Gossamer (Birmingham)/Chapter 12
It is difficult now, in 1915, to regard the things which happened during the first half of last year as events in any proper sense of the word. But at the time they excited us all very much, and we felt that the whole future of the country, the empire, perhaps of the human race, depended on how the Government met the crisis with which it was faced. It seems curious that we could have believed such a thing, but we did.
I remember quite distinctly the circumstances under which I first heard the news of the protest made by certain cavalry officers against what they supposed to be the Government’s policy in Ulster. I am not, thank God, called upon to pass a judgment on that very tangled business, or to give any opinion about the rights or wrongs of either side. I do not even profess to know the facts. Indeed I am inclined to doubt whether there were any facts. In affairs conducted mainly by politicians there seldom are facts. There are statements, explanations, pledges and recriminations in great abundance; but facts are not to be discovered, for the sufficient reason that they are not there. What happened or seemed to happen was described as a plot, a mare’s nest, an aristocratic conspiracy, an assertion of principle, a mutiny, a declaration of loyalty, and a newspaper scare, according to the taste of the person who was speaking. The safest thing to call it, I think, is an incident.
I went down to the club at twelve o’clock, intending to smoke a cigar and look at the picture papers before luncheon. I found Malcolmson in the outer hall. His head was bent over the machine which reels off strips of paper with the latest news printed on them. The machine was ticking vigorously, and I knew by the tense attitude in which Malcolmson was standing that something very important must have happened. My first impulse was to slip quietly past and get away to the smoking room before he saw me. I like Malcolmson, but he is tiresome, particularly tiresome when there is important news. I crossed the hall cautiously, keeping an eye on him, hoping that he would not look round till I was safe.
Malcolmson has reached that time of life at which a man’s neck begins to bulge over his collar at the back, forming a kind of roll of rather hairy flesh, along which the starched linen marks a deep line from ear to ear. I noticed as I passed that Malcolmson’s neck was far more swollen than usual and, that it was rapidly changing colour from its ordinary brick red to a deep purple. The sight was so strange and startling that I stopped for a minute to see what would happen next. I have never heard of a man’s neck bursting under pressure of strong excitement, but Malcolmson’s looked as if it must break out in some way. While I was watching, the machine suddenly stopped ticking and Malcolmson turned round. His face was nearly as purple as his neck. His moustache, always bristly, looked as if it was composed of fine wires charged with electricity. His eyes were blazing with excitement.
“Come here, Digby,” he said. “Come here and read this.”
He caught up the paper which the machine had disgorged and allowed it to hang across his hands in graceful festoons. There seemed to me to be a great deal of it.
“I wish you’d tell me about it,” I said. “I hate reading those things. The print is so queer.”
I knew that Malcolmson would tell me about it whether I read it for myself or not. There was no use getting a double dose of the news whatever it was.
“The damned Government’s done for at last,” said Malcolmson triumphantly, “and Home Rule’s as dead as a door nail.”
“Good,” I said. “Now we shall all be able to settle down. How did it happen? Earthquake in Dublin? But that would hardly do it. Cabinet Ministers committed suicide unanimously?”
“The Army,” said Malcolmson, “has refused to fire on us. I knew they would and they have.”
“Were they asked to?” I said.
“Asked to!” said Malcolmson. “They were told to, ordered to. We’ve had our private information of what was going on. We’ve known all about it for a week or more. Belfast was to be bombarded by the Fleet. Two brigades of infantry were to cross the Boyne and march on Portadown. The cavalry, supported by light artillery, were to take Enniskillen by surprise. We were to be mowed down, mowed down and sabred before we had time to mobilise. The most infamous plot in modern times. A second St. Bartholomew’s massacre. But thank God the Army is loyal. I cross to-night to take my place with my men.”
An ill-tempered, captious man might have suggested that Malcolmson ought to have taken his place with his men—a regiment of volunteers I suppose—a little sooner. According to his own account, the peril had been real a week before, but was over before he told me about it. The Government which had planned the massacre was dead and damned. The Army had refused to carry out the infamous plot. It seemed a mere piece of bravado, under the circumstances, to take up arms. But I knew Malcolmson better than to suppose that he wanted to swagger when swaggering was safe. His mind might be in a muddled state. Judging by the way he talked to me, it was very muddled indeed. But his heart was sound, and no risk would have daunted him.
