The Plastic Age

Source: Percy Marks, The Plastic Age (New York: The Century Co., 1924), pp. 24-28

Text: “Well,” he exclaimed, “that’s that! At last I know where I’m going. You certainly saved my life. I know where all the buildings are; so it ought to be easy.”

“Sure,” said Carl encouragingly; “it’s easy. Now there’s nothing to do till to-morrow until eight forty-five when we attend chapel to the glory of the Lord. I think I’ll pray to-morrow; I may need it. Christ! I hate to study.”

“Me, too,” Hugh lied. He really loved books, but somehow he couldn’t admit the fact, which had suddenly become shameful, to Carl. “Let’s go to the movies,” he suggested, changing the subject for safety.

“Right-o!” Carl put on his freshman cap and flung Hugh’s to him. “Gloria Nielsen is there, and she’s a pash baby. Ought to be a good fillum.”

The Blue and Orange – it was the only movie theater in town – was almost full when the boys arrived. Only a few seats near the front were still vacant. A freshman started down the aisle, his “baby bonnet” stuck jauntily on the back of his head.

“Freshman!”… “Kill him!”… “Murder the frosh!” Shouts came from all parts of the house, and an instant later hundreds of peanuts shot swiftly at the startled freshman. “Cap! Cap! Cap off!” There was a panic of excitement. Upper-classmen were standing on their chairs to get free throwing room. The freshman snatched off his cap, drew his head like a scared turtle down into his coat collar, and ran for a seat. Hugh and Carl tucked their caps into their coat pockets and attempted to stroll nonchalantly down the aisle. They hadn’t taken three steps before the bombardment began. Like their classmate, they ran for safety.

Then some one in the front of the theatre threw a peanut at some one in the rear. The fight was on! Yelling like madmen, the students stood on their chairs and hurled peanuts, the front and rear of the house automatically dividing into enemy camps. When the fight was at its hottest, three girls entered.

“Wimmen! Wimmen!” As the girls walked down the aisle, infinitely pleased with their reception, five hundred men stamped in time with their steps.

No sooner were the girls seated than there was a scramble in one corner, an excited scuffling of feet. “I’ve got it!” a boy screamed. He stood on his chair and held up a live mouse by its tail. There was a shout of applause and then – “Play catch!”

The boy dropped the writhing mouse into a peanut bag, screwed the open end tight-closed, and then threw the bag far across the room. Another boy caught it and threw it, this time over the girls’ heads. They screamed and jumped upon their chairs, holding their skirts, and dancing up and down in assumed terror. Back over their heads, back and over, again and again the bagged mouse was thrown while the girls screamed and the boys roared with delight. Suddenly one of he girls threw up her arm, caught the bag deftly, held it for a second, and then tossed it into the rear of the theater.

Cheers of terrifying violence broke loose: “Ray! Ray! Atta girl! Hot dog! Ray, ray!” And then the lights went out.

“Moosick! Moosick! Moo-sick!” The audience stamped and roared, whistled and howled. “Moosick! We want moosick!”

The pianist, an undergraduate, calmly strolled down the aisle.

“Get a move on!”… “Earn your salary!”… “Give us moosick!”

The pianist paused to thumb his nose casually at the entire audience, and then amid shouts and hisses sat down at the piano and began to play “Love Nest.”

Immediately the boys began to whistle, and as the comedy was utterly stupid, they relieved their boredom by whistling the various tunes that the pianist played until the miserable film flickered out.

Then the “feature” and the fun began. During the stretches of pure narrative, the boys whistled, but when there was any real action they talked. The picture was a melodrama of “love and hate,” as the advertisement said.

The boys told the actors what to do; they revealed to them the secrets of the plot. “She’s hiding behind the door, Harold. No, no! Not that way. Hey, dumbbell – behind the door.”… “Catch him, Gloria; he’s only shy!”… “No, that’s not him!”

The climactic fight brought shouts of encouragement – to the villain. “Kill him!”… “Shoot one to his kidneys!”… “Ahhhhh,” as the villain hit the hero in the stomach…. “Muss his hair. Attaboy!”… “Kill the skunk!” And finally groans of despair when the hero won his inevitable victory.

But it was the love scenes that aroused the greatest ardor and joy. The hero was given careful instructions. “Some neckin’, Harold!”… “Kiss her! Kiss her! Ahhh!”… “Harold, Harold, you’re getting rough!”… “She’s vamping you, Harold!”… “Stop it; Gloria; he’s a good boy.” And so on until the picture ended in the usual close-up of the hero and heroine silhouetted in a tender embrace against the setting sun. The boys breathed “Ahhhh” and “Ooooh” ecstatically – and laughed. The meretricious melodrama did not fool them, but they delighted in its absurdities.

The lights flashed on and the crowd filed out, “wise-cracking” about the picture and commenting favorably on the heroine’s figure. There were shouts to this fellow or that fellow to come on over and play bridge, and suggestions here and there to go to a drug store and get a drink.

Hugh and Carl strolled home over the dark campus, both of them radiant with excitement, Hugh frankly so.

Comments: Percy Marks (1891-1956) was an American author whose notorious novel of college life, The Plastic Age, was filmed under that title in 1925 (starring Clara Bow) and in 1929 as Red Lips.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

Tickets, Please

Source: D.H. Lawrence, extract from ‘Tickets, Please’ in England, My England and Other Stories (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1922), pp. 56-57

Text: After the dragons they went on the horses. John Thomas paid each time, so she could but be complaisant. He, of course, sat astride on the outer horse – named ‘Black Bess’ – and she sat sideways, towards him, on the inner horse – named ‘Wildfire’. But of course John Thomas was not going to sit discreetly on ‘Black Bess’, holding the brass bar. Round they spun and heaved, in the light. And round he swung on his wooden steed, flinging one leg across her mount, and perilously tipping up and down, across the space, half lying back, laughing at her. He was perfectly happy; she was afraid her hat was on one side, but she was excited.

He threw quoits on a table, and won for her two large, pale-blue hat-pins. And then, hearing the noise of the cinemas, announcing another performance, they climbed the boards and went in.

Of course, during these performances pitch darkness falls from time to time, when the machine goes wrong. Then there is a wild whooping, and a loud smacking of simulated kisses. In these moments John Thomas drew Annie towards him. After all, he had a wonderfully warm, cosy way of holding a girl with his arm, he seemed to make such a nice fit. And, after all, it was pleasant to be so held: so very comforting and cosy and nice. He leaned over her and she felt his breath on her hair; she knew he wanted to kiss her on the lips. And, after all, he was so warm and she fitted in to him so softly. After all, she wanted him to touch her lips.

