One Must Not Forget the Almanac
E. LLEWELLYN HUGHES
IT is a dismal room on the second floor of a— but no, let us not start off so carelessly as that.
Let us begin sympathetically and come to understand something about the artist whose studio in Lower Bermondsey we were about to violate.
Withdrawing quietly, for we are ever unseen, we peep in. Where can we peep? Ah yes, through the transom; it is plain glass and not too high up. And so, stretching our toes and our necks, we get the side view of a handsome man, tinges of grey amidst his curls; a man, we should judge, well on in the forties.
He is sketching a saucy advertisement—a girl opening her umbrella in a gale of wind—for Messrs. Lacey the ladies’ hosiers. His is a pretty age for a good-looking man and we take him to be a devil with the fair sex. Not a disagreeable devil, mind you, not a smooth one, an oily one, for after all he is to be the hero of our little piece. But a nice devil, meaning all the ladies would surely fall in love with him if he is as nice as he looks. Of course he might not be, but we will soon find that
His hands—we always look at the hands—are rather delicatelyshaped and have ink spots and nice daubs of paint. His back is too rounded—perhaps lack of exercise, perhaps worry. We seem to prefer the latter, since when he looked in our way just then his eyes contained merely the strain of that lively spark incidental to happiness, and there were some lines, deep ones.
His coat has the cut of Saville Row —we pride ourselves on this distinctive observation—but it is too old to advertise and is frayed and torn. Busy fingers, little or rough ones, have been needling at these frays and tears. Not a bad job, but we believe we could have done it better.
There are one or two striking articles in the room, notably a fine moonlight marine right opposite us.
But that te,a-table on wheels, an expensive one undoubtedly —quite out of place! For instance the one thing we do not find on it is a tea cup. It is covered with painting articles, pots, tubes, brushes, a palette or two, and a few odd sketches. On the lower shelf we are amused to notice the compromise for a doll’s bed, with a sad, pale-faced dolly tucked in between dubious sheets.
The doll’s bed has interested us in another direction and we squint around in search of the little mother. Ah! we see her now. Over in the far corner by the taps. She is washing the dishes and humming a tune which we dimly hear when she intermittently closes off the water to conserve the supply. We decide her to be about twelve years and like her long brown hair and her nice, wellshaped legs. We are content to watch her for a moment and see that she goes about her domesticity in a very pretty and determined manner.
'T'HERE would seem to be nobody but these two and so we are inclined to enter now in order to hear what they may have to say. We shall name the little mother Rosie— as we rather think she looks as though that should be her name.
Rosie (Wiping the dishes) : Daddums! (AM they are father and daughter).
Daddums (As if he was hailing a cab) : Hello!
Rosie (Continuing her work): Can I interrupt you to ask a question?
Daddums (He is a bit of a wag, this father, and his eyes actually twinkle): Yes, questions are interruptions—if that’s what you mean.
Rosie: What I would very much like to know is this. Why don’t you paint nice big paintings like the ones we went to see in the Art Gallery?
Daddums: Oho! (As if that were sufficient answer!) Rosie (You see how determined she is): I asked you a question, Daddums.
Daddums: I’m afraid you did.
Rosie: Why don’t you?
Daddums: Well, thereby hangs a tale, you know. (Lightly) Rather a sad thing in its way—yes quite a sordid affair. Like to hear it? ( He doesn’t wail for a reply,
however) Urn! doesn’t want to hear it. Too bad. Quite a sad story.
Rosie (Jumping and pressing her hands together-, clever child) : Tell me.
Daddums: Eh? What’s that?
Rosie: Please, I want to hear.
Daddums: Well I used to paint nice big paintings once upon a time. There’s one over there now, hanging on the wall. Perhaps you haven’t had time to notice it? Quite a good thing in its way. I do believe—yes, I remember now—it used to adorn an Academy wall; one season.
But one has to be rich to paint big pictures. Can’t afford it now. Paint little ones instead. Lots of money in them.
Rosie (Putting away her cups and plates): When did you paint them?
Daddums (Back at his old games): Let me see. About two hundred years ago.
