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Craddock had made what is known as a good recovery after the painful operation recorded in the last chapter. He had suffered, it is true, one relapse, when, on giving Lady Crowborough a choice of three nights on which to come to dine with him, he had received a third-person note regretting (without cause assigned) her inability to do so, but it soon became apparent to him that nobody, not even she, had any intention of making the facts of his operation known to the world. And with his recovery there had come to him a certain shame at what he had done. True, that shame was inextricably mixed with another and less worthy kinsman, shame at his detection, but it was there, in its own right, though no doubt detection had been necessary to bring it forth. It had come, anyhow, cowering and crying into the world.
This morning, more especially, his shame grew and throve (even as his recovery grew) when he looked on those three superb canvases before which the whole world was agape. There was little under the sun that he reverenced, but his reverence was always ready to bow the knee before genius, and it seemed to him that of all the "low tricks" that his greed or his selfishness had ever prevailed upon him to accomplish, the lowest of all was when he let fall those little efficacious words about Charles. He had mocked and cheated the owner of the gift that compelled obeisance, the gift to which he, in all his tortuous spinnings, had never failed in homage. Surrounded as these three stars were now, with the smooth dark night, so to speak, of mere talent and more or less misplaced industry, it was easier to judge of their luminous shining, but he did not seek to excuse himself by any assurance of previous hesitation or doubt in his verdict of their quality. He had known from the first, when one summer morning close on a year ago he had stood by Thorley Weir that a star was rising… He felt as if he had been picking Velasquez' pocket.
And yet the temptation at the time had been very acute. Just as there was no mistaking Charles' genius for any second rate quality, so there had been no mistake in his telling himself that he had been in love with Joyce, when he had succeeded, so easily and meanly, for the time, in removing from his path what undoubtedly stood materially in his way. He had cleared the path for himself, so he had hoped, but the path, when cleared, led, so far as he was concerned, nowhere at all, and he might just as well have left it cumbered to his passage and himself encumbered of his monstrous meanness. Joyce still stood impenetrably barred from him, no longer only by the barrier he so rightly had conjectured to be there, but by the fact of his own detection in its attempted removal. But he had accepted the second rejection of himself as final, and since his return from Egypt had forbade himself to dally with the subject of domestic happiness. Consolation of all sorts could be brought to play, like a hose, on a burning place; given time the most awkward wielder of it could not fail to quench the trouble, and – the house of life had many windows into which the sun shone, without risk of provoking internal conflagrations.Only, sometimes, his subtly-decorated and sumptuous flat seemed to him now a little lonely. There was no longer any thought of a girl's presence abiding there, turning it into that strange abode called home, and there came there no longer that eager and divinely-gifted boy, whose growth during this last year had been a thing to love and wonder at. He might have kept him: that at any rate had been in his power. Instead, he had grasped at a little more money, which he did not, except from habit, want, he had lied a little in the hope of entrapping that wild bird, love, and he had gained nothing whatever by it all. A certain morality, born perhaps of nothing higher than experience, had, in consequence, begun to make itself felt in him.
The crowd surged and thickened about him, and he found himself the bureau of a myriad of inquirers. All this last winter and spring London had vaguely heard of this amazing young genius who was going to burst on the world, and Craddock in this room, and Mrs. Fortescue, looking nearly as brilliant as her portrait, in the next, were seized on as fountains of original information. Elsewhere Lady Crowborough, in a large shady hat trimmed with rosebuds and daisies, could give news of her own portrait now approaching completion, and Mr. Ward, who had marked down half a dozen pictures as suitable for his New York Luxembourg, followed, faint but pursuing, wherever he could get news of Craddock having passed that way, to tempt him with fresh offers for the mother portrait. Round that the crowd was thickest, and there, those who could see it were silent. There were no epithets that seemed to be of any use in the presence of that noble simplicity and tenderness. Once in a shrill voice Mr. Ward exclaimed, "Well, he's honoured his mother anyhow!" but even that, though on the right lines, savoured of inadequacy, a fault to which she was mostly a stranger. Or, now and then, a critic would point out the wonderful modelling of the hand, or the high light on the typewriter, or even shrug a fastidious shoulder, and wonder whether the quality of the brush-work was such – But for the greater part, there was not much talking just in front of it. Somehow it lived: to criticise or appreciate was like making personal remarks to its face. It took hold of you: you did not want to talk.
