Volume I
Chapter V.. Wherein He Finds His Enemy
 

How that career was continued there are many histories: Jock Lawson's mother tells of it in her way, Mrs. Gasgoyne in hers, Hovey in hers, Captain Maudsley in his; and so on. Each looks at it from an individual stand-point. But all agree on two matters: that he did things hitherto unknown in the countryside; and that he was free and affable, but could pull one up smartly if necessary.

He would sit by the hour and talk with Bimley, the cottager; with Rosher, the hotel-keeper, who when young had travelled far; with a sailorman, home for a holiday, who said he could spin a tidy yarn; and with Pogan, the groom, who had at last won Saracen's heart. But one day when the meagre village chemist saw him cracking jokes with Beard, the carpenter, and sidled in with a silly air of equality, which was merely insolence, Gaston softly dismissed him, with his ears tingling. The carpenter proved his right to be a friend of Gaston's by not changing countenance and by never speaking of the thing afterwards.

His career was interesting during the eighteen months wherein society papers chatted of him amiably and romantically. He had entered into the joys of hunting with enthusiasm and success, and had made a fast and admiring friend of Captain Maudsley; while Saracen held his own grandly. He had dined with country people, and had dined them; had entered upon the fag-end of the London season with keen, amused enjoyment; and had engrafted every little use of the convention. The art was learned, but the man was always apart from it; using it as a toy, yet not despising it; for, as he said, it had its points, it was necessary. There was yachting in the summer; but he was keener to know the life of England and his heritage than to roam afar, and most of the year was spent on the estate and thereabouts: with the steward, with the justices of the peace, in the fields, in the kennels, among the accounts.

To-day he was in London, haunting Tattersall's, the East End, the docks, his club, the London Library--he had a taste for English history, especially for that of the seventeenth century; he saturated himself with it: to-morrow he would present to his grandfather a scheme for improving the estate and benefiting the cottagers. Or he would suddenly enter the village school, and daze and charm the children by asking them strange yet simple questions, which sent a shiver of interest to their faces.

One day at the close of his second hunting-season there was to be a ball at the Court, the first public declaration of acceptance by his people; for, at his wish, they did not entertain for him in town the previous season--Lady Belward had not lived in town for years. But all had gone so well, if not with absolute smoothness, and with some strangeness,-- that Gaston had become an integral part of their life, and they had ceased to look for anything sensational.

This ball was to be the seal of their approval. It had been mentioned in 'Truth' with that freshness and point all its own. What character than Gaston's could more appeal to his naive imagination? It said in a piquant note that he did not wear a dagger and sombrero.

Everything was ready. Decorations were up, the cook and the butler had done their parts. At eleven in the morning Gaston had time on his hands. Walking out, he saw two or three children peeping in at the gateway.

He would visit the village school. He found the junior curate troubling the youthful mind with what their godfathers and godmothers did for them, and begging them to do their duty "in that state of life," etc. He listened, wondering at the pious opacity, and presently asked the children to sing. With inimitable melancholy they sang: "Oh, the Roast Beef of Old England!"

Gaston sat back and laughed softly till the curate felt uneasy, till the children, waking to his humour, gurgled a little in the song. With his thumbs caught lightly in his waistcoat pockets, he presently began to talk with the children in an easy, quiet voice. He asked them little out-of-the-way questions, he lifted the school-room from their minds, and then he told them a story, showing them on the map where the place was, giving them distances, the kind of climate, and a dozen other matters of information, without the nature of a lesson. Then he taught them the chorus--the Board forbade it afterwards--of a negro song, which told how those who behaved themselves well in this world should ultimately:

"Blow on, blow on, blow on dat silver horn!"

It was on this day that, as he left the school, he saw Ian Belward driving past. He had not met his uncle since his arrival,--the artist had been in Morocco,--nor had he heard of him save through a note in a newspaper which said that he was giving no powerful work to the world, nor, indeed, had done so for several years; and that he preferred the purlieus of Montparnasse to Holland Park.

They recognised each other. Ian looked his nephew up and down with a cool kind of insolence as he passed, but did not make any salutation. Gaston went straight to the castle. He asked for his uncle, and was told that he had gone to Lady Belward. He wandered to the library: it was empty. He lit a cigar, took down a copy of Matthew Arnold's poems, opening at "Sohrab and Rustum," read it with a quick-beating heart, and then came to "Tristram and Iseult." He knew little of "that Arthur" and his knights of the Round Table, and Iseult of Brittany was a new figure of romance to him. In Tennyson, he had got no further than "Locksley Hall," which, he said, had a right tune and wrong words; and "Maud," which "was big in pathos." The story and the metre of "Tristram and Iseult" beat in his veins. He got to his feet, and, standing before the window, repeated a verse aloud:

              "Cheer, cheer thy dogs into the brake,
               O hunter!  and without a fear
               Thy golden-tassell'd bugle blow,
               And through the glades thy pasture take
               For thou wilt rouse no sleepers here!
               For these thou seest are unmoved;
               Cold, cold as those who lived and loved
               A thousand years ago."

