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An Old Meerschaum by David Christie Murray

Barndale knew him through and through


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER III.

The English party reached London in the middle of July, and made haste out of it--Lilian and her elders to peaceful Suffolk, where they had a house they visited rarely; and her lover and her brother to Thames Ditton, where these two inseparables took a house-boat, aboard which they lived in Bohemian and barbaric ease, like rovers of the deep. Here they fished, and swam, and boated, and grew daily more and more mahogany coloured beneath the glorious summer sun. They cooked their own steaks, and ate with ravenous appetites, and enjoyed themselves like the two wholesome young giants they were, and grew and waxed in muscle, and appetite, and ruddiness until a city clerk had gone wild with envy, beholding them. Their demands for beer amazed the landlord of the historic 'Swan,' and their absorption of steaks left the village butcher in astonishment.

But in the midst of all this a purpose came upon Barndale quite suddenly one day as he lay beneath the awning, intent on doing nothing. He had not always been a wealthy man. There had been a time when he had had to write for a living, or, at least, to eke a not over-plentiful living out. At this time his name was known to the editors of most magazines. He had written a good deal of graceful verse, and one or two pretty idyllic stories, and there were people who looked very hopefully on him as a rising light of literature. His

sudden accession to wealth had almost buried the poor taper of his genius when the hands of Love triumphant took it suddenly at the time of that lazy lounge beneath the awning, and gave it a chance once more. He was meditating, as lovers will, upon his own unworthiness and the all-worthy attributes of the divine Lilian. And it came to him to do something--such as in him lay--to be more worthy of her. 'I often used to say,' he said now within himself, 'that if I had time and money I would try to write a comedy. Well then, here goes. Not one of the flimsy Byron or Burnand frivolities, but a comedy with heart in it, and motive in it, and honest, patient labour.'

So, all on fire with this laudable ambition, he set to work at once. The plot had been laid long since, in the old impecunious hardworking days. He revised it now and strengthened it. Day after day the passers by upon the silent highway came in sight of this bronzed young giant under his awning, with a pipe in his mouth and a vast bottle by his side, and beheld him enthusiastically scrawling, or gazing with fixed eye at nothing in particular on the other side of the river. Once or twice being caught in the act of declaiming fragments of his dialogue, by easy-going scullers who pulled silently round the side of the houseboat, he dashed into the interior of that aquatic residence with much precipitation. At other times his meditations were broken in upon by the cheery invitations and restless invasions of a wild tribe of the youth of Twickenham and its neighbourhood who had a tent in a field hard by, and whose joy at morning, noon, and night, was beer. These savages had an accordion and a penny whistle and other instruments of music wherewith to make the night unbearable and the day a heavy burden. They were known as 'The Tribe of the Scorchers,' and were a happy and a genial people, but their presence was inimical to the rising hopes of the drama. Nevertheless, Barndale worked, and the comedy grew little by little towards completion. James, outwardly cynical regarding it, was inwardly delighted. He believed in Barndale with a full and firm conviction; and he used to read his friend's work at night, or listen to it when Barndale read, with internal enthusiasm and an exterior of coolness. Barndale knew him through and through, and in one scene in the comedy had drawn the better part of him to the life. Hearing this scene read over, it occurred to the genial youth himself that he would like to play the part.


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