THE TURK AND THE FUTURISTS
MR. ADRIAN CROOKE was a successful chemist whose shop was in the neighbourhood of Victoria, but his face expressed more than is generally required in a successful chemist. It was a curious face, prematurely old and like parchment, but acute and decisive, with real headwork in every line of it. Nor was his conversation, when he did converse, out of keeping with this: he had lived in many countries, and had a rich store of anecdote about the more quaint and sometimes the more sinister side of his work, visions of the vapour of eastern drugs or guesses at the ingredients of Renascence poisons. He himself, it need hardly be said, was a most respectable and reliable apothecary, or he would not have had the custom of families, especially among the upper classes; but he enjoyed as a hobby, the study of the dark days and lands where his science had lain sometimes on the borders of magic and sometimes upon the borders of murder. Hence it often happened that persons, who in their serious senses were well aware of his harmless and useful habits, would leave his shop on some murky and foggy night, with their heads so full of wild tales of the eating of hemp or the poisoning of roses, they could hardly help fancying that the shop, with its glowing moon of crimson or saffron, like bowls of blood and sulphur, was really a house of the Black Art.
It was doubtless for such conversational pleasures, in part, that Hibbs However entered the shop; as well as for a small glass of the same restorative medicine which he had been taking when Leveson found him by the open window. But this did not prevent Hibbs from expressing considerable surprise and some embarrassment when Leveson entered the same chemist’s and asked for the same chemical. Indeed, Leveson looked harassed and weary enough to want it.
“You’ve been out of town, haven’t you?” said Leveson. “No luck. They got away again on some quibble. The police wouldn’t make the arrest; and even old Meadows thought it might be illegal. I’m sick of it. Where are you going?”
“I thought,” said Mr. Hibbs, “of dropping in at this Post-Futurist exhibition. I believe Lord Ivywood will be there; he is showing it to the Prophet. I don’t pretend to know much about art, but I hear it’s very fine.”
There was a long silence and Mr. Leveson said, “People always prejudiced against new ideas.”
Then there was another long silence and Mr. Hibbs said, “After all, they said the same of Whistler.”
Refreshed by this ritual, Mr. Leveson became conscious of the existence of Crooke, and said to him, cheerfully, “That’s so in your department, too, isn’t it? I suppose the greatest pioneers in chemistry were unpopular in their own time.”
“Look at the Borgias,” said Mr. Crooke. “They got themselves quite disliked.”
“You’re very flippant, you know,” said Leveson, in a fatigued way. “Well, so long. Are you coming, Hibbs?”
And the two gentlemen, who were both attired in high hats and afternoon callers’ coats, betook themselves down the street. It was a fine, sunny day, the twin of the day before that had shone so brightly on the white town of Peaceways; and their walk was a pleasant one, along a handsome street with high houses and small trees that overlooked the river all the way. For the pictures were exhibited in a small but famous gallery, a rather rococo building of which the entrance steps almost descended upon the Thames. The building was girt on both sides and behind with gaudy flower-beds, and on the top of the steps, in front of the Byzantine doorway, stood their old friend, Misysra Ammon, smiling broadly, and in an unusually sumptuous costume. But even the sight of that fragrant eastern flower did not seem to revive altogether the spirits of the drooping Secretary.
“You have coome,” said the beaming Prophet, “to see the decoration? It is approo-ooved. I haf approo-ooved it.”
“We came to see the Post-Futurist pictures,” began Hibbs; but Leveson was silent.
“There are no pictures,” said the Turk, simply, “if there had been I could not haf approo-ooved. For those of our Religion pictures are not goo-ood; they are Idols, my friendss. Loo-ook in there,” and he turned and darted a solemn forefinger just under his nose toward the gates of the gallery; “Loo-ook in there and you will find no Idols. No Idols at all. I have most carefully loo-ooked into every one of the frames. Every one I have approo-ooved. No trace of ze Man form. No trace of ze Animal form. All decoration as goo-ood as the goo-oodest of carpets; it harms not. Lord Ivywood smile of happiness; for I tell him Islam indeed progresses. Ze old Moslems allow to draw the picture of the vegetable. Here I hunt even for the vegetable. And there is no vegetable.”
Hibbs, whose trade was tact, naturally did not think it wise that the eminent Misysra should go on lecturing from a tall flight of steps to the whole street and river, so he had slipped past with a general proposal to go in and see. The Prophet and the Secretary followed; and all entered the outer hall where Lord Ivywood stood with the white face of a statue. He was the only statue the New Moslems were allowed to worship.
