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   Chapter 18 No.18

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 11860

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A few months later, when Lewis had very much modified his ideas of London, he was walking with his father in the park at the hour which the general English fitness of things assigns to the initiated. A very little breaking in and a great deal of tailoring had gone a long way with Lewis. Men looked at father and son as though they thought they ought to recognize them even if they didn't. Women turned kindly eyes upon them.

The morning after Lady Derl took Lewis into her carriage in the park she received three separate notes from female friends demanding that she "divvy up." Knowing women in general and the three in special, she prepared to comply. Often Lewis and his father had been summoned by a scribbled note for pot-luck with Lady Derl; but this time it was a formal invitation, engraved.

Lewis read his card casually. His face lighted up. Leighton read his with deeper perception, and frowned.

"Already!" he grunted. Then he said: "When you've finished breakfast, come to my den. I want to talk to you."

Lewis found his father sitting like a judge on the bench, behind a great oak desk he rarely used. An envelope, addressed, lay before him. He rang for Nelton and sent it out.

"Sit down," he said to Lewis. "Where did you get your education? By education I don't mean a knowledge of knives, forks, and fish-eaters. That's from Ann Leighton, of course. Nor do I mean the power of adding two to two or reciting A B C D, etc. By education a gentleman means skill in handling life."

"And have I got it?" asked Lewis, smiling.

"You meet life with a calmness and deftness unusual in a boy," said

Leighton, gravely.

"I-I don't know," began Lewis. "I've never been educated. By the time I was nine I knew how to read and write and figure a little. After that-you know-I just sat on the hills for years with the goats. I read the Reverend Orme's books, of course."

"What were the books?"

"There weren't many," said Lewis. "There was the Bible, of course. There was a little set of Shakspere in awfully fine print and a set of Walter Scott."

Leighton nodded. "The Bible is essential but not educative until you learn to depolarize it. Shakspere-you'll begin to read Shakspere in about ten years. Walter Scott. Scott-well-Scott is just a bright ax for the neck of time. What else did you read?"

"I read 'The City of God' but not very often."

For a second Leighton stared; then he burst into laughter. He checked himself suddenly.

"Boy," he said, "don't misunderstand. I'm not laughing at the book; I'm laughing at your reading St. Augustine even 'not very often!'"

"Why shouldn't you laugh?" asked Lewis, simply. "I laughed sometimes. I remember I always laughed at the heading to the twenty-first book."

"Did you?" said Leighton, a look of wonder in his face. "What is it? I don't quite recollect the headings that far."

"'Of the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell, and of the various objections urged against it,'" quoted Lewis, smiling.

Leighton grinned his appreciation.

"There is a flavor about unconscious humor," he said, "that's like the bouquet to a fine wine: only the initiated catch it. I'm afraid you were an educated person even before you read St. Augustine. Did he put up a good case for torment? You see, you've found me out. I've never read him."

"His case was weak in spots," said Lewis. "His examples from nature, for instance, proving that bodies may remain unconsumed and alive in fire."

"Yes?" said Leighton.

"He starts out, 'if, therefore the salamander lives in fire, as naturalists have recorded--' I looked up salamander in the dictionary."

Lewis's eyes were laughing, but Leighton's grew suddenly grave. "Poor old chap!" he said. "He didn't know that time rots the sanest argument. 'Oh… that mine adversary had written a book,' cried one who knew."

Leighton sat thoughtful for a moment, then he threw up his head.

"Well," he said, "we'll give up trying to find out how you got educated. Let's change the subject. Has it occurred to you that at any moment you may be called upon to support yourself?"

"It did once," said Lewis, "when I started for Oeiras. Then I met you. You haven't given me time or-or cause to think about it since. I'm-I'm not ungrateful--"

"That's enough," broke in Leighton. "Let's stick to the point. It's a lucky thing for the progress of the world that riches often take to the wing. It may happen to any of us at any time. The amount of stupidity that sweating humanity applies to the task of making a living is colossal. In about a million years we'll learn that making a living consists in knowing how to do well any necessary thing. It's harder for a gentleman to make a living than for a farm-hand. But-come with me."

He took Lewis to a certain Mecca of mighty appetites in the Strand. Before choosing a table, he made the round of the roasts, shoulders and fowl. They were in great domed, silver salvers, each on a barrow, each kept hot over lighted lamps.

Leighton seated himself and ordered.

"Now, boy, without staring take a good look at the man that does the carving."

One of the barrows was trundled to their table. An attendant lifted the domed cover with a flourish. With astounding rapidity the carver took an even cut from the mighty round of beef, then another. The cover was clapped on again, and the barrow trundled away.

"You saw him?" asked Leighton.

Lewis nodded.

"Well, that chap got through twenty thousand a year,-pounds, not dollars,-capital and income, in just five years. After that he starved. I know a man that lent him half a crown. The borrower said he'd live on it for a week. Then he found out that, despite being a gentleman, there was one little thing he could do well. He could make a roast duck fall apart as though by magic, and he could handle a full-sized carving-knife with the ease and the grace of a duchess handling a fa

n. Wow he's getting eight hundred a year-pounds again-and all he can eat."

