then I saw Ata,
She was suckling a new-born child, and another
child, stark naked, was playing at her feet.
When she saw me she called out to Strickland,
and he came to the door. He, too, wore nothing
but a pareo. He was an extraordinary figurt, with
his red beard and matted hair, and his great hairy
chest. His feet were horny and scarred, so that
I knew he went always bare foot. He had gone
native with a vengeance. He seemed pleased to
see me, and told Ata to kill a chicken for our dinner.
He took me into the house to show me the pic-
ture he was at work on when I came in. In one
corner of the room was the bed, and in the
middle was an easel with the canvas upon it. Be-
cause I was sorry for him, I had bought a couple
of his pictures for small sums, and I had sent others
to friends of mine in France. And though I had
bought them out of compassion, after living with
them I began to like them. Indeed, I found a strange
beauty in them. Everyone thought I was mad, but
it turns out that I was right. I was his first admirer
in the islands."
He smiled maliciously at Tiare, and with lamen-
tations she told us again the story of how at the
sale of Strickland's effects she had neglected the pic-
tures, but bought an American stove for twenty-seven
"Have you the pictures still?" I asked.
"Yes; I am keeping them till my daughter is of
marriageable age, and then I shall sell them. They
will be her dot.'
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 279
Then he went on with the account of his visit to
"I shall never forget the evening I spent with
him. I had not intended to stay more than an hour,
but he insisted that I should spend the night. I
hesitated, for I confess I did not much like the look
of the mats on which he proposed that I should
sleep; but I shrugged my shoulders. When I was
building my house in the Paumotus I had slept out
for weeks on a harder bed than that, with nothing to
shelter me but wild shrubs; and as for vermin, my
tough skin should be proof against their malice.
4 'We went down to the stream to bathe while Ata
was preparing the dinner, and after we had eaten it
we sat on the verandah. We smoked and chatted.
The young man had a concertina, and he played the
tunes popular on the music-halls a dozen years be-
fore. They sounded strangely in the tropical night
thousands of miles from civilisation. I asked Strick-
land if it did not irk him to live in that promiscuity.
No, he said; he liked to have his models under his
hand. Presently, after loud yawning, the natives
went away to sleep, and Strickland and I were left
alone. I cannot describe to you the intense silence
of the night. On my island in the Paumotus there
is never at night the complete stillness that there
was here. There is the rustle of the myriad animals
on the beach, all the little shelled things that crawl
about ceaselessly, and there is the noisy scurrying of
the land-crabs. Now and then in the lagoon you
hear the leaping of a fish, and sometimes a hurried
noisy splashing as a brown shark sends all the other
280 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
fish scampering for their lives. And above all, cease-
less like time, is the dull roar of the breakers on
the reef. But here there was not a sound, and the
air was scented with the white flowers of the night.
It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed
hardly able to bear the prison of the body. You
felt that it was ready to be wafted away on the
immaterial air, and death bore all the aspect of a
"Ah, I wish I were fifteen again."
Then she caught sight of a cat trying to get at a
dish of prawns on the kitchen table, and with a dex-
terous gesture and a lively volley of abuse flung a
book at its scampering tail.
"I asked him if he was happy with Ata.
" 'She leaves me alone,' he said. 'She cooks my
food and looks after her babies. She does what I
tell her. She gives me what I want from a woman. 1
" 'And do you never regret Europe? Do you
not yearn sometimes for the light of the streets in
Paris or London, the companionship of your friends,
and equals, que sais-je? for theatres and newspapers,
and the rumble of omnibuses on the cobbled pave-
"For a long time he was silent. Then he said:
" 'I shall stay here till I die.'
" 'But are you never bored or lonely?* I asked.
' 'Mon pauvre ami' he said. 'It is evident that
you do not know what it is to be an artist.' '
Capitaine Brunot turned to me with a gentle smile,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 281
and there was a wonderful look in his dark, kind eyes.
"He did me an injustice, for I too know what it
is to have dreams. I have my visions too. In my
way I also am an artist."
We were all silent for a while, and Tiare fished
out of her capacious pocket a handful of cigarettes.
She handed one to each of us, and we all three
smoked. At last she said:
"Since ce monsieur is interested in Strickland,
why do you not take him to see Dr. Coutras? He
can tell him something about his illness and
"Volontiers" said the Captain, looking at me.
I thanked him, and he looked at his watch.
"It is past six o'clock. We should find him at
home if you care to come now."
I got up without further ado, and we walked along
the road that led to the doctor's house. He lived
out of the town, but the Hotel de la Fleur was on the
edge of it, and we were quickly in the country. The
broad road was shaded by pepper-trees, and on each
side were the plantations, cocoa-nut and vanilla. The
pirate birds were screeching among the leaves of the
palms. We came to a stone bridge over a shallow
river, and we stopped for a few minutes to see the
native boys bathing. They chased one another with
shrill cries and laughter, and their bodies, brown and
wet, gleamed in the sunlight.
AS we walked along I reflected on a circum-
stance which all that I had lately heard about
Strickland forced on my attention. Here, on
this remote island, he seemed to have aroused none
of the detestation with which he was regarded at
home, but compassion rather; and his vagaries were
accepted with tolerance. To these people, native and
European, he was a queer fish, but they were used to
queer fish, and they took him for granted ; the world
was full of odd persons, who did odd things; and
perhaps they knew that a man is not what he wants
to be, but what he must be. In England and France
he was the square peg in the round hole, but here the
holes were any sort of shape, and no sort of peg was
quite amiss. I do not think he was any gentler here,
less selfish or less brutal, but the circumstances were
more favourable. If he had spent his life amid these
surroundings he might have passed for no worse
a man than another. He received here what he
neither expected nor wanted among his own people
I tried to tell Captain Brunot something of the
astonishment with which this filled me, and for a
little while he did not answer.
