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   Chapter 10 No.10

The Fortunate Youth By William John Locke Characters: 21416

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


THE shooting party came, and Paul, able to leave his room and sit in the sunshine and crawl about the lawn and come down to dinner, though early retirement was prescribed, went among the strange men and women of the aristocratic caste like one in a dream of bliss. Much of their talk, sport and personalities, was unintelligible; every man seemed to have killed everything everywhere and every woman seemed to know everybody and everybody's intimate secrets. So when conversation was general, Paul, who had killed nothing and knew nobody, listened in silent perplexity. But even the perplexity was a happiness. It was all so new, so fascinating. For was not this world of aristocrats-there were lords and ladies and great personages whose names he had read in the newspapers-his rightful inheritance, the sphere to which he had been born? And they did not always talk of things which he did not understand. They received him among them with kind welcome and courtesy. No one asked him whence he came and whither he was going. They took him for granted, as a guest of the Winwoods. Of course if Paul had seen himself on the way to rival the famous actor whose photograph in the window of the London Stereoscopic Company had inspired him with histrionic ambitions, he would have been at no pains to hide his profession. But between the darling of the London stage and a seedy member of a fit-up company lies a great gulf. He shrank from being associated with Mr. Vincent Crummles. One thing, however, of invaluable use he had brought with him from Theatreland-the dress suit which formed part of his stage wardrobe. There were other things, too, which he did not appreciate-ease of manner, victory over the lingering Lancastrian burr, and a knowledge of what to do with his feet and hands.

One day he had a great shock. The house party were assembling in the drawing-room, when in sailed the great lady, the ever-memorable great lady, the Marchioness of Chudley, who had spoken to him and smiled on him in the Bludston factory. Fear laid a cold grip on his heart. He thought of pleading weakness and running away to the safe obscurity of his room. But it was too late. The procession was formed immediately, and he found himself in his place with his partner on his arm. Dinner was torture. What he said to his neighbours he knew not. He dared not look up the table where Lady Chudley sat in full view. Every moment he expected-ridiculous apprehension of an accusing conscience-Colonel Winwood to come and tap him on the shoulder and bid him begone. But nothing happened. Afterwards, in the drawing-room, Fate drove him into a corner near Lady Chudley, whose eyes he met clear upon him. He turned away hurriedly and plunged into conversation with a young soldier standing by. Presently he heard Miss Winwood's voice.

"Mr. Savelli, I want to introduce you to Lady Chudley."

The fear gripped him harder and colder. How could he explain that he was occupying his rightful place in that drawing-room? But he held himself up and resolved to face the peril like a man. Lady Chudley smiled on him graciously-how well he remembered her smile!-and made him sit by her side. She was a dark, stately woman of forty, giving the impression that she could look confoundedly cold and majestic when she chose. She wore diamonds in her hair and a broad diamond clasp to the black velvet round her throat.

"Miss Winwood has been telling me what an awful time you've had, Mr. Savelli," she said pleasantly. "Now, whenever I hear of people having had pneumonia I always want to talk to them and sympathize with them."

"That's very kind of you, Lady Chudley," said Paul.

"Only a fellow-feeling. I nearly died of it once myself. I hope you're getting strong."

"I'm feeling my strength returning every day. It's a queer new joy."

"Isn't it?"

They discussed the exhilaration of convalescence. It was a 'wonderful springtide. They reverted to the preceding misery.

"You're far luckier than I was," she remarked. "You've had a comfy English house to be ill in. I was in a stone-cold palazzo in Florence-in winter. Ugh! Shall I ever forget it? I don't want to speak evil of Italy to an Italian-"

"I'm only Italian by descent," exclaimed Paul, with a laugh, his first frank laugh during the whole of that gloomy evening. And he laughed louder than was necessary, for, as it suddenly dawned upon him that he did not in the least recall to her mind the grimy little Bludston boy, the cold hand of fear was dissolved in a warm gush of exultation. "You can abuse Italy or any country but England as much as you like."

"Why mustn't I abuse England?"

"Because it's the noblest country in the world," he cried; and, seeing approval in her eyes, he yielded to an odd temptation. "If one could only do something great for her!"

"What would you like to do?" she asked.

"Anything. Sing for her. Work for her. Die for her. It makes one so impatient to sit down and do nothing. If one could only stir her up to a sense of her nationality!" he went on, less lyrically, though with the same fine enthusiasm. "She seems to be losing it, letting the smaller nations assert theirs to such an extent that she is running the risk of becoming a mere geographical expression. She has merged herself in the Imperial Ideal. That's magnificent; but the Empire ought to realize her as the great Motherheart. If England could only wake up as England again, what a wonderful thing it would be!"

