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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMr. Prohack - Chapter 23. The Yacht
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Mr. Prohack - Chapter 23. The Yacht Post by :Subsisting Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :1461

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Mr. Prohack - Chapter 23. The Yacht

CHAPTER XXIII. THE YACHT

I

Mr. Prohack was lounging over his breakfast in the original old house in the Square behind Hyde Park. He came to be there because that same house had been his wedding present to Sissie, who now occupied it with her spouse, and because the noble mansion in Manchester Square was being re-decorated (under compulsion of some clause in the antique lease) and Eve had invited him to leave the affair entirely to her. In the few months since Charlie's great crisis, all things conspired together to prove once more to Mr. Prohack that calamities expected never arrive. Even the British Empire had continued to cohere, and revolution seemed to be further off than ever before. The greatest menace to his peace of mind, the League of all the Arts, had of course quietly ceased to exist; but it had established Eve as a hostess. And Eve as a hostess had gradually given up boring herself and her husband by large and stiff parties, and they had gone back to entertaining none but well-established and intimate friends with the maximum of informality as of old,--to such an extent that occasionally in the vast and gorgeous dining-room of the noble mansion Eve would have the roast planted on the table and would carve it herself, also as of old; Brool did not seem to mind.

Mr. Prohack had bought the lease of the noble mansion, with all the contents thereof, merely because this appeared to be the easiest thing to do. He had not been forced to change his manner of life; far from it. Owing to a happy vicissitude in the story of the R.R. Corporation Charlie had called upon his father for only a very small portion of the offered one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and had even repaid that within a few weeks. Matters had thereafter come to such a pass with Charlie that he had reached the pages of _The Daily Picture_, and was reputed to be arousing the jealousy of youthful millionaires in the United States; also the figure which he paid weekly for rent of his offices in the Grand Babylon Hotel was an item of common knowledge in the best clubs and not to know it was to be behind the times in current information. No member of his family now ventured to offer advice to Charlie, who still, however, looked astonishingly like the old Charlie of motor-bicycle transactions.

The fact is, people do not easily change. Mr. Prohack had seemed to change for a space, but if indeed any change had occurred in him, he had changed back. Scientific idleness? Turkish baths? Dandyism? All vanished, contemned, forgotten. To think of them merely annoyed him. He did not care what necktie he wore. Even dancing had gone the same way. The dancing season was over until October, and he knew he would never begin again. He cared not to dance with the middle-aged, and if he danced with the young he felt that he was making a fool of himself.

It had been rather a lark to come and stay for a few days in his old home,--to pass the sacred door of the conjugal bedroom (closed for ever to him) and mount to Charlie's room, into which Sissie had put the bulk of the furniture from the Japanese flat--without overcrowding it. Decidedly amusing to sleep in Charlie's old little room! But the romantic sensation had given way to the sensation of the hardness of the bed.

Breakfast achieved, Mr. Prohack wondered what he should do next, for he had nothing to do; he had no worries, and almost no solicitudes; he had successfully adapted himself to his environment. Through the half-open door of the dining-room he heard Sissie and Ozzie. Ozzie was off to the day's business, and Sissie was seeing him out of the house, as Eve used to see Mr. Prohack out. Ozzie, by reason of a wedding present of ten thousand pounds given in defiance of Sissie's theories, and with the help of his own savings, was an important fellow now in the theatrical world, having attained a partnership with the Napoleon of the stage.

"You'd no business to send for the doctor without telling me," Sissie was saying in her harsh tone. "What do I want with a doctor?"

"I thought it would be for the best, dear," came Ozzie's lisping reply.

"Well, it won't, my boy."

The door banged.

"Eve never saw me off like that," Mr. Prohack reflected.

Sissie entered the room, some letters in her hand. She was exceedingly attractive, matron-like, interesting--but formidable.

Said Mr. Prohack, glancing up at her:

"It is the duty of the man to protect and the woman to charm--and I don't care who knows it."

"What on earth do you mean, dad?"

"I mean that it is the duty of the man to protect and the woman to _charm_."

Sissie flushed.