"It is not strange that I, at all events, should have
had sympathy for him," he said at last, "for, though
perhaps neither of us knew it, we were both aiming
at the same thing."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 283
"What on earth can it be that two people so
dissimilar as you and Strickland could aim at?" I
"A large order," I murmured.
"Do you know how men can be so obsessed by love
that they are deaf and blind to everything else in
the world? They are as little their own masters as
the slaves chained to the benches of a galley. The
passion that held Strickland in bondage was no less
tyrannical than love."
"How strange that you should say that!" I an-
swered. "For long ago I had the idea that he was
possessed of a devil."
"And the passion that held Strickland was a pas-
sion to create beauty. It gave him no peace. It
urged him hither and thither. He was eternally a
pilgrim, haunted by a divine nostalgia, and the demon
within him was ruthless. There are men whose de-
sire for truth is so great that to attain it they will
shatter the very foundation of their world. Of suck
was Strickland, only beauty with him took the place
of truth. I could only feel for him a profound com-
"That is strange also. A man whom he had deep-
ly wronged told me that he felt a great pity for
him." I was silent for a moment. "I wonder if
there you have found the explanation of a character
which has always seemed to me inexplicable. How
did you hit on it?"
He turned to me with a smile.
"Did I not tell you that I, too, in my way was
284 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
an artist? I realised in myself the same desire as
animated him. But whereas his medium was paint,
mine has been life."
Then Captain Brunot told me a story which I
must repeat, since, if only by way of contrast, it adds
something to my impression of Strickland. It has
also to my mind a beauty of its own.
Captain Brunot was a Breton, and had been in
the French Navy. He left it on his marriage, and
settled down on a small property he had near Quim-
per to live for the rest of his days in peace ; but the
failure of an attorney left him suddenly penniless,
and neither he nor his wife was willing to live in
penury where they had enjoyed consideration. Dur-
ing his seafaring days he had cruised the South Seas,
and he determined now to seek his fortune there.
He spent some months in Papeete to make his plans
and gain experience ; then, on money borrowed from
a friend in France, he bought an island in the Pau-
motus. It was a ring of land round a deep lagoon,
uninhabited, and covered only with scrub and wild
guava. With the intrepid woman who was his wife,
and a few natives, he landed there, and set about
building a house, and clearing the scrub so that he
could plant cocoa-nuts. That was twenty years be-
fore, and now what had been a barren island was
"It was hard and anxious work at first, and we
Vorked strenuously, both of us. Every day I was
up at dawn, clearing, planting, working on my house,
and at night when I threw myself on my bed it was
to sleep like a log till morning. My wife worked as
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 285
hard as I did. Then children were born to us, first
a son and then a daughter. My wife and I have
taught them all they know. We had a piano sent
out from France, and she has taught them to play
and to speak English, and I have taught them Latin
and mathematics, and we read history together. They
can sail a boat. They can swim as well as the na-
tives. There is nothing about the land of which
they are ignorant. Our trees have prospered, and
there is shell on my reef. I have come to Tahiti
jiiow 1 to buy a schooner. I can get enough shell to
make it worth while to fish for it, and, who knows?
I may find pearls. I have made something where
'there was nothing. I too have made beauty. Ah,
you do not know what it is to look at those tall,
healthy trees and think that every one I planted my-
"Let me ask you the question that you asked Strick-
land. Do you never regret France and your old home
"Some day, when my daughter is married and my
son has a wife and is able to take my place on the
island, we shall go back and finish our days in the
old house in which I was born."
"You will look back on a happy life," I said.
"Evidemment, it is not exciting on my island, and
we are very far from the world imagine, it takes
me four days to come to Tahiti but we are happy
there. It is given to few men to attempt a work
and to achieve it. Our life is simple and innocent.
We are untouched by ambition, and what pride we
have is due only to our contemplation of the work
286 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
of our hands. Malice cannot touch us, nor envy
attack. Ah, mon cher monsieur, they talk of the
blessedness of labour, and it is a meaningless phrase,
but to me it has the most intense significance. I am
a happy man."
"I am sure you deserve to be," I smiled.
"I wish I could think so. I do not know how I
have deserved to have a wife who was the perfect
friend and helpmate, the perfect mistress and the
I reflected for a while on the life that the Captain
suggested to my imagination.
"It is obvious that to lead such an existence and
make so great a success of it, you must both have
needed a strong will and a determined charac-
"Perhaps; but without one other factor we could
have achieved nothing."
"And what was that?"
He stopped, somewhat dramatically, and stretched
out his arm.
"Belief in God. Without that we should have
Then we arrived at the house of Dr. Coutras.
MR. COUTRAS was an old Frenchman of great
stature and exceeding bulk. His body was
shaped like a huge duck's egg; and his eyes,
sharp, blue, and good-natured, rested now and then
with self-satisfaction on his enormous paunch. His
complexion was florid and his hair white. He was
a man to attract immediate sympathy. He received
us in a room that might have been in a house in a
provincial town in France, and the one or two Poly-
nesian curios had an odd look. He took my hand
in both of his they were huge and gave me a
hearty look, in which, however, was great shrewd*
ness. When he shook hands with Capitaine Brunot
he enquired politely after Madame et les enfants.
