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   Chapter 16 MASTER OF ALL THE ARTS

Armorel of Lyonesse By Walter Besant Characters: 13016

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


This unreasonable person dispatched, and the illustrious artist's doubts about his lights and shadows dispelled, Alec Feilding resumed his interrupted task. That is to say, he took the manuscript out of the drawer and went on laboriously copying it. So great a writer, whose time was so precious, might surely give out his copying work. Lesser men do this. For half an hour he worked on. Then the servant tapped at the door and came in again, noiselessly as before, to whisper a name.

Alec nodded, and once more put back the manuscript in the drawer.

The visitor was a young lady. She was of slight and slender figure, dressed quite plainly, and even poorly, in a cloth jacket and a stuff frock. Her gloves were shabby. Her features were fine but not beautiful, the eyes bright, and the mouth mobile, but the forehead too large for beauty. She carried a black leather roll such as those who teach music generally carry about with them. She was quite young, certainly not more than two-and-twenty.

'Effie?' He looked round, surprised.

'May I come in for two minutes? I will not stay longer. Indeed, I should be so sorry to waste your time.'

'I am sure you would, Effie.' He gave her his hand, without rising. 'Precious time-my time-there is so little of it. Therefore, child--'

'I have brought you,' she said, 'another little poem. I think it is the kind of thing you like-in the vers de société style. She unrolled her leather case and took out a very neatly written paper.

He read it slowly. Then he nodded his head approvingly and read it aloud.

'How long does it take you to knock off this kind of thing, Effie?'

'It took me the whole of yesterday. This morning I corrected it and copied it out. Do you like it?'

'You are a clever little animal, Effie, and you shall make your fortune. Yes; it is very good, very good indeed: Austin Dobson himself is not better. It is very good: light, tripping, graceful-in good taste. It is very good indeed. Leave it with me, Effie. If I like it as well to-morrow as I do to-day, you may depend upon seeing it in the next number.'

'Oh!' she blushed a rosy red with the pleasure of being praised. Indeed, it is a pleasure which never palls. The old man who has been praised all his life is just as eager for more as the young poet who is only just beginning. 'Oh! you really think it is good?'

'I do indeed. The best proof is that I am going to buy it of you. It shall go into the editor's column-my own column-in the place of honour.'

'Yes,' she replied, but doubtfully-and she reddened again for a different reason. 'Oh, Mr. Feilding,' she said with an effort, 'I am so happy when I see my verses in print-in your paper-even without my name. It makes me so proud that I hardly dare to say what I want.'

'Say it, Effie. Get it off your mind. You will feel better afterwards.'

'Well, then, it cannot be anything to you-so great and high, with your beautiful stories and your splendid pictures. What is a poor little set of verses to you?'

'Go on-go on.' His face clouded and his eyes hardened.

'In the paper it doesn't matter a bit. It is-it is-later-when they come out all together in a little volume-with-with--'

'Go on, I say.' He sat upright, his chair half turned, his hands on the arms, his face severe and judicial.

'With your name on the title-page.'

'Oh! that is troubling your mind, is it?'

'When the critics praise the poems and praise the poet-oh! is it right, Mr. Feilding? Is it right?'

'Upon my word!' He pushed back his chair and rose, a tall man of six feet, frowning angrily-so that the girl trembled and tottered. 'Upon my word! This-from you! This from the girl whom I have literally kept from starvation! Miss Effie Wilmot, perhaps you will tell me what you mean! Haven't I bought your verses? Haven't I polished and corrected them, and made them fit to be seen? Am I not free to do what I please with my own?'

'Yes-yes-you buy them. But I-oh!-I write them!'

'Look here, child; I can have no nonsense. Before I took these verses of you, had you any opening or market for them?'

'No. None at all.'

'Nobody would buy them. They were not even returned by editors. They were thrown into the basket. Very well. I buy them on the condition that I do what I please with them. I give you three pounds-three pounds-for a poem, if it is good enough for me to lick into shape. Then it becomes my own. It is a bargain. When you leave off wanting money you will leave off bringing me verses. Then I shall look for another girl. There are thousands of girls about who can write verses as good as these.'

The girl remained silent. What her employer said was perfectly true. And yet-and yet-it was not right.

'What more do you want?' he asked brutally.

'I am the author of these poems,' she said. 'And you are not.'

'Within these walls I allow you to say so-this once. Take care never to say so again. Outside these walls, if you say so, I will bring an action against you for libel and slander and defamation of character. Remember that. You had better, however, take these verses and go away.' He flung them at her feet. 'We will put an end to the arrangement.'

'No, no-I consent.' She humbly stooped and picked them up. 'Do what you like with them. I am too poor to refuse. Do what you please.'

'It is your interest, certainly, to consent. Why, I paid you last year a hundred pounds. A hundred pounds! There's an income for a girl of twenty! Well, Effie, I forgive you. But no more nonsense. And give over crying.' For now she was sobbing and crying. 'Look here, Effie'-he laid his hand on hers-'some day, before long, I will put your verses in another column, with your name at the end-"Effie Wilmot." Come, will that do?'

'Oh! if you would! If you really would!'

'I really will, child. Don't think I care much about the thing. What does it matter to me whether I am counted a writer of society verses? It pleased me that the world should think me capable of these trifles while I am elaborating a really ambitious poem. One more little volume and I shall have done. Besides, all this time you are improving. When you burst upon the world it will be with wings full-fledged and flight-sustained that you will soar to the stars. Fair poetess, I will make your fame assured. Be comforted.'

She looked up, tearful and happy. 'Oh, forgive me!' she said. 'Yes; I will do everything-exactly-as you want!'

