Изображения страниц

Surbiton when I was quite a boy. They were rather like that: there were tea-parties to save dinner and sewing societies to relieve distress among the poor. Packets of cross-overs used to be sent to cancer hospitals. Let's get back to the subject. Remunerative or not?'

* Without doubt remunerative,' agreed Craddock, again gasping.

But I have given three of our leading actors the opportunity of remunerating themselves and me, and they won't touch it. Are their souls above remuneration, and do they only want topping high art?'

Arthur Craddock did not see his way to telling Armstrong that he had sent his play to exactly those managers who would be quite certain to refuse it, because that was information which he had excellent reason, if he was to conclude an advantageous bargain, for keeping to himself.

• Nevertheless, I am right about your play,' he said, “and Tranby and Akroyd are wrong.'

Frank shrugged his shoulders.

So you tell me,' he observed.

'Yes, and I am willing to back my opinion. I will here and now buy this play from you and pay for it at a figure which you will not consider ungenerous, considering it is a pure speculation on my part. But there are certain conditions.'

Frank Armstrong pulled his chair up closer to the table, and put his elbows on it. Craddock could see that his fingers were trembling

Name your conditions, if you will be so good,' he said. “Perhaps you would also tell me more about the not ungenerous figure.'

Craddock held up a white plump hand of deprecation. He positively could not get on without manners and life's little insincerities. As this young man seemed to have none of them, he had to supply sufficient for two. He was glad to observe that signal of nervousness on Armstrong's part: it argued well for the acceptance of his bargain.

'You are so direct, my dear fellow,' he said. “You demand a “yes” or a "no

or a “no” like a cross-examining counsel. You must permit me to explain the situation. I take a great interest in your work and in you, and I am willing to run a considerable risk in order to give your work a chance of being fairly judged and appreciated. Now there is nothing more difficult to gauge than the likings of the public, and when I tell you that your play will be without doubt remunerative, I may be hopelessly in error. But I see in it certain qualities which I think will attract, though in your previous play-which, frankly, I think a finer piece of work than this—the public was merely repelled. But here

Armstrong's elbow gave a jerk that was quite involuntary.

'Shall we come to the point ?' he said. 'Of course this is all very gratifying, but we can talk about the play's merits afterwards. How much do you offer me for “ Easter Eggs " and on what conditions ?'

Craddock drummed with his plump fingers on the table. Looking across at the strong rough face opposite him he could see suspense and anxiety very clearly written there. He felt a rather nasty pleasure in that: it was like poking up some fierce animal with a stick, when there are bars between which prevent its retaliating violence. But perhaps it would be kinder to put it out of its suspense, for Armstrong wanted to know this more than he had wanted lunch even.

'I offer you £500 down for all rights of your play,' he said, 'on condition that you let me have three more of your plays within the next three years at the same price, should I choose to buy them.'

Armstrong did not take his eyes off him, nor did the stringency of their gaze relax.

‘ Did you say £500 ? ' he asked in an odd, squeaky little voice. 'I did.'

Then the tension relaxed. The young man got up and rubbed the backs of his hands across his

eyes. 'If I'm asleep,' he said, 'I hope I shan't wake for a long time. It's deuced pleasant. I don't quite know what five hundred pounds mean. I can't see to the end of them. I thought perhaps you were going to offer me £50. I should certainly have accepted it. Why didn't you?'

This was a good opportunity for Craddock.

'Because I do not happen to be a sweater,' he said, and because like an honest man I prefer paying a fair price for good work.'

Armstrong gave a great shout of laughter.

' And because there isn't much difference to you between fifty pounds and five hundred,' he said.

He paused.



I was.

[ocr errors]

'I beg your pardon,' he said. “I had no business to say that. But I don't understand your offer.'

Craddock had tried to look hurt when this rather ruthless suggestion as to the reason for his generosity was made, but he did not feel within himself that his attempt was very successful, and was glad to look benign again when Frank Armstrong apologised.

The tremulousness of his hands had ceased, and he looked straight at his benefactor with his distrustful gaze. Then once more the crooked, rather charming, smile came on his mouth.

Personally, I am sure you rather detest me,' he said, 'so I suppose it seems to you worth while financially to run this risk with your money. So, though I'm bewildered, I tell you frankly, with the prospect of five hundred pounds, I'm not grateful to you. I wish

Of course, if “ Easter Eggs” makes anything of a hit, you will do pretty well, and I shall be a popular playwright

He broke off for a moment, and pushed back his hair.

Ah, I see : that's where you come in,' he said. “You have an option to buy three more plays by a popular playwright at the same price. Again if any of the three new ones makes a success, you won't do very badly.'

Craddock went on the whisker-hunt for a moment. ‘“

And if " Easter Eggs” is put on, and fails, as your other play did,' he observed, “ shall I not be considerably out of pocket ? And another failure would not encourage me to exercise my option over any future work of yours. However, let it be me this time who asks you to come to the point. Do you accept my offer or not? I may mention that I shall not renew it. I cannot waste my time over arrangements that come to nothing.'

