« AnkstesnisTęsti »
"Mr. Tillotson, with an incomparably noble gesture, leaned forward and tossed among the seething crowd of urchins his last three coppers"
believe me, than in all the all the-I forget exactly what. But you see the train of thought. Oh, it was a bad time for religion. I am glad my master Haydon never lived to see it. He was a man of fervor. I remember him pacing up and down his studio in Lissom Grove, singing and shouting and praying all at once. It used almost to frighten me. Oh, but he was a wonderful man, a great man! Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again. As usual, the bard is right. But it was all very long ago, before your time, Mr. Spode."
"Well, I'm not as old as I was," said Spode, in the hope of having his paradox appreciated this time. But Mr. Tillotson went on without noticing the interruption.
"It's a very, very long time. And yet,
when I look back on it, it all seems but a day or two ago. Strange that each day should be so long and that many days added together should be less than an hour. How clearly I can see old Haydon pacing up and down! Much more clearly, indeed, than I see you, Mr. Spode. The eyes of memory don't grow dim. But my sight is improving, I assure you; it 's improving daily. I shall soon be able to see those ankles." He laughed, like a cracked bell, one of those little old bells, Spode fancied, that ring, with much rattling of wires, in the far-off servants' quarters of ancient houses. "And very soon," Mr. Tillotson went on, "I shall be painting again. Ah, Mr. Spode, my luck is extraordinary. I believe in it, I trust it. And, after all, what is luck? Simply another name for Providence, in spite of the 'Origin of Species' and the rest of it. How right the laureate was when he said that there was more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the- er the-erwell, you know. I regard you, Mr. Spode, as the emissary of Providence. Your coming marked a turning-point in my life, and the beginning, for me, of happier days. Do you know, one of the first things I shall do when my fortunes are restored will be to buy a hedgehog."
"A hedgehog, Mr. Tillotson?"
"For the black beetles. There's nothing like a hedgehog for beetles. It will eat black beetles till it's sick, till it dies of surfeit. That reminds me of the time when I told my poor great master Haydon, in joke, of course, that he ought to send in a cartoon of King John dying of a surfeit of lampreys for the frescos in the new Houses of Parliament. As I told him, it's a most notable event in the annals of British Liberty-the providential and exemplary removal of a tyrant."
Mr. Tillotson laughed again-the little bell in the deserted house, a ghostly hand pulling the cord in the drawingroom, and phantom footmen responding to the thin, flawed note.
"I remember he laughed laughed like a bull in his old grand manner. But, oh, it was a terrible blow when they rejected his designs! a terrible blow! It was the first and fundamental cause of his suicide."
Mr. Tillotson paused. There was a long silence. Spode felt strangely moved, he hardly knew why, in the presence of this man, so frail, so ancient, in body three parts dead, in the spirit so full of life and hopeful patience. He felt ashamed. What was the use of his own youth and cleverness? He saw himself suddenly as a boy with a rattle scaring birds, rattling his noisy cleverness, waving his arms in ceaseless and futile activity, never resting in his efforts to scare away the birds that were always trying to settle in his mind. And what birds! wide-winged and beautiful, all those serene thoughts and faiths and emotions that only visit minds that have humbled themselves to quiet. Those gracious visitants he was forever using all his energies to drive away. But this old man, with his hedgehogs and his honest doubts and all the rest of it-his mind was like a field made beautiful by the free coming and going, the unafraid alightings of a multitude of white, bright-winged creatures. He felt ashamed. But, then, was it possible to alter one's life? was n't it a little absurd to risk a conversion? Spode shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll get you a hedgehog at once," he said. "They 're sure to have some at Whiteley's."
Before he left that evening Spode made an alarming discovery: Mr. Tillotson did not possess a dress suit. It was hopeless to think of getting one made at this short notice, and, besides, what an unnecessary expense!
"We shall have to borrow a suit, Mr. Tillotson. I ought to have thought of that before."
"Dear me! dear me!" Mr. Tillotson was a little chagrined by this unlucky discovery. "Borrow a suit?"
Spode hurried away for counsel to Badgery House. Lord Badgery surprisingly rose to the occasion. "Ask Boreham to come and see me," he told the footman who answered his ring.
Boreham was one of those immemorial butlers who linger on, generation after generation in the houses of the great. He was over eighty now, bent, dried up, shriveled with age.
"All old men are about the same size," said Lord Badgery. It was a comfort
ing theory. "Ah, here he is. Have you got a spare suit of evening clothes, Boreham?"
"I have an old suit, my lord, that I stopped wearing in-let me see, was it nineteen seven or eight?"
"That's the very thing. I should be most grateful, Boreham, if you could lend it to Mr. Spode here for a day."
The old man went out and soon reappeared, carrying over his arm a very old black suit. He held up the coat and trousers for inspection. the light of day they were deplorable.
"You 've no idea, sir," said Boreham, deprecatingly, to Spode "You 've no idea how easy things get stained with grease and gravy and what not, however careful you are, sir, however careful."
