THE BARABBAS CLUB

I have some acquaintance with authors; but of all I have encountered Jocelyn Dare is in many ways the most remarkable. Careless, generous, passionate, he is never so happy as when narrating the enormities of publishers. His white, delicate fingers will move nervously, his long black locks fall over his alabaster forehead, and his black eyes flash as he describes the doings of these “parasites” and “pariahs,” as he calls them.
He is a thoroughly good fellow in spite of this eccentricity, never withholding a helping hand from anyone. I believe he would succour even a publisher if he found one in need of help; but he can no more resist denouncing the fraternity than he can keep the flood of raven hair from falling over his eyes when he becomes excited.
Bindle likes him, and that is a testimonial. They have something in common, as Dare’s heart, like Bindle’s “various” veins, is a bar to his doing his bit, and Dare feels it as much as does Bindle.
“I like to listen to Mr. Gawd Blast ‘ammerin’ tacks into publishers,” Bindle would remark appreciatively. “An’ don’t ‘e know some words too!”
Dare’s vocabulary is almost unique. He is a master of the English tongue. At rhetorical invective I have never heard his equal, and I have encountered a Thames lighterman in one of his inspired moments. Bindle would sit in mute admiration, watching Dare as he flung the mantle of obloquy over “that cancer polluting the face of God’s fair earth.”*
*To those who are not authors it should be explained that Dare refers to publishers as a whole.
It was Dare who told us the story of the author who, unable to extract his royalties from a publisher, seized him by the beard and swore he would hang on until the money was forthcoming. “And that,” he concluded, “is why not one publisher in a hundred wears a beard.”
It was Dare, too, who told us of the author who went to a certain well-known publisher with a manuscript, saying, “My previous books have been published by—(and he mentioned the names of three honoured firms)—and they were rogues to a man, did me right and left, only I could never catch them, not even with the help of the Society of Authors. So I’ve brought my new book to you, Mr. Blank.”
The publisher was delighted at the compliment and, smiling in his most winning manner, enquired, “And may I ask why you come to me, sir?”
He waited expectantly, his lips still bearing the after-glow of the smile.
“I come to you, Mr. Blank,” the author replied impressively, “because you are an honest man.”
And the publisher fainted.
Dare would laugh with the joyousness of a schoolboy when telling these yarns. But there is no malice in him. He is as mischievous as a puppy; but as soft-hearted as a woman.
There is something strangely lovable about Dare. Certain of his mannerisms are in themselves feminine; yet he is never effeminate. One of these mannerisms is what might be called the fugitive touch, which is with a woman a caress. He will lay his hand upon your coatsleeve just for a second, or put it across your shoulders, a slight brushing movement, which betokens comradeship.
He adores children. I have seen him, when exquisitely turned out in top hat and morning coat, pick up a howling youngster that had come a cropper, brush it down, stay its cries and stop its tears, and send it home wreathed in rainbow smiles, clutching a generous-sized bag of sweets. Such is Jocelyn Dare.
When the time came for a story, he told that of the Barabbas Club. For some time I hesitated to write it up for the Night Club. I regarded it as too limited in its appeal. At last, however, I decided to let the Club judge for itself. Dare took great interest in the writing of the story, and himself read and corrected the typescript.
I
“My dear fellow,” said Jocelyn Dare, “the Seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse is nothing to it. It’s absolutely unique.”
With the air of a man who has completed a life’s work, Dare tapped some sheets of manuscript that lay upon the table, selected a cigarette from the box with a care and deliberation usually bestowed upon cigars, and proceeded: “You are a doctor, whose mission in life is to purge and purify the human body; I am a novelist whose purpose it is to perform the same office for the human soul.”
From the depths of a particularly comfortable easy-chair, Dick Little looked up good-humouredly at his friend.
“You’re a queer devil, Dare. One of these days you’ll get a shock—poseurs always do.”
Dare laughed easily, and Dick Little continued. “But what have publishers to do with the human soul? That’s what puzzles me.”
“There is only one thing, my poor Little,” replied Dare, looking down at the other with a smile of pity, “that makes friendship between you and me at all possible.”
“And that is?”
