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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 27283

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


PAUL'S model-self being dead, he regarded it with complacency and set his foot on it, little doubting that it was another stepping-stone.

He spoke loftily of his independence.

"But how are you going to earn your living?" asked Jane, the practical.

"I shall follow one of the arts," Paul replied. "I think I am a poet, but I might be a painter or a musician."

"You do sing and play lovely," said Jane.

He had recently purchased from a pawnshop a second-hand mandoline, which he had mastered by the aid of a sixpenny handbook, and he would play on it accompaniments to sentimental ballads which he sang in a high baritone.

"I'll not choose yet awhile," said Paul, disregarding the tribute. "Something will happen. The 'moving finger' will point-"

"What moving finger?"

"The finger of Destiny," said Paul.

And, as the superb youth predicted, something did happen a day or two afterwards.

They were walking in Regent Street, and stopped, as was their wont, before a photographer's window where portraits of celebrities were exposed to view. Paul loved this window, had loved it from the moment of discovery, a couple of years before. It was a Temple of Fame. The fact of your portrait being exhibited, with your style and title printed below, marked you as one of the great ones of the earth. Often he had said to Jane: "When I am there you'll be proud, won't you?"

And she had looked up to him adoringly and wondered why he was not there already.

It was Paul's habit to scrutinize the faces of those who had achieved greatness, Archbishops, Field-Marshals, Cabinet Ministers, and to speculate on the quality of mind that had raised them to their high estate; and often he would shift his position, so as to obtain a glimpse of his own features in the plate-glass window, and compare them with those of the famous. Thus he would determine that he had the brow of the divine, the nose of the statesman and the firm lips of the soldier. It was a stimulating pastime. He was born to great things; but to what great things he knew not. The sphere in which his glory should be fulfilled was as yet hidden in the mists of time.

But this morning, instead of roving over the illustrious gallery, his eye caught and was fascinated by a single portrait. He stood staring at it for a long time, lost in the thrill of thought.

At last Jane touched his arm. "What are you looking at?"

He pointed. "Do you see that?"

"Yes. It's-" She named an eminent actor, then in the heyday of his fame, of whom legend hath it that his photographs were bought in thousands by love-lorn maidens who slept with them beneath their pillows.

Paul drew her away from the little knot of idlers clustered round the window. "There's nothing that man can do that I can't do," said Paul.

"You're twenty times better looking," said Jane.

"I have more intelligence," said Paul.

"Of course," said Jane.

"I'm going to be an actor," said Paul.

"Oh!" cried Jane in sudden rapture. Then her sturdy common-sense asserted itself. "But can you act?"

"I'm sure I could, if I tried. You've only got to have the genius to start with and the rest is easy."

As she did not dare question his genius, she remained silent.

"I'm going to be an actor," said he, "and when I'm not acting I shall be a poet."

In spite of her adoration Jane could not forbear a shaft of raillery. "You'll leave yourself some time to be a musician, won't you?"

He laughed. His alert and retentive mind had seized, long ago, on Rowlatt's recommendation at the Little Bear Inn, and he had developed, perhaps half consciously, a half sense of humour. A whole sense, however, is not congruous with the fervid beliefs and soaring ambitions of eighteen. Your sense of humour, that delicate percipience of proportion, that subrident check on impulse, that touch of the divine fellowship with human frailty, is a thing of mellower growth. It is a solvent and not an excitant. It does not stimulate to sublime effort; but it can cool raging passion. It can take the salt from tears, the bitterness from judgment, the keenness from despair; but in its universal manifestation it would effectually stop a naval engagement.

Paul laughed. "You mustn't think I brag too much, Jane," said he. "For anybody else I know what I say would be ridiculous. But for me it's different. I'm going to be a great man. I know it. If I'm not going to be a great actor, I shall be a great something else. God doesn't put such things into people's heads for nothing. He didn't take me from the factory in Bludston and set me here with you, walking up Regent Street, like a gentleman, just to throw me back into the gutter."

"But who said you were going back to the gutter?" asked Jane.

"Nobody. I wanted to get right with myself. But-that getting right with oneself-do you think it egotistic?"

"I don't quite know what that is."

He defined the term.

"No," she said seriously. "I don't think it is. Everybody has got a self to consider. I don't look on it as ego-what-d'-you-call-it to strike out for myself instead of going on helping mother to mind the shop. So why should you?"

"Besides, I owe a duty to my parents, don't I?" he asked eagerly.

But here Jane took her own line. "I can't see that you do, considering that they've done nothing for you."