For some minutes there was an exchange of courtesies
and some local gossip about the island, the prospects
of copra and the vanilla crop; then we came to the
object of my visit.
I shall not tell what Dr. Coutras related to me
in his words, but in my own, for I cannot hope to
give at second hand any impression of his vivacious
delivery. He had a deep, resonant voice, fitted to
his massive frame, and a keen sense of the dramatic.
To listen to him was, as the phrase goes, as good
as a play; and much better than most.
It appears that Dr. Coutras had gone one day to
Taravao in order to see an old chiefess who was ill,
and he gave a vivid picture of the obese old lady t
288 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
lying in a huge bed, smoking cigarettes, and sur-
rounded by a crowd of dark-skinned retainers. When
he had seen her he was taken into another room and
given dinner raw fish, fried bananas, and chicken
que sais-je, the typical dinner of the indigene and
while he was eating it he saw a young girl being driven
away from the door in tears. He thought nothing of
it, but when he went out to get into his trap and
drive home, he saw her again, standing a little way
off; she looked at him with a woebegone air, and
tears streamed down her cheeks. He asked someone
what was wrong with her, and was told that she had
come down from the hills to ask him to visit a white
man who was sick. They had told her that the
doctor could not be disturbed. He called her, and
himself asked what she wanted. She told him that
Ata had sent her, she who used to be at the Hotel de
la Fleur, and that the Red One was ill. She thrust
into his hand a crumpled piece of newspaper, and
when he opened it he found in it a hundred-franc
"Who is the Red One?" he asked of one of the
He was told that that was what they called the
Englishman, a painter, who lived with Ata up in the
valley seven kilometres from where they were. He
recognised Strickland by the description. But it was
necessary to walk. It was impossible for him to go;
that was why they had sent the girl away.
"I confess," said the doctor, turning to me, "that
I hesitated. I did not relish fourteen kilometres over
a bad pathway, and there was no chance that I could
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 289
get back to Papeete that night. Besides, Strickland
was not sympathetic to me. He was an idle, useless
scoundrel, who preferred to live with a native woman
rather than work for his living like the rest of us.
Mon Dieu y how was I to know that one day the world
would come to the conclusion that he had genius? I
asked the girl if he was not well enough to have come
down to see me. I asked her what she thought was
the matter with him. She would hot answer. I
pressed her, angrily perhaps, but she looked down
on the ground and began to cry. Then I shrugged
my shoulders; after all, perhaps it was my duty to go,
and in a very bad temper I bade her lead the way."
His temper was certainly no better when he ar-
rived, perspiring freely and thirsty. Ata was on the
look-out for him, and came a little way along the
path to meet him.
"Before I see anyone give me something to drink
or I shall die of thirst/' he cried out. "Pour t amour
de Dieu, get me a cocoa-nut."
She called out, and a boy came running along. He
swarmed up a tree, and presently threw down a ripe
nut. Ata pierced a hole in it, and the doctor took a
long, refreshing draught. Then he rolled himself a
cigarette and felt in a better humour.
"Now, where is the Red One?" he asked.
"He is in the house, painting. I have not told
him you were coming. Go in and see him."
"But what does he complain of? If he is well
enough to paint, he is well enough to have come down
to Taravao and save me this confounded walk. I
presume my time is no less valuable than his."
290 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Ata did not speak, but with the boy followed him
to the house. The girl who had brought him was
by this time sitting on the verandah, and here was
lying an old woman, with her back to the wall, mak-
ing native cigarettes. Ata pointed to the door. The
doctor, wondering irritably why they behaved so
strangely, entered, and there found Strickland clean-
ing his palette. There was a picture on the easel.
Strickland, clad only in a pareo, was standing with
his back to the door, but he turned round when he
heard the sound of boots. He gave the doctor a
look of vexation. He was surprised to see him, and
resented the intrusion. But the doctor gave a gasp,
he was rooted to the floor, and he stared with all
his eyes. This was not what he expected. He was
seized with horror.
"You enter without ceremony," said Strickland.
"What can I do for you?"
The doctor recovered himself, but it required quite
an effort for him to find his voice. All his irritation
was gone, and he felt eh bien, oui, je ne le nie pas
he felt an overwhelming pity.
"I am Dr. Coutras. I was down at Taravao to see
the chief ess, and Ata sent for me to see you."
"She's a damned fool. I have had a few aches
and pains lately and a little fever, but that's nothing;
it will pass off. Next time anyone went to Papeete
I was going to send for some quinine."
"Look at yourself in the glass."
Strickland gave him a glance, smiled, and went over
to a cheap mirror in a little wooden frame, that hung
on the wall.
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 291
"Do you not see a strange change in your face?
Do you not see the thickening of your features and
a look how shall I describe it? the books call it
lion-faced. Mon pauvre ami, must I tell you that
you have a terrible disease?"
"When you look at yourself in the glass you see
the typical appearance of the leper."
"You are jesting," said Strickland.
"I wish to God I were."
"Do you intend to tell me that I have leprosy?"
"Unfortunately, there can be no doubt of
Dr. Coutras had delivered sentence of death on
many men, and he could never overcome the horror
with which it filled him. He felt always the furious
hatred that must seize a man condemned when he
compared himself with the doctor, sane and healthy,
who had the inestimable privilege of life. Strickland
looked at him in silence. Nothing of emotion could
be seen on his face, disfigured already by the loath-
"Do they know?" he asked at last, pointing to the
persons on the verandah, now sitting in unusual, un-
"These natives know the signs so well," said the
doctor. "They were afraid to tell you."
