The Master Mummer - E. Phillips Oppenheim - ebook

The Master Mummer ebook

E. Phillips Oppenheim

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Opis

Arnold (a writer), Allan (an artist) and Arthur (works in finance) all live together. Once their attention is caught by a middle age man and a young girl about sixteen who seems frightened. They overhear where they are eating and continue to watch the couple and Arnold even goes over to offer her assistance. Then a surprising thing happens, his acquaintance shoots the man she’s with and disappears. Amid all the confusion and hospital and police, Arnold stays with the young woman and brings her home. The three men become her guardians for the next couple of years. The mysterious man comes to see them and asks them to take care of her and not let her go to anyone. Why do so many people want her? Does Arnold get his real story?

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Liczba stron: 371

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Contents

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

BOOK II

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

BOOK III

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

BOOK I

CHAPTER I

Sheets of virgin manuscript paper littered my desk, the smoke of much uselessly consumed tobacco hung about the room in a little cloud. Many a time I had dipped my pen in the ink, only to find myself a few minutes later scrawling ridiculous little figures upon the margin of my blotting-pad. It was not at all an auspicious start for one who sought immortality.

There came a growl presently from the other side of the room, where Mabane, attired in a disreputable smock, with a short black pipe in the corner of his mouth, was industriously defacing a small canvas. Mabane was tall and fair and lean, with a mass of refractory hair which was the despair of his barber; a Scotchman with keen blue eyes, and humorous mouth amply redeeming his face from the plainness which would otherwise have been its lot. He also was in search of immortality.

“Make a start for Heaven’s sake, Arnold,” he implored. “To look at you is an incitement to laziness. The world’s full of things to write about. Make a choice and have done with it. Write something, even if you have to tear it up afterwards.”

I turned round in my chair and regarded Mabane reproachfully.

“Get on with your pot-boiler, and leave me alone, Allan,” I said. “You do not understand my difficulties in the least. It is simply a matter of selection. My brain is full of ideas–brimming over. I want to be sure that I am choosing the best.”

There came to me from across the room a grunt of contempt.

“Pot-boiler indeed! What about short stories at ten guineas a time, must begin in the middle, scented and padded to order, Anthony Hopeish, with the sugar of Austin Dobson and the pepper of Kipling shaken on ad lib.? Man alive, do you know what pot-boilers are? It’s a perfect conservatory you’re living in. Got any tobacco, Arnold?”

I jerked my pouch across the room, and it was caught with a deft little backward swing of the hand. Allan Mabane was an M.C.C. man, and a favourite point with his captain.

“You’ve got me on the hip, Allan,” I answered, rising suddenly from my chair and walking restlessly up and down the large bare room. “The devil himself might have put those words into your mouth. They are pot-boilers, every one of them, and I am sick of it. I want to do something altogether different. I am sure that I can, but I have got into the way of writing those other things, and I can’t get out of it. That is why I am sitting here like an owl.”

Mabane refilled his pipe and smoked contentedly.

“I know exactly how you’re feeling, old chap,” he said sympathetically. “I get a dash of the same thing sometimes–generally in the springtime. It begins with a sort of wistfulness, a sense of expansion follows, you go about all the time with your head in the clouds. You want to collect all the beautiful things in life and express them. Oh, I know all about it. It generally means a girl. Where were you last night?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Where I shall be to-night, to-morrow night–where I was a year ago. That is the trouble of it all. One is always in the same place.”

He shook his head.

“It is a very bad attack,” he said. “Your generalities may be all right, but they are not convincing.”

“I have not spoken a word to a woman, except to Mrs. Burdett, for a week or more,” I declared.

Mabane resumed his work. Such a discussion, his gesture seemed to indicate, was not worth continuing. But I continued, following out my train of thought, though I spoke as much to myself as to my friend.

“You are right about my stories,” I admitted. “I have painted rose-coloured pictures of an imaginary life, and publishers have bought them, and the public, I suppose, have read them. I have dressed up puppets of wood and stone, and set them moving like mechanical dolls–over-gilded, artificial, vulgar. And all the time the real thing knocks at our doors.”