“Let’s have a glass of sherry and a biscuit,” I said. “You’ll want something to steady your nerves.”
But Malcolmson, for once, for the only time since I have known him, was unwilling to sit down and talk. His train, supposing that he took the quickest route to Belfast, did not leave Euston till 8 or 9 o’clock at night; but he felt that he must be up and doing at once. He fussed out of the club, and for some time I saw no more of him.
I waited until the hall porter had cut up the slips of paper which fell from the clicking machine and pinned the bits to the notice boards. Then I read the news for myself. These machines are singularly unintelligent. They mix up the items of news in a very irritating way. Sometimes a sheet begins with the assassination of a foreign prime minister, breaks off suddenly to announce the name of a winning horse, goes back to the prime minister, starts a divorce case abruptly and then gives a few Stock Exchange quotations. I hate news which comes to me in this disjointed way, and never attempt to learn anything from the machine until the hall porter has edited the sheets. He cuts them up, gets all the racing news on one board, the Stock Exchange and the Divorce Court on another and makes a continuous narrative of political news, assassinations, picturesque shipwrecks and such matters on the largest and most prominent of the notice boards.
I found when I did read that Malcolmson had built up a lofty structure on a very small foundation. Something had evidently happened among the soldiers stationed at the Curragh Camp; but the first account telegraphed over from Ireland left me in grave doubt. It was a question whether the men had actually been told to shoot Malcolmson and refused to obey orders; or had been asked, politely, if they would like to shoot Malcolmson and said they would rather not. The one thing which emerged with any sort of clearness was that Malcolmson would not be shot. This made my mind easy. I went into the dining-room and had some luncheon.
Early in the afternoon I collected six evening papers, three belonging to each side. I found the Unionist writers unanimous on two points. The Army had saved the Empire and the Government would be obliged to resign. The Liberal scribes took another view of the situation. According to them the Army had been seduced from its loyalty by the intrigues of fascinating and fashionable Delilahs, but the will of the people must, nevertheless, prevail. Newspaper writers on the Liberal side are far more intelligent than their opponents. It was a stupid thing, in the early part of 1914, to talk about saving the Empire. No one at that time cared anything about the Empire. Very few people believed that it existed. It was worse than stupid to suggest that the Government would resign. The country was utterly weary of General Elections and was planning its summer holiday. Public sympathy was hopelessly alienated by that kind of talk. On the other hand, the fashionable Delilah story was a brilliant invention. There is nothing dearer to the heart of the English middle classes and working men than the belief that every woman with a dress allowance of more than £200 a year is a courtesan. The suggestion that these immoral Phrynes were bartering their charms for power to thwart the will of the people was just the sort of thing to raise a tempest of enthusiasm.
Almost anything might have happened if the Government had had the courage to follow up its advantage. Fortunately—from Malcolmson’s point of view—it did not venture to shut up all women of title, under fifty years of age, in houses of correction; a course which would have convinced the general public that Home Rule was a sound thing. It spent a fortnight or so contradicting everybody who said anything, including itself, and then apologised for being misunderstood.
However, that anti-climax was still some way off.
I stuffed the three Liberal papers into my pocket and went to call on Lady Kingscourt. She is the only peeress I am intimate with who moves in really fashionable circles and is both rich and beautiful. It would have been interesting to hear what she said when I pointed out to her that she had been seducing subalterns. She was not at home when I reached her house. The butler told me that she had gone to a bazaar got up to raise funds for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families’ Association, in itself a suspicious circumstance. If I were Lady Kingscourt and my character was attacked as hers was, I should keep clear of any charity with the word soldier in its name. I was sorry to miss her, though I scarcely expected that she would have tried to fascinate me. It is a good many years since I resigned my commission.
The next person I thought of seeing was Gorman. It was nearly five o’clock, so I went to the House of Commons.