"They've done everything for me," he protested vehemently. "They've made me what I am."

"They didn't take much trouble about it," said Jane.

They squabbled for a while after the manner of boy and girl. At last she cried: "Don't you see I'm proud of you for yourself and not for your silly old parents? What have they got to do with me? And besides, you'll never find them."

"I don't think you know what you're talking about," he said loftily. "It is time we were getting home."

He walked on for some time stiffly, his head in the air, not condescending to speak. She had uttered blasphemy. He would find his parents, he vowed to himself, if only to spite Jane. Presently his ear caught a little sniff, and looking down, saw her dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief. His heart softened at once. "Never mind," said he. "You didn't mean it."

"It's only because I love you, Paul," she murmured wretchedly.

"That's all right," he said. "Let us go in here"-they were passing a confectioner's-"and we'll have some jam-puffs."

Paul went to his friend Rowlatt, who had already heard, through one of his assistants who had a friend in the Life School, of the dramatic end of the model's career.

"I quite sympathize with you," Rowlatt laughed. "I've wondered how you stuck it so long. What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going on the stage."

"How are you going to get there?"

"I don't know," said Paul, "but if I knew an actor, he would be able to tell me. I thought perhaps you might know an actor."

"I do-one or two," replied Rowlatt; "but they're just ordinary actors-not managers; and I shouldn't think they'd be able to do anything for you."

"Except what I say," Paul persisted. "They'll tell me how one sets about being an actor."

Rowlatt scribbled a couple of introductions on visiting cards, and Paul went away satisfied. He called on the two actors. The first, in atrabiliar mood, advised him to sweep crossings, black shoes, break stones by the roadside, cart manure, sell tripe or stocks and shares, blow out his brains rather than enter a profession over whose portals was inscribed the legend, Lasciate ogni speranza-he snapped his finger and thumb to summon memory as if it were a dog.

"Voi che intrate," continued Paul, delighted at showing off the one Italian tag he had picked up from his reading. And filled with one of the purest joys of the young literary life and therefore untouched by pessimistic counsel, he left the despairing actor.

The second, a brighter and more successful man, talked with Paul for a long time about all manner of things. Having no notion of his antecedents, he assumed him to be a friend of Rowlatt and met him on terms of social equality. Paul expanded like a flower to the sun. It was the first time he had spoken with an educated man on common ground-a man to whom the great imaginative English writers were familiar friends, who ran from Chaucer to Lamb and from Dryden to Browning with amazing facility. The strong wine of allusive talk mounted to Paul's brain. Tingling with excitement, he brought out all his small artillery of scholarship and acquitted himself so well that his host sent him off with a cordial letter to a manager of his acquaintance.

The letter opened the difficult door of the theatre. His absurd beauty of face and figure, a far greater recommendation in the eyes of the manager who had begun rehearsals for an elaborate romantic production than a knowledge of The Faerie Queene, obtained for him an immediate engagement-to walk on as a gilded youth of Italy in two or three scenes at a salary of thirty shillings a week. Paul went home and spread himself like a young peacock before Jane, and said: "I am an actor."

The girl's eyes glowed. "You are wonderful."

"No, not I," replied Paul modestly. "It is my star."

"Have you got a big part?" asked Jane.

He laughed pityingly, sweeping back his black curls. "No, you silly, I haven't any lines to speak"-he had at once caught up the phrase-"I must begin at the beginning. Every actor has to do it."

"You'll get mother and me orders to come and see you, won't you?"

"You shall have a box," declared Paul the magnificent.

Thus began a new phase in the career of Paul Kegworthy. After the first few days of bewilderment on the bare, bleak stage, where oddments of dilapidated furniture served to indicate thrones and staircases and palace doors and mossy banks; where men and women in ordinary costume behaved towards one another in the most ridiculous way and went through unintelligible actions with phantom properties; where the actor-manager would pause in the breath of an impassioned utterance and cry out, "Oh, my God! stop that hammering!" where nothing looked the least bit in the world like the lovely ordered picture he had been accustomed to delight in from the shilling gallery-after the first few days he began to focus this strange world and to suffer its fascination. And he was proud of the silent part allotted to him, a lazy lute-player in attendance on the great lady, who lounged about on terrace steps in picturesque attitudes. He was glad that he was not an unimportant member of the crowd of courtiers who came on in a bunch and bowed and nodded and pretended to talk to one another and went off again. He realized that he would be in sight of the audience all the time. It did not strike him that the manager was using him merely as a piece of decoration.

