MoboReader> Horror > The Brother of Daphne


The Brother of Daphne By Dornford Yates Characters: 25155

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The front door banged. Followed quick steps on the steep, uncarpeted stairs, and a knock on the studio's door.

"Come in," said I.

The door opened and a girl in a lilac dress swept into the room.

"I'm afraid I'm awfully la-O-o-oh!" she said.

"If it isn't her!" said I.

For a moment we stood looking at one another with big eyes. Then:

"Where's Mr. Larel?" she demanded.

"He'll be here in a moment. Won't you sit down? He and I are old friends."

She smiled.

"I know," she said.

"He's told me-"

"The devil he has," said I.

A little peal of laughter.

"As I feared," said I.

"My dear, you've been misled. Yes. That over there is a chair. It cost three and ninepence in the King's Road. Local colour, you know. He's putting it in his new picture, 'Luxury'."

Still smiling, she took her seat. Then:

"He said you were awful," she said.

Till a fortnight ago, I had not seen George Larel for quite five years. Not since we had been at Oxford together. When he went down, he left England, to study, I understood. He always drew rather well. Then one spring morning I struck him in Piccadilly, by the railings of the Green Park. He was standing still, a large, blue air-ball in his hand, steadfastly regarding the Porters' Rest. Our greeting was characteristic.

"Well, George," said I. He looked round.

"Hullo, old chap." He pointed to the Rest. "Rather nice, that. Pity there aren't more. Why didn't they keep the Pike at Hyde Park Corner?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I begged them to," said I. "But you know what they are."

George looked at me critically. Then:

"That's a good hat," he said. "I'd like to paint you just as you are." He stepped back and half closed his eyes. "Yes, that'll do. When can you come? I always said I would, you know," he added.

"You're very good, George. Come to the club and-"

He shook his head. "We'll talk, when you come. I've got to go to Richmond now." He pointed to the air-ball. "There was a child there yesterday, playing in the Park, with eyes-I've only seen their like once before. That was in Oporto." He sighed. "Will you come to-morrow at eleven? Cheyne Row. I forget the number, but it's got a green door."

"I'd love to."

He hailed a taxi.

"That's right, then." He turned to the driver. "Go to Richmond," he said, opening the door.

As it moved, he put his head out of the window.

"Mind you wear that hat, old boy."

The next morning I had my first sitting. It was a great success. There was much to say, and we talked furiously for three hours. And all the time I sat still upon the throne, and George painted. About his work he said little, but I gathered that he had begun to do well. He mentioned that he had had two or three commissions.

"I'm on that now," he said carelessly, during one of my rests. He was pointing to a canvas, which leaned-face inwards-against the wall. I walked across the studio, and turned it round. A girl's picture. A girl in a flowered dress and a shady hat, her slight shining legs crossed at the knee. Sitting square in the high-backed chair, he was painting her, one small hand on each of its rosewood arms. The face was most of all unfinished.

"You've got those legs well," said I, "And I like the dress. She looks rather lovely, as far as one can tell without seeing the face."

George laughed.

"She's all right," he said.

At the end of my second sitting George picked up a knife and began deliberately to scrape out all the work he had done that morning. I watched him, petrified with horror.

"Sorry, old chap," he said, smiling.

"Stop," I cried. "I like that curve of the nostril. It denotes the force of character which has made me what I am."

George went on ruthlessly.

"I want it to be good of you," he said simply. Half way through my third sitting George gave a cry and flung off his coat.

"What's the matter?" said I. "Something biting-?

"Talk, man," he said, seizing his palette. "Just talk. Don't mind how I answer. I'm going to paint. By Jove, how I'm going to paint!"

Clearly the fit was upon him. These artists! Not daring to disobey, I talked and talked. Heaven knows what I said. After an hour my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth, but I talked on. And all the time George alternately bent his brows upon me, and hung himself at the canvas, uttering strange, smothered cries and oaths, but painting, painting.... At a quarter past two he laid down his palette and cried to me to descend. Stiffly I did so.

For a long moment I looked at the portrait. Then I turned to George and clapped him on the back.

"I think you're going to make a name," said I.

"That's right," he said. "And now give me a cigarette."

Before we went to lunch, he showed me the picture of the girl. It was almost finished. Such a fine, brave face. Not a bit pretty-just beautiful. Dark hair showing under the brim of the hat, steady brown eyes, the mouth exquisite...

That was three days ago. And now-pleasedly I regarded the original.

"May I offer you a cigarette?" I said.