Gorman, when I found him, seemed very much pleased to see me, and was in a hospitable mood. He took me to a room, which must have originally been meant for a cellar, and gave me tea.
“I’ve been ringing you up on the telephone all day,” he said, “and couldn’t get you. Where have you been?”
“Down at the club,” I said, “talking to Malcolmson about the plot—what you’d call the situation I suppose. You can hardly be expected to admit that there is a plot. Now, do tell me what you think about the situation.”
“Damn the situation!” said Gorman.
“That,” I said, “seems the sensible view to take. Is it the one usually held? Is that what they’re saying up there?”
I pointed to the ceiling with my thumb. Somewhere above my head, it might be supposed, statesmen with furrowed brows were taking anxious counsel together for the safety of the nation, retiring now and then when utterly exhausted, to damn the situation in private rooms.
“Some of them are a bit fussed,” said Gorman. “Silly asses! But it isn’t that wretched business that I wanted to speak to you about.”
“Good gracious! Do you mean to say that you can talk of anything else? that you didn’t ring me up to tell me what will happen?”
“Nothing will happen,” said Gorman. “Two or three muddled-headed young fools at the Curragh will get court-martialled. That’s all. What I wanted to see you about is this new invention of Tim’s. There’s really something in it.”
“Gorman,” I said. “You’re fiddling while Rome is burning. How can you reconcile it to your conscience to play with cinematographs when a horrible conspiracy is threatening life and liberty?”
“Surely,” said Gorman, “you don’t really believe that we plotted, as they call it, to murder people in Belfast?”
“I don’t know whether you did or not,” I said. “But that’s not the conspiracy I’m alluding to. Look here.”
I pulled out of my pocket the three papers which I had meant for Lady Kingscourt and showed Gorman the articles about the fashionable ladies seducing soldiers.
“You can’t expect our side,” I said, “to sit down under this kind of thing without a struggle. We shall make counter accusations. I shall do it myself if nobody else does. I’m warning you beforehand, Gorman, so that you won’t be surprised when you find your character in rags.”
Gorman looked at his watch.
“I know you like talking that sort of nonsense,” he said, “and I don’t mind listening, not a bit; but just let me ask you this before you start. Will you come down with me this evening and see Tim’s invention? If you will I’ll order a motor from Harrod’s or somewhere, and we’ll run down after dinner. There’s no use going in broad daylight, for we can’t see the thing properly till after dark.”
“I shall be delighted,” I said.
“Very well. Excuse me a moment while I go and get on the ’phone to engage the motor.”
I waited, feeling a little sore. I daresay I do talk nonsense and like talking it, but no politician who ever lived has a right to tell me so. I intended to greet Gorman when he returned with the proverb about living in glass houses and throwing stones. He came back, smiling radiantly. My ill-humour passed away at once.
“Now,” he said, “go on with what you were telling me.
“I pointed out to you,” I said, “that duchesses, marchionesses, countesses, and other abandoned women of that kind have been flirting with military officers in such a way as to interfere with the governing of this country in accordance with the principles of democracy.”
“Is that what they say?” said Gorman.
He picked up one of the papers which I had laid on the table and satisfied himself that the thing was really in print.
“Well,” he said, “they had to say something. I daresay people will believe them. The English are an extraordinarily credulous race, fools in fact. That’s why I’m a Home Ruler.”
“You must remember,” I said, “that I’m a Unionist.”
“Are you? Speaking confidentially, now, are you really?”
“My father was,” I said, “and I don’t like to see these things in print about the party without making some kind of reply. What I’m thinking of doing is writing a sort of circular letter to all the papers on our side and saying that to my certain knowledge you and Mrs. Ascher have been using undue and unfair influence over each other for the last six months. If it’s wrong for a woman to talk politics to a soldier it must be much more wrong for one to talk art to a politician.”
“Mrs. Ascher,” said Gorman, “is an extraordinary woman. The more I see of her, the less inclined I am to be surprised at anything she says or does. She’s tremendously keen just now on Home Rule and Ireland generally.”
“That is amazing,” I said.