One day, however, at rehearsal the leading lady said: "If my lute-player could play a few chords here-or the orchestra for him-it would help me tremendously. I've got all this long cross with nothing to say."

Paul seized his opportunity. "I can play the mandoline," said he.

"Oh, can you?" said the manager, and Paul was handed over to the musical director, and the next day rehearsed with a real instrument which he twanged in the manner prescribed. He did not fail to announce himself to Jane as a musician.

Gradually he found his feet among the heterogeneous band who walk on at London theatres. Some were frankly vulgar, some were pretentiously genteel, a good many were young men of gentle birth from the public schools and universities. Paul's infallible instinct drew him into timid companionship with the last. He knew little of the things they talked about, golf and cricket prospects, and the then brain-baffling Ibsen, but he listened modestly, hoping to learn. He reaped the advantage of having played "the sedulous ape" to his patrons of the studios. His tricks were somewhat exaggerated; his sweep of the hat when ladies passed him at the stage door entrance was lower than custom deems necessary; he was quicker in courteous gesture than the young men from the universities; he bowed more deferentially to an interlocutor than is customary outside Court circles; but they were all the tricks of good breeding. More than one girl asked if he were of foreign extraction. He remembered Rowlatt's question of years ago, and, as then, he felt curiously pleased. He confessed to an exotic strain: to Italian origin. Italy was romantic. When he obtained a line part and he appeared on the bill, he took the opportunity of changing a name linked with unpleasant associations which he did not regard as his own. Kegworthy was cast into the limbo of common things, and he became Paul Savelli. But this was later.

He made friends at the theatre. Some of the women, by petting and flattery, did their best to spoil him; but Paul was too ambitious, too much absorbed in his dream of greatness and his dilettante literary and musical pursuits, too much yet of a boy to be greatly affected. What he prized far more highly than feminine blandishments was the new comradeship with his own sex. Instinctively he sought them, as a sick dog seeks grass, unconsciously feeling the need of them in his mental and moral development. Besides, the attitude of the women reminded him of that of the women painters in his younger days. He had no intention of playing the pet monkey again. His masculinity revolted. The young barbarian clamoured. A hard day on the river he found much more to his taste than sporting in the shade of a Kensington flat over tea and sandwiches with no matter how sentimental an Amaryllis. Jane, who

had seen the performance, though not from a box, a couple of upper-circle seats being all that Paul could obtain from the acting-manager, and had been vastly impressed by Paul's dominating position in the stage fairy-world, said to him, with a sniff that choked a sigh: "Now that you've got all those pretty girls around you, I suppose you soon won't think of me any longer?"

Paul waved the dreaded houris away as though they were midges. "I'm sick of girls," he replied in a tone of such sincerity that Jane tossed her head.

"Oh? Then I suppose you lump me with the rest and are sick of me too?"

"Don't worry a fellow," said Paul. "You're not a girl-not in that sense, I mean. You're a pal."

"Anyway, they're lots prettier than what I am," she said defiantly.

He looked at her critically, after the brutal manner of obtuse boyhood, and beheld an object quite agreeable to the sight. Her Londoner's ordinarily colourless checks were flushed, her blue eyes shone bright, her little chin was in the air and her parted lips showed a flash of white teeth. She wore a neat simple blouse and skirt and held her slim, half-developed figure taut. Paul shook his head. "Jolly few of them-without grease-paint on."

"But you see them all painted up."

He burst into laughter. "Then they're beastly, near by! You silly kid, don't you know? We've got to make up, otherwise no one in front would be able to see our mouths and noses and eyes. From the front we look lovely; but close to we're horrors."

"Well, how should I know that?" asked Jane.

"You couldn't unless you saw us-or were told. But now you know."

"Do you look beastly too?"

"Vile," he laughed.

"I'm glad I didn't think of going on the stage,"' she said, childish yet very feminine unreason combining with atavistic puritanism. "I shouldn't like to paint my face."

"You get used to it," said Paul, the experienced.

"I think it horrid to paint your face."

He swung to the door-they were in the little parlour behind the shop-a flash of anger in his eyes. "If you think everything I do horrid, I can't talk to you."

He marched out. Jane suddenly realized that she had behaved badly. She whipped herself. She had behaved atrociously. Of course she had been jealous of the theatre girls; but had he not been proving to her all the time in what small account he held them? And now he had gone. At seventeen a beloved gone for an hour is a beloved gone for ever. She rushed to the foot of the stairs on which his ascending steps still creaked.

"Paul!"

"Yes."

"Come back! Do come back!"

Paul came back and followed her into the parlour.

"I'm sorry," she said.