"Ozzie and I understand each other, but you don't," said she, and made a delicious rude face. "Carthew's brought these letters and he's waiting for orders about the car." She departed.

Among the few letters was one from Softly Bishop, dated Rangoon. It was full of the world-tour. "We had a success at Calcutta that really does baffle description," it said.

"'We!'" commented Mr. Prohack. There was a postscript: "By the way, I've only just learnt that it was your son who was buying those Royal Rubber shares. I do hope he was not inconvenienced. I need not say that if I had had the slightest idea who was standing the racket I should have waived--" And so on.

"Would you!" commented Mr. Prohack. "I see you doing it. And what's more I bet you only wrote the letter for the sake of the postscript. Your tour is not a striking success, and you'll be wanting to do business with me when you come back, but you won't do it.... And here I am lecturing Sissie about hardness!"

He rang the bell and told a servant who was a perfect stranger to him to tell Carthew that he should not want the car.

"May Carthew speak to you, sir?" said the servant returning.

"Carthew may," said he, and the servant thought what an odd gentleman Mr. Prohack was.

"Well, Carthew," said he, when the chauffeur, perturbed, entered the room. "This is quite like old times, isn't it? Sit down and have a cigarette. What's wrong?"

"Well, sir," replied Carthew, after he had lighted the cigarette and ejected a flake of tobacco into the hearth. "There may be something wrong or there mayn't, if you understand what I mean. But I'm thinking of getting married."

"Oh! But what about that wife of yours?"

"Oh! Her! She's dead, all right. I never said anything, feeling as it might be ashamed of her."

"But I thought you'd done with women!"

"So did I, sir. But the question always is, Have women done with you? I was helping her to lift pictures down yesterday, and she was standing on a chair. And something came over me. And there you are before you know where you are, sir, if you understand what I mean."

"Perfectly, Carthew. But who is it?"

"Machin, sir. To cut a long story short, sir, I'd been thinking about her for the better part of some time, because of the boy, sir, because of the boy. She likes him. If it hadn't been for the boy--"

"Careful, Carthew!"

"Well, perhaps you're right, sir. She'd have copped me anyway."

"I congratulate you, Carthew. You've been copped by the best parlourmaid in London."

"Thank you, sir. I think I'll be getting along, sir."

"Have you told Mrs. Prohack?"

"I thought I'd best leave that to Machin, sir."

Mr. Prohack waved a hand, thoughtful. He heard Carthew leave. He heard Dr. Veiga arrive, and then he heard Dr. Veiga leaving, and rushed to the dining-room door.

"Veiga! A moment. Come in. Everything all right?"

"Of course. Absolutely normal. But you know what these young husbands are. I can't stop unless you're really ill, my friend."

"I'm worse than really ill," said Mr. Prohack, shutting the door. "I'm really bored. I'm surrounded by the most interesting phenomena and I'm really bored. I've taken to heart all your advice and I'm really bored. So there!"

The agreeable, untidy, unprofessional Portuguese quack twinkled at him, and then said in his thick, southern, highly un-English voice: "The remedy may be worse than the disease. You are bored because you have no worries, my friend. I will give you advice. Go back to your Treasury."

"I cannot," said Mr. Prohack. "I've resigned. I found out that my friend Hunter was expecting promotion in my place."

"Ah, well!" replied Dr. Veiga with strange sardonic indifference. "If you will sacrifice yourself to your friends you must take the consequences like a man. I will talk to you some other time, when I've got nothing better to do. I am very busy, telling people what they already know." And he went.

A minute later Charlie arrived in a car suitable to his grandeur.

"Look here, dad," said Charlie in a hurry. "If you're game for a day out I particularly want to show you something. And incidentally you'll see some driving, believe me!"

"My will is made! I am game," answered Mr. Prohack, delighted at the prospect of any diversion, however perilous.

 

II

When Charlie drew up at the Royal Pier, Southampton (having reached there in rather less time than the train journey and a taxi at each end would have required), he silently handed over the wheel to the chauffeur, and led his mystified but unenquiring father down the steps on the west side of the pier. A man in a blue suit with a peaked cap and a white cover on the cap was standing at the foot of the steps, just above the water and above a motor-launch containing two other men in blue jerseys with the name "Northwind" on their breasts and on their foreheads. A blue ensign was flying at the stem of the launch.

