Page images
PDF
EPUB

in stirring up such a political ferment as has not been witnessed in the East since the days of the Mutiny, and which must throw serious impediments in the path of Indian progress for many years. The subject of Lord Ripon's administration is one on which different views must prevail inside the Cabinet; and we may expect to hear that the diversity of opinion which has been already shown to exist, will on this subject still further intensify the present want of harmony in the Cabinet, and among its supporters. With the troubles which the policy of the Government has stirred up for itself in the Transvaal and in Basutoland, with its protege King Cetewayo on the war-path inZululand, and with the fruits of our abandonment of Candahar beginning to ripen in Affghanistan, reasons readily suggest themselves for the Government having to devote its energies to other and more pressing duties than domestic legislation; and it is characteristic of its timidity that it should seek to conceal its foreign troubles from the public, and to put the blame of its parliamentary failure upon a fictitious "veiled obstruction."

Mr Gladstone's last utterance upon the situation does not suggest a cheerful frame of mind on the part of the Premier personally. He writes to his Mid-Lothian constituents, who are still mourning over the money vainly spent last year in providing a reception for him, conveying a vague "hope" that he will be able to visit them at "a later date" should there be "no impediment"; and he adds—

"I hope also that when the time comes I may still be able to say, as I can now say, that I do not perceive the action of the disintegrating forces which were visibly at work during the later years of the administration of 18G8 - 74, nor find any reason to believe that the country has altered its mind on the important issue which was decided in 1880."

"Qui s'exciise s'accuse." We may reasonably suppose that Mr Gladstone would not have made such a statement had he not been conscious that the weaknesses of his administration were forcing themselves upon public notice. The assertion contains one of these ambiguities in which the Premier is an unequalled adept. The causes of disintegration which brought about his fall in 1873-4 are of course dead and buried; but there are at the present time other and not less powerful agencies at work underground, if we may judge by the upheavals which every now and then crop above the surface,—such as the defection of the Duke of Argyll, the retirement of Mr Forster the repudiation of Mr Chamberlain by his colleagues, and the wholesale withdrawal of Whigs from the Reform and Cobden Clubs. If the popularity of the Ministry is to last until that "later date " arrive when the Premier is to pay his promised visit to his constituents, there is still an indefinite period of office in store for the Liberal Government; but before that time arrives, there is every probability that the country will have stepped in and afforded Mr Gladstone a much more "seasonable release" than the Mid - Lothian Radicals gave him last recess.

[ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Creek's workshop—for he did not call it a studio—was not far from the quarter in which Margrave had taken up his abode. Here he worked when under the influence of his good genius; here, too, he dreamt of all the great pictures which he meant to paint when he had first taken brush in hand. How far short of the design had fallen the fulfilment! Perhaps there are few men whose pride is not humbled when they make the same retrospect—when they recall the plans which they formed in the sanguine period of life, and compare them with the work which they have actually done. If some things have turned out better than they looked for, others have gone away; the favourite designs, as a rule, have not prospered the best. They are the spectres which stand by our sides at many an unlookedfor moment, and admonish us that whatever the world may say or think, life has realised far less than we expected from it. Even those

VOL. CXXXIV.—NO. DCCCXIV.

who fancy they have some cause to hold that they have done well, are compelled to face the stern fact that they have fallen short of the mark which they originally set up. The strong keep on, determined to make the best of it, even to the last — to fulfil the original plans even now, if there be time. That is the unknown condition which weighs upon them when they begin a new undertaking; will there be time to complete it 1 Most activeminded men have felt, as years rolled by, the all-pervading presence of this sense of uncertainty. The horizon becomes contracted; the far distant has become near. So much the more reason is there, that not one of the precious grains of sand still remaining in the glass should be wasted. Bernard Creek told himself this very often; and since Kate's arrival in London he had tried hard to carry out his good resolutions, not always without success.

