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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Light That Failed - Chapter 4
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The Light That Failed - Chapter 4 Post by :Shaun Category :Long Stories Author :Rudyard Kipling Date :March 2011 Read :961

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The Light That Failed - Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4


The wolf-cub at even lay hid in the corn,

When the smoke of the cooking hung gray:

He knew where the doe made a couch for her fawn,

And he looked to his strength for his prey.

But the moon swept the smoke-wreaths away.

And he turned from his meal in the villager's close,

And he bayed to the moon as she rose.--In Seonee.?

'WELL, and how does success taste?' said Torpenhow, some three
months later. He had just returned to chambers after a holiday in the
country.

'Good,' said Dick, as he sat licking his lips before the easel in the studio.

'I want more,--heaps more. The lean years have passed, and I approve of
these fat ones.'

'Be careful, old man. That way lies bad work.'

Torpenhow was sprawling in a long chair with a small fox-terrier asleep
on his chest, while Dick was preparing a canvas. A dais, a background,
and a lay-figure were the only fixed objects in the place. They rose from
a wreck of oddments that began with felt-covered water-bottles, belts,
and regimental badges, and ended with a small bale of second-hand
uniforms and a stand of mixed arms. The mark of muddy feet on the dais
showed that a military model had just gone away. The watery autumn
sunlight was falling, and shadows sat in the corners of the studio.

'Yes,' said Dick, deliberately, 'I like the power; I like the fun; I like the
fuss; and above all I like the money. I almost like the people who make
the fuss and pay the money. Almost. But they're a queer gang,--an
amazingly queer gang!'

'They have been good enough to you, at any rate. Than tin-pot exhibition
of your sketches must have paid. Did you see that the papers called it the
"Wild Work Show"?'

'Never mind. I sold every shred of canvas I wanted to; and, on my word,
I believe it was because they believed I was a self-taught flagstone artist.

I should have got better prices if I worked my things on wool or
scratched them on camel-bone instead of using mere black and white and
colour. Verily, they are a queer gang, these people. Limited isn't the
word to describe 'em. I met a fellow the other day who told me that it
was impossible that shadows on white sand should be
blue,--ultramarine,--as they are. I found out, later, that the man had been
as far as Brighton beach; but he knew all about Art, confound him. He
gave me a lecture on it, and recommended me to go to school to learn
technique. I wonder what old Kami would have said to that.'

'When were you under Kami, man of extraordinary beginnings?'

'I studied with him for two years in Paris. He taught by personal
magnetism. All he ever said was, "Continuez, mes enfants," and you had
to make the best you could of that. He had a divine touch, and he knew
something about colour. Kami used to dream colour; I swear he could
never have seen the genuine article; but he evolved it; and it was good.'

'Recollect some of those views in the Soudan?' said Torpenhow, with a
provoking drawl.

Dick squirmed in his place. 'Don't! It makes me want to get out there
again. What colour that was! Opal and umber and amber and claret and
brick-red and sulphur--cockatoo-crest--sulphur--against brown, with a
nigger-black rock sticking up in the middle of it all, and a decorative
frieze of camels festooning in front of a pure pale turquoise sky.' He
began to walk up and down. 'And yet, you know, if you try to give these
people the thing as God gave it, keyed down to their comprehension and
according to the powers He has given you----'

'Modest man! Go on.'

'Half a dozen epicene young pagans who haven't even been to Algiers
will tell you, first, that your notion is borrowed, and, secondly, that it
isn't Art.

''This comes of my leaving town for a month. Dickie, you've been
promenading among the toy-shops and hearing people talk.'

'I couldn't help it,' said Dick, penitently. 'You weren't here, and it was
lonely these long evenings. A man can't work for ever.'

'A man might have gone to a pub, and got decently drunk.'