"How d'ye do, Snow?" Charlie greeted the first man, who raised his cap.

Father and son got into the launch and the man after them: the launch began to snort, and off it went at a racing speed from the pier towards midchannel. Mr. Prohack, who said not a word, perceived a string of vessels of various sizes which he judged to be private yachts, though he had no experience whatever of yachts. Some of them flew bunting and some of them didn't; but they all without exception appeared, as Mr. Prohack would have expected, to be the very symbols of complicated elegance and luxury, shining and glittering buoyantly there on the brilliant blue water under the summer sun. The launch was rushing headlong through its own white surge towards the largest of these majestic toys. As it approached the string Mr. Prohack saw that all the yachts were much larger than he imagined, and that the largest was enormous. The launch flicked itself round the stern of that yacht, upon which Mr. Prohack read the word "Northwind" in gold, and halted bobbing at a staircase whose rails were white ropes, slung against a dark blue wall; the wall was the side of the yacht. Mr. Prohack climbed out of the bobbing launch, and the staircase had the solidity under his feet of masonry on earth. High up, glancing over the wall, was a capped face.

"How d'ye do, skipper," called Charlie, and when he had got his parent on to the deck, he said: "Skipper, this is my father. Dad--Captain Crowley."

Mr. Prohack shook hands with a short, stoutish nervous man with an honest, grim, marine face.

"Everything all right?"

"Yes, sir. Glad you've come at last, sir."

"Good!"

Charlie turned away from the captain to his father. Mr. Prohack saw a man hauling a three-cornered flag up the chief of the three masts which the ship possessed, and another man hauling a large oblong flag up a pole at the stern.

"What is the significance of this flag-raising?" asked Mr. Prohack.

"The significance is that the owner has come aboard," Charlie replied, not wholly without self-consciousness. "Come on. Have a look at her. Come on, skipper. Do the honours. She used to be a Mediterranean trader. The former owner turned her into a yacht. He says she cost him a hundred thousand by the time she was finished. I can believe it."

Mr. Prohack also believed it, easily; he believed it more and more easily as he was trotted from deck to deck and from bedroom to bedroom, and sitting-room to sitting-room, and library to smoking-room, and music-room to lounge, and especially from bathroom to bathroom. In no land habitation had Mr. Prohack seen so many, or such marmoreal, or such luxurious bathrooms. What particularly astonished Mr. Prohack was the exceeding and minute finish of everything, and what astonished him even more than the finish was the cleanliness of everything.

"Dirty place to be in, sir, Southampton," grinned the skipper. "We do the best we can."

They reached the dining-room, an apartment in glossy bird's-eye maple set in the midst of the virgin-white promenade deck.

"By the way, lunch, please," said Charlie.

"Yes, sir," responded eagerly the elder of two attendants in jackets striped blue and white.

"Have a wash, guv'nor? Thanks, skipper, that'll do for the present."

Mr. Prohack washed in amplitudinous marble, and wiped his paternal face upon diaper into which was woven the name "Northwind." He then, with his son, ate an enormous and intricate lunch and drank champagne out of crystal engraved with the name "Northwind," served to him by a ceremonious person in white gloves. Charlie was somewhat taciturn, but over the coffee he seemed to brighten up.

"Well, what do you think of the old hulk?"

"She must need an awful lot of men," said Mr. Prohack.

"Pretty fair. The wages bill is seven hundred a month."

"She's enormous," continued Mr. Prohack lamely.

"Oh, no! Seven hundred tons Thames measurement. You see those funnels over there," and Charlie pointed through the port windows to a row of four funnels rising over great sheds. "That's the _Mauretania_. She's a hundred times as big as this thing. She could almost sling this affair in her davits."

"Indeed! Still, I maintain that this antique wreck is enormous," Mr. Prohack insisted.

They walked out on deck.

"Hello! Here's the chit. You can always count on _her_!" said Charles.