Charles had not intended to appear on this day of private view, but considering how deep and true was the knowledge that his portrait showed of his mother, it was strange that it had not occurred to him that it was absolutely certain that she would insist on going herself and would not dream of considering any escort but his. She called for him in fact, at his studio about twelve, dressed and eager with anticipation, and Charles had the sense not to waste time in expostulation over so pre-ordained a fact, as he now perceived his visit to be, but accepted the inevitable and put on his best clothes, while his mother brushed his hat. It was thus about a quarter to one, when the galleries were most crowded and the ferment over the three portraits was at its highest, that they entered.
Probably until that moment there were scarce fifty people out of all the multitude who knew Charles by sight, scarce five who knew his mother. But even as they went their way up the steps and met the opposing crowd of out-goers, she was aware of eager unusual glances directed at her, she heard little whispered conversations beginning "Why surely" – she knew that people stopped and looked after them as she passed, and all the exultant pride uprose triumphant, and laughing in the sheer joy of its happiness, even as when first she knew she had borne a child. Vague and wild were the conjectures at first, but every chattering group that passed them, recognising suddenly, confirmed it, and from conjecture she passed to knowledge. Why did they all stare at her with her quiet unremarkable face, who always passed about so private and unobserved, unless something had happened to make her thus suddenly recognised and stared at? She cared not at all for the little accesses of shyness and timidity that kept breaking over her, making her sweet pale face flush like a girl's, for all her conscious self was drowned and forgotten in her son, in him who in an hour had caused her face to be famous and familiar. And how she longed that no inkling of this might reach Charles, so that her triumph might be prolonged and magnified, how she encouraged him to consult his catalogue, and tell her who this picture and that was by, fixing his attention by all means in her power on anything rather than the crowds that more and more openly stared and whispered about her. Well she knew that if once he guessed the cause of the whispers and glances, a horror-stricken face and flying coat-tails would be the last she would see of him. For the recognition of her she saw, just led to the recognition of him, and with ears pricked and eager, she could catch the sequels – "That must be he … What a handsome boy … But surely he's so young…" It was sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.
They had passed in through the sculpture-gallery into the third room where, as she knew, her own portrait hung, and with infinite craft, prolonging the time, she had immediately caught sight of something on the opposite wall, that claimed her instant attention. From one picture she passed to another, and furtively saw how dense a crowd was congregated on the other side of the room, and knew what it was that so absorbed them. And Charles was getting interested now in showing her what he had seen on that his first historic varnishing day, and was eager with speech and pointed finger.
"Look at that Sargent," he said, "it makes you hate to look at that sunshine. How on earth does he do it? Isn't it magic? Just blue and yellow, same as we've all got in our paint-boxes. But he sees so splendidly! That's half the battle, seeing – "
This was capital: at this rate her triumph would last all up the long wall, round the top of the room, and nearly half way down the other. Alas, it was already nearly over.
Charles looked up and saw the mass of people round the place where undoubtedly his picture was.
"Let's go and look at you, mother," he said, "as you said you wanted to see it hanging. I say, what a lot of people there are. There's a gorgeous thing of Lavery's hanging next it: it was rather bad luck, that, on me, though it's a miracle getting on to that wall at all. Come across: we'll get that over, and then can enjoy the rest."
They crossed the room and wedged themselves into the inter-shouldered crowd. Very slowly indeed those in front of them cleared away, and at length they stood opposite it. Then as they looked, those round them recognizing her, and making the infallible guess at Charles' identity, stood a little back for them, and still a little more back. Charles, still childlikely unconscious, was intent on his picture's neighbours: his mother knew exactly what was happening, and despite herself felt a gathering dimness in her eyes. In all her tale of unselfish years she had never felt so big with personal pride, into which not one atom of self entered.
"Well, if you've finished looking at yourself, mother dear," said he in rather a high voice.
He turned and horror glazed his eyes. It was quite impossible to mistake what that half-circle of pleasant well-dressed folk were staring at, not the picture's neighbours, not his picture itself this moment.
"For heaven's sake, let's get out of this," he said, blushing furiously. And the knot of people round his picture turned, smiling and pleased at the boy's modesty, and the mother's superb pride.
Charles in his retreat, with his mother in his wake, ran straight into Craddock. This was no great embarrassment, for Craddock had been to the studio not long before: also his mother knew nothing, except that Charles a month ago had been greatly upset in connection with Craddock. She might have guessed more, but Charles had told her no word. And at the moment in his confusion, any known face was a harbour of refuge.