"It would," said Lady Chudley. "And you would like to be the awakener?"

"Ay!" said Paul-"what a dream!"

"There was never a dream worth calling a dream that did not come true."

"Do you believe that, too?" he asked delightedly. "I've held to it all my life."

Colonel Winwood, who had been moving hostwise from group to group in the great drawing-room, where already a couple of bridge tables had been arranged, approached slowly. Lady Chudley gave him a laughing glance of dismissal. Paul's spacious Elizabethan patriotism, rare-at least in expression-among the young men of the day, interested and amused her.

"Have you dreamed all your life of being the Awakener of England?"

"I have dreamed of being so many things," he said, anxious not to commit himself. For, truth to say, this new ambition was but a couple of minutes old.

It had sprung into life, however, like Pallas Athene, all armed and equipped.

"And they have all come true?"

His great eyes laughed and his curly head bent ever so slightly. "Those worth calling dreams," said he.

A little later in the evening, when on retiring to an early bed he was wishing Miss Winwood good night, she said, "You're a lucky young man."

"I know-but-" He looked smiling inquiry.

"Lady Chudley's the most valuable woman in England for a young man to get on the right side of."

Paul went to bed dazed. The great lady who had recognized the divine fire in the factory boy had again recognized it in the grown man. She had all but said that, if he chose, he could be the Awakener of England. The Awakener of England! The watchword of his new-born ambition rang in his brain until he fell asleep.

The time soon came when the prospective Awakener of England awoke to the fact that he must fare forth into the sleeping land with but a guinea in his pocket. The future did not dismay him, for he knew now that his dreams came true. But he was terribly anxious, more anxious than ever, to leave Drane's Court with all the prestige of the prospective Awakener. Now, this final scene of the production could not be worked for a guinea. There were golden tips to servants, there was the first-class railway fare. Once in London-he could pawn things to keep him going, and a Bloomsbury landlady with whom he had lodged, since the loss of Jane, would give him a fortnight or three weeks' credit. But he had to get to London-to get there gloriously; so that when the turn of Fortune's wheel enabled him to seek again these wonderful friends in the aristocratic sphere to which he belonged, he could come among them untarnished, the conquering prince. But that miserable guinea! He racked his brains. There was his gold watch and chain, a symbol, to his young mind, of high estate. When he had bought it there crossed his mind the silly thought of its signification of the infinite leagues that lay between him and Billy Goodge. He could pawn it for ten pounds-it would be like pawning his heart's blood-but where? Not in Morebury, even supposing there was a pawnbroker's in the place. He had many friends in his profession, scattered up and down the land. But he had created round himself the atmosphere of the young magnifico. It was he who had lent, others who had borrowed. Rothschild or Rockefeller inviting any of them to lend him money would have produced less jaw-dropping amazement. Even if he sent his pride flying and appealed to the most friendly and generous, he shrank from the sacrifice he would call upon the poor devil to make. There was only his beautiful and symbolic watch and chain. The nearest great town where he could be sure of finding a pawnbroker was distant an hour's train journey.

So on the day before that for which, in spite of hospitable protestations on the part of Colonel and Miss Winwood, he had fixed his departure, he set forth on the plea of private business, and returned with a heavier pocket and a heavier heart. He had been so proud, poor boy, of the gold insignia across his stomach. He had had a habit of fingering it lovingly. Now it was gone. He felt naked-in a curious way dishonoured. There only remained his cornelian talisman. He got back in time for tea and kept his jacket closely buttoned. But in the evening he had perforce to appear stark and ungirt-in those days Fashion had not yet decreed, as it does now, the absence of watchchain on evening dress-and Paul shambled into the drawing-room like a guest without a wedding garment. There were still a few people staying in the house-the shooting party proper, and Lady Chudley, had long since gone-but enough remained to be a social microcosm for Paul. Every eye was upon him. In spite of himself, his accusing hand went fingering the inanity of his waistcoat front. He also fingered, with a horrible fascination, the dirty piece of card that took the place of his watch in his pocket.

One must be twenty to realize the tragedy of it. Dans un grenier qu'on est bien a vingt ans! To be twenty, in a garret, with the freedom and the joy of it! Yes; the dear poet was right. In those "brave days" the poignancy of life comes not in the garret, but in the palace.

