FICTION

Old Masters

PHILIP GIBBS March 1 1932
FICTION

Old Masters

PHILIP GIBBS March 1 1932

Old Masters

FICTION

He pawned his soul for love, only to learn that love is not bought but given

PHILIP GIBBS

ART is the first thing affected by economic depression, or by war which leads to national impoverishment if it lasts too long. That is why some artists are half starved, or at least underfed, in garret rooms or studios in mean streets. Bohemia has always been a squalid realm when the luxury trades are not flourishing. That is why my friend Clive Parker was only one of many promising young artists who in the years that followed the war regretted sometimes that they had survived poison gas and high explosives and machine-gun bullets, in a world which had no use for impressionistic landscapes or any kind of beauty which may be captured on a bit of canvas.

He had come back to his studio in London—on the edge of Bloomsbury, to which many of his fellow craftsmen had migrated from Chelsea—surprised and quite glad to find that he had brought back most of his limbs after an experience which was not favorable to human anatomy. As a matter of fact, he only had one hand missing, and as it was his left he could afford to laugh and get back to his painting. He painted some very good stuff. I saw it. He found, indeed, that he was painting better than before the war, when he had made a little reputation and a fair income by scenes of London life—coffee stalls at night, nursemaids and babies in Kensington Gardens, junk stalls in the Caledonian Market, and so on. He was getting more atmosphere into his work. In my opinion, he had a touch of genius.

But his things didn't sell. And that was a pity because he not only wished to keep himself alive after some very close encounters with death, but he also had an idea that he deserved a fair share of happiness in the way of a wife and children after four and a half years of service to his country. He was in love with a girl who happened to be the daughter of a barrister in Bloomsbury and therefore not far away from his studio, which was also his bednxim. drawing-room, dining room and bathroom. He had met her first in a canteen on the other side. He had met her again on seven days leave. She had been good enough to let him kiss her under a lamp post—darkened because of air raids—before he went back for the last lap of the war. Her name was Sylvia Hare wood, and his idea of happiness,

now the war was over, was linked up with this girl who was living with her father again, not quite sure what she was going to make of life now that peace had come with almost physical reaction after the fever of these years. She seemed to have forgotten that kiss under the lamp post and had many friends outside Clive Parker’s set -that rather hectic crowd who tried to cure boredom in night clubs and dance halls —but came round now and again to the studio to Ik at his work, and talk of mutual friends who had survived, or not survived, the war.

“How are things going. Clive? Pretty boring, this peace, isn’t it? No job to do.”

HE DIDN’T find it boring, and he had his job. which he preferred to the instruction of new battalions in the science of machine gunning.

“People aren’t buying pictures,” he told her, “but I can afford to give them a little time tie fore they feel an irresistible craving for high art. 1 can hang out for a year or so on what I get for the loss of a useless hand. By that time the market may look up again. What about a little dinner in Soho tnnicrht and then a dance somewhere?”

"Sorry,” she said, “I promised to go out with Freddy Prichard. Besides, you ain’t afford to stand dinners and dances to lonely ladies. Wait till you've sold one of those masterpieces.”

“Good heavens! 1 might have to wait till I have a long white beard. Curse Freddy Prichard, anyhow. What about tomorrow?"

“Bad luck ! I promised Tony El wood. Do you remember? He used to come to the canteen when he was A. P. M. at Etaples.”

“That blighter? One of the very worst. I wonder you go out with a little pipsqueak like that.”

‘Oh, he’s quite amusing. And he gives excellent parties regardless of expense. The head waiter of the Café Royal is wonderfully polite to him. 1 lis father made a fortune out of gas masks or something of the sort.”

“Yes, that’s the sort of man he would have for a father. I say, don’t go yet. You look wonderfully nice in that armchair.”

