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"Then that matter's settled. And now, what shall we say for these two drawings? I suppose they're by some amatoor; but, in any case, I'll take them off your hands if you say the word."
"I tell you they are not mine to sell. They belong to a friend."
"Oh, a friend; I understand." Here Jacobs put a grimy finger by the side of his long nose, and repeated his favourite wink a number of times in rapid succession. "That's where you are, my boy, is it? I hope she's got some tin, for a woman's no good without it. She may as well bring it with her, for she's sure to send it flying fast enough. So the young lady won't sell her picters; wants 'em to ornament her bedroom, I suppose, and a doosid good idea too. You'll have quite a fine gallery between you," added the dealer, with a wicked laugh, which disclosed to view a remarkable row of yellow tusks, in which envious time had made some cruel gaps.
"Enough of this, Jacobs," said Creek, whose patience was thoroughly exhausted. He walked to the door, opened it, and stood there till the old dealer took up his hat with a grunt, and shuffled out of the room. 66 Might be a little more civil, considering all I have done for him," said he, as he hobbled down-stairs; "but I'll have them 'arebells and primroses yet, and hang me if I don't keep them a year or two! They won't spile."
But the drawings were already packed up, and in a few minutes they were under Creek's arm, and on their way back to the fair
owner. Two of them at least should be sent before the dreaded tribunal which had the power to open the gates of fame,—even if it could not keep them open. The "'arebells" might eventually go to Mr Jacobs; but Creek resolved that if they did, he would make a better bargain for Kate than ever he had made for himself. He fixed the price in his own mind as he walked towards Lilac Villa, where at this house he knew that he was expected. And the truth was, that Kate not only expected him, but had been thinking about him a great deal that day, trying to solve the riddle which his life presented. It was quite certain that he had been a very faithful friend to her and her father,—perhaps the most faithful which they had left to boast of. Sally Peters would, no doubt, have been most ready to show her sympathy; but Kate felt that she did not want sympathyat least not such as that which Sally Peters would probably offer. In any case, the widow was enjoying herself in Paris, and Kate had carefully concealed her father's troubles from her. She had written to say that they were about to go up to London for a time, and that was all she deemed it necessary to tell. Concerning what had really happened, Sally Peters was entirely in the dark.
The artist's sympathy and help were altogether another affair. There was no reason for rejecting them. Creek's judgment, as Kate detected, was good, and his knowledge was wide and varied; and yet it was unquestionable that he had not greatly distinguished himself in his calling. How had that happened? How was it that a man of so much ability had broken down in the contest with the world? Above all, why had he chosen his solitary life? Once or twice Kate
fancied that the artist was about to throw some light upon these mysteries; but she was mistaken. Of himself he never spoke. There were few who knew anything of him or his affairs. Unsuccessful men are generally allowed to live in as much seclusion as they please, and no one sought to draw Creek from his isolation.
Kate laughed over his description of the narrow escape which her drawings had run from falling
into the ruthless hands of Moss Jacobs. Creek also told the story of the invitation to Hampstead, with certain judicious omissions, and then the undefined hopes and fears which had so often occurred to him of late again presented themselves, and he began to think that it would be well for him to make his visit a short one.
"You will not go to this wretched man's dinner on Sunday, Mr Creek?" said Kate, looking up from her work with curiosity at the artist, lost in his own gloomy thoughts. "You know we shall expect you, unless you prefer to dine with your friend, Mr Jacobs."
me to-day Pray forgive me for saying so, but I cannot help wishing that you would sometimes think a little more of yourself."
The artist sat down again, silent and thoughtful, and he remained with his head resting upon his hand.
"Tell me," said Kate, in a soft voice, "what your own plans are. What are you doing for yourself?"
"For myself? I can scarcely tell you I have no plans. My own affairs now are a matter of little consequence.'
some one or
"Do not say so. We are all of importance to other; and I am sure that you, with your kind heart and generous nature, must be so."
"I am not, and I never was," replied the artist moodily. "That may seem strange to you, but it is true."
