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   Chapter 5 No.5

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 29161

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


WHEN they reached London in November, after circuitous wanderings, Barney Bill said to Paul: "You've seed enough of me, matey, to know that I wish yer good and not harm. I've fed yer and I've housed yer-I can't say as how I've done much toward clothing yer-and three months on the road has knocked corners off the swell toggery yer came to me in; but I ain't beat yer or cussed yer more than yer deserved"-whereat Paul grinned-"and I've spent a lot of valuable time, when I might have been profitably doing nothing, a-larning yer of things and, so to speak, completing yer eddication. Is that the truth, or am I a bloomin' liar?"

Paul, thus challenged, confirmed the absolute veracity of Barney Bill's statement. The latter continued, bending forward, his lean brown hand on the boy's shoulder, and looking at him earnestly: "I took yer away from your 'appy 'ome because, though the 'ome might have been 'appy in its own sweet way, you wasn't. I wanted to set yer on the track of yer 'ighborn parents. I wanted to make a man of yer. I want to do the best for yer now, so I put it to yer straight: If yer likes to come along of me altogether, I'll pay yer wages on the next round, and when yer gets a little older I'll take yer into partnership and leave yer the business when I die. It's a man's life and a free life, and I think yer likes it, don't yer?"

"Ay," said Paul, "it's foine."

"On the other hand, as I said afore, I won't stand in yer way, and if yer thinks you'll get nearer to your 'igh-born parents by hitching up with Mr. Architect, well-you're old enough to choose. I leave it to you."

But Paul had already chosen. The Road had its magical fascination, to which he would have surrendered all his boyish soul, had not the call of his destiny been more insistent. The Road led nowhither. Princes and princesses were as rare as hips and haws in summer-time. Their glittering equipages did not stop the van, nor did they stand at the emblazoned gateways of great parks waiting patiently for long-lost sons. He knew that he must seek them in their own social world, and to this he would surely be raised by his phantasmagorial income of thirty shillings a week.

"You won't object to my keeping a friendly eye on yer for the next year or two?" asked Barney Bill, with twisted mouth and a kindly, satirical glance.

Paul flushed. He had the consciousness of being a selfish, self-centered little beast, not half enough grateful to Barney Bill for delivering him out of the House of Bondage and leading him into the Land of Milk and Honey. He was as much stung by the delicately implied rebuke as touched by the solicitude as to his future welfare. Romantic words, such as he had read in the story-books, surged vaguely in his head, but he could find none to utter. He kept silent for a few moments, his hand in his breeches pocket. Presently he drew it forth rather slowly, and held out the precious cornelian heart to his benefactor.

"I 'ud like to give it thee," said Paul.

Barney Bill took it. "Thank 'ee, sonny. I'll remember that you gave it to me. But I won't keep yer talisman. 'Ere, see-" he made a pretence to spit on it-"that's for luck. Barney Bill's luck, and good wishes."

So Paul pocketed the heart again, immensely relieved by his friend's magnanimity, and the little sentimental episode was over.

A month later, when Barney Bill started on his solitary winter pilgrimage in the South of England, he left behind him a transmogrified Paul, a Paul, thanks to his munificence, arrayed in decent garments, including collar and tie (insignia of caste) and an overcoat (symbol of luxury), for which Paul was to repay him out of his future earnings; a Paul lodged in a small but comfortable third-floor-back, a bedroom all to himself, with a real bed, mattress, pillow, sheets, and blankets all complete, and a looking-glass, and a stand with ewer and basin so beautiful that, at first, Paul did not dare wash for fear of making the water dirty; a Paul already engaged for a series of sittings by Mr. Cyrus Rowlatt, R.A., his head swimming with the wonder of the fashionable painter's studio; a Paul standing in radiant confidence upon the brink of life.

"Sonny," said Barney Bill, when he said good-bye, "d'yer see them there lovely lace-up boots you've got on?"

"Ay," said Paul, regarding them complacently.

"Well, they've got to take yer all the way up the hill, like the young man what's his name?-Excelsure-in the piece of poetry you recite; but they'll only do it if they continues to fit. Don't get too big for 'em. At any rate, wait till they're worn out and yer can buy another pair with yer own money."