Armstrong nodded at him with comparative friendliness.

'Good Lord ! yes. I accept it,' he said. “I told you I should have accepted £50.'

Craddock got up.

* Then if you have finished your lunch, we might draw up an agreement over our cigarettes.'

Certainly. I daresay you will let me have a cigar too. And when I've signed, or whatever I have to do, will you give me a cheque straight off ? I shall have a banking account, I suppose, and I shan't be hungry again for ever, as far as I can see. By George! I ought to be grateful to you. But I think the sort of experiences I've been through don't give a fellow much practice in


[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

gratitude. Gratitude is an acquired virtue. It is the prosperous mainly who acquire it.'

Craddock patted him on the shoulder.

'My dear fellow, you may leave the cynicism of the “ Lane that had no Turning” behind you,' he said.

Armstrong suddenly drew up his shirt-cuff and showed a long scar healed years ago which ran nearly up to his elbow.

" That's where my father threw a knife at me once,' he said. * It was a bad shot, for he threw it at my head. It's healed, you might think : it looks healed. It bleeds inside though.'

This was a savage young beast, it seemed, that Craddock had got hold of, one who had been set in slippery places, that sloped hell-wards. Craddock had known some who had learned patience from their sojournings in such resorts; he had known others who had simply been broken by them, others again; and of those possibly the joyful and attractive Charles Lathom was one, who seemed to have taken no colour from their surroundings, but emerged with their serenity and sweetness undisturbed. But never yet had he seen anyone who came out of dark places with mere anger and resentment against his sufferings, and yet with strength quite unimpaired. Armstrong seemed to him like that: the flames apparently had but hardened and annealed him. He had suffered under the lash of circumstances, not soft-heartedly nor with any loss of spirit, and now when for the first time he saw daylight ahead, he was in no wise grateful for the dispersal of the darkness. He did not hail the sun or melt to the benignancy of its beams : he came out iron, remembering the hunger of the years that had starved his body and his soul, without subduing either; for physically he was hard and muscular, morally he was cynical, expecting from others little except such emotions as he himself shared, the instinct of self-defence, and the stoical bearing of such blows as he could not ward off. He was not in himself kind or unselfish or loving, and up till now he had practically never come across such qualities in others, and there was really no reason why he should believe in their existence. Hitherto nobody, as far as he remembered, had done him a good turn unless thereby he reaped a personal benefit, and indeed Armstrong saw little reason why anybody should ; for the world as he had known it was not run on lines of altruistic philanthropy. The strong spoiled the weak, and the weak looked for opportunities of preying on the weaker. The rich paid as little as they could for the service of the poor, which

was obviously the course that common sense indicated, while the poor, the workers, combined so far as was possible to make the rich pay more. There was no reason for either side to act otherwise, and thus he was puzzled to know why Craddock had offered him more than was necessary in order to get this play from him, and the ensuing contract.

As a matter of fact Craddock had done so for exactly the same reasons as that which prompted him to give Charles Lathom sixty pounds for his sketch : he wanted to earn a sort of blind unreasoning gratitude from his new client, since clients possessed of this convenient spirit were far easier to manage and to deal with. But he had failed, and knew it: this new client, though he looked forward to finding him very remunerative indeed, could not possibly be considered to be blind with gratitude. But after all, the main point was that he should sign the contract that embodied Craddock's proposals, which he was perfectly willing to do, and Craddock's butler, coming in with coffee, witnessed the transaction. A leaf from Craddock's cheque-book completed it.

All the appliances of refrigeration, in the way of electric fans and outside blinds, were not more than sufficient to keep even Craddock's flat at an agreeable temperature, and when, that evening, about six o'clock Mrs. Lathom put away her typewriter and the neat piles of manuscript and transcription which had occupied her all day, the heat in the little sunbaked sitting-room in Sidney Street, which at meal-times did duty also as dining-room, was almost overpowering. But she expected the younger of her two handsome boys to arrive from his holiday on the Thames with Charles in time for

supper, and tired as she was and worn out with her daily work in this little furnace of a room, her fatigue forgot itself in thought of and preparation for his home-coming.

Reggie had, on a picture postcard that showed Thorley Weir, advertised her of the hour of his train's arrival, and before she need busy herself over the gas-stove that stood in the corner of the passage outside the sitting-room, and had to be fed with pennies to keep its flame burning, she found there was a quarter of an hour left her to rest herself, and if possible to get a few minutes' doze to clear the heat and heaviness from her eyes. This evening, in spite of the home-coming of one of her darlings, she was conscious of an unusual despondency, which, quite rightly, she told herself was only physical, and did not touch her spirits or her essential self. VOL. XXXIV-NO. 201, N.S.


« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »