E. Temple (Ernest Temple) Thurston.

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In none but in the mind of Dicky rose the vision of
that pathetic figure in the other room, waiting, as a
child awaits for its chastisement and disgrace, for

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the verdict of these men who, in times gone by,
had so eagerly and so courteously solicited his cus-
tom.

There is a picture of Richard Furlong's hanging
now in one of the public art galleries in the North,
unlike any other picture he ever painted, full of
realism, and with no saving grace of beautyin it but
the beauty of absolute truth. It was called "The
Meeting of the Creditors," the result, of course, of
that one morning's experience in the solicitor's office
in Pershore.

It is not in high light. There are no portraits in
that group of men. Dicky did not see things with the
microscopic eye of a Maclise. It was his impression
of that morning in Mr. Earnshaw's office, with the
dim light and the musty, judicial atmosphere, that he
painted. You see the faces of greed peering out of
the obscured corner of the room, and they are trades-
men; but you cannot point to one saying — ^he is an
ironmonger — he is a grocer. There is just the greed
of human nature, caught unawares and unconcealed.
A meeting of creditors — and there it hangs upon the
wall of that art gallery in the North. I often won-
der as I look at it, how many of the visitors who read
its poignant lesson ever admit they are in need of
such teaching themselves.

When the matter of the various sums of money
was disposed of, Mr. Earnshaw cleared his throat
and rose portentously to his feet. If there were any-
one in Pershore accustomed to public speaking, it was
he. Therefore he waited until a respectful hush had

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fallen upon the voices of those around him, after
which he began to speak.

"Gentlemen — " Mr. Bates helped himself on to
the tips of his toes by the aid of Mr. Satterthwaite's
shoulders in front of him — **I have here a painful
duty to perform — " but seeing that he had nothing
to claim, except his fees which he was sure of getting,
there was no one in that room who seemed to be
suffering less pain than Mr. Earnshaw. "You all
of you know Mr. Furlong, in many respects perhaps
better than I do. But from what I have heard on
every hand, and from what I have seen myself, since
he piaced^the matter of his Insolvency in my hands,
I am bound to say I have found him a most honour-
able man. Insolvency, of course, is an ugly word,
but there are some cases — ^and this is one — in which
to call a meeting of one's creditors Is the only hon-
ourable course and when it is taken in the spirit In
which Mr. Furlong "

Mr. Prendergast, who had been present at many
meetings with Mr. Earnshaw and was also himself a
member of the Unionist Club, realised at this point
that the solicitor was in some danger of drifting into
the depths of oratory. It needed a certain degree of
promptitude to rescue him and, in the light of his
five pounds twelve and sixpence, Mr. Prendergast
was prompt and to the point

"Pardon my interruption, Mr. Earnshaw,'' said he,
"but what assets has Mr. Furlong got? We've heard
all about the liabilities, let's have the assets.'*

A more hopeful expression than had yet been seen

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made itself evident at once in everybody's face. But
in an instant it had fallen into greater gloom than
before.

"I am sorry to say," replied Mr. Earnshaw, "that
there is yet another liability which I was just about
to mention. Mr. Furlong owes to the bank the sum
of four hundred and fifty pounds."

Had the local fire engine come round and, through
the window turned the hose upon them, there could
have been no more deranged a company of men.
Every extra penny of the miller's debts meant some-
thing off their shillings in the pound, and Dicky
heard the sibilant whispering of their voices as they
muttered this despoiling sum below their breath.

It was here that Mr. Satterthwaite, the dealer
from whom Mr. Furlong had bought all his dray
horses, rose quickly to his feet.

"As the largest creditor here," he began, as in-
deed, except for the bank, he was, "I think I've a
right to ask that the assets be read out to us at once
without any more of this palaver about the honesty
of Mr. Furlong. We know his intentions were hon-
est enough, but honesty won't fill stomachs. As far as
I'm concerned, I'm very sorry for the miller. I expect
everybody else is, too. But let's have the assets."

There was a murmur of approval as Mr. Satter-
thwaite sat down. This was thought by all to be a
reasonable, straightforward and businesslike speech.
They were, of course, all of them, very sorry for the
miller, but as Mr. Satterthwaite had said — ^what were
the assets?