She looked wonderfully nice in any chair or in any part of his studio, although it was a shabby old den. But sometimes he thought she looked tired, with little faint lines about her eyes—her dark, smiling eyes—and with a droop at the corners of her lips which once he had kissed under a lamp [xist. darkened because of air raids. She was restless, he noticed, touching things with her long thin fingers, playing with a sandy kitten which he had rescued from the streets, never still for more than a few moments. Perhaps it was this restlessness, this difficulty of readjusting herself to the ordinary drudgery of life after war adventures which made her so eager for parties and dances with a rather rotten crowd. Some of these war girls had become hard and bit ter. He noticed that. Sylvia would never become hard, but she might be bitter because something seemed to have gone missing out of life, now that the men were back again and not finding jobs and not marrying the girls who ought to lx; having babies; and going to pieces, some of them, because of nerves and war strain. He was tempted to make love to her on some of those aftermxms when she came to his studio. Once he asked her to give him a kiss again, and held her hands for a moment rather tightly, and drew her toward him a little. But she jerked her head back, laughing, but quite resolute to resist him.

“Better not. Clive ! It only leads to......complications.”

He wanted it lo lead to complications. But he did not press the point. He would wait until he could offer something better than a studio which was also a lx‘dnx>m. He only hojxxl that she would not lx* taken from him by one of those men in the crowd outside his own set. He was nervous of that man Tony El wood, whose father had made a fortune out of gas masks. They went about together a gtxxl deal. She danced with him at places beyond the means of an artist who had not yet discovered a post-war market. The Ritz. The Savoy. The Berkeley.

Then there was young Prichard, who motored her out to Maidenhead and other places. Once he had seen them together, driving past Baker Street station and held up for a moment in a traffic block, so that he had time for a word with Sylvia. Or rather, she called out to him.

“Hullo, Clive!”

He lifted his old felt hat and knew that he looked like a down-and-out in a Burberry raincoat which he had worn in the trenches. 1 íe was carrying a big parcel under his arm on his way to a dealer's, in the hope that he might find a buyer.

lie saw Prichard, a sandy-haired man, glance over his wheel at him and then say something to Sylvia. Clive Parker imagined what he said, though his guess may have been wrong: “Who’s your shabby friend?”

"Going into the country?” asked Clive.

“Oxford, if we get out of this block,” she answered.

The tide of traffic surged forward. Sylvia raised her hand and smiled back for a second. Then she was gone.

“I can't compete,” thought Clive Parker, grabbing his parcel tightly because a small Ixty shoved past. "I can’t even take lier for a taxi drive. Unless I sell some of these daubs I can’t afford the rent of that studio. One of those swine will marry her before 1 find my market again.”

T_TE WALKED to a little street leading out of Museum -*■ Street. There was a shop there which had sold some of his work before the war. although its main trade had been sporting prints. It might lx* worth asking old Kiswick to show some of his stuff on commission. A dirty old dog was Zachary Kiswick, but he knew something about pictures and was ready to take a chance with the younger men. 1 íe had planted Austin Wix lx*fore the war. And he had introduced several men to the American market Frank Jasper the etcher, for instancegetting astonishing prices, of which old Kiswick took fifty jx*r cent for himself or something iniquitous like that.

Clive had quarrelled with him just lx*fore the war. because of a deal over which the eld ruffian had cheated him deliberately. It was rather lowering to pride to call on him again after that affair, but pride is a foolish business when the wolf shows its fangs.

Clive Parker, who had made a little reputation for himself before the war, sfixxi outside the shop of Zachary Kiswick and stared in at the window, seeing the reflection of his own

shabbiness in that old raincoat. But he didn't pay much attention to that. His eyes were caught by the portrait of an eighteenth century gentleman by—-well, it looked remarkably like a Lawrence. The same tone. The same look in the eyes. The same kind of brush work—until one looked a bit closer. It was a modem copy, rather well done. Curiously enough, he couldn’t remember the original, though he thought he knew most of Lawrence’s portraits. There were three or four other pictures in the same window. One of the Dutch school, which looked an original. A landscape remarkably like a Hobbema. A portrait of a Georgian gentleman who looked as if he had been a three bottle man. Not good, that. Rather crude. Almost a caricature.

Clive Parker went into the shop, as he told me afterward. Old Zachary Kiswick was there, talking to a customer. He had changed a bit since the war and was rather smartened up, wearing a velveteen jacket instead of his old alpaca, with a little black skull cap at the back of his bald pate. But his fingernails were still dirty, and his eyelids were still red, and his hooked nose still showed signs of his fondness for frequent nips.