He was so engrossed that he did not hear the door open. He again repeated the lines with the affectionate modulation of a musician. He knew that they were right. They were hot with life--a life that was no more a part of this peaceful landscape than a palm-tree would be. He felt that he ought to read the poem in a desert, out by the Polar Sea, down on the Amazon, yonder at Nukualofa; that it would fit in with bearding the Spaniards two hundred years ago. Bearding the Spaniards-- what did he mean by that? He shut his eyes and saw a picture: A Moorish castle, men firing from the battlements under a blazing sun, a multitude of troops before a tall splendid-looking man, in armour chased with gold and silver, and fine ribbons flying. A woman was lifted upon the battlements. He saw the gold of her necklace shake on her flesh like sunlight on little waves. He heard a cry:

At that moment some one said behind him: "You have your father's romantic manner."

He quietly put down the book, and met the other's eyes with a steady directness.

"Your memory is good, sir."

"Less than thirty years--h'm, not so very long!"

"Looking back--no. You are my father's brother, Ian Belward?"

"Your uncle Ian."

There was a kind of quizzical loftiness in Ian Belward's manner.

"Well, Uncle Ian, my father asked me to say that he hoped you would get as much out of life as he had, and that you would leave it as honest."

"Thank you. That is very like Robert. He loved making little speeches. It is a pity we did not pull together; but I was hasty, and he was rash. He had a foolish career, and you are the result. My mother has told me the story--his and yours."

He sat down, ran his fingers through his grey-brown hair, and looking into a mirror, adjusted the bow of his tie, and flipped the flying ends. The kind of man was new to Gaston: self-indulgent, intelligent, heavily nourished, nonchalant, with a coarse kind of handsomeness. He felt that here was a man of the world, equipped mentally cap-a-pie, as keen as cruel. Reading that in the light of the past, he was ready.

"And yet his rashness will hurt you longer than your haste hurt him."

The artist took the hint bravely.

"That you will have the estate, and I the title, eh? Well, that looks likely just now; but I doubt it all the same. You'll mess the thing one way or another."

He turned from the contemplation of himself, and eyed Gaston lazily. Suddenly he started.

"Begad," he said, "where did you get it?" He rose.

Gaston understood that he saw the resemblance to Sir Gaston Belward.

"Before you were, I am. I am nearer the real stuff."

The other measured his words insolently:

"But the Pocahontas soils the stream--that's plain."

A moment after Gaston was beside the prostrate body of his uncle, feeling his heart.

"Good God," he said, "I didn't think I hit so hard!" He felt the pulse, looked at the livid face, then caught open the waistcoat and put his ear to the chest. He did it all coolly, though swiftly--he was' born for action and incident. And during that moment of suspense he thought of a hundred things, chiefly that, for the sake of the family--the family! --he must not go to trial. There were easier ways.

But presently he found that the heart beat.

"Good! good!" he said, undid the collar, got some water, and rang a bell. Falby came. Gaston ordered some brandy, and asked for Sir William. After the brandy had been given, consciousness returned. Gaston lifted him up.

He presently swallowed more brandy, and while yet his head was at Gaston's shoulder, said:

"You are a hard hitter. But you've certainly lost the game now."

Here he made an effort, and with Gaston's assistance got to his feet. At that moment Falby entered to say that Sir William was not in the house. With a wave of the hand Gaston dismissed him. Deathly pale, his uncle lifted his eyebrows at the graceful gesture.

"You do it fairly, nephew," he said ironically yet faintly,--"fairly in such little things; but a gentleman, your uncle, your elder, with fists --that smacks of low company!"

Gaston made a frank reply as he smothered his pride

"I am sorry for the blow, sir; but was the fault all mine?"

"The fault? Is that the question? Faults and manners are not the same. At bottom you lack in manners; and that will ruin you at last."

"You slighted my mother!"

"Oh, no! and if I had, you should not have seen it."

"I am not used to swallow insults. It is your way, sir. I know your dealings with my father."

"A little more brandy, please. But your father had manners, after all. You are as rash as he; and in essential matters clownish--which he was not."

Gaston was well in hand now, cooler even than his uncle.

"Perhaps you will sum up your criticism now, sir, to save future explanation; and then accept my apology."

"To apologise for what no gentleman pardons or does, or acknowledges openly when done--H'm! Were it not well to pause in time, and go back to your wild North? Why so difficult a saddle--Tartarin after Napoleon? Think--Tartarin's end!"

Gaston deprecated with a gesture: "Can I do anything for you, sir?"

His uncle now stood up, but swayed a little, and winced from sudden pain. A wave of malice crossed his face.

