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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFather Stafford - Chapter 4. Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece
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Father Stafford - Chapter 4. Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece Post by :Marc_Meole Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Hope Date :May 2012 Read :2801

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Father Stafford - Chapter 4. Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece

CHAPTER IV. Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece

About a fortnight later than the last recorded incident two men were smoking on the lawn at Millstead Manor. One was Morewood; the other had arrived only the day before and was the Sir Roderick Ayre to whom reference has been made.

"Upon my word, Morewood," said Sir Roderick, as the painter sat down by him, "one can't go anywhere without meeting you!"

"That's since you took to intellectual company," said Morewood, grinning.

"I haven't taken to intellectual company," said Sir Roderick, with languid indignation.

"In the general upheaval, intellectual company has risen in the scale."

"And so has at last come up to your pinnacle?"

"And so has reached me, where I have been for centuries."

"A sort of perpetual dove on Ararat?"

"My dear Morewood, I am told you know everything except the Bible. Why choose your allusions from the one unfamiliar source?"

"And how do you like your new neighbor?"

"What new neighbor?"

"Intellect."

"Oh! well, as personified in you it's a not unwholesome astringent. But we may take an overdose."

"Depends on the capacity of the constitution, of course," said Morewood.

"One objectionable quality it has," pursued Sir Roderick, apparently unheedful.

"Yes?"

"A disposition toward what boys call 'scoring.' That will, no doubt, be eradicated as it rises more in society. _Apropos_, what are you doing down here?"

"As an artist, I study your insolence professionally, Ayre, and it doesn't annoy me. I came down here to do nothing. I have stayed to paint Stafford."

"Ah! is Stafford then a professional saint?"

"He's an uncommon fine fellow. You're not fit to black his boots."

"I am not fit to black anybody's boots," responded Sir Roderick. "It's the other way. What's he doing down here?"

"I don't know. Says he's writing a book. Do you know Lady Claudia well?"

"Yes. Known her since she was a child."

"She seems uncommonly appreciative."

"Of Stafford?"

"Yes."

"Oh, well! it's her way. It always has been the way of the Territons. They only began, you know, about three hundred years ago, and ever since--"

"Oh, I don't want their history--a lot of scoundrels, no doubt, like all your old families. Only--I say, Ayre, I should like to show you a head of Stafford I've done."

"I won't buy it!" said Sir Roderick, with affected trepidation.

"You be damned!" said Morewood. "But I should like to hear what you think of it."

"What do he and the rest of them think?"

"I haven't shown it to any one."

"Why not?"

"Wait till you've seen it."

"I should think Stafford would make rather a good head. He's got just that--"

"Hush! Here he comes!"

As he spoke, Stafford and Claudia came up the drive and emerged on to the lawn. They did not see the others and appeared to be deep in conversation. Stafford was talking vehemently and Claudia listening with a look of amused mutiny on her face.

"He's sworn off, hasn't he?" asked Ayre.

"Yes."

"She doesn't care for him?"

"I don't think so; but a man can't tell."

"Nonsense!" said Ayre. "What's Eugene up to?"

"Oh, you know he's booked."

"Kate Bernard?"

"Yes."

"Tell you what, Morewood, I'll lay you--"

"No, you won't. Come and see the picture. It's the finest thing--in its way--I ever did."

"Going to exhibit it?"

"I'm going to work up and exhibit another I've done of him, not this one; at least, I'm afraid he won't stand this one."

"Gad! Have you painted him with horns and a tail?"

Whereto Morewood answered only:

"Come and see."

As they went in, they met Eugene, hands in pockets and pipe in mouth, looking immensely bored.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" said he. "Excuse the mode of address, but I've not seen a soul all the morning, and thought I must have dropped down somewhere in Africa. It's monstrous! I ask about ten people to my house, and I never have a soul to speak to!"

"Where's Miss Bernard?" asked Ayre.

"Kate is learning constitutional principles from Haddington in the shrubbery. Lady Claudia is learning sacerdotal principles from Stafford in the shrubbery. My mother is learning equine principles from Bob Territon in the stables. You are learning immoral principles from Morewood on the lawn. I don't complain, but is there anything a man can do?"

"Yes, there's a picture to be seen--Morewood's latest."

"Good!"

"I don't know that I shall show it to Lane."

"Oh, get out!" said Eugene. "I shall summon the servants to my aid. Who's it of?"

"Stafford," said Ayre.

"The Pope in full canonicals?"

"All right, Lane. But you're a friend of his, and you mayn't like it."

They entered the billiard-room, a long building that ran out from the west wing of the house. In the extreme end of it Morewood had extemporized a studio, attracted by the good light.

"Give me a good top-light," he had said, "and I wouldn't change places with an arch-angel!"