He was now busily engaged in examining several water - colour drawings which lay upon his table, and which, according to his judgment, displayed powers of a very uncommon kind. He had not, he declared to himself, done anything so good; and yet there were some touches of his own work in them, and those touches had greatly improved the original designs, although Creek was scarcely conscious of that. He honestly believed that the hand which drew them was possessed of greater skill than he could boast of. Perhaps this was not quite the fact; but a little exaggeration was pardonable, considering that the hand which he praised was that of Kate Margrave.

He had done much to guide and encourage Kate in her studies, and these drawings before him were to some extent the fruits of his resources and skill. He was far prouder of them than if they had been his own work. They were intended to be sent before the awful judges of the Royal Academy; to that height had Kate's ambition attained. Many good pictures are turned away from the Academy every year, and Kate's might meet with that fate; but Creek had been strongly in favour of her trying her fortune, and now he had picked out two little works which, with a reasonable share of good luck, could not, he thought, fail to be accepted. He was more interested in this than in his own success, and yet he scarcely dared to ask himself why. Some vague feeling there was in his mind that if the companionship which recent events had brought about could but be preserved to him, he might yet be able to show that there was something better in his composition than the stuff out of which picturedealers and usurers made their hacks. But he knew that this

companionship might soon be interrupted, as it had been once before. Now that Kate lived in London, he saw her nearly every day, for she placed a far higher estimate upon his services in her artistic studies than he was disposed to do himself. The only hours out of the twenty-four which seemed to him worth counting were those which he spent in her society.

It was congenial to his nature and disposition to go on dreaming day after day, although he scarcely dared to interpret his dream even to himself. He was perfectly sure that Kate had no suspicion of his thoughts. She invariably treated him with a gentleness which she showed to no one else except her father; but many a man has taken a slight token like that to mean much more than was reasonable, and has suffered the consequences of his folly. Of late, however, Creek had almost been persuaded that his coming was watched for with peculiar interest, and often he had been asked by Margrave to remain long after his usual hour for departure. Then there were moments when the artist ventured to let his aspirations take a daring flight. After all, he had barely passed his fortieth year; and a man at forty is young—in these days, in fact, he is usually only just beginning to emerge from the general crowd, provided he is ever lucky enough to push among the foremost in the race. It was not too late to win the fight even now. With Kate Margrave to inspire a man by her example and her devotion, what might not be done 1

In this way the artist went on building his castles in the air. On this particular day, when Kate's drawings were before him, he had indulged in these visions till the circumstances of real life had slipped completely into the background. He was rudely recalled to them by the sudden entrance of his too faithful patron, Moss Jacobs, who seldom took the trouble to have his presence announced in a more ceremonious fashion than by a slight tap at the door.

The dealer walked straight up to the table on which the drawings were laid, and began turning them over, to the great dissatisfaction of Creek, who made one or two ineffectual attempts to huddle them away into a drawer.

"Why, these are good," burst out Jacobs, in his coarse, vulgar voice—" very good, and not at all in your usual style. Trying something new, eh? Quite right; the public get sick of seeing the same thing year after year. They like a change. We all do, don't we?" He gave a wink and a leer which completed the artist's disgust.

"Your picters," continued Moss, quite indifferent to the effect he was producing, "do not go off so well as they used to do, my boy. 'Not fulfilled the early promise,' as the critics say—excuse my speaking plainly, as an old friend. Now in this drawing (holding one up) you've struck out a new line. What's the subject?"

"The drawings are not mine," said Creek, placing his hand upon them, and making a show of closing the portfolio.

"Well, I suppose I can look at them, can't I? I don't want to steal them." This the dealer said by way of a joke, but Creek did not seem disposed to treat it as a joke. He kept a very watchful eye upon the drawings.

"This head is very fine," continued the connoisseur, selecting an effective sketch of an old man, the original of which was one of Kate's pensioners at her beloved Grange. The man had been a tramp the greater part of his life,

but he had the face of a Hebrew seer. "Never knew you to do anything better," cried Moss, with unwonted enthusiasm. "And these flowers—tip-top! They look like the real thing. What's the name of them?"

