Edward Benson.

Thorley Weir



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Charles received them at the edge of his domain, ankle-deep in forget-me-nots, and conducted them a distance of three yards to the shadow of his tent where tea was spread. There were two deck-chairs for the visitors, the box of provisions with a handkerchief on the top for table, and a small piece of board for himself. He had pinned up against the tent side two or three of his sketches, and his sole tumbler stood by the tea things with a bunch of forget-me-nots on it. He made no apologetic speeches of any description about the rudimentary nature of the entertainment, because he was aware that he had nothing else to offer them. Besides the tea was strong, and there was a pot of strawberry jam.

"Joyce'll be saying she must live in a tent, too," remarked Lady Crowborough withdrawing her veil. "Upon my word, Mr. Lathom, I like your dining-room very much. That thicket behind cuts the beastly wind off. That's the colour I like to see tea."

"It's been standing a quarter of an hour, Lady Crowborough," said Charles with his respectful glance. "Are you sure it's not a little – well – a little thick?"

"Not a bit – Joyce and you may add water to yours if you like. And are those sketches yours? They seem very nice, though I don't know a picture from a statue."

She looked at them more closely.

"And has Joyce been sitting to you already?" she asked, in a tremor of delight. (They had been sly about it!)

The ingenious Charles looked mightily surprised.

"Oh, that?" he said, following her glance. "That's only a little water-colour sketch I did of the head of the Reynolds picture. But it is like Miss Wroughton, isn't it?"

It was indeed: so for that matter was the Reynolds.

Lady Crowborough was a little disappointed that Joyce hadn't been giving clandestine sittings, but she knew as well as Charles himself that he had executed this admirable little sketch with Joyce, so to speak, at his finger-tip, and not her great-great-grandmother, and her new flirt rose higher than ever in her estimation.

"And when will you have finished your copying?" she asked.

Here again Charles did not fail.

"I can't possibly tell," he said. "When I came down I imagined it would take a week or ten days, if I worked very hard. But I see how utterly impossible it will be to do it in anything like that time. But it's lovely work. I don't care how long it takes."

"Bless me, how sick and tired you'll get of it," said she.

"Not if you'll come and have tea with me, Lady Crowborough," said this plausible young man.

Lady Crowborough grinned all over: she knew just how much this was worth, but she liked it being said.

"Well, anyhow this American, Mr. Ward, is quick enough about his part of the bargain," she said. "My son received his cheque this morning, sent by your friend Mr. Craddock, Joyce, my dear. Five thousand pounds! There's a sum of money!"

Charles paused a moment, some remembrance of an American and a cheque for ?5000 stirred in his brain, without his being able to establish the connection.

"What? Has he got it for five thousand pounds?" he asked.

"Yes: plenty, too, I should say, for a bit of canvas and a lick or two of paint on it.

I'm sure when you have finished his copy none of us would be able to tell the one from the other. Isn't five thousand pounds a good enough price, Mr. Lathom?"

"Well, it's a very good picture," said Charles.

Joyce was watching him, and saw the surprise in his face.

"Why did Mr. Craddock send father the cheque?" she asked.

"Lord, my dear, I don't know," said Lady Crowborough. "Cheques and Bradshaws are what I shall never understand. I suppose it was what my bankers call drawn to Mr. Craddock. His name was on the back of it anyhow. Whenever I get a cheque, which is once every fifty years, I send it straight to my bank, and ask them what's to be done next, and it always ends in my writing my name somewhere to show it is mine, I suppose. But as for Bradshaw, it's a sealed book to me, and I send my maid to the station always to find out."

Suddenly Charles remembered all about this American and the cheque for five thousand pounds, and the slight film of puzzle, uncertainty, though nothing approaching suspicion, rolled off his mind again. Reggie a week ago had mentioned the drawing of this post-dated cheque at Thistleton's Gallery. It was all quite clear. But undoubtedly this Mr. Ward had obtained his picture at a very reasonable figure. Then, as if to abjure what had never been in his mind, he spoke, not more warmly than his heart felt, about Craddock.

"Mr. Craddock has been tremendously good to me," he said. "It's scarcely a week ago that he first saw me, when I was painting here one afternoon, and you brought him by in the punt, Miss Wroughton. The very next day he bought my picture off my easel – "

"Well, I hope he gave you five thousand for it, too," said Lady Crowborough.

Charles beamed at her: she had finished her second cup of positively oily tea, and was smoking a cigarette with an expression of extreme satisfaction.