Mabane stepped back from his canvas to examine critically the effect of an unexpected dash of colour.

“The public, my dear Greatson,” he said abstractedly, “do not want the real thing–from you. Every man to his mêtier. Yours is to sing of blue skies and west winds, of hay-scented meadows and Watteau-like revellers in a paradise as artificial as a Dutch garden. Take my advice, and keep your muse chained. The other worlds are for the other writers.”

I was annoyed with Mabane. There was just sufficient truth in his words to make them sound brutal. I answered him with some heat.

“Not if I starve for it, Allan? The whole cycle of life goes humming around us, hour by hour. It is here, there, everywhere. I will bring a little of it into my work, or I will write no more.”

Mabane shook his head. He was busy again upon his canvas.

“It is always the humourist,” he murmured, “who is ambitious to write a tragedy–and vice versâ. The only sane man is he who is conscious of his limitations.”

“On the contrary,” I answered quickly, “the man who admits them is a fool. I have made up my mind. I will dress no more dolls in fine clothes, and set them strutting across a rose-garlanded stage. I will create, or I will leave alone. I will write of men and women, or not at all.”

“It will affect your income,” Mabane said. “It will cost you money in postage stamps, and your manuscripts will be declined with thanks.”

His gentle cynicism left me unmoved. I had almost forgotten his presence. I was standing over by the window, looking out across a wilderness of housetops. My own thoughts for the moment were sufficient. I spoke, it is true, but I spoke to myself.

“A beginning,” I murmured. “That is all one wants. It seems so hard, and yet–it ought to be so easy. If one could but lift the roofs–could but see for a moment underneath.”

“I can save you the trouble,” Mabane remarked cheerfully, strolling over to my side. “Where are you looking? Chertsey Street, eh? Well, in all probability mamma is cooking the dinner, Mary is scrubbing the floor, Miss Flora is dusting the drawing-room, and Miss Louisa is practising her scales. You have got a maggot in your brain, Greatson. Life such as you are thinking of is the most commonplace thing in the world. The middle-classes haven’t the capacity for passion–even the tragedy of existence never troubles them. Don’t try to stir up the muddy waters, Arnold. Write a pretty story about a Princess and her lovers, and draw your cheque.”

“There are times, Allan,” I remarked thoughtfully, “when you are an intolerable nuisance.”

Mabane shrugged his shoulders and returned to his work. Apparently he had reached a point in it which required his undivided attention, for he relapsed almost at once into silence. Following his example, I too returned to my desk and took up my pen. As a rule my work came to me easily. Even now there were shadowy ideas, well within my mental grasp–ideas, however, which I was in the humour to repel rather than to invite. For I knew very well whither they would lead me–back to the creation of those lighter and more fanciful figures flitting always across the canvas of a painted world. A certain facility for this sort of thing had brought me a reputation which I was already growing to hate. More than ever I was determined not to yield. Mabane’s words had come to me with a subtle note of mockery underlying their undoubted common-sense. I thrust the memory of them on one side. Certain gifts I knew that I possessed. I had a ready pen and a facile invention. Something had stirred in me a late-awakened but irresistible desire to apply them to a different purpose than ever before. As I sat there the creations of my fancy flitted before me one by one–delicate, perhaps, and graceful, thoughtfully conceived, adequately completed. Yet I knew very well that they were like ripples upon the water, creatures without lasting forms or shape, images passing as easily as they had come into the mists of oblivion. The human touch, the transforming fire of life was wholly wanting. These April creations of my brain–carnival figures, laughing and weeping with equal facility, lacked always and altogether the blood and muscle of human creatures. The mishaps of their lives struck never a tragic note; always the thrill and stir of actual existence were wanting. I would have no more of them. I felt myself capable of other things. I would wait until other things came.