Strickland stepped to the door and looked out.
There must have been something terrible in his face,
for suddenly they all burst out into loud cries and
lamentation. They lifted up their voices and they
292 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
wept. Strickland did not speak. After looking at
them for a moment, he came back into the room.
"How long do you think I can last?"
"Who knows? Sometimes the disease continues
for twenty years. It is a mercy when it runs its
Strickland went to his easel and looked reflectively
at the picture that stood on it
"You have had a long journey. It is fitting that
the bearer of important tidings should be rewarded.
Take this picture. It means nothing to you now,
but it may be that one day you will be glad to have
Dr. Coutras protested that he needed no payment
for his journey; he had already given back to Ata
the hundred-franc note, but Strickland insisted that
he should take the picture. Then together they went
out on the verandah. The natives were sobbing vio-
"Be quiet, woman. Dry thy tears/' said Strick-
land, addressing Ata. "There is no great harm. I
shall leave thee very soon."
"They are not going to take thee away?" she cried.
At that time there was no rigid sequestration on the
islands, and lepers, if they chose, were allowed to go
"I shall go up into the mountain," said Strickland.
Then Ata stood up and faced him.
"Let the others go if they choose, but I will not
leave thee. Thou art my man and I am thy woman.
If thou leavest me I shall hang myself on the tree
that is behind the house. I swear it by God."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 293
There was something immensely forcible in the way
she spoke. She was no longer the meek, soft native
girl, but a determined woman. She was extraordi-
"Why shouldst thou stay with me? Thou canst
go back to Papeete, and thou wilt soon find another
white man. The old woman can take care of thy
children, and Tiare will be glad to have thee
4 'Thou art my man and I am thy woman. Whither
thou goest I will go, too."
For a moment Strickland's fortitude was shaken,
and a tear filled each of his eyes and trickled slowly
down his cheeks. Then he gave the sardonic smile
which was usual with him.
"Women are strange little beasts," he said to Dr.
Coutras. "You can treat them like dogs, you can
beat them till your arm aches, and still they love you."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, it is one
of the most absurd illusions of Christianity that they
"What is it that thou art saying to the doctor?"
asked Ata suspiciously. "Thou wilt not go?"
"If it please thee I will stay, poor child."
Ata flung herself on her knees before him, and
clasped his legs with her arms and kissed them.
Strickland looked at Dr. Coutras with a faint smile.
"In the end they get you, and you are helpless in
their hands. White or brown, they are all the same."
Dr. Coutras felt that it was absurd to offer ex-
pressions of regret in so terrible a disaster, and he
took his leave. Strickland told Tane, the boy, to lead
294 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
him to the village. Dr. Coutras paused for a mo-
ment, and then he addressed himself to me.
"I did not like him, I have told you he was not
sympathetic to me, but as I walked slowly down to
Taravao I could not prevent an unwilling admiration
for the stoical courage which enabled him to bear
perhaps the most dreadful of human afflictions. When
Tane left me I told him I would send some medicine
that might be of service; but my hope was small
that Strickland would consent to take it, and even
smaller that, if he did, it would do him good. I gave
the boy a message for Ata that I would come when-
ever she sent for me. Life is hard, and Nature takes
sometimes a terrible delight in torturing her children.
It was with a heavy heart that I drove back to my
comfortable home in Papeete."
For a long time none of us spoke.
"But Ata did not send for me," the doctor went
on, at last, "and it chanced that I did not go to
that part of the island for a long time. I had no
news of Strickland. Once or twice I heard that Ata
had been to Papeete to buy painting materials, but
I did not happen to see her. More than two years
passed before I went to Taravao again, and then
it was once more to see the old chief ess. I asked
them whether they had heard anything of Strickland.
By now it was known everywhere that he had leprosy.
First Tane, the boy, had left the house, and then, a
little time afterwards, the old woman and her grand-
child. Strickland and Ata were left alone with their
babies. No one went near the plantation, for, as
you know, the natives have a very lively horror of
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 295
the disease, and in the old days when it was discov-
ered the sufferer was killed; but sometimes, when
the village boys were scrambling about the hills, they
would catch sight of the white man, with his great
red beard, wandering about. They fled in terror.
Sometimes Ata would come down to the village at
night and arouse the trader, so that he might sell
her various things of which she stood in need. She
knew that the natives looked upon her with the same
horrified aversion as they looked upon Strickland,
and she kept out of their way. Once some women,
venturing nearer than usual to the plantation, saw her
washing clothes in the brook, and they threw stones
at her. After that the trader was told to give her
the message that if she used the brook again men
would come and burn down her house."
"Brutes," I said.
"Mais non, mon cher monsieur, men are always
the same. Fear makes them cruel. ... I decided
to see Strickland, and when I had finished with the
chiefess asked for a boy to show me the way. But
none would accompany me, and I was forced to find
When Dr. Coutras arrived at the plantation he
was seized with a feeling of uneasiness. Though he
was hot from walking, he shivered. There was
something hostile in the air which made him hesitate,
and he felt that invisible forces barred his way. Un-
seen hands seemed to draw him back. No one would
go near now to gather the cocoa-nuts, and they lay
rotting on the ground. Everywhere was desolation.
The bush was encroaching, and it looked as though'
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
very soon the primeval forest would regain posses-
sion of that strip of land which had been snatched
from it at the cost of so much labour. He had the
sensation that here was the abode of pain. As he
approached the house he was struck by the unearthly
silence, and at first he thought it was deserted. Then
he saw Ata. She was sitting on her haunches in the
lean-to that served her as kitchen, watching some
mess cooking in a pot. Near her a small boy was
playing silently in the dirt. She did not smile when
she saw him.