When I had lighted it for her:

"To-day is Thursday, isn't it?" she said.

"That's just what I was going to say."

"Yes, I'm sure it is, because last night brother left-"

"The light on in the kitchen garden, with the result that this morning all the cocks were two hours fast. I know. But of course it is. Hasn't Thursday always been my lucky day?"

She blew out a little cloud of smoke and smiled at it. Then:

"I don't know you at all, you know," she said gravely, "and Aunt Prudence always used to say-"

"I know. 'Beware of pickpockets. No smoking.' They quote her in the lifts on the Tube. But then I'm not a pickpocket, and you are smoking. Besides, your picture knows mine very well. They've seen quite a lot of each other lately.

"Yes, but-"

"And then you know my picture a little, and I know yours by heart."

"You're quick to learn."

"Perhaps. But I do. I know every eyelash, long as they are. I believe I could say them. But then I was always good at poetry." This with a bow.

She rose and made the daintiest curtsey. "Would have been better," she said, resuming her seat in the depths of 'Luxury.' "But the skirts of to-day don't help."

"And my bow would have been deeper: but the braces I bought yesterday afternoon-"

"That'll do," she said, laughing. "Seriously, where is Mr. Larel, and why are you here?"

"George is probably scouring Battersea for a child he saw there last autumn with ears such as he has never beheld outside Khartoum. I am here, as you are, in the interest of Posterity."

"Did he tell you Thursday, too?"

"Certainly. I remember it perfectly. We were standing in St. James's Square, near where I get my shirts. Nobody recognized us. George had a cigar in his mouth, and his exact words were, 'Wottabow Hursday?' I had some of the wood pavement in my eye, and my exact words were therefore excusable."

"And now he's forgotten us both."

"On the contrary, he's probably remembered."

"And is consequently afraid to come himself?"

"Exactly. Well, we couldn't very well overlook the insult, could we?"

"It might be wiped out in paint."

I shook my head. Then:

"French polish might do," I said. "But then, he hasn't got any of that. However. To tell you the truth, I don't know that I'm very angry with him. I shall pretend to be, of course. But, now that from admiring the imitation, I find myself face to face with the real thing, I-"

"And the rest. I like these cigarettes rather."

"Dear Sir or Madam," said I, "what is it about our cigarettes that so appeals to your palate?"

She laughed. "I don't know anything about cigarettes, really, but these seem so fresh."

"My dear," said I, "you could have said nothing more calculated to warm the cockles of my heart. You are a connoisseurs (very good indeed). These cigarettes are actually straight from the stable, I mean the Ottoman Empire. I shall send you a box this afternoon by Carter Paterson."

"You're very kind. But tell me, why is their paper brown?"

"Berry says it's swank. But then he would. As a matter of fact, it's maize. I like it myself: it's so nourishing. Besides, it goes so well with a blue suit. Talking of which, with a flowered dress and dark hair, it's absolutely it."

She stretched out a shapely hand, reflectively settling her frock. "White ones would match my gloves, though."

"They would. And the whites of your eggs-I mean eyes. I know. Oh, and your soft throat. But-"

"He said you were awful."

"You see, my dear, we live in an age of contrast. Women no longer play for safety in dress. They have begun to dare. And contrasts show imagination. Sometimes they're actually striking."

"While matches have to be struck."

"Like bargains. Exactly. They're passive, while contrasts are active. We're rather clever this morning, aren't you?"

"It's the coming of summer in my case. I was in the Row at half-past seven this morning, and the air-"

"I know. It was like hock-cup out of a stone jar, while the others are on the bank looking for a place to tie the punt up. I noticed it too. I was in the bathroom-"


"Taking off my riding boots. You see, you don't give me time."

"I don't believe you."

"Hush. I feel that my tie is not straight. This must be rectified. Is there a mirror in the room? No, there is not a mirror in the room. The room is mirrorless. Very well, then. Either I must use the patent-leather of your little shoes, or perhaps you will lend me one of your large eyes. Of the two, I'd rather have the eye. There's more room."

"Sorry the line's engaged. Shall I call you?"

"If you please. My pet name is Birdie, short for Bolingbroke. Meanwhile, may I have a nail? Only one little nail?"

"You'll have a whole palm in a minute."

"Which will be quite in order. I have frequently borne the palm."

"How many biscuits have you taken?"

"Seven, and two buns. My sister's awfully proud of them. But about this tie."

"You shouldn't wear made-up ties," she said severely.