But the light sprang up; she also started electrically, and put her hat straight. He left his arm lying nonchalantly behind her. Well, it was fun, it was exciting to be at the Statutes with John Thomas.

Comments: The British novelist and short story writer David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) makes numerous references to the cinema in his writings, usually from a hostile point of view but clearly based on knowledge of cinemagoing. This passage from a short story (about a tramway inspector and serial seducer whose victims take revenge on him) features a visit to a fairground cinema show.

The Secret City

Source: Hugh Walpole, The Secret City (London: Macmillan, 1919), pp. 61-64

Text: We had arrived. The cinema door blazed with light, and around it was gathered a group of soldiers and women and children, peering in at a soldiers’ band, which, placed on benches in a corner of the room, played away for its very life. Outside, around the door were large bills announcing “The Woman without a Soul, Drama in four parts,” and there were fine pictures of women falling over precipices, men shot in bedrooms, and parties in which all the guests shrank back in extreme horror from the heroine. We went inside and were overwhelmed by the band, so that we could not hear one another speak. The floor was covered with sunflower seeds, and there was a strong smell of soldiers’ boots and bad cigarettes and urine. We bought tickets from an old Jewess behind the pigeon-hole and then, pushing the curtain aside, stumbled into darkness. Here the smell was different, being, quite simply that of human flesh not very carefully washed. Although, as we stumbled to some seats at the back, we could feel that we were alone, it had the impression that multitudes of people pressed in upon us, and when the lights did go up we found that the little hall was indeed packed to its extremest limit.

No one could have denied that it was a cheerful scene. Soldiers, sailors, peasants, women, and children crowded together upon the narrow benches. There was a great consumption of sunflower seeds, and the narrow passage down the middle of the room was littered with fragments. Two stout and elaborate policemen leaned against the wall surveying the public with a friendly if superior air. There was a tremendous amount of noise. Mingled with the strains of the band beyond the curtain were cries and calls and loud roars of laughter. The soldiers embraced the girls, and the children, their fingers in their mouths, wandered from bench to bench, and a mangy dog begged wherever he thought that he saw a kindly face. All the faces were kindly – kindly, ignorant, and astoundingly young. As I felt that youth I felt also separation; I and my like could emphasise as we pleased the goodness, docility, mysticism even of these people, but we were walking in a country of darkness. I caught a laugh, the glance of some women, the voice of a young soldier – I felt behind us, watching us, the thick heavy figure of Rasputin. I smelt the eastern scent of the sunflower seeds, I looked back and glanced at the impenetrable superiority of the two policemen, and I laughed at myself for the knowledge that I thought I had, for the security upon which I thought that I rested, for the familiarity with which I had fancied I could approach my neighbours… I was not wise, I was not secure, I had no claim to familiarity…

The lights were down and we were shown pictures of Paris. Because the cinema was a little one and the prices small the films were faded and torn, so that the Opera and the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and the Seine danced and wriggled and broke before our eyes. They looked strange enough to us and only accented our isolation and the odd semi-civilisation in which we were living. There were comments all around the room in exactly the spirit of children before a conjurer at a party… The smell grew steadily stronger and stronger… my head swam a little and I seemed to see Rasputin, swelling in his black robe, catching us all into its folds, sweeping us up into the starlight sky. We were under the flare of the light again. I caught Bohun’s happy eyes; he was talking eagerly to Vera Michailovna, not removing his eyes from her face. She had conquered him; I fancied as I looked at her that her thoughts were elsewhere.

There followed a Vaudeville entertainment. A woman and a man in peasants’ dress came and laughed raucously, without meaning, their eyes narrowly searching the depths of the house, then they stamped their feet and whirled around, struck one another, laughed again, and vanished.

The applause was half-hearted. Then there was a trainer of dogs, a black-eyed Tartar with four very miserable little fox-terriers, who shivered and trembled and jumped reluctantly through hoops. The audience liked this, and cried and shouted and threw paper pellets at the dogs. A stout perspiring Jew in a shabby evening suit came forward and begged for decorum. Then there appeared a stout little man in a top hat who wished to recite verses of, I gathered, a violent indecency. I was uncomfortable about Vera Michailovna, but I need not have been. The indecency was of no importance to her, and she was interested in the human tragedy of the performer. Tragedy it was. The man was hungry and dirty and not far from tears. He forgot his verses and glanced nervously into the wings as though he expected to be beaten publicly by the perspiring Jew.

He stammered; his mouth wobbled; he covered it with a dirty hand. He could not continue.

The audience was sympathetic. They listened in encouraging silence; then they clapped; then they shouted friendly words to him. You could feel throughout the room an intense desire that he should succeed. He responded a little to the encouragement, but could not remember his verses. He struggled, struggled, did a hurried little breakdown dance, bowed and vanished into the wings, to be beaten, I have no doubt, by the Jewish gentleman. We watched a little of the “Drama of the Woman without a Soul,” but the sense of being in a large vat filled with boiling human flesh into whose depths we were pressed ever more and more deeply was at last too much for us, and we stumbled our way into the open air. The black shadow of the barge, the jagged outline of the huddled buildings against the sky, the black tower at the end of the canal, all these swam in the crystal air.

Comment: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was a prolific British novelist, best known for Rogue Herries and its follow-up novels. He spent much of the First World War in Russia, working for for the Red Cross and then as head of the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau, based in Petrograd. His novel The Secret City draws on these experiences. Ekateringofsky canal is in Petrograd/St Petersburg. Though there were British and American films made in 1915 called The Woman Without a Soul the film described is probably Walpole’s invention. Ellipses are in the original text.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

The Secret City

Source: Hugh Walpole, The Secret City (London: Macmillan, 1919), pp. 61-64

Text: We had arrived. The cinema door blazed with light, and around it was gathered a group of soldiers and women and children, peering in at a soldiers’ band, which, placed on benches in a corner of the room, played away for its very life. Outside, around the door were large bills announcing “The Woman without a Soul, Drama in four parts,” and there were fine pictures of women falling over precipices, men shot in bedrooms, and parties in which all the guests shrank back in extreme horror from the heroine. We went inside and were overwhelmed by the band, so that we could not hear one another speak. The floor was covered with sunflower seeds, and there was a strong smell of soldiers’ boots and bad cigarettes and urine. We bought tickets from an old Jewess behind the pigeon-hole and then, pushing the curtain aside, stumbled into darkness. Here the smell was different, being, quite simply that of human flesh not very carefully washed. Although, as we stumbled to some seats at the back, we could feel that we were alone, it had the impression that multitudes of people pressed in upon us, and when the lights did go up we found that the little hall was indeed packed to its extremest limit.

