Edward Benson.

Thorley Weir



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"I wish I could share your good opinion of him," he said. "Of course, when I recommended him to you for the work which he has certainly done very well, it never occurred to me that you would have him in the house like that. But I have no wish to enter into details, and since his connection with you is over, there is no reason why I should."

Philip got up.

"Indeed, I am glad to know that," he said, "because there certainly was considerable friendliness between him and Joyce, which I did not altogether like, though it was hard to prevent. Now I have a reason which my duty forbids me to disobey, for refusing to allow any resumption of their acquaintance – I am not sorry for that."

Craddock got up also.

"Then let us leave the subject," he said. "Now I know your bedtime is half-past ten, so pray do not be ceremonious with me, but allow me to sit here for a quarter of an hour more, while you go to bed. Listen at the storm! But by this day month, I hope we shall both be in that valley of Avalon basking in the warm sunshine of Nile-side. For the present it is goodnight and goodbye, for I have to go early to-morrow. I will write to Miss Joyce fully about our travelling arrangements."

Craddock lit another cigarette after his host was gone, and knowing he would not see him again in the morning, thought over what he had just said, to assure himself that he had managed to convey that indefinite sufficiency which he had in view. He thought that he had probably succeeded very well, for he had given his host an excuse, which he was clearly glad to make use of, for stopping any future intercourse between this young fellow and his own circle. And he had effected this without being positively libellous, for he had said no more than that he wished he could share Philip's good opinion of him. He felt that it was certainly time to prevent the ripening of this acquaintanceship, that Joyce had better have it conveyed to her, as assuredly she would, that she would not see the author of that sketch any more.

The sketch stood by him on the table, and once again he took it up, and found it even more admirable than he had thought. And even as he looked, the injury and wrong that he had done to its artist made him feel for the first time a curious dislike of him: he disliked him just because he had injured him. But this dislike did not extend to his pictures, and the thought that the portrait of his mother and two more canvases besides, would pass into his possession, gave him the keenest sort of satisfaction, since he augured for their author a fame and a future of no ordinary kind. What would that hand be capable of when its power was fully matured? Certainly it should not be for want of recognition that he should any longer remain unknown. He himself, though anonymously, had written the notice to the "Whitehall" regarding Charles' picture of his brother at Thorley Weir, and next week under his own signature would appear a column's notice of the same Exhibition, practically devoted to that one canvas.

At any rate, that would have the effect of making the world in general turn their eyes to that which had evoked from him so apparently extravagant a eulogy, and he completely trusted the picture itself to convince them that no extravagance had been committed. People would be set talking, and in next year's Academy would be hung the portrait of Charles' mother. That would be sufficient.

He got up and lit his bedroom candle. It seemed to him that he had arranged Charles' future very satisfactorily. He would do the most that could be done for a young man with regard to his artistic career, and as regards his private affairs, he had made arrangements for them already in half a dozen sentences that had not been spoken amiss. But his new born dislike of him made him reconsider his resolve to pay him the hundred pounds which Mr. Ward had been so pleased to give for the copy of the Reynolds. After all, Charles had been promised only half that sum, and had been more than content to close with that bargain. The fact that Mr. Ward had paid more for it was a thing that lay outside questions that concerned him. Craddock had promised him fifty pounds for the copy, and Craddock would pay it… But he did not definitely settle either on one sum or the other.

It was three days after this that Craddock's word of warning to Joyce's father bore fruit. She had come into his study that morning before lunch, and found him singularly well pleased at the proposed itinerary which Craddock had sent him that morning. Sleeping-berths had already been secured, they would not have to change trains at Paris, and the sleeping-car went, on arrival at Marseilles, straight through to the quay where their ship was berthed…

"And you came in to ask me something, Joyce," he said, when he had explained this.

"Yes, father. I have heard from Mr. Lathom, asking when he can come down to see his picture framed and in its place – I suppose any day will do, will it not? Shall I ask him to stay the night?"

Philip had been expecting this. He remembered a cordial invitation conveyed by his mother to the artist, to come back and see his handiwork when it was framed and in the room of the original picture. But it was a little uncomfortable to be obliged to give a reply so different to that which Joyce expected, and there was nothing in the world which he disliked so much as being uncomfortable. Bodily discomfort, of course, was the worst form of that imperfection, but mental discomfort was odious also.

"I think Mr. Lathom may take it for granted that his picture looks well, and pleases me," he said. "We have less than three weeks here, before we actually start for Egypt. There is an infinity of things to do. You will be very busy without the extra burden of entertaining people."

