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Chapter 23

THE STAINED-GLASS MAN


Still looking for Antonia, Shelton went up to the morning-room. Thea Dennant and another girl were seated in the window, talking. From the look they gave him he saw that he had better never have been born; he hastily withdrew. Descending to the hall, he came on Mr. Dennant crossing to his study, with a handful of official-looking papers.

"Ah, Shelton!" said he, "you look a little lost. Is the shrine invisible?"

Shelton grinned, said "Yes," and went on looking. He was not fortunate. In the dining-room sat Mrs. Dennant, making up her list of books.

"Do give me your opinion, Dick," she said. "Everybody 's readin' this thing of Katherine Asterick's; I believe it's simply because she's got a title."

"One must read a book for some reason or other," answered Shelton.

"Well," returned Mrs. Dennant, "I hate doin' things just because other people do them, and I sha'n't get it."

"Good!"

Mrs. Dennant marked the catalogue.

"Here 's Linseed's last, of course; though I must say I don't care for him, but I suppose we ought to have it in the house. And there's Quality's 'The Splendid Diatribes': that 's sure to be good, he's always so refined. But what am I to do about this of Arthur Baal's? They say that he's a charlatan, but everybody reads him, don't you know"; and over the catalogue Shelton caught the gleam of hare-like eyes.

Decision had vanished from her face, with its arched nose and slightly sloping chin, as though some one had suddenly appealed to her to trust her instincts. It was quite pathetic. Still, there was always the book's circulation to form her judgment by.

"I think I 'd better mark it," she said, "don't you? Were you lookin' for Antonia? If you come across Bunyan in the garden, Dick, do say I want to see him; he's gettin' to be a perfect nuisance. I can understand his feelin's, but really he 's carryin' it too far."

Primed with his message to the under-gardener, Shelton went. He took a despairing look into the billiard-room. Antonia was not there. Instead, a tall and fat-cheeked gentleman with a neat moustache, called Mabbey, was practising the spot-stroke. He paused as Shelton entered, and, pouting like a baby, asked in a sleepy voice,

"Play me a hundred up?"

Shelton shook his head, stammered out his sorrow, and was about to go.

The gentleman called Mabbey, plaintively feeling the places where his moustaches joined his pink and glossy cheeks, asked with an air of some surprise,

"What's your general game, then?"

"I really don't know," said Shelton.

The gentleman called Mabbey chalked his cue, and, moving his round, knock-kneed legs in their tight trousers, took up his position for the stroke.

"What price that?" he said, as he regained the perpendicular; and his well-fed eyes followed Shelton with sleepy inquisition. "Curious dark horse, Shelton," they seemed to say.

Shelton hurried out, and was about to run down the lower lawn, when he was accosted by another person walking in the sunshine--a slight-built man in a turned-down collar, with a thin and fair moustache, and a faint bluish tint on one side of his high forehead, caused by a network of thin veins. His face had something of the youthful, optimistic, stained-glass look peculiar to the refined English type. He walked elastically, yet with trim precision, as if he had a pleasant taste in furniture and churches, and held the Spectator in his hand.

"Ah, Shelton!" he said in high-tuned tones, halting his legs in such an easy attitude that it was impossible to interrupt it: "come to take the air?"

Shelton's own brown face, nondescript nose, and his amiable but dogged chin contrasted strangely with the clear-cut features of the stained-glass man.

"I hear from Halidome that you're going to stand for Parliament," the latter said.

Shelton, recalling Halidome's autocratic manner of settling other people's business, smiled.

"Do I look like it?" he asked.

The eyebrows quivered on the stained-glass man. It had never occurred to him, perhaps, that to stand for Parliament a man must look like it; he examined Shelton with some curiosity.

"Ah, well," he said, "now you mention it, perhaps not." His eyes, so carefully ironical, although they differed from the eyes of Mabbey, also seemed to ask of Shelton what sort of a dark horse he was.

"You 're still in the Domestic Office, then?" asked Shelton.

The stained-glass man stooped to sniff a rosebush. "Yes," he said; "it suits me very well. I get lots of time for my art work."