“Your incomparable understanding of my corpus, which you persist in calling my liver. I give you all credit for this. You know my constitution to a nicety, and in a way you are responsible for my novels.”
“Good God!” ejaculated Dick Little, sitting up in his chair with an expression of alarm upon his features. “I hope not.”
“Listen!” said Dare. “A publisher is an obstacle to intellectual progress. He is a parasite, battening upon the flower of genius. That is why we founded the Barabbas Club. It frankly encourages authors to quarrel with their publishers. No one is eligible for membership who cannot prove conclusively to the Committee that he has been extremely rude to at least one publisher. I myself have been grossly insulting to seventeen different publishers, on several occasions before their own clerks. I have taken three into Court—I confess I lost each case—and I horsewhipped him who published The Greater Purity because he failed to advertise it sufficiently.”
“And what happened?” queried Dick Little, who had heard the story a score of times.
“I was summonsed for assault. The magistrate was a creature entirely devoid of literary perception. He fined me five guineas, plus five guineas damages, and two guineas costs. But wait! Now here comes the shameful part of the story. Later I discovered that I had been wrong about the advertising. I wrote to that worm, that foul weed who is poisoning the slopes of Parnassus, apologising for whipping him, and will you believe it, he absolutely refused to return the five guineas damages?”
Dick Little laughed. He always laughed to see Dare upon his hobby-horse.
“The result of that case was an addition to the rules of the Barabbas Club, by which it was provided that, whenever an author horsewhipped a publisher, with or without justification, the president of the club should resign, and his place be automatically filled by the horsewhipper.”
Dick Little rose from his chair, stretched himself lazily, lighted another cigarette and prepared to take his departure.
“One moment, my dear fellow,” remarked Dare, “I must tell you something about this, The Damning of a Soul.” He tapped the manuscript upon the table. “It gives a picture of a publisher, so vivid, so horrible, so convincing, that I shudder when I think that anything so vile can be permitted to exist by our most gracious sovereign lady, Nature. It tells of the gradual intellectual murder of a great genius through lack of proper advertising by his publisher. ‘It is a masterly picture of the effect of advertising matter upon imaginative mind.’ I quote the words of our President. It will create a sensation.”
“But what about libel?” enquired Dick Little, whose more cautious nature saw in this same masterpiece a considerable danger to its author.
“There is my master-stroke. My Beast, which transcends that of the Apocalypse in horror-compelling reality, is, as was that, a composite creature. I have drawn upon the whole of the seventeen publishers with whom I have had differences. One supplies ‘a nervous, deceitful cough,’ another ‘an overbearing manner,’ a third ‘a peculiar habit of crossing and recrossing his legs,’ a fourth ‘a swindling propensity when the day of reckoning arrives,’ a fifth ‘a thoroughly unclean and lascivious life,’ a sixth ‘a filthy habit of spitting into the fireplace from every conceivable angle of his room,’ a seventh——”
“Enough! I must be off,” laughed Dick Little. “I suppose it’s all right; but one of these days you’ll get yourself into a bit of a mess. There may be the devil to pay over this even.”
Dare smiled indulgently as he shook hands.
14“Good-bye, my Æsculapius,” he said. “If there’s trouble, I have behind me the whole of the members of the Barabbas Club, representing eight hundred and thirteen volumes, and the brains of the country. Good-bye.” There was a note of weariness about Dare’s voice. Materialism was exceedingly tedious.
“Well, it’s his affair, not mine,” muttered Dick Little to himself as he descended the stairs of Dare’s flat; “but they don’t fight with books in the King’s Bench Division.”
II
Three weeks later, on returning from a fortnight’s holiday in Scotland, Dick Little found awaiting him at his chambers the following note from Dare:—
“Come round at once. There is not the Devil, but the publishers to pay. Bring a hypodermic syringe and a pint of morphia.—”J.D.”
Dick Little had been out of the world, and he had forgotten all about The Damning of a Soul and his own misgivings. Having seen a few of his more important patients, he walked round to his friend’s flat and found Dare in a pathetic state of gloom.
“Have you brought the hypodermic syringe and the morphia?” he asked without troubling to greet his visitor.
“What! Tired of life?” questioned Dick Little smiling.