“It isn’t in itself,” said Gorman, “but the way she gets at it is. I mean that theory of hers about——”
“Yes. I know. She will insist on thinking that you and everybody else on your side are artists.”
“And yet,” said Gorman, “I can’t persuade her to look at Tim’s new invention.”
Mrs. Ascher’s prejudice against cinematographs, improved or unimproved, was certainly strong. I found it hard to understand exactly how she felt. She found no difficulty in regarding Gorman, a devoted politician, as a hero. When she had no objection to the form of entertainment with which he provided the public, it was difficult to see why she kicked against moving pictures. I should have thought that the performances at Westminster were considerably more vulgar, certainly far less original and striking, than the things shown on the cinematograph.
Gorman and I dined at Scott’s, chiefly on lobsters, at seven o’clock, an uncomfortably early hour. We had a twenty-five-mile drive before us to reach the farm, somewhere in the depths of Hertfordshire, where Tim was making his experiments. The drive was a very pleasant one. The first part of it lay along one of the great artery roads which lead from the centre of London to the North. The evening was fine and warm without being stuffy, one of those evenings which are the peculiar glory of the early English summer. It seemed to me that many thousands of people were passing along that road towards the country. Parties of laughing boys and girls pedalled northwards on bicycles, swerving in and out through the traffic. Stout, middle-aged men, with fat, middle-aged women beside them, drove sturdy ponies, or lean, high-stepping horses, in curious old-fashioned gigs. Motor cyclists, young men with outstretched chins and set faces, sped by us, outstripping our car. Others we passed, riders who had side cars attached to their cycles, young men these, too, but soberer, weighted with responsibility. They had their wives in the side cars, wives who looked little more than girls, though many of them held babies in their arms, and one now and then had a well-grown child wrapped in rugs at her feet.
“Life!” said Gorman, waving his cigar comprehensively towards the moving crowds. “Wonderful thing life! Keeps going on. Don’t know why it should, but it does. Nothing seems to make any difference to it.”
“Not even your politics,” I said. “Curious thing, isn’t it, how little all that fuss of yours matters? It doesn’t make any difference which of your parties is in power. All this goes on just the same. That young fellow—there, the one who didn’t quite break his neck at the lamp post—would go down to his office to-morrow exactly as he always does, if every member of the House of Commons dies in the night. You see that girl with the baby—the one on our left—she’d have had that baby just the same if the Long Parliament were still sitting. None of your laws could have made her have that baby, or stopped her. You are simply fussing in an unimportant way, raising silly little clouds of dust which will settle down again at once. She’s keeping the world going and she probably doesn’t even know the name of the Prime Minister.”
“That’s all very well,” said Gorman, “but we’re seeing that these people get their rights, their fair share of what’s going. If it wasn’t for us and the laws we pass, the rich would grow richer and richer while these men and women would gradually sink into the position of slaves. I’m not a socialist. I don’t believe in that theory; but capitalists have had things far too much their own way in the past.”
“Oh, Ascher! I like Ascher, of course, personally; but speaking of him as a typical member of a class, he’s simply a parasite. All financiers are. He ought to be abolished, wiped out, done away with. He fulfils no useful function.”
Our motor sped along. A cycle with a side car just kept pace with us for a while. A nice, clean-shaven, honest-looking young fellow was in the saddle. His girl-wife sat beside him in the basket-work slipper which he dragged along. It was her baby which I had pointed out to Gorman a moment before.
“Perhaps,” I said, “they have had tinned peaches for tea.”
“Very likely,” said Gorman, “just the sort of thing they would have. I know that class. Lived among them for years. He comes home at half past six. She has put on a clean blouse and tidied her hair so that he’ll kiss her, and he does. Then he kisses the baby, probably likes doing that, too, as it’s the first. Then he has a wash and she brings in the tea. Bread and butter for her with a pot of marmalade, an egg—at this time of year certainly an egg—for him.”
“And tinned peaches.”
“Eaten with teaspoons out of saucers,” said Gorman, “and they’ll enjoy them far more than you did that lobster salad at Scott’s.”
