ADRIAN

A Chapter in Acclimatization

His baptismal register spoke of him pessimistically as

John Henry, but he had left that behind with the other

maladies of infancy, and his friends knew him under the

front-name of Adrian. His mother lived in Bethnal Green,

which was not altogether his fault; one can discourage too

much history in one’s family, but one cannot always prevent

geography. And, after all, the Bethnal Green habit has this

virtue—that it is seldom transmitted to the next

generation. Adrian lived in a roomlet which came under the

auspicious constellation of W.

How he lived was to a great extent a mystery even to

himself; his struggle for existence probably coincided in

many material details with the rather dramatic accounts he

gave of it to sympathetic acquaintances. All that is

definitely known is that he now and then emerged from the

struggle to dine at the Ritz or Carlton, correctly garbed

and with a correctly critical appetite. On these occasions

he was usually the guest of Lucas Croyden, an amiable

worldling, who had three thousand a year and a taste for

introducing impossible people to irreproachable cookery.

Like most men who combine three thousand a year with an

uncertain digestion, Lucas was a Socialist, and he argued

that you cannot hope to elevate the masses until you have

brought plovers’ eggs into their lives and taught them to

appreciate the difference between coupe Jacques and

Macédoine de fruits. His friends pointed out that it was

a doubtful kindness to initiate a boy from behind a drapery

counter into the blessedness of the higher catering, to

which Lucas invariably replied that all kindnesses were

doubtful. Which was perhaps true.

It was after one of his Adrian evenings that Lucas met

his aunt, Mrs. Mebberley, at a fashionable teashop, where

the lamp of family life is still kept burning and you meet

relatives who might otherwise have slipped your memory.

“Who was that good-looking boy who was dining with you

last night?” she asked. “He looked much too nice to be

thrown away upon you.”

Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an

aunt.

“Who are his people?” she continued, when the

protégé’s name (revised version) had been given her.

“His mother lives at Beth—”

Lucas checked himself on the threshold of what was perhaps

a social indiscretion.

“Beth? Where is it? It sounds like Asia Minor. Is she

mixed up with Consular people?”

“Oh, no. Her work lies among the poor.”

This was a side-slip into truth. The mother of Adrian was

employed in a laundry.

“I see,” said Mrs. Mebberley, “mission work of some

sort. And meanwhile the boy has no one to look after him.

It’s obviously my duty to see that he doesn’t come to harm.

Bring him to call on me.”

“My dear Aunt Susan,” expostulated Lucas, “I really

know very little about him. He may not be at all nice, you

know, on further acquaintance.”

“He has delightful hair and a weak mouth. I shall take

him with me to Homburg or Cairo.”

“It’s the maddest thing I ever heard of,” said Lucas

angrily.

“Well, there is a strong strain of madness in our family.

If you haven’t noticed it yourself all your friends must

have.”

“One is so dreadfully under everybody’s eyes at Homburg.

At least you might give him a preliminary trial at

Etretat.”

“And be surrounded by Americans trying to talk French?

No, thank you. I love Americans, but not when they try to

talk French. What a blessing it is that they never try to

talk English. Tomorrow at five you can bring your young

friend to call on me.”

And Lucas, realizing that Susan Mebberley was a woman as

well as an aunt, saw that she would have to be allowed to

have her own way.

Adrian was duly carried abroad under the Mebberley wing;

but as a reluctant concession to sanity Homburg and other

inconveniently fashionable resorts were given a wide berth,

and the Mebberley establishment planted itself down in the

best hotel at Dohledorf, an Alpine townlet somewhere at the

back of the Engadine. It was the usual kind of resort, with

the usual type of visitors, that one finds over the greater

part of Switzerland during the summer season, but to Adrian

it was all unusual. The mountain air, the certainty of

regular and abundant meals, and in particular the social

atmosphere, affected him much as the indiscriminating

fervour of a forcing-house might affect a weed that had

strayed within its limits. He had been brought up in a world

where breakages were regarded as crimes and expiated as

such; it was something new and altogether exhilarating to

find that you were considered rather amusing if you smashed

things in the right manner and at the recognized hours.

Susan Mebberley had expressed the intention of showing

Adrian a bit of the world; the particular bit of the world

represented by Dohledorf began to be shown a good deal of

Adrian.

Lucas got occasional glimpses of the Alpine sojourn, not

from his aunt or Adrian, but from the industrious pen of

Clovis, who was also moving as a satellite in the Mebberley

constellation.

“The entertainment which Susan got up last night ended in

disaster. I thought it would. The Grobmayer child, a

particularly loathsome five-year-old, had appeared as

`Bubbles’ during the early part of the evening, and been put

to bed during the interval. Adrian watched his opportunity

and kidnapped it when the nurse was downstairs, and

introduced it during the second half of the entertainment,

thinly disguised as a performing pig. It certainly looked

very like a pig, and grunted and slobbered just like the

real article; no one knew exactly what it was, but every one

said it was awfully clever, especially the Grobmayers. At

the third curtain Adrian pinched it too hard, and it yelled

`Marmar’! I am supposed to be good at descriptions, but

don’t ask me to describe the sayings and doings of the

Grobmayers at that moment; it was like one of the angrier

Psalms set to Strauss’s music. We have moved to an hotel

higher up the valley.”

Clovis’s next letter arrived five days later, and was

written from the Hotel Steinbock.

“We left the Hotel Victoria this morning. It was fairly

comfortable and quiet—at least there was an air of repose

about it when we arrived. Before we had been in residence

twenty-four hours most of the repose had vanished `like a

dutiful bream,’ as Adrian expressed it. However, nothing

unduly outrageous happened till last night, when Adrian had

a fit of insomnia and amused himself by unscrewing and

transposing all the bedroom numbers on his floor. He

transferred the bathroom label to the adjoining bedroom

door, which happened to be that of Frau Hofrath Schilling,

and this morning from seven o’clock onwards the old lady had

a stream of involuntary visitors; she was too horrified and

scandalized it seems to get up and lock her door. The

would-be bathers flew back in confusion to their rooms, and,

of course, the change of numbers led them astray again, and

the corridor gradually filled with panic-stricken, scantily

robed humans, dashing wildly about like rabbits in a

ferret-infested warren. It took nearly an hour before the

guests were all sorted into their respective rooms, and the

Frau Hofrath’s condition was still causing some anxiety when

we left. Susan is beginning to look a little worried. She

can’t very well turn the boy adrift, as he hasn’t got any

money, and she can’t send him to his people as she doesn’t

know where they are. Adrian says his mother moves about a

good deal and he’s lost her address. Probably, if the truth

were known, he’s had a row at home. So many boys nowadays

seem to think that quarrelling with one’s family is a

recognized occupation.”

Lucas’s next communication from the travellers took the

form of a telegram from Mrs. Mebberley herself. It was sent

“reply prepaid,” and consisted of a single sentence: “In

Heaven’s name, where is Beth?”