'I wish I had; but I forgathered with some men of sorts. They said they
were artists, and I knew some of them could draw,--but they wouldn't
draw. They gave me tea,--tea at five in the afternoon!--and talked about
Art and the state of their souls. As if their souls mattered. I've heard
more about Art and seen less of her in the last six months than in the
whole of my life. Do you remember Cassavetti, who worked for some
continental syndicate, out with the desert column? He was a regular
Christmas-tree of contraptions when he took the field in full fig, with his
water-bottle, lanyard, revolver, writing-case, housewife, gig-lamps, and
the Lord knows what all. He used to fiddle about with 'em and show us
how they worked; but he never seemed to do much except fudge his
reports from the Nilghai. See?'

'Dear old Nilghai! He's in town, fatter than ever. He ought to be up here
this evening. I see the comparison perfectly. You should have kept clear
of all that man-millinery. Serves you right; and I hope it will unsettle
your mind.'

'It won't. It has taught me what Art--holy sacred Art--means.'

'You've learnt something while I've been away. What is Art?'

'Give 'em what they know, and when you've done it once do it again.'

Dick dragged forward a canvas laid face to the wall. 'Here's a sample of
real Art. It's going to be a facsimile reproduction for a weekly. I called it
"His Last Shot." It's worked up from the little water-colour I made
outside El Maghrib. Well, I lured my model, a beautiful rifleman, up
here with drink; I drored him, and I redrored him, and I redrored him,
and I made him a flushed, dishevelled, bedevilled scallawag, with his
helmet at the back of his head, and the living fear of death in his eye, and
the blood oozing out of a cut over his ankle-bone. He wasn't pretty, but
he was all soldier and very much man.'

'Once more, modest child!'

Dick laughed. 'Well, it's only to you I'm talking. I did him just as well as
I knew how, making allowance for the slickness of oils. Then the
art-manager of that abandoned paper said that his subscribers wouldn't
like it. It was brutal and coarse and violent,--man being naturally gentle
when he's fighting for his life. They wanted something more restful, with
a little more colour. I could have said a good deal, but you might as well
talk to a sheep as an art-manager. I took my "Last Shot" back. Behold
the result! I put him into a lovely red coat without a speck on it. That is
Art. I polished his boots,--observe the high light on the toe. That is Art. I
cleaned his rifle,--rifles are always clean on service,--because that is Art.

I pipeclayed his helmet,--pipeclay is always used on active service, and is
indispensable to Art. I shaved his chin, I washed his hands, and gave him
an air of fatted peace. Result, military tailor's pattern-plate. Price, thank
Heaven, twice as much as for the first sketch, which was moderately
decent.'

'And do you suppose you're going to give that thing out as your work?'

'Why not? I did it. Alone I did it, in the interests of sacred, home-bred
Art and Dickenson's Weekly.'

Torpenhow smoked in silence for a while. Then came the verdict,
delivered from rolling clouds: 'If you were only a mass of blathering
vanity, Dick, I wouldn't mind,--I'd let you go to the deuce on your own
mahl-stick; but when I consider what you are to me, and when I find that
to vanity you add the twopenny-halfpenny pique of a twelve-year-old
girl, then I bestir myself in your behalf. Thus!'

The canvas ripped as Torpenhow's booted foot shot through it, and the
terrier jumped down, thinking rats were about.

'If you have any bad language to use, use it. You have not. I continue.

You are an idiot, because no man born of woman is strong enough to take
liberties with his public, even though they be--which they ain't--all you
say they are.'

'But they don't know any better. What can you expect from creatures
born and bred in this light?' Dick pointed to the yellow fog. 'If they want
furniture-polish, let them have furniture-polish, so long as they pay for it.

They are only men and women. You talk as if they were gods.'

'That sounds very fine, but it has nothing to do with the case. They are
they people you have to do work for, whether you like it or not. They are
your masters. Don't be deceived, Dickie, you aren't strong enough to
trifle with them,--or with yourself, which is more important.

Moreover,--Come back, Binkie: that red daub isn't going
anywhere,--unless you take precious good care, you will fall under the
damnation of the check-book, and that's worse than death. You will get
drunk--you-re half drunk already--on easily acquired money. For that
money and you own infernal vanity you are willing to deliberately turn
out bad work. You'll do quite enough bad work without knowing it. And,
Dickie, as I love you and as I know you love me, I am not going to let you
cut off your nose to spite your face for all the gold in England. That's
settled. Now swear.'