The launch was again approaching the yacht, and a tiny figure with a despatch case on her lap sat smiling in the stern-sheets.

"She's come down by train," Charles explained.

Miss Winstock in her feminineness made a delicious spectacle on the spotless deck. She nearly laughed with delight as she acknowledged Mr. Prohack's grave salute and shook hands with him, but when Charlie said: "Anything urgent?" she grew grave and tense, becoming the faithful, urgent, confidential employe in an instant.

"Only this," she said, opening the despatch case and producing a telegram.

"Confound it!" remarked Charles, having read the telegram. "Here, you, Snow. Please see that Miss Winstock has something to eat at once. That'll do, Miss Winstock."

"Yes, Mr. Prohack," she said dutifully.

"And his mother thought he would be marrying her!" Mr. Prohack senior reflected. "He'll no more marry her than he'll marry Machin. Goodness knows whom he will marry. It might be a princess."

"You remember that paper concern--newsprint stuff--I've mentioned to you once or twice," said Charlie to his father, dropping into a basket-chair. "Sit down, will you, dad? I've had no luck with it yet." He flourished the telegram. "Here the new manager I appointed has gone and got rheumatic fever up in Aberdeen. No good for six months at least, if ever. It's a great thing if I could only really get it going. But no! The luck's wrong. And yet a sound fellow with brains could put that affair into such shape in a year that I could sell it at a profit of four hundred per cent to the Southern Combine. However--"

Soon afterwards he went below to talk to the chit, and the skipper took charge of Mr. Prohack and displayed to him the engine-room, the officers' quarters, the forecastle, the galley, and all manner of arcana that Charlie had grandiosely neglected.

"It's a world!" said Mr. Prohack, but the skipper did not quite comprehend the remark.

"Well," said Charlie, returning. "We'll have some tea and then we must be off again. I have to be in town to-night. Have you seen everything? What's the verdict? Some ship, eh?"

"Some ship," agreed Mr. Prohack. "But the most shockingly uneconomic thing I've ever met with in all my life. How often do you use the yacht?"

"Well, I haven't been able to use her yet. She's been lying here waiting for me for nearly a month. I hope to get a few days off soon."

"I understand there's a crew of thirty odd, all able-bodied and knowing their job, I suppose. And all waiting for a month to give you and me a lunch and a tea. Seven hundred pounds in wages alone for lunch and a tea for two, without counting the food and the washing!"

"And why not, dad?" Charlie retorted calmly. "I've got to spend a bit of money uneconomically, and there's nothing like a yacht for doing it. I've no use for racing, and moreover it's too difficult not to mix with rascals if you go in for racing, and I don't care for rascals. Also it's a mug's game, and I don't want to be a mug. As for young women, no! They only interest me at present as dancing partners, and they cost me nothing. A good yacht's the sole possible thing for my case, and a yacht brings you into contact with clean and decent people, not bookmakers. I bought this boat for thirty-three thousand, and she's a marvellous bargain, and that's something."

"But why spend money uneconomically at all?"

"Because I said and swore I would. Didn't I come back from the war and try all I knew to obtain the inestimable privilege of earning my living by doing something useful? Did I succeed in obtaining the privilege? Why, nobody would look at me! And there were tens of thousands like me. Well, I said I'd take it out of this noble country of mine, and I am doing; and I shall keep on doing until I'm tired. These thirty men or so here might be at some useful productive work, fishing or merchant-marining. They're otherwise engaged. They're spending a pleasant wasteful month over our lunch and tea. That's what I enjoy. It makes me smile to myself when I wake up in the middle of the night.... I'm showing my beloved country who's won the Peace."

"It's a scheme," murmured Mr. Prohack, rendered thoughtful as much by the quiet and intense manner, as by the matter, of his son's oration. "Boyish, of course, but not without charm."

"We were most of us boys," said Charlie.

Mr. Prohack marshalled, in his head, the perfectly plain, simple reasoning necessary to crush Charlie to powder, and, before crushing him, to expose to him the crudity of his conceptions of organised social existence. But he said nothing, having hit on another procedure for carrying out his parental duty to Charles. Shortly afterwards they departed from the yacht in the launch. Long ere they reached the waiting motor-car the bunting had been hauled down.