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The solicitor was thus dragged forth from his
stream of oratory and brought back to the dry land
of facts. He turned to his papers.

**There are," said he, "seventy-three pounds in
book debts to be collected. There is the stock of the
Mill — ^plant, machinery, carts, horses, etc., which
have been valued at the sum of one hundred and
eighty-one pounds. There are the personal effects of
Mr. Furlong himself, making in all a sum of three
hundred and sixty pounds odd. These, gentlemen,
together with the value of the Mill itself, are the as-
sets to be set against the sum of eleven hundred and
eighty-nine pounds, ten shillings and fourpence. It
has been suggested that possibly Mr. Furlong might
carry on the business and work off these debts in
time. I have discussed this matter with him and
with the bank and Mr. Furlong himself has been
brought reluctantly to the opinion that it would be to
no purpose. The year before last, the Mill showed
a loss of thirty-one pounds and last year a loss of
ninety-six. The steam-mills, gentlemen, have been
the death blow to the old water-mill. ^ We regret
to say that it can no longer be regarded as a paying
concern."

As though by common consent, Mr. Satterthwaite
became the speaker for the creditors once again.

"The good will of the business then is worth noth-
ing?"

"Nothing at all," replied Mr. Earnshaw.

"How much is the building worth — ^the house and
so on?"

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"It might be worth four hundred pounds. The
house is not a very capacious one, and the Mill itself
is really useless to anyone, except possibly to someone
with capital who might care to put some money into
it and turn the place into a manufactory of some kind
or another."

"Very unlikely," said Mr. Satterthwaite. "It's too
far from anywhere."

"I'm afraid that it is unlikely," replied Mr. Eam-
shaw.

"Well, then, it stands at the best," continued the
horse-dealer, "with liabilities to the amount of eleven
hundred pounds odd and the assets amount to seven
hundred and sixty. That's roughly about fifteen
shillings in the pound."

The solicitor inclined his head. ,

"I must repeat," said he, "how honourably I think,
as I am sure you all do, Mr. Furlong has acted in
this matter. He has not floundered on into deeper
water, borrowing here, borrowing there, as many
another man might have done to keep his head up.
He has honestly admitted defeat, when defeat came.
The fact that he can pay fifteen shillings in the
pound, speaks for itself. This is the honest failure
of an honest man."

Throughout the room, Dicky heard murmurs of
assent ; but a slow anger was burning in his eyes as
he watched them. It lit up swiftly into an eager
glow as Mr. Leggatt rose to his feet.

"I am an old friend of Mr. Furlong's," said he,
"and I want to endorse here every word that Mr.

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Eamshaw has said. Mr. Furlong is and has been a
most honourable man and I for one, am bitterly sorry
to see him come to this distressful state and through
no fault of his own. But as a fairly substantial
creditor, I should like to suggest that if the Mill
and the stock are to be sold, they should be sold at
once without delay. I know from former experience
how quickly the value of these things depreciates
through procrastination."

"The schoolmaster's quite right," said Mr. Satter-
thwaite, "I don't know what his last word meant,
but the sense I caught of it was good common sense.
Everything ought to be sold at once."

Now the light in Dicky's eyes was a furnace, shoot-
ing flames. He jumped to his feet and addressed
himself to the solicitor.

"When you say my father's personal effects," said
he, "do you mean his furniture at the Mill, the bed
he sleeps in — ^the table at which he has his meals ?"

"I'm afraid that is so," replied Mr. Eamshaw.

At which Dicky turned upon them all.

"Then do any of you people here realise," he
cried, "that you're turning my father out into the
world — a man of more than sixty years of age —
you're turning him out without a stick or stone to his
name. Are there any of you here who want to take
the clothes off his back, because, my God, let them
stand up here in front of me and make the claim with-
out any of this cant of sympathy and vacuous regret.
Have none of you ever had to meet failure? My
Heaven, if you ever have, I hope you'll be treated

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with the same implacable justice and the same damned
spirit of greed."