I sat up and looked at her. Mischievously she regarded the ceiling. Presently:

"Note the awful silence," I said.

"And dickeys are going out too."

"Look here," said I, "I shall undress in a minute. Just to show you. These are matters touching the reputation."

With that I gravely untied my tie.

To my indignation she clapped her small hands with delight, and gave way to quiet laughter. I nodded solemnly.

"Very good," I said. "Now I shall simply have to have an eye. No mere nail will suffice."

"You will have nothing of the kind."

I rose and walked to the window in some dudgeon. After considerable focussing, I managed to locate the environs of my collar in a dusty pane. While the work of reconstruction was proceeding:

"Once upon a time," said I, "there was a queen. She was very beautiful from the crown of her little head, which the dark hair kept always, to the soles of her shining feet. And people loved to look at her and hear the music of her laughing. Only, it was no good going on Thursday, because that was early-closing day in her realm, and she and The Mint and The Dogs' Cemetery, and all the other places of interest were closed. You weren't allowed to see the crown jewels, which she wore in her eyes..."

Outside a taxi slowed down and stopped. Cautiously I peered out of the window. George.

I turned to the girl. "Here he is," I said.

As I spoke, an idea came to me. Hurriedly I glanced round the studio. Then:

"Quick," I said, pointing to a little recess, which was curtained off. "You go in there. We'll punish him."

A smile, and she whipped behind the curtain.

"Are you all right?" I whispered.


"Put your hand out a second. Quick, lass!" I spoke excitedly.

"What for?" she said, thrusting it between the curtains.

"Homage," said I, kissing the slight fingers.

The next moment George burst into the room. "Thank heaven," he said, as soon as he saw me.

"What d'you mean?" I said stiffly.

"I'm so thankful," he said with a sigh of relief. "I knew it was you. I was a fool to worry. But, you know, I suddenly got an idea that I'd fixed Thursday for Margery Cicester."

"That would have been awful," I said bitterly.

"Yes," said George, "it would, wouldn't it?"

I could have sworn I heard smothered laughter in the recess.

"But, George," I said, "how did you know I liked waiting?"

George laughed and clapped me on the back.

"I forgot." he said. "I'm sorry, old man. But yo

u see-"

"One hour and ten minutes," said I, looking at my watch. George took off his coat, and began to draw a blind over the sky-light.

"I was very late last night," he said.

I gasped.

"D'you mean to say you've only just got up?" I roared.

"Oh, I've had breakfast."

I picked up my hat and turned to the door.

"Where are you going?" said George.

"There are limits," I said over my shoulder. "If it had been Miss Cicester, you would have crawled about the room, muttering abject apologies and asking her to kick you. But as it's me-"

"No, I shouldn't. I should have said that my housekeeper'd been taken ill suddenly, or..."

"Go on," said I.

This was better.

"Or that the Tube had stuck, or something."

"Why not tell her the truth, and fling yourself-"

"You know what women are?"

"George, you surprise me. Would you deceive an innocent girl?"

"Women are so narrow-minded. They can't understand...Nice kid, though, this."

This was splendid. "You mean, Margery-er-What's-her-name?"

"Yes. She's taken rather a fancy to you-your picture, I mean."

I laughed deprecatingly. Then:

"What's she like?" I said carelessly. "To look at, I mean?"

"Like!" roared George. "What d'you mean?"

"Like," I replied coolly. "You know. Similar to."

"Well, she's like that, you fool!" said George heatedly, pointing to the picture.

"Ah, of course. Is she really?"

"Look here," said George. "If you can't-"

"Wait a bit," said I. "When was she due here? I mean to say, supposing you had fixed to-day for her to come?"

"Eleven o'clock. Why?"

"There now," I said musingly. "It must have been just about then."

George seized me by the arm. "Has she been and gone?" he cried.

"Well, I don't know. But about an hour ago a girl did come here. Now I come to think, she was something like the picture. I thought she was a model, and-"

George flung up his hands with a cry. I stopped and looked at him.

"Go on," he said excitedly. "What did she say?"

"Yes, I know it was about then, because a van had just gone up the street. You know. One of those big vans with-"

"Damn the van!" said George. "What did she say?"

"She didn't say anything. I tell you, I thought she was a model. I just said you didn't want one this morning."

George literally recoiled.

"What's the matter?" said I. "Aren't you well?"

"Had she a lilac dress on?" he cried, with the air of one hoping against hope.

"Er-yes," said I.