Paul grinned, because he did not know what else to do, so as to show his intellectual appreciation of the parable; but in his heart, for all his gratitude, he thought Barney bill rather a prosy moralizer. It was one of the disabilities of advanced old age. Alas! what can bridge the gulf between fourteen and fifty?

"Anyhow, you've got a friend at the back of yer, sonny, and don't make no mistake about it. If you're in trouble let me know. I can't say fairer than that, can I?"

That, for a season, was the end of Barney Bill, and Paul found himself thrillingly alone in London. At first its labyrinthine vastness overwhelmed him, causing him to feel an unimportant atom, which may have been good for his soul, but was not agreeable to his vanity. By degrees, however, he learned the lay of the great thoroughfares, especially those leading to the quarters where artists congregate, and, conscious of purpose and of money jingling in his pocket, he began to hold his head high in the crowded streets. In the house in Barn Street, off the Euston Road, where he lodged, he was called "Mr. Paul" by his landlady, Mrs. Seddon, and her thirteen-year-old daughter, Jane, which was comforting and stimulating. Jane, a lanky, fair, blue-eyed girl, who gave promise of good looks, attended to his modest wants with a zeal somewhat out of proportion to the payment received. Paul had the novel sensation of finding some one at his beck and call. He beckoned and called often, for the sheer pleasure of it. So great was the change in his life that, in these early days, it seemed as if he had already come into his kingdom. He strutted about, poor child, like the prince in a fairy tale, and, in spite of Barney Bill's precepts, he outgrew his boots immediately. Mrs. Seddon, an old friend of Barney Bill, whom she addressed and spoke as Mr. William, kept a small shop in which she sold newspapers and twine and penny bottles of ink. In the little back-parlour Mrs. Seddon and Tane and Paul had their meals, while the shop boy, an inconsiderable creature with a perpetual cold in his head, attended to the unexpected customer. To Paul, this boy, with whom a few months ago he would have joyously changed places, was as the dust beneath his feet. He sent him on errands in a lordly way, treating him as, indeed, he had treated the youth of Budge Street after his triumph over Billy Goodge, and the boy obeyed meekly. Paul believed in himself; the boy didn't. Almost from the beginning he usurped an ascendancy over the little household. For all their having lived in the great maelstrom of London, he found his superficial experience of life larger than that of mother and daughter. They had never seen machinery at work, did not know the difference between an elm and a beech and had never read Sir Walter Scott. Mrs. Seddon, thin, careworn and slackly good-natured, ever lamented the loss of an astonishingly brilliant husband; Jane was markedly the more competent of the two. She had character, and, even while slaving for the romantic youth, made it clear to him that for no other man alive would she so demean herself. Paul resolved to undertake her education.

The months slipped by golden with fulfilment. News of the beautiful boy model went the round of the studios. Those were simpler times (although not so very long ago) in British art than the present, and the pretty picture was still in vogue. As Mr. Rowlatt, the young architect, had foretold, Paul had no difficulty in obtaining work. Indeed, it was fatally easy. Mr. Cyrus Rowlatt, R.A., had launched him. Being fabulously paid, he thought his new profession the most aristocratic calling in the world. In a remarkably short time he was able to repay Barney Bill. The day when he purchased the postal order was the proudest in his life. The transaction gave him a princely feeling. He alone of boys, by special virtue of his origin, was capable of such a thing. Again, his welcome in the painting world confirmed him in the belief that he was a personage, born to great things. Posed on the model throne, the object of the painter's intense scrutiny, he swelled ingenuously with the conviction of his supreme importance. The lazy luxury of the model's life appealed to his sensuous temperament. He loved the warmth, the artistic setting of the studios; the pictures, the oriental rugs, the bits of armour, the old brocade, the rich cushions. If he had not been born to it, why had he not remained, like all 'the youth of Bludston, amid the filth and clatter of the factory? He loved, too, to hear the studio talk, though at first he comprehended little of it. The men and women for whom he sat possessed the same quality as his never-forgotten goddess and Lady Chudley and the young architect-a quality which he recognized keenly, but for which his limited vocabulary could find no definition. Afterward he realized that it was refinement in manner and speech and person. This quality he felt it essential to acquire. Accordingly he played the young ape to those who aroused his admiration.

