Beasts and Super-Beasts HTML version
NORMAN GORTSBY sat on a bench in the Park, with his back to a strip of bush-planted
sward, fenced by the park railings, and the Row fronting him across a wide stretch of
carriage drive. Hyde Park Corner, with its rattle and hoot of traffic, lay immediately to his
right. It was some thirty minutes past six on an early March evening, and dusk had fallen
heavily over the scene, dusk mitigated by some faint moonlight and many street lamps.
There was a wide emptiness over road and sidewalk, and yet there were many
unconsidered figures moving silently through the half-light, or dotted unobtrusively on
bench and chair, scarcely to be distinguished from the shadowed gloom in which they sat.
The scene pleased Gortsby and harmonised with his present mood. Dusk, to his mind,
was the hour of the defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who hid their
fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came
forth in this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and bowed shoulders and
unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed, or, at any rate, unrecognised.
A king that is conquered must see strange looks, So bitter a thing is the heart of man.
The wanderers in the dusk did not choose to have strange looks fasten on them, therefore
they came out in this bat-fashion, taking their pleasure sadly in a pleasure-ground that
had emptied of its rightful occupants. Beyond the sheltering screen of bushes and palings
came a realm of brilliant lights and noisy, rushing traffic. A blazing, many-tiered stretch
of windows shone through the dusk and almost dispersed it, marking the haunts of those
other people, who held their own in life's struggle, or at any rate had not had to admit
failure. So Gortsby's imagination pictured things as he sat on his bench in the almost
deserted walk. He was in the mood to count himself among the defeated. Money troubles
did not press on him; had he so wished he could have strolled into the thoroughfares of
light and noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of those who enjoyed
prosperity or struggled for it. He had failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the
moment he was heartsore and disillusionised, and not disinclined to take a certain cynical
pleasure in observing and labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in the
dark stretches between the lamp-lights.
On the bench by his side sat an elderly gentleman with a drooping air of defiance that
was probably the remaining vestige of self-respect in an individual who had ceased to
defy successfully anybody or anything. His clothes could scarcely be called shabby, at
least they passed muster in the half-light, but one's imagination could not have pictured
the wearer embarking on the purchase of a half-crown box of chocolates or laying out
ninepence on a carnation buttonhole. He belonged unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra
to whose piping no one dances; he was one of the world's lamenters who induce no
responsive weeping. As he rose to go Gortsby imagined him returning to a home circle
where he was snubbed and of no account, or to some bleak lodging where his ability to
pay a weekly bill was the beginning and end of the interest he inspired. His retreating
figure vanished slowly into the shadows, and his place on the bench was taken almost