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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 30. Ariadne
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 30. Ariadne Post by :knopka Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2092

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 30. Ariadne


A few days later an automobile--not Audrey's but a large limousine--bumped, with slow and soft dignity, across the railway lines which diversify the quays of Boulogne harbour and, having hooted in a peculiar manner, came to a stop opposite nothing in particular.

"Here we are," said Mr. Gilman, reaching to open the door. "You can see her masthead light."

It was getting dark. Behind, over the station, a very faint flush lightened the west, and in front, across the water, and reflected in the water, the thousand lamps of the town rose in tiers to the lofty church which stood out a dark mass against the summer sky. On the quays the forms of men moved vaguely among crates and packages, and on the water, tugs and boats flitted about, puffing, or with the plash of oars, or with no sound whatever. And from the distance arrived the reverberation of electric trams running their courses in the maze of the town.

Madame Piriac and Audrey descended, after Mr. Gilman, from the car and Mr. Gilman turned off the electric light in the interior and shut the door.

"Do not trouble about the luggage, I beg you," said Mr. Gilman, breathing, as usual, rather noticeably. "_Bon soir_, Leroux. Don't forget to meet the nine-thirty-five." This last to the white-clad chauffeur, who saluted sharply.

At the same moment two sailors appeared over the edge of the quay, and a Maltese cross of light burst into radiance at the end of a sloping gangway, whose summit was just perched on the solid masonry of the port. The sailors were clothed in blue, with white caps, and on their breasts they bore the white-embroidered sign: "_Ariadne, R.T.Y.C._"

"Look lively, lads, with the luggage," said Mr. Gilman.

"Yes, sir."

Then another figure appeared under the Maltese cross. It was clad in white ducks, with a blue reefer ornamented in gold, and a yachting cap crowned in white: a stoutish and middle-aged figure, much like Mr. Gilman himself in bearing and costume, except that Mr. Gilman had no gold on his jacket.

"Well, skipper!" greeted Mr. Gilman, jauntily and spryly. In one moment, in one second, Mr. Gilman had grown at least twenty years younger.

"Captain Wyatt," he presented the skipper to the ladies. "And this is Mr. Price, my secretary, and Doctor Cromarty," as two youths, clothed exactly to match Mr. Gilman, followed the skipper up the steep incline of the gangway.

And now Audrey could see the _Ariadne lying below, for it was only just past low water and the tide was scarcely making. At the next berth higher up, with lights gleaming at her innumerable portholes and two cranes hard at work producing a mighty racket on her, lay a Channel steamer, which, by comparison with the yacht, loomed enormous, like an Atlantic liner. Indeed, the yacht seemed a very little and a very lowly and a very flimsy flotation on the dark water, and her illuminated deck-house was no better than a toy. On the other hand, her two masts rose out of the deep high overhead and had a certain impressiveness, though not quite enough.

Audrey thought:

"Is this what we're going on? I thought it was a big yacht." And she had a qualm.

And then a bell rang twice, extremely sweet and mellow, somewhere on the yacht. And Audrey was touched by the beauty of its tone.

"Two bells. Nine o'clock," said Mr. Gilman. "Will you come aboard? I'll show you the way." He tripped down the gangway like a boy. Behind could be heard the sailors giving one another directions about the true method of handling luggage.

Audrey had met Madame Piriac by sheer hazard in a corset shop in the Rue de la Chaussee-d'Antin. The fugitive from justice had been obliged, in the matter of wardrobe, to begin life again on her arrival trunkless in Paris, and the business of doing so was not disagreeable. Madame Piriac had greeted her with most affectionate warmth. One of her first suggestions had been that Audrey should accompany her on a short yachting trip projected by Mr. Gilman. She had said that though the excellent Gilman was her uncle, and her adored uncle, he was not her real uncle, and that therefore, of course, she was incapable of going unaccompanied, though she would hate to disappoint the dear man. As for Monsieur Piriac, the destiny of France was in his hands, and the moment being somewhat critical, he would not quit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs without leaving a fixed telegraphic address.