"I have come to see Strickland," he said.
"I will go and tell him."
She went to the house, ascended the few steps that
led to the verandah, and entered. Dr. Coutras fol-
lowed her, but waited outside in obedience to her
gesture. As she opened the door he smelt the sickly
sweet smell which makes the neighbourhood of the
leper nauseous. He heard her speak, and then he
heard Strickland's answer, but he did not recognise
the voice. It had become hoarse and indistinct. Dr.
Coutras raised his eyebrows. He judged that the
disease had already attacked the vocal chords. Then
Ata came out again.
"He will not see you. You must go away."
Dr. Coutras insisted, but she would not let him
pass. Dr. Coutras shrugged his shoulders, and after
a moment's reflection turned away. She walked with
him. He felt that she too wanted to be rid of him.
"Is there nothing I can do at all?" he asked.
"You can send him some paints," she said. "There
is nothing else he wants."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 297
"Can he paint still?"
"He is painting the walls of the house."
"This is a terrible life for you, my poor child."
Then at last she smiled, and there was in her eyes
a look of superhuman love. Dr. Coutras was star-
tled by it, and amazed. And he was awed. He
found nothing to say.
"He is my man," she said.
"Where is your other child?" he asked. "When I
was here last you had two."
"Yes; it died. We buried it under the mango."
When Ata had gone with him a little way she
said she must turn back. Dr. Coutras surmised she
was afraid to go farther in case she met any of the
people from the village. He told her again that if
she wanted him she had only to send and he would
ome at once.
THEN two years more went Ly, or perhaps
three, for time passes imperceptibly in Tahiti,
and it is hard to keep count of it; but at last a
message was brought to Dr. Coutras that Strickland
was dying. Ata had waylaid the cart that took the
mail into Papeete, and besought the man who drove
it to go at once to the doctor. But the doctor was
out when the summons came, and it was evening
when he received it. It was impossible to start at
so late an hour, and so it was not till next day soon
after dawn that he set out. He arrived at Taravao,
and for the last time tramped the seven kilometres
that led to Ata's house. The path was overgrown,
and it was clear that for years now it had remained
all but untrodden. It was not easy to find the way.
Sometimes he had to stumble along the bed of the
stream, and sometimes he had to push through shrubs,
dense and thorny; often he was obliged to climb
over rocks in order to avoid the hornet-nests that
hung on the trees over his head. The silence was
It was with a sigh of relief that at last he came
upon the little unpainted house, extraordinarily be-
draggled now, and unkempt; but here too was the
same intolerable silence. He walked up, and a little
boy, playing unconcernedly in the sunshine, started at
his approach and fled quickly away: to him the
* tranger was the enemy. Dr. Coutras had a sense
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 299
tfiac the child was stealthily watching him from be-
hind a tree. The door was wide open. He called
out, but no one answered. He stepped in. He
knocked at a door, but again there was no answer.
He turned the handle and entered. The stench that
assailed him turned him horribly sick. He put his
handkerchief to his nose and forced himself to go in.
The light was dim, and after the brilliant sunshine for
a while he could see nothing. Then he gave a start.
He could not make out where he was. He seemed
on a sudden to have entered a magic world. He
had a vague impression of a great primeval forest
and of naked people walking beneath the trees. Then
he saw that there were paintings on the walls.
"Mon Dieuy I hope the sun hasn't affected me," he
A slight movement attracted his attention, and he
saw that Ata was lying on the floor, sobbing quietly.
"Ata," he called. "Ata."
She took no notice. Again the beastly stench al-
most made him faint, and he lit a cheroot. His eyes
grew accustomed to the darkness, and now he was
seized by an overwhelming sensation as he stared
at the painted walls. He knew nothing of pictures,
but there was something about these that extraordi-
narily affected him. From floor to ceiling the walls
were covered with a strange and elaborate composi-
tion. It was indescribably wonderful and mysterious.
It took his breath away. It filled him with an emo-
tion which he could not understand or analyse. He
felt the awe and the delight which a man might feel
who watched the beginning of a world. It was
300 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
tremendous, sensual, passionate; and yet there was
something horrible there, too, something which made
him afraid. It was the work of a man who had
delved into the hidden depths of nature and had
discovered secrets which were beautiful and fearful
too. It was the work of a man who knew things
which it is unholy for men to know. There was
something primeval there and terrible. It was not
tuman. It brought to his mind vague recollections of
black magic. It was beautiful and obscene.
"Mon Dieu, this is genius."
The words were wrung from him, and he did not
know he had spoken.
Then his eyes fell on the bed of mats in the corner,
and he went up, and he saw the dreadful, mutilated,
ghastly object which had been Strickland. He was
dead. Dr. Coutras made an effort of will and bent
over that battered horror. Then he started vio-
lently, and terror blazed in his heart, for he felt that
someone was behind him. It was Ata. He had not
heard her get up. She was standing at his elbow,
looking at what he looked at.
"Good Heavens, my nerves are all distraught," he
said. "You nearly frightened me out of my wits."
He looked again at the poor dead thing that had
been man, and then he started back in dismay.
"But he was blind."
"Yes; he had been blind for nearly a year."
