Gay, a Story

Anonymous Author Evelyn Whitaker
Biography: Evelyn Whitaker
The Buttercups
Two Letters
by the author of Honor Bright
Points of confusion
Collection Catalog
Topical Index
Digitized Titles by Evelyn Whitaker
Miss Toosey's Mission
Laddie & Lassie
Tip Cat
Letters to Our Working Party
Our Little Ann
Rose and Lavender
Baby John
Baby Bob
For the Fourth Time of Asking
My Honey
Rob [Rob and Kit]
Tom's Boy
Lassie & Laddie
Gay, a Story
K Cummings Pipes
Christ Church, San Pancras, Albany Street
The Woman Novelist as Theologian
Whitaker Citings
Unlisted pages

pictorial cover: W & R Chambers

illustration: Little, Brown & Company, 1903
illustrator: Percy Tarrant

"Prominent parts are played by two of the most winsome youngsters who ever existed in fiction."                    The Lady. 

"Gay and Do are delightful studies.  The grown-up Oliver Bruce and the young folks affect one another's lives in a real and unlooked for way.  His friendship for and kindness to Gay and Do lead him straight into the heart of a family mystery, which is unravelled in the last pages."

From the publisher's (W. & R. Chambers, n.d.) catalog at the back of  Don.

My Synopsis:

The book begins with "a flitting" as Oliver Bruce moves from the family home following his mother's death:

"If you want really to get a just idea of the value of your    household goods, the surest way to arrive at it is by observing them during their removal from one house to another; and the moment of deepest humiliation is when some cherished possession, which you have always hitherto regarded with respect, stands on the pavement on its way from van to house, exposed to the deriding gaze of passersby,  in all its naked shabbiness.

"You hardly recognize your household gods...

"Oliver Bruce, as he stood on the damp pavement, littered with straw and paper, surveying the unpacking of his furniture from the great yellow van, and it gradual conveyance up four flights of stairs to the flat he had taken in Parley Mansions, West Kensington, felt that he ought to apologise [sic] to the world in general for the shabbiness of his belongings."

The new household includes Mrs. Sims [the source of much humor due to her marriage where there was "considerable disparity of years" and her difficulties in adjusting to life in London], Oliver's "nurse in the days of his childhood."

"Oliver Bruce had those unlucky possessions for a young man, an income just enough to make him independent of his own exertions, and a fond, admiring mother, who reflected all his whims and moods, and listened with earnest conviction to all his youthful conclusions.  So more than one profession was contemplated for his walk in life...   and then discarded..."

"Mrs. Bruce's annuity died with her, and though The Dene was  no grand country-seat, but only a pleasant old-fashioned cottage, its rent and attendant expenses were more than Oliver's income would cover..."

So Oliver, with his childhood nurse as housekeeper, leaves the country and moves to London to write his book.  But he is about to meet Gay, a young boy who has accidentally locked himself out of the neighboring flat in the middle of the night.  Gay and his younger sister, Dolores "Do", have been left home alone by their mother Maisie.

"We laugh at children's griefs and the trifles that cause them but they are very intense while they last, and there is a sense of despair and irretrievable disaster that overwhelms the young of heart out of all   proportion to the cause, which is rarely experienced in later years."

"What sort of mother could it be who could leave such a child night after night?"

Little, Brown and Company, 1903
illustrator: Percy Tarrant

A story well-told with the mystery of Maisie's present employment and past history,  with the romance of Oliver's reluctant courtship of the wealthy Miss Doris Mostyn, with all the charms of the nursery as Oliver and Mrs. Sims care for Gay, and finally, after two tragic deaths due to diphtheria, with a happy ending and another household move to a happy home in the country.

The major theme and image of this books is the idea, the ideal, the importance of home: 

        The Dene, home of Oliver Bruce and his mother. 

        Oliver's new residence, a London flat, where his old nurse is installed as housekeeper and his bookcase is an awkward fit. 

        The Mostyn home in the country which Doris has left for a new home in London.  During Oliver's courtship of Doris he wonders if he could be at home there.  Would his bookcase fit? 

        Maisie's home with her children in the flat across the hall from Oliver's flat in Parely Mansions. 

        The picture on Maisie's wall of her family home which her children regard as home although they have never been there but only heard Maisie's stories about it. 

        The children's idea (and perhaps Maisie's idea) of heaven is the home in the picture. 

        The country estates of Gay's grandfathers.