Clive Parker sfixxi on one side, listening to the conversation in progress between the picture dealer and his customer, who was a bland-looking old gentleman, obviously American by the intonation of his voice.

“Can’t you give me some kind of guarantee, Mr.

Kiswick?” the American asked. “When I take that picture back to Asheville in North Carolina I would like to be able to tell my friends it’s a genuine Romney. I would like to be able to tell them that this distinguishedlooking gentleman is the ancestor of a noble English family impoverished by the war so that they have had to sell their treasures. Surely you have some data which would enable me to trace the original owner and the identity of the portrait?”

Zachary Kiswick pushed his skull cap farther back and took a pinch of snuff noisily.

"I have already told you, sir, that I can’t give a guarantee. This picture was brought into my shop by a stranger who remained anonymous. For all I know, he might have been a viscount or an earl. On the other hand, he might have been an officer of the Guards, or even a young gentleman in the city. One can’t judge by appearances nowadays. He handed over that picture and said, ‘What will you give me for that? It’s uncommonly like a Romney. It’s worth a lot of money, and I’m needing it.' ‘Any proof that it’s a Romney?’ I asked. ‘None whatever,’ he said, ‘except what you can see by half an eye. if you know anything about pictures.’ Well, I’ve more than half an eye, and I know something about pictures. If that isn’t a Romney, it's very much like one. But I guarantee nothing. I have my reputation to maintain.

If 1 don’t know a thing for certain, I don't pretend 1 do.

None of your friends in North Carolina will be able to say that it isn’t a Romney. I can't say so. There’s no expert who can say so, or if there is 1 haven’t met him . . . But l can't waste my time. sir. Buy it at your own risk, if you like. Don’t buy it if you think the price is too big for the risk.”

“How much did you say?” asked the American gentleman uncertainly.

“Three hundred pounds.”

“And if it were a Romney fully guaranteed, it would be worth—?”

“Three thousand at least,”

said Zachary Kiswick. “You may be getting a bargain. Perhaps I’m a fool.”

He took another pinch of snuff from the hollow behind his thumb.

“Send it round to the Savoy Hotel,” said the American gentleman. “I’ll write you a cheque. I’m convinced it’s a Romney.”

"It’s your luck if you find out. The old families are selling their pictures nowadays. More’s the pity.”

The American gentleman wrote his cheque on the counter, and laughed good-naturedly.

“You’ll look silly, Mr. Kiswick, if I write and tell you one day that I’ve sold that picture for fifteen thousand dollars!”

The picture dealer blinked like an old rat.

“I’ve made mistakes before, and I shall make ’em again. It’s the game. Sometimes I don’t make mistakes. Good morning, sir. and thank you. I’ll send the picture round.”

He turned his back on the American and glanced at Clive Parker doubtfully.

“Good morning, Mr. Kiswick,” said Clive. “We did a little business together once. Don’t you remember? Clive Parker.”

He rather hoped the old man would remember how he had cheated him.

The picture dealer stared at him and then held out his bony hand with its dirty fingernails.

“Mr. Parker! Well, I never! I thought you had been killed like so many other young men who brought their work to old Zachary.”

“No such luck,” said Clive. “Only the loss of my left hand. Now I’m painting again. I’ve brought round one or two small things of mine. I thought you might like to show them.”

Old Zachary shook his head, and drew his hand across his hooked nose.

“Painting again? My dear young friend. I’m sorry to hear it. Now, if you told me you were driving a taxicab or working in a garage—Painting again? Just to amuse

yourself, of course. A pleasant little hobby for idle hours. Well, well. No harm in that.”

“To earn my living,” said Clive Parker. ”1 want you to sell some of my stuff. Have a look at it.”

Zachary Kiswick backed away from the brown paper parcel which Ciive was unfastening on his counter.

"Sell some of your stuff? My dear Mr. Parker, don’t, make me laugh.” lie laughed with an old man’s wheezy mirth and moist eyes.

“Quite a humorist, ain’t you, dearie?”

“What’s the idea?” asked Clive, with sudden irritation. “I suppose some . people are still buying pictures, aren’t they?”

The old picture dealer wiped his red-lidded eyes, and blew his nose with great violence before answering this question.