“I’m sure they will. And that is just where Ascher comes in.”
“I don’t see it,” said Gorman, “unless you mean that they’d be eating hothouse peaches if there were no Aschers.”
I did not mean that. I am, indeed, pretty sure that if there were no Aschers, if Gorman succeeded in abolishing the class, neither the city clerk, nor his pretty wife, nor any one else in England would eat hothouse peaches. There would not be any. I am inclined to think that if Ascher were done away with there would not even be any tinned peaches. Tinned peaches come from California. Somebody grows them there. That man must be kept going, fed, clothed sufficiently, housed, while the peach trees grow. He must be financed. Somebody else collects the peaches, puts them into tins, solders air-tight lids on them, pastes labels round them. He works with borrowed money. Somebody packs the tins in huge cases, puts them in trains, piles them into ships, despatches them to London, getting his power to do these things in some mysterious way from Ascher.
“While she washes up the cups and saucers,” said Gorman, “he brings round that motor cycle.”
“Paid for,” I said, “in monthly instalments.”
“Probably,” said Gorman, “with a deposit of £25 to start with.”
“It’s Ascher,” I said, “who makes that possible.”
“It’s Ascher,” said Gorman, “who makes that necessary. If it were not for Ascher’s rake-off, the tax he levies on every industry, the machine could be bought right out for the original £25 and there would be no instalments to be paid.”
Possibly. But the tires of the machine were made of rubber. I remembered my visit to Para, the broad, steaming Amazon, the great ships crawling slowly past walls of forest trees, the pallid white men, the melancholy Indians. It may be possible to devise some other means of getting the precious gum from the Brazilian forest; but at present the whole business is dependent on Ascher.
We left that motor cycle behind us at last and sped faster along a stretch of road where the traffic was less dense.
“You notice,” said Gorman, “the way London is swallowing up the country. That was once a rural inn.”
I had observed what Gorman pointed out to me. Here and there along the road, a mile or so apart from each other, we came on old buildings, a group of cottages, a farm house, an inn. These were solidly built after the good old fashion. It had seemed wasteful to pull them down. The waves of the advancing tide of London reached them, passed them, swept beyond them, left them standing.
“Quite a few years ago,” said Gorman, “those houses stood in the middle of fields, and the people who lived in them ate the food that grew at their doors.”
“No tinned peaches,” I said, “no bicycles.”
“And no Ascher,” said Gorman.
“Well,” I said, “we can’t go back.”
“In Ireland,” he said, “we needn’t go on. If we can only get clear of this cursed capitalistic civilisation of England—that’s what I mean by being a Home Ruler.”
“You think,” I said, “that we should be too wise to accept the yoke of Ascher, to barter our freedom for tinned peaches.” “We’ll get the tinned peaches, too.”
“No, you won’t. If you have civilisation—and that includes a lot of things besides tinned peaches, tobacco for instance, Gorman. If you want a cigar you’ll have to put up with Ascher. But I daresay you’d be better without it. Only I don’t think I’ll live in your Ireland, Gorman.”
We passed away from London in the end, got out beyond the last tentative reachings of the speculative builder, into country lane-ways. There were hedges covered with hawthorn, and the scent of it reached us as we rushed past. Gorman threw away a half-smoked cigar. Perhaps he wanted to enjoy the country smells. Perhaps he was preparing himself for life in the new Ireland which he hoped to bring into being.
We reached the barn in which Tim Gorman lived, at about nine o’clock. He was waiting for us, dressed in his best clothes. I knew they were his best clothes because they were creased all over in wrong places, showing that they had been packed away tightly in some receptacle too small to hold them. It is only holiday clothes which are treated in this way. Besides putting on this suit, Tim had paid us the compliment of washing his face and hands for the first time, I imagine, for many days.
He shook hands with me shyly, and greeted his brother with obvious nervousness.
“I have everything ready,” he said, “quite ready. But I can’t promise—— You may be disappointed—— I’ve had endless difficulties—— If you will allow me to explain——”
“Not a bit of good explaining to us,” said Gorman. “All we’re capable of judging is the results.”
Tim sighed and led us into the barn.