By definition home is where Mother and child enjoy one another's presence, where one's bookcase fits, where there is access to the beauties of nature, where childhood and innocence dwell in happiness with a family who loves, accepts, and provides.

Views of Victorian life and culture:

medicine & public health—in describing the marriage of Maria Smithson to Mark Sims "but I am becoming painfully surgical in my images, perhaps because that, at the time... Oliver had every intention of taking up medicine as his profession in life—an intention, however, that he very soon abandoned."

"I do not think that a disagreeable thing ever improves or becomes less distasteful by being put off.  You had better gulp down your medicine without looking at it; it is twice as nasty after ten minutes' contemplation.  The only possible excuse for procrastination in doing unpleasant things is that on the morrow it may not be necessary to do them at all, but this is such a very off chance that it is hardly worth taking into consideration.  Anyhow, Oliver's pill was still in prospect..."

When Oliver asks Mrs. Sims to check on the ailing Do, she "grumbled... no doubt a powder was what the child wanted, or a dose of brimstone and treacle, as was reckoned a fine thing when she was a gal."

Mrs. Sims, speaking:  "I step in this afternoon when I knew that dirty slut of a char-woman had gone.  I see the doctor come in... and as I happened to be polishing the door-handle, I see him go; and he hadn't been gone ten minutes before that Mrs. Jones come out all of a fuss... saying something about not stopping there to catch all sorts of nasty complaints, and as she should jes' go and tell Mr. Rogers at the office... but as soon as she'd gone...  I jes' stepped across and rung the bell. Mrs. Maisie come to the door...  She was white as my apron and all of a tremble, but she only opened the door a crack, and she says, 'We've got diphtheria here... so you'd best not come in.'  She was jes' going to close the door when I got my foot in. 'Have both the children got it?' I says.  'Not yet,' she says, and she put both hands to her throat as if the words kinder strangled her—'not yet—not Gay yet.'

Despite the warning Mrs. Sims is not afraid and enters the flat and tidies "up a bit.  'It's little Do,' she say, 'as is ill.  The doctor don't think she's very bad, but he says as Gay may take it.'  'You did oughter send him away,' I says; and she says, 'That's jes' what the doctor says, but I've nowhere to send him.  I've got him in the farthest room, and I'm putting up a carbolic sheet, but he can't be alone always, and I must be with Do.'  'Let me and Master Oliver have him,' says I."

"Mrs. Sims was rather restive under the injunction not to go into the opposite flat...  and she was only coerced by Oliver into obedience by permission to concoct a brew of beef-tea after some special recipe of her own, which would give points to all the beef essences and extracts that simple-minded doctors or designing chemists flatter themselves are not to be surpassed." 

Mrs. Sims speaking, "She won't come in, and I tell you what is it, Master Oliver, she's making herself ill over nursing that child; and it's all stuff-a-rubbish shutting us all out, and some one did ought to tell her so, and make her go right off to bed and have a good night's rest.  It's a funny thing if an old woman like me, as has had to do with children all my life, can't see after this one, who, she 'lows, is on the mend.  It's a wonder she condescends to ask for some more of that beef-tea."

Little Brown, 1903
illustrator: Percy Tarrant

"Maisie was standing by the open window on the landing with her back turned to him; and though the evening was hot she had a shawl thrown over her head, and kept it drawn across her mouth, making her voice sound strange and muffled."  Maisie has come to see Gay "just once more."

Oliver invites her in, saying, "I don't think there is the slightest danger of carrying it from one case to another.  It is only taking the breath of the patient that they say is dangerous, leaning over them or kissing them.  I hope you are careful about this."

Maisie's letter:  "Little Do is dead.  she died this evening; and I have taken the diphtheria.  She will be buried to-morrow early, and I am going to the hospital."

Mr. Rogers, the landlord, comes to visit Oliver,  "Bad job that child's dying at No. 9..."

"Very," said Oliver, "I thought she was getting better."

"Yes, so did the doctor till last night.  Heart failure at last.  And the poor young lady ill too; and if a word of it gets about the Mansions a pretty life I shall be led.  I shall have half-a-dozen screeching at me at once....  One blessing is, these fine madams don't get up betimes or they might have seen the ambulance, and the coffin being brought down.  Dr. Grove managed it all, and if we can only keep it quiet and not get a scare through the Mansions I shall feel beholden to him to the end of my days."