No one could have denied that it was a cheerful scene. Soldiers, sailors, peasants, women, and children crowded together upon the narrow benches. There was a great consumption of sunflower seeds, and the narrow passage down the middle of the room was littered with fragments. Two stout and elaborate policemen leaned against the wall surveying the public with a friendly if superior air. There was a tremendous amount of noise. Mingled with the strains of the band beyond the curtain were cries and calls and loud roars of laughter. The soldiers embraced the girls, and the children, their fingers in their mouths, wandered from bench to bench, and a mangy dog begged wherever he thought that he saw a kindly face. All the faces were kindly – kindly, ignorant, and astoundingly young. As I felt that youth I felt also separation; I and my like could emphasise as we pleased the goodness, docility, mysticism even of these people, but we were walking in a country of darkness. I caught a laugh, the glance of some women, the voice of a young soldier – I felt behind us, watching us, the thick heavy figure of Rasputin. I smelt the eastern scent of the sunflower seeds, I looked back and glanced at the impenetrable superiority of the two policemen, and I laughed at myself for the knowledge that I thought I had, for the security upon which I thought that I rested, for the familiarity with which I had fancied I could approach my neighbours… I was not wise, I was not secure, I had no claim to familiarity…

The lights were down and we were shown pictures of Paris. Because the cinema was a little one and the prices small the films were faded and torn, so that the Opera and the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre and the Seine danced and wriggled and broke before our eyes. They looked strange enough to us and only accented our isolation and the odd semi-civilisation in which we were living. There were comments all around the room in exactly the spirit of children before a conjurer at a party… The smell grew steadily stronger and stronger… my head swam a little and I seemed to see Rasputin, swelling in his black robe, catching us all into its folds, sweeping us up into the starlight sky. We were under the flare of the light again. I caught Bohun’s happy eyes; he was talking eagerly to Vera Michailovna, not removing his eyes from her face. She had conquered him; I fancied as I looked at her that her thoughts were elsewhere.

There followed a Vaudeville entertainment. A woman and a man in peasants’ dress came and laughed raucously, without meaning, their eyes narrowly searching the depths of the house, then they stamped their feet and whirled around, struck one another, laughed again, and vanished.

The applause was half-hearted. Then there was a trainer of dogs, a black-eyed Tartar with four very miserable little fox-terriers, who shivered and trembled and jumped reluctantly through hoops. The audience liked this, and cried and shouted and threw paper pellets at the dogs. A stout perspiring Jew in a shabby evening suit came forward and begged for decorum. Then there appeared a stout little man in a top hat who wished to recite verses of, I gathered, a violent indecency. I was uncomfortable about Vera Michailovna, but I need not have been. The indecency was of no importance to her, and she was interested in the human tragedy of the performer. Tragedy it was. The man was hungry and dirty and not far from tears. He forgot his verses and glanced nervously into the wings as though he expected to be beaten publicly by the perspiring Jew.

He stammered; his mouth wobbled; he covered it with a dirty hand. He could not continue.

The audience was sympathetic. They listened in encouraging silence; then they clapped; then they shouted friendly words to him. You could feel throughout the room an intense desire that he should succeed. He responded a little to the encouragement, but could not remember his verses. He struggled, struggled, did a hurried little breakdown dance, bowed and vanished into the wings, to be beaten, I have no doubt, by the Jewish gentleman. We watched a little of the “Drama of the Woman without a Soul,” but the sense of being in a large vat filled with boiling human flesh into whose depths we were pressed ever more and more deeply was at last too much for us, and we stumbled our way into the open air. The black shadow of the barge, the jagged outline of the huddled buildings against the sky, the black tower at the end of the canal, all these swam in the crystal air.

Comment: Hugh Walpole (1884-1941) was a prolific British novelist, best known for Rogue Herries and its follow-up novels. He spent much of the First World War in Russia, working for for the Red Cross and then as head of the Anglo-Russian Propaganda Bureau, based in Petrograd. His novel The Secret City draws on these experiences. Ekateringofsky canal is in Petrograd/St Petersburg. Though there were British and American films made in 1915 called The Woman Without a Soul the film described is probably Walpole’s invention. Ellipses are in the original text.

Links: Copy on the Internet Archive

The Lost Girl

Source: D.H. Lawrence, The Lost Girl (London: Martin Secker, 1920), pp. 128-132

Text: The Endeavour was successful – yes, it was successful. But not overwhelmingly so. On wet nights Woodhouse did not care to trail down to Lumley. And then Lumley was one of those depressed, negative spots on the face of the earth which have no pull at all. In that region of sharp hills with fine hill-brows, and shallow, rather dreary canal-valleys, it was the places on the hill-brows, like Woodhouse and Hathersedge and Rapton which flourished, while the dreary places down along the canals existed only for work-places, not for life and pleasure. It was just like James to have planted his endeavour down in the stagnant dust and rust of potteries and foundries, where no illusion could bloom.

He had dreamed of crowded houses every night, and of raised prices. But there was no probability of his being able to raise his prices. He had to figure lower than the Woodhouse Empire. He was second-rate from the start. His hope now lay in the tramway which was being built from Knarborough away through the country – a black country indeed – through Woodhouse and Lumley and Hathersedge, to Rapton. When once this tramway-system was working, he would have a supply of youths and lasses always on tap, as it were. So he spread his rainbow wings towards the future, and began to say:

“When we’ve got the trams, I shall buy a new machine and finer lenses, and I shall extend my premises.”

Mr. May did not talk business to Alvina. He was terribly secretive with respect to business. But he said to her once, in the early year following their opening:

“Well, how do you think we’re doing, Miss Houghton?”

“We’re not doing any better than we did at first, I think,” she said.

“No,” he answered. “No! That’s true. That’s perfectly true. But why? They seem to like the programs.”

“I think they do,” said Alvina. “I think they like them when they’re there. But isn’t it funny, they don’t seem to want to come to them. I know they always talk as if we were second-rate. And they only come because they can’t get to the Empire, or up to Hathersedge. We’re a stop-gap. I know we are.”

Mr. May looked down in the mouth. He cocked his blue eyes at her, miserable and frightened. Failure began to frighten him abjectly.

“Why do you think that is?” he said.

“I don’t believe they like the turns,” she said.

“But look how they applaud them! Look how pleased they are!”

“I know. I know they like them once they’re there, and they see them. But they don’t come again. They crowd the Empire – and the Empire is only pictures now; and it’s much cheaper to run.”

He watched her dismally.

“I can’t believe they want nothing but pictures. I can’t believe they want everything in the flat,” he said, coaxing and miserable. He himself was not interested in the film. His interest was still the human interest in living performers and their living feats. “Why,” he continued, “they are ever so much more excited after a good turn, than after any film.”

