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- Spring Days - 30/56 -
thousand a year more! He surely doesn't object to your visiting Mrs. Horlock?"
"No, he couldn't do that."
Still engaged in discussion, they entered the gates of the Manor House, and Mr. Brookes was told that Frank would stay at Southwick a few days longer, so that he might arrange about a studio. The news was not at first wholly pleasing to the old gentleman, but he remembered the anecdotes he should hear concerning his favourite painters, and was consoled. The evening passed away in the security and calm of habit, sweetened by the intimacy of familiar thoughts and customs. There was the usual expensive dinner; Mr. Brookes lit a cigar, handed the box to Frank, and said, puffing lustily, "That's a good picture, paid a lot of money for it, too much money, mustn't do it again. You were a pupil of Bouguereau; great painter; you have seen him paint; you would know his touch amid a thousand, I suppose?"
About ten o'clock steps in the passage, then the squeak-squeak of the cork; then the goggle-guggle of the water, and the young ladies came in with their grog. They kissed their father and brother, shook hands with Frank, and went to bed. Further anecdotes concerning the painters were told; further condemnations of the Southdown Road were pronounced; the house was locked up; Mr. Brookes retired, and the young men continued the conversation in their rooms. Willy told Frank all about his shop, Frank told Willy all about his studio, and they went to sleep delighted with each other and at peace with the world.
Mr. Brookes had gone when the young men came down next morning. Willy was down first, and when Frank finished breakfast he found him busy in the garden making purchases for his shop.
"How much am I to charge for these peaches, sir?" said the gardener.
"I intend to pay the market price for everything. I don't know what peaches are selling at in Covent Garden. I will look it up and let you know. I am taking two dozen."
"Yes, sir, there are only very few more ripe."
"It is a pity I can't have them all," Willy whispered to Frank. "There is a tremendous profit to be made on peaches. Now, I want some new potatoes. How many can you let me have?"
"Really, sir, we are very short; you see it is so early in the year. We have only a few, none too many for the house."
"I must have some, if it is only a sample. How much are potatoes selling at now?"
"Well, sir, I hardly know. Last year we bought some off Hooper at--"
"These are the things I have to contend with. How am I to keep my books right if I don't know exactly the price things are selling for? I may be paying more for his potatoes than they are selling in Brighton for. My father gets more out of the shop than any one, and he isn't satisfied."
The woes of this suburban Lear amused Frank. No sooner was the arch enemy Meason on the high seas, and the Southdown Road had quieted down, than another demon had risen up against him; his garden was ravished of its fairest fruits and vegetables, his carriages were turned into market carts, and all, as he said, for the sake of practising an elaborate system of book-keeping. Maggie, who had finished her house-keeping, came into the garden, and she went with Frank down the town in search of the landlord of the tall house amid the elder bushes. For a small increase in the rent, and a promise to undo all alterations before leaving, putting the house back in the same arrangement of rooms as it at present stood, the landlord agreed to allow Frank to do his will with the place. For twenty pounds the smith was silenced, and Frank explained to the local builder that the house was to be thrown into one room, and the ceilings of the upper rooms were to be removed. He had thought of having the rafters painted, but at the builder's suggestion he decided to have them lined with fresh timber and stained. This would look very handsome. A large window, some six feet by eight, would have to be put in the north wall. Of course, all the doors, windows, etc., would have to be taken away and replaced by new. He would have a book-case in stained wood. An estimate was drawn up. It came to a good deal more than he had intended to lay out, and Frank dreaded the expense. But he must live somewhere, he was sick of Pump Court, and his friends and this little south-coast village were now ardent in his mind; why not live here? True that the country was in no way beautiful and offered no temptations to a landscape painter, but he seldom painted landscapes, and if he wanted a bit of woodland he would find it over the Downs. Then there was the sea, and that was always interesting. Perhaps Mount Rorke would let him have the money. The old fellow had never refused him an extra hundred when he asked for it. Yes, he would risk it. So the order was given, and all the delays and broken promises of a builder began to be experienced and endured. Frank, who now lodged at Mrs. Heald's, hung around the workmen, counting each brick, and commenting on every piece of woodwork. He at once took to grumbling at their slowness, and he soon declared that all hopes of his being able to finish his picture for the Academy were at an end, and he paraded his misfortunes at the Manor House, at Mrs. Horlock's, and, indeed, at all the houses he went to for tea or tennis parties. The painters especially annoyed him, and he even went so far as to threaten them with an action.