To-morrow, with his jacket buttoned, he could make his exit from Drane's Cou

rt in the desired splendour-scattering largesse to menials and showing to hosts the reflected glow of the golden prospects before him; but for this evening the glory had departed. Besides, it was his last evening there, and London's welcome tomorrow would be none too exuberant.

The little party was breaking up, the ladies retiring for the night, and the men about to accompany Colonel Winwood to the library for a final drink and cigarette. Paul shook hands with Miss Winwood.

"Good night-and good-bye," she said, "if you take the early train. But must you really go to-morrow?"

"I must," said Paul.

"I hope we'll very soon be seeing you again. Give me your address." She moved to a bridge table and caught up the marking block, which she brought to him. "Now I've forgotten the pencil."

"I've got one," said Paul, and impulsively thrusting his fingers into his waistcoat pocket, flicked them out with the pencil. But he also flicked out the mean-looking card of which he had been hatefully conscious all the evening. The Imp of Mischance arranged that as Miss Winwood stood close by his side, it should fall, unperceived by him, on the folds of her grey velvet train. He wrote the Bloomsbury address and handed her the leaf torn from the pad. She folded it up, moved away, turning back to smile. As she turned she happened to look downward; then she stooped and picked the card from her dress. A conjecture of horror smote Paul. He made a step forward and stretched out his hand; but not before she had instinctively glanced first at the writing and then at his barren waistcoat. She repressed a slight gasp, regarding him with steady, searching eyes.

His dark face flushed crimson as he took the accursed thing, desiring no greater boon from Heaven than instant death. He felt sick with humiliation. The brightly lit room grew black. It was in a stupor of despair that he heard her say, "Wait a bit here, till I've got rid of these people."

He stumbled away and stood on the bearskin rug before the fireplace, while she joined the lingering group by the door. The two or three minutes were an eternity of agony to Paul. He had lost his great game.

Miss Winwood shut the door and came swiftly to him and laid her hand on his arm. Paul hung his head and looked into the fire. "My poor boy!" she said very tenderly. "What are you going to do with yourself?"

If it had not been for the diabolical irony of the mishap he would have answered with his gay flourish. But now he could not so answer. Boyish, hateful tears stood in his eyes and, in spite of anguished effort of will, threatened to fall. He continued to look into the fire, so that she should not see them. "I shall go on as I always have done," he said as stoutly as he could.

"Your prospects are not very bright, I fear."

"I shall keep my head above water," said Paul. "Oh, please don't!" he cried, shivering. "You have been so good to me. I can't bear you to have seen that thing. I can't stand it."

"My dear boy," she said, coming a little nearer, "I don't think the worse of you for that. On the contrary, I admire your pluck and your brave attitude towards life. Indeed I do. I respect you for it. Do you remember the old Italian story of Ser Federigo and his falcon? How he hid his poverty like a knightly gentleman? You see what I mean, don't you? You mustn't be angry with me!"

Her words were Gilead balm of instantaneous healing.

"Angry?"

His voice quavered. In a revulsion of emotion he turned blindly, seized her hand and kissed it. It was all he could do.

"If I have found it out-not just now," she quickly interjected, seeing him wince, "but long ago-it was not your fault. You've made a gallant gentleman's show to the end-until I come, in a perfectly brutal way, and try to upset it. Tell me-I'm old enough to be your mother, and you must know by this time that I'm your friend-have you any resources at all-beyond-?" She made ever so slight a motion of her hand toward the hidden pawn ticket.

"No," said Paul, with his sure tact and swiftly working imagination. "I had just come to an end of them. It's a silly story of losses and what-not-I needn't bother you with it. I thought I would walk to London, with the traditional half-crown in my pocket"-he flashed a wistful smile-"and seek my fortune. But I fell ill at your gates."

"And now that you're restored to health, you propose in the same debonair fashion to-well-to resume the search?"

"Of course," said Paul, all the fighting and aristocratic instincts returning. "Why not?"

There were no tears in his eyes now, and they looked with luminous fearlessness at Miss Winwood. He drew a chair to the edge of the bearskin. "Won't you sit down, Miss Winwood?"

She accepted the seat. He sat down too. Before replying she played with her fan rather roughly-more or less as a man might have played with it. "What do you think of doing?"

"Journalism," said Paul. He had indeed thought of it.

"Have you any opening?"

"None," he laughed. "But that's the oyster I'm going to open."