“People are buying pictures now and then,” he admitted. “Americans. Our war profiteers. The new rich. Oh. certainly. I'm doing fairly well as a dealer. I can't complain. I ’m still paying my rent. But not pictures by modem young men. however brilliant like yourself, dearie. No, no; most of my boys who used to bring me their work are having a very bad time just now. Two of them put their heads into gas ovens. Young Mr. Jasper—you remember his pretty things—is drawing advertisements of ladies’ underclothing. Doing rather well, I hear. There’s no market for modem art nowadays. The war killed all that. Sad! Wont you take a pinch of snuff? It’s very good for the nerves.” Clive Parker did not take the snuff for his nerves. He stared at his dealer who was confirming his worst fears.

“What sort of stuff are you selling?” he

asked.

Zachary Kiswick waved his bony hand toward his back showroom.

“Old masters, dearie. Take a look round. There’s always a market for eighteenth century ladies and gentlemen. My clients ixiss them off as their own ancestors. The new rich who are buying up the old houses must have a few ancestors. Besides, it’s good business to buy the old stuff. Always going up in price because of American collectors. The dead hand, my dear sir. Living artists can't compete. May as well be dead themselves. Very unfortunate, but there it is.”

Clive Parker wandered into the back showroom and came out again after ten minutes.

“Where do you get those fakes?” he asked.

Zachary Kiswick raised both his hands.

“Fakes! My dear Mr. Parker! I don’t like the word.” He glanced over his shoulder toward the window of his shop, where two or three faces were peering at the portraits exhibited there, the portrait of the eighteenth century gentleman which looked like a Lawrence, the portrait of the little lady which looked like a Romney.

“They’re the worst kind of fakes,” said Clive Parker. “Whom do you get to do them for you? What fools do you get to buy them?”

ZACI1ARY KISWICK smiled at the young artist through his red-lidded eyes, one of which closed slightly for a moment.

“People like them,” he said. “They’re willing to take a chance on getting an old master cheap. And you never can tell. Upon my soul, I can hardly tell the difference myself.” He looked at three small pictures by Clive Parker, unwrapped and lying on the counter.

“Talented stuff,” he remarked. “You always had a talent. Mr. Parker. But you'll break your heart, dearie, if you try to live on painting things like that. No market. No market at all. Now, if you happened to be able to paint an eighteenth century portrait which might be somebody’s ancestor, and might even be the work of Iloppner or one of those old fellows—”

He glanced over his shoulder again uneasily and lowered his voice.

“I’ve always been a friend of young artists,” he said. I hate to see them unhappy. If you happened to bring me a portrait by an unknown artist of the eighteenth century and said, ‘Zachary, old dear, here’s a queer old thing which

might interest you’—well. I might get a g price for it. I’m willing to take a chance on work like that. I don’t mind paying as much as thirty pounds cash down for a gxxl head in the old style, an eighteenth century judge, an officer of the Peninsular War. a lady in a wig. some old squire with a ruddy face who might be anybody’s ancestor. They all attract my American clients and rich tradesmen who want to hang something on the walls of their houses in Surrey. Mind you, no two faces alike. Not an absolute copy of any well-known portrait. Something made up in your own head. See what I mean, dearie?”

Clive Parker saw what he meant. A flush of anger swept up to his eyes. He felt a pain where his left hand had been. He was tempted to put his remaining hand into the face of this rat-eyed old man.

"Heavens!” he shouted. "Are you asking me to paint some of your infernal fakes to palm off on unsuspecting fools? I would rather starve to death. You’re an insulting old devil, and you’ll find yourself in prison one of these days.”

“Just as you like, dearie,” said the old man, without taking umbrage. “I’m only telling you for your own sake. Putting a g(xxl line of business in your way—and perfectly honest, mind you. Perfectly honest. 1 give no guarantee.”

“Oh, go to the devil !” said Clive Parker.

He shoved his pictures into the brown paper and stalked out of the shop, deeply offended and very angry. Clive Parker his name had been known before the war—had been asked by this disgusting old man to become a faker of sham old masters! He would have to fall pretty low before he did a thing like that. He might be )xx>r, but he still had the soul of an artist. So, one day, he told me, with a grim laugh.

