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The Colaborators
by [?]

Here let me pause to deplore man’s weakness and the allurement of splendid possessions. I had been happy enough in my lodgings in Jermyn Street, and, thanks to Larks in Aspic, they were decently furnished. At the prompting, surely, of some malignant spirit, I exchanged them for a house too large for me in a street too long for life, for my uncle’s furniture (of the Great Exhibition period), and for the unnecessary and detested services of Trewlove.

This man enjoyed, by my uncle’s will, an annuity of fifty pounds. He had the look, too, of one who denied himself small pleasures, not only on religious grounds, but because they cost money. Somehow, I never doubted that he owned a balance at the bank, or that, after a brief interval spent in demonstrating that our ways were uncongenial, he would retire on a competence and await translation to join my uncle in an equal sky–equal, that is, within the fence of the elect. But not a bit of it! I had been adjured in the will to look after him: and at first I supposed that he clung to me against inclination, from a conscientious resolve to give me every chance. By-and-by, however, I grew aware of a change in him; or, rather, of some internal disquiet, suppressed but volcanic, working towards a change. Once or twice he staggered me by answering some casual question in a tone which, to say the least of it, suggested an ungainly attempt at facetiousness. A look at his sepulchral face would reassure me, but did not clear up the mystery. Something was amiss with Trewlove.

The horrid truth broke upon me one day as we discussed the conduct of one of my two housemaids. Trewlove, returning one evening (as I gathered) from a small reunion of his fellow-sectarians in the Earl’s Court Road, had caught her in the act of exchanging railleries from an upper window with a trooper in the 2nd Life Guards, and had reported her.

“Most unbecoming,” said I.

“Unwomanly,” said Trewlove, with a sudden contortion of the face; “unwomanly, sir!–but ah, how like a woman!”

I stared at him for one wild moment, and turned abruptly to the window. The rascal had flung a quotation at me–out of Larks in Aspic! He knew, then! He had penetrated the disguise of “George Anthony,” and, worse still, he meant to forgive it. His eye had conveyed a dreadful promise of complicity. Almost–I would have given worlds to know, and yet I dared not face it–almost it had been essaying a wink!

I dismissed him with instructions–not very coherent, I fear–to give the girl a talking-to, and sat down to think. How long had he known?–that was my first question, and in justice to him it had to be considered: since, had he known and kept the secret in my uncle’s lifetime, beyond a doubt, and unpleasant as the thought might be, I was enormously his debtor. That stern warrior’s attitude towards the playhouse had ever been uncompromising. Stalls, pit, and circles–the very names suggested Dantesque images and provided illustrations for many a discourse. Themselves verbose, these discourses indicated A Short Way with Stage-players, and it stood in no doubt that the authorship of Larks in Aspic had only to be disclosed to him to provide me with the shortest possible cut out of seventy thousand pounds.

I might, and did, mentally consign Trewlove to all manner of painful places, as, for instance, the bottom of the sea; but I could not will away this obligation. After cogitating for awhile I rang for him.

“Trewlove,” said I, “you know, it seems, that I have written a play.”

“Yessir! Larks in Aspic, sir.”

I winced. “Since when have you known this?”

The dog, I am sure, took the bearings of this question at once. But he laid his head on one side, and while he pulled one whisker, as if ringing up the information, his eyes grew dull and seemed to be withdrawing into visions of a far-away past. “I have been many times to see it, Mr. George, and would be hard put to it to specify the first occasion. But it was a mattinay.”