"It's a pity we are relatives, with France so near," he said, "for I see you love fighting." After an instant he added, with a carelessness as much assumed as natural: "You may ring the bell, and tell Falby to come to my room. And because I am to appear at the flare-up to-night--all in honour of the prodigal's son--this matter is between us, and we meet as loving relatives. You understand my motives, Gaston Robert Belward?"

"Thoroughly."

Gaston rang the bell, and went to open the door for his uncle to pass out. Ian Belward buttoned his close-fitting coat, cast a glance in the mirror, and then eyed Gaston's fine figure and well-cut clothes. In the presence of his nephew, there grew the envy of a man who knew that youth was passing while every hot instinct and passion remained. For his age he was impossibly young. Well past fifty he looked thirty-five, no more. His luxurious soul loathed the approach of age. Unlike many men of indulgent natures, he loved youth for the sake of his art, and he had sacrificed upon that altar more than most men-sacrificed others. His cruelty was not as that of the roughs of Seven Dials or Belleville, but it was pitiless. He admitted to those who asked him why and wherefore when his selfishness became brutality, that everything had to give way for his work. His painting of Ariadne represented the misery of two women's lives. And of such was his kingdom of Art.

As he now looked at Gaston he was again struck with the resemblance to the portrait in the dining-room, with his foreign out-of-the-way air: something that should be seen beneath the flowing wigs of the Stuart period. He had long wanted to do a statue of the ill-fated Monmouth, and another greater than that. Here was the very man: with a proud, daring, homeless look, a splendid body, and a kind of cavalier conceit. It was significant of him, of his attitude towards himself where his work was concerned, that he suddenly turned and shut the door again, telling Falby, who appeared, to go to his room; and then said:

"You are my debtor, Cadet--I shall call you that: you shall have a chance of paying."

"How?"

In a few concise words he explained, scanning the other's face eagerly.

Gaston showed nothing. He had passed the apogee of irritation.

"A model?!" he questioned drily.

"Well, if you put it that way. 'Portrait' sounds better. It shall be Gaston Belward, gentleman; but we will call it in public, 'Monmouth the Trespasser.'"

Gaston did not wince. He had taken all the revenge he needed. The idea rather pleased him than other wise. He had instincts about art, and he liked pictures; statuary, poetry, romance; but he had no standards. He was keen also to see the life of the artist, to touch that aristocracy more distinguished by mind than manners.

"If that gives 'clearance,' yes. And your debt to me?"

"I owe you nothing. You find your own meaning in my words. I was railing, you were serious. Do not be serious. Assume it sometimes, if you will; be amusing mostly. So, you will let me paint you--on your own horse, eh?"

"That is asking much. Where?"

"Well, a sketch here this afternoon, while the thing is hot--if this damned headache stops! Then at my studio in London in the spring, or" --here he laughed--"in Paris. I am modest, you see."

"As you will."

Gaston had had a desire for Paris, and this seemed to give a cue for going. He had tested London nearly all round. He had yet to be presented at St. James's, and elected a member of the Trafalgar Club. Certainly he had not visited the Tower, Windsor Castle, and the Zoo; but that would only disqualify him in the eyes of a colonial.

His uncle's face flushed slightly. He had not expected such good fortune. He felt that he could do anything with this romantic figure. He would do two pictures: Monmouth, and an ancient subject--that legend of the ancient city of Ys, on the coast of Brittany. He had had it in his mind for years. He came back and sat down, keen, eager.

"I've a big subject brewing," he said; "better than the Monmouth, though it is good enough as I shall handle it. It shall be royal, melancholy, devilish: a splendid bastard with creation against him; the best, most fascinating subject in English history. The son dead on against the father--and the uncle!"

He ceased for a minute, fashioning the picture in his mind; his face pale, but alive with interest, which his enthusiasm made into dignity. Then he went on:

"But the other: when the king takes up the woman--his mistress--and rides into the sea with her on his horse, to save the town! By Heaven, with you to sit, it's my chance! You've got it all there in you--the immense manner. You, a nineteenth century gentleman, to do this game of Ridley Court, and paddle round the Row? Not you! You're clever, and you're crafty, and you've a way with you. But you'll come a cropper at this as sure as I shall paint two big pictures--if you'll stand to your word."

"We need not discuss my position here. I am in my proper place--in my father's home. But for the paintings and Paris, as you please."

"That is sensible--Paris is sensible; for you ought to see it right, and I'll show you what half the world never see, and wouldn't appreciate if they did. You've got that old, barbaric taste, romance, and you'll find your metier in Paris."

Gaston now knew the most interesting side of his uncle's character--which few people ever saw, and they mostly women who came to wish they had never felt the force of that occasional enthusiasm. He had been in the National Gallery several times, and over and over again he had visited the picture places in Bond Street as he passed; but he wanted to get behind art life, to dig out the heart of it.