22. The persecution of the Martins
Hamar's one great idea on reaching stage four was to utilize the torments as a means of getting Gladys. Though he saw crowds of pretty girls every day, none appealed to him as she did—and the very difficulty of getting her enhanced her value and stimulated his passions.
"I will give her one more chance," he said to himself, "and then if she won't have me I'll plague her to death."
He went to the Imperial, and passing himself off as her father to the new official at the stage-door entrance, was shown into the ante-room (which led to her dressing-room). It took a good deal to scare Hamar, but he admitted afterwards that he did feel a trifle apprehensive whilst he awaited her advent; and his anticipations were fully realized.
"Why, father!" she began, as the door of her dressing-room swung open and she appeared on the threshold, clad in a shimmering white dress, that intensified her fair style of beauty, "what brings you—" The smile on her face suddenly died away.
"You!" she cried, "how dare you! Go! Go at once! And if you dare come here again or attempt to molest me in any way, I'll prosecute you!"
Hamar, dumbfounded at such an exhibition of wrath, slunk out of the room without uttering a syllable.
"The vixen," he muttered as soon as he found himself in the street. "A thousand cats in one! Treated me like mud. Jerusalem! I'll pay her out. And I'll lose no time about it either. She'll look differently at me next time we meet."
He hurried back to Cockspur Street and going into the laboratory, threw himself into a chair and—thought.
That same evening at nine-thirty, in the interval between her first and second "going on," Gladys hastened to her dressing-room, and was preparing to partake of the light refreshments she had ordered, when—to her horror—she perceived crawling towards her, across the floor, a huge cockroach—a hideous black thing with spidery legs and long antennae that it waved, to and fro, in the air, as it advanced. It was at least double the size of any Gladys had hitherto seen, and her feelings can best be appreciated by those who fear such things—her blood ran cold, her flesh crawled, she sat glued to her chair, terrified to move, lest it should run after her. She screamed, and her dresser, startled out of her senses, came flying into the room.
"What is it, madam? What is it?" she cried.
Gladys pointed at the floor.
"Kill it!" she shrieked. "Stamp on it! Oh, quick, quick, it is coming towards me."
But the moment the dresser caught sight of the cockroach, she sprang on a chair and wound her skirts round her.
"Oh, madam," she panted, "I daren't! I daren't go near it. I'm frightened out of my life, at beetles. And there's another of them"—and she pointed to the wainscoting—"and another! Why, the room's full of them!"
And so it was. Everywhere Gladys looked she saw beetles crawling towards her—dozens upon dozens, hundreds upon hundreds—and all of the same monstrous size and ultra-horrible appearance.
"Look!" she screamed. "They are climbing on to my clothes. One's got into my shoes, and another will be in them, in a second. There's another—crawling up my cloak—and another on my skirt. Oh! Oh!" and her cries, and those of the dresser, speedily brought a troop of actors and actresses to the door. The instant, however, the cause of the alarm was ascertained, there were loud yells, and a wild stampede down the passages. The Stage Manager was called, but one glance at the floor was enough for him—he fled. And in the end three of the supers had to be fetched. Hot water, brooms, ashes, and quicklime were used, and although thousands of the cockroaches were killed, thousands more came, and so hopeless did the task of getting rid of them become, that the room eventually had to be vacated, and the cracks under the door securely sealed.
Before Gladys left the theatre, she was called on the telephone.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Hamar," came the reply, in insinuating tones. "How do you like the beetles? You'll never see the end of them till—"
But Gladys rang off.
On her return home something scuttled across the hall floor in front of her. She sprang back with a scream. It was a gigantic cockroach. The hall was full of them. She summoned the servants, and they set to work to kill them. But they might as well have tried to stop Niagara, for as fast as they squashed one battalion, another took its place. They came out of cracks in the floor, from behind the wainscoting, from every conceivable place in the kitchens, and in a dense black ribbon some six inches broad, ascended the staircase. Gladys tried to barricade her room against them, but it was of no avail. They came from under the boards of the floor and poured down the chimney. They swarmed over the furniture, in the cupboards, chest of drawers, the washstand (where they kept continually falling into the water), in her clothes (her dressing-gown was covered with them), over the bed, and the climax was reached when they approached the chair she stood on. Too fascinated with horror to move, she watched them crawling up to her. She was thus found by her father. He had come to her assistance in the very nick of time, and after lifting her from the chair and taking her to a place, as yet safe from molestation, returned to her room, where, with savage blows, smashing, equally, beetles and furniture, he remained till daybreak.
With the first streak of dawn the beetles decamped, and the fray ended. The work of devastation had been colossal. Corpses were strewn everywhere—and it took the combined household hours, before all evidences of the slaughter were obliterated. As for Gladys, she had not slept all night and was a wreck.
"I can never go through another night of it," she said to Miss Templeton. "Do you think we shall ever get rid of the horrible things?"
"We can but try, dear!" Miss Templeton said consolingly, and she accompanied Gladys up to town, where they inquired of doctors, and chemists, and all sorts of possible and impossible people; and returned to Kew laden with chemicals, and patent beetle destroyers. But though they tried remedies by the score, none were of use, and the beetles repeated their performance of the preceding night.