Joyce did not at once assent to this, or even reply to it. All her secret knowledge seethed within her.

"He was asked to come to see it," she said.

A more definite statement was necessary. Philip had been glad enough of Craddock's information, but he did not find it quite easy to use it with Joyce's young eager face looking at him. Yet its eagerness gave him an added courage. It was too eager: in spite of the excellent reasonableness of her words, he felt the unreasonable wish behind them.

"By my mother," he said, "who does not regulate all my affairs. Frankly, my dear Joyce, I do not want Mr. Lathom in my house again. I do not hear a very good account of him. To copy a picture for me is one thing; to have him proposing himself even though asked, is quite another. You may take it that we have finished with Mr. Lathom."

Joyce's instinct and desire urged her.

"I don't see how I can write a letter to him on those lines," she said. "Am I to say that you don't wish to see him again? If that is so, father, you must write it yourself. I – I was very friendly with him when he was here. Why should I appear to cease to be so?"

Philip went into the rage of a weak man. He had not meant to argue the point with Joyce. He had, in his imagination, framed this interview on quite different lines. In his imagination it was enough for him to have said that Charles' proposed visit was inconvenient, and that Joyce would have written a note that should embody his wish. But while he delayed and fussed with the little appurtenances of his writing table, adjusting sealing-wax, and putting pens level, Joyce spoke again.

"He isn't quite like a bootmaker or a tailor," she said, "whom you can order down, and who will send in what you have commanded. He has been staying with us. I can't say to him that we have finished with him."

The weak rage burst out.

"That is what you are to say," he cried. "You will make it clear that he is not to come here again. You will show me your note when you have written it. Quite polite, of course, but it must be made clear that we have finished with him. He came to paint a portrait, and he has done so, and he has been paid, no doubt, for his trouble. That is all. We are going to Egypt within a week or two. His visit will be inconvenient. He may come after we have gone away, if he chooses, and look at his picture. He wants to see it: very well, he shall see it after the third week in November."

He beat with his feeble closed hand on his table.

"Do you understand?" he said. "You will tell him that he may come here when we are gone. Not before, and not after we get back. He can look at his picture every day for three months. You may tell him that if you choose. And you have no consideration for me, Joyce: you make me excited, and make me raise my voice, which, as you know quite well, always gives me a fit of coughing."

Joyce came back from the window, and sat down by her father at his table.

"If I am to write such a letter, father," she said, "I must know why I write it. You must tell me something which accounts for it."

She had her voice perfectly in control, but she could not control her colour. She felt that her face had become white, and though she detested herself for this palpable sign of emotion, she was powerless to prevent it.

"It is easy for me to account for it," said Philip, "though I should have hoped that my wish was enough."

"It isn't enough," said Joyce quietly. "I have treated him like a friend."

"You must treat him as a friend no longer, and as an acquaintance no longer. He is not a desirable friend for you nor an acquaintance. He is nothing to you: he painted a portrait. He begins and ends with that. He is not the sort of man I want to know, or want my daughter to know."

The weak rage subsided: but the calmer tone which followed was not less ineffectual.

"You must take my word for it, dear Joyce," he said. "You are young and inexperienced, and you must obey me, and not see any more of this young man. I have excellent authority for telling you that he is undesirable as friend or acquaintance. I am sorry for it: he seemed harmless enough and even well-bred!"

Joyce got up. The accumulated weight of the habit of filial obedience was heavy, but her heart was in declared rebellion. Nor did she believe what had been told her.

"Will you tell me who this excellent authority is?" she asked.

"No: you must take its excellence on trust from me."

Joyce turned to him. She spoke quite respectfully, but quite firmly.

"Then I can't write that letter," she said. "I am very sorry, but it is quite impossible."

"And do you intend also to disobey me with regard to neither seeing nor communicating with Mr. Lathom again?"

Joyce hesitated.

"No, I intend to obey you," she said. "At least – at least I promise to tell you if I ever intend to do otherwise."

For the first time it struck him that he was dealing with a force greater than any that was at his command. Hitherto, Joyce had never put herself into open opposition to him, and he had had no experience of the power which her habitual serenity held within it.

"You are vastly obliging," he said. "I had no idea I had so obedient a daughter."

"I am sorry, father," she said. "But you have been asking me to do things I can't do."

"Things you won't do," said he. "You have made me feel very unwell with your obstinacy."

"I am sorry for that, too," she said.