The saliva was wet at the comers of his mouth.
His eyes were brilliant with the passion in his heart.
And when the horse-dealer — accustomed to bruising
all his life, stepped out into the middle of the room,
as one who would settle this business and quickly in
the way it should be done, Dicky faced him in readi-
ness for anjrthing that might take place.

"Who is this gentleman?" asked Mr. Satter-
thwaite calmly.

"I'm Mr. Furlong's son," replied Dicky.

"Are you a creditor, too— may I ask?"

"No."

"Then what the hell are yer doing 'ere? lYou've
got no business at this meeting at all."

"Haven't I?" cried Dicky. "How the devil do
you know?"

"What is your business then?"

"I'm here to buy the Mill and put money into your
dirty pockets, so you can take your seat back there
again with the rest of all your friends, and thank
God I'm here at all."



CHAPTER VII

THE joy of learning Nature all over again
through the vision and the senses of his son,
persuaded Dicky to linger on in Eckington.
Spring that year was more wonderful to him than

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ever. There was nothing in Italy or France, nor in
all the world to compare with those green meadows
by the Avon. The grandeur of the mountains, the
wealth of the vineyards, they all faded from his mem-
ory beside those luscious stretches of green where
the celandine and the cuckoo flower were stars of a
milky way in the damp, deep grass.

Yet this was not the only purpose that held him
there. He deceived himself as to the true reason of
his delay; busied his mind with the conversion of the
Mill into a gigantic studio, superintending all the
removal of the machinery and planning out the de-
sign on which the studio should be formed. With
infinite patience, he aroused his father's interests in
the scheme he had in view. Acknowledging that the
Mill was no longer a paying concern, the poor man
yet suffered bitterly as he saw the machinery removed.
He had gained a respect now for Dicky and his work,
but even then was ever exercising his control lest he
should show it.

"It's as well to turn the Mill to some account,"
said he. "It'ud be a pity to let it stand absolutely
idle. But whoever would have thought that after
all these years of work, grinding corn for nearly two
hundred years to feed the lives of men, that it was
going to come to this."

Dicky smiled.

"It might be worse employed," said he.

Mr. Furlong agreed that it might; but it was a
reluctant admission.

This then was another occupation which kept

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Dicky from his return to London. But it was not
the vital motive that deeply stirred, unacknowledged,
in the seclusion of his mind.

Mrs. Flint was responsible for what had happened.
Mrs. Flint it was, with every intention conscious to
her thoughts, yet never dreaming how effective her
design had been, who had brought into Dicky's life,
not only the purpose of his delay, but that very des-
tiny which, if for one moment alone, yet truly then,
it had been her earnest desire that he should meet.

On the pretext of seeing the interior of Woolas
Hall, that old Jacobean Mansion which stood half-
way up the Bredon Hill when the conspirators of
the Gunpowder Plot were setting spurs to their
horses and riding hard for safety, Mrs. Flint per-
suaded Dicky to come with her there to a spring
flower show that was being held in the grounds.

"You must see the musicians' gallery,'* she told
him. "From the outside, too, the house is really
wonderful. Fancy your having been here all these
years and never even having seen inside the gates."

He went with her; but this was not her purpose.
The guests were still at the Hall. The day before
she had seen the same girl pass down the road to
Eckington, when the desire in her that these two
should meet, became insistent again. Here was an
opportunity at least. As they neared the house, her
heart began a wild beating in her breast.

What had she done ? she asked herself, as though
the matter were already accomplished, as though al-
ready Dicky had found the destiny she judged was

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there awaiting him. For now that there was no
turning back, she had begun to wish that she had
let things shape their course alone without her in-
terference or support. It never occurred to her they
might not meet, or that her errand might prove fruit-
less if they did. She was possessed, as many women
are when matters of their heart are in concern, with
that strange sense of premonition in the mind. They
were to meet, she knew full well. The beating of
her heart was not an idle pulse. But of that destiny,
the threads of which were set upon the loom that very
day, she was as innocent as any child. Like any
child, whose uninstructed fingers wander across the
strings of some old instrument, she played with Fate
in all unconsciousness of what she did.