One day when Jane entered the back-parlour he sprang from his seat and advanced with outstretched hand to meet her: "My dear Lady Jane, how good of you to come! Do let me clear a chair for you."

"What are you playing at?" asked Jane.

"That's the way to receive a lady when she calls on you.

"Oh!" said Jane.

He practised on her each newly learned social accomplishment. He minced his broad Lancashire, when he spoke to her, in such a way as to be grotesquely unintelligible. By listening to conversations he learned many amazing social facts; among them that the gentry had a bath every morning of their lives. This stirred his imagination to such a pitch that he commanded Jane to bring up the matutinal washtub to his bedroom. By instinct refined he revelled in the resultant sensation of cleanliness. He paid great attention to his attire, modelling himself, as far as he could, on young Rowlatt, the architect, on whom he occasionally called to report progress. He bought such neckties and collars as Rowlatt wore and submitted them for Jane's approval. She thought them vastly genteel. He also entertained her with whatever jargon of art talk he managed to pick up. Thus, though the urchin gave himself airs and invested himself with affectations, which rendered him intolerable to all of his own social status, except the placid Mrs. Seddon and the adoring Jane, he was under the continuous influence of a high ambition. It made him ridiculous, but it preserved him from vicious and vulgar things. If you are conscious of being a prince in disguise qualifying for butterfly entrance into your kingdom, it behoves you to behave in a princely manner, not to consort with lewd fellows and not to neglect opportunities for education. You owe to yourself all the good that you can extract from the world. Acting from this point of view, and guided by the practical advice of young Rowlatt, he attended evening classes, where he gulped down knowledge hungrily. So, what with sitting and studying and backward and forward journeying, and educating Jane, and practising the accomplishments of a prince, and sleeping the long sound sleep of a tired youngster, Paul had no time to think of evil. He was far too much absorbed in himself.

Meanwhile, of Bludston not a sign. For all that he had heard of search being made for him, he might have been a runaway kitten. Sometimes he wondered what steps the Buttons had taken in order to find him. If they had communicated with the police, surely, at some stage of their journey, Barney Bill would have been held up and questioned. But had they even troubled to call in the police? Barney Bill thought not, and Paul agreed. The police were very unpopular in Budge Street-almost as unpopular as Paul. In all probability the Buttons were only too glad to be rid of him. If he found no favour in the eyes of Mrs. Button, in the eyes of Button he was detestable. Occasionally he spoke of them to Barney Bill on his rare appearances in London, but for prudential motives the latter had struck Bludston out of his itinerary and could give no information. At last Paul ceased altogether to think of them. They belonged to a far-distant past already becoming blurred in his memory.

So Paul lived his queer sedulous life, month after month, year after year, known among the studios as a quaint oddity, drawn out indulgently by the men, somewhat petted, monkey-fashion, by the women, forgotten by both when out of their presence, but developing imperceptibly day by day along the self-centring line. A kindly adviser suggested a gymnasium to keep him in condition for professional purposes. He took the advice, and in the course of time became a splendid young animal, a being so physically perfect as to be what the good vicar of Bludston had called him in tired jest-a lusus naturae. But though proud of his body as any finely formed human may honorably be, a far higher arrogance saved him from Narcissus vanity. It was the inner and essential Paul and not the outer investiture that was born to great things.

In his eighteenth year he gradually awoke to consciousness of change. One of his classmates at the Polytechnic institute, with whom he had picked a slight acquaintance, said one evening as they were walking homeward together: "I shan't be coming here after next week. I've got a good clerkship in the city. What are you doing?"

"I'm an artist's model," said Paul.

The other, a pale and perky youth, sniffed. His name was Higgins. "Good Lord! What do you mean?"

"I'm a model in the life class of the Royal Academy School," said Paul, proudly.

"You stand up naked in front of all kinds of people for them to paint you?"

"Of course," said Paul.