'Don't know, said Dick. 'I've been trying to make myself angry, but I
can't, you're so abominably reasonable. There will be a row on
Dickenson's Weekly, I fancy.'

'Why the Dickenson do you want to work on a weekly paper? It's slow
bleeding of power.'

'It brings in the very desirable dollars,' said Dick, his hands in his
pockets.

Torpenhow watched him with large contempt. 'Why, I thought it was a
man!' said he. 'It's a child.'

'No, it isn't,' said Dick, wheeling quickly. 'You've no notion owhat the
certainty of cash means to a man who has always wanted it badly.

Nothing will pay me for some of my life's joys; on that Chinese pig-boat,
for instance, when we ate bread and jam for every meal, because
Ho-Wang wouldn't allow us anything better, and it all tasted of
pig,--Chinese pig. I've worked for this, I've sweated and I've starved for
this, line on line and month after month. And now I've got it I am going
to make the most of it while it lasts. Let them pay--they've no knowledge.'

'What does Your Majesty please to want? You can't smoke more than
you do; you won't drink; you're a gross feeder; and you dress in the
dark, by the look of you. You wouldn't keep a horse the other day when I
suggested, because, you said, it might fall lame, and whenever you cross
the street you take a hansom. Even you are not foolish enough to suppose
that theatres and all the live things you can by thereabouts mean Life.

What earthly need have you for money?'

'It's there, bless its golden heart,' said Dick. 'It's there all the time.

Providence has sent me nuts while I have teeth to crack 'em with. I
haven't yet found the nut I wish to crack, but I'm keeping my teeth filed.

Perhaps some day you and I will go for a walk round the wide earth.'

'With no work to do, nobody to worry us, and nobody to compete with?
You would be unfit to speak to in a week. Besides, I shouldn't go. I don't
care to profit by the price of a man's soul,--for that's what it would mean.

Dick, it's no use arguing. You're a fool.'

'Don't see it. When I was on that Chinese pig-boat, our captain got credit
for saving about twenty-five thousand very seasick little pigs, when our
old tramp of a steamer fell foul of a timber-junk. Now, taking those pigs
as a parallel----'

'Oh, confound your parallels! Whenever I try to improve your soul, you
always drag in some anecdote from your very shady past. Pigs aren't the
British public; and self-respect is self-respect the world over. Go out for
a walk and try to catch some self-respect. And, I say, if the Nilghai comes
up this evening can I show him your diggings?'

'Surely.' And Dick departed, to take counsel with himself in the rapidly
gathering London fog.

Half an hour after he had left, the Nilghai laboured up the staircase. He
was the chiefest, as he was the youngest, of the war correspondents, and
his experiences dated from the birth of the needle-gun. Saving only his
ally, Keneu the Great War Eagle, there was no man higher in the craft
than he, and he always opened his conversation with the news that there
would be trouble in the Balkans in the spring. Torpenhow laughed as he
entered.

'Never mind the trouble in the Balkans. Those little states are always
screeching. You've heard about Dick's luck?'

'Yes; he has been called up to notoriety, hasn't he? I hope you keep him
properly humble. He wants suppressing from time to time.'

'He does. He's beginning to take liberties with what he thinks is his
reputation.'

'Already! By Jove, he has cheek! I don't know about his reputation, but
he'll come a cropper if he tries that sort of thing.'

'So I told him. I don't think he believes it.'

'They never do when they first start off. What's that wreck on the
ground there?'

'Specimen of his latest impertinence.' Torpenhow thrust the torn edges of
the canvas together and showed the well-groomed picture to the Nilghai,
who looked at it for a moment and whistled.

'It's a chromo,' said he,--'a chromo-litholeomargarine fake! What
possessed him to do it? And yet how thoroughly he has caught the note
that catches a public who think with their boots and read with their
elbows! The cold-blooded insolence of the work almost saves it; but he
mustn't go on with this. Hasn't he been praised and cockered up too
much? You know these people here have no sense of proportion. They'll
call him a second Detaille and a third-hand Meissonier while his fashion
lasts. It's windy diet for a colt.'

