Friends I Have Made
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УСChut!Т I ejaculated, cooling on the instant. СI beg your pardon. Sit down, sir, sit down. YouТre hungry, of course. How stupid of me!†Ц Cobweb, my dear, order some lunch into the dining-room.Т
УHe smiled, returned the pressure of my hand in a frank, honest way that I liked, and then looked after my darling in a way that I did not like; for this was not what I meant, and my jealousy was aroused. I expected some snuffy-looking old painter, not a grave handsome young fellow. But I remembered Tom SmithТs words Ц СHe is a gentleman, and a man of honourТ Ц and casting away my suspicious thoughts, I entered into the subject at once.
УСIТd half forgotten it,Т I said. СSheТll make a good picture, eh?Т
УСAdmirable, sir. That position struck me at once as I entered.Т
УСIТll show you a better one than that, my boy,Т I chuckled. СBut IТm a business man: whatТs your figure Ц the price, eh?Т
УHe hesitated, and his lip quivered as he said Ч
УСWould Ц fifteen guineas be too much?Т
УСFifteen!Т I said.
УСI should take great pains with it Ц it will be a long task,Т he said eagerly; and there was trouble in the wrinkles of his forehead. СBut if you think it too much Ц Т
УСI think it an absurd price, sir,Т I said testily, for Smith had said he was very poor. СWhy, my friend Wilson gave four hundred for a bit of a scrap of canvas Ц Т
УСBy a very clever artist, sir,Т he said, with a grave smile.
УСLook here,Т I said, СMr Ц Mr Ц Grantly. You make a good picture of it, and IТll give you fifty guineas.Т
УHe flushed, and look pained.
УСLess than half would pay me well, sir,Т he said.
УСTut, tut! stuff man! Smith told me you were poor and hard up. You always will be if you are not more of a man of business.Т
УСSir!Т he exclaimed, rising and looking at me angrily, СI came here expecting the treatment Ц Т
УHe stopped short, reeled, sank into his chair, and covered his face with his hands.
УСMy dear sir Ц I Ц really Ц I Ц I didnТt mean Ц Т
УI stammered, perspiring at every pore, for the position was most painful.
УСNo, no,Т he said hastily, СI beg your pardon. But Ц but,Т he continued, striving manfully to master his emotion, СI have been very ill, sir, and I am weak. I have been unfortunate Ц almost starving at times. I have not broken bread since yesterday morning Ц I could not without selling my colours. I Ц I am much obliged Ц forgive me Ц let me go back to town. Oh, my God! has it come to this?Т
УHe sank back half fainting, but started as I roared out, СGo away!Т for Cobweb was coming into the room.
УСThank you,Т he said, softly as he saw what I had done. СIt was kind of you.Т
УСMy dear fellow,Т I said, Сthis is terrible;Т and I mopped my face. СThere, sit still Ц back directly.Т
УI ran out to find Cobweb in the hall.
УСOh, you dear, good father!Т she cried, with tears in her eyes. СWhat a kind surprise! But is anything wrong?Т
УСArtist little faint,Т I said.СHere, the sherry Ц biscuits. Stop away a bit.Т
УI ran back with them, and made him take some wine; and, thus revived, he rose and thanked me.
УСWhat are you going to do?Т I said, staring.
УСIТm going back to town, sir,Т he said quietly, but with his lower lip trembling. СI am not fit to undertake the task. I thank you, but it is too late. I am not well.Т
УI looked at him with business eyes, and in that brief glance, as in a revelation, I saw the struggles of a poor proud man of genius, who could not battle with the world. I saw the man who had sold, bit by bit, everything he owned, in his struggle for daily bread; and as I looked at him I felt ashamed that I should be so rich, and fat, and well.
УСMr Grantly,Т I said, offering my hand, СI am a rough man, and spoiled by bullying people, and having my own way. I beg your pardon for what I have said, and am going to say. You came down here, sir, to paint my little girlТs portrait, and you are going to paint it before you go back to town; and when you do go, you are going to have fifty guineas in your pocket. Hush! not a word, sir. My old friend Tom Smith told me that you were a gentleman and a man of honour. Tom Smith is never deceived. Now, sir, please come into the dining-room and have some lunch. Not a word, please. If good food wonТt bring you round, you shall have the doctor; for, as the police say,Т I continued, laughing, СyouТre my prisoner Ц but on parole.Т
УHe tried to speak, but could not, and turned away.