'The world wants another poetess. You shall be that s

weet singer. Let me be the first to acknowledge the gift divine.' He bowed and raised her hand and kissed the fingers of her shabby glove.

'Now, child,' he said, 'your visit has gained you another three pounds-here they are.'

She took the money, blushing again. The glowing prospect warmed her heart. But the three golden sovereigns chilled her again. She had parted with her child-her own. It was gone-and he would call it his and pretend to be the father. And yet he was going to make such splendid amends to her.

'How is your brother?'

'He is always the same. He works all day at his play. In the afternoon he creeps out for a little on his crutches. In the future, Mr. Feilding, we are both going to be happy, he with his dramas and I with my poems.'

'Is his drama nearly ready?'

'Very nearly.'

'Tell him to let me read it. I can, at least, advise him.'

'If you will! Oh! you are so kind! What we should have done without your help and the money you have given me, I do not know.'

'You are welcome, sweet singer and heavenly poet.' The great man took her hand and pressed it. 'Now be thankful that you came here. You have cleared your mind of doubts, and you know what awaits you in the future. Bring your brother's little play. I should like-yes, I should like to see what sort of a play he has written.'

She went away, happier for the prophecy. In the dead of night she dreamed that she saw Mr. Alec Feilding carried along in a triumphal car to the Temple of Fame. The goddess herself, flying aloft in a white satin robe, blew the trumpet, and a nymph flying lower down-in white linen-put on the laurel crown and held it steady when the chariot bumped over the ruts. It was her crown-her own-that adorned those brows. Is it right? she asked again. Is it right?

Mr. Feilding, when she was gone, proceeded to copy out the poem carefully in his own handwriting, adding a few erasures and corrections so as to give the copy the hall-mark of the poet's study. Then he threw the original upon the fire.

'There!' he said, 'if Miss Effie Wilmot should have the audacity to claim these things as her own, at least I have the originals in my own handwriting-with my own corrections upon them, too, as they were sent to the printer. Yes, Effie, my dear; some day perhaps your verses shall appear with your name to them. Not while they are so good, though. I only wish they were a little more masculine.'

Again he lugged out that manuscript, and resumed his copying, laboriously toiling on. The clock ticked, and the ashes dropped, and the silence was profound while he performed this intellectual feat.

At the stroke of noon the servant disturbed him a third time. He put away his work in the drawer, and went out to meet this visitor.

This time it was none other than a Lady of Quality-a Grande Dame de par le monde. She came in splendid attire, sailing into the studio like some richly adorned pinnace or royal yacht. A lady of a certain age, but still comely in the eyes of man.

'Lady Frances!' cried Alec. 'This is, indeed, unexpected. And you know that it is the greatest honour for me to wait upon you.'

'Yes, yes; I know that. But I thought I should like to see you as you are-in your own studio. So I came. I hope not at an inconvenient time.'

'No time could be inconvenient for a visit from you.'

'I don't know. Your model might be sitting to you. To be sure, you are not a figure-painter. But one always supposes that models are standing to artists all day long. Good-looking women, too, I believe. Perhaps you have got one hidden away behind the screen, just as they do on the stage. I will look.' She put up her glasses and walked across the room to look behind the screen. 'No: she has gone. Oh! is this your new picture?'

He bowed. 'I hope you like it.'

'I do,' she said, looking at it. 'It seems to me the very best thing you have done. Oh! it is really beautiful! Do you know, Mr. Feilding, that you are a very wonderful man?'

Alec laughed pleasantly. Of course he knew. 'If you think so,' he said.

'You write the most beautiful verses and the most charming stories: you paint the most wonderful pictures: you belong to society, and you go everywhere. How do you do it? How do you find time to do it? I suppose you never want any sleep? Poet, painter, novelist, journalist! Are you a sculptor as well, by chance?'

'Not yet. Perhaps--'

'Glutton! Are you a dramatist?'

'Again-not yet. Perhaps, some time--

'Insatiate! You are a Master of all the Arts. Alec Feilding, M.A.' He laughed pleasantly, again.

'You are the cleverest man in all London. Well; I sent you another story yesterday--'

'You did. I was about to write and thank you for it. Is it a true story?'

'Quite true. It happened in my husband's family, thirty years ago. They are not very proud of it. You can dress it up somehow with new names.'

'Quite so. I shall rewrite the whole.'

'I don't mind. It is a great pleasure to me to see the stories in print. And no one suspects poor little Me. Are they so very badly written?'

'The style is a little-just a little, may I say?-jerky. But the stories are admirable. Do let me have some more, Lady Frances.'

'Remember. No one is to know where you get them.'

'A Masonic secrecy forms part of my character. I even put my own name to them for greater security.'

He did. Every week he put his own name to stories which he got from people like this Lady of Quality.

'That ought to disarm suspicion. On the other hand, everybody must know that you cannot invent these things.'

Alec laughed. 'Most people give me credit for inventing even your stories.'

'By the way,' she said, 'are you coming to my dinner next week?'

'With the greatest pleasure.'

'If you don't come you shall have no more stories drawn from the domestic annals and the early escapades of the British Aristocracy.'

'I assure you, Lady Frances, I look forward with the greatest--'

'Very well, then. I shall expect you. And remember-secrecy.'

She laid her finger on her lips and vanished.

The smile faded out of the young man's face. He sat down again, and once more set himself to work doggedly copying out the manuscript, which was, indeed, none other than the story furnished him by Lady Frances. It was going to appear in the next week's issue of the journal, with his name at the end.

Was not Alec Feilding the cleverest all-round man in the whole of London-Omnium artium magister?

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