Rosie (By his table) : Daddums! Tell me the truth.
Daddums: The truth? Well, that’s different.
Rosie (Getting her doll arid nursing it) : I’m getting older, you see. I’ll soon be twelve (Now wasn’t that, a good guess on our pari?) and dolly will be three.
Daddums: Gracious. Can it be possible?
Rosie: Yes. There’s lots of things you've promised to tell me. But you never do tell me. I’m beginning to wonder why you don’t.
Daddums (Dropping his pencil like a hot. potato): Are you? Bless me!
Rosie: You used to be rich and you used to paint big pictures, didn’t you? (She planks herself and her doll, in front of the moonlight marine).
Daddums (Bravely): Lost the knack of—both. In those days you were nothing but a Huffy little rabbit.
Rosie (To the picture): Not bad. What's that black thing? A whale?
Daddums: Well, really, I meant it for a ship—but perhaps it would do better as a whale.
Rosie (Turning round): Was Mother alive when you did that picture? (So the real mother is dead? We hinted as much.)
Daddums (Squinting at his sketch) : She was.
Rosie (with, such feeling that, the doll is suspended by one
of its arms): Oh, I do wish you had looked under the table earlier, Daddums, because then I could have growed quicker and met mother before she
Rosie: Grown. Was she really very beautiful? Or were you only pretending, Daddums dear?
Daddums (Turning her face from side to side): Yes, very beautiful. Somewhat like you in manner of speaking. Now look out for the next thing you say.
Rosie (Promptly): How beautiful?
Daddums (Popping about in his chair): Hup! There we go.
Rosie: (Snuggling her pretty face next, to his) : Daddums, do you really think I’ll be beautiful when I grow up?
Daddums: Well, a tadpole never knows his luck, does he?
Rosie (Laughing and kissing him) A tadpole. Did mother love you as much as I love you, Daddums?
Daddums (Foolishly): I don’t think she could have done that.
Rosie (A plain question—but a terrible one) : Why?
Daddums: Well—what I mean is — (He hurriedly picks up a sketch and, holding it at arm’s length, forces a laugh) Yes, I think that’s a winner. Funny as a wooden leg! Twenty pounds or I’m a Frenchman.
Rosie: If mother had lived, Daddums—(She loves to form the word on her lips.)
Daddums ( Nestling her to him) : If mother had lived—Sweet little rabbit. Smile at me. I love to look right down into your eyes. They are so true, so tender. They make me think of—now what do you sup-
Rosie (Sadly) : A tadpole? Daddums: Oh no. A little deer in the forest. Nibbling bits of green moss. Funny old nose though. (It really is a very nice one.)
Rosie (Saved from tears) : It’s like yours, you told me.
Daddums: Nice, rounded little chin. Like a pat of cream cheese. That’s why it’s so good to eat. Hat and coat, little rabbit. It’s five minutes to two.
Rosie (Obeying him, after putting her doll to bed again): Daddums, do you know that last pound of cheese is all gone?
Daddums: You don’t tell me? Um! There must be some mice.
Rosie: I know the mouse—and it’s you.
Daddums: Well now I—(Someone knocks at the door) Hallo! who’s that I wonder?
Rosie (Going to the door, opening it. carefully, and closing it again): It’s a man.
Daddums: Bless me, my child.
HE rises and opens the door. Watching his face we are inclined to think the visitor is none too welcome. We hear a voice saying: “Well, Mason, how are you?’” (Now we are getting down to actual surnames, and with. Daddums acknowledging the greeting we are enabled to dispense with the mere parental title if we like.) The newcomer enters. We happen to know him. IIis name is Douglas Mount and he is to be seen, or was, continually around the Stock Exchange, dressed smartly in a silk hat and grey tie. But we never cared for his florid appearance and heavy, flat step; no more did we approve his crisp, black moustache which, far from concealing, accentuated his thick lips. No, we never liked him—for we also heard certain tales about his habits and mode of living. Ami we don’t like him now, although he has a fur coat and a motor car at t he street corner.