On the next day Mr. Gilman and Madame Piriac had called on Audrey at the Hotel du Danube, and the invitation became formal. It was pressing and flattering. Why refuse it? Mr. Gilman was obviously prepared to be her slave. She accepted, with enthusiasm. And she said to herself that in doing so she was putting yet another spoke in the wheel of the British police. Immediately afterwards she learnt that Musa also had been asked. Madame Piriac informed her, in reply to a sort of protest, that Musa's first concert was postponed by the concert agency until the autumn. "I never heard of that!" Audrey had cried. "And why should you have heard of it? Have you not been in England?" Madame Piriac had answered, a little surprised at Audrey's tone. Whereupon Audrey had said naught. The chief point was that Musa could take a holiday without detriment to his career. Moreover, Mr. Gilman, who possessed everything, possessed a marvellous violin, which he would put at the disposal of Musa on the yacht if Musa's own violin had not been found in the meantime. The official story was that Musa's violin had been mislaid or lost on the Metropolitain Railway, and the fact that he had been to England somehow did not transpire at all.

Mr. Gilman had gone forward in advance to make sure that his yacht was in a state worthy to receive two such ladies, and he had insisted on meeting them in his car at Abbeville on the way to Boulogne. He had not insisted on meeting Musa similarly. He was a peculiar and in some respects a stiff-necked man. He had decided, in his own mind, that he would have the two women to himself in the car, and so indeed it fell out. Nevertheless his attitude to Musa, and Madame Piriac's attitude to Musa, and everybody's attitude to Musa, had shown that the mere prospect of star-concerts in a first-class hall had very quickly transformed Musa into a genuine Parisian lion. He was positively courted. His presence on the yacht was deemed an honour, and that was why Mr. Gilman had asked him. Audrey both resented the remarkable change and was proud of it--as a mother perhaps naturally would do and be. The admitted genius was to arrive the next morning.

On boarding the _Ariadne in the wake of Mr. Gilman and Madame Piriac, the first thing that impressed Audrey was the long gangway itself. It was made of thin resilient steel, and the handrails were of soft white rope, almost like silk, and finished off with fancy knots; and at the beginning of the gangway, on the dirty quay, lay a beautiful mat bearing the name of the goddess, while at the end, on the pale, smooth deck, was another similar mat. The obvious costliness of that gangway and those superlative mats made Audrey feel poor, in spite of her ten million francs. And the next thing that impressed her was that immediately she got down on deck the yacht, in a very mysterious manner, had grown larger, and much larger. At the forward extremity of the deck certain blue figures lounging about seemed to be quite a long way off, indeed in another world. Here and there on the deck were circles of yellow or white rope, coiled as precisely and perfectly as Audrey could coil her own hair. Mr. Gilman led them to the door of the deck-house and they gazed within. The sight of the interior drew out of the ravished Audrey an ecstatic exclamation: "What a darling!" And at the words she saw that Mr. Gilman, for all his assumed nonchalant spryness, almost trembled with pleasure. The deck-house was a drawing-room whose walls were of carved and inlaid wood. Orange-shaded electric bulbs hung on short, silk cords from the ceiling, and flowers in sconces showed brilliantly between the windows, which were draped with curtains of silk matching the thick carpet. Several lounge chairs and a table of bird's-eye maple completed the place, and over the table were scattered newspapers and illustrated weeklies. Everything, except the literature, was somewhat diminished in size, but the smallness of the scale only intensified the pleasure derived from the spectacle.

Then they went "downstairs," as Audrey said; but Mr. Gilman corrected her and said "below," whereupon Audrey retorted that she should call it the "ground floor," and Mr. Gilman laughed as she had never heard a man of his age laugh. The sight of the ground floor still further increased Audrey's notion of the dimensions of the yacht, whose corridors and compartments appeared to stretch away endlessly in two directions. At the foot of the curving staircase Mr. Gilman, pulling aside a curtain, announced: "This is the saloon." When she heard the word Audrey expected a poky cubicle, but found a vast drawing-room with more books than she had ever seen in any other drawing-room, many pictures, an open piano, with music on it; sofas in every quarter, and about a thousand cupboards and drawers, each with a silver knob or handle. Above all was a dome of multi-coloured glass, and exactly beneath the dome a table set for supper, with the finest napery, cutlery and crystal. The apartment was dazzlingly lighted, and yet not a single lamp could be detected in the act of illumination. A real parlourmaid suddenly appeared at the far end of the room, and behind her two stewards in gilt-buttoned white Eton jackets and black trousers. Mr. Gilman, with seriousness, bade the parlourmaid take charge of the ladies and show them the sleeping-cabins.

"Choose any cabins you like," said he, as Madame Piriac and Audrey rustled off.