Gladys did not go to bed: surrounded with lighted candles, she sat on the top of a wardrobe till daybreak. The following morning the house was fumigated with sulphur; and people were told off to kill the cockroaches, as they made their escape out of doors. By this means an enormous number were killed; but at night they were just as bad as before.
An engineer friend then suggested a freezing-machine. The temperature of the house was reduced to ten degrees below zero; the pipes froze (and burst next day), the milk froze, the housemaid's toes and the cook's little finger of the left hand froze, everything froze; and presumably the beetles froze, for there was not one to be seen.
However, it was quite impossible to resort again to this extreme measure. John Martin had the most agonizing attacks of lumbago. Gladys had neuralgia, and Miss Templeton—a slight touch of pleurisy.
When Gladys reached the Imperial that evening, she found that the staff had been battling with cockroaches all day, and that they had at last succeeded in getting rid of them with a fumigation mixture of camphor, cocculus, sulphur, bezonia and assafœtida—suggested to them by a Hindoo student.
For the next week not a beetle was to be seen at the theatre nor at the Cottage; and Gladys was beginning to hope that Hamar had ceased plaguing her (in despair of ever winning her), when the persecutions suddenly broke out again.
She had been in bed about half an hour, and was falling into a gentle and much needed sleep, when a tremendous rap at the wall, close to her head, awoke her with a start, and set her heart pulsating violently. Thinking it must be some one on the landing, she got up and lit a candle. There was no one there. The moment she got into bed again, the rapping was repeated, and it continued, at intervals, all night. This went on for a week, during which time Gladys was never once able to sleep.
A brief respite ensued; but it was abruptly terminated one morning, when Gladys awoke feeling as if some big insect were attempting to penetrate her body. Uttering a shriek of terror, she whipped the clothes from her, and sprang out of bed. Miss Templeton, who slept in the next room, came rushing in, and they both saw an enormous insect, half beetle and half scorpion, dart under the pillow. John Martin was fetched, but although he searched everywhere, not a trace of the insect could be found.
That night, directly Gladys got in bed and blew out the light, she heard a ticking sound on the sheets, and a huge insect with long hairy legs ran up her sleeve. Her shrieks brought the whole household to the room, but the insect was nowhere to be seen.
She was thus plagued for nearly a fortnight. One insect only—never a number, but only one, of prodigious size and terrifying form—appeared to her in the least suspected places, i. e., on the dressing-table or chimney-piece, in her shoes, or pockets; crawled over her in the dark; and could never be caught.
These perpetual frights, and consequent sleeplessness, wore Gladys out. She grew so ill that she had to give up acting, and go into a home to try the rest cure.
Hamar then communicated with her, through a third person, and offered to leave off tormenting her, if she would agree to be engaged to him.
"I never will!" she said.
"Then I will never leave off persecuting you," was his retort.
But he was wary. He had no wish to kill her or to damage her looks—so he let her get well and remain thus for a brief space. When she was once again in full vigour, acting at the Imperial, he recommenced his unwelcome attentions.
At first he confined his new plague to the servants at the Cottage. The cook was one day turning out a drawer in the kitchen dresser, when she was horrified out of her senses to find squatting there, a large, black toad, which stared most malevolently at her, and then sprang in her face. She shrieked to the housemaid to help her kill it, but before a weapon could be got, the creature had bounced through an open window, and disappeared.
After this incident the servants knew no peace. Their bedclothes were thrown off them at night, their dresses torn and bespattered with ink, their brushes and combs thrown out of the window, and the water they poured out to wash in was sometimes quite black, sometimes full of a bright green sediment, and sometimes boiling, when it invariably cracked both the jug and basin.
Unable to stand these annoyances the servants left in a body. Their successors fared the same, and worse. Besides having to endure the above-named horrors, pebbles were thrown through the windows, their chairs were pulled away as they were about to sit down (the cook, who was one of those upon whom this trick was played, thereby seriously injuring her spine), and all sorts of obstacles were placed on the stairs, so that those who ran down unwarily tripped over them and hurt themselves (two successive housemaids broke their legs, whilst another sprained her wrist).
The meat, too, was a constant worry—it went so bad that enormous maggots crawled out of it by the thousand and covered the table and floor; and the milk, of which a large quantity was taken daily, "turned" in a very curious manner. After being deposited, in its usual place, in the pantry, it began to darken; first of all it became light blue, then deepened into an almost inky blackness, exhibiting curious zigzag lines; and, lastly, the whole mass began to putrefy and to emit a stench so overpowering that every one in the house retched, and the whole place had to be disinfected. This occurred day after day. Nothing would stop it. The dairyman who supplied the milk did all he could to counteract it. He had his dairies constantly cleansed, he saw that the cattle had a change of food, he bought an entirely new stock of dairy utensils, and no milk was ever sent to the Cottage that he had not had carefully analyzed.
The troubles continued for three weeks, at the end of which period John Martin received a telephone call from Hamar.
"Hullo!" the latter said, "I guess you've had about enough of it by this time. Wouldn't you like some sweet-smelling milk for a change, or do you prefer to go on till you all get typhoid? The remedy, you know, lies in your own hands. You've only to tell that daughter of yours to accept me, and I'll undertake all your troubles shall cease."
"I'll see you hanged first," John Martin answered.
"Very well, then, you old mule," Hamar shouted, "look out for yourself—and Miss Gladys."