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RANDOLPH BETHUNE GOES OUT TO DINNER THERE was little in his bearing, however, to suggest mental
1 depression, when Bethune entered the room which Axel Forsberg had engaged for his dinner of three.
If eyes were ever black, and if eyes were ever known to flash, they were this man's on this night. No limp spoiled his gait, and his sallowed cheeks were warm with a dull-red flush.
Till the man entered the room, Anthony had felt that his friend had run the risk of making himself ridiculous. If he had not been worried, he would have been bored. But it is common experience that what we see destroys all memory of what we have expected. And Anthony, when once he had seen this man of crescent fame, with his air at once simple, attractive and compelling, forgot everything but that he had appetite both for his dinner and his company. Forsberg saw the change, and was pleased. But his regard of grave satisfaction was bent on his elder guest.
“I'm afraid I'm late," said Bethune. “It's so long since I put on a dress coat that I fussed over it.”
“ You're on time, Mr Bethune," said Forsberg. “I hope you were taken care of.”
Without waiting for introduction, Bethune was shaking hands with Anthony
“Taken care of!” he cried. “If I'd known it was the rawwum in town since I've grown old to send a brougham for your guests, I should have dined out every night since I got back. It has a charm of romance, this dinner. I don't even know where I am.”
“ Didn't the coupé have windows?” asked Forsberg.
“It's only defect,” replied Bethune. “They ought to have been shutters. Haroun Alraschid, Prince Florizel and Mr Sherlock Holmes all made me long for shutters. So I wouldn't look out. And the foot-warmer nearly sent me to sleep. After all this coddling, if you don't rob me, nor cut my throat, I shall expect to be fed on rice pudding and sterilised milk."
Forsberg handed him a small wine-glass.
“ It's less wise than the brougham,” he said, “but quite as nice. The fact is, young gentlemen,” he went on, as they were driven to their seats by the arrival of the oysters, “ you have made me feel jolly.” He was looking at Anthony, but remembered his manners and turned to Forsberg. “And when I feel jolly, I forget my sins. After that it doesn't take long to forget your prudence—does it?”
“Le Dane,” said Forsberg, “has no sins, and mighty little prudence. So he won't understand you, Mr Bethune. But he's going to be a great man. If he came from my hemisphere, I'd think him too keen after the dollars. But I'm not sure he wants 'em for himself.”
“Nobody does,” said Bethune.
“Oh, yes—I dare say,” admitted Bethune. “But I used to read a thing we called Poly Con, when I was your age. The books said that man's first object in life was to buy cheap and sell dear. Their socialistic and other faddy critics were always crying 'How wicked!' I couldn't buy anything, and I had nothing to sell. But it used to strike me when I heard them talking, that most of the wicked, greedy men they were lumping into gangs of self-seekers, were after a new hat for the wife, a new pony for the girl, or Oxford, Sandhurst and Woolwich for the boys. The world is bad enough, without making it out worse than it is. Woolwich, Park Lane, hats and ponies aren't, perhaps, high ideals. But they aren't always pursued most selfishly by those that work hardest for them."
“Very few men work for themselves only, I suppose," said Anthony, tritely enough.
“Here's one, at least,” said Forsberg.
“I'm afraid I'm another," confessed Bethune. “But it's not much fun. I have hardly a relative, and not a dependent in the world.”
“And you, Le Dane?" asked the American.
“I have some people," admitted Anthony, “but they don't need me in that way.”
“ Then tell us,” said Forsberg, “what you are going to do with those millions when they're made."
“ I won't tell anybody that, Forsberg,” he said. “I have told you I won't. If a man fails he has enough to do in meeting his own condemnation.”
Bethune opened his eyes.
“If you dream of doing things, Mr Le Dane,” he said, "you are right to keep the dreams a secret between yourself and your pillow.”
“I have never told him,” said Anthony, with recovered smile,“ that I dreamed of anything. Nothing more, indeed, than that I was in a hurry to make a pile."
Something in the dark eyes, not unlike his own, that were bent upon him, appealed to the boy's enthusiasm. He emptied his glass and would have spoken again, when Forsberg prevented him.
“It'll take more than one man's pile to straighten out this crooked old world,” he remarked. “And I believe that's about the size and shape of those dreams of yours, Le Dane."
Bethune could see that Anthony disliked the subject.
“ It's a great thing,” he said, with unwonted sententiousness,“ to want to do anything at all. Stick to it for ever, Mr Le Dane, and keep it to yourself as long as you can.”
He hoped this would be final; but Forsberg saw his guests already in sympathy which he wished to cement. So he smiled once more at Anthony's supposed idealism.