“I know they are,” said Alvina. “But I don’t believe they want to be excited in that way.”

“In what way?” asked Mr. May plaintively.

“By the things which the artistes do. I believe they’re jealous.”

“Oh nonsense!” exploded Mr. May, starting as if he had been shot. Then he laid his hand on her arm. “But forgive my rudeness! I don’t mean it, of cauce! But do you mean to say that these collier louts and factory girls are jealous of the things the artistes do, because they could never do them themselves?”

“I’m sure they are,” said Alvina.

“But I can’t believe it,” said Mr. May, pouting up his mouth and smiling at her as if she were a whimsical child. “What a low opinion you have of human nature!”

“Have I?” laughed Alvina. “I’ve never reckoned it up. But I’m sure that these common people here are jealous if anybody does anything or has anything they can’t have themselves.”

“I can’t believe it,” protested Mr. May. “Could they be so silly! And then why aren’t they jealous of the extraordinary things which are done on the film?”

“Because they don’t see the flesh-and-blood people. I’m sure that’s it. The film is only pictures, like pictures in the Daily Mirror. And pictures don’t have any feelings apart from their own feelings. I mean the feelings of the people who watch them. Pictures don’t have any life except in the people who watch them. And that’s why they like them. Because they make them feel that they are everything.”

“The pictures make the colliers and lasses feel that they themselves are everything? But how? They identify themselves with the heroes and heroines on the screen?”

“Yes – they take it all to themselves – and there isn’t anything except themselves. I know it’s like that. It’s because they can spread themselves over a film, and they can’t over a living performer. They’re up against the performer himself. And they hate it.”

Mr. May watched her long and dismally.

“I can’t believe people are like that! – sane people!” he said. “Why, to me the whole joy is in the living personality, the curious personality of the artiste. That’s what I enjoy so much.”

“I know. But that’s where you’re different from them.”

“But am I?”

“Yes. You’re not as up to the mark as they are.”

“Not up to the mark? What do you mean? Do you mean they are more intelligent?”

“No, but they’re more modern. You like things which aren’t yourself. But they don’t. They hate to admire anything that they can’t take to themselves. They hate anything that isn’t themselves. And that’s why they like pictures. It’s all themselves to them, all the time.”

He still puzzled.

“You know I don’t follow you,” he said, a little mocking, as if she were making a fool of herself.

“Because you don’t know them. You don’t know the common people. You don’t know how conceited they are.”

He watched her a long time.

“And you think we ought to cut out the variety, and give nothing but pictures, like the Empire?” he said.

“I believe it takes best,” she said.

“And costs less,” he answered. “But then! It’s so dull. Oh my word, it’s so dull. I don’t think I could bear it.”

“And our pictures aren’t good enough,” she said. “We should have to get a new machine, and pay for the expensive films. Our pictures do shake, and our films are rather ragged.”

“But then, surely they’re good enough!” he said.

That was how matters stood. The Endeavour paid its way, and made just a margin of profit – no more. Spring went on to summer, and then there was a very shadowy margin of profit. But James was not at all daunted. He was waiting now for the trams, and building up hopes since he could not build in bricks and mortar.

The navvies were busy in troops along the Knarborough Road, and down Lumley Hill. Alvina became quite used to them. As she went down the hill soon after six o’clock in the evening, she met them trooping home. And some of them she liked. There was an outlawed look about them as they swung along the pavement – some of them; and there was a certain lurking set of the head which rather frightened her because it fascinated her. There was one tall young fellow with a red face and fair hair, who looked as if he had fronted the seas and the arctic sun. He looked at her. They knew each other quite well, in passing. And he would glance at perky Mr. May. Alvina tried to fathom what the young fellow’s look meant. She wondered what he thought of Mr. May.

She was surprised to hear Mr. May’s opinion of the navvy.

He’s a handsome young man, now!” exclaimed her companion one evening as the navvies passed. And all three turned round, to find all three turning round. Alvina laughed, and made eyes. At that moment she would cheerfully have gone along with the navvy. She was getting so tired of Mr. May’s quiet prance.

On the whole, Alvina enjoyed the cinema and the life it brought her. She accepted it. And she became somewhat vulgarized in her bearing. She was déclassée: she had lost her class altogether. The other daughters of respectable tradesmen avoided her now, or spoke to her only from a distance. She was supposed to be “carrying on” with Mr. May.

Comment: David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) was a British novelist who was considerably hostile towards the cinema. The Lost Girl tells of the frustrated Alvina Houghton, whose draper father James is poor in business and tries his luck with a cinema in his Midlands town of Woodhouse. Mr May is the cinema manager and projectionist. Alvina plays the piano for the films and variety performers that feature as part of the programme. She eventually strikes up a relationship with an Italian performer, Ciccio, from a travelling show her father sets up following the cinema. Lawrence’s view of cinema entertainment probably says more about Lawrence than it does about cinema.

Links: Copy on Internet Archive (1925 edition)

The Price of Love

Source: Arnold Bennett, The Price of Love (New York/London: Harper Brothers, 1914), pp. 171-178

Text: It was not surprising that Rachel, who never in her life had beheld at close quarters any of the phenomena of luxury, should blink her ingenuous eyes at the blinding splendour of the antechambers of the Imperial Cinema de Luxe. Eyes less ingenuous than hers had blinked before that prodigious dazzlement. Even Louis, a man of vast experience and sublime imperturbability, visiting the Imperial on its opening night, had allowed the significant words to escape him, “Well, I’m blest!” – proof enough of the triumph of the Imperial!

The Imperial had set out to be the most gorgeous cinema in the Five Towns; and it simply was. Its advertisements read: “There is always room at the top.” There was. Over the ceiling of its foyer enormous crimson peonies expanded like tropic blooms, and the heart of each peony was a sixteen-candle-power electric lamp. No other two cinemas in the Five Towns, it was reported, consumed together as much current as the Imperial de Luxe; and nobody could deny that the degree of excellence of a cinema is finally settled by its consumption of electricity.

Rachel now understood better the symbolic meaning of the glare in the sky caused at night by the determination of the Imperial to make itself known. She had been brought up to believe that, gas being dear, no opportunity should be lost of turning a jet down, and that electricity was so dear as to be inconceivable in any house not inhabited by crass spendthrift folly. She now saw electricity scattered about as though it were as cheap as salt. She saw written in electric fire across the inner entrance the beautiful sentiment, “Our aim is to please YOU.” The “you” had two lines of fire under it. She saw, also, the polite nod of the official, dressed not less glitteringly than an Admiral of the Fleet in full uniform, whose sole duty in life was to welcome and reassure the visitor. All this in Bursley, which even by Knype was deemed an out-of-the-world spot and home of sordid decay! In Hanbridge she would have been less surprised to discover such marvels, because the flaunting modernity of Hanbridge was notorious. And her astonishment would have been milder had she had been in the habit of going out at night. Like all those who never went out at night, she had quite failed to keep pace with the advancing stride of the Five Towns on the great road of civilization.

