THE GOD FROM THE MACHINE

“THE LAURELS, 11 P.M.

“I have been going to write for the last few days, but have been so
busy. I could go on the picnic to-day if it would suit you I’ll
call at the studio at one o’clock. If you can’t come, send me a
wire. Oh, I forgot to say Mr Hancock came home the other day with
me and had a long talk with father, and Mr Bevan called to-day and
was awfully jolly, and I’ll tell you all about it when we meet.
Give my love to Mr Verneede.

“In haste to catch the post.

“_P.S._–I’m in such good spirits. F. L.”

It was the morning after the day on which Mr Bevan had called at “The
Laurels.” Leavesley was in bed, and reading the above, which had come by
the early post, and which Belinda had thrust under his door, together
with a circular and a bill for colours.

“Hurrah!” cried Mr Leavesley, and then “Great Heavens!” He jumped out of
bed, and rummaged wildly in his pockets. He found seven and sixpence in
silver, and a penny and a halfpenny in coppers, a stump of pencil, a
tramway ticket with a hole punched in it, and a Woodbine cigarette
packet containing one cigarette. He placed the money on the
wash-hand-stand, then he sat for a moment on the side of his bed
disconsolate.

The most beautiful day that ever dawned, the most beautiful girl in the
world, a chance of taking her up the river, and seven and six to do it
on!

He curled his toes about. Yesterday, in a fit of righteousness, he had
paid a tailor two pounds ten on account. He contemplated this great
mistake gloomily. Wild ideas of calling on Mark Moses & Sonenshine and
asking for the two pounds ten back crossed his mind, to be instantly
dispelled.

The only two men in London who could possibly help him with a loan were,
to use a Boyle-Rochism, in Paris. Mrs Tugwell, his landlady, was at
Margate, and he was in the middle of his tri-monthly squabble with his
uncle. He called up the ghost of his aunt Patience Hancock, and communed
with her just for the sake of self-torture, and the contemplation of the
hopeless.

Then he rang his bell, which Belinda answered.

“Breakfast at once, Belinda.”

“Yessir, and here’s another letter as hes just come,” she poked a square
envelope under the door. Leavesley seized it with a palpitating heart;
it was unstamped, and had evidently been left in by hand.

“This is the God from the Machine,” he thought. “There’s money in it, I
know. It always happens like this when things are at their worst.”

We all have these instincts at times: the contents of an unopened letter
or parcel seem endowed with a voice; who has not guessed the fateful
news in a telegram before he has broken open the envelope, even as
Leavesley guessed the contents of the letter in his hand?

He tore it open and took out a sheet of paper and a pawnbroker’s
duplicate. The letter ran:–

“NO. 150A KING’S ROAD,

“OVER THE BACON SHOP.

“DEAR LEAVESLEY,–I am in bed, not suffering from smallpox, croup,
spinal meningitis, or any wasting or infectious disease. I am in
bed, my dear Leavesley, simply for want of my trousers. Robed in
Jones’ long ulster, which reacheth to my heels, I took the
aforesaid garments yester-even after dusk to my uncle. If help does
not come they will have to take me to the workhouse in a blanket. I
enclose duplicate. Three and sevenpence would release me and them.

“‘The die is cast
And this is the last.’

“From THE CAPTAIN.

‘_P.S_.–If you have no money send me the ‘Count of Monte
Cristo’–you have a copy; or the ‘Multi-Millionaire.’ I have
nothing to read but a _Financial News_ of the day before
yesterday.”

Leavesley groaned and laughed, and groaned again. Then he got into his
bath and splashed; as he splashed his spirits rose amazingly.

The Captain’s letter had electrified the Bohemian part of his nature;
instead of depressing him it had done the reverse. Here was another poor
devil worse off than himself. Leavesley had six pair of trousers.

The Captain, in parenthesis let me say, has no part in this story. He
wasn’t a captain, he was a relic of the South African War, a gentleman
with a taste for drink, amusing, harmless, and amiable. I only introduce
him on account of the telepathic interest of his letter, or rather of
the way in which Leavesley divined its contents.

“Seven and sixpence–I mean seven and sevenpence halfpenny, is not a bit
of use,” said the painter to himself when he had finished breakfast, “so
here goes.”

He put three and sevenpence in an envelope with the pathetic duplicate,
addressed it to Captain Waring, rang for Belinda; and when that
much-harried maid-of-all-work appeared, told her to take it as soon as
she could to Captain Waring, down the road over the bacon shop, also to
call at Mr Verneede’s and ask him to come round at twelve.

Then he reached down a finished picture, wrapped it in brown paper, put
the parcel under his arm and started off.

He took a complication of omnibuses, and arrived in Wardour Street about
half-past nine.

“Mr Fernandez is gone to the country on pizzines,” said the Jew-boy
slave of the picture dealer, who came from the interior of the gloomy
shop like a dirty gnome, called forth by the ring of the door bell.

“Oh, d—-n!” said Leavesley.

“He’s gone on pizzines,” replied the other.

“Where’s he gone to?”

“Down in the country.”

“Look here, I want to sell a picture.”

“Mr Fernandez is gone on pizzines.”

“Oh, dash Mr Fernandez! Is there no one here I can show the thing to? He
knows me.”