"He did more for me than that, Lady Crowborough," he said, "he gave me a chance, a start. Then he came to see my studio, and gave me the commission to paint this copy. And then – "

Charles' simple soul found it hard to be silent, but he remembered Craddock's parting admonition.

"And then, my dear?" asked Lady Crowborough.

"Then he's made me feel he believes in me," he said. "That's a lot, you know, when nobody has ever cared two straws before. By Jove, yes, I owe him everything."

Certainly her new flirt was a charming young fellow, and Lady Crowborough saw that Joyce approved no less than she. She felt he was probably extremely unwise and inexperienced, and would have bet her veil, and gone back veilless, the prey of the freckling sun, that Craddock had made some shrewd bargain of his own. It was now time for her flirt to have an innings with Joyce. She was prepared to cast all the duties of a chaperon to the winds, and inconvenience herself as well in order to secure this.

"Well, I've enjoyed my tea and my cigarette," she said, "and all I've not enjoyed is Joyce's punt. I shouldn't wonder if it leaked, and the gnats on the river were something awful. They get underneath my veil and tickle my nose, and I shall walk home across the fields, and leave you to bring the punt back, my dear. And if you've got a spark of good feeling, Joyce, you'll help Mr. Lathom wash up our tea things first."

And this wicked old lady marched off without another word.

Joyce and Charles were left alone, looking exactly like a young god and goddess meeting without intention or scheme of their own, in some green-herbaged riverside in the morning of the world. They did the obvious instinctive thing and laughed.

"Everyone does what darling Grannie tells them," said Joyce, "so we had better begin. The only suggestion I make is that I wash up, because I'm sure I do it better than you, and you sit down and sketch the while, because I shouldn't wonder if you do it better than me."

"But I wash up beautifully," said Charles.

"I think not. There was egg on my tea-spoon."

"I'm sorry. Was that why you didn't take sugar?"

"Yes."

"Have some now by itself?" said he.

"I think I won't. Where's a tea-cloth?" Charles wrinkled his brows.

"They dry in the sun," he said. "We thread them, tea-cups that is, on to the briar-rose."

"And the plates? Do begin sketching."

"They dry also. They are placed anywhere. But one tries not to forget where anywhere is. Otherwise they get stepped on."

Charles plucked down the Reynolds head from the tent wall.

"I began it from the picture," he said, "but may I finish it from you? If you wash up by the forget-me-nots, and I sit in the punt, at the far end, I can do it. Oh, how is Buz to-day? He didn't come up to the nursery."

She neither gave nor withheld permission to finish the head in the way he suggested, but her eyes grew troubled as she emptied the teapot into the edge of the water. It was choked with tea-leaves, gorged, replete with them. He picked up his water-colour box, and climbed out to the cushions of the punt.

"Buz isn't a bit well," she said. "I've sent for the vet to come again to-morrow. Oh, isn't it dreadful when animals are ill? They don't understand: they can't make out why one doesn't help them. Buz has always come to me for everything, like burrs in his coat and thorns in his feet, and he can't make out why I don't pick his pain out of him."

"Sorry," said Charles, scooping some water out of the river in his water-tin, but looking at her. Their eyes met, with the frankness, you would say, of children who liked one another. But for all the frankness, only a few seconds had passed before, the unwritten law, that a boy may look at a girl a shade longer than a girl may look at a boy, prevailed, and Joyce bent over the tea-cups. She was not the less sorry for Buz, but … but there were other things in the world, too.

"I know you're sorry," she said, "and so does Buz, and we both think it nice of you. And how long really do you think your copy will take? And what will you do if the weather becomes odious?"

"I shall get a cold in my head," said Charles, drawing his brush to a fine point, by putting it between his lips.

Joyce looked at him with horror.

"Oh, don't put the brush in your mouth!" she said. "They always used to stop my doing it at the drawing-school. Some of the paints are deadly poison."

"Oh, do you paint?" said Charles. "You ought to have painted and I to have washed up – please stop still for a moment, exactly like that. So sorry, but I shan't be a minute. Damn!"

An unfortunate movement of his elbow jerked his straw hat which was lying by him into the Thames: it caught and pirouetted for a moment on am eddy of water, and then hurried gladsomely down-stream.

"But your hat?" said Joyce in a strangled whisper, as if, being forbidden to move, she must not speak.

"I'm afraid I've already said what I had to say about that," said Charles. "Just one second."

He worked eagerly and intensely with concentrated vision and effort of its realization for half a minute. Then again he used that forbidden receptacle for paint-brushes, and dragged off the excessive moisture from his wash.