"How beastly!" said Higgins.

"What do you mean?"

"Just that," said Higgins. "It's beastly!"

A minute or two afterward

he jumped on a passing omnibus, and thenceforward avoided Paul at the Polytechnic Institute.

This uncompromising pronouncement on the part of Higgins was a shock; but together with other incidents, chiefly psychological, vague, intangible phenomena of his spiritual development, it showed Paul the possibility of another point of view. He took stock of himself. From the picturesque boy he had grown into the physically perfect man. As a model he was no longer sought after for subject pieces. He was in clamorous demand at Life Schools, where he drew a higher rate of pay, but where he was as impersonal to the intently working students as the cast of the Greek torso which other students were copying in the next room. The intimacy of the studio, the warmth and the colour and the meretricious luxury were gone from his life. On the other hand he was making money. He had fifty pounds in the Savings Bank, the maximum of petty thrift which an incomprehensive British Government encourages, and a fair, though unknown, sum in an iron money-box hidden behind his washstand. Up to now he had had no time to learn how to spend money. When he took to smoking cigarettes, which he had done quite recently, he regarded himself as a man.

Higgins's "How beastly!" rang in his head. Although he could not quite understand the full meaning of the brutal judgment, it brought him disquiet and discontent. For one thing, like the high-road, his profession led nowhither. The thrill of adventure had gone from it. It was static, and Paul's temperament was dynamic. He had also lost his boyish sense of importance, of being the central figure in the little stage. Disillusion began to creep over him. Would he do nothing else but this all his life? Old Erricone, the patriarchal, white-bearded Italian, the doyen of the models of London, came before his mind, a senile posturer, mumbling dreary tales of his inglorious achievements: how he was the Roman Emperor in this picture and Father Abraham in the other; how painters could not get on without him; how once he had been summoned from Rome to London; how Rossetti had shaken hands with him. Paul shivered at the thought of himself as the Erricone of a future generation.

The next day was Saturday, and he had no sitting. The morning he spent in his small bedroom in the soothing throes of literary composition. Some time ago he had thought it would be a mighty fine thing to be a poet, and had tried his hand at verse. Finding he possessed some facility, he decided that he was a poet, and at once started an epic poem in rhyme on the Life of Nelson, the material being supplied by Southey. This morning he did the Battle of the Baltic.

He put the glass to his blind eye,

And said "No signals do I spy,"

wrote Paul. Poetry taken at the gallop like this was a very simple affair, and Paul covered an amazing amount of ground.

In the afternoon he walked abroad with Jane, who, having lengthened her skirts and put up her hair, was now a young woman looking older than her years. She too had developed. Her lank figure had rounded into pretty curves. Her sharp little Cockney face had filled out. She had a pleasant smile and a capable brow, and, correcting a tendency to fluffiness of hair of which she disapproved, and dressing herself neatly, made herself by no means unattractive. Constant association with Paul had fired her ambitions. Like him, she might have a destiny, though not such a majestic one, Accordingly she had studied stenography and typewriting, with a view to earning her livelihood away from the little shop, which did not offer the prospect of a dazzling career. At the back of her girlish mind was the desire to keep pace with Paul in his upward flight, so that he should not be ashamed of her when he sat upon the clouds in glory. In awful secrecy she practised the social accomplishments which Paul brought home. She loved her Saturday and Sunday excursions with Paul-of late they had gone far afield: the Tower, Greenwich, Richmond-exploring London and making splendid discoveries such as Westminster Abbey and a fourpenny tea garden at Putney. She scarcely knew whether she cared for these things for themselves; but she saw them through Paul coloured by his vivid personality. Once on Chelsea Bridge he had pointed out a peculiarly ugly stretch of low-tide mud, and said: "Look at that." She, by unprecedented chance, mistaking his tone, had replied: "How lovely!" And she had thought it lovely, until his stare of rebuke and wonderment brought disillusion and spurting tears, which for the life of him he could not understand. It is very foolish, and often suicidal, of men to correct women for going into rapture over mud flats. On that occasion, however, the only resultant harm was the conviction in the girl's heart that the presence of Paul turned mud flats into beds of asphodel. Then, just as she saw outer things through his eyes, she felt herself regarded by outer eyes through him. His rare and absurd beauty made him a cynosure whithersoever he went. London, vast and seething, could produce no such perfect Apollo. When she caught the admiring glances of others of her sex, little Jane drew herself up proudly and threw back insolent glances of triumph. "You would like to be where I am, wouldn't you?" the glance would say, with the words almost formulated in her mind. "But you won't. You never will be. I've got him. He's walking out with me and not with you. I like to see you squirm, you envious little cat." Jane was not a princess, she was merely a child of the people; but I am willing to eat my boots if it can be satisfactorily proved that there is a princess living on the face of the earth who would not be delighted at seeing another woman cast covetous eyes on the man she loved, and would not call her a cat (or its homonym) for doing so.