On a sofa like a purple island in the middle of the sea of floor sat Enid Wimpole, talking eagerly to her cousin, Dorian; doing, in fact, her best to prevent the family quarrel, which threatened to follow hard on the incident at Westminster. In the deeper perspective of the rooms Lady Joan Brett was floating about. And if her attitude before the Post-Futurist pictures could not be called humble, or even inquiring, it is but just to that school to say that she seemed to be quite as bored with the floor that she walked on, and the parasol she held. Bit by bit other figures or groups of that world drifted through the Exhibition of the Post-Futurists. It is a very small world, but it is just big enough and just small enough to govern a country–that is, a country with no religion. And it has all the vanity of a mob; and all the reticence of a secret society.
Leveson instantly went up to Lord Ivywood, pulled papers from his pocket and was plainly telling him of the escape from Peaceways. Ivywood’s face hardly changed; he was, or felt, above some things; and one of them was blaming a servant before the servant’s social superiors. But no one could say he looked less like cold marble than before.
“I made all possible inquiries about their subsequent route,” the Secretary was heard saying, “and the most serious feature is that they seem to have taken the road for London.”
“Quite so,” replied the statue, “they will be easier to capture here.”
Lady Enid, by a series of assurances (most of which were, I regret to say, lies) had succeeded in preventing the scandal of her cousin, Dorian, actually cutting her cousin, Philip. But she knew very little of the masculine temper if she really thought she had prevented the profound intellectual revolt of the poet against the politician. Ever since he heard Mr. Hibbs say, “Yars! Yars!”, and order his arrest by a common policeman, the feelings of Dorian Wimpole had flowed for some four days and nights in a direction highly contrary to the ideals of Mr. Hibbs, and the sudden appearance of that blameless diplomatist quickened the mental current to a cataract. But as he could not insult Hibbs, whom socially he did not even know; and could not insult Ivywood, with whom he had just had a formal reconciliation, it was absolutely necessary that he should insult something else instead. All watchers for the Dawn will be deeply distressed to know that the Post-Futurist School of Painting received the full effects of this perverted wrath. In vain did Mr. Leveson affirm from time to time, “People always prejudiced against new ideas.” Vainly did Mr. Hibbs say at the proper intervals, “After all, they said the same of Whistler.” Not by such decent formalities was the frenzy of Dorian to be appeased.
“That little Turk has more sense than you have,” he said, “he passes it as a good wall-paper. I should say it was a bad wall-paper; the sort of wall-paper that gives a sick man fever when he hasn’t got it. But to call it pictures–you might as well call it seats for the Lord Mayor’s Show. A seat isn’t a seat if you can’t see the Lord Mayor’s Show. A picture isn’t a picture if you can’t see any picture. You can sit down at home more comfortably than you can at a procession. And you can walk about at home more comfortably than you can at a picture gallery. There’s only one thing to be said for a street show or a picture show–and that is whether there is anything to be shown. Now, then! Show me something!”
“Well,” said Lord Ivywood, good humouredly, motioning toward the wall in front of him, “let me show you the ‘Portrait of an Old Lady.’”
“Well,” said Dorian, stolidly, “which is it?”
Mr. Hibbs made a hasty gesture of identification, but was so unfortunate as to point to the picture of “Rain in the Apennines,” instead of the “Portrait of an Old Lady,” and his intervention increased the irritation of Dorian Wimpole. Most probably, as Mr. Hibbs afterward explained, it was because a vivacious movement of the elbow of Mr. Wimpole interfered with the exact pointing of the forefinger of Mr. Hibbs. In any case, Mr. Hibbs was sharply and horridly fixed by embarrassment; so that he had to go away to the refreshment bar and eat three lobster-patties, and even drink a glass of that champagne that had once been his ruin. But on this occasion he stopped at one glass, and returned with a full diplomatic responsibility.
He returned to find that Dorian Wimpole had forgotten all the facts of time, place, and personal pride, in an argument with Lord Ivywood, exactly as he had forgotten such facts in an argument with Patrick Dalroy, in a dark wood with a donkey-cart. And Philip Ivywood was interested also; his cold eyes even shone; for though his pleasure was almost purely intellectual, it was utterly sincere.