At that, George uttered a terrible cry, snatched up his coat, and before I could stop him, rushed out of the studio. I put my head out of the window. As he dashed hatless out of the front door:

"Where are you going?" I said.

He threw me a black look. Then: "To wire an apology," he said.

I turned to find my lady at my shoulder.

"He's gone to wire you an apology," I said.

"You are wicked," she said. "Poor Mr. Larel. I feel quite-"

I put my head on one side and regarded her. "Nice kid, though," I said.

"I know," she said severely. "But the poor man-"

"She's taken quite a fancy to me," said I.

She drew back, biting a red lip and trying hard not to smile.

"He'll soon be back," I went on, "and then you're going to have your show. Kindly ascend the throne. All queens do sooner or later."

"Really, I think he's had enough," she said, settling herself in the high-backed chair.

After a little argument:

"All you've got to remember," I said, "is that you're awfully sorry you're so late, and that the truth is you forgot all about the sitting, and that, by the way, when you got here, you met a man going out, and that you don't know who he was, but you suppose it was alright. Only you thought Mr. Larel ought to know."

"I've never met anyone like you before."

"My dear, you never will. I am unique. And remember you've taken rather a fancy-- Here he is. Yes, queens always have their hands kissed. All real queens..."

I seized my hat, stick, and gloves, and faded behind the curtains. She was really wonderful. "Mr. Larel, will you ever forgive me? I'm most awfully sorry. D'you know I quite forgot. I suppose you'd given me up? And now it's too late. Oh, yes. I only came to apologize. I can't think-"

George couldn't get a word in edgeways. I watched him through the crack of the curtains. His face was a study. Of course, he was mentally cursing himself for sending the wire so precipitately, and wondering how the deuce he could explain its arrival without revealing the true state of affairs. Apparently in the end he decided for the moment, at any rate, to say nothing about it, for, as soon as she let him speak, he assured her it didn't matter at all, and passed, somewhat uneasily, direct to the weather.

"By the way," said Margery suddenly, "there was a man here when I came. I suppose it was all right."

George started. "You mean him?" he said, pointing to my portrait.

"That?" cried Margery. "The man you're painting? Oh, no. It wasn't him. At least," she added, leaning forward and looking carefully at the picture, "I don't think so."

"But it must have been," cried George. "He was here five minutes ago, and no other man-it must have been him."

"But the one I saw was clean-shaven," said Margery.

George pointed to my portrait with a shaking finger. "Isn't that one clean-shaven?" he wailed.

"So it is," said Margery. "For the moment, the shadow-"

"I'll never paint again!" said George fiercely. "They've hung over each other's portraits for a week-" "Oh!" cried Margery. "And the first time they see one another, they don't know one another from Adam."

"Did you find the post office all right?" said I. Then I came out.

"One thing," said Margery. "Did the Tube stick?"

George stared at her. "Then you were here," he gasped.

"All the time," said I. Margery broke into long laughter.

George regarded us darkly. "You two," he said.

"One hour and ten minutes," said I. "To say nothing of asking us both on the same day."

"You two," said George.

"We two give you five minutes," I said. "Of these, three may be conveniently occupied by your full and abject apology, and two by the arranging of our next sittings. Then we two are going to lunch. It is, ah, some time since we two breakfasted."

I made a careful note of Margery's sittings-to-be, as well as of my own.

As we were going: "You know, old chap," said I, "you've never apologized."

"Miss Cicester knows that I am her humble servant."

"At any rate," said I, "there'll be the telegram."

Half-way down the stairs Margery turned and ran back to the studio. When she came back, she was smiling.

"What new mischief...?" I began.

She turned to me with a maddening smile and opened her mouth. Then she changed her mind and raised her eyebrows instead.

"This isn't fair," I said. "You can't ride with the herring and run with the beagles too."

But she would not tell me. Neither would she let me give her lunch.

"But the telegram," said I desperately. "You might let me-"

"I don't suppose you have tea, but if you do happen to be in St. James's Street about a quarter to five..."

That afternoon she showed me the wire. It was as follows:

"Thousand apologies housekeeper's sudden illness detained me just learned my fool of servant misunderstood hasty instructions and refused you admission another thousand apologies two thousand in all writing." We thought it was rather good.

The next morning I glanced at the clock and pushed back my chair.

"I must be off," I murmured.

Jonah raised his eyes and then looked at Berry. The latter's eyes were already raised. He had begun to sigh.

"What's the matter with you?" said I defiantly.