It was a large, bare room, ventilated—no one could say it was lit—by three or four unglazed openings in the wall. These Tim blocked with hay so as to exclude the lingering twilight of the summer evening.
At one end of the building was a stage, built, I thought, of fragments of packing cases. It was very hard to be sure about anything, for we had nothing except the light of two candles to see by, but the stage looked exceedingly frail. I should not have cared to walk across it. However, as it turned out, that did not matter. The stage was used only by ghosts, the phantoms which Tim created, and they weighed nothing. Tim himself, when it became necessary for him to adjust some part of his apparatus, crept about underneath the stage.
At the other end of the barn was an optical lantern, fitted with the usual mechanism for the exhibition of films. Half way down the room was a camp bedstead, covered with one brown blanket. Tim invited us to sit on it.
“It doesn’t often break down,” he said.
“If it breaks down at all,” said Gorman, “I’ll not risk it. I’d rather sit on the floor.”
Gorman is a heavy man. I think he was right to avoid the bed. I sat down cautiously on one end of it. The middle part looked more comfortable, but I felt more secure with the legs immediately underneath me.
“It’s all right,” said Tim, “quite all right. I fixed it just before you came in.”
That bed, a tin basin and two very dirty towels were the only articles of household furniture in the place. I suppose Tim had his meals with the farmer who owned the barn. No inspired artist, toiling frenziedly with a masterpiece in a garret, ever lived a more Spartan life than Tim Gorman did in that barn. Whatever money he had was certainly not spent on his personal comfort. On the other hand, a good deal of money had been spent on tools and material of various kinds. Packing cases stood piled together against the walls. The straw in which their contents had been wrapped littered the floor. I discerned, as my eyes got used to the gloom, a quantity of carpenters’ tools near the stage, and, beside them, a confused heap of the mysterious implements of the plumber’s trade.
While I was looking round me and the elder Gorman was wriggling about on the floor, Tim worked the lantern behind our backs. The thing, or some part of it, hissed in an alarming way. Then it made a whirring noise and a bright beam of light shot across the room. A very curious thing happened to that light. Instead of splashing against the far wall of the barn, exhibiting the cracks and ridges of the masonry, it stopped at the stage and spread itself in a kind of irregular globe. We sat in the dark. Across the room stretched the shaft of intense light, making the dust particles visible. Then, just as when a child blows soap bubbles through a tube, the light became globular.
“Put out the candles,” said Tim.
They stood, flaming feebly, on the floor between Gorman and me. I extinguished them. Tim’s machine gave a sharp click. Figures appeared suddenly in the middle of the globe of light. A man, then two women, then a dog. I do not know, and at the time I did not care in the least, what the figures were supposed to be saying or doing. It was sufficient for me that they were there. I saw them, not as flat, sharply outlined silhouettes, but as if they had been solid bodies. I saw them with softened outlines, through two eyes instead of a monocle. I saw them surrounded by an atmosphere.
“Pretty good, isn’t it?” said Gorman. “Tim, turn on that running girl. I want Sir James to see how you get the effect of her going further and further away.”
The running girl was the best thing accomplished by the old cinematograph. I never witness her race without a certain feeling of breathlessness. But Tim’s girl ran far better. She was amazingly real. When she had finished her course, Gorman struck a match and lit the candles again.
“That’ll do, Tim,” he said. “We’ve seen enough.”
“I’d like to show you the horses,” said Tim. “I think the horses galloping are the best thing I’ve got.”
“We’ll take your word for the horses,” said Gorman. “Shut off that light of yours and stop the whizzing noise. I want to talk.” He turned to me. “Well?”
“It’s marvellous,” I said.
“There’s money in it,” said Gorman. “Piles and piles of money. The only question is, Who’s to get it?”
“Tim,” I said, “is the one who deserves it.”
“Tim will get his share whatever happens. The real question is, How are we to prevent Ascher grabbing all the rest?”
Tim had finished quieting his machine and came over to us.
“Michael,” he said, “I want £100.”
“I want more mirrors. The ones I’m using aren’t perfect. I must have others.”
