The Yellow Claw HTML version
The Great Understanding
It was in the afternoon of this same day--a day so momentous in the lives of more than
one of London's millions--that two travelers might have been seen to descend from a
first-class compartment of the Dover boat-train at Charing Cross.
They had been the sole occupants of the compartment, and, despite the wide dissimilarity
of character to be read upon their countenances, seemed to have struck up an
acquaintance based upon mutual amiability and worldly common sense. The traveler first
to descend and gallantly to offer his hand to his companion in order to assist her to the
platform, was the one whom a casual observer would first have noted.
He was a man built largely, but on good lines; a man past his youth, and somewhat too
fleshy; but for all his bulk, there was nothing unwieldy, and nothing ungraceful in his
bearing or carriage. He wore a French traveling-coat, conceived in a style violently
Parisian, and composed of a wonderful check calculated to have blinded any cutter in
Savile Row. From beneath its gorgeous folds protruded the extremities of severely
creased cashmere trousers, turned up over white spats which nestled coyly about a pair of
glossy black boots. The traveler's hat was of velour, silver gray and boasting a partridge
feather thrust in its silken band. One glimpse of the outfit must have brought the entire
staff of the Tailor and Cutter to an untimely grave.
But if ever man was born who could carry such a make-up, this traveler was he. The face
was cut on massive lines, on fleshy lines, clean-shaven, and inclined to pallor. The hirsute
blue tinge about the jaw and lips helped to accentuate the virile strength of the long,
flexible mouth, which could be humorous, which could be sorrowful, which could be
grim. In the dark eyes of the man lay a wealth of experience, acquired in a lifelong
pilgrimage among many peoples, and to many lands. His dark brows were heavily
marked, and his close-cut hair was splashed with gray.
Let us glance at the lady who accepted his white-gloved hand, and who sprang alertly
onto the platform beside him.
She was a woman bordering on the forties, with a face of masculine vigor, redeemed and
effeminized, by splendid hazel eyes, the kindliest imaginable. Obviously, the lady was
one who had never married, who despised, or affected to despise, members of the other
sex, but who had never learned to hate them; who had never grown soured, but who
found the world a garden of heedless children--of children who called for mothering. Her
athletic figure was clothed in a "sensible" tweed traveling dress, and she wore a tweed hat
pressed well on to her head, and brown boots with the flattest heels conceivable. Add to
this a Scotch woolen muffler, and a pair of woolen gloves, and you have a mental picture
of the second traveler--a truly incongruous companion for the first.
Joining the crowd pouring in the direction of the exit gates, the two chatted together
animatedly, both speaking English, and the man employing that language with a perfect
ease and command of words which nevertheless failed to disguise his French nationality.
He spoke with an American accent; a phenomenon sometimes observable in one who has
learned his English in Paris.