УСAll right,Т I said, Сall right;Т and I patted him on the shoulder, and walked away to the window for a few minutes before I turned back to find him more composed.
УThat afternoon we all three went out into the wood, and I made Cobweb stand as I had seen her on that day.
УGrantly was delighted, and insisted upon making a sketch at once; and then the days wore on, with the painting progressing slowly, but in a way that was a wonder to me, so exquisite was every touch, for the artistТs whole soul was in his work.
УThose were delightful days, but there was a storm coming. I quite took to the young fellow, though, and by degrees heard from him his whole story Ц how, young and eager, he had, five years before, come to town to improve in his art, and how bitter had been his struggle, till, just before he had encountered Smith, he had been really, literally dying of sickness and want.
УIt was a happy time, that, for when the painting was over for the morning we gardened, or strolled in the country Ц our new friend being an accomplished botanist, and a lover of every object that we saw. I used to wonder how he had learned so much, and found time to paint as well.
УI say it was a happy time for the first three weeks, and then there were clouds.
УCobweb was changed. I knew it but too well. I could see it day by day. Grantly was growing distant too, and strange, and my suspicions grew hour by hour, till I was only kept from breaking out by the recollection of Tom SmithТs words Ц СHe is a gentleman and a man of honour.Т
УСTom Smith never was wrong,Т I said one morning, as I sat alone, Сand for a man like that, after my kindness, to take advantage of his position to win that girlТs love from me, would be the act of the greatest scoun Ц Т
УСMay I come in, Mr Burrows?Т said the voice of the man of whom I was thinking.
УСYes, come in,Т I said; and there we stood looking in one anotherТs eyes.
УСHeТs come to speak to me,Т I said, and my heart grew very hard, but I concealed my feelings till he spoke, and then I was astounded.
УСMr Burrows,Т he said, СIТve come to say good-bye.Т
УСGood-bye!Т I said.
УСYes, sir: good-bye. I have wakened from a dream of happiness to a sense of misery of which I cannot speak. Let me be brief, sir, and tell you that I shall never forget your kindness.Т
УСBut you havenТt finished the picture.Т
УСNo, sir, and never shall,Т he said bitterly. СMr Burrows, I cannot stay. I Ц that is Ц I need not be ashamed to own it, I love your child with all my heart.Т
УСI knew it,Т I said bitterly.
УСAnd you think I have imposed on your kindness. No, sir, I have not, for I have never shown by word or look Ц Т
УСNo, you scoundrel,Т I said to myself, Сbut she knows it all the same.Т
УСAnd, sir, such a dream as mine could never be fulfilled Ц it is impossible.Т
УСYes,Т I said, in a cold hard voice, Сit is impossible.Т
УСGod bless you, sir! Good-bye.Т
УСYou will not say good-bye to her?Т I said harshly.
УHe shook his head, and as I stood there, hard, selfish, and jealous of him, I saw him go down the path, and breathed more freely, for he was gone.
УGone, but there was a shadow on my home. Cobweb said not a word, and expressed no surprise, never even referring to the picture, but went about the house slowly, drooping day after day, month after month, till the summer time came round again, and I knew that in my jealous selfishness I was breaking her young heart.
УShe never complained, and was as loving as ever; but my little Cobweb was broken, and the tears spangled it like dew whenever it was alone.
УIt was as nearly as could be a year after, that I, feeling ten years older, went to seek her one afternoon, and found her as I expected, in the little wood, standing dreamy and sad in her old position leaning upon the tree, listening to no bird-song now, but with a far-off longing look in her eyes, that swept away the last selfish thought from my heart.
УI did not let her see me, but went straight up to SmithТs, learned what I wanted, and a short time after I was in a handsome studio in Saint JohnТs Wood, staring at the finished picture of my child Ц painted, of course, from memory Ц framed, against the wall.
УAs I stood there, I heard the door open, and turning stood face to face with Grantly.