"Never was?" repeated Kate, with a look upon her face in which the artist saw traces of a deeper feeling than he had dared to think it was possible for him to arouse. For a few moments the darkness and cloud which hung so heavily over his life seemed to roll away. He looked up into Kate's face, and saw something in her eyes which "You have known him a long tempted him to go on. time?"
"I see too much of old Jacobs now, without going to dine with him," answered Creek, making an effort to rouse himself.
"Since I was a young man. But it would weary you to tell you all about that. There were not so many dealers when I began as there are now; Jacobs was one of the few, and sometimes it was necessary to do business with him. But do not let us talk of him-let me show you what I think might be done with this drawing of yours."
"Not now, Mr Creek," said Kate, slightly touching his arm as he advanced towards the easel. "Have you not done enough for
vousness and hesitation, much to his own surprise, suddenly disappeared.
"When I was younger," he said, "there was one in whose happiness my own seemed to be entirely bound up, although it was by very slow degrees that the truth dawned upon me. She could have aroused in me all that was noble and good
if, indeed, there was anythingand enabled me to realise all my dreams. She was about your age, and-and-we were friends-as you and I are now." His voice was low and grave, and he did
not again raise his eyes from the floor.
"She was passionately fond of art, and nature had bestowed upon her gifts which would have rendered her worthy even of that art. We were much together. was I to blame if I could not help thinking, often and often, of the happiness it would be to go through life with her?"
"You loved her, then?" said Kate, in a voice lower than his own. "Alas, yes!"
suspected my affection for her—I
"You kept your secret," said Kate, looking at him earnestly.
"But why regret it? She did not fail to love you in return-she could not." Scarcely had she uttered these words than a sense "We remained friends-and I of uneasiness, almost of pain, kept my secret." He paused, and darted through Kate's mind. A for the first time his eyes met hers. new light broke swiftly in upon His face was very pale, and his her. "What have I said?" she hands trembled. For a minute kept repeating to herself; and or two there was a dead silence with nervous eagerness she lis- in the room. tened for her father's footsteps upon the stairs.
Had the artist but glanced at her, he might have divined that which was in her thoughts. But his eyes were bent down, and he went on almost like a man in a dream.
"I know not whether she even
"Do you think I acted rightly?" said he at length, in tones which he in vain endeavoured to render firm.
"I think you did," was the sorrowful reply. The artist rose, and gently took the hand which was extended to him, touched it with his lips, and was gone.
CHAPTER XVIII.-TWO AFTERNOON CALLS.
Reginald Tresham was installed in one of those old-fashioned Government offices near St James's Park, which still retain a few relics of the time when the service of the State sometimes carried with it a sumptuous home as well as a good income. The massive mahogany doors, the carved fireplaces, the elaborate mouldings and cornices round the rooms, the decorated ceilings, all help to suggest the comfort in which the heads of the department lived half a century ago. After the labours of the day
were over, they could entertain their friends in some of the best houses which London had to boast of; and nobody thought the worse of their dinners because the wines served up were from the choicest vineyards of France, Portugal, or Madeira, brought over in his Majesty's ships, without inconvenient charges for freight or duty.
All is changed now; the private residences are turned into offices, and the once pleasant gardens, which opened into the Park, are covered with rank grass, in
the midst of which there may be seen а few melancholy shrubs standing like cypresses in a graveyard of dead cats. The cosy sinecures, and the bons vivants who enjoyed them, are all gone; there is not a good bottle of Madeira or old India sherry left in all the spacious cellars which are now littered up with empty boxes or piles of musty papers. An important part of the business of the country, however, continues to be carried on within these dingy and straggling walls, and Tresham was at this time assisting in the work, under the direction of his chief, Sir Harmonious Strut.
This distinguished man had first brought himself into notice by frequent and rather clever advertisements in the newspapers of his profound knowledge and varied accomplishments. No matter what might be the question of the day, a very long, and, as people conveniently assumed, a very masterly exposition of it, speedily appeared from the pen of Strut. Having once gained the public attention, he took care to keep it, partly by never making the mistake of dropping out of sight, and partly by assuming a grand and imposing demeanour, which is usually accepted by the multitude as a sure sign of intellectual superiority. Many a man has made a good position for himself by a domineering manner. It was at first not quite clear to Strut which of the two parties would be likely to form the highest estimate of his services, but eventually he decided to allow Mr Spinner to have the advantage of them, although there was no one who had so often been made the subject of his smart sayings and "epigrams as Mr Spinner himself. But a man who has a careful regard for his own future, naturally desires to
get in on the winning side as soon as he can, and a careful study of the situation led Strut to perceive that Spinner was the man. His personal prejudices he put into his pocket, as men must do in the present day if they mean to get on; and very soon he began to talk of his "life-long" convictions and his delicate conscience in a style which would have done no discredit to Mr Spinner himself.