"That must be very interesting," said Shelton, whose glance was roving for Antonia; "I never managed to begin a hobby."

"Never had a hobby!" said the stained-glass man, brushing back his hair (he was walking with no hat); "why, what the deuce d' you do?"

Shelton could not answer; the idea had never troubled him.

"I really don't know," he said, embarrassed; "there's always something going on, as far as I can see."

The stained-glass man placed his hands within his pockets, and his bright glance swept over his companion.

"A fellow must have a hobby to give him an interest in life," he said.

"An interest in life?" repeated Shelton grimly; "life itself is good enough for me."

"Oh!" replied the stained-glass man, as though he disapproved of regarding life itself as interesting.

"That's all very well, but you want something more than that. Why don't you take up woodcarving?"

"Wood-carving?"

"The moment I get fagged with office papers and that sort of thing I take up my wood-carving; good as a game of hockey."

"I have n't the enthusiasm."

The eyebrows of the stained-glass man twitched; he twisted his moustache.

"You 'll find not having a hobby does n't pay," he said; "you 'll get old, then where 'll you be?"

It came as a surprise that he should use the words "it does n't pay," for he had a kind of partially enamelled look, like that modern jewellery which really seems unconscious of its market value.

"You've given up the Bar? Don't you get awfully bored having nothing to do?" pursued the stained-glass man, stopping before an ancient sundial.

Shelton felt a delicacy, as a man naturally would, in explaining that being in love was in itself enough to do. To do nothing is unworthy of a man! But he had never felt as yet the want of any occupation. His silence in no way disconcerted his acquaintance.

"That's a nice old article of virtue," he said, pointing with his chin; and, walking round the sundial, he made its acquaintance from the other side. Its grey profile cast a thin and shortening shadow on the turf; tongues of moss were licking at its sides; the daisies clustered thick around its base; it had acquired a look of growing from the soil. "I should like to get hold of that," the stained-glass man remarked; "I don't know when I 've seen a better specimen," and he walked round it once again.

His eyebrows were still ironically arched, but below them his eyes were almost calculating, and below them, again, his mouth had opened just a little. A person with a keener eye would have said his face looked greedy, and even Shelton was surprised, as though he had read in the Spectator a confession of commercialism.

"You could n't uproot a thing like that," he said; "it would lose all its charm."

His companion turned impatiently, and his countenance looked wonderfully genuine.

"Couldn't I?" he said. "By Jove! I thought so. 1690! The best period." He ran his forger round the sundial's edge. "Splendid line-clean as the day they made it. You don't seem to care much about that sort of thing"; and once again, as though accustomed to the indifference of Vandals, his face regained its mask.

They strolled on towards the kitchen gardens, Shelton still busy searching every patch of shade. He wanted to say "Can't stop," and hurry off; but there was about the stained-glass man a something that, while stinging Shelton's feelings, made the showing of them quite impossible. "Feelings!" that person seemed to say; "all very well, but you want more than that. Why not take up wood-carving? . . . Feelings! I was born in England, and have been at Cambridge."

"Are you staying long?" he asked Shelton. "I go on to Halidome's to-morrow; suppose I sha'n't see you there? Good, chap, old Halidome! Collection of etchings very fine!"

"No; I 'm staying on," said Shelton.

"Ah!" said the stained-glass man, "charming people, the Dennants!"

Shelton, reddening slowly, turned his head away; he picked a gooseberry, and muttered, "Yes."

"The eldest girl especially; no nonsense about her. I thought she was a particularly nice girl."

Shelton heard this praise of Antonia with an odd sensation; it gave him the reverse of pleasure, as though the words had cast new light upon her. He grunted hastily,

"I suppose you know that we 're engaged?"

"Really!" said the stained-glass man, and again his bright, clear, iron-committal glance swept over Shelton--"really! I didn't know. Congratulate you!"

It was as if he said: "You're a man of taste; I should say she would go well in almost any drawing-room!"

"Thanks," said Shelton; "there she' is. If you'll excuse me, I want to speak to her."


John Galsworthy

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