"One moment," said Berry. "My flesh is creeping. Now then. How many more of these sittings?"

"Wednesday'll be the last, I think."

"Which means that she's leaving Town on Thursday."

I looked at him sharply. Then:

"What d'you mean, 'She'" I said shortly.

"I have known you for-"

"Less of it," said I. "Much less."

"You know, old chap," said Daphne lazily, "you do seem suspiciously keen about this portrait business, don't you?"

I looked at her. She returned my indignant gaze with a steady smile, her chin propped on her white hands, her elbows upon the table.

"Yes," said Jonah. "Afraid of being a minute late, and all that sort of bilge."

"This is an outrage," I gasped. This was nothing but the truth. It really was, They were simply drawing a bow at a venture.

"Don't tell me-" Berry began.

"I shan't," said I.

"Naughty temper," said my brother-in-law. "Has she shell-like ears?"

"Look here," I said, "all of you."

"Must we?" said Berry. "We've only just finished a heavy meal, and-"

"I have been five times to George's studio, each time solely with the object of affording him an opportunity, if possible, of perpetuating upon canvas my gripping personality." This was the whole truth.

"Guilty upon your own confession of felony," said Jonah. "Have you anything to say why the Court-"

"With the same object I am going to-day." This was the truth. George was going to give me an hour before Margery came.

"Perhaps we're wronging Boy," said Jill.

"Thank you, dear," said I.

"You can't wrong outlaws," said Berry. "Never mind. Some day we shall know the ter-ruth."

"I believe you're jealous," said I. "Just because you can't find an artist sufficiently dauntless to reproduce your brutal physiognomy-"

"He means to be rude," Berry explained.

I walked to the door.

"Don't forget our lunch, old chap," said my sister.

"You've taken away my appetite," said I.

"Oh, Boy, you know we love you."

I opened the door.

"I say," said Berry.

"What?" said I, pausing.

"Tell George to put in the warts."

Six weeks had hurried away. And then, one morning, I got a note from George, saying that he had had my picture framed and was sending it along. I broke the news to the others after breakfast.

"Oh, Boy!" cried Jill excitedly.

"I want to see it awfully," said Daphne.

"Why rush upon your fate?" said her husband.

"I hope you'll like it," said I nervously.

"Where are we going to bury-I mean, hang it?" said Jonah.

"What about the potting-shed?" said Berry. "We can easily move the more sensitive bulbs."

"If it's good," said Daphne, "we'll have it in the library."

"I object," said her husband. "I don't want to be alone with it after dark."

I smiled upon him. Then:

"Bur-rother," said I. "I like to think that I shall be always with you. Though in reality harsh leagues may lie between us, yet from the east wall of the library, just above the type-writer, I shall smile down upon your misshapen head a peaceful, forgiving smile. What a thought! And you will look UP from your London Mail and-"

"Don't," said Berry, emitting a hollow groan. "I am unworthy. Unworthy." He covered his face with his hands. "Where is the Indian Club?" he added brokenly, "I don't mean the one in Whitehall Court. The jagged one with nails in it. I would beat my breast. Unworthy."

"Conundrum," said Jonah. "Where were the worthy worthies worthy?"

"I know," said I. "They were worthy where they were."

"Where the blaze is," said Berry.

"The right answer," said Jonah, "is Eastbourne."

Daphne turned to Jill. "Is the trick-cycle ready, dear? We're on next, you know."

Here a servant came in and announced that a picture had come for me. We poured into the hall. Yes, it had come. In the charge of two messenger-boys and a taxi, carefully shrouded in sackcloth. Berry touched the latter and nodded approval. Then he turned to the boys.

"Are there no ashes?" he said.

We bore it into the dining-room and set it upon a chair by the side of a window. I took out my knife and proceeded to cut the string.

"Wait a moment," said Jonah. "Where's the police-whistle?"

"It's all right," said Berry. "James has gone for the divisional surgeon."

I pulled off the veil. It was really a speaking likeness of Margery.

Two hours later the telephone went. I picked up the receiver. "Is that six-o-four-o-six Mayfair?"-excitedly.

Margery's voice.

"It is," said I.

"Oh, is that you?"

"It is."

"Oh, d'you know, the most awful thing has happened."

"I know," I said heavily.

"Then you have got mine?"


"I suppose you guessed I've got yours?"

"You don't sound very sympathetic,"-aggrievedly.

"My dear, I'm-"

"You don't know what I've been through."

This tearfully.

"Don't I?" I said wearily.

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