AT that moment we were interrupted by the
appearance of Madame Coutras, who had
been paying visits. She came in, like a ship
in full sail, an imposing creature, tall and stout, with
an ample bust and an obesity girthed in alarmingly
by straight-fronted corsets. She had a bold hooked
nose and three chins. She held herself upright. She
had not yielded for an instant to the enervating charm
of the tropics, but contrariwise was more active, more
worldly, more decided than anyone in a temperate
clime would have thought it possible to be. She was
evidently a copious talker, and now poured forth a
breathless stream of anecdote and comment. She
made the conversation we had just had seem far
away and unreal.
Presently Dr. Coutras turned to me.
"I still have in my bureau the picture that Strick.
land gave me," he said. "Would you like to see
We got up, and he led me on to the verandah
which surrounded his house. We paused to look at the
gay flowers that rioted in his garden.
"For a long time I could not get out of my head
the recollection of the extraordinary decoration with
which Strickland had covered the walls of his house,"
lie said reflectively.
302 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
I had been thinking of it, too. It seemed to me
that here Strickland had finally put the whole ex-
pression of himself. Working silently, knowing that
it was his last chance, I fancied that here he must
have said all that he knew of life and all that he
divined. And I fancied that perhaps here he had
at last found peace. The demon which possessed him
was exorcised at last, and with the completion of
the work, for which all his life had been a painful
preparation, rest descended on his remote and tor-
tured soul. He was willing to die, for he had fulfilled
"What was the subject?" I asked.
"I scarcely know. It was strange and fantastic. It
was a vision of the beginnings of the world, the Gar-
den of Eden, with Adam and Eve que sais-je? ifc
was a hymn to the beauty of the human form, male
and female, and the praise of Nature, sublime, indif-
ferent, lovely, and cruel. It gave you an awful sense
of the infinity of space and of the endlessness of time.
Because he painted the trees I see about me every day,
the cocoa-nuts, the banyans, the flamboyants, the al-
ligator-pears, I have seen them ever since differently,
as though there were in them a spirit and a mystery
which I am ever on the point of seizing and which
for ever escapes me. The colours were the colours
familiar to me, and yet they were different They
had a significance which was all their own. And
those nude men and women. They were of the earth,
and yet apart from it. They seemed to possess some-
thing of the clay of which they were created, and
at the same time something divine. You saw man
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 303
in the nakedness of his primeval instincts, and you
were afraid, for you saw yourself."
Dr. Coutras shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
"You will laugh at me. I am a materialist, and
I am a gross, fat man Falstaff, eh? the lyrical
mode does not become me. I make myself ridiculous.
But I have never seen painting which made so deep
an impression upon me. Tenez, I had just the same
feeling as when I went to the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
There too I was awed by the greatness of the man
who had painted that ceiling. It was genius, and
it was stupendous and overwhelming. I felt small
and insignificant. But you are prepared for the great-
ness of Michael Angelo. Nothing had prepared me
for the immense surprise of these pictures in a native
hut, far away from civilisation, in a fold of the moun-
tain above Taravao. And Michael Angelo is sane
and healthy. Those great works of his have the calm
of the sublime; but here, notwithstanding beauty, was
something troubling. I do not know what it was.
It made me uneasy. It gave me the impression you
get when you are sitting next door to a room that
you know is empty, but in which, you know not why,
you have a dreadful consciousness that notwithstand-
ing there is someone. You scold yourself; you know
it is only your nerves and yet, and yet ... In
a little while it is impossible to resist the terror that
seizes you, and you are helpless in the clutch of an
unseen horror. Yes; I confess I was not altogether
sorry when I* heard that those strange masterpieces
had been destroyed."
"Destroyed?" I cried.
304 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
"Mais oui; did you not know?"
1 'How should I know? It is true I had never
heard of this work; but I thought perhaps it had
fallen into the hands of a private owner. Even now
there is no certain list of Strickland's paintings."
"When he grew blind he would sit hour after
hour in those two rooms that he had painted, looking
at his works with sightless eyes, and seeing, perhaps,
more than he had ever seen in his life before. Ata
told me that he never complained of his fate, he never
lost courage. To the end his mind remained serene
and undisturbed. But he made her promise that when
she had buried him did I tell you that I dug his
grave with my own hands, for none of the natives,
would approach the infected house, and we buried
him, she and I, sewn up in three pareos joined to-
gether, under the mango-tree he made her promise
that she would set fire to the house and not leave
it till it was burned to the ground and not a stick
I did not speak for a while, for I was thinking.
Then I said:
"He remained the same to the end, then."
"Do you understand? I must tell you that I
thought it my duty to dissuade her."
"Even after what you have just said?"
"Yes; for I knew that here was a work of genius,
and I did not think we had the right to deprive the
world of it. But Ata would not listen to me. She
had promised. I would not stay to witness the bar-
barous deed, and it was only afterwards that I heard
what she had done. She poured paraffin on the dry
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 305
floors and on the pandanus-mats, and then she set
fire. In a little while nothing remained but smoulder-
ing embers, and a great masterpiece existed no longer.
"I think Strickland knew it was a masterpiece. He
had achieved what he wanted. His life was com-
plete. He had made a world and saw that it was
good. Then, in pride and contempt, he destroyed,
"But I must show you my picture," said Dr.
Coutras, moving on.
"What happened to Ata and the child?"
They went to the Marquesas. She had relations
there. I have heard that the boy works on one of
Cameron's schooners. They say he is very like his
father in appearance."
At the door that led from the verandah to the
doctor's consulting-room, he paused and smiled.
"It is a fruit-piece. You would think it not a
very suitable picture for a doctor's consulting-room,
but my wife will not have it in the drawing-room. She
says it is frankly obscene."
"A fruit-piece !" I exclaimed in surprise.
We entered the room, and my eyes fell at once
on the picture. I looked at it for a long time.