Mount: Can a fellow come in? (What ti condescendiny thing to say) Long time since 1 saw you. (He glances around the room and the moustache crinkles, i Not much of a place, Dick. And by the Lord Harry! I hardly recognized you at first.
Mason (Or ought we still to call him Daddums?): Just a moment, Mount (without attempting an introduction) this is my little girl. She is just about to run off to school.
Mount: This is the baby I saw when—? (The moustache twitches again; pathaps here lies the prime cause of our
animosity, because anything of this nature makes our flesh creep.) By Jove! She’s the dead image of—
Mason (Hurriedly): Yes, sit down,
Mount. I’ll see this little rabbit across the street. I won’t be a second.
As soon as he finds himself alone Mount gives vent to a sniff and we hear him say:
“Good Lord!” He strolls about the room looking first at one thing and then at another. The small sketches seem to amuse him for he laughs. We feel obliged to say we do not even like his laugh, feeling rather small about our fastidiousness. Mason returns and closes the door.
Mount: Well, Dick—it’s some years since I saw you.
Mason (Motioning him to a seat): The world still smiles favorably on you, I observe.
Mount: I can’t return that compliment,
Mason: Ah no—if you measure values in the way you appraise my worldly goods —here. (He waves his arm.) Taking all things into account—not so bad.
Mount: You’ve altered, Dick—much older. Not so handsome. (We don’t agree with him.)
Mason: Time collects its fares. How is it with you?
Mount: Ten years since we saw you. I look pretty good, eh?
Mason: Ten years. Yes, I’d lost count. Get mixed even in the days sometimes. My little girl is my almanac. When she stays at home it’s Sunday and so on. I suppose you are married now?
Mount: Didn’t you hear? Quite an affair. (The moustache is at it again.)
Mason: I’m afraid I—
Mount: Lady Olive Wilson. (He is disappointed not to find surprise.) Quite happy in a way. We never see each other. I have my times—she hers. It’s always so with these sort of marriages.
Mason: Sorry, I can’t offer you a cigar. Excuse me filling a pipe.
Mount: That’s all right. (He pulls out his cigarette case and chooses a smoke). I’m sorry to see you buried like this, old man. They often mention your name at the club—your old club. No one knew where you’d gone. Frank Lampson—you remember Lampson?—made a clear million in Africa. I did well on those Marconi shares. All the fellows you knew have done pretty well.
Mason: I’m glad. (And he means it.)
Mount (Puffing himself out) : They made me a baronet.
Mason: A baronet?
Mount: Sir Douglas—that’s what I’m called now.
Mason: What immodesty did you perform to get that honor?
Mount (Laughing): It’s done, you know. And now you’ll want to know how I found you. To start with I hold shares in Hadworth and Baxter. You do some work for them.
Mount: Saw rather a neat sketch advertising their sales. Asked who was the artist. I always have an eye to the artist, Dick. There’s too much indifference amongst us to music and art and—
Mason: And all that sort of rubbish. Quite so.
Mount: Saw your name—Richard Mason. It gave me quite a shock. I had the manager make inquiries and I found out where you lived. Just an hour ago. But (Looking round the room) this is somewhat of a surprise. We thought you were in America, doing well. There was a rumor.
Mason: No I’m still here.
Mount: Hurt you to talk? (A little brutal, though polite.)
Mason: I’m sure you know. It’s not complicated. Mildred ran away from me ten years ago. That’s all.
Mount (Trying hard to appear sympathetic): Yes, we heard that—at the clubs. Damned funny how these rumors get about. Reggie Stevens—nice fellow too. Curious business.
Mason: A very nice fellow. I was quite fond of him. And even now—well, I hear he’s playing straight with her. If one would call it straight.
Mason: Italy—last I heard. (Sententiously—but not without a sigh.)
Mount (Almost touched by the careworn expression on Mason’s face) : Y ou never thought of the courts?
Mason (Livelier): Divorce? Good heavens, no. I wouldn’t drag her name—my little girl’s name—through that public wash-house. At first, in order to shield Millie, I offered some trumped-up evidence about myself—forgetting it might have the same effect on the child. But she did not avail herself of it. Perhaps it was just as well. People soon forget and—it’s ten years ago now.