"Your lights, top or otherwise, are not such," Eugene remarked, "as to make it likely the berth will be offered you."

"This picture is, I understand, Eugene, a stunner. Give us chairs and some brandy and soda and trot it out," said Ayre.

Morewood was unmoved by their frivolity. He tugged at his ragged red beard for a moment or two while they were settling themselves.

"I'll show you this first," he said, taking up one of the canvases that leant against the wall.

It was a beautiful sketch of a half-length figure, and represented Stafford in the garb of a monk, gazing up with eager eyes, full of the vision of the Eternal City beyond the skies. It was the face of a devotee and a visionary, and yet it was full of strength and resolution; and there was in it the look of a man who had put aside all except the service and the contemplation of the Divine.

Ayre forgot to sneer, and Eugene murmured:

"Glorious! What a subject! And, old fellow, what an artist!"

"That is good," said Morewood quietly. "It's fine, but as a matter of painting the other is still better. I caught him looking like that one morning. He came out before breakfast, very early, into the garden. I was out there, but he didn't see me, and he stood looking up like that for ever so long, his lips just parted and his eyes straining through the veil, as you see that. It may be all nonsense, but--fine, isn't it?"

The two men nodded.

"Now for the other," said Ayre. "By Jove! I feel as if I'd been in church."

"The other I got only three or four days ago. Again I was a Paul Pry,--we have to be, you know, if we're to do anything worth doing,--and I took him while he sat. But I dare say you'd better see it first."

He took another and smaller picture and placed it on the easel, standing for a moment between it and the onlookers and studying it closely. Then he stepped aside in silence.

It was merely a head--nothing more--standing out boldly from a dark background. The face was again Stafford's, but the presentment differed strangely. It was still beautiful; it had even a beauty the other had not, the beauty of youth and passion. The devotee was gone; in his place was a face that, in spite of the ascetic cast of feature, was so lighted up with the fire of love and longing that it might have stood for a Leander or a Romeo. It expressed an eager yearning, that made it seem to be craning out of the picture in the effort to reach that unknown object on which the eyes were fixed with such devouring passion.

The men sat looking at it in amazement. Eugene was half angry, half alarmed. Ayre was closely studying the picture, his old look of cynical amusement struggling with a surprise which it was against his profession to admit. They forgot to praise the picture; but Morewood was well content with their tacit homage.

"The finest thing I ever did--on my life; one of the finest things any one ever did," he murmured; "and I can't show it!"

"No," said Eugene.

Ayre rose and took his stand before the picture. Then he got a chair, choosing the lowest he could find, and sat down, sitting well back. This attitude brought him exactly under the gaze of the eyes.

"Is it your diabolic fancy," he said, "or did you honestly copy it?"

"I never struck closer to what I saw," the painter replied. "It's not my doing; he looked like that."

"Then who was sitting, as it were, where I am now?"

"Yes," said Morewood. "I thought you couldn't miss it."

"Who was it?" asked Eugene, in an excited way.

The others looked keenly at him for a moment.

"You know," said Morewood. "Claudia Territon. She was sitting there reading. He had a book, too, but had laid it down on his knee. She sat reading, and he looking. In a moment I caught the look. Then she put down the book; and as she turned to him to speak, in a second it was gone, and he was not this picture nor the other, but as we know him every day."

"She didn't see?" asked Eugene.

"No."

"Thank God!" he cried. Then in a moment, recollecting himself, he looked at the two men, and saw what he had done. They tried to look as if they noticed nothing.

"You must destroy that thing, Morewood," said he.

Morewood's face was a study.

"I would as soon," he said deliberately, "cut off my right hand."

"I'll give you a thousand pounds for it," said Eugene.

"What would you do with it?"

"Burn it."

"Then you shouldn't have it for ten thousand."

"I thought you'd say that. But he mustn't see it."

"Why, Lane, you're as bad as a child. It's a man in love, that's all."

"If he saw it," said Eugene, "he'd hang himself."

"Oh, gently!" said Ayre. "If you ask me, I expect Stafford will pretty soon get beyond any surprise at the revelation. He must walk his path, like all of us. It can't matter to you, you know," he added, with a sharp glance.

"No, it can't matter to me," said Eugene steadily.

"Put it away, Morewood, and come out of doors. Perhaps you'd better not leave it about, at present at any rate."

Morewood took down the picture and placed it in a large portfolio, which he locked, and accompanied Ayre. Eugene made no motion to come with them, and they left him sitting there.

"The atmosphere," said Sir Roderick, looking up into the clear summer sky, "is getting thundery and complicated. I hate complications! They're a bore! I think I shall go."

"I shan't. It will be interesting."

"Perhaps you're right. I'll stay a little while."

"Ah! here you are. I've been looking for somebody to amuse me."