It was a pile of mangoes, bananas, oranges, and I
know not what; and at first sight it was an innocent
picture enough. It would have been passed in an
exhibition of the Post-Impressionists by a careless per-
son as an excellent but not very remarkable example
of the school ; but perhaps afterwards it would come
back to his recollection, and he would wonder why.
I do not think then he could ever entirely forget it.
306 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
The colours were so strange that words can hardly
tell what a troubling emotion they gave. They were
sombre blues, opaque like a delicately carved bowl in
lapis lazuli, and yet with a quivering lustre that
suggested the palpitation of mysterious life; there
were purples, horrible like raw and putrid flesh, and
yet with a glowing, sensual passion that called up
vague memories of the Roman Empire of Heliogaba-
lus; there were reds, shrill like the berries of holly
one thought of Christmas in England, and the
snow, the good cheer, and the pleasure of children'
and yet by some magic softened till they had the
swooning tenderness of a dove's breast; there were
deep yellows that died with an unnatural passion into
a green as fragrant as the spring and as pure as the
sparkling water of a mountain brook. Who can
tell what anguished fancy made these fruits? They
belonged to a Polynesian garden of the Hesperides.
There was something strangely alive in them, as
though they were created in a stage of the earth's
dark history when things were not irrevocably fixed
to their forms. They were extravagantly luxurious.
They were heavy with tropical odours. They seemed
to possess a sombre passion of their own. It was
enchanted fruit, to taste which might open the gateway
to God knows what secrets of the soul and to mys-
terious palaces of the imaginaion. They were sullen
with unawaited dangers, and to eat them might turn
a man to beast or god. All that was healthy and
natural, all that clung to happy relationships and the
simple joys of simple men, shrunk from them in
dismay; and yet a fearful attraction was in fhem,
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 307
and, like the fruit on the Tree of the Knowledge
of Good and Evil they were terrible with the pos-
sibilities of the Unknown.
At last I turned away. I felt that Strickland had
kept his secret to the grave.
"Voyons, Rene, mon ami" came the loud, cheerful
voice of Madame Coutras, "what are you doing all
this time ? Here are the aperitifs. Ask Monsieur if
he will not drink a little glass of Quinquina Dubon-
tr Volontiers, Madame," I said, going out on to the
The spell was broken.
THE time came for my departure from Tahiti.
According to the gracious custom of the island,
presents were given me by the persons with
whom I had been thrown in contact baskets made
of the leaves of the cocoa-nut tree, mats of pandanus,
fans; and Tiare gave me three little pearls and three
jars of guava-jelly made with her own plump hands.
When the mail-boat, stopping for twenty-four hours
on its way from Wellington to San Francisco, blew
the whistle that warned the passengers to get on
board, Tiare clasped me to her vast bosom, so that
I seemed to sink into a billowy sea, and pressed her
red lips to mine. Tears glistened in her eyes. And
when we steamed slowly out of the lagoon, making
our way gingerly through the opening in the reef,
and then steered for the open sea, a certain melan-
choly fell upon me. The breeze was laden still with
the pleasant odours of the land. Tahiti is very far
away, and I knew that I should never see it again.
A chapter of my life was closed, and I felt a little
nearer to inevitable death.
Not much more than a month later I was in Lon-
don; and after I had arranged certain matters which
claimed my immediate attention, thinking Mrs. Strick-
land might like to hear what I knew of her husband's
last years, I wrote to her. I had not seen her since
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 309
long before the war, and I had to look out her ad-
dress in the telephone-book. She made an appoint-
ment, and I went to the trim little house on Campden
Hill which she now inhabited. She was by this time
a woman of hard on sixty, but she bore her years
well, and no one would have taken her for more than
fifty. Her face, thin and not much lined, was of the
sort that ages gracefully, so that you thought in youth
she must have been a much handsomer woman than
in fact she was. Her hair, not yet very gray, was
becomingly arranged, and her black gown was mod-
ish. I remembered having heard that her sister, Mrs.
MacAndrew, outliving her husband but a couple of
years, had left money to Mrs. Strickland; and by
the look of the house and the trim maid who opened
the door I judged that it was a sum adequate to.
keep the widow in modest comfort.
When I was ushered into the drawing-room I found
that Mrs. Strickland had a visitor, and when I dis-
covered who he was, I guessed that I had been asked
to come at just that time not without intention. The
caller was Mr. Van Busche Taylor, an American, and
Mrs. Strickland gave me particulars with a charming
smile of apology to him.
"You know, we English are so dreadfully ignorant.
You must forgive me if it's necessary to explain."
Then she turned to me. "Mr. Van Busche Taylor is
the distinguished American critic. If you haven't
read his book your education has been shamefully
neglected, and you must repair the omission at once.
He's writing something about dear Charlie, and he's
come to ask me if I can help him."
310 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Mr. Van Busche Taylor was a very thin man with
a large, bald head, bony and shining; and under the
great dome of his skull his face, yellow, with deep
lines in it, looked very small. He was quiet and
exceedingly polite. He spoke with the accent of New
England, and there was about his demeanour a blood-
less frigidity which made me ask myself why on earth
he was busying himself with Charles Strickland. I
had been slightly tickled at the gentleness which Mrs.
Strickland put into her mention of her husband's
name, and while the pair conversed I took stock of
the room in which we sat. Mrs. Strickland had
moved with the times. Gone were the Morris papers
and gone the severe cretonnes, gone were the Arundel
prints that had adorned the walls of her drawing-
room in Ashley Gardens; the room blazed with fan-
tastic colour, and I wondered if she knew that those
varied hues, which fashion had imposed upon her,
were due to the dreams of a poor painter in a South
Sea island. She gave me the answer herself.