More impressive still than the extreme radiance about her was the easy and superb gesture of Louis as, swinging the reticule containing pineapple, cocoa, and cutlets, he slid his hand into his pocket and drew therefrom a coin and smacked it on the wooden ledge of the ticket-window – gesture of a man to whom money was naught provided he got the best of everything. “Two!” he repeated, with slight impatience, bending down so as to see the young woman in white who sat in another world behind gilt bars. He was paying for Rachel! Exquisite experience for the daughter and sister of Fleckrings! Experience unique in her career! And it seemed so right and yet so wondrous, that he should pay for her!… He picked up the change, and without a glance at them dropped the coins into his pocket. It was a glorious thing to be a man! But was it not even more glorious to be a girl and the object of his princely care?… They passed a heavy draped curtain, on which was a large card, “Tea-Room,” and there seemed to be celestial social possibilities behind that curtain, though indeed it bore another and smaller card: “Closed after six o’clock” – the result of excessive caution on the part of a kill-joy Town Council. A boy in the likeness of a midshipman took halves of the curving tickets and dropped them into a tin box, and then next Rachel was in a sudden black darkness, studded here and there with minute glowing rubies that revealed the legend: “Exit. Exit. Exit.”

Row after row of dim, pale, intent faces became gradually visible, stretching far back-into complete obscurity; thousands, tens of thousands of faces, it seemed – for the Imperial de Luxe was demonstrating that Saturday night its claim to be “the fashionable rage of Bursley.” Then mysterious laughter rippled in the gloom, and loud guffaws shot up out of the rippling. Rachel saw nothing whatever to originate this mirth until an attendant in black with a tiny white apron loomed upon them out of the darkness, and, beckoning them forward, bent down, and indicated two empty places at the end of a row, and the great white scintillating screen of the cinema came into view. Instead of being at the extremity it was at the beginning of the auditorium. And as Rachel took her seat she saw on the screen – which was scarcely a dozen feet away – a man kneeling at the end of a canal-lock, and sucking up the water of the canal through a hose-pipe; and this astoundingly thirsty man drank with such rapidity that the water, with huge boats floating on it, subsided at the rate of about a foot a second, and the drinker waxed enormously in girth. The laughter grew uproarious. Rachel herself gave a quick, uncontrolled, joyous laugh, and it was as if the laugh had been drawn out of her violently unawares. Louis Fores also laughed very heartily.

“Cute idea, that!” he whispered.

When the film was cut off Rachel wanted to take back her laugh. She felt a little ashamed of having laughed at anything so silly.

“How absurd!” she murmured, trying to be serious.

Nevertheless she was in bliss. She surrendered herself to the joy of life, as to a new sensation. She was intoxicated, ravished, bewildered, and quite careless. Perhaps for the first time in her adult existence she lived without reserve or preoccupation completely in and for the moment. Moreover the hearty laughter of Louis Fores helped to restore her dignity. If the spectacle was good enough for him, with all his knowledge of the world, to laugh at, she need not blush for its effect on herself. And in another ten seconds, when the swollen man, staggering along a wide thoroughfare, was run down by an automobile and squashed flat, while streams of water inundated the roadway, she burst again into free laughter, and then looked round at Louis, who at the same instant looked round at her, and they exchanged an intimate smiling glance. It seemed to Rachel that they were alone and solitary in the crowded interior, and that they shared exactly the same tastes and emotions and comprehended one another profoundly and utterly; her confidence in him, at that instant, was absolute, and enchanting to her. Half a minute later the emaciated man was in a room and being ecstatically kissed by a most beautiful and sweetly shameless girl in a striped shirtwaist; it was a very small room, and the furniture was close upon the couple, giving the scene an air of delightful privacy. And then the scene was blotted out and gay music rose lilting from some unseen cave in front of the screen.

Rachel was rapturously happy. Gazing along the dim rows, she descried many young couples, without recognizing anybody at all, and most of these couples were absorbed in each other, and some of the girls seemed so elegant and alluring in the dusk of the theatre, and some of the men so fine in their manliness! And the ruby-studded gloom protected them all, including Rachel and Louis, from the audience at large.

The screen glowed again. And as it did so Louis gave a start.

“By Jove!” he said, “I’ve left my stick somewhere. It must have been at Heath’s. Yes, it was. I put it on the counter while I opened this net thing. Don’t you remember? You were taking some money out of your purse.” Louis had a very distinct vision of his Rachel’s agreeably gloved fingers primly unfastening the purse and choosing a shilling from it.

“How annoying!” murmured Rachel feelingly.

“I wouldn’t lose that stick for a five-pound note.” (He had a marvellous way of saying “five-pound note.”) “Would you mind very much if I just slip over and get it, before he shuts? It’s only across the road, you know.”

There was something in the politeness of the phrase “mind very much” that was irresistible to Rachel. It caused her to imagine splendid drawing-rooms far beyond her modest level, and the superlative deportment therein of the well-born.

“Not at all!” she replied, with her best affability. “But will they let you come in again without paying?”

“Oh, I’ll risk that,” he whispered, smiling superiorly.

Then he went, leaving the reticule, and she was alone.

She rearranged the reticule on the seat by her side. The reticule being already perfectly secure, there was no need for her to touch it, but some nervous movement was necessary to her. Yet she was less self-conscious than she had been with Louis at her elbow. She felt, however, a very slight sense of peril – of the unreality of the plush fauteuil on which she sat, and those rows of vaguely discerned faces on her right; and the reality of distant phenomena such as Mrs. Maldon in bed. Notwithstanding her strange and ecstatic experiences with Louis Fores that night in the dark, romantic town, the problem of the lost money remained, or ought to have remained, as disturbing as ever. To ignore it was not to destroy it. She sat rather tight in her place, increasing her primness, and trying to show by her carriage that she was an adult in full control of all her wise faculties. She set her lips to judge the film with the cold impartiality of middle age, but they persisted in being the fresh, responsive, mobile lips of a young girl. They were saying noiselessly: “He will be back in a moment. And he will find me sitting here just as he left me. When I hear him coming I shan’t turn my head to look. It will be better not.”