"Hullo, Mr. Craddock," he said, "my mother wanted to come and look at herself. So I brought her. Here she is. What a jolly show."
Craddock made his answer to Mrs. Lathom.
"Are you proud?" he said. "Are you more than proud, satisfied?"
She shook hands with him.
"I am even that," she said. "And what am I to do with this foolish boy?"
"Lead him about, show him to everybody: he has got to get used to it. I expected a great deal myself, but I have yet to get used to this."
Charles' eyes went back to the crowd in front of his picture again.
"What has happened?" he asked. "Is it – do you mean it's a huge success, huge, you know?"
"Walk up and down again with your mother, my dear fellow, and judge."
Charles became wild-eyed again.
"But it's a dream," he said. "It's – oh, Lady Crowborough."
Lady Crowborough was sufficiently moved to recognize Craddock.
"How de do, Mr. Craddock?" she said. "Well, Charles, my dear, you've gone and done it. There ain't an artist here but what's cursing you. There never was such a private view, and I've seen somewhere about eighty of them. Now, I'm going to have my lunch. There's nobody as can say a sensible word this morning all along of your pictures. And don't you forget to be at Paddington in good time to-morrow afternoon for the train down to Thorley. And if you get there before me, lay hold of an empty carriage and put the windows tight up."
Charles was instantly and completely diverted by this new topic.
"Oh, Mr. Wroughton does expect me?" he asked.
"Yes, he told me to tell you. And if you find you're enjoying yourself we'll stop over till Tuesday. I hate those Saturday to Monday things, running away again before you get your boxes unpacked. I daresay you'll find enough to amuse you till Tuesday. You can bring down your paint-box if you want something to occupy you, and make a drawing of me or my maid or Joyce or something."
And with a very broad grin on her face she moved away.
Frank descended next on them.
"Libel-action imminent, Charles," he said, looking firmly at Craddock (this he found inevitable). "I've been standing in front of my portrait for an hour, and listening. Two timid little people come up to it and say 'Good gracious, what a dreadful-looking young man. Who is it? Turn up a hundred and seventy-five, Jane.' 'Sunrise on the Alps! It can't be! Youngest daughter of Lady Jellicoe. No, a hundred and seventy-five! Oh, Mr. Frank Armstrong, is it? Fancy! And we liked "Easter Eggs" so much.' I'll have damages for that sort of thing. You've spoiled my public."
"Lord, if I had wished to libel you," said Charles, "I wouldn't have let you off like that."
"Your mother too," said Frank. "Why, it's the kid seething its mother in its own vitriol. I haven't seen it yet, I was too occupied. Libellous fellow! What does she say to it all?"
Mrs. Lathom turned to him.
"She doesn't say much, Mr. Frank," she said. "But – but she's having rather a happy morning."
"Well, then take me to have a look at you, and I'll take you to have a look at me. After that, Charles' brass band which I've ordered will be ready. 'See the conquering,' you know."
Charles lingered with Craddock.
"Now tell me really," he said, "without chaff I mean, like Lady Crowborough and Frank."
"They have told you really," he said. "If you want it in other words, say that your price for a full-length is a thousand pounds. That's practical, isn't it?"
Charles shook his head.
"But I still don't understand," he said.
Then all the boyish spirits surged high, high too surged all his true artistic ambitions and passions, rising to that splendid point of humility which must always accompany triumphant achievement and its recognition. The utter surprise and the shock of this last quarter of an hour which had unsteadied and bewildered him cleared away: what had happened began to be real.
"But what gorgeous fun!" he cried. "And how I must work. There's everything to learn yet."
Craddock wondered whether he would find at Thorley that which should be the centre and the sun of his wakening. Almost he hoped that he would, for so radiant a completeness burned envy away, or at the most left a little negligible dross. Joyce a centre sun, loving and loved, and her lover this splendid star… With that inspiring bliss what was there that this young hand and eager eye might not see and accomplish. The love of a son for his mother, the comradeship of a friend, the mere presence of a pretty woman, a brother's well-made limbs in act to spring, had been sufficient to bring forth the work of just one astounding year. What when the love-light of man and woman flashed back and forth between him and the exquisite girl down by the riverside? Might that not open a new chapter in the history and records of the beautiful? It did not seem to him an outrageous fantasy to imagine that the possibility was a real one.