“You've no idea how humiliated 1 felt,” he said. “I had a conviction that 1 was an idealist, you know. I believed that art was in a way sacred—like religion. A man dedicates himself to art like a priest. He is an interpreter of life. He reveals the beauty of light and form. The money side of things is utterly subordinate to his vocation. His reward is to know that he has done a gcxxl bit of work. You know how 1 used to jaw that sort of stuff to you when I was a student at the Slade. Holy snakes!”

“The money side of things is utterly subordinate to an artist's vocation.” A gxxl phrase that! But a man must live if he can. And the mating instinct is strong and apt to lead a man into considerable expense, especially if the lady he loves is fond of dances and little dinners in Soho and has many admirers who give expensive parties to please her.

CLIVE PARKER was a fool, like many other men in love, as he now confesses. There was no need for him to sjx*nd money on Sylvia Harewcxxl.

She was not a girl who judged a man by the amount he sjx-nt on her. She was restless and nervy after the war and glad to lx taken out by young men with money she knew a few like that but she came round to Clive’s studio not looking for anything he could give her in entertainment. I happen to know now that she was in love with him, and unhappy because she dart'd not tell him so. If she had let him kiss her again it would have It'd, as she said, to complications. Marriage? Impossible with an artist who had not earned a guinea since the war and was living on a pension nicely reckoned by the War Office as the price of a left hand. If it had been the right hand which had been lost he would have had a bit more.

Sylvia Harewood’s father was a barrister not doing t(x> well, as he frequently complained. She would bring no fortune to a px>r husband. She would not be able to put anything into the pot even, unless she found some kind of a job. She was not afraid of jxrverty with a man she loved, but there is a difference between poverty and squalor, and it would have meant squalor with Clive in a studio where he kept his bed in an alcove and cooked his own meals, sometimes over a gas jet. Because of a little common sense in her head, though there was none in her heart when Clive looked at her sometimes with a passion which made her sorry for him. she had held him off when he asked to kiss her. One day, when he was beginning to sell his things again, she would let him lx foolish.

How do I know these things were in the mind of Sylvia Harewcxxl? Well, that’s an easy question to answer. She told me all about it one day in the corner of a little restaurant where we dined together and where, through a thin haze of cigarette smoke across coffee cups, she spoke to me quite frankly about her relations with Clive.

“He’s frightfully jealous of Tony Elwood,” she told me with a sudden flutter of eyelashes.

“I’m not surprised," I answered. “Young Elwood is an eligible young man who will come into bags of money one day. Doesn’t the prospect tempt you? The gas-mask queen ! If we have another war— "

Sylvia laughed and shx>k her head.

“His father is rather a darling, but hopelessly vulgar. He’s building a big red villa in Surrey; a blot on the land-

scape. Tony describes its horrors rather in a humorous

manner.”

“Well,” I assured her. “you needn't spend more than a few week-ends there if you become the daughter-in-law of Sir John Elwood.”

"Nothing doing,” she said. “I like Tony, but not as much as all that. Couldn’t you help Clive to eam a bit of money? Don’t you knowany patrons of art—rich Americans, Argentine millionaires, provincial mayors w'ho want their portraits painted?”

“Not on my visiting list.”

So I was allowed to get this glimpse of a love affair between two friends of mine for whom I had a soft place in my heart. There was nothing I could do about it. having my own troubles at the time. Clive Parker’s troubles were more acute. After a year without earning a golden guinea or even a paper pound, he began to get worried, poor lad. He also began to deceive Sylvia into the belief that he was finding a market for his art again. At least, he camouflaged, to use an old war word, and pretended that he could well afford to take her out to a supper dance at the Berkeley and other places, or make up a party of amusing friends now and then.

“Art is looking up.” he told her. “The dealers are getting interested in my stuff again. There’s an old robber in Bloomsbury who thinks no end of my wares. Let’s do a show tonight on the strength of it.”

“But, Clive,” asked Sylvia, “are you sure you can afford it? Have you been paid yet? I should lx just as happy if you took me to Twickenham on the top of a bus.”

Clive was scornful of the suggestion.