УWe looked in each otherТs eyes for a few moments without speaking, and then in a trembling, broken voice, I said Ч
УСGrantly, IТve come as a beggar now. My poor darling Ц God forgive me!†Ц IТve broken her heart!Т
УIt was my turn to sit down, trembling and weak, while my dear boy tried to comfort me Ц telling me too with pride how he had worked and become famous, and in a few more months had meant to come down and ask my consent.
УBut there, IТm mixing it up. Of course he told me that as we were rushing along, having just had time to catch the express; and on reaching the station there was no conveyance, and we had to walk.
УThat scoundrel would not wait, but ran on without me, and when I got there, panting and hot, I found my darlingТs heart was mended with all of that belonging to the man from whose arms she ran to hide her rosy blushes on my breast.
УIТm not the selfish old fellow that I was about Cobweb, for there, in the old place, where theyТve let me stay with them, I pass my time with those two flossy-haired little tyrants, Cobweb the Second, and the Spider, as we call little Frank.
УAh! Miss Stoneleigh, itТs a funny thing this love. YouТve been lucky. As for me, I bring up a sweet girl, whom I love with all my heart, and soon learn that she is not mine, for the first fellow that comes down and pretends that he loves her, itТs СSnip!Т says one СSnap!Т says the other; the old fatherТs nowhere, and his darlingТs gone.Ф
УLeaving him a miserable, unhappy man for life,Ф I said quietly; while he stared at me as if he could not understand my drift,†Ц Уone who takes no pleasure in his daughterТs new-born happiness; in his new sonТs pride in his sweet young wife; and who, above all, utterly detests his little grandchildren.Ф
УNo; IТm blest if he does,Ф he cried warmly; Уfor of all the pretty little flossy-haired tyrants that ever made a poor old fellow do as they like, theyТre about the worst. I say, do come down, Miss Stoneleigh. I want you to hear little Cobweb sing СButtercups and Daisies.Т ItТs fine, maТam Ц itТs fine!Ф
УIТll come down, Mr Burrows,Ф I said, with a dreamy feeling of restfulness coming over me as I pictured myself again in the pretty rustic home amidst the sweet scenes and heaven-born sights of the country. How true, indeed, are those words, that man made the town, but God made the country! I often think of the words of a pale, sallow, thin girl I met once at a friendТs. She turned upon me quite in surprise as I said I should prefer living always in the country.
УOh, really!Ф she exclaimed, in a pitiful tone. УThe country is so dreadfully slow. I never know how people can manage to exist there.Ф
УAnd yet,Ф I thought, Уthey do, and are happier and healthier amidst its innocent pleasures. They miss concert, ball, and party, but they see such sights as are never dreamed of in town. I could enumerate many, but there is no need.Ф
Mr Burrows rose and left me, promising to call for me later on, and I spent a fortnight in the pleasant country home, to come back refreshed and ready for my old task of trying to help and comfort those amongst whom I may be thrown. Sadness comes over me at times when I think of the past, but I chase the gloomy feelings away, telling myself that I am ungrateful for the calm and peaceful life it has been my fate to lead. Friends I have many, and the more I may be with the humble people of our great city, the more I find beneath the hard crust grown upon them in their rough contest with the world, how many good and generous feelings exist. I have noted that if a beggar, with a piteous tale of woe or a mournful ballad, wishes to make money, it is not sought for amongst the homes of the wealthy, but from the hard toiling poor; and, what is more, I have seen that the surest blows that are struck at the vices and miseries that exist, are those which aim at giving the thronging thousands of our denser places better homes. There can be no doubt that much of the moral as well as physical disease that disgraces our great city is caused by overcrowding, and every step taken to give low-priced wholesome dwellings, does more to ameliorate these plagues than even education and the spread of knowledge.
I think as one who has mingled with the poorer classes day by day, and though my experience may not be great, surely it is of some little value Ц contains some germs of truth.
And now my pleasant task is ended Ц a pleasant one indeed; for it has served to bring up recollections of scenes Ц some sad, some tinged with happiness; and as I have placed scene and word on paper, I have been once more amongst the speakers, and stood with them in their homes. If the reader can only realise these scenes, fancy he hears the speeches one-tenth part as vividly as I, my task will not have been without its reward.
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