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Crossing the Green Park on his way home, was he more, or less, restless? Difficult to say. A little flattered, certainly, a little warmed; yet irritated, as always when he came into contact with people to whom the world of Art was such an amusing unreality. The notion of trying to show that child how to draw--that feather- pate, with her riding and her kitten; and her 'Perdita' eyes! Quaint, how she had at once made friends with him! He was a little different, perhaps, from what she was accustomed to. And how daintily she spoke! A strange, attractive, almost lovely child! Certainly not more than seventeen--and--Johnny Dromore's daughter!
The wind was bitter, the lamps bright among the naked trees. Beautiful always--London at night, even in January, even in an east wind, with a beauty he never tired of. Its great, dark, chiselled shapes, its gleaming lights, like droves of flying stars come to earth; and all warmed by the beat and stir of innumerable lives-- those lives that he ached so to know and to be part of.
He told Sylvia of his encounter. Dromore! The name struck her. She had an old Irish song, 'The Castle of Dromore,' with a queer, haunting refrain.
It froze hard all the week, and he began a life-size group of their two sheep-dogs. Then a thaw set in with that first south-west wind, which brings each February a feeling of Spring such as is never again recaptured, and men's senses, like sleepy bees in the sun, go roving. It awakened in him more violently than ever the thirst to be living, knowing, loving--the craving for something new. Not this, of course, took him back to Dromore's rooms; oh, no! just friendliness, since he had not even told his old room-mate where he lived, or said that his wife would be glad to make his acquaintance, if he cared to come round. For Johnny Dromore had assuredly not seemed too happy, under all his hard-bitten air. Yes! it was but friendly to go again.
Dromore was seated in his long arm-chair, a cigar between his lips, a pencil in his hand, a Ruff's Guide on his knee; beside him was a large green book. There was a festive air about him, very different from his spasmodic gloom of the other day; and he murmured without rising:
"Halo, old man!--glad to see you. Take a pew. Look here! Agapemone--which d'you think I ought to put her to--San Diavolo or Ponte Canet?--not more than four crosses of St. Paul. Goin' to get a real good one from her this time!"
He, who had never heard these sainted names, answered:
"Oh! Ponte Canet, without doubt. But if you're working I'll come in another time."
"Lord! no! Have a smoke. I'll just finish lookin' out their blood--and take a pull."
And so Lennan sat down to watch those researches, wreathed in cigar smoke and punctuated by muttered expletives. They were as sacred and absorbing, no doubt, as his own efforts to create in clay; for before Dromore's inner vision was the perfect racehorse--he, too, was creating. Here was no mere dodge for making money, but a process hallowed by the peculiar sensation felt when one rubbed the palms of the hands together, the sensation that accompanied all creative achievement. Once only Dromore paused to turn his head and say:
"Bally hard, gettin' a taproot right!"
Real Art! How well an artist knew that desperate search after the point of balance, the central rivet that must be found before a form would come to life. . . . And he noted that to-day there was no kitten, no flowers, no sense at all of an extraneous presence-- even the picture was curtained. Had the girl been just a dream--a fancy conjured up by his craving after youth?
Then he saw that Dromore had dropped the large green book, and was standing before the fire.
"Nell took to you the other day. But you always were a lady's man. Remember the girl at Coaster's?"
Coaster's tea-shop, where he would go every afternoon that he had money, just for the pleasure of looking shyly at a face. Something beautiful to look at--nothing more! Johnny Dromore would no better understand that now than when they were at 'Bambury's.' Not the smallest good even trying to explain! He looked up at the goggling eyes; he heard the bantering voice:
"I say--you are goin' grey. We're bally old, Lenny! A fellow gets old when he marries."
And he answered:
"By the way, I never knew that you had been."
From Dromore's face the chaffing look went, like a candle-flame blown out; and a coppery flush spread over it. For some seconds he did not speak, then, jerking his head towards the picture, he muttered gruffly:
"Never had the chance of marrying, there; Nell's 'outside.'"
A sort of anger leaped in Lennan; why should Dromore speak that word as if he were ashamed of his own daughter? Just like his sort--none so hidebound as men-about-town! Flotsam on the tide of other men's opinions; poor devils adrift, without the one true anchorage of their own real feelings! And doubtful whether Dromore would be pleased, or think him gushing, or even distrustful of his morality, he said:
"As for that, it would only make any decent man or woman nicer to her. When is she going to let me teach her drawing?"
Dromore crossed the room, drew back the curtain of the picture, and in a muffled voice, said:
"My God, Lenny! Life's unfair. Nell's coming killed her mother. I'd rather it had been me--bar chaff! Women have no luck."
Lennan got up from his comfortable chair. For, startled out of the past, the memory of that summer night, when yet another woman had no luck, was flooding his heart with its black, inextinguishable grief. He said quietly:
"The past is past, old man."
Dromore drew the curtain again across the picture, and came back to the fire. And for a full minute he stared into it.
"What am I to do with Nell? She's growing up."
"What have you done with her so far?"
"She's been at school. In the summer she goes to Ireland--I've got a bit of an old place there. She'll be eighteen in July. I shall have to introduce her to women, and all that. It's the devil! How? Who?"
Lennan could only murmur: "My wife, for one."
He took his leave soon after. Johnny Dromore! Bizarre guardian for that child! Queer life she must have of it, in that bachelor's den, surrounded by Ruff's Guides! What would become of her? Caught up by some young spark about town; married to him, no doubt-- her father would see to the thoroughness of that, his standard of respectability was evidently high! And after--go the way, maybe, of her mother--that poor thing in the picture with the alluring, desperate face. Well! It was no business of his!
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