“I am tired of a civilization that is rotten, and which makes injustice possible.”
“What has happened?” NORFLOXACHIN HCL
“I published The Damning of a Soul in The Cormorant, and arranged with the editor for a copy to be sent to every publisher in the country. Ye gods!” and Dare laughed mirthlessly.
“And what happened!” asked Dick Little.
“Twenty-five writs for libel up to date,” groaned Dare, “and God knows how many more to come.”
Dick Little laughed loud and long.
“How many publishers went to the making of your Beast of Parnassus?” he asked.
“Only seventeen; that’s the peculiarly damnable part of it.
“And what do they say at The Cormorant?”
“Well, I’ve kept away from the offices, where all the writs have been served by the way, and I’ve written a formal protest to the Postmaster-General against the use of the telephone for language that is entirely unfit for even the smoking-room of a woman’s club. Now they write; but as I don’t read the letters, it doesn’t matter so much.”
“The editor is in a passion, I suppose?”
“No; he’s in a nursing-home. He’s a master of diplomacy,” replied Dare wearily. “I’d do the same, only I can’t afford the fees. It’s the general-manager who telephones. I’m going to put him in my next novel, curse him!”
“In addition to a writ,” Dare proceeded, “each publisher has written me a letter, ‘without prejudice’ and with considerable heat.”
“What about?” enquired Dick Little, thoroughly interested in the curious situation that had arisen out of Dare’s unfortunate story.
“The man who crosses and recrosses his legs says that he is the only publisher in the world with that characteristic, and that I accuse him of unclean morals, as if a publisher had any morals, clean or otherwise. He of the nervous cough objects to the adjective ‘deceitful,’ and is having his books examined by an accountant He who salivates into the fireplace from impossible angles, is producing the testimony of three specialists to prove that he has chronic bronchitis, and that it is neither infectious nor contagious, and so on.” Dare’s voice trailed off drearily.
“And what do you propose to do?” questioned Dick Little.
“Do?” enquired the other, listlessly throwing himself into a chair and lighting a cigarette. “Do? Why, nothing. That’s why I want the morphia. I’m the imperfect, not the present tense. I’m done.”
“How about the Barabbas Club?” asked Dick Little.
“Dissolved.”
Dick Little whistled.
“Dissolved,” continued Dare, “because its work is accomplished, vide the Presidential valediction. I don’t see how; but it’s too tedious to bother about.”
Dick Little went to the sideboard and poured out some water into a glass, then emptying into it the contents of a small phial that he took from his pocket, returned to where Dare sat and bade him drink.
“What is it—a death potion?” enquired Dare lazily as he swallowed the dose.
“Wait and see!” replied the other.
For a quarter of an hour they smoked in silence. Suddenly Dare bounded into the air, and rushed to the telephone.
“Piccadilly 1320, quickly,” he shouted. Then a minute later, “That The Cormorant? I want the general-manager. Yes; it’s me. Oh, shut up! I’ve got a plan. Coming round. Three more writs? Wish it were thirty. We’ll do ’em yet—’bye.”
Snatching up his hat and entirely oblivious of his friend’s presence, Dare rushed out of the room; and a moment later the bang of the front door told that he had left the flat.
“Never saw strychnine act so before,” muttered Dick Little as he picked up his hat and gloves and prepared to go.
III
Ten days later as Dick Little sat in the consulting-room of his surgery, waiting for seven o’clock to strike that the first patient might be admitted, Jocelyn Dare burst through the door followed by the protesting parlour-maid.
“Sorry, old man; but I had to tell you. We’ve won. It’s a triumph for Letters, and all due to your science and my brain. As I said before, your understanding of my corpus is incomparable.”
“It’s five minutes to seven,” remarked Dick Little evenly, “and the first patient enters at seven.”
“Of course. Well, three minutes will suffice. I found a scapegoat.”
“A what?”
“A scapegoat. You see if I could prove that my publisher was some particular person, we should have only one action to defend; but if that publisher were dead, and we could square his relatives, then we were safe.