On this mild March afternoon Paul and Jane walked in the Euston Road, he in a loose blue serge suit, floppy black tie, low collar and black soft felt hat (this was in the last century, please remember-epoch almost romantic, so fast does time fly), she in neat black braided jacket and sailor hat. They looked pathetically young.

"Where shall we go?" asked Jane.

Paul, in no mood for high adventure, suggested Regent's Park. "At least we can breathe there," said he.

Jane sniffed up the fresh spring air, unconscious of the London taint, and laughed. "Why, what's the matter with the Euston Road?"

"It's vulgar," said Paul. "In the Park the hyacinths and the daffodils will be out."

What he meant he scarcely knew. When one is very young and out of tune with life, one is apt to speak discordantly.

They mounted a westward omnibus. Paul lit a cigarette and smoked almost in silence until they alighted by the Park gates. As they entered, he turned to her suddenly. "Look here, Jane, I want to ask you something. The other night I told a man I was an artist's model, and he said 'How beastly!' and turned away as if I wasn't fit for him to associate with. What was he driving at?"

"He was a nasty cad," said Jane promptly.

"Of course he was," said Paul. "But why did he say it? Do you think there's anything beastly in being a model?"

"Certainly not." She added in modification: "That is if you like it."

"Well, supposing I don't like it?"

She did not reply for a minute or two. Then: "If you really don't like it, I should be rather glad."

"Why?" asked Paul.

She raised a piteous face.

"Yes, tell me," he insisted. "Tell me why you agree with that cad Higgins?"

"I don't agree with him."

"You must."

They fenced for a while. At last he pinned her down.

"Well, if you want to know," she declared, with a flushed cheek, "I don't think it's a man's job."

He bit his lip. He had asked for the truth and he had got it. His own dark suspicions were confirmed. Jane glanced at him fearful of offence. When they had walked some yards he spoke. "What would you call a man's job?"

Jane hesitated for an answer. Her life had been passed in a sphere where men carpentered or drove horses or sold things in shops. Deeply impressed by the knowledge of Paul's romantic birth and high destiny she could not suggest any such lowly avocations, and she did not know what men's jobs were usually executed by scions of the nobility. A clerk's work was certainly genteel; but even that would be lowering to the hero. She glanced at him again, swiftly. No, he was too beautiful to be penned up in an office from nine to six-thirty every day of his life. On the other hand her feminine intuition appreciated keenly the withering criticism of Higgins. Ever since Paul had first told her of his engagements at the Life Schools she had shrunk from the idea. It was all very well for the boy; but for the man-and being younger than he, she regarded him now as a man-there was something in it that offended her nice sense of human dignity.

"Well," he said. "Tell me, what do you call a man's job?"

"Oh, I don't know," she said in distress; "something you do with your hands or your brain."

"You think being a model is undignified."

"Yes."

"So do I," said Paul. "But I'm doing things with my brain, too, you know," he added quickly, anxious to be seen again on his pedestal. "I am getting on with my epic poem. I've done a lot since you last heard it. I'll read you the rest when we get home."

"That will be lovely," said Jane, to whom the faculty of rhyming was a never-ceasing wonder. She would sit bemused by the jingling lines and wrapt in awe at the minstrel.

