THE AMBASSADOR

It never rains but it pours. It was pouring just now with Leavesley.

The morning after the excursion to Epping Forest he had written a long
letter to Fanny: a business-like letter, explanatory of his prospects in
life.

He had exhibited in this year’s Academy; he had exhibited in the New
gallery–more, he had sold the Academy picture for forty pounds. He had
a hundred a year of his own, which, as he sagaciously pointed out, was
“something.” If Fanny would only wait a year, give him something to hope
for, something to live for, something to work for. Three pages of
business-like statements ending with a fourth page of raving
declarations of love. The letter of a lunatic, as all love-letters more
or less are.

He had posted this and waited for a reply, but none had come. He little
knew that his letter and a bill for potatoes were behind a plate on the
kitchen dresser at “The Laurels,” stuffed there by Susannah in a fit of
abstraction, also the outcome of the troubles of love.

On top of this all sorts of minor worries fell upon him. Mark Moses and
Sonenshine, stimulated by the two pounds ten paid on account, were
bombarding him with requests for more. A colour-man was also active and
troublesome, and a bootmaker lived on the stairs.

Belinda, vice-president of the institution during Mrs Tugwell’s sojourn
at Margate, was “cutting up shines,” cooking disgracefully, not cleaning
boots, giving “lip” when remonstrated with, and otherwise revelling in
her little brief authority. A man who had all but commissioned a
portrait of a bull-dog sent word to say that the sittings couldn’t take
place as the dog was dead.

Then a cat had slipped into his bedroom and kittened on his best suit
of clothes; and Fernandez, the picture dealer to whom he had taken the
John the Baptist on the top of a four-wheeler, had offered him five
pounds ten for it; and, worst of all, driven by necessity, he had not
haggled, but had taken the five pounds ten, thus for ever ruining
himself with Fernandez, who had been quite prepared to pay fifteen.

The Captain, who had suddenly come in for a windfall of eighty pounds,
was going on like a millionaire–haunting the studio half-tipsy, profuse
with offers of assistance and drinks, and, to cap all, the weather was
torrid. The only consolation was Verneede, who would listen for hours to
the praises of Miss Lambert, nodding his head like a Chinese mandarin
and smoking Leavesley’s cigarettes.

“I don’t know what to do,” said the unhappy young man, during one of
these conferences, “I don’t know what to do. It’s so unlike her.”

“Write again.”

“Not I–at least, how can I? If she won’t answer _that_ letter there’s
no use in writing any more.”

“Call.”

“I’m not going to creep round like a dog that has been beaten.”

“True.”

“She may be ill, for all I know. How do I know that she is not ill?”

“Illness, my dear Leavesley, is one of those things—-”

“I know–but the question is, how am I to find out?”

“Could you not apply to their family physician? I should go to him,
frankly—-”

“But I don’t know who their doctor is–do talk sense. See here! could
_you_ call and ask–ask did she get home all right, and that sort of
thing?”

“Most certainly, with pleasure, if it would relieve your feelings.
Anything–anything I can do, my dear Leavesley, in an emergency like
this you can count on me to do.”

“You needn’t mention my name.”

“I shall carefully abstain.”

“Unless she asks, you know.”

“Certainly, unless she asks.”

“Armbruster came in this morning, he’s going to America. He’s got on to
a big firm for book illustrating; he wanted me to go with him and try
my luck–offered to pay the expenses. You might hint, perhaps, if the
subject turns up, that you think I am going to America.”

“Certainly.”

“When can you go?”

“Any time.”

“You might go now, for I’m awfully anxious to hear if she is all right.
What’s the time? Two–yes–if you go now you will get there about four.”

“Highgate?”

“Yes–‘The Laurels,’ John’s Road. Have you any money?”

“Unfortunately I am rather unprovided with the necessary—-”

“Wait.”

Leavesley went to a little jug on the mantel and turned the contents of
it into his hand.

“Here’s five shillings; will that be enough?”

“Ample.”

“Now go, like a good fellow, and do come back here straight.”

“As an arrow.”

“Don’t say anything about my letter.”

“Not a word, not a word.”

Mr Verneede departed, and the painter went on with his painting,
feeling very much as Noah must have felt when the dove flew out of the
Ark.

Mr Verneede first made straight for his lodgings. He inhabited a
top-floor back in Maple Street, a little street leading out of the
King’s Road.

Here he blacked his boots, put bear’s grease on his hair, and assumed a
frock-coat a shade more respectable than the one he usually wore. Then,
with his coat tightly buttoned, his best hat on his head, and his
umbrella under his arm, he made off on his errand revolving in his
wonderful mind the forthcoming interview. To assist thought, he turned
into the four-ale bar of the “Spotted Dog.” Here stood a woman with a
baby in her arms, a regular customer, who was explaining domestic
troubles to the sympathetic barmaid. Seeing Verneede seated with his ale
before him, she included him in her audience. Half an hour later the old
gentleman, having given much advice on the rearing of babies and
management of husbands, emerged from the “Spotted Dog” slightly flushed
and entirely happy.

It seemed so much pleasanter and cooler to enter a public house than an
omnibus, that the “King’s Arms,” where the omnibuses stood, swallowed
him easily. Here an anarchistical house-painter, who was destructing the
British Empire, included him in his remarks; and it was, somehow, nearly
five o’clock before he left the “King’s Arms” more flushed and most
entirely happy, and took an omnibus for Hammersmith.

At nine o’clock he was wandering about Hammersmith asking people to
direct him to “The Hollies” in James’ Road; at eleven he was criticising
the London County Council in a bar-room somewhere in Shepherd’s Bush,
but it might have been in Paris or Berlin, Vienna or Madrid, for all
_he_ knew or cared.