"I should imagine so." Spode was sympathetic.
"However careful, sir."
"But in artificial light they 'll look all right."
"Perfectly all right," Lord Badgery repeated. "Thank you, Boreham; you shall have them back on Thursday."
"You 're welcome, my Lord, I'm sure." The old man bowed and disappeared.
On the afternoon of the great day Spode carried up to Holloway a parcel containing Boreham's retired evening suit and all the necessary appurtenances in the way of shirts and collars. Owing to the darkness and his own feeble sight Mr. Tillotson was happily unaware of the defects in the suit. He was in a state of extreme nervous agitation. It was with some difficulty that Spode could prevent him, although it was only three o'clock, from starting his toilet on the spot.
"Take it easy, Mr. Tillotson; take it easy. We need n't start till half-past seven, you know."
Spode left an hour later, and as soon as he was safely out of the room, Mr. Tillotson began to prepare himself for the banquet. He lighted the gas and also two candles, and blinking myopically at the image that fronted him in the tiny looking-glass that stood on his chest of drawers, he set to work with all the ardor of a young girl preparing for her first ball. At six o'clock, when the last touches had been given, he was
not unsatisfied. He marched up and down his cellar humming to himself the gay song which had been popular in his middle years:
"Oh, oh, Anna Maria Jones! Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals and the bones."
Spode arrived an hour later in Lord Badgery's second-best car. Opening the door of the old man's dungeon, he stood for a moment, wide-eyed with astonishment on the threshold. Mr. Tillotson was standing by the empty grate, one elbow resting on the mantelpiece, one leg crossed over the other in a jaunty and gentlemanly attitude. The effect of the candle-light shining on his face was to deepen every line and wrinkle with intense black shadow; he looked immeasurably old. It was a noble and pathetic head. On the other hand, Boreham's outworn evening suit was simply buffoonish. The coat was too long in the sleeves and the tail; the trousers bagged in elephantine creases about his ankles. Some of the greasespots were visible even in candle-light. The white tie, over which Mr. Tillotson had taken great pains and which he believed in his purblindness to be perfect, was fantastically lopsided. He had buttoned up his waistcoat in such a fashion that one button was widowed of its hold and one hold of its button. Across his shirt-front lay the broad green ribbon of some unknown order.
"Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals and the bones,"
Mr. Tillotson concluded in a gnatlike voice before welcoming his visitor. "Well, Spode, here you are. I'm dressed already, you see. The suit, I flatter myself, fits very well, almost as though it had been made for me. I am all gratitude to the gentleman who was kind enough to lend it to me; I shall take the greatest care of it. It's a dangerous thing to lend clothes 'for loan oft loseth both itself and friend.' The bard is always right."
"Just one thing," said Spode. "A touch to your waistcoat." He unbuttoned the garment, and did it up again more symmetrically.
Mr. Tillotson was a little piqued at being found so absurdly in the wrong. "Thanks, thanks," he said protestingly, trying to edge away from his valet. "It's all right, you know; I can do it myself. Foolish oversight. I flatter myself the suit fits very well."
"And perhaps the tie might " Spode began tentatively. But the old man would not hear of it.
"No, no. The tie 's all right. I can tie a tie, Mr. Spode. The tie 's all right. Leave it as it is, I beg."
"I like your order."
Mr. Tillotson looked down complacently at his shirt-front. "Ah, you 've noticed my order. It's a long time It's a long time since I wore that. It was given me by the Grand Porte, you know, for services rendered in the Russo-Turkish War. It's the Order of Chastity, the second class. They give only the first class to crowned heads, you know-crowned heads and ambassadors. And only pashas of the highest rank get the second. Mine 's the second. They give only the first class to crowned heads
"Of course, of course," said Spode.
"Do you think I look all right, Mr. Spode?" Mr. Tillotson asked a little anxiously.
"Splendid, Mr. Tillotson; splendid. The order 's magnificent."
The old man's face brightened once
"I flatter myself," he said, "that this borrowed suit fits me very well. But I don't like borrowing clothes, 'for loan oft loseth both itself and friend,' you know. And the bard is always right."
"Ugh! there's one of those horrible beetles!" Spode exclaimed.
Mr. Tillotson bent down and stared at the floor.
"I see it," he said, and stamped on a small piece of coal, which crunched to powder under his foot. "I shall certainly buy a hedgehog."
It was time for them to start. A crowd of little boys and girls had collected round Lord Badgery's enormous car. The chauffeur, who felt that honor and dignity were at stake, pretended not to notice the children, but sat gazing, like a statue, into eternity. At the sight of Spode and Mr. Tillotson emerging from the house a yell of min
gled awe and derision went up. It subsided to an astonished silence as they climbed into the car. "Bomba's," Spode directed. The car gave a faintly stertorous sigh and began to move. The children yelled again and ran along beside the car, waving their arms in a frenzy of excitement. It was then that Mr. Tillotson, with an incomparably noble gesture, leaned forward and tossed among the seething crowd of urchins his three last coppers.