In the car Mr. Prohack said:

"Tell me something more about that paper-making business. It sounds interesting."

III

When Mr. Prohack reached his daughter's house again late in the night, it was his wife who opened the door to him.

"Good heavens, Arthur! Where have you been? Poor Sissie is in such a state--I was obliged to come over and stay with her. She needs the greatest care."

"We had a breakdown," said Mr. Prohack, rather guiltily.

"Who's we? Where? What breakdown? You went off without saying a word to any one. I really can't imagine what you were thinking about. You're just like a child sometimes."

"I went down to Southampton with Charlie," the culprit explained, giving a brief and imperfect history of the day, and adding that on the way home he had made a detour with Charles to look at a paper-manufactory.

"And you couldn't have telephoned!"

"Never thought of it!"

"I'll run and tap at Sissie's door and tell her. Ozzie's with her. You'd better go straight to bed."

"I'm hungry."

Eve made a deprecating and expostulatory noise with her tongue against her upper teeth.

"I'll bring you something to eat. At least I'll try to find something," said she.

"And are you sleeping here, too? Where?" Mr. Prohack demanded when Eve crept into Charlie's old bedroom with a tray in her hands.

"I had to stay. I couldn't leave the girl. I'm sleeping in her old room."

"The worst of these kids' rooms," said Mr. Prohack, with an affectation of calm, "is that there are no easy chairs in them. It never struck me before. Look here, you sit on the bed and put the tray down _there_, and I'll occupy this so-called chair. Now, I don't want any sermons. And what is more, I can't eat unless you do. But I tell you I'm very hungry. So would you be, if you'd had my day."

"You won't sleep if you eat much."

"I don't care if I don't. Is this whiskey? What--bread and cheese? The simple life! I'm not used to it.... Where are you off to?"

"There came a letter for you. I brought it along. It's in the other bedroom."

"Open it for me, my good child," said Mr. Prohack, his mouth full and his hands occupied, when she returned. She did so.

"It seems to me that you'd better read this yourself," she said, naughtily.

The letter was from Lady Massulam, signed only with her initials, announcing with a queer brevity that she had suddenly decided to go back at once to her native country to live.

"How strange!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack, trying to be airy. "Listen! What do you make of it. You're a woman, aren't you?"

"I make of it," said Eve, "that she's running away from you. She's afraid of herself, that's what she is! Didn't I always tell you? Oh! Arthur. How simple you are! But fancy! At her age! Oh, my poor boy! Shall you get over it?" Eve bent forward and kissed the poor boy, who was cursing himself for not succeeding in not being self-conscious.

"Rot!" he exploded at last. "I said you were a woman, and by all the gods you are! Give me some more food."

He was aware of a very peculiar and unprecedented thrill. He hated to credit Eve's absurd insinuation, but...! And Eve looked at him superiorly, triumphant, sure of him, sure of her everlasting power over him! Yet she was not romantic, and her plump person did not in the least symbolise romance.

"I've a piece of news for you," he said, after a pause. "After to-night I've done with women and idleness. I'm going into business. I've bought half of that paper-making concern from your singular son, and I'm going to put it on its legs. I know nothing about paper-making, and I can only hope that the London office is not as dirty and untidy as the works. I'd no idea what works were. The whole thing will be a dreadful worry, and I shall probably make a horrid mess of it, but Charlie seems to think I shan't."

"But why--what's come over you, Arthur? Surely we've got enough money. What _has come over you? I never could make you out and I never shall."

"Nothing! Nothing!" said he. "Only I've got a sort of idea that some one Ought to be economic and productive. It may kill me, but I'll die producing, anyhow."

He waited for her to begin upbraiding him for capricious folly and expatiating upon the fragility of his health. But you never know where you are with an Eve. Eves have the most disconcerting gleams of insight. She said:

"I'm rather glad. I was getting anxious about you."


(THE END)
Arnold Bennett's Novel: Mr. Prohack

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