It was seldom that those who were to travel with Lady Crowborough were privileged to reach the appointed station before her arrival; for no amount of contrary experience convinced her that trains were not capable of starting half an hour or so before their appointed times. Also she liked to get a carriage to herself, and dispose on all available seats so enormous a quantity of books, parasols, cloaks, rugs and handbags, that the question whether all these seats were taken could scarcely be ventured on, so heavily and potently were they occupied. Consequently on the next afternoon Charles found her already in possession, with the windows tightly shut, and a perfect bale of morning and evening papers by her. She had bought in fact a copy of every paper published that day, as far as she could ascertain, with the object of utterly overwhelming Philip with all the first notices of the Academy, in order to impress him as by a demonstration in force, with Charles' immensity. She had attempted to read some of these herself, but being unused to artistic jargon, had made very little of them. Still there could be no doubt as to what they meant to convey.
"That's right, my dear," she said as he appeared, "and jump in quick, for though there's time yet, you never can tell when they won't slide you out of the station. Clear a place for yourself, and then we'll both sit and look out of the window, and they'll take us for a couple on their honeymoon, and not dream of coming in, if they've any sense of what's right. And when we've started you can read all about yourself, and it's likely you'll find a lot you didn't know before. I can't make head or tail of it all: they talk of keys of colour and tones and what not, as if you'd been writing a bundle of music. And leit-motif: what's a leit-motif? They'll say your pictures are nothing but a lot of accidentals next. Chords and harmonies indeed, as if you'd put a musical-box in the frames. There's that Craddock got a column and a half about your keys and what not. But I was so pleased yesterday I had to pass the time of day with him."
"But what have you bought all these papers for?" asked Charles. "Oh, yes: here's Craddock."
"Don't you mind him. Why to let Philip see what they all think of you. But that's my affair, my dear. I'm going to stuff them under his nose one after the other. You'll see. And there we are off. Now don't expect me to talk in the train. You just read about yourself, and if you see me nodding, let me nod. There's half an hour yet before we need be thinking of putting my things together."
Great heat had come with the opening of May, and spring was riotous in field and hedgerow, with glory of early blossom and valour of young leafage. All this last month Charles had been town-tied among the unchanging bloomlessness of brick and stone and pavement – it had scarcely seemed to him that winter was overpast, and the time for buds and birds had come. Already on the lawn by the water-side the summer-batswing tent had been set up, and across the grass Joyce and the unbrothered Huz came to meet them, with a smile and a tail of welcome. A faint smell of eucalyptus had been apparent as they passed through the house and Lady Crowborough drew an unerring conclusion.
"Well, Joyce, my dear, here we are," she said, "and I won't ask after your father because I'll bet that he has got a cold. I smelt his stuff the moment I set foot in the house."
"Yes, darling grannie," said Joyce, "but it's not very bad. He's really more afraid of having one than – than it. How are you, Mr. Lathom?"
Lady Crowborough's maid was standing a little way behind, looking like Tweedledum prepared for battle, so encompassed was she by a mass of miscellaneous objects. Prominent among them was the file of to-day's papers.
"You'll find out how he is, my dear," said Lady Crowborough, "when you've dipped into that little lot. He's just a grand piano of keys and harmonies."
"Ah, I read the notice in the 'Daily Review,'" said Joyce. "I was so pleased. I long to see your pictures."
"Well, then, you'll have to wait your turn, my dear," said Lady Crowborough. "We all took our turns like a peep-show. Drat that dog; he's always licking my hand. Now take me and give me my tea at once, and then he'll get something else to lick. Are we to see your father?"
"Yes, he's coming down to dinner, if he feels up to it. Shall we have tea in the tent?"
"Well, it ain't so cold for the country!" said Lady Crowborough, as if the Arctic region began at the four mile radius.
"It's broiling, Grannie. And do you want quite all those cushions and wraps? They'll hardly go into the tent."
"Yes, I want them every one. And I want my tea after my journey. Go back to the house, Charles, my dear, and tell them to bring it out."
She waited till Charles had passed beyond earshot on his errand. "Now, Joyce," she said, "I don't want to see any fiddle-faddling between that boy and you, and talking about the moon and the stars and Mr. Browning's poetry and what not, as if that had anything to do with it."
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