The film showed a forest with a wooden house in the middle of it. Out of this house came a most adorable young woman, who leaped on to a glossy horse and galloped at a terrific rate, plunging down ravines, and then trotting fast over the crests of clearings. She came to a man who was boiling a kettle over a camp-fire, and slipped lithely from the horse, and the man, with a start of surprise, seized her pretty waist and kissed her passionately, in the midst of the immense forest whose every leaf was moving. And she returned his kiss without restraint. For they were betrothed. And Rachel imagined the free life of distant forests, where love was, and where slim girls rode mettlesome horses more easily than the girls of the Five Towns rode bicycles. She could not even ride a bicycle, had never had the opportunity to learn. The vision of emotional pleasures that in her narrow existence she had not dreamed of filled her with mild, delightful sorrow. She could conceive nothing more heavenly than to embrace one’s true love in the recesses of a forest…. Then came crouching Indians…. And then she heard Louis Fores behind her. She had not meant to turn round, but when a hand was put heavily on her shoulder she turned quickly, resenting the contact.

“I should like a word with ye, if ye can spare a minute, young miss,” whispered a voice as heavy as the hand. It was old Thomas Batchgrew’s face and whiskers that she was looking up at in the gloom.

Comment: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) was a British writer, best known for his novels of life in the Potteries with its ‘five towns’ that now equate with Stoke-on-Trent. His novel The Price of Love tells of a lower middle class woman (Rachel Fleckring) who marries a rogue (Louis Fores) and comes to regret it. This extract comes from Chapter VII, entitled ‘The Cinema’. Thomas Batchgrew is a town councillor and owner of a cinema chain, of which the Imperial Cinema de Luxe is one. Investing in the cinema business forms part of the plot. ‘Bursley’ equates with the real-life Burslem. Ellipses in the above occur as they do in the original text.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

The Haunted Bookshop

Source: Christopher Morley, extract from Chapter 8 of The Haunted Bookshop (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1919), pp. 153-161

Text: A few doors from the bookshop was a small lunchroom named after the great city of Milwaukee, one of those pleasant refectories where the diner buys his food at the counter and eats it sitting in a flat-armed chair. Aubrey got a bowl of soup, a cup of coffee, beef stew, and bran muffins, and took them to an empty seat by the window. He ate with one eye on the street. From his place in the corner he could command the strip of pavement in front of Mifflin’s shop. Halfway through the stew he saw Roger come out onto the pavement and begin to remove the books from the boxes.

After finishing his supper he lit one of his “mild but they satisfy” cigarettes and sat in the comfortable warmth of a near-by radiator. A large black cat lay sprawled on the next chair. Up at the service counter there was a pleasant clank of stout crockery as occasional customers came in and ordered their victuals. Aubrey began to feel a relaxation swim through his veins. Gissing Street was very bright and orderly in its Saturday evening bustle. Certainly it was grotesque to imagine melodrama hanging about a second-hand bookshop in Brooklyn. The revolver felt absurdly lumpy and uncomfortable in his hip pocket. What a different aspect a little hot supper gives to affairs! The most resolute idealist or assassin had better write his poems or plan his atrocities before the evening meal. After the narcosis of that repast the spirit falls into a softer mood, eager only to be amused. Even Milton would hardly have had the inhuman fortitude to sit down to the manuscript of Paradise Lost right after supper. Aubrey began to wonder if his unpleasant suspicions had not been overdrawn. He thought how delightful it would be to stop in at the bookshop and ask Titania to go to the movies with him.

Curious magic of thought! The idea was still sparkling in his mind when he saw Titania and Mrs. Mifflin emerge from the bookshop and pass briskly in front of the lunchroom. They were talking and laughing merrily. Titania’s face, shining with young vitality, seemed to him more “attention-compelling” than any ten-point Caslon type-arrangement he had ever seen. He admired the layout of her face from the standpoint of his cherished technique. “Just enough ‘white space,'” he thought, “to set off her eyes as the ‘centre of interest.’ Her features aren’t this modern bold-face stuff, set solid,” he said to himself, thinking typographically. “They’re rather French old-style italic, slightly leaded. Set on 22-point body, I guess. Old man Chapman’s a pretty good typefounder, you have to hand it to him.”

He smiled at this conceit, seized hat and coat, and dashed out of the lunchroom.

Mrs. Mifflin and Titania had halted a few yards up the street, and were looking at some pert little bonnets in a window. Aubrey hurried across the street, ran up to the next corner, recrossed, and walked down the eastern pavement. In this way he would meet them as though he were coming from the subway. He felt rather more excited than King Albert re-entering Brussels. He saw them coming, chattering together in the delightful fashion of women out on a spree. Helen seemed much younger in the company of her companion. “A lining of pussy-willow taffeta and an embroidered slip-on,” she was saying.

Aubrey steered onto them with an admirable gesture of surprise.

“Well, I never!” said Mrs. Mifflin. “Here’s Mr. Gilbert. Were you coming to see Roger?” she added, rather enjoying the young man’s predicament.

Titania shook hands cordially. Aubrey, searching the old-style italics with the desperate intensity of a proof-reader, saw no evidence of chagrin at seeing him again so soon.

“Why,” he said rather lamely, “I was coming to see you all. I–I wondered how you were getting along.”

Mrs. Mifflin had pity on him. “We’ve left Mr. Mifflin to look after the shop,” she said. “He’s busy with some of his old crony customers. Why don’t you come with us to the movies?”

“Yes, do,” said Titania. “It’s Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, you know how adorable they are!”

No one needs to be told how quickly Aubrey assented. Pleasure coincided with duty in that the outer wing of the party placed him next to Titania.

“Well, how do you like bookselling?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s the greatest fun!” she cried. “But it’ll take me ever and ever so long to learn about all the books. People ask such questions! A woman came in this afternoon looking for a copy of Blasé Tales. How was I to know she wanted The Blazed Trail?”

“You’ll get used to that,” said Mrs. Mifflin. “Just a minute, people, I want to stop in at the drug store.”

They went into Weintraub’s pharmacy. Entranced as he was by the proximity of Miss Chapman, Aubrey noticed that the druggist eyed him rather queerly. And being of a noticing habit, he also observed that when Weintraub had occasion to write out a label for a box of powdered alum Mrs. Mifflin was buying, he did so with a pale violet ink.

At the glass sentry-box in front of the theatre Aubrey insisted on buying the tickets.

“We came out right after supper,” said Titania as they entered, “so as to get in before the crowd.”

It is not so easy, however, to get ahead of Brooklyn movie fans. They had to stand for several minutes in a packed lobby while a stern young man held the waiting crowd in check with a velvet rope. Aubrey sustained delightful spasms of the protective instinct in trying to shelter Titania from buffets and pushings. Unknown to her, his arm extended behind her like an iron rod to absorb the onward impulses of the eager throng. A rustling groan ran through these enthusiasts as they saw the preliminary footage of the great Tarzan flash onto the screen, and realized they were missing something. At last, however, the trio got through the barrier and found three seats well in front, at one side. From this angle the flying pictures were strangely distorted, but Aubrey did not mind.