Miss Winwood took a cigarette from a silver box near by. Paul sprang to light it. She inhaled in silence half a dozen puffs. "I'm going to ask you an outrageous question," she said, at last. "In the first place, I'm a severely business woman, and in the next I've got an uncle and a brother with cross-examining instincts, and, though I loathe them-the instincts, I mean-I can't get away from them. We're down on the bedrock of things, you and I. Will you tell me, straight, why you went away to-day to-to"-she hesitated-"to pawn your watch and chain, instead of waiting till you got to London?"

Paul threw out his arms in a wide gesture. "Why-your servants-"

She cast the just lighted cigarette into the fire, rose and clapped her hands on his shoulders, her face aflame. "Forgive me-I knew it-there are doubting Thomases everywhere-and I'm a woman who deals with facts, so that I can use them to the confusion of enemies. Now I have them. Ser Federigo's watch and chain. Nicht wahr?"

Remember, you who judge this sensible woman of forty-three, that she had fallen in love with Paul in the most unreprehensible way in the world; and if a woman of that age cannot fall in love with a boy sweetly motherwise, what is the good of her? She longed to prove that her polyhedral crystal of a paragon radiated pure light from every one of his innumerable facets. It was a matter of intense joy to turn him round and find each facet pure. There was also much pity in her heart, such as a woman might feel for a wounded bird which she had picked up and nursed in her bosom and healed. Ursula was loath to let her bird fly forth into the bleak winter.

"My brother and I have been talking about you-he is your friend, too," she said, resuming her seat. "How would it suit you to stay with us altogether?"

Paul started bolt upright in his chair. "What do you mean?" he asked breathlessly, for the heavens had opened with dazzling unexpectedness.

"In some such position as confidential secretary-at a decent salary, of course. We've not been able to find a suitable man since Mr. Kinghorne left us in the spring. He got into Parliament, you know, for Reddington at the by-election-and we've been muddling along with honorary secretaries and typists. I shouldn't suggest it to you," she went on, so as to give him time to think, for he sat staring at her, openmouthed, bewildered, his breath coming quickly-"I shouldn't suggest it to you if there were no chances for you in it. You would be in the thick of public affairs, and an ambitious man might find a path in them that would lead him anywhere. I've had the idea in my head," she smiled, "for-some time. But I've only spoken to my brother about it this afternoon-he has been so busy, you see-and I intended to have another talk with him, so as to crystallize things-duties, money, and so forth-before making you any proposal. I was going to write to you with everything cut and dried. But"-she hesitated delicately-"I'm glad I didn't. It's so much more simple and friendly to talk. Now, what do you say?"

Paul rose and gripped his hands together and looked again into the fire. "What can I say? I could only go on my knees to you-and that-"

"That would be beautifully romantic and entirely absurd," she laughed. "Anyhow, it's settled. Tomorrow we can discuss details." She rose and put out her hand. "Good night, Paul."

He bowed low. "My dearest lady," said he in a low voice, and went and held the door open for her to pass out.

Then he flung up his arms wildly and laughed aloud and strode about the room in exultation. All he had hoped for and worked for was an exit of fantastic and barren glory. After which, the Deluge-anything. He had never dreamed of this sudden blaze of Fortune. Now, indeed, did the Great Things to which he was born lie to his hand. Queerly but surely Destiny was guiding him upward. In every way Chance had worked for him. His poverty had been a cloak of honour; the thrice-blessed pawn ticket a patent of nobility. His kingdom lay before him, its purple mountains looming through the mists of dawn. And he would enter into it as the Awakener of England. He stood thrilled. The ambition was no longer the wild dream of yesterday. From the heart of the great affairs in which he would have his being he could pluck his awakening instrument. The world seemed suddenly to become real. And in the midst of it was this wonderful, beautiful, dearest lady with her keen insight, her delicate sympathy, her warm humanity. With some extravagance he consecrated himself to her service.

After a while he sat down soberly and took from his pocket the cornelian heart which his first goddess had given him twelve years ago. What had become of her? He did not even know her name. But what happiness, he thought, to meet her in the plenitude of his greatness and show her the heart, and say, "I owe it all to you!" To her alone of mortals would he reveal himself.

And then he thought of Barney Bill, who had helped him on his way; of Rowlatt, good fellow, who was dead; and of Jane, whom he had lost. He wished he could write to Jane and tell her the wonderful news. She would understand.... Well, well! It was time for bed. He rose and switched off the lights and went to his room. But as he walked through the great, noiseless house, he felt, in spite of Fortune's bounty, a loneliness of soul; also irritation at having lost Jane. What a letter he could have written to her! He could not say the things with which his heart was bursting to anyone on earth but Jane. Why had he lost Jane? The prospective Awakener of England wanted Jane.

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