They sat on a bench by the flower-beds, gay in their spring charm of belated crocus and hyacinth and daffodil, with here and there a precocious tulip. Paul, sensitive to beauty, discoursed on flowers. Max Field had a studio in St. John's Wood opening out into a garden, which last summer was a dream of delight. He described it. When he came into his kingdom he intended to have such a garden.

"You'll let me have a peep at it sometimes, won't you?" said Jane.

"Of course," said Paul.

The lack of enthusiasm in his tone chilled the girl's heart. But she did not protest. In these days, in spite of occasional outspokenness she was still a humble little girl worshipping her brilliant companion from afar.

"How often could I come?" she asked.

"That," said he, in his boyish pashadom, "would depend on how good you were."

Obedient to the thought processes of her sex, she made a bee line to the particular.

"Oh, Paul, I hope you're not angry."

"At what?"

"At what I said about your being a model."

"Not a bit," said he. "If I hadn't wanted to know your opinion, I wouldn't have asked you."

She brightened. "You really wanted to know what I thought?"

"Naturally," said Paul. "You're the most commonsense girl I've ever met."

Paul walked soberly home. Jane accompanied him-on wings.

On Monday Paul went to the Life School and stripped with a heavy heart. Jane was right. It was not a man's job. The fact, too, of his doing it lowered him in her esteem, and though he had no romantic thoughts whatever with regard to Jane, he enjoyed being Lord Paramount in her eyes. He went into the studio and took up his pose; and as he stood on the model throne, conspicuous, glaring, the one startling central object, Higgins's "How beastly!" came like a material echo and smote him in the face. He felt like Adam when he first proceeded to his primitive tailoring. A wave of shame ran through him. He looked around the great silent room, at the rows of students, each in front of an easel, using his naked body for their purposes. A phrase flashed across his mind-in three years his reading had brought vocabulary-they were using his physical body for their spiritual purposes. For the moment he hated them all fiercely. They were a band of vampires. Habit and discipline alone saved him from breaking his pose and fleeing headlong. But there he was fixed, like marble, in an athlete's attitude, showing rippling muscles of neck and chest and arms and thighs all developed by the gymnasium into the perfection of Greek beauty, and all useless, more useless even, as far as the world's work was concerned, than the muscles of a racehorse. There he was fixed, with outstretched limbs and strained loins, a human being far more alive than the peering, measuring throng, far more important, called by a destiny infinitely higher than theirs. And none of them suspected it. For the first time he saw himself as they saw him. They admired him as a thing, an animal trained especially for them, a prize bullock. As a human being they disregarded him. Nay, in the depth of their hearts they despised him. Not one of them would have stood where he did. He would have considered it-rightly-as degrading to his manhood.

The head of the school snapped his fingers impatiently and fussed up to the model-stand. "What's the matter? Tired already? Take it easy for a minute, if you like."

"No," said Paul, instinctively stiffening himself. "I'm never tired."

It was his boast that he could stand longer in a given pose than any other model, and thereby he had earned reputation.

"Then don't go to pieces, my boy," said the head of the school, not unkindly. "You're supposed to be a Greek athlete and not Venus rising from the sea or a jelly at a children's party."

Paul flushed all over, and insane anger shook him. How dared the man speak to him like that? He kept the pose, thinking wild thoughts. Every moment the strain grew less bearable, the consciousness of his degradation more intense. He longed for something to happen, something dramatic, something that would show the vampires what manner of man he was. He was histrionic in his anguish.

A fly settled on his back-a damp, sluggish fly that had survived the winter-and it crawled horribly up his spine. He bore it for a few moments, and then his over-excited nerves gave way and he dashed his hand behind him. Somebody laughed. He raised his clenched fists and glared at the class.

"Ay, yo' can laugh-you can laugh till yo' bust!" he cried, falling back into his Lancashire accent. "But yo'll never see me, here agen. Never, never, never, so help me God!"

He rushed away. The head of the school followed him and, while he was dressing, reasoned with him.

"Nay," said Paul. "Never agen. Aw'm doan wi' th' whole business."

And as Paul walked home through the hurrying streets, he thought regretfully of twenty speeches which would have more adequately signified his indignant retirement from the profession.

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