He graciously forgave her, having already arrived at the mature conclusion that females were unaccountable folk whose excursions into unreason should be regarded by man with pitying indulgence. And, in spite of the seriousness with which he took himself, he was a sunny-tempered youth.

Barney Bill, putting into the Port of London, so to speak, in order to take in cargo, also visited the theatre towards the end of the run of the piece. He waited, by arrangement, for Paul outside the stage door, and Paul, coming out, linked arms and took him to a blazing bar in Piccadilly Circus and ministered to his thirst, with a princely air.

"It seems rum," said Bill, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, after a mighty pull at the pint tankard-"it seems rum that you should be standing me drinks at a swell place like this. It seems only yesterday that you was a two-penn'orth of nothing jogging along o' me in the old 'bus."

"I've moved a bit since then, haven't I?" said Paul.

"You have, sonny," said Barney Bill. "But"-he sighed and looked around the noisy glittering place, at the smart barmaids, the well-clad throng of loungers, some in evening dress, the half-dozen gorgeous ladies sitting with men at little tables by the window-"I thinks as how you gets more real happiness in a quiet village pub, and the beer is cheaper, and-gorblimey!"

He ran his finger between his stringy neck and the frayed stand-up collar that would have sawn his head off but for the toughness of his hide. To do Paul honour he had arrayed himself in his best-a wondrously cut and heavily-braided morning coat and lavender-coloured trousers of eccentric shape, and a funny little billycock hat too small for him, and a thunder-and-lightning necktie, all of which he had purchased nearly twenty years ago to grace a certain wedding at which he had been best man. Since then he had worn the Nessus shirt of a costume not more than half-a-dozen times. The twisted, bright-eyed little man, so obviously ill at ease in his amazing garb, and the beautiful youth, debonair in his well-fitting blue serge, formed a queer contrast.

"Don't you never long for the wind of God and the smell of the rain?" asked Barney Bill.

"I haven't the time," said Paul. "I'm busy all day long."

"Well, well," said Barney Bill, "the fellow wasn't far wrong who said it takes all sorts to make a world. There are some as likes electric light and some as likes the stars. Gimme the stars." And in his countryman's way he set the beer in his tankard swirling round and round before he put it again to his lips.

Paul sipped his beer reflectively. "You may find happiness and peace of soul under the stars," said he, sagely, "and if I were a free agent I'd join you tomorrow. But you can't find fame. You can't rise to great things. I want to-well, I don't quite know what I want to do," he laughed, "but it's something big."

"Yuss, my boy," said Barney Bill. "I understand. You was always like that. You haven't come any nearer finding your 'igh-born parents?"-there was a twinkle in his eyes-"'ave yer?"

"I'm not going to bother any more about them, whoever they are," said Paul, lighting a cigarette. "When I was a kid I used to dream that they would find me and do everything for me. Now I'm a man with experience of life, I find that I've got to do everything for myself. And by George!"-he thumped the bar and smiled the radiant smile of the young Apollo-"I'm going to do it."

Barney Bill took off his Luke's iron crown of a billycock hat and scratched his cropped and grizzled head. "How old are you, sonny?"

"Nearly nineteen," said Paul.

"By Gosh!" said Barney Bill.

He put on his hat at a comfortable but rakish angle. He looked like a music-hall humourist. A couple of the gorgeous ladies giggled.

"Yuss," said he, "you're a man with an experience of life-and nobody can do nothing for you but yerself. Poor old Barney Bill has been past helping you this many a year."

"But I owe everything to you!" cried Paul, boyishly. "If it hadn't been for you, I should still be working in that factory at Bludston."

Bill winked and nodded acquiescence as he finished his tankard.

"I've often wondered-since I've grown up-what induced you to take me away. What was it?"

Bill cocked his head on one side and regarded him queerly. "Now you're arsking," said he.

Paul persisted. "You must have had some reason."

"I suppose I was interested in them parents of yours," said Barney Bill.

And that was all he would say on the subject.

The days went on. The piece had run through the summer and autumn, and Paul, a favourite with the management, was engaged for the next production. At rehearsal one day the author put in a couple of lines, of which he was given one to speak. He now was in very truth an actor. Jane could no longer taunt him in her naughty moods (invariably followed by bitter repentance) with playing a dumb part like a trained dog. He had a real part, typewritten and done up in a brown-paper cover, which was handed to him, with lack of humour, by the assistant stage manager.