There might have been hundreds of sleeping-cabins. And there did, in fact, appear to be quite a number of them, to say nothing of two bathrooms. They inspected all of them save one, which was locked. In an awed voice the parlourmaid said, "That is the owner's cabin." At another door she said, in a different, disdainful voice, "That only leads to the galley and the crew's quarters." Audrey wondered what a galley could be, and the mystery of that name, and the mystery of the two closed doors, merely made the whole yacht perfect. The sleeping-cabins surpassed all else--they were so compact, so complex, so utterly complete. No large bedchamber, within Audrey's knowledge, held so much apparatus, and offered so much comfort and so much wardrobe room as even the least of these cabins. It was impossible, to be sure, that in one's amused researches one had not missed a cupboard ingeniously disguised somewhere. And the multiplicity of mirrors, and the message of the laconic monosyllable "Hot" on silver taps, and the discretion of the lighting, all indicated that the architect and creator of these marvellous microcosms had "understood." The cosy virtue of littleness, and the entire absurdity of space for the sake of space, were strikingly proved, and the demonstration amounted, in Audrey's mind, to a new and delicious discovery.

The largest of the cabins had two berths at right angles to one another, each a lovely little bed with a running screen of cashmere. Having admired it once, they returned to it.

"Do you know, my dear," said Madame Piriac in French, "I have an idea. You will tell me if it is not good.... If we shared this cabin...! In this so curious machine one feels a satisfaction, somehow, in being very near the one to the other. The ceiling is so low.... That gives you sensations--human sensations.... I know not if you experience the same...."

"Oh! Let's!" Audrey exclaimed impulsively in English. "Do let's!"

When the parlourmaid had gone, and before the luggage had come down, Madame Piriac caught Audrey to her and kissed her fervently on both cheeks, amid the glinting confusion of polished woods and draperies and silver mountings and bevelled glass.

"I am so content that you came, my little one!" murmured Madame Piriac.

The next minute the cabin and the corridor outside were full of open trunks and bags, over which bent the forms of Madame Piriac, Audrey and the parlourmaid. And all the drawers were gaping, and the doors of all the cupboards swinging, and the narrow beds were hidden under piles of variegated garments. And while they were engaged in the breathless business of installing themselves in the celestial domain, strange new thoughts flitted about like mice in Audrey's head. She felt as though she were in a refuge from the world, and as though her conscience was being narcotised. In that cabin, firm as solid land and yet floating on the water, with Mr. Gilman at hand her absolute slave--in that cabin the propaganda of women's suffrage presented itself as a very odd and very remote phenomenon, a phenomenon scarcely real. She had positively everything she wanted without fighting for it. The lion's share of life was hers. Comfort and luxury were desirable and beautiful things, not to be cast aside nor scorned. Madame Piriac was a wise woman and a good woman. She was a happy woman.... There was a great deal of ugliness in sitting on Joy Wheels and being chased by policemen. True, as she had heard, a crew of nineteen human beings was necessary to the existence of Mr. Gilman and his guests on board the yacht. Well, what then? The nineteen were undoubtedly well treated and in clover. And the world was the world; you had to take it as you found it.... And then in her mind she had a glimpse of the blissful face of Jane Foley--blissful in a different way from any other face she had met in all her life. Disconcerting, this glimpse, for an instant, but only for an instant! She, Audrey, was blissful, too. The intense desire for joy and pleasure surged up in her.... The bell which she had previously heard struck three; its delicate note vibrated long through the yacht, unwilling to expire. Half-past nine, and supper and the chivalry of Mr. Gilman waiting for them in the elegance of the saloon!

As the two women approached the _portiere which screened the forward entrance to the saloon, they heard Mr. Gilman say, in a weary and resigned voice:

"Well, I suppose there's nothing better than a whisky and soda."

And the vivacious reply of a steward:

"Very good, sir."

The owner was lounging in a corner, with a gloomy, bored look on his face. But as soon as the _portiere stirred and he saw the smiles of Madame Piriac and Audrey upon him, his whole demeanour changed in an instant. He sprang up, laughed, furtively smoothed his waistcoat, and managed to convey the general idea that he had a keen interest in life, and that the keenest part of that interest was due to a profound instinctive desire to serve these two beautiful benefactors of mankind--the idea apparently being that the charming creatures had conferred a favour on the human race by consenting to exist. He cooed round them, he offered them cushions, he inquired after their physical condition, he expressed his fear lest the cabins had not contained every convenience that caprice might expect. He was excited; surely he was happy! Audrey persuaded herself that this must, after all, be his true normal condition while aboard the yacht, and that the ennui visible on his features a moment earlier could only have been transient and accidental.