For they did meet. She stood beside a stall
heaped with wind-flowers as Dicky and Mrs. Flint
came by and, as his eyes were suddenly arrested there
in hers, Mrs. Flint's heart stood still. She had
known it — she had known it, she told herself, repeat-
ing the words again. But she had not known all
the meaning of that glance. For there in her Dicky
had seen the face of the girl whose carriage had
been drawn up close to theirs that day when they
had borne his Constance down the Harrow Road.

Had she recognised him? Why should her mind
at all have held a recollection of his face? Yet he
had cause to think it had, for in that glance, be-
wildered memory had started to her eyes. She
looked as one who struggles to recall a thought. As
they moved away, it seemed to Dicky, as in apparent

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callousness he looked back, that she had found re-
membrance.

But how was it she had remembered? Could her
impression of him have been as deeply made as his
of her? Only a few weeks before, as they had
brought Mrs. Baldwin down that same long, tiring
road to Kensal Green, a thought of her had come to
him, a recollection of how that day he had drawn
the features of her face upon his memory. Now she
was here in close proximity to his home.

All that it seemed at first was just how strange
it was that they should meet again. But that a mean-
ing lay behind it all, this did not enter his mind to
think. How should it? It was Mrs. Flint who first
set out his thoughts upon another course.

"What did you think of that girl by the stall where
the anemones were?" she asked.

At the sound of her question, Dicky felt all his
mind shrink back within itself. For some reason he
made no effort to explain, he felt no desire to speak
of her.

"She looked very attractive," said he, "standing
by the side of those flowers." Whereby he would
have had her think the flowers were as much in his
thoughts as she. And he said no more ; did not even
tell her how they had met three years ago. The
cloak of his reticence had fallen on him. With cir-
cumstance still so flimsy a thing, he had no desire to
speak of it.

Wherefore, discerning this, Mrs. Flint said no
more, but let him lead her through the grounds until

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their steps were drawn to the stall of wind-flowers
once again. This was a surer answer than that to
any question she might ask; and when they found
she had gone, from that moment Dicky's interest in
the flower show died away. They walked back down
the winding, hilly drive in silence to the Mill.

I was right, she told herself that night as she un-
dressed and prepared herself for bed — I knew I was
right. But only a woman would have found convic-
tion in the little proof she had. What had indeed
been proofs to her were those of her intended finding.
Dicky's silence at tea that evening, the way in which
he had avoided her, his affecting tenderness when he
came up to her bedroom to kiss Harry as he lay
asleep. It was from countless little things such as
these that she knew she was right. The Fate of his
work, that was always at movement in him, but this,
the Destiny of his heart, after these years, as of a
winter's sleep, was stirring and awake.

She opened her window and looked out. A clear
spring moon was cut in silver in the black-blue sky.
There were stars in heaven and in the garden below
her all the flowers were stars as well. She watched
the moonlight trembling on the river, then suddenly
the sound of a cough fell on her ears. She leant fur-
ther across the window-sill and looked out.

Dicky's bedroom was on the same side of the house
as hers and, by his window there, he stood as well.
Where she was seeing the signal of her resignation
in the stars, he was regarding all the countless possi-
bilities of Fate.

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CHAPTER VIII

SO it was for this, the hope of seeing her again,;
that Dicky stayed on from day to day at the
Mill. A week ran by, when all the time his
studio was vacant in London waiting for his return.
He had written to Fanny several times, naming the
day of his arrival, and several times had altered it
to another date.

Each day he took out his materials and sketched
about the countryside in hope of seeing her. At last
one morning when, more venturesome than he had
been before, he was working on Bredon Hill, high
up above, but overlooking the Hall, where he might
see her if she should come out, he perceived the fig-
ure of a woman pass out through the gates. An
instinct told him it was she. In that moment his
hand became suspended from its work, while she
stood motionless in debate, choosing the way to go.
He saw her head turned upwards towards the hill
above. She must be one, he thought, who rather
would ascend; at which, as though to prove that he
was right, she set the valley at her back and so began
to climb the winding path.