"What wonderful cushions you have," said Mr.
Van Busche Taylor.
"Do you like them?" she said, smiling. "Bakst,
And yet on the walls were coloured reproductions
of several of Strickland's best pictures, due to the
enterprise of a publisher in Berlin.
"You're looking at my pictures," she said, follow-
ing my eyes. "Of course, the originals are out of my
reach, but it's a comfort to have these. The pub-
lisher sent them to me himself. They're a great con-
solation to me."
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 311
"They must be very pleasant to live with," said
Mr. Van Busche Taylor.
"Yes; they're so essentially decorative."
"That is one of my profoundest convictions," said
Mr. Van Busche Taylor. "Great art is always decor-
Their eyes rested on a nude woman suckling a baby,
while a girl was kneeling by their side holding out a
flower to the indifferent child. Looking over them
was a wrinkled, scraggy hag. It was Strickland's
version of the Holy Family. I suspected that for
the figures had sat his household above Taravao, and
the woman and the baby were Ata and his first son.
I asked myself if Mrs. Strickland had any inkling of
The conversation proceeded, and I marvelled at
the tact with which Mr. Van Busche Taylor avoided
all subjects that might have been in the least em-
barrassing, and at the ingenuity with which Mrs.
Strickland, without saying a word that was untrue,
insinuated that her relations with her husband had
always been perfect. At last Mr. Van Busche Taylor
rose to go. Holding his hostess* hand, he made he.r
a graceful, though perhaps too elaborate, speech of
thanks, and left us.
"I hope he didn't bore you," she said, when the
door closed behind him. "Of course it's a nuisance
sometimes, but I feel it's only right to give people
any information I can about Charlie. There's a cer-
tain responsibility about having been the wife "of a
She looked at me with those pleasant eyes of hers,
312 THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
which had remained as candid and as sympathetic as
they had been more than twenty years before. I
wondered if she was making a fool of me.
"Of course you've given up your business/* I
"Oh, yes," she answered airily. "I ran it more
by way of a hobby than for any other reason, and my
children persuaded me to sell it. They thought I was
overtaxing my strength."
I saw that Mrs. Strickland had forgotten that she
had ever done anything so disgraceful as to work
for her living. She had the true instinct of the nice
woman that it is only really decent for her to live
on other people's money.
"They're here now," she said. "I thought they'd
like to hear what you had to say about their father.
You remember Robert, don't you ? I'm glad to say
he's been recommended for the Military Cross."
She went to the door and called them. There
entered a tall man in khaki, with the parson's collar,
handsome in a somewhat heavy fashion, but with the
frank eyes that I remembered in him as a boy. He
was followed by his sister. She must have been the
same age as was her mother when first I knew her,
and she was very like her. She too gave one the
impression that as a girl she must have been prettier
than indeed she was.
"I suppose you don't remember them in the least,"
said Mrs. Strickland, proud and smiling. "My
daughter is now Mrs. Ronaldson. Her husband's a
Major in the Gunners."
"He's by way of being a pukka soldier, you know,"
THE MOON AND SIXPENCE 313
said Mrs. Ronaldson gaily. "That's why he's only
a Major.' 7
I remembered my anticipation long ago that she
would marry a soldier. It was inevitable. She had
all the graces of the soldier's wife. She was civil
and affable, but she could hardly conceal her inti-
mate conviction that she was not quite as others
Were. Robert was breezy.
"It's a bit of luck that I should be in London
when you turned up," he said. "I've only got three
"He's dying to get back," said his mother.
"Well, I don't mind confessing it, I have a rattling
good time at the front. I've made a lot of good
pals. It's a first-rate life. Of course war's terrible,
and all that sort of thing; but it does bring out the
best qualities in a man, there's no denying that."
Then I told them what I had learned about Charles
Strickland in Tahiti. I thought it unnecessary to
say anything of Ata and her boy, but for the rest
I was as accurate as I could be. When I had nar-
rated his lamentable death I ceased. For a minute
or two we were all silent. Then Robert Strickland
struck a match and lit a cigarette.
"The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind
exceeding small," he said, somewhat impressively.
Mrs. Strickland and Mrs. Ronaldson looked down
with a slightly pious expression which indicated, I
felt sure, that they thought the quotation was from
Holy Writ. Indeed, I was unconvinced that Robert
Strickland did not share their illusion. I do not
know why I suddenly thought of Strickland's son by
SI* THE MOON AND SIXPENCE
Ata. They had told me he was a merry, light-
hearted youth. I saw him, with my mind's eye, on
the schooner on which he worked, wearing nothing
but a pair of dungarees ; and at night, when the boat
sailed along easily before a light breeze, and the
sailors were gathered on the upper deck, while the
captain and the supercargo lolled in deck-chairs,
smoking their pipes, I saw him dance with another
lad, dance wildly, to the wheezy music of the con-
certina. Above was the blue sky, and the stars, and
all about the desert of the Pacific Ocean.
A quotation from the Bible came to my lips, but
I held my tongue, for I know that clergymen think
it a little blasphemous when the laity poach upon
their preserves. My Uncle Henry, for twenty-seven
years Vicar of Whitstable, was on these occasions
in the habit of saying that the devil could always
quote scripture to his purpose. He remembered the
days when you could get thirteen Royal Natives for
PR Maugham, William Somerset
6025 The moon and sixpence
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