"The top of a bus! As a successful artist, I decline to let a lovely lady spend an evening in such a low form of amusement. Let us go and make faces at the Royal Academicians making beasts of themselves at the Café Royal. Tell your millionaire friend. Elwood, that you know an artist in Bloomsbury who can take you to a perfectly good party and less vulgar than his half-witted crowd. I’m doing things in style tonight, Sylvia. I’ve been working hard lately. I must have an occasional orgy in a mild way.”

As? ! But aren’t most men asses when they are desperately in love? And when jealousy acts as a spur to folly there is no limit to the pace.

T MUST admit that 1 am not quite sure whether Clive began to play the fool like this before he surrendered his conscience as an artist or afterward. I am inclined to think from what he tells me that he “blew” some of his war (tension before he entered into business relations with Zachary Kiswick. and that he was m a pretty desperate state before he yielded to the old tempter. What I do know

is that he had a visit from old Kiswick one evening when ne sat alone in his studio, cursing fate because Sylvia had gone to stay the week-end witn young Elwood in his father’s newhouse somewhere in Surrey—that red villa whose horrors had been described humorously by the son of its owner.

“A regular old Svengali,” said Clive, who told me afterward—long afterward, as a matter of fact. “He came round to my studio one evening, smiling under his hook nose and blinking his ratlike eyes. He looked rather a distinguished old freak in his velvet jacket and skull cap—like a Rembrandt portrait. He strolled round, looking at my stuff and pretending to like it.”

“Very talented. Strong brush work. What a pity the English public don’t know anything about art! Genius, my boy! You know how to paint. I always told you so.”

Then after some remarks about the weather and chit-chat about other artists, he came to the object of his visit. It was. of course, the proposal that Clive should paint some “old masters” for him — anybody’s ancestors, eighteenth century gentlemen in the style of Hoppner and Lawrence, little ladies after Romney, good strong heads toned down by brown varnish.

“Better than starving,” he suggested. “And perfectly honest. I don’t guarantee anything. People buy them at their own risk.”

He let out that a young man who had been doing some of these things for him had been foolish enough to put his head in a gas oven. Some trouble about a lady, of course. It was a blow to Zachary Kiswick. Just as business was looking up nicely. Americans were in town again with more money than they knew what to do with, in this time of prosperity. It was very unfortunate that the silly young man had put his head in a gas oven. Now. if Mr. Parker would care to earn a little money . . .

“How much?” asked Clive. “What do you give for one of these fakes?”

Zachary Kiswick objected to the word “fake.”

“Don’t use it, dearie ! Say portrait studies in the old style. I’m ready to pay thirty pounds for good specimens. Thirty pounds apiece, my boy. Cash down. Complete anonymity.” “And I suppose you sell the things for three hundred pounds apiece. You’re a robber.”

“My risk,” said Kiswick. “Sometimes I sell them for a good price. Sometimes I let them go for thirty shillings. Then I lose on what I pay my clever young men. They get thirty pounds. I get the risk. If they want thirty now and then it’s worth their while. Think what you can do with thirty pounds once a month, my dear! Take a lady out for the week-end. Nice little dinners at the Café Royal. A gentleman’s life.”

Clive Parker swallowed his pride and sold his conscience for thirty pieces of paper. His first portrait was remarkably like a Lawrence. It was an officer of the Fifty-first foot, in the time of George II.

“Marvellous, my dear!” chortled Zachary Kiswick. “Lawrence to the life. And not a copy either. What talent ! What a pity you young men can’t sell your own pictures. Did I say twenty-five pounds?” “You said thirty,” said Clive Parker. “And if you don’t pay up I’ll throttle you.”

Kiswick paid up in good one-pound notes, which Clive Parker spent on a party, after paying the rent of the studio, much in arrear, and baker’s bills and other expenses inseparable from life, if one desires to live. He told Sylvia that his work was beginning to sell. He didn’t tell her what kind of work it was.

SOME men could have done this work without a twinge. Clive Parker was not one of them. He suffered acutely. He felt he was betraying his soul and selling himself to the devil—that old man, Zachary Kiswick who played the part of the tempter. He tried to see the humor of this game and to pass it off with cynicism. But he wasn’t a cynic. He hated himself for his surrender of the truth that was in him. He knew that he was little better than a cheat and a liar. He couldn’t deceive himself by the thought that it was not his business how these things were sold, although he tried to dull his conscience by that argument—that it was Kiswick who committed the fraud, and did the lying, and sold the fakes.