"They are wild hyacinths and primroses," said Creek, now resigning himself to his fate. "Most children know those flowers."

"Very likely," retorted the dealer with a chuckle, "but I am not a child, as most people have found out. But never mind that —I like these flowers, and I tell you what I will do. I'll give you ten pounds apiece for these two little things—fifteen in cash, five to go towards the old account." And Moss placed his fat hand on two of the very best of the drawings; for although he was totally destitute of education or training, he had a sort of instinct which enabled him to recognise really good work, and to this he owed no small part of his success and his fortune.

"They are not for sale, so don't waste your time over them, Jacobs. I will show you what I have been doing myself lately, if you care to see it."

"Don't be in a hurry," said the dealer, throwing himself into an arm-chair; "plenty of time for that. I like them 'arebells—is that the name of them 1—these here blue flowers in the corner, I mean. They remind me of 'Ampstead, where I generally have a party of a few friends on Sunday, just to break the day a little. A terrible long day is Sunday; sure to give you the blues if you don't get up a little fun of some sort or other. Why don't you join us sometimes? Come next Sunday, and I will introduce you to a very pretty friend of mine, Rose Violet —a screamer! Violet is her stage name, you understand: I got her the first engagement she ever had —that's why she's so fond of me. She is the daughter of old Jeremiah Flint, who keeps the junk - shop down there close to the London Docks. Old friend of mine is Jerry —a knowing hand, I can tell you. He's made a nice little pile of money, some in one way and some in another—mostly in the other. This gal of his might have had a tidy little fortune if she'd kept to the shop, but she got stage-struck, and now the old man won't even own her. Did you ever see her dance, Creek 1"

"I never did," replied the artist, half hidden in the dense smoke from his pipe, which he had taken up to enable him to go through his present trials.

"Well, then, come next Sunday to dinner with us, and I'll try to get her to show you what she can do. It will cheer you up. What you want is to see a little more life, instead of moping about all day, cussing your hard luck. Come and see Rose. Her father won't he there—no fear of that! She never sees the old man now, especially since he had that little trouble the other day. I suppose you saw all about it in the papers."

"I never read the papers," muttered Creek.

"No? Well, then, more's the pity. I don't think much of newspapers myself, but you ought to read them, and get acquainted with some of the art critics. Nothing much to be done without them now. Why don't you give swell breakfasts like Tommy Tiddler, and invite all the nobs? They'd come fast enough; they will go anywhere now. Literature and art are all the go in these days; and if you'd only take a little trouble, you might have a lot of carriages at

the door, and fashionable beauties would be running all over your house like tame cats. That's the way to get on, my boy; nothing like advertising yourself. A little paragraph creeps in here, and another one there, and it all helps to bring grist to your mill, while no one ever suspects where they come from. Cultivate the newspaper men—they can make or unmake you in less than no time. I always have one of them to dinner every Sunday, but never more than one at a time, they quarrel so infernally. Stick two of 'em down opposite to each other, and there's pretty sure to be a row. But what was I going to tell you— something about Jerry Flint, wasn't it?"

"It is his daughter who seems to interest you most, Jacobs."

"Never you mind about Iier. I'll bring her round here some of these days, if you behave yourself properly. You ought to paint her —not but what she can do that for herself middling well, when she thinks she's a little run down after a week's work. Between ourselves, that fair hair of hers is only a wig. I believe I'm the solitary man that knows it, and I wouldn't tell even you how I found that out." Here the patron of the arts gave another knowing wink, and slapped his leg with great enjoyment. "A wig," he went on, "a regular scratch, my boy, as sure as you live. I never was so much surprised in my life as when she took it off; but now I'm letting out the secret. It was almost as much of a sell as that which her father, old Jerry, palmed off upon Lord Flue, when he sold him an Italian cabinet for five hundred guineas, which turned out to have been made at the back of his junk-shop in Wapping. You see Rose knows Lord Flue—who doesn't?—and that makes things

« PreviousContinue »