“I set about discovering a dead publisher, and you would be astonished to find how rare they are. They seem to be immortal, like their asinine brothers. At last I lighted upon Sylvester Mylton, who died a bankrupt nearly a year ago. By great good luck I ran his wife to earth. She was in terrible straits, almost starving, poor woman.”
“But what——”
“Wait a moment. I showed her the article, and told her that I felt that I had done a dishonourable thing in writing about the dead as I had done, and would she accept five pounds as compensation. Heavens! I don’t think the money pleased her so much as the knowledge that the iniquitous Mylton had been pilloried. He had made her life a curse.”
“So far so good. I had to remind her of a few of his characteristics; but she’s a shrewd woman, and hunger you know. Now read this.” Dare held out a copy of the current issue of The Cormorant, pointing to a page bordered by the portraits of thirty publishers. Within the pictorial frame appeared the following:—
THIRTY WRITS FOR LIBEL
AN EXTRAORDINARY OCCURRENCE
A SENSITIVE PROFESSION
“Three weeks ago we published a story from the brilliant pen of Mr. Jocelyn Dare entitled The Damning of a Soul, in which was given a vivid picture of an unscrupulous, immoral, gross, and dishonest publisher—a man capable of any vileness, who had by under-advertising the work of a promising young author, damned him for ever. Soon after the appearance of our issue containing Mr. Dare’s contribution, writs began to rain in upon us until there was scarcely a publisher in London who had not instructed his solicitors to proceed against us for criminal libel, as, in our picture of the unscrupulous publisher, he thought he saw himself depicted.
“Although we fully recognise the obligations of the living towards the dead, we are, in self-defence, forced to publish a letter that we have received from the wife of the late Sylvester Mylton, the well-known publisher, who died some months ago. It runs:—
“‘DEAR SIR,
“‘I have read with deep pain and regret the story in your issue of the 2nd inst., entitled The Damning of a Soul. In the character of the publisher I recognise my late husband. None can mistake ‘the overbearing manner,’ ‘that peculiar habit of crossing and recrossing his legs,’ ‘the nervous, deceitful cough,’ ‘the habit of spitting into the fireplace from every conceivable angle of his room,’ although I must add that his accuracy was astonishing. With regard to the other points, I can only say that of recent years I declined to live with him because of the creatures with whom he associated—I do not refer to his authors. I regret that you should have brought him so prominently before the public, and I hope you will send me ten or a dozen copies of your issue containing the story.
“‘I am,
“‘Yours sincerely,
“‘ARABELLA MYLTON.’
“We can only express regret that so many publishers should have thought our story referred to them. We thought that Mr. Dare had painted so vile and heartless a wretch as to prevent any self-respecting publisher from seeing in such a creature any resemblance to himself. Apparently not. Surely Mecænas is the most sensitive of beings. We may add that we shall defend each of the actions threatened. We embellish this page with portraits of the publishers who have caused us be served with writs.”
Dick Little read the page with astonishment.
“By heavens! what a score,” he shouted. “And the writs?”
“All withdrawn, and the Barabbas Club has regathered and is dining me at the Ritz tonight. God knows who’ll pay the bill. I must be off to dress.”
And that evening Dick Little thought more of the sensibilities of publishers and the brains of authors than the ailments of his patients.
“Fancy publishers bein’ as bad as that,” remarked Bindle reflectively, as he took a long pull at his tankard. “They seem to beat foremen.”
“Publishers,” said Dare, “are pompous asses. If they were business men—if they were only men-of-letters, I would embrace them.”
“P’raps that’s why they ain’t,” suggested Bindle.
Dare joined in the laugh against himself.
“I have known some publishers,” remarked Angell Herald with characteristic literalness, “who have been most excellent advertisers. I fear Mr. Dare is rather prejudiced.”
“Shut up, Herald,” broke in Dick Little, “you’re thinking ‘shop.'”
“P’raps they’ve got ‘various’ veins* in their legs, or else their missusses ‘ave got religion,” suggested Bindle. “It ain’t fair to judge no man till you seen ‘is missus, an’ a doctor’s seen ‘is legs—beggin’ your pardon, miss,” this to Sallie.
*Bindle has been repeatedly refused for the Army on account of varicose veins in his legs, and he shows a tendency to regard this affliction as at the root of all evil.