He was astonished at the ease with which he could turn out these things in the style of Romney and Hoppner and I^awrence and Reynolds. The devil really seemed to have played his part of the bargain after his purchase of an artist’s soul. Clive Parker developed a talent amounting to genius for this kind of thing. Sometimes he looked at the things he had painted with a kind of stupefaction. They were astoundingly good. They were devilishly plausible. There was one imaginary portrait he knocked off—a girl of the Lady Hamilton type —which could have deceived himself as a genuine Romney if he had not been its creator.

“I’m possessed of a devil.” he thought. “I don’t do these things myself. There’s some infernal spirit guiding my hand.”

He began to drink at this time, not violently, but enough

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to dope himself and drag down his moral j sense. Sylvia noticed it and was frightened.

! She spoke to him about it one evening when he had taken her out to dinner.

"Clive, aren’t you drinking more than is gixxi for you? Forgive me—”

"It’s a good wine,” he said, raising his glass to her.

She noticed that some change was taking place in him. He looked haggard, and even i guilty of something. There was not the I same frankness in his eyes. His laugh was not natural. Several times when she went round to his studio he kept her waiting outside his locked dixir for a minute or more. He had the kx>k of a man who had been hiding something when he opened the door to her. She rebuked herself for these suspicions. What should he want to hide from her? Perhaps it was only a fancy of hers. But it was not a fancy that he was beginning to neglect his appearance so that he hadn't shaved when she went to set* him one day at four o’clock in the afternoon. He looked ill and desperately unhappy, though he laughed and shirked her questions alxmt his health.

“Perhaps I’m a bit run down,” he ad! mitted one day. “I could do with a bit of country air.”

Sylvia put her hand on his sleeve.

"My poor dear, you’ve been working too hard. I have an idea. I’m going to spend a week-end with Tony Elwood’s sister. She asked me to bring any friends I like. Be one of them. The old man has a wonderful garden, and it’s a dream of velvet lawns and clipped hedges. One can turn one’s back on the ugly house.”

Clive refused the invitation several times. He hated staying at other people’s houses.

"I shall be there,” said Sylvia.

"Yes, and young Elwood. I shan’t get a look in.”

“Tony is away in Paris. We can wander away from the other guests.”

‘"But I haven’t been asked,” protested Clive. “That old vulgarian doesn’t keep a public house, does he?”

Sylvia laughed.

"He likes to fill it with young people. He’s very good-natured.’’

TN THE end Clive agreed to go. He could I not resist the prospect of a week-end with Sylvia in a country garden. They could slip away into the woods. They could hide from the other people behind clipped hedges. He could forget his fakes for a day or two.

They went down together by train to Guildford. Sylvia introduced him to Sir John Elwood. who shook his hand warmly.

“I like to fill this place with plenty of folks at week-ends,” said the old man. “No j use having a big house and keeping it empty. Now that I’ve lost my poor wife—" j He sighed heavily, and then recovered his cheerfulness.

"Do you know my daughter, Betty?"

"I’m afraid not,” said Clive.

"Over there. Bit of a beauty, ain’t she? Always surrounded by the young fellows. I’m sorry Tony isn t here this week end. Gallivanting in Paris, the young scoundrel!” Clive walked with Sylvia in the garden, but she was captured for a game of tennis, so that he had to watch on the edge of the court until it was time to dress for dinner. His pre-war suit of evening clothes was deplorably shabby. His white tie had been worn once already. He found himself wishj ing that he had not come to this country mansion of the gas-mask king with a crowd

who seemed to regard him as an outsider. At the dinner table he found himself two places away from Sylvia, between a young subaltern from Aldershot and Betty Elwood. the daughter of his host, who was interested in a man on her right. He was left out of the conversation and stared round the room gloomily. It was rather different from his studio, where he cooked his food sometimes over a gas jet. Some people had all the luck. This illiterate old man at the head of the table had made a fortune out of gas masks in which the younger men had been killed under high explosives.