CHAPTER VI

The autumn session, combined with a singularly evil season as regards pheasants, had caused London to become very full again during November with the class that most needs and happily can best afford to pay for amusement, and theatres were enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity. Night after night the queue outside the theatre where "Easter Eggs" was being performed had the length attained usually only by gala performances and after a month's run Craddock had successfully accomplished the hazardous experiment of transplanting it to a much larger theatre, which, by chance, happened to be tenantless. His luck still burned as a star of the first magnitude, and he had without difficulty sublet the scene of its initial triumph, and started a couple of provincial companies on a prosperous progress. Money poured in, and with a generosity that surprised himself he presented the author (though there was no kind of claim on him) with a further munificent sum of two hundred pounds. But Armstrong's continued ingratitude though it pained him, did not surprise him nearly so much as his own generosity. He knew exactly how the young man felt.

It was but a few days before he was to start on the Egyptian expedition, when Armstrong was dining with him in his flat in Berkeley Square, intending to read to him after they had dined, the first act of "The Lane without a Turning," which, with somewhat cynical enjoyment, he was remodelling in order to suit the taste of the great Ass, as he called the patrons of the drama, though Craddock had urged and entreated him not to attempt this transformation. However thoroughly it was transformed he argued that the great Ass would detect that below lay the original play of which it had so strongly disapproved, would feel that it was being laughed at, and would, as it always was quick to do, resent ridicule. He put forward this view with much clearness as they dined.

"You have had the good fortune that comes perhaps to one per cent. of those who try to write plays," he said. "You have scored a great and signal success, and I beseech you not to imperil your reputation and prestige by so risky an experiment. I don't doubt your adroitness in remodelling and even reprincipling – if I may coin a word – "

Frank had only just filled his wine-glass. He emptied it at a gulp.

"Not exactly reprincipling," he said, "it's more turning it upside down. But I think your advice is rather premature, do you know, considering you have not at present the slightest idea what this remodelled play will be like. Had you not better wait till I read you some of it?"

"I don't think it matters what it is like," said Craddock, "because there will still be 'The Lane without a Turning' at the bottom of it. It might be Macbeth and Hamlet rolled into one – "

"That remarkable combination would certainly have a very short run," remarked Frank. "You were saying?"

"I was saying that the public, and the critics, will know that at the base of your play lies the play they so unmistakably rejected."

"There was one critic who thought it promising," said Frank. "And he is reaping a very tidy little harvest for his perspicacity."

"You are girding at everything I say this evening, my dear fellow," said Craddock placidly.

Frank looked at him with scarcely repressed malevolence.

"I think the sight of this opulent room and this good dinner and delicious wine makes me feel vicious," he said. "I can't help remembering that it is I who have really paid for all I am eating and drinking a hundred times over. And yet it is you who ask me to dinner."

"I am sorry if I burden you with my hospitality," said Craddock. "And as a matter of fact, it was you who asked yourself."

Frank Armstrong laughed.

"Quite true," he said, "and I will ask myself to have another glass of port. But really I think the situation justifies a little wailing and gnashing of teeth."

Craddock was slightly afraid of this very uncompromising young man. He liked to feel himself the master and the beneficent patron of his prot?g?s, and it was a very imperfect sense of mastery that he enjoyed when he was with this particular beneficiary. He had tried cajolery and flattering him with the most insignificant results, and he determined to adopt more heroic methods.

"As to the gnashing of teeth," he observed, "there certainly was less gnashing of teeth on your part before I put on this play for you, for the simple reason that you often had to go without meals. But I am bound to say you didn't wail."

Frank laughed again.

"That's not bad," he said. "But I repeat that it is maddening to think of you earning in a week over my labour, as much as I earned altogether. Of course you had the capital; one can't expect labour and capital to fall into each other's arms."

"I had much more than the capital," said Craddock. "I had the sense to see that star-actors would not take, or if they did take, would ruin your works. You had not the sense to see that, if you will pardon my saying so."

"True. I like you better when you answer me back, and I'm not denying your shrewdness – God forbid when I have been the victim of it. I've been thinking, let me tell you, how I can get out of your clutches, but really I don't see my way. You may take it I suppose that you're safe. Now about this play. I don't see to begin with why it matters to you what I write. You needn't exercise your option over it, unless you please. In that case I shall get it done on my own account."

"Ah, but it does matter to me," said Craddock. "If you produce a couple of plays that fail, you may consider your present success as wiped out. You can't tamper with a reputation, and the bigger it is – yours at this moment is very big indeed – the more it is vulnerable. It is for your sake no less than mine that I am so strong about this."

"Surely for my sake a little less than yours?" suggested Frank.