“Isn’t it lucky I got here when I did,” whispered Titania. “Mr. Mifflin has just had a telephone call from Philadelphia asking him to go over on Monday to make an estimate on a library that’s going to be sold so I’ll be able to look after the shop for him while he’s gone.”

“Is that so?” said Aubrey. “Well, now, I’ve got to be in Brooklyn on Monday, on business. Maybe Mrs. Mifflin would let me come in and buy some books from you.”

“Customers always welcome,” said Mrs. Mifflin.

“I’ve taken a fancy to that Cromwell book,” said Aubrey. “What do you suppose Mr. Mifflin would sell it for?”

“I think that book must be valuable,” said Titania. “Somebody came in this afternoon and wanted to buy it, but Mr. Mifflin wouldn’t part with it. He says it’s one of his favourites. Gracious, what a weird film this is!”

The fantastic absurdities of Tarzan proceeded on the screen, tearing celluloid passions to tatters, but Aubrey found the strong man of the jungle coming almost too close to his own imperious instincts. Was not he, too – he thought naively – a poor Tarzan of the advertising jungle, lost among the elephants and alligators of commerce, and sighing for this dainty and unattainable vision of girlhood that had burst upon his burning gaze! He stole a perilous side-glance at her profile, and saw the racing flicker of the screen reflected in tiny spangles of light that danced in her eyes. He was even so unknowing as to imagine that she was not aware of his contemplation. And then the lights went up.

“What nonsense, wasn’t it?” said Titania. “I’m so glad it’s over! I was quite afraid one of those elephants would walk off the screen and tread on us.”

“I never can understand,” said Helen, “why they don’t film some of the really good books – think of Frank Stockton’s stuff, how delightful that would be. Can’t you imagine Mr. and Mrs. Drew playing in Rudder Grange!”

“Thank goodness!” said Titania. “Since I entered the book business, that’s the first time anybody’s mentioned a book that I’ve read. Yes – do you remember when Pomona and Jonas visit an insane asylum on their honeymoon? Do you know, you and Mr. Mifflin remind me a little of Mr. and Mrs. Drew.”

Helen and Aubrey chuckled at this innocent correlation of ideas. Then the organ began to play “O How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning” and the ever-delightful Mr. and Mrs. Drew appeared on the screen in one of their domestic comedies. Lovers of the movies may well date a new screen era from the day those whimsical pantomimers set their wholesome and humane talent at the service of the arc light and the lens. Aubrey felt a serene and intimate pleasure in watching them from a seat beside Titania. He knew that the breakfast table scene shadowed before them was only a makeshift section of lath propped up in some barnlike motion picture studio; yet his rocketing fancy imagined it as some arcadian suburb where he and Titania, by a jugglery of benign fate, were bungalowed together. Young men have a pioneering imagination: it is doubtful whether any young Orlando ever found himself side by side with Rosalind without dreaming himself wedded to her. If men die a thousand deaths before this mortal coil is shuffled, even so surely do youths contract a thousand marriages before they go to the City Hall for a license.

Aubrey remembered the opera glasses, which were still in his pocket, and brought them out. The trio amused themselves by watching Sidney Drew’s face through the magnifying lenses. They were disappointed in the result, however, as the pictures, when so enlarged, revealed all the cobweb of fine cracks on the film. Mr. Drew’s nose, the most amusing feature known to the movies, lost its quaintness when so augmented.

“Why,” cried Titania, “it makes his lovely nose look like the map of Florida.”

“How on earth did you happen to have these in your pocket?” asked Mrs. Mifflin, returning the glasses.

Aubrey was hard pressed for a prompt and reasonable fib, but advertising men are resourceful.

“Oh,” he said, “I sometimes carry them with me at night to study the advertising sky-signs. I’m a little short sighted. You see, it’s part of my business to study the technique of the electric signs.”

After some current event pictures the programme prepared to repeat itself, and they went out.

Comment: Christopher Morley (1890-1957) was an American journalist, novelist, poet and essayist of prolific output. His 1919 novel The Haunted Bookshop features Aubrey Gilbert, an advertising man, who tracks down a German spy who is using a New York bookshop as a dropping-off point in preparation for plans to assassinate President Woodrow Wilson. Mr and Mrs Sidney Drew were a comedy team, popular on stage and film. Sidney Drew died in 1919, shortly after Morley wrote the chapter. My thanks to Philip Carli for bringing this passage to my attention.

Links: Complete text at Project Gutenberg

Mrs Bathurst

Source: Rudyard Kipling, ‘Mrs Bathurst’, The Windsor Magazine, September 1904, pp. 376-386, collected in Traffics and Discoveries (London: Macmillan, 1904), pp. 337-365

Text: “Yes,” said Pyecroft. “I used to think seein’ and hearin’ was the only regulation aids to ascertainin’ facts, but as we get older we get more accommodatin’. The cylinders work easier, I suppose … Were you in Cape Town last December when Phyllis’s Circus came?”

“No – up country,” said Hooper, a little nettled at the change of venue.

“I ask because they had a new turn of a scientific nature called ‘Home and Friends for a Tickey.'”

“Oh, you mean the cinematograph – the pictures of prize-fights and steamers. I’ve seen ’em up country.”

“Biograph or cinematograph was what I was alludin’ to. London Bridge with the omnibuses – a troopship goin’ to the war – marines on parade at Portsmouth an’ the Plymouth Express arrivin’ at Paddin’ton.”

“Seen ’em all. Seen ’em all,” said Hooper impatiently.

“We Hierophants came in just before Christmas week an’ leaf was easy.”

“I think a man gets fed up with Cape Town quicker than anywhere else on the station. Why, even Durban’s more like Nature. We was there for Christmas,” Pritchard put in.

“Not bein’ a devotee of Indian peeris, as our Doctor said to the Pusser, I can’t exactly say. Phyllis’s was good enough after musketry practice at Mozambique. I couldn’t get off the first two or three nights on account of what you might call an imbroglio with our Torpedo Lieutenant in the submerged flat, where some pride of the West country had sugared up a gyroscope; but I remember Vickery went ashore with our Carpenter Rigdon – old Crocus we called him. As a general rule Crocus never left ‘is ship unless an’ until he was ‘oisted out with a winch, but when ‘e went ‘e would return noddin’ like a lily gemmed with dew. We smothered him down below that night, but the things ‘e said about Vickery as a fittin’ playmate for a Warrant Officer of ‘is cubic capacity, before we got him quiet, was what I should call pointed.”