“The ones you have,” said Gorman, “are good enough for the present. When we get a bit further on and see how this business is going to be managed, we may get you other mirrors.”
“Very well,” said Tim, “I’ll ask Ascher for the money. He’ll give it to me. I’d have asked him a week ago only you made me promise not to take any more money from him without telling you.”
“If you take money from Ascher,” said Gorman, “he’ll simply collar your whole invention. You’ll find in the end that it will be his, not yours. He’ll get every penny that’s made out of it, and then he’ll tell you that you owe him more than you can pay. I’ve told you all along that that’s what will happen if you go borrowing from Ascher.”
“I don’t care,” said Tim, “so long as I get it perfected I don’t care what happens.”
“Damn!” said Gorman.
There was some excuse for him. Tim’s attitude was hopelessly unpractical.
“Don’t you see,” said Tim, “that this is a wonderful thing? It’s one of the greatest things that any one has done for a long time. It’s a new thing.”
The note of weak obstinacy which was in his voice when he first spoke had died out of it. He was pleading with his brother as a child might beg for something from a grown-up man.
“That’s exactly what I do see,” said Gorman.
“Then why won’t you let me perfect it? It doesn’t matter—sure, you know yourself, Michael, that it doesn’t matter what happens if only I get it right.”
I thought for a moment that the boy was going to cry. He pulled himself together with a sort of choked sob and then suddenly flashed into a rage.
“I will ask Ascher for the money,” he said. “I will, I will. Damn you, Michael! I’ll give it all to Ascher, everything I have. Everything I ever invent. I’ll tell him all I’ve found out. I’ll make it his.”
Then with another swift change of mood the boy turned to me and began to plead again.
“Tell him to give me the money,” he said. “Or make him let me ask Ascher for it. He’ll do it if you speak to him. I don’t want to quarrel with Michael. I don’t want to do anything he says is wrong. But I must have that money. Don’t you see I must? I can’t get on without it?”
“Listen to me, Tim,” I said; “if I give you the £100 you want——”
“I could manage with £100,” said Tim. “But it would be much better if I had £150.”
“A hundred,” I said, “and no more. If I give it to you, will you promise to bring that apparatus of yours up to London and exhibit your results to a few friends of mine there?”
“Yes, I will. Of course I will. May I order the new mirrors to-morrow and say that you’ll pay for them?”
“You may. But remember——”
“Oh, that will be all right,” said Tim. “As soon as ever it is perfected——”
“Perfect or imperfect,” I said, “you’ve promised to show it off when I ask you to.”
Gorman and I drove home together. At first he would do nothing except grumble about his brother’s childish obstinacy.
“Can’t understand,” he said, “how any man with brains can be such a fool.”
Then when he had worked off the fine edge of his irritation he began to thank me.
“It was good of you, very,” he said, “to put down the money. I’d have done it myself, if I could have laid my hand on the amount he wanted. But just at this moment I can’t. All the same I don’t see what good that £100 is going to do. The thing’s perfect enough for all practical purposes already. I saw nothing wrong with it.”
“Nor did I.”
“Then what the devil does he want to do with it? If the thing works all right, what’s the sense of tinkering with it?”
“That’s the artistic soul,” I said, “never satisfied, always reaching upwards towards the unattained. It’s the same with Mrs. Ascher.”
“Of all the damned idiocies,” said Gorman, “that artistic soul is the damnedest.”
I said nothing more for several minutes. I knew it would take Gorman some time to recover from the mention of the artistic soul. When I thought he had regained his self-possession I went on speaking.
“My idea,” I said, “is to hire a small hall, and to invite a number of well-off people to see Tim’s show. You’ll want money in the end, you know.”
“Not much,” said Gorman. “A few thousands will be enough. It isn’t as if we had to manufacture anything.”
“If you get what you want,” I said, “in small sums from a number of people, you’ll be able to keep control of the thing yourself, and you needn’t be afraid of Ascher. Not that I believe Ascher would swindle, you. I think Ascher’s an honest man.”
“Ascher’s a financier,” said Gorman. “That’s enough for me.”