'I don't think it affects Dick much. You might as well call a young wolf a
lion and expect him to take the compliment in exchange for a shin-bone.

Dick's soul is in the bank. He's working for cash.'

'Now he has thrown up war work, I suppose he doesn't see that the
obligations of the service are just the same, only the proprietors are
changed.'

'How should he know? He thinks he is his own master.'

'Does he? I could undeceive him for his good, if there's any virtue in
print. He wants the whiplash.'

'Lay it on with science, then. I'd flay him myself, but I like him too
much.'

'I've no scruples. He had the audacity to try to cut me out with a woman
at Cairo once. I forgot that, but I remember now.'

'Did he cut you out?'

'You'll see when I have dealt with him. But, after all, what's the good?
Leave him alone and he'll come home, if he has any stuff in him,
dragging or wagging his tail behind him. There's more in a week of life
than in a lively weekly. None the less I'll slate him. I'll slate him
ponderously in the Cataclysm.'

'Good luck to you; but I fancy nothing short of a crowbar would make
Dick wince. His soul seems to have been fired before we came across him.

He's intensely suspicious and utterly lawless.'

'Matter of temper,' said the Nilghai. 'It's the same with horses. Some you
wallop and they work, some you wallop and they jib, and some you
wallop and they go out for a walk with their hands in their pockets.'

'That's exactly what Dick has done,' said Torpenhow. 'Wait till he comes
back. In the meantime, you can begin your slating here. I'll show you
some of his last and worst work in his studio.'

Dick had instinctively sought running water for a comfort to his mood of
mind. He was leaning over the Embankment wall, watching the rush of
the Thames through the arches of Westminster Bridge. He began by
thinking of Torpenhow's advice, but, as of custom, lost himself in the
study of the faces flocking past. Some had death written on their
features, and Dick marvelled that they could laugh. Others, clumsy and
coarse-built for the most part, were alight with love; others were merely
drawn and lined with work; but there was something, Dick knew, to be
made out of them all. The poor at least should suffer that he might learn,
and the rich should pay for the output of his learning. Thus his credit in
the world and his cash balance at the bank would be increased. So much
the better for him. He had suffered. Now he would take toll of the ills of
others.

The fog was driven apart for a moment, and the sun shone, a blood-red
wafer, on the water. Dick watched the spot till he heard the voice of the
tide between the piers die down like the wash of the sea at low tide. A girl
hard pressed by her lover shouted shamelessly, 'Ah, get away, you beast!'

and a shift of the same wind that had opened the fog drove across Dick's
face the black smoke of a river-steamer at her berth below the wall. He
was blinded for the moment, then spun round and found himself face to
face with--Maisie.

There was no mistaking. The years had turned the child to a woman, but
they had not altered the dark-gray eyes, the thin scarlet lips, or the
firmly modelled mouth and chin; and, that all should be as it was of old,
she wore a closely fitting gray dress.

Since the human soul is finite and not in the least under its own
command, Dick, advancing, said 'Halloo!' after the manner of
schoolboys, and Maisie answered, 'Oh, Dick, is that you?' Then, against
his will, and before the brain newly released from considerations of the
cash balance had time to dictate to the nerves, every pulse of Dick's body
throbbed furiously and his palate dried in his mouth. The fog shut down
again, and Maisie's face was pearl-white through it. No word was
spoken, but Dick fell into step at her side, and the two paced the
Embankment together, keeping the step as perfectly as in their afternoon
excursions to the mud-flats. Then Dick, a little hoarsely--
'What has happened to Amomma?'

'He died, Dick. Not cartridges; over-eating. He was always greedy. Isn't
it funny?'

'Yes. No. Do you mean Amomma?'

'Ye--es. No. This. Where have you come from?'

'Over there,' He pointed eastward through the fog. 'And you?'

'Oh, I'm in the north,--the black north, across all the Park. I am very
busy.'

'What do you do?'

'I paint a great deal. That's all I have to do.'

'Why, what's happened? You had three hundred a year.'

'I have that still. I am painting; that's all.'

'Are you alone, then?'

'There's a girl living with me. Don't walk so fast, Dick; you're out of
step.'