IN Bomba's big room the company was assembling. The long gilt-edged mirrors reflected a singular collection of people. Middle-aged academicians shoot suspicious glances at youths whom they suspected, only too correctly, of being iconoclasts, organizers of Post-Impressionist Exhibitions. Rival art critics, brought suddenly face to face, quivered with restrained hatred. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore, those indefatigable hunters of artistic big game, came on one another all unawares in this well-stored menagerie, where each had expected to hunt alone, and were filled with rage. Through this crowd of mutually repellent vanities Lord Badgery moved with a suavity that seemed unaware of all the feuds and hatreds. He was enjoying himself immensely. Behind the heavy waxen mask of his face, ambushed behind the Hanoverian nose, the little lusterless pig's eyes, the pale thick lips, there lurked a small devil of happy malice that rocked with laughter.
"So nice of you to have come, Mrs. Mandragore, to do honor to England's artistic past. And I'm so glad to see you 've brought dear Mrs. Cayman. And is that Mrs. Nobes, too? So it is! I had n't noticed her before. How delightful! I knew we could depend on your love of art."
And he hurried away to seize the opportunity of introducing that eminent sculptor, Sir Herbert Herne, to the young critic who had called him, in the public prints, a monumental mason.
A moment later the maître d'hôtel came to the door of the gilded saloon and announced, loudly and impressively, "Mr. Walter Tillotson." Guided from behind by young Spode, Mr. Tillotson
came into the room slowly and hesitatingly. In the glare of the lights his eyelids beat heavily, painfully, like the wings on an imprisoned moth, over his filmy eyes. Once inside the door, he halted and drew himself up with a conscious assumption of dignity. Lord Badgery hurried forward and seized his hand.
"Welcome, Mr. Tillotson! welcome in the name of English art!"
Mr. Tillotson inclined his head in silence. He was too full of emotion to be able to reply.
"I should like to introduce you to a few of your younger colleagues, who have assembled here to do you honor." Lord Badgery presented every one in the room to the old painter, who bowed, shook hands, made little noises in his throat, but still found himself unable to speak. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore all said charming things.
Dinner was served; the party took their places. Lord Badgery sat at the head of the table, with Mr. Tillotson on his right hand and Sir Herbert Herne on his left. Confronted with Bomba's succulent cooking and Bomba's wines, Mr. Tillotson ate and drank a good deal. He had the appetite of one who has lived on greens and potatoes for ten years among the black beetles. After the second glass of wine he began to talk, suddenly and in a flood, as though a sluice had been pulled up.
"In Asia Minor," he began, "it is the custom, when one goes out to dinner to hiccough as a sign of appreciative fullness. Eructavit cor meum as the Psalmist had it; he was an Oriental himself."
Spode had arranged to sit next to Mrs. Cayman; he had designs upon her. She was an impossible woman, of course, but rich and useful; he wanted to bamboozle her into buying some of his young friends' pictures.
"In a cellar?" Mrs. Cayman was saying, "with black beetles? Oh, how dreadful! Poor old man! And he 's ninety-seven, did n't you say? Is n't that shocking! I only hope the subscription will be a large one. Of course one wishes one could give more oneself. But then, you know, one has so many expenses, and things are so difficult
"I know, I know," said Spode, with feeling.
"It's all because of labor," Mrs. Cayman explained. "Of course I should simply love to have him in to dinner sometimes; but, then, I feel he 's really too old, too farouche and gâcheux; it would not be doing a kindness to him, would it? And so you are working with Mr. Gollamy now? What a charming man, so talented, such conversation!"
"Eructavit cor meum," said Mr. Tillotson for the third time. Lord Badgery tried to head him off the subject of Turkish etiquette, but in vain.
By half-past nine a kinder, vinolent atmosphere had put to sleep the hatreds and suspicions of before dinner. Sir Herbert Herne had discovered that the young Cubist sitting next him was not insane and actually knew a surprising amount about the old masters. For their part the young men had realized that their elders were not at all malignant; they were just very stupid and pathetic. It was only in the bosoms of Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore that hatred still reigned undiminished. Being ladies and oldfashioned, they had drunk almost no wine.
The moment for speech-making arrived. Lord Badgery rose to his feet, said what was expected of him, and called upon Sir Herbert to propose the toast of the evening. Sir Herbert coughed, smiled, and began. In the course of a speech that lasted twenty minutes he told anecdotes of Mr. Gladstone, Lord Leighton, Sir Alma Tadema, and the late Bishop of Bombay; he made three puns, he quoted Shakspere and Whittier, he was playful, he was eloquent, he was grave. At the end of his harangue Sir Herbert handed Mr. Tillotson a silk purse containing fifty-eight pounds, ten shillings, the total amount of the subscription. The old man's health was drunk with acclamation.
Mr. Tillotson rose with difficulty to his feet. The dry snake-like skin of his face was flushed; his tie was more crooked than ever; the green ribbon of the Order of Chastity of the second class had somehow climbed up his crumpled and maculate shirt-front.