Mount: And so you—(Instead of saying it he looks about the room.)
Mason: Yes. Got the ambition and pride knocked out of me a little. But I’m not too miserable. It’s the kiddy I’m worrying over. She thinks her mother is dead. (Wincing). The lies I’ve told her! Every time I strike a bit of extra luck I’m afraid she’ll ask me to take her to Scotland. Mount: Meaning-
Mason: She’s buried in Edinburgh. (With a movement.) If you don’t mind, Mount.
Mount (Nodding his understanding): Of course. (Then he says) Go about much? Mason: What for?
Mount: It’s plain to me you need other things besides money. Diversion—
Mason (Rising): All I need is that little thing’s mother. It’s everything for her now, Mount. My life is centered around her happiness. It’s an obsession—and worth living for. (Wistfully.) Only there are times when I fear for the day when her health and beauty demand her to talk of and care for someone else—some other
Mount: Oh, that’s far into the future anyway.
Mason: One must not forget Çhe almanac. The years go by quickly.
Mount (Rising): Well, I must be trotting. George, Dick! Look here, you know, I’m damned glad to have seen you again. Maybe I can put you in the way of a good thing or two on the market—and if you are ever up against it now don’t forget I am still your friend.
Mason (Accepting the other’s hand): Good of you, Mount —very good.
Mount (Magnificently): What are you doing to-night? How about dinner somewhere?
Mason : I wouldn’t miss one of Rosie’s dinners for one at Buckingham Palace (So her name is Rosiel) I know which side my bread is buttered now.
Mount (Crestfallen) : Well—yes—come and see me, Dick. I’m at 41 Queen’s Gate. Look me up—soon.
Mason: Very good of you.
Mount: And remember if there’s anything I can dó —don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask. (This is well said and calls for a better reply than Mason gives.)
Mason: You mustn’t patronize me, Mount.
Mount: Good Lord, no. Come and see me and we will at least talk things over. I’ll have more time. (Mason holds the door open.) Well—tootie—too!
When he is alone Mason chances a little whistle— which unfortunately for its being is out-of-tune and short-lived. Bravely begun, but destined to a sad, broken career. He then takes up his small sketch and, walking over to the moonlight marine, holds it up in contrast. Shaking his head solemnly he is heard to say: “Hard lines, little ’un.” He is by the table when the door opens to admit the rosy-cheeked Rosie. She carries a letter.
Mason: What? School
Rosie: Holiday; holiday.
Mason : Holiday? That’s nice. Teacher got the measles, mumps, toothache? Is that it?
Rosie: No, Daddums— she’s getting married.
Mason (Once more having his game): Getting
buried. Sorry to hear that.
Rosie: Married—not buried.
Mason (With extreme apology): Oh! married!
Pardon me. Holiday because teacher is getting married. That’s clear.
Good. Glad to hear that.
Now tell me, what’s that you’ve got? A letter for daddy?
Rosie (Holding it behind her): Yes. I met the postman outside.
Mason: A letter.
Rosie: Typewritten too.
Mason: Ah! Supposing we open it.
Mason: I think so. Read it aloud.
Rosie (Breaking open the letter, a cheque flutters to the ground) : Oh! here’s a cheque, Daddums. For twelve—no, twenty pounds.
Mason: Twenty pounds? Urn! Don’t believe it. No—no. Urn! Don’t believe it.
Rosie (Showing him the cheque): Look. That’s twenty, isn’t it?
Mason: Looks very like it, eh? Let me see the letter. (Reading) Enclosed please find—um! (Looking at Rosie, his head cocked on one side.) This occasions the ceremonious dance, doesn’t it?
Rosie: (Jumping): Yes.
Mason (Getting ready) : Let me see. When did we have the last one?
Rosie: A long time ago. It’s on the almanac. (She runs to the almanac on the wall). Blue crosses for twenty— red for ten. There’s a red cross on January 12. That’s nearly two months ago. Get ready. (They oin hands.)