Long before they had finished his pictures had arrived from London, and several pieces of furniture from Brighton. The ideas of this young man were now in full revolt against oriental draperies and things from Japan. The furniture was, therefore, to consist of large cane sofas with pillows covered with a yellow chintz pattern which pleased him much. The selection of a carpet was a matter of great moment. He received with scornful smiles his upholsterer's suggestions of Persian rugs. Turkey, Smyrna, and Axminster were proposed and rejected, he even thought of an Aubusson--no one knew anything about Aubusson at Southwick, and the vivid blues and yellows and symmetrical design would have at least the merit of disturbing if not of wrecking the artistic opinions of his friends. He discovered one of these carpets in a back street in Brighton, and with some cleaning and mending he felt sure it could be made to look quite well. But no, if you have an Aubusson carpet you must have Louis XIV. furniture in the room, and Louis XIV. in Southwick would be too absurd. Clearly the Aubusson scheme must be abandoned--he would have a rich grey carpet, soft and woolly, and there should be a round table covered with a dark blue cloth, set off with a yellow margin, and the chairs drawn about the table should be covered with dark blue and painted yellow. A grand piano was indispensable in Frank's surroundings, both for its appearance in the studio and the relaxation it afforded in the various interludes. Several journeys to London were made before the lamps to be used were determined on (a modern design was essential), and the brass fittings to hang candles from the rafters required still more delicate and cautious consideration; at last it was decided to have none.
All this while Willy was busy with his shop. He had taken a whole house, and at first he had thought of letting a room, but for many reasons this scheme had to be abandoned. He did not know who might take the room. "Who knows--perhaps one of my own friends, a member of my club, for instance?" Then it would give the missus a lot of bother and worry, and she had all she could do in looking after the shop. To make a thing a success you must think of nothing else. It was a pity, but it wasn't to be thought of. Otherwise he seemed fairly well satisfied. There was a back door leading on to a back lane, in turn leading on to a back street, so with his latch-key he could pop in and out unobserved. All his books and papers in the drawing-room, the ledger, the day-book, the cash-book all ready, all to hand, so that after dinner, when he had smoked his pipe, he could go to work. Frank alone was in the secret. And how the young men enjoyed going to Brighton together. Frank worried Willy, who ran up and down stairs collecting his brown paper parcels, calling upon him to make haste. They set forth, Willy firm and methodical, his shoulders set well back: Frank loose and swaggering, over-dressed. How to get to the shop was a matter of anxious consideration. Willy was fearful of detection, and all sorts of stratagems were resorted to. Sometimes they would walk down to the Old Steyne, and suddenly double and get back through a medley of obscure streets, or else they would publicly walk up and down the King's Road, and when they thought no one was looking, hurry up one of the by-streets, and so gain their haven, the lane. Once they were in the lane they slackened speed, all danger was then over, and they laughed consumedly at their escapes, and delighted in telling each other how So-and-so and his daughter had been successfully avoided. Willy always had his latch-key ready; in a moment they were inside, and Frank would rush upstairs and throw himself into the armchair, crying: "Here we are!" One day they were at the window, when, to their amazement, the Manor House carriage pulled up before the shop, and they had only just time to dodge behind the curtain and escape Sally's eyes. Never before had the carriage arrived later than five o'clock, and now it was nearly six. What could be the meaning of this? Begging of Frank not to move, Willy went out on the landing and listened to his sisters talking to his wife. The girls--who were, of course, ignorant of their relationship to the shop-woman--liked Mrs. Brookes very much, and were fond of a chat with her; and, looking through the blinds, Frank saw the footman in all the splendour of six feet and grey livery carrying a small pot of flowers worth sixpence from the carriage to the shop.
On ordinary days the shop was shut at eight, but when Willy and Frank dined there it was closed an hour earlier. Frank enjoyed his evenings there; he enjoyed it all--the homeliness and the quiet. He enjoyed seeing Willy nurse the missus after dinner, and he found no difficulty in pretending a certain interest in the book-keeping, and an admiration for the lines of figures all carefully formed, and the beautifully ruled lines. Cissy adored him. He took her on his knee, and she leaned her hollow cheek against his handsome face. She would have probably rushed to death to serve him. His height, his brightness, his rings, his spotted neckties--all seemed so perfect, so beautiful, to her; and when he brought his fiddle she would sit and look at him, her little hands clasped with an intensity of love that was strange and pitiful. Swaying from side to side, he ran on from tune to tune--waltzes, reminiscences from operas, fragments of overtures, delightful snatches from Schubert; and when he introduced Willy to one tune--a tune in which all his _might-have-been_ was bound --the dry man seemed to grow drier: perhaps it brought a glow of pleasure to his heart: but be this as it may, he only sat and puffed more emphatically at his pipe.
For Frank this pleasant English village was now a happy _fete_ of summer joys and occupations. Oh! the hill prospects and the shady gardens around the coasts. And when he went inland he would return by choice across the Downs, and in the patriarchal valleys where nothing
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