In view of his own instantaneous success he tried to persuade Jane to go on the stage; but Jane had no artistic ambitions, to say nothing of her disinclination to paint her face. She preferred the prosaic reality of stenography and typewriting. No sphere could be too dazzling for Paul; he was born to great things, the consciousness of his high destiny being at once her glory and her despair; but, as regards herself, her outlook on life was cool and sober. Paul was peacock born; it was for him to strut about in iridescent plumage. She was a humble daw and knew her station. It must be said that Paul held out the stage as a career more on account of the social status that it would give to Jane than through a belief in her histrionic possibilities. He too, fond as he was of the girl with whom he had grown up, recognized the essential difference between them. She was as pretty, as sensible, as helpful a little daw as ever chattered; but the young peacock never for an instant forgot her daw-dom.

Jane's profound common-sense reaped its reward the following spring when she found herself obliged to earn her livelihood. Her mother died, and the shop was sold, and an aunt in Cricklewood offered Jane a home, on condition that she paid for her keep. This she was soon able to do when she obtained a situation with a business firm in the city. The work was hard and the salary small; but Jane had a brave heart and held her head high. In her simple philosophy life was work, and dreaming an occasional luxury. Her mother's death grieved her deeply, for she was a girl of strong affections, and the breaking up of her life with Paul seemed an irremediable catastrophe.

"It's just as well," said her aunt, "that there's an end of it, or you'd be making a fool of yourself over that young actor chap with his pretty face. I don't hold with any of them."

But Jane was too proud to reply.

On their last night together in the Barn Street house they sat alone in the little back-parlour as they had done for the last six years-all their impressionable childish days. It was the only home that Paul had known, and he felt the tragedy of its dissolution. They sat on the old horsehair sofa, behind the table, very tearful, very close together in spirit, holding each other's hands. They talked as the young talk-and the old, for the matter of that. She trembled at his wants unministered to in his new lodgings. He waved away prospective discomfort: what did it matter? He was a man and could rough it. It was she herself whose loss would be irreparable. She sighed; he would soon forget her. He vowed undying remembrance by all his gods. Some beautiful creature of the theatre would carry him off. He laughed at such an absurdity. Jane would always be his confidante, his intimate. Even though they lived under different roofs, they would meet and have their long happy jaunts together. Jane said dolefully that it could only be on Sundays, as their respective working hours would never correspond-"And you haven't given me your Sundays for a year," she added. Paul slid from the dark theme and, to comfort her, spoke glowingly of the future, when he should have achieved his greatness. He would give her a beautiful house with carriages and servants, and she would not have to work.

"But if you are not there, what's the good of anything?" she said.

"I'll come to see you, silly dear," he replied ingenuously.

Before they parted for the night she threw her arms round his neck impulsively. "Don't quite forget me, Paul. It would break my heart. I've only you left now poor mother's gone."

Paul kissed her and vowed again. He did not vow that he would be a mother to her, though to the girl's heart it seemed as if he did. The little girl was aching for a note in his voice that never came. Now, ninety-nine youths in a hundred who held, at such a sentimental moment, a comely and not uncared-for maiden in their arms, would have lost their heads (and their hearts) and vowed in the desired manner. But Paul was different, and Jane knew it, to her sorrow. He was by no means temperamentally cold; far from it. But, you see, he lived intensely in his dream, and only on its outer fringe had Jane her place. In the heart of it, hidden in amethystine mist, from which only flashed the diadem on her hair, dwelt the exquisite, the incomparable lady, the princess who should share his kingdom, while he knelt at her feet and worshipped her and kissed the rosy tips of her calm fingers. So, as it never entered his head to kiss the finger tips of poor Jane, it never entered his head to fancy himself in love with her. Therefore, when she threw herself into his arms, he hugged her in a very sincere and brotherly way, but kissed her with a pair of cast lips of Adonis. Of course he would never forget her. Jane went to bed and sobbed her heart out. Paul slept but little. The breaking up of the home meant the end of many precious and gentle things, and without them he knew that his life would be the poorer. And he vowed once more, to himself, that he would never prove disloyal to Jane.

While he remained in London he saw what he could of her, sacrificing many a Sunday's outing with the theatre folk. Jane, instinctively aware of this, and finding in his demeanour, after examining it with femininely jealous, microscopic eyes, nothing perfunctory, was duly grateful, and gave him of her girlish best. She developed very quickly after her entrance into the world of struggle. Very soon it was the woman and not the child who listened to the marvellous youth's story of the wonders that would be. She never again threw herself into his arms, and he never again called her a "little silly." She was dimly aware of change, though she knew that the world could hold no other man for her. But Paul was not.

And then Paul went on tour.

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