Together: Here we go gathering twenty pounds,
twenty pounds, twenty pounds. Here we go gathering twenty pounds on a nice—
Mason: Little March morning.
Rosie (Singing on): No, afternoon, Daddums.
Mason (Singing his correction): Little March afternoon —it doesn’t quite fit in with the music, does it? (Talking) Well, there we are. And now on with my work and a nice new hat for a nice little rabbit to-morrow.
Rosie: A new hat? Oh! Daddums, really?
Mason: Really. Wouldn’t she like it?
Rosie: Very much.
Mason (Seated at the table): Right oh! Now what does my little rabbit intend to do on her holiday?
Rosie: Sew. There’s your socks, you know. Lots of holes.
Mason: That little toe again, I’ll be bound.
Rosie: It’s the big one this time. You’re wrong,
Mason: Ah! I felt sure we had boxed him in long ago. But a holiday is a holiday. What’s wrong with the park? That’s the place for rabbits to holiday, I’m sure.
Rosie: If you’ll come with me.
Mason: Well—I’m rather busy. Gathering twenty pounds and new hats. That’s what daddies are for, you know.
THERE is a silence, and we peep around to discover the cause. It is really not discernible. Rosie is about to start work on a big sock which positively has an alarming hole in the place the big toe should find cover. Daddums, his back to us, is evidently working on his sketch. But we fancy it is not the right shade of mending wool which concerns Rosie—we fancy it is something else. Let us hint a new embarrassment on an hitherto new subject: one which, in the curriculum of this university, has not been broached before.
Rosie (Suddenly) : Daddy ( Here it comes.)
Mason (Who, like all of us, has been waiting perhaps) : Hallo!
Rosie: Jack Horner tried to kiss me. (She prods with her darning needle.)
Mason: Um! Um! (This is entirely misleading. As a matter of faxt, the darning needle prods into his heart.)
Rosie (Giving details) : As he came home from school with me.
Mason: Ha! Hal Rosie: He has walked home with me three times.
Mason : Sure it isn’t four? (Very quiet cleverness, this) Rosie: Three, Daddy. And he tried to kiss me.
Mason: Whatdidyoudo? Smack his face? Yes? No? Rosie: Oh, no.
Mason: Ah! You bit his finger.
Rosie: No. He’s the champion runner at school and the best football player. He skates and he can actually walk on stilts. (You see how many seasons she has watched Jack Hor-
Mason: Bless me, what a fine fellow!
Rosie: Daddums. Mason: Ho, ho!
Rosie: You’re sure you wouldn’t miss me if I went out to play?
Continued on page 64
Continued from page 12
Mason: I-suppose you’ll come back. Rosie: Half an hour.
Mason: Half an hour. Right ho.
Rosie: And I’ll tell Jack Horner you said he was a fine fellow. Eh, Daddums? Mason: Goingto play with Jack Horner? Rosie: He’s waiting for me in the street. (Oh, the artfulness.)
Mason: Half an hour? (This is really all he can say.)
Rosie: Yes, only half an hour.
She goes to him to give him a kiss.
Mason (Hugging her): Little girl—dear, little flesh and blood. The days go by, I suppose, and I mustn’t be selfish. No, I mustn’t be selfish.
Rosie: You never are selfish, Daddy. Mason: No, I never am selfish. (Attempting indifference.) Run along with
y°Rosie: (Getting the almanac which she
planks down on the table): The almanac, Daddy.
Mason (His eyes moist): Eh?
Rosie: Mark the cross, a red one.
Mason: Ah, yes, the cross! Where— where is my red pencil? I can’t quite see—
Rosie (Laughing): It’s right under your nose. There.
Mason: Bless me, how stupid! Now then. ( He is about to mark it.)
Rosie: No, no there. Here, look.
Mason: Ah, yes. (He marks a red cross.)
Rosie: I’ll soon be back, Daddy. (Kissing him.) And I do love you.
Mason (Hurriedly): Off you go. Upon my word, if I was Jack Horner I wouldn’t wait. Off with you.
Rosie goes out laughingly, and her father drops his head into his hands on the table.