Regarding the charwoman, Mrs. Jones, "...she's a tongue and a half."  "Oh, I've settled her!   She came bouncing into my office directly the doctor had said what was up, and I told her her goose was cooked if she let on a word about it; as, first of all, no one would dream of having her to work straight out of infection."

"...daily bulletins from the hospital brought the same information, that she was very ill and no better."  

"...an official-looking envelope from the Metropolitan Fever Hospital...  owing to some of the wards in the Fulham District Hospital being closed for repair, Mrs. Frampton had been transferred to Homerton..."

The Fever Hospital, its staff, patients, visitors are described in great detail:

"Up Homerton Road and along the high, blank walls of the Fever Hospital, that shut in so much terrible danger and disease.  And yet it seemed to Oliver as he turned in at the big gates and waited his turn for admission at the gate-keeper's window as if all the terrors of the place had vanished in the broad daylight of cheerful, common-sense hygiene.

"Everything and every one looked so aggressively clean and cheerful!"

"ambulance... stopped before the door of the 'receiving room"

"white-capped nurse bearing a flannel bundle in her arms"

"debating with the porter the propriety of acid tablets and cherries as food for the sick"  The acid tablets are given to the nurse but the cherries are refused.

"Then Oliver wandered on through a very long lime-washed corridor, redolent of carbolic cleanliness... and finally found himself in a room where" visitors "were arraying themselves in hideous hooded garments"

The children's ward is described, as is a tracheotomy case.  The nurses chatter about "scarlet and dips" and call particular patients by their bed numbers.

"Oliver sat down again, thinking of little Do dying the small close room with nothing but the mother's ignorant love, and he blamed himself for not insisting on her removal here, where all that human skill can do is ready to hand...."

"Through the blue glass borders of the long, frosted windows Oliver could see the trees of the hospital garden..." 

language of flowers

honeysuckle generous & devoted affection in the yard of The Dene

white violets faithfulness in death, thoughts in the churchyard where Mrs. Bruce is buried

the plane tree  genius outside the window the Oliver's flat viewed from the desk where he works

Doris & Oliver read Browning under the cedar strength

perfect tulips beautiful eyes, declaration of love, hopeless love (color dependent) at Doris Mostyn's home fame

poppies Oliver fantastic extravagance bought for himself and gave to Gay & Do

gardenia true friendship Doris gives Oliver the night of the musical

picture of home (in Mrs. Frampton's flat), "a spring picture": 

 horse-chestnut tree luxury

spruce fir elevation or time ("solemn evergreen branches...tricked out... with gay little tassles of light green and frivolous pink fir-cones")

white clematis mental beauty Gay imagines carrying Do

 mossy path and shrubbery (with nightingales) maternal love

poppies consolation

apple tree with pink and white blossoms  preference "fame speaks him great and good"

laurel hedge glory

roses (Marechal Niel) roses and maidenhair happy love and fascination Oliver finds the flowers he "bought lavishly" for his visit to Doris "aggressively bridal" later Doris calls them "lovely La France roses."

"I think if she had called them by the right name Oliver's heart might have melted towards her... so typical of Doris's nature, that strain after effective little turns with a trifling false note in them."

Oliver's walk with Gay as he takes him "home"

stubble fields

pink convolvuli worth sustained by judicious & tender  affection

scarlet poppies fantastic extravagance,  red poppies would be consolation

corn marigolds grief

turnip fields  charity


a river with willows freedom

water-lilies purity of heart

rushes along the banks docility

forget-me-nots true love, forget me not

purple loosestrife

yellow ragwort

Little, Brown and Company, 1903
illustrator: Percy Tarrant

at the estate

lime trees  conjugal love

roses love (in place of clematis mental beauty in picture that hung on the wall of the apartment)

horse- chestnut  luxury

stone pine  pity, hope in adversity

laurel hedge glory

apple tree (with apples) often temptation, but probably here fruitful harvest

through nut bushes, fruitful harvest

under limes, mossy path led away  conjugal love, maternal love

books & literacy—each chapter begins with a quote,

"That dearly loved old bookcase had stood so compactly and unobtrusively in the library at home—no, at The Dene, he meant, for it was home no longer—had fitted in as naturally as the books fitted into it shelves, each having a recognized place by right of old tenure, so that it would be downright affront to Chaucer, to put Ben Johnson       in his place, or to allow Bacon to intrude upon Shakespeare.  Oliver  could find any one of his books in the dark, and, when first the prospect of leaving the old home opened before him the principal, all-  important necessity in the new dwelling—you cannot call a place      home for at any rate a couple of years—was that there should be a good wall for his old friend to stand against....  