'Then you noticed it too?'

'Of course I did. You're always out of step.'

'So I am. I'm sorry. You went on with the painting?'

'Of course. I said I should. I was at the Slade, then at Merton's in St.

John's Wood, the big studio, then I pepper-potted,--I mean I went to the
National,--and now I'm working under Kami.'

'But Kami is in Paris surely?'

'No; he has his teaching studio in Vitry-sur-Marne. I work with him in
the summer, and I live in London in the winter. I'm a householder.'

'Do you sell much?'

'Now and again, but not often. There is my 'bus. I must take it or lose
half an hour. Good-bye, Dick.'

'Good-bye, Maisie. Won't you tell me where you live? I must see you
again; and perhaps I could help you. I--I paint a little myself.'

'I may be in the Park to-morrow, if there is no working light. I walk from
the Marble Arch down and back again; that is my little excursion. But of
course I shall see you again.' She stepped into the omnibus and was
swallowed up by the fog.

'Well--I--am--damned!' exclaimed Dick, and returned to the chambers.

Torpenhow and the Nilghai found him sitting on the steps to the stgudio
door, repeating the phrase with an awful gravity.

'You'll be more damned when I'm done with you,' said the Nilghai,
upheaving his bulk from behind Torpenhow's shoulder and waving a
sheaf of half-dry manuscript. 'Dick, it is of common report that you are
suffering from swelled head.'

'Halloo, Nilghai. Back again? How are the Balkans and all the little
Balkans? One side of your face is out of drawing, as usual.'

'Never mind that. I am commissioned to smite you in print. Torpenhow
refuses from false delicacy. I've been overhauling the pot-boilers in your
studio. They are simply disgraceful.'

'Oho! that's it, is it? If you think you can slate me, you're wrong. You
can only describe, and you need as much room to turn in, on paper, as a
P. and O. cargo-boat. But continue, and be swift. I'm going to bed.'

'H'm! h'm! h'm! The first part only deals with your pictures. Here's the
peroration: "For work done without conviction, for power wasted on
trivialities, for labour expended with levity for the deliberate purpose of
winning the easy applause of a fashion-driven public----"
'That's "His Last Shot," second edition. Go on.'

'----"public, there remains but one end,--the oblivion that is preceded by
toleration and cenotaphed with contempt. From that fate Mr. Heldar has
yet to prove himself out of danger.'

'Wow--wow--wow--wow--wow!' said Dick, profanely. 'It's a clumsy ending
and vile journalese, but it's quite true. And yet,'--he sprang to his feet
and snatched at the manuscript,--'you scarred, deboshed, battered old
gladiator! you're sent out when a war begins, to minister to the blind,
brutal, British public's bestial thirst for blood. They have no arenas now,
but they must have special correspondents. You're a fat gladiator who
comes up through a trap-door and talks of what he's seen. You stand on
precisely the same level as an energetic bishop, an affable actress, a
devastating cyclone, or--mine own sweet self. And you presume to lecture
me about my work! Nilghai, if it were worth while I'd caricature you in
four papers!'

The Nilghai winced. He had not thought of this.

'As it is, I shall take this stuff and tear it small--so!' The manuscript
fluttered in slips down the dark well of the staircase. 'Go home, Nilghai,'

said Dick; 'go home to your lonely little bed, and leave me in peace. I am
about to turn in till to-morrow.'

'Why, it isn't seven yet!' said Torpenhow, with amazement.

'It shall be two in the morning, if I choose,' said Dick, backing to the
studio door. 'I go to grapple with a serious crisis, and I shan't want any
dinner.'

The door shut and was locked.

'What can you do with a man like that?' said the Nilghai.

'Leave him alone. He's as mad as a hatter.'

At eleven there was a kicking on the studio door. 'Is the Nilghai with you
still?' said a voice from within. 'Then tell him he might have condensed
the whole of his lumbering nonsense into an epigram: "Only the free are
bond, and only the bond are free." Tell him he's an idiot, Torp, and tell
him I'm another.'

'All right. Come out and have supper. You're smoking on an empty
stomach.'

There was no answer.

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