Suddenly Clive Parker knocked over a glass of wine on the side where his left hand ought to have been. It belonged to the young subaltern from Aldershot, who said “Damnation!” when it splashed on to his trousers.

“Sorry,” said Clive.

He stared again at a picture hanging on the wall immediately opposite. It was the portrait of an eighteenth century gentleman in the style of Lawrence. It looked extraordinarily genuine with a soft light underneath. But it was a fake really. Clive Parker knew it was a fake because he had painted it.

He felt very cold, although the room was I warm enough. Something stabbed him like i a knife. It was his conscience. He sat there, at a friendly table, a liar and a cheat. He 1 was a faker of old masters. If Sylvia knew, ! she would despise him. If that old man knew he would kick him out of the house. ( He had betrayed his art and sold his soul to j the devil. He had made himself utterly unworthy of Sylvia whose love he desired ! and who was kind to him. There was not a decent artist in Chelsea or Bloomsbury who would stand him a drink if this thing became known. He was just a common criminal, in league with old Zachary Kiswick who | planted fakes and paid him for them—the I wages of fraud.

Sylvia noticed his silence, his pallor, his i deadly gloom. Once she leaned behind her chair and whispered to him.

“Aren’t you well, Clive?”

‘‘I'm all right!” he answered.

The inevitable happened. When the ladies rose to leave the table, old Elwood asked Sylvia to have a look at the picture, and the others lingered with her. staring up at the portrait.

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Continued from page 49

“An ancestor of mine,” said old Elwood. “Rather fine, don't you think? Lawrence, you know.”

“Topping.” said the young subaltern from Aldershot. “Worth a lot of money, sir.”

Sir John chuckled.

“I picked it up as a bargain. Three hundred pounds, as a matter of fact. It’s worth three thousand if it’s worth a penny. General Sir John Elwood, in the time of old George the Third.”

"Come and have a look, Clive,” cried Sylvia.

Old Elwood looked across at Clive Parker.

“Yes, to be sure. Mr. Parker’s an artist. Come and look at my Lawrence, young man. Fine, isn’t it?”

Clive Parker stood below the picture with his right hand in his jacket pocket. His face was very pale, but there was a smile about his lips.

“I’m sorry to undeceive you,” he said quietly. “It isn’t a Lawrence.”

WHAT?” cried the old man angrily.

“What makes you say that? I’ve had several experts down about it. They all agree it’s a genuine Lawrence.”

“I painted it myself,” said Clive Parker. “It’s a fake. It’s not General Sir John Elwood. It’s an imaginary portrait out of my own head. I did it for old Zachary Kiswick, the dealer. He paid me thirty pounds for it. I’ve been doing quite a lot of these things lately. They’re all fakes.” “Well!” said the young gentleman from Aldershot in a low voice.

“But, father.” cried Betty Elwood. “I thought you said it was one of our ancestors !

I was quite proud of it.”

“Priceless,” said a smart looking girl, suppressing a laugh at the expense of the old gentleman who was entertaining her.

Sir John Elwood’s face Hushed deeply.

"So I’ve been ’ad, ’ave I?” he exclaimed. “A barefaced swindle. I’ll see what the law ’as got to say on the matter.”

Clive Parker glanced at Sylvia Harewood. She had been listening with distress in hei eyes.

“Oh, Clive!” she cried.

He shrugged his shoulders moodily. He ! felt enormously relieved that he had “blown the gaff,” as he called it to me afterward. I íe felt that he had broken the evil spell which ! had tempted him to do these things at the | cost of his soul. Nothing mattered now. Not j even Sylvia, who would despise him.

So he thought, until he felt her hand on his arm.

“Clive, I’m sorry,” she said. “It was for | my sake—but you shouldn’t have hauled down your flag like that.”

Old Elwood didn’t go to law about the matter. Instead, he commissioned Clive Parker to paint his daughter’s portrait. On second thoughts, he decided that a man who could fake a Lawrence to deceive the experts ; must be a pretty good painter. It was the j beginning of Parker’s luck again. Now he is doing pretty well with original work in a 1 studio down Chelsea way, where Sylvia j looks after him.