"Now I'll get it while that dries," he said.

He picked up the punt-pole and ran down the edge of the bank to recapture his hat. But it had floated out into mid-stream and his pursuit was fruitless.

"And it looked quite new," said Joyce reproachfully, on his return. "I'm afraid you are extravagant."

"Just the other way round. It would have been false economy to have saved my hat – price half-a-crown, and have risked losing the – the sight I got of you just for that minute while my hat started voyaging. But now," he said, gleefully washing out his brushes – "now that I've got you, let the great river take it to the main."

He made the quotation simply in the bubble of high spirits, not thinking of the context, nor of the concluding and following line, "No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield." But instantaneously the sequel occurred to him – for the words were set to a tune which he very imperfectly sang with his light tenor, and accompanied on his banjo.

"You talk of too many things in one breath, Mr. Lathom," said Joyce. "You said if the weather broke you would catch cold here, so of course you must go to the inn in the village, if it rains. Men have no sense: I believe you would stick on here, while you get congestion and inflammation and pneumonia. Then you asked me if I painted, and I may tell you I don't. I used to try: if I have any sketches left the sight of them would convince you of the truth of what I say."

Charles' art and heart tugged for his whole attention. For another minute he was silent and absorbed.

"Quite done," he said. "Thank you so much, Miss Wroughton."

Charles looked at her, and all thought of his art passed from him. She was entrancing, and he suddenly woke to the fact that in the last quarter of an hour they had made friends.

He came towards her, stripping the sketch off its block.

"Do let me give it you," he said rather shyly. "You see, I shall enjoy the fruits of your labour, as I shan't have to wash up. It's only fair that you should have the fruits of mine – at least if you would care for them at all."

She could not but take in her hand the sketch not yet dry which he held out to her, and looking at it, she could not but care. Never was there anything more admirably simple, never had an impression been more breezily recorded. There was no attempt at making a picture of it; there were spaces unfilled in, a mere daub of hard edged blue in the middle of the sky was sufficient note to indicate sky: the weir was a brown blob, and a brown blot of reflection and a splash of grey, as if the brush had spluttered like a cross-nibbed pen, showed where the water broke below. Against it came the triumphant painting of a head, her own on the head in the Reynolds picture, but so careful, so delicate – and for the rest of her there was a wash of stained blue for her dress; a patch of body colour, careless apparently, but curiously like a tea-cup against it. At her feet was a scrabble of blue lighter than her dress, but none could doubt that this meant forget-me-nots … they were like that, though the scrabble of pale blue seemed so fortuitous. Probably Charles never painted more magically than in those ten minutes, even when the magic of his brush had become a phrase in art criticism, a clich?. There was all that a man can have to inspire it there, and the inspiration had all the potential energy of the bud of some great rose. It had the power of the full blossom still folded in it, the energy of the coiled spring, the inimitable vigour of a young man's opening blossom of love.

It was no wonder that she paused when he handed it to her. Her own face, her own slim body and gesture, as he saw her, leaped at her from the sketch, and she thrilled to think, "Is that what he sees in me?" No array of compliments, subtly worded, brilliantly spoken, could have told her so much of his mind. It was an exquisite maiden that he saw, and that was she. She could not but see how exquisite he thought her: she could not fail to glow inwardly, secretly, at his view of her. Those few minutes' work, at the cost of the straw hat, came as a revelation to her. He showed her herself, or at least, he showed her how he saw her. The insatiable and heaven-born love of all girls to be admired shot in flame through her. Now that she saw his sketch, she knew that she had longed for that tribute from a man, though till now she had been utterly unconscious of any such longing. Mr. Craddock when he proposed to her lacked all spark of such a flame; had even he but smouldered – She knew she was loved. That in itself seemed almost terrifyingly sufficient. She let herself droop and lie on it, on the thought of it … it was transcendent in its significance.

Her scrutiny lasted but a moment. Then from the sketch she looked back to Charles again, him who had seen her like that… And had she possessed his skill of brush, and could have painted him, there would have been something in her sketch, as in his, of the glimmering light that trembles high in the zenith when the day of love is dawning. Back and forth between them ran the preluding tremor, a hint, a warning of the fire that should one day break into full blaze, fed by each; but to the girl, at present, it was but remotely felt, and its origin scarcely guessed at. To him the tremor was more vibrant, and its source less obscure; the waters were already beginning to well out from their secret spring, and he beginning to thirst for them.