Oliver tried to imagine his folios and rare old editions arranged in bamboo bookcases or accommodating themselves to shelves nailed up in the recesses by the fireplace, which the clerk...suggested... "With some stamped leather and a few brass-'eaded nails, it makes an uncommonly neat job of it."

Oliver is writing a book

"...in London he would be more within reach of books of  reference, and be able to consult authorities, and get in touch with   those strange and mysterious powers, the publishers, of whom Mrs. Bruce spoke with bated breath, dimly imagining them to resemble  Great Agrippa in Struwwelpeter with his gigantic ink-pot."  [Oliver has an ink pot where the children put one of the poppies.]

"And yet in spite of all this, [the isolation imposed on the house hold by Mrs. Bruce's ill health] and of Oliver's yearly increasing tendency to shut himself up with his books, it was wonderful how many friends he found to say goodbye to..."

"...the two children always called his flat the Ogre's Den, and Oliver surmised that the festive mother might have encouraged the idea...  The children had added on their own horrifying and blood curdling details selected from Jack the Giant Killer, with a flavour of  the Three Bears."

"Mrs. Mostyn felt a little irritable at the appearance of Oliver upon the scene, and at Doris's simultaneously developing a taste for Browning, and losing interest in tennis..."

"I really hardly know myself what the girl's feelings towards Oliver were... though authors are more privileged than ordinary mortals to inspect the workings of the human heart, but I certainly do not think her liking for Browning was quite disinterested or independent of the circumstances... her copy of that poet's work..."         had "still a good many pages uncut."

"But for Oliver's feelings toward Doris I think I can answer quite decidedly, even without reference to his heavily scored Browning, that they were of a very calm and philosophical description, and that he was reading Browning and not love those August afternoons under the cedar..."

"In those later days, too, I think they were hardly playing the game together... but cultivating sentiment and studying Browning in company."               Gay, chapters 5,6

"But though inwardly Oliver derided the idea that there was anything providential in this accidental meeting, he had a lurking feeling that if he had read it in a book he might have thought there was something significant about it, pointing to a certain denouement  at the end of the third volume, in the innocent old days of three volumes and happy denouements."

"People who live in top-flats ought to be very good-tempered, for though they may not mind the stairs in the ordinary course of events, a flight of a hundred and fifty steps added on after a disappointment or a humiliation or a vexation is a very perceptible additional trial to human endurance and should be taken into account  before you select your eyrie.

"I think it was Ellesmere in Friends in Council who wondered that men were so good-tempered when they were exposed to the daily irritation of shaving..."

"He had prolonged his way home by a detour to an old book-shop, and to a reference library to look up some point in his (of late) greatly neglected work, so that is was half past seven, his usual dinner-time, when he reached home..."

ideal of womanhood

"He could not face the loneliness... for he and his mother had both been such keen lovers of nature, and in such perfect sympathy with one another, that every smallest detail was noticed and shared between them, not always in words, but by a look, or a pause to listen,  or a smile."                                         Chapter 2

"...there was something very pleasant in once more looking out on well-kept turf and beds of tulips from a room which bore the marks of a lady's presiding genius..."

"Oliver often brought in flowers with him, and generally    arranged them himself...  but he never could quite satisfy himself... "...here the flowers were just right, and each had its own proper and     exquisite fragrance..."   There was a fire burning, and the window was open... Oliver had time to notice the pleasant, civilized aspect of the       room... the dainty tea equipage at Doris's side...  ...he watched Doris's  graceful hospitalities with warm appreciation....  Doris was certainly much improved... more to Oliver's taste in her present slim elegance,    which, no doubt, was mainly owing to her dressmaker—a fact which a masculine mind was not likely to take into account.... 

"Christian courtesy is a very lovely Christian virtue." Oliver thought.  And then the door closed... and Doris turned with an expression of intense relief." [Doris's criticism of her other visitors  leaves Oliver] "so disillusioned  with Doris's Christian courtesy.... 

"She had such a pleasant, sympathetic manner, but for a few minutes Olive could not quite lose the memory of that abrupt change of manner... and the sense that the same might be said or felt about him as soon as his back was turned.  If Christian courtesy was so very  thin it partook of the nature of whited sepulchres.