The door was pushed open, and Arthur smiled in upon us. This third member of our bachelor household was younger than either Mabane or myself–a smooth-faced, handsome boy, resplendent to-day in frock-coat and silk hat.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed. “Hard at work, both of you!”

Mabane laid down his brush and surveyed the newcomer critically.

“Arthur,” he declared with slow emphasis, “you do us credit–you do indeed. I hope that you will show yourself to our worthy landlady, and that you will linger upon the doorstep as long as possible. This sort of thing is good for our waning credit. I am no judge, for I never possessed such a garment, but there is something about the skirts of your frock-coat which appeals to me. There is indeed, Arthur. And then your tie–the cunning arrangement of it––”

“Oh, rats!” the boy exclaimed, laughing. “Give me a couple of cigarettes, there’s a good chap, and do we feed at home to-night?”

Mabane produced the cigarettes and turned back to his work.

“We do!” he admitted with a sigh. “Always on Tuesdays, you know. By-the-bye, are you going to the works in that costume?”

“Not likely! It’s my day at the depôt, worse luck,” Arthur answered, pausing to strike a match. “What’s up with Arnold?”

“Got the blues, because his muse won’t work,” Mabane said. “He wants to strike out in a new line–something blood-curdling, you know–Tolstoi-like, or Hall Caineish–he doesn’t care which. He wants to do what nobody else ever will–take himself seriously. I put it down in charity to dyspepsia.”

“Mabane is an ass!” I grunted. “Be off, Arthur, there’s a good chap, and don’t listen to him. He hasn’t the least idea what he is talking about.”

Arthur, however, happened to be in no hurry. He tilted his hat on the back of his head, and leaned upon the table.

“I have always noticed,” he remarked affably, “that under Allan’s most asinine speeches there usually lurks a substratum of truth. Are you really going to write a serious novel, Arnold?”

I lit a cigarette and leaned back in my chair resignedly. Arthur was a most impenetrable person, and if he meant to stay, I knew very well that it was hopeless to attempt to hurry him.

“I had some idea of it,” I admitted. “By-the-bye, Arthur, you are a person with a deep insight into life. Can’t you give me a few hints? I haven’t even made a start.”

Arthur considered the matter in all seriousness.

“It is a bit difficult for you, I daresay,” he remarked. “You stop indoors so much, and when you do go out you mope off into the country by yourself. You want to knock about the restaurants and places to get ideas. That’s what Gorman always does. You see you get all your characters from life in them, and they seem so much more natural.”

“And who,” I asked, “is Mr. Gorman? I do not recognize the name.”

“Pal of mine,” Arthur answered easily. “I don’t bring him here because he’s a bit loud for you chaps. Writes stories for no end of papers. Illustrated Bits and the Cigarette Journal print anything he cares to send. I thought perhaps you’d know the name.”

Mabane went off into a peal of laughter behind his canvas. The boy remained imperturbable.

“Of course, I’m not comparing his work with Arnold’s,” he declared. “Arnold’s stuff is no end better, of course. But, after all, the chap’s got common-sense. If they want me to draw a motor I go and sit down in front of it. If Arnold wants to write of real things, real men and women, you know, he ought to go out and look for them. If he sits here and just imagines them, how can he be sure that they are the real thing? See what I mean?”

There was a short silence. Arthur was swinging his long legs backwards and forwards, and whistling softly to himself. I looked at him for a moment curiously. The words of an ancient proverb flitted through my brain.

“Arthur,” I declared solemnly, laying down my pen, “you are a prophet in disguise, the prophet sent to lift the curtain which is before my eyes. Which way shall I go to find these real men and real women, to look upon these tragic happenings? For Heaven’s sake direct me. Where, for instance, does Mr. Gorman go?”

Arthur swung himself off, laughing.

“Gorman goes everywhere,” he answered. “If I were you I should try one of the big railway stations. So long!”

I rose to my feet, and taking down my hat commenced to brush it. Mabane looked up from his work.

“Where are you off to, Arnold?” he asked.

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