The moment had been grave, but immediately her smile broke on to it.

"Oh, that is kind of you," she said. "I shall love to have the sketch. And I retract: it was worth a lot of straw hats to do that. Perhaps you have not even lost one. I may overtake it on its mad career as I go back home. I will rescue it for you, if I come across it, and give it first aid. I must be getting back now. Thank you ever so much for the delicious tea, and the delicious sketch. You will be at work again, I suppose, to-morrow morning?"

Such was the history of the two days, which Charles revolved within him that evening, after he had eaten his supper and sat out by the water-side, unwitting of the dusky crimson in the west, and the outpouring weir. Things fairer and more heart-holding than these absorbed and dominated his consciousness.

Day by day his copy of this wonderful Reynolds wonderfully grew beneath the deftness and certainty of his brush. Though he had said that it would take much longer than he had originally contemplated, he found that he was progressing with amazing speed, and though he would gladly have worked more slowly and less industriously so as to lengthen out the tale of these beautiful days, it seemed to be out of his power to keep back his hand. He was dragged along, as it were, by the gloriously-galloping steeds of his own supreme gift: once in the room opposite the portrait, he could no more keep his fingers off his brush, or his brushes off his canvas, than could a drunkard refrain, alone with his cork-drawn intoxicants. Nor could he, for another and perhaps more potent reason, keep away from the house where the picture was, or after a reasonable morning's work lounge away the afternoon on the river. By cords he was drawn to the Mill House, for there was the chance (of not infrequent fulfilment) of meeting Joyce: and then he had to go to his extemporized studio, and the other frenzy possessed him.

But poor Buz had no pleasures in these days and as they went by the old dog grew steadily worse. He was a constant occupant of the sofa, where he had established himself on the first morning of Charles' occupation, and if he was not, as was generally the case, in his place when Charles arrived of a morning, it was never long before there came at the door the request for admittance, daily feebler and more hesitating. Charles had to help him to his couch now, for he was too weak to climb up by himself, but he always managed a tap or two with his tail in acknowledgment of such assistance, and gave him long despairing glances out of dulled topaz eyes, that expressed his dumb bewilderment at his own suffering, the abandonment of his dismay that nobody could help him. Once, on entering, Charles found Joyce kneeling by the sofa, crying quietly. She got up when he entered, and openly wiped her eyes.

"I'm so glad you don't think me silly," she said, "for I feel sure you don't. Other people would say, as darling Grannie does, 'It's only a dog.' Only! What more do you want?"

Charles laid a comforting hand on Buz's head, and stroked his ears.

"I could easily cry, too," he said, "for helplessness, and because we can't make him understand that we would help if we possibly could. What did the vet say yesterday?"

Joyce shook her head.

"There's no hope," she said. "There would have to be an operation anyhow, and probably he would die under it. He wouldn't get over it altogether in any case. He's too old. Mr. Gray told me I had much better have him killed, but I can't bear it. I know I ought to, but I am such a beastly coward. He sent a bottle and a syringe this morning. There it is on the chimney-piece. I can't bear that the groom or coachman should do it, or the vet. And I can't do it myself, though it's just the only thing that I could do for poor darling Buz."

Charles turned from the dog to her.

"Let me do it, Miss Wroughton," he said. "I know what you mean. You can't bear that a stranger like a coachman should do it. But Buz always liked me, you know, and rather trusted me. You mean that, don't you?"

Joyce gave a great sigh.

"Yes, oh, just that," she said. "How well you understand! But would you really do it for me?"

Charles went across to the chimney-piece, and looked at what the vet had sent.

"Yes, it's perfectly simple," he said. "I see what it is. I did it for a dog of my own once. It's quite instantaneous: he won't feel anything."

"And when?" said Joyce piteously, as if demanding a respite.

"I think now," said Charles. "He's dying: he won't know anything."

Joyce bit her lip, but nodded to him. Then she bent down over the sofa once more, and kissed Buz on his nose, and on the top of his head. Then without looking at Charles again she went out of the room.

This aroused Buz, but before many minutes were past he had dozed off again. Then Charles filled the little syringe, wiped the end of it, so that the bitterness should not startle him, and gently pushing back the loose-skinned corner of his lip he inserted the nozzle, and discharged it. A little shiver went through the dog, and he stretched out his legs, and then moved no more at all.

Charles went to the door, and found Joyce standing outside.

"It's all over," he said. "Buz felt nothing whatever."

Joyce was not up to speaking, but she took his hand between both of hers, pressing it.



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