He little thought it then, but it was his figure, an
artist working on that far hillside, that had attracted
her. Art roused a keen interest in her mind. He
was to learn that soon enough. There had been one
year when she had taken it seriously herself, and in
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year, but all a lifetime must be sacrificed for it.
From that moment she had laid her brushes down,
too proud to only dabble in the game. But always
since then, the efforts of the amateur amused her.
In Kensington Gardens she frequently would stop
behind their chairs much better pleased to criticise
than to be judged.

To see one of these poor aspiring creatures then
and in that far countryside was all the impetus she
needed to decide her way. With a humorous antici-
pation of opportunity for amusement, she called the
little terrier that had followed her from the house,
fell to the whistling of a tune in those soft, uncertain
notes most women produce, and began her climbing
of the hill

It was a day for work, a day for play, a day for
love, a day for everything. No hill could have
seemed too high that day to climb ; no hill but what
it would have tempted you to see what lay beyond.
The bees were on the wing, striking their deep, re-
verberating note in the faint orchestra which, on such
a day, until the sun sets, plays its ceaseless murmur-
ing symphony of life.

Down in the valley, in the clumps of elms, the
cuckoo called, the wood-pigeons cooed their fluted
love-songs, and in a gentle breeze the countless sounds
of life, as to an unseen baton in an unseen hand, were
all controlled and harmonised and blent into the
magic music of the day.

In Dicky's ears no passion music could have stirred
a deeper note, yet through it all, as she climbed up

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the hilly with softest penetration^ came the gentle
whistling of her tune.

This was a moment when a man might fall in
love. With a trembling beating of his heart he felt
as though the air were full of birds' wings fluttering
round his head. He bent his eyes downwards, half
hiding his face and tried to go on with his work.

Still she came nearer but not until a few yards
separated them did she recognise who it was. Im-
petuous curiosity then rose in her, struggling with a
consideration of delicacy that, seeing who it was, she
had better pass him by.

He heard her footsteps as they came, but did not
raise his head. Yet determination now was set firmly
in his mind that if she did not stop, as so many people
did, then he would speak, risking the frigid polite-
ness of her reply which would forever render their
acquaintance an Impossibility.

But then the footsteps ceased. He knew she stood
behind him. How nearly she had passed he had not
guessed; for only when she had gone by had curiosity
conquered and turned her head, when she had seen
the arresting quality of the work he did. She well
knew what was good or bad, therefore interest was
added to her inclination. Of a sudden, she stood
and watched.

It was no landscape he was painting, though all
the rolling lines of hill and stretch of pasture in the
vale below were there upon his canvas. But they
were background only to the subject he pursued; and
he had caught it, too. It was that music in the air

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wherein he had divined that beauty lay. With the
colour and the mist, the heat and light, the thing that
he had done murmured the very song she still heard
ringing in her ears.

He was no poor, aspiring creature then, such as
she first had thought. The miller's son at Eckington,
so much she had discovered for herself after their
meeting at the Hall. So with that knowledge, his
name, his very existence had drifted out of her mind.
But now she had found he was an artist, and with
ability that astonished her. It might astonish him,
she thought, if he knew how good that was. A spark
of humour lit up in her eyes, the corners of her lips
betrayed that promise of a smile.

"Would it annoy you or interrupt your work if I
asked you something about it?" she enquired. That
was the first time the sound of her voice had come to
Dicky's ear, and it was more than all he had known
it would be. Not the refinement of it thrilled him,
nor the ease and quiet confidence it conveyed that
they must listen to that voice who heard it, but the
deeper note before which all culture and all breeding
must stand aside — the human note, as when a black-
bird sings as God and Nature taught it.

He steadied his own voice as he replied she might
ask him anything she liked.

Then she came closer to his side.

"YouVe made all the landscape in that picture very
indistinct," said she. "YouVe kept it under so much.
Why have you done it?"

He laid his canvas down on the grass.

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"Listen," said he.

She put her head on one side, expecting — ^what?
Some quite specific sound that would attract her ear,
when, hearing none, she asked him what it was that
she must listen to.

"Everything," he replied; "nothing — ^there, that
bee now, that pigeon in the wood. Listen to the
noise that sheep makes as it grazes. Can't you hear
that thrush? There he is, singing in that thorn bush


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Online LibraryE. Temple (Ernest Temple) ThurstonAchievement → online text (page 18 of 27)