"If you will have it so. And for your sake a little less than mine I advise you not to produce plays too quickly. The public are very fickle: if you flood the theatres with the dramas of Frank Armstrong they will soon laugh at you."

"I disagree with that policy altogether," said Frank. "Whatever happens they will get tired of you in five or six years. So for five or six years I propose to produce as many plays as I possibly can. I find I've got lots more twaddle-sketches and things half-finished, and scenarios that were invariably returned to me. But they shall be returned to me no longer. Actors and managers are tumbling over each other to get hold of my work. I like seeing them tumble. By the way, there is a point in our agreement I should like to discuss. Akroyd came to me to-day – good Lord, think of Akroyd coming to me, when a few months ago he wouldn't even let me come to him – he came to me with his terrible smile and his amazing clothes and offered me a thousand pounds in advance on account of royalties for a play. He wants to see and approve the bare scenario. Now supposing I accept, and you choose to exercise your option on it, do you get that?"

"Naturally. I have acquired all rights in such a play. I shall also try to make Akroyd give me a little more than that."

"Hell!" said Frank succinctly.

He poured himself out another glass of port as he spoke, and shaking the drop off the lip of the decanter broke his glass and flooded the tablecloth. His action was on the border-land between purpose and accident, and he certainly was not sorry as he looked at the swiftly-spreading stain.

"My port, my tablecloth," he observed.

"And your manners," said Craddock drily.

"Yes, I deserved that. But I didn't really do it on purpose, so, as it was an accident, I'll say I am sorry. No, no more, thanks. But I feel in a better temper you may be pleased to hear. There's nothing so soothing as smashing something, if one doesn't value it oneself. I spent an hour this afternoon at one of the side-shows in the Exhibition, banging wooden balls, seven for sixpence, at a lot of crockery on a shelf. What an ironical affair the world is! When I had hardly enough money to get dinner for myself, nobody ever asked me to dinner, and now that there is no longer any difficulty in paying for my own dinner, everybody wants me to dine at his or her – chiefly her – house. People I have never seen who live in squares, write to me, giving me the choice of a couple of nights! They ask other people I have never seen to meet me. They roar with laughter, whatever I say, or if it obviously isn't funny, they look pensive and say 'How true!' What a great Ass it is!"

"Ah, make the most of that," said Craddock. "A dozen people talking about you will do more for you than a dozen newspapers shouting about you."

"Probably, but I rather like the newspaper shouting. It's so damned funny to think of a lot of grinning compositors ruining their eyesight to set up columns about me. I read your article in the 'Whitehall,' by the way; you didn't spare the adjectives did you? They send interviewers to me, too, with cameras and flash-lights, who fill my room with stinking-smoke, and ask me to tell them about my early days. Hot stuff, some of it. They are nuts on the story of my father throwing the knife at me."

"Did you tell them that?" asked Craddock, feeling rather bruised.

"Certainly. Why should I not? He came to see me this morning himself, rather tipsy, and I told him to go away and come back when he was sober, and I would give him half-a-crown to get drunk on again. There's a commandment, isn't there, about honouring your father. I should like to see a fellow trying to honour mine. It's out of my power."

Frank lit a cigar, and leaned forward with his elbows on the table.

"Success hasn't made me a snivelling sentimentalist," he observed. "Now that I'm on the road to make money – or I shall be when I've got out of your hands – I don't instantly think the world is a garden full of ripe apricots and angels. It's a hard cruel world, same as it always was, and the strong tread on the weak and the clever suck the foolish, as a spider pulls off the leg of a fly and sucks it. I've often watched that. I've been foolish, too, at least I've been hungry, and in consequence you are sucking me. But why should I go slobbering over and blessing my father, who made life hell to me? Or why should I say it's a kind, nice world just because I myself am not cold or hungry any longer? And I'm not a bit sorry for the cold and hungry any more than I was sorry for myself when I was among them. I hated being cold and hungry, it is true, but nobody cared, and I learned to expect that nobody should care unless he could get something out of me, as you have done. All your fine rich people were there while I was starving, and nobody asked me to dinner or treated me to dozens of wooden balls at the exhibition. Now I've shown that I can amuse them for an hour or two after dinner, they think I'm no end of a fine fellow. But I've not changed. I always believed in myself, even when I was hungriest, and not being hungry doesn't make me believe in anything else. No, no more wine, thanks. I'm not going to take after my father. By the way, I met a dear little female Methuselah last night, name of Lady Crowborough, who told me she knew you. I congratulated her, of course."



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