The speaker was Claudia, looking very fresh and cool in her soft white dress.

"What have you done with the Pope?" asked Ayre.

"He gave me to understand he had wasted enough time on me, and went in to write."

"I should think he was right," said Sir Roderick.

"I dare say," said Claudia carelessly.

Her conscience was evidently quite at ease; but they did not know whether this meant that her actions had deserved no blame. However, they were neither of them men to judge such a case as hers harshly.

"If I were fifteen years younger," said Ayre, "I would waste all my time on you."

"Why, you're only about forty," said Claudia. "That's not too old."

"Good!" said he, smiling. "Life in the old dog yet, eh? But go in and see Lane. He's in the billiard-room, thinking over his sins and getting low-spirited."

"And I shall be a change?"

"I don't know about that. Perhaps he's a homoeopathist."

"I hate you!" said Claudia, with a very kind glance, as she pursued her way in the direction indicated.

"She means no harm," said Morewood.

"But she may do the devil of a lot. We can't help it, can we?"

"No--not our business if we could," said Morewood.

Claudia paused for a moment at the door. Eugene was still sitting with his head on his hand.

"It's very odd," thought she. "What's he looking at the easel for? There's nothing on it!"

Then she began to sing. Eugene looked up.

"Is it you, Lady Claudia?"

"Yes. Why are you moping here?"

"Where's Stafford?"

"Everybody," said Claudia impatiently, throwing her hat, and herself after it, on a lounge, "asks me where Father Stafford is. I don't know, Mr. Lane; and what's more, at this moment I don't care. Have you nothing better than that to say to me when I come to look for you?"

Eugene pulled himself together. Tragedy airs would be insufferable.

"True, most beauteous damsel!" he said. "I am remiss. For the purposes of the moment, hang Stafford! What shall we do?"

She got up and came close to him.

"Mr. Lane," she whispered, "what do you think there is in the stable?"

"I know what there isn't: that's a horse fit to ride."

"A libel! a libel! But there is (in a still lower whisper) a _sociable_."

"A what?"

"A sociable."

"Do you mean a tricycle?"

"Yes--for two."

"Oho!" said Eugene, gently chuckling.

"Wouldn't it be fun?"

"On the road?"

"N--no, perhaps not; round the park."

"Hush! S'death! if Kate saw us! Where is she?"

"I saw her last with Mr. Haddington."

"In the scheme of creation everything has its use," replied Eugene tranquilly. "Haddington supplies a felt want."

"Be quiet. But will you?"

"Yes; come along. Be swift and silent."

"I must go and put on an old frock."

"All right; be quick."

"What is the use?" Eugene pondered; "I can't have her, and Stafford may as well--if he will. Will he, I wonder? And would she? Oh, Lord! what a nuisance they are! By Jove! I should like to see Kate's face if she spots us."

A few minutes later the strange and unedifying sight of Lady Claudia Territon and Mr. Lane, mounted on a very rickety old "sociable," presented itself to the gaping gaze of several laborers in the park. Claudia was in her most boisterous spirits; Eugene, by one of the quick transitions of his nature, was hardly less elate. Up-hill they toiled and down-hill they raced, getting, as the manner of "cyclists" is, very warm and rather oily. But retribution lagged not. Down a steep hill they came, round a sharp turn they went, and, alas, over into a ditch they fell. This was bad enough, but in the calm seclusion of a garden seat, perched on a knoll just above them, the sinners, as they rose, dirty but unhurt, beheld Miss Bernard! For a moment all was consternation. What would she say?

It was a curious thing, but Kate seemed as embarrassed as themselves, and she said nothing except:

"Oh, I hope you're not hurt!" and said this in a hasty way and with ostentatious amiability.

Eugene was surprised. But as his eyes wandered, they fell on Haddington, and that rising politician held awkwardly in his hand, and was trying to convey behind his back, what looked very like a lady's glove. Now Miss Bernard had only one glove on.

"The battery is spiked," he whispered triumphantly. "Come along, Lady Claudia."

Claudia hadn't seen what Eugene had, but she obeyed, and off they went again, airily waving their hands.

"What's the matter with her?" she asked.

Eugene was struggling with laughter.

"Didn't you see? Haddington had her glove! Splendid!"

Claudia, regardless of safety, turned for an instant, a flushed, smiling face to him. He was about to speak, but she turned away again, exclaiming:

"Quick! I've promised to meet Father Stafford at twelve, and I mustn't keep him waiting. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"

Eugene was checked; Claudia saw it. What she thought is not revealed, but they returned home in somewhat gloomy silence. And it is a comfort to the narrator, and it is to be hoped to the reader, to think that Mr. Eugene Lane got something besides pleasure out of his discreditable performance and his lamentable want of proper feeling.

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