George Fenn.

Friends I Have Made

Chut! I ejaculated, cooling on the instant. I beg your pardon. Sit down, sir, sit down. Youre hungry, of course. How stupid of me! Cobweb, my dear, order some lunch into the dining-room.

He 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 Smiths words He is a gentleman, and a man of honour and casting away my suspicious thoughts, I entered into the subject at once.

Id half forgotten it, I said. Shell make a good picture, eh?

Admirable, sir. That position struck me at once as I entered.

Ill show you a better one than that, my boy, I chuckled. But Im a business man: whats your figure the price, eh?

He hesitated, and his lip quivered as he said

Would fifteen guineas be too much?

Fifteen! I said.

I should take great pains with it it will be a long task, he said eagerly; and there was trouble in the wrinkles of his forehead. But if you think it too much

I think it an absurd price, sir, I said testily, for Smith had said he was very poor. Why, my friend Wilson gave four hundred for a bit of a scrap of canvas

By a very clever artist, sir, he said, with a grave smile.

Look here, I said, Mr Mr Grantly. You make a good picture of it, and Ill give you fifty guineas.

He flushed, and look pained.

Less than half would pay me well, sir, he said.

Tut, 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.

Sir! he exclaimed, rising and looking at me angrily, I came here expecting the treatment

He stopped short, reeled, sank into his chair, and covered his face with his hands.

My dear sir I really I I didnt mean

I stammered, perspiring at every pore, for the position was most painful.

No, no, he said hastily, I beg your pardon. But but, he continued, striving manfully to master his emotion, I have been very ill, sir, and I am weak. I have been unfortunate almost starving at times. I have not broken bread since yesterday morning I could not without selling my colours. I I am much obliged forgive me let me go back to town. Oh, my God! has it come to this?

He sank back half fainting, but started as I roared out, Go away! for Cobweb was coming into the room.

Thank you, he said, softly as he saw what I had done. It was kind of you.

My dear fellow, I said, this is terrible; and I mopped my face. There, sit still back directly.

I ran out to find Cobweb in the hall.

Oh, you dear, good father! she cried, with tears in her eyes. What a kind surprise! But is anything wrong?

Artist little faint, I said.

Here, the sherry biscuits. Stop away a bit.

I ran back with them, and made him take some wine; and, thus revived, he rose and thanked me.

What are you going to do? I said, staring.

Im going back to town, sir, he said quietly, but with his lower lip trembling. I am not fit to undertake the task. I thank you, but it is too late. I am not well.

I 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.

Mr Grantly, I said, offering my hand, I 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 girls 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 wont bring you round, you shall have the doctor; for, as the police say, I continued, laughing, youre my prisoner but on parole.

He tried to speak, but could not, and turned away.

All right, I said, all right; 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.

That afternoon we all three went out into the wood, and I made Cobweb stand as I had seen her on that day.

Grantly 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 artists whole soul was in his work.

Those 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 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.

It was a happy time, that, for when the painting was over for the morning we gardened, or strolled in the country 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.

I say it was a happy time for the first three weeks, and then there were clouds.

Cobweb 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 Smiths words He is a gentleman and a man of honour.

Tom Smith never was wrong, I said one morning, as I sat alone, and for a man like that, after my kindness, to take advantage of his position to win that girls love from me, would be the act of the greatest scoun

May I come in, Mr Burrows? said the voice of the man of whom I was thinking.

Yes, come in, I said; and there we stood looking in one anothers eyes.

Hes come to speak to me, I said, and my heart grew very hard, but I concealed my feelings till he spoke, and then I was astounded.

Mr Burrows, he said, Ive come to say good-bye.

Good-bye! I said.

Yes, 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.

But you havent finished the picture.

No, sir, and never shall, he said bitterly. Mr Burrows, I cannot stay. I that is I need not be ashamed to own it, I love your child with all my heart.

I knew it, I said bitterly.

And you think I have imposed on your kindness. No, sir, I have not, for I have never shown by word or look

No, you scoundrel, I said to myself, but she knows it all the same.

And, sir, such a dream as mine could never be fulfilled it is impossible.

Yes, I said, in a cold hard voice, it is impossible.

God bless you, sir! Good-bye.

You will not say good-bye to her? I said harshly.

He 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.

Gone, 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.

She 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.

It 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.

I did not let her see me, but went straight up to Smiths, learned what I wanted, and a short time after I was in a handsome studio in Saint Johns Wood, staring at the finished picture of my child painted, of course, from memory framed, against the wall.

As I stood there, I heard the door open, and turning stood face to face with Grantly.

We looked in each others eyes for a few moments without speaking, and then in a trembling, broken voice, I said

Grantly, Ive come as a beggar now. My poor darling God forgive me! Ive broken her heart!

It was my turn to sit down, trembling and weak, while my dear boy tried to comfort me 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.

But there, Im 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.

That scoundrel would not wait, but ran on without me, and when I got there, panting and hot, I found my darlings heart was mended with all of that belonging to the man from whose arms she ran to hide her rosy blushes on my breast.

Im not the selfish old fellow that I was about Cobweb, for there, in the old place, where theyve 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.

Ah! Miss Stoneleigh, its a funny thing this love. Youve 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, its Snip! says one Snap! says the other; the old fathers nowhere, and his darlings gone.

Leaving him a miserable, unhappy man for life, I said quietly; while he stared at me as if he could not understand my drift, one who takes no pleasure in his daughters new-born happiness; in his new sons pride in his sweet young wife; and who, above all, utterly detests his little grandchildren.

No; Im blest if he does, he cried warmly; for of all the pretty little flossy-haired tyrants that ever made a poor old fellow do as they like, theyre about the worst. I say, do come down, Miss Stoneleigh. I want you to hear little Cobweb sing Buttercups and Daisies. Its fine, maam its fine!

Ill come down, Mr Burrows, 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 friends. She turned upon me quite in surprise as I said I should prefer living always in the country.

Oh, really! she exclaimed, in a pitiful tone. The country is so dreadfully slow. I never know how people can manage to exist there.

And yet, I thought, they 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.

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 contains some germs of truth.

And now my pleasant task is ended a pleasant one indeed; for it has served to bring up recollections of scenes 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.

The End

( ). , .

rtf, mobi, fb2, epub, txt ( 14 )

: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16