“I’ve been with Crocus – in the Redoubtable,” said the Sergeant. “He’s a character if there is one.”

“Next night I went into Cape Town with Dawson and Pratt; but just at the door of the Circus I came across Vickery. ‘Oh!’ he says, ‘you’re the man I’m looking for. Come and sit next me. This way to the shillin’ places!’ I went astern at once, protestin’ because tickey seats better suited my so-called finances. ‘Come on,’ says Vickery, ‘I’m payin’.’ Naturally I abandoned Pratt and Dawson in anticipation o’ drinks to match the seats. ‘No,’ he says, when this was ‘inted -‘not now. Not now. As many as you please afterwards, but I want you sober for the occasion.’ I caught ‘is face under a lamp just then, an’ the appearance of it quite cured me of my thirsts. Don’t mistake. It didn’t frighten me. It made me anxious. I can’t tell you what it was like, but that was the effect which it ‘ad on me. If you want to know, it reminded me of those things in bottles in those herbalistic shops at Plymouth – preserved in spirits of wine. White an’ crumply things – previous to birth as you might say.”

“You ‘ave a beastial mind, Pye,” said the Sergeant, relighting his pipe.

“Perhaps. We were in the front row, an’ ‘Home an’ Friends’ came on early. Vickery touched me on the knee when the number went up. ‘If you see anything that strikes you,’ he says, ‘drop me a hint’; then he went on clicking. We saw London Bridge an’ so forth an’ so on, an’ it was most interestin’. I’d never seen it before. You ‘eard a little dynamo like buzzin’, but the pictures were the real thing – alive an’ movin’.”

“I’ve seen ’em,” said Hooper. “Of course they are taken from the very thing itself – you see.”

“Then the Western Mail came in to Paddin’ton on the big magic lantern sheet. First we saw the platform empty an’ the porters standin’ by. Then the engine come in, head on, an’ the women in the front row jumped: she headed so straight. Then the doors opened and the passengers came out and the porters got the luggage – just like life. Only – only when any one came down too far towards us that was watchin’, they walked right out o’ the picture, so to speak. I was ‘ighly interested, I can tell you. So were all of us. I watched an old man with a rug ‘oo’d dropped a book an’ was tryin’ to pick it up, when quite slowly, from be’ind two porters – carryin’ a little reticule an’ lookin’ from side to side – comes out Mrs. Bathurst. There was no mistakin’ the walk in a hundred thousand. She come forward – right forward – she looked out straight at us with that blindish look which Pritch alluded to. She walked on and on till she melted out of – he picture – like – like a shadow jumpin’ over a candle, an’ as she went I ‘eard Dawson in the ticky seats be’ind sing out: ‘Christ! There’s Mrs. B.!'”

Hooper swallowed his spittle and leaned forward intently.

“Vickery touched me on the knee again. He was clickin’ his four false teeth with his jaw down like an enteric at the last kick. ‘Are you sure?’ says he. ‘Sure,’ I says, ‘didn’t you ‘ear Dawson give tongue? Why, it’s the woman herself.’ ‘I was sure before,’ he says, ‘but I brought you to make sure. Will you come again with me to-morrow?’

“‘Willingly,’ I says, ‘it’s like meetin’ old friends.’

“‘Yes,’ he says, openin’ his watch, ‘very like. It will be four-and-twenty hours less four minutes before I see her again. Come and have a drink,’ he says. ‘It may amuse you, but it’s no sort of earthly use to me.’ He went out shaking his head an’ stumblin’ over people’s feet as if he was drunk already. I anticipated a swift drink an’ a speedy return, because I wanted to see the performin’ elephants. Instead o’ which Vickery began to navigate the town at the rate o’ knots, lookin’ in at a bar every three minutes approximate Greenwich time. I’m not a drinkin’ man, though there are those present” – he cocked his unforgettable eye at me–“who may have seen me more or less imbued with the fragrant spirit. None the less, when I drink I like to do it at anchor an’ not at an average speed of eighteen knots on the measured mile. There’s a tank as you might say at the back o’ that big hotel up the hill – what do they call it?”

“The Molteno Reservoir,” I suggested, and Hooper nodded.

“That was his limit o’ drift. We walked there an’ we come down through the Gardens – there was a South-Easter blowin’ – an’ we finished up by the Docks. Then we bore up the road to Salt River, and wherever there was a pub Vickery put in sweatin’. He didn’t look at what he drunk – he didn’t look at the change. He walked an’ he drunk an’ he perspired in rivers. I understood why old Crocus ‘ad come back in the condition ‘e did, because Vickery an’ I ‘ad two an’ a half hours o’ this gipsy manoeuvre an’ when we got back to the station there wasn’t a dry atom on or in me.”

“Did he say anything?” Pritchard asked.

“The sum total of ‘is conversation from 7.45 P.M. till 11.15 P.M. was ‘Let’s have another.’ Thus the mornin’ an’ the evenin’ were the first day, as Scripture says … To abbreviate a lengthy narrative, I went into Cape Town for five consecutive nights with Master Vickery, and in that time I must ‘ave logged about fifty knots over the ground an’ taken in two gallon o’ all the worst spirits south the Equator. The evolution never varied. Two shilling seats for us two; five minutes o’ the pictures, an’ perhaps forty-five seconds o’ Mrs. B. walking down towards us with that blindish look in her eyes an’ the reticule in her hand. Then out walk – and drink till train time.”

Text: Rudyard Kipling’s mysterious short story ‘Mrs Bathurst’, from which the above is an extract, features a conversation between four men – Pycroft, Pritchard, Hooper and the narrator – the first two of whom are in the navy. Collectively they relate the story of Vickery, a warrant officer, and Mrs Bathurst, with whom it is implied he has had an affair. While stationed in South Africa Vickery sees Mrs Bathurst on an actuality film screened as part of a circus entertainment, something which affects deeply as he returns to see the film several times. Vickery apparently deserts and later a charred corpse matching his description is found, and with it a second, unidentified charred corpse. The significance of the story in an early cinema context is discussed by Tom Gunning in Andrew Shail, Reading the Cinematograph: The Cinema in British Short Fiction 1896-1912 (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2010) which also reproduces Kipling’s text in full. A tickey was a South African threepence coin. ‘Phyllis’s circus’ is a reference to Frank Fillis, a South African showman whose ‘Savage South Africa’ troupe was filmed when it visited Britain in 1899-1900. The story suggests that the film element of Fillis’ show lasted for five minutes, just before the elephants. As Gunning points out, the reference to the “dynamo like buzzin'” not only suggests the sound of the projector but implies that there was no musical accompaniment. The film itself bears a strong affinity with the many train arrival films common in the 1890s.