"He lost the feeling by degrees as they talked, for Doris was a good listener, and led him to talk about himself...  She had a pleasant smile and a frank look in her gray eyes, as if she really meant what she said..."

"...love, Oliver turned with that warm thrill in his veins to the girl sitting beside him.  A gauzy ribbon fluttered against his cheek, a luscious sweet fragrance of the lilies she wore in her dress surrounded  him like an enchantment, and his eyes met hers just for a moment and caught a look in their blue depths that made his heart beat thick and fast..."

 "He admired the art with which she shook out her pretty frills and skirts, reminding him of the white pigeons on the lawn at The Dene stroking and preening their dainty plumage in the sunshine.

"The enchantment was still upon him as he followed her..."

"But Oliver was still under the glamour and saw everything in a   rose-coloured light; the large rooms so handsomely decorated; the mirrors and pictures; the masses of flowers... the fragrance... the  animated—some of the lovely—faces; the soft, refined voices... with   Doris, as pretty and attractive as any one there, looking up at him and  listening to what he said as if she wanted no better entertainment!

"Truth to tell, he was quite amazed at his own powers..."

"I think the last remnant of the enchantment died away as Oliver realised [sic}, not that she believed him capable of some unworthy intrigue and of lying about it to her, but that believing this of him, she  was willing to condone it.

"Did girls think so little of purity and truth?  Not such girls as Oliver Bruce could love."


"education being free, the twopence extra for manners is not demanded, nor the commodity supplied."

clothing & fashion

"the daily irritation of shaving, and I suppose that with women  hair-dressing has the same effect.  Indeed, if you come to think of all the unnecessary complications of dressing, you may envy the poor   Indian with untutored mind who puts on all (if any) of his garments    with one fell swoop, without buttons or tapes or studs or hooks and eyes."

death & dying, funeral practices

"If ever he had children of his own, Oliver thought, such things should be put simply and naturally before them, stripped of all the funereal trappings and nodding plumes, so that they might get a   glimpse of the land of pure delight before they saw the crape and coffin-nails with which we see fit to cover they gateway thither."

"Mrs. Sims was never quite sure if she altogether approved of  Oliver's methods of comforting Gay.  When any one has lived a   longish life and met troubles in a certain conventional way, it is not easy suddenly to adopt a new line of treatment, to put our handkerchief away in your pocket (an inaccessible position usually when the mourner is a woman), to roll up the crape and the hatbands into a ball and throw them into the waste-paper basket, to pull up the blinds and let the light in, and to speak of the dead dear one in an ordinary tone of voice and without the prefix of 'poor' or the suffice of  a sigh.

"To such a one there seems something almost profane in hearing a dead person's name introduced into ordinary—or, still worse, jocose—conversation just for all the world as if they were still alive (or they not?), and Mrs. Sims was free to confess that she felt a cold shiver down the back when she heard Gay's cheerful little voice shouting the name of his dead sister in the midst of some of his uproarious games with Oliver...

"The only point on which Mrs. Sims insisted and which she successfully carried, was that Gay should have a little black suit...

"One thing he had quite determined, and this was to make Gay understand what had happened.  He was no longer a baby, and Oliver had a horror of deceiving children with unrealities.  Death, after all, is God's messenger, and his face is fair and kind if only we look straight into it and do not shroud it with crape and sable plumes.

"Oliver could look back, as indeed most of us can, to childish horrors caused by nursery warnings connected with the "pit-hole" and "bogey," or kitchen gossip in which awful words, such as "corpse candles" and "death watches" and "winding-sheets," &c., called up vague terrors, and he resolved that Gay should never have the same experience....  Oliver did not go in for sentiment, but simply tried to make the child understand the truth.  Maisie was gone to be with little Do.  They had been very ill, but God had called them, and now they were quite well and happy again."

Chapter 20 provides a description of Oliver's arrangements for Maisie's funeral.                 


There is the usual stuff of walking and transom cabs.

Oliver's trip to Homerton to visit Maisie in hospital:

"It was a hot, sultry day, and the underground railway more than usually stuffy and sulphorous.  Being Saturday, the outside of the tram at Farringdon Street was full, and he had to sit inside between a fat woman with a cross baby and a boy eating gooseberries...  It was his first experience, too, of oriental London, and he was disposed to thank his stars that he was occidental, like Queen Elizabeth..."

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