At this particular moment Strut was suffering from a sore throat, and consequently the House of Commons was for a time deprived of his presence. This accident was so far favourable to Tresham, that it gave him an occasional opportunity of bringing into notice his readiness of speech and aptitude for business; and although he did not get so much praise from the party organs as Mr Chirp-who never opened his mouth without the whole country being summoned to admire the pearls which fell from it still he received a very fair share of the applause which his political friends reserved for each other.
Now it happened one day that notice had been given of a question of some importance relating to Strut's department, and it was deemed necessary that unusual care should be taken in answering it. It was one of Mr Spinner's peculiarities that he insisted upon looking personally into all the details of business, for he believed that nothing could be done well without his assistance and supervision, and perhaps he was right. At any rate, he gave some time to the consideration of this particular question, and felt almost tempted to answer it himself, for some little mystification was desirable, and that was an art in which he had no rival. But ultimately he decided to prime the Under-Secre
tary for the duty, and therefore he sent for Reginald Tresham, in order that the words of statecraft, if not of statesmanship, might be poured into his ears.
"And how do you get on?" said the Minister, after he had asked in the most obliging manner for Lady Tresham; for there was nothing about which Mr Spinner was more particular than in inquiring, with an air of deep solicitude, about the health of everybody's father and mother. He was standing with his back to the fire when Reginald entered, and was somewhat flushed and warm, for he had just been receiving a deputation, and had sent them away wrangling and quarrelling furiously among each other as to what he had actually said; for as to what he had meant, they unanimously abandoned all attempt even to guess at that. A success of this kind delighted Mr Spinner, and therefore he was in a particularly good humour when his young colleague appeared.
"What very pleasant weather we are having!" he said graciously, -"and how gay the town is! At your age I took great enjoyment in all this bustle and movement: it is a great privilege to be young. What might not one do if one were but young again?"
"You do more now than all the rest put together."
"În a certain sense, yes-I acknowledge it, with a deep sense of humility. But it cannot last, as I am continually reminding the country. Make the most of me,' I am compelled to say, 'for you will not have me long with you.' That kind of allusion never fails to touch an audience. Indeed it is not a bad plan at times, to come forward and say good-bye to take, as it were, your last farewell. You see how thoroughly actors understand that, and all public men
should be actors. Never forget one thing-namely, that the English are a sentimental people, contrary to their own idea of themselves, which is that they are peculiarly hard-headed and practical. could not be a greater delusion. Go to a popular concert and watch the audience while a tall clout sings a sentimental ballad about his grandmother's grave, or Tommy's cradle, or his sweetheart's tear, or some nonsense of that kind. Half the women are crying, and the men are blowing their noses. I believe the English to be the most sentimental people in the world, and my knowledge of that fact has enabled me many a time to recover my hold upon them. By the by, did you ever hear me sing?"
"I never had that pleasure," said the Under-Secretary, a little astonished.
"Ah, well, you are a little too late now. That is one of the pastimes which I have given up. A Minister may make a joke-if he can; but I do not think he could afford to be found singing, not even about his grandmother's grave. And talking of joking reminds me that I do not think very much of some of your friend Sir Harmonious Strut's witticisms. They seem to me thin and poor-sometimes even vulgar. How do they strike you?"
"Well, sir, I am scarcely a fair judge. Every man is bound to laugh at his chief's jokes."
"True-very true. There you show the tact which I should have expected from your father's son. I have laughed at many a joke in my time on that principle; now I laugh but seldom, for a man of my peculiar reputation for earnestness I may even say, for solemnitycannot afford to indulge in levity. Be earnest, be sincere, even in your amusements. At the same time,