From the eating-house Leighton took Lewis to his club. He sought out a small room that is called the smoking-room to this day, relic of an age when smokers were still a race apart. In the corner sat an old man reading. He was neatly dressed in black. Beside him was a decanter of port.

Leighton led the way back to the lounge-room.

"Well, did you see him?"

"The old man?" said Lewis. "Yes, I saw him."

"That's Old Ivory," said Leighton. "He's an honorable. He was cursed by the premature birth-to him-of several brothers. In other words, he's that saddest of British institutions, a younger son. His brothers, the other younger sons, are still eating out of the hand of their eldest brother, Lord Bellim. But not Old Ivory. He bought himself an annuity ten years ago. How did he do it? Well, he had enough intelligence to realize that he hadn't much. He decided he could learn to shoot well at fifty yards. He did. Then he went after elephants, and got 'em, in a day when they shipped ivory not by the tusk, but by the ton, and sold it at fifteen shillings a pound." As they walked back to the flat, Leighton said: "Now, take your time and think. Is there anything you know how to do well?"

"Nothing," stammered Lewis-"nothing except goats."

"Ah, yes, goats," said Leighton, but his thoughts were not on goats. Back in his den, he took from a drawer in the great oak desk the kid that Lewis had molded in clay and its broken legs, for another had gone. He looked at the fragments thoughtfully. "To my mind," he said, "there is little doubt but that you could become efficient at terra-cotta designing; you might even become a sculptor."

"A sculptor!" repeated Lewis, as though he voiced a dream.

Leighton paid no attention to the interruption. "I hesitate, however, to give you a start toward art because you carry an air of success with you. One predicts success for you too-too confidently. And success in art is a formidable source of danger."

"Success a source of danger, Dad?"

"In art," corrected Leighton.

"Yesterday," he continued, "you wanted to stop at a shop window, and I wouldn't let you. The window contained an inane repetition display of thirty horrible prints at two and six each of Lalan's 'Triumph.'" Leighton sprang to his feet. "God! Poster lithographs at two and six! Boy, Lalan's 'Triumph' was a triumph once. He turned it into a mere success. Before the paint was dry, he let them commercialize his picture, not in sturdy, faithful prints, but in that-that rubbish."

Leighton strode up and down the room, his arms behind him, his eyes on the floor.

"Taking art into the poor man's home, they call it. Bah! If you multiply the greatest glory that the genius of man ever imprisoned, and put it all over the walls of your house,-bath, kitchen and under the bed,-you'll find the mean level of that glory is reduced to the terms of the humblest of household utensils."

A smile nickered in Lewis's eyes, but Leighton did not look up.

"Art is never a constant," he continued. "It feeds on spirit, and spirit is evanescent. A truly great picture should be seen by the comparative few. What every one possesses is necessarily a commonplace.

"And now, to get back. I have never talked seriously to you before; I may never do it again. The essence, the distinctive finesse, of breeding, lies in a trained gaiety and an implied sincerity. But what I must say to you is this: Even in this leveling age there are a few of us who look with terror upon an incipient socialism; who believe money as money to be despicable and food and clothing, incidental; who abhor equality, cherish sorrow and suffering and look uponeducation-knowledge of living before God and man-as the ultimate and only source of content. That's a creed. I'd like to have you think on it. I'd like to have my boy join the Old Guard. Do you begin to see how success in art may become a danger?"

"Yes," said Lewis, "I think I do. I think you mean that-that in selling art one is apt to sell one's self."

"H-m-m!" said Leighton, "you are older than I am. I'll take you to

Paris to-morrow."

Nelton knocked, and threw open the door without waiting for an answer.

"Her ladyship," he announced.

Lady Derl entered. She was looking very girlish in a close-fitting, tailored walking-suit. The skirt was short-the first short skirt to reach London. Beneath it could be seen her very pretty feet. They walked excitedly.

Lady Derl was angry. She held a large card in her hand. She tore it into bits and tossed it at Leighton's feet.

"Glen," she said, "don't you ever dare to send me one of your engraved 'regrets' again. Why-why you've been rude to me!"

Leighton hung his head. For one second Lewis had the delightful sensation of taking his father for a brother and in trouble.

"H lne," said Leighton. "I apologize humbly and abjectly. I thought it would amuse you."

"Apologies are hateful," said Lady Derl. "They're so final. To see a fine young quarrel, in the prime of life, die by lightning-sad! sad!" She started drawing off her gloves. "Let's have tea." As she poured tea for them she asked, "And what's the real reason you two aren't coming to my dinner?"

Leighton picked up the maimed kid and laid it on the tea-tray. He nodded toward Lewis.

"He made it, I'm going to gamble a bit on him."

"Poor little thing!" said Lady Derl, poking the two-legged kid with her finger.

"I'm going to put him under Le Brux,-Saint Anthony,-if he'll take him," continued Leighton. "We leave for Paris to-morrow."

"Under Saint Anthony?" repeated Lady Derl. "H-m-m! Perhaps you are right. But Blanche, Berthe, and Vi will hold it against me."

When Lewis was alone with his father, he asked: "Does Lady Derl belong to the Old Guard?"

"You wouldn't think it, but she does," said Leighton,-"inside."

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