“ Some years ago,” he said, “ the American people had a notion they were a young people, just because they'd been transplanted. To prove their youth, they started inventing Utopias-mostly as old as the hills, cooked over. But we've no use for milleniums now. We know too much about them. We know now we've always been as old as the rest of the world; the only new things we want are vices, medicines and religions."
And although Anthony could not be forced into revealing purposes or expressing beliefs of his own, Forsberg was successful in creating a unity of opposition to his own cynicism.
“Now that they are as thick as thieves,” he said to himself after a while, “ I can afford to be pleasant again.”
He asked them how they liked the champagne, which they had been drinking with as little thought as is given to tea or ginger beer. Anthony praised the wine with frank ignorance, but Bethune with words of knowledge. This pleased the host, and led the three into discussion of drinks alcoholic in general; until Bethune challenged them to mention one that he had not tasted. They wandered far, from saki to apple-jack, until some especially noxious fluid brought them to Tonkin. And from this point, because he was the simplest and kindest of men, Randolph Bethune, to gratify the curiosity he read in their faces, began to talk of himself and of his long disappearance from the world of telegraph and newspaper.
This Forsberg had desired for Anthony's sake-because he had heard the strange music already. And Anthony had hoped for it, because Forsberg had told him of the man's golden tongue.
Dinner was long over, and the air was heavy with the smoke of their cigars, before Forsberg began to lead Bethune back to the early days of his connection with the press as warcorrespondent; when suddenly, and without obvious relation, he told them of a thing that he had seen upon a battle-field.
It was a simple tale enough of the devotion of one life to another.
“You must have described that before, Mr Bethune,” said Anthony
“Such incidents are common enough, I am ready to believe," said Bethune, surprised by the boy's earnestness. “Now I think of it, I did try to write it—"
“No,” said Anthony, with a smile, “I didn't read it. I saw it-saw the face of the man who had given his clothes and then added his naked body to keep his officer warm-I have seen it all just as you have told it, sir—the frozen bliss of the dead, and the furrowed peace of the wounded man that slept too sound to know his blankets. You see,” he explained, “it's my aunt's picture—the picture that made her name.”
Now Bethune, perhaps from the lowering of Anthony's voice when he spoke of Lady Mary, though he heard all the rest, missed the word aunt.
“Sentimental pictures on such subjects,” he said, drily, but not unkindly, “are not uncommon-Royal Academy, and German prints. In the prints there is generally a German angel to fill up. The reason is obvious. The German caterer knows the Englishman's love of angels—even German angels
—and the people who pay shillings at Burlington House understand sermons better than painting.”
Axel Forsberg saw Anthony biting as much of his moustache as his teeth could reach. So he took his cigar from his mouth and spoke.
“That work of art, Mr Bethune,” he said, serenely un
a name painted rom hia.
aware that his phrase jarred upon four ears, “is too well known to have escaped any man less distantly occupied than you have been these last eight years. The painting, I seem to remember, is here in London on the walls of the Tate Gallery. But in fame, in photograph, in engraving, in the three-colour process, in chromolithograph, and in photogravure, it is spread over the intelligent earth. Munsey or Frank Leslie's should have met you with it in Lhassa. And I'm bound to admit," added Forsberg,“ that your words just now made the finest description of that picture I'm likely to hear.”
Bethune looked curiously from one man to the other. He felt he had slipped, but how, he could not tell.
Then, to Forsberg,
“I didn't say. It's not my line. I seem to remember it's a name with a handle to it. But Le Dane here has just said it was painted by his aunt.”
Bethune rose from his chair and came round to Anthony.
“ I'm sorry," he said. “I hope you will overlook it. I did not hear you say that.”
The boy looked up at him with a smile.
“There's no harm done,” he replied. “And the picture is a sermon-as your description would be, sir, to any man with a mind.”
“What penance shall I do?” asked Bethune, with kindly humour.
“Go and see the picture,” said Anthony. “And you'll fancy you painted it yourself.”
“That's where my punishment will come," said the other. “ I've thought pictures all my life, but the painting always beat me."
And afterwards, though he did not forget, Bethune found himself too shy to ask the name of the aunt of Anthony Le Dane.
An hour later, when the brougham was taking him one way, and their legs the two younger men another,
" It's a strange thing," began Forsberg—and suddenly ceased.
"What is strange?" asked Anthony, absent-minded; he was thinking of Randolph Bethune.
“Paternity,” said Forsberg; adding, in explanation: " the paternity of an idea, I mean.”