"I am sure the piano is as wonderful as all else on board," said Madame Piriac.

"Do play!" he entreated. "I love to hear music here. My secretary plays for me when I am alone."

"I, who do not adore music!" Madame Piriac protested against the invitation. But she sat down on the clamped music stool and began a waltz.

"Ah!" said Mr. Gilman, dropping into a seat by Audrey. "I wish I danced!"

"But you don't mean to say you don't," said Audrey, with fascination. She felt that she could fascinate him, and that it was her duty to fascinate him.

Mr. Gilman responded to the challenge.

"I suppose I do," he said modestly. "We must have a dance on deck one night. I'll tell my secretary to get the gramophone into order. I have a pretty good one."

"How lovely!" Audrey agreed. "I do think the _Ariadne's the most heavenly thing, Mr. Gilman! I'd no idea what a yacht was! I hope you'll tell me the proper names for all the various parts--you know what I mean. I hate to use the wrong words. It's not polite on a yacht, is it?"

His smile was entranced.

"You and I will go round by ourselves to-morrow morning, Mrs. Moncreiff," he said.

Just then the steward appeared with the whisky and soda, but Mr. Gilman dismissed him with a sharp gesture, and he vanished back into the unexplored parts of the vessel. The implication was that the society of Audrey made whisky and soda a superfluity for Mr. Gilman. Although she was so young, he treated her with exactly the same deference as he lavished on Madame Piriac, indeed with perhaps a little more. If Madame Piriac was for him the incarnation of sweetness and balm and majesty, so also was Audrey, and Audrey had the advantage of novelty. She was growing, morally, every minute. The confession of Musa had filled her with a good notion of herself. The impulsive flattery of Madame Piriac in the joint cabin, and now the sincere, grave homage of Mr. Gilman, caused her to brim over with consciousness that she was at last somebody.

An automobile hooted on the quay, and at the disturbing sound Madame Piriac ceased to play and swung round on the stool.

"That--that must be our other lady guest," said Mr. Gilman, who had developed nervousness; his cheeks flushed darkly.

"Ah?" cautiously smiled Madame Piriac, who was plainly taken aback.

"Yes," said Mr. Gilman. "Miss Thompkins. Before I knew for certain that Mrs. Moncreiff could come with you, Hortense, I asked Miss Thompkins if she would care to come. I only got her answer this morning--it was delayed. I meant to tell you.... You are a friend of Miss Thompkins, aren't you?" He turned to Audrey.

Audrey replied gaily that she knew Tommy very well.

"I'd better go up," said Mr. Gilman, and he departed, and his back, though a nervous back, seemed to be defying Madame Piriac and Audrey to question in the slightest degree his absolute right to choose his own guests on his own yacht.

"Strange man!" muttered Madame Piriac. It was a confidence to Audrey, who eagerly accepted it as such. "Imagine him inviting Mees Thompkins without a word to us, without a word! But, you know, my dear uncle was always bizarre, mysterious. Yet--is he mysterious, or is he ingenuous?"

"But how did he come to know Miss Thompkins?" Audrey demanded.

"Ah! You have not heard that? Miss Thompkins gave a--a musical tea in her studio, to celebrate these concerts which are to occur. Musa asked the Foas to come. They consented. It was understood they should bring friends. Thus I went also, and Monsieur Gilman being at my orders that afternoon, he went too. Never have I seen so strange a multitude! But it was amusing. And all Paris has begun to talk of Musa. Miss Thompkins and my uncle became friends on the instant. I assume that it was her eyes. Also those Americans have vivacity, if not always distinction. Do you not think so?"

"Oh, yes! And do you mean to say that on the strength of that he asked her to go yachting?"

"Well, he had called several times."

"Aren't you surprised she accepted?" asked Audrey.

"No," said Madame Piriac. "It is another code, that is all. It is a surprise, but she will be amusing."

"I'm sure she will," Audrey concurred. "I'm frightfully fond of her myself."

They glanced at each other very intimately, like long-established allies who fear an aggression--and are ready for it.

Then steps were heard. Miss Thompkins entered.

"Well," drawled Miss Thompkins, gazing first at Audrey and then at Madame Piriac. "Of all the loveliest shocks----Say, Musa----"

Behind her stood Musa. It appeared that he had been able to get away by the same train as Tommy.

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