“And I do trust the untried; I do follow the inexperienced,” he was saying quietly, with his fine inflections of voice. “You say this is changing the very nature of Art. I want to change the very nature of Art. Everything lives by turning into something else. Exaggeration is growth.”
“But exaggeration of what?” demanded Dorian. “I cannot see a trace of exaggeration in these pictures; because I cannot find a hint of what it is they want to exaggerate. You can’t exaggerate the feathers of a cow or the legs of a whale. You can draw a cow with feathers or a whale with legs for a joke–though I hardly think such jokes are in your line. But don’t you see, my good Philip, that even then the joke depends on its looking like a cow and not only like a thing with feathers. Even then the joke depends on the whale as well as the legs. You can combine up to a certain point; you can distort up to a certain point; after that you lose the identity; and with that you lose everything. A Centaur is so much of a man with so much of a horse. The Centaur must not be hastily identified with the Horsy Man. And the Mermaid must be maidenly; even if there is something fishy about her social conduct.”
“No,” said Lord Ivywood, in the same quiet way, “I understand what you mean, and I don’t agree. I should like the Centaur to turn into something else, that is neither man nor horse.”
“But not something that has nothing of either?” asked the poet.
“Yes,” answered Ivywood, with the same queer, quiet gleam in his colourless eyes, “something that has nothing of either.”
“But what’s the good?” argued Dorian. “A thing that has changed entirely has not changed at all. It has no bridge of crisis. It can remember no change. If you wake up tomorrow and you simply are Mrs. Dope, an old woman who lets lodgings at Broadstairs –well, I don’t doubt Mrs. Dope is a saner and happier person than you are. But in what way have you progressed? What part of you is better? Don’t you see this prime fact of identity is the limit set on all living things?”
“No,” said Philip, with suppressed but sudden violence, “I deny that any limit is set upon living things.”
“Why, then I understand,” said Dorian, “why, though you make such good speeches, you have never written any poetry.”
Lady Joan, who was looking with tedium at a rich pattern of purple and green in which Misysra attempted to interest her (imploring her to disregard the mere title, which idolatrously stated it as “First Communion in the Snow”), abruptly turned her full face to Dorian. It was a face to which few men could feel indifferent, especially when thus suddenly shown them.
“Why can’t he write poetry?” she asked. “Do you mean he would resent the limits of metre and rhyme and so on?”
The poet reflected for a moment and then said, “Well, partly; but I mean more than that too. As one can be candid in the family, I may say that what everyone says about him is that he has no humour. But that’s not my complaint at all. I think my complaint is that he has no pathos. That is, he does not feel human limitations. That is, he will not write poetry.”
Lord Ivywood was looking with his cold, unconscious profile into a little black and yellow picture called “Enthusiasm”; but Joan Brett leaned across to him with swarthy eagerness and cried quite provocatively,
“Dorian says you’ve no pathos. Have you any pathos? He says it’s a sense of human limitations.”
Ivywood did not remove his gaze from the picture of “Enthusiasm,” but simply said “No; I have no sense of human limitations.” Then he put up his elderly eyeglass to examine the picture better. Then he dropped it again and confronted Joan with a face paler than usual.
“Joan,” he said, “I would walk where no man has walked; and find something beyond tears and laughter. My road shall be my road indeed; for I will make it, like the Romans. And my adventures shall not be in the hedges and the gutters, but in the borders of the ever advancing brain. I will think what was unthinkable until I thought it; I will love what never lived until I loved it–I will be as lonely as the First Man.”
“They say,” she said, after a silence, “that the first man fell.”
“You mean the priests?” he answered. “Yes, but even they admit that he discovered good and evil. So are these artists trying to discover some distinction that is still dark to us.”
“Oh,” said Joan, looking at him with a real and unusual interest, “then you don’t see anything in the pictures, yourself?”
“I see the breaking of the barriers,” he answered, “beyond that I see nothing.”
She looked at the floor for a little time and traced patterns with her parasol, like one who has really received food for thought. Then she said, suddenly,
“But perhaps the breaking of barriers might be the breaking of everything.”
The clear and colourless eyes looked at her quite steadily.
“Perhaps,” said Lord Ivywood.
Dorian Wimpole made a sudden movement a few yards off, where he was looking at a picture, and said, “Hullo! What’s this?” Mr. Hibbs was literally gaping in the direction of the entrance.
Framed in that fine Byzantine archway stood a great big, bony man in threadbare but careful clothes, with a harsh, high-featured, intelligent face, to which a dark beard under the chin gave something of the Puritanic cast. Somehow his whole personality seemed to be pulled together and explained when he spoke with a North Country accent.
“Weel, lards,” he said, genially, “t’hoose be main great on t’pictures. But I coom for suthin’ in a moog. Haw! Haw!”
Leveson and Hibbs looked at each other. Then Leveson rushed from the room. Lord Ivywood did not move a finger; but Mr. Wimpole, with a sort of poetic curiosity, drew nearer to the stranger, and studied him.
“It’s perfectly awful,” cried Enid Wimpole, in a loud whisper, “the man must be drunk.”
“Na, lass,” said the man with gallantry, “a’ve not been droonk, nobbut at Hurley Fair, these years and all; a’m a decent lad and workin’ ma way back t’Wharfdale. No harm in a moog of ale, lass.”
“Are you quite sure,” asked Dorian Wimpole, with a singular sort of delicate curiosity, “are you quite sure you’re not drunk.”
“A’m not droonk,” said the man, jovially.
“Even if these were licensed premises,” began Dorian, in the same diplomatic manner.
“There’s t’sign on t’hoose,” said the stranger.
The black, bewildered look on the face of Joan Brett suddenly altered. She took four steps toward the doorway, and then went back and sat on the purple ottoman. But Dorian seemed fascinated with his inquiry into the alleged decency of the lad who was working his way to Wharfdale.
“Even if these were licensed premises,” he repeated, “drink could be refused you if you were drunk. Now, are you really sure you’re not drunk. Would you know if it was raining, say?”
“Aye,” said the man, with conviction.
“Would you know any common object of your countryside,” inquired Dorian, scientifically, “a woman –let us say an old woman.”
“Aye,” said the man, with good humour.
“What on earth are you doing with the creature?” whispered Enid, feverishly.
“I am trying,” answered the poet, “to prevent a very sensible man from smashing a very silly shop. I beg your pardon, sir. As I was saying, would you know these things in a picture, now? Do you know what a landscape is and what a portrait is? Forgive my asking; you see we are responsible while we keep the place going.”
There soared up into the sky like a cloud of rooks the eager vanity of the North.
“We collier lads are none so badly educated, lad,” he said. “In the town a’ was born in there was a gallery of pictures as fine as Lunnon. Aye, and a’ knew ’em, too.”
“Thank you,” said Wimpole, pointing suddenly at the wall. “Would you be so kind, for instance, as to look at those two pictures. One represents an old woman and the other rain in the hills. It’s a mere formality. You shall have your drink when you’ve said which is which.”
The northerner bowed his huge body before the two frames and peered into them patiently. The long stillness that followed seemed to be something of a strain on Joan, who rose in a restless manner, first went to look out of a window and then went out of the front door.
At length the art-critic lifted a large, puzzled but still philosophical face.
“Soomehow or other,” he said, “a’ mun be droonk after all.”
“You have testified,” cried Dorian with animation. “You have all but saved civilization. And by God, you shall have your drink.”
And he brought from the refreshment table a huge bumper of the Hibbsian champagne, and declined payment by the rapid method of running out of the gallery on to the steps outside.
Joan was already standing there. Out the little side window she had seen the incredible thing she expected to see; which explained the ludicrous scene inside. She saw the red and blue wooden flag of Mr. Pump standing up in the flower-beds in the sun, as serenely as if it were a tall and tropical flower; and yet, in the brief interval between the window and the door it had vanished, as if to remind her it was a flying dream. But two men were in a little motor outside, which was in the very act of starting. They were in motoring disguise, but she knew who they were. All that was deep in her, all that was sceptical, all that was stoical, all that was noble, made her stand as still as one of the pillars of the porch; but a dog, bearing the name of Quoodle, sprang up in the moving car, and barked with joy at the mere sight of her, and though she had borne all else, something in that bestial innocence of an animal suddenly blinded her with tears.
It could not, however, blind her to the extraordinary fact that followed. Mr. Dorian Wimpole, attired in anything but motoring costume, dressed in that compromise between fashion and art which seems proper to the visiting of picture-galleries, did not by any means stand as still as one of the pillars of the porch. He rushed down the steps, ran after the car and actually sprang into it, without disarranging his Whistlerian silk hat.
“Good afternoon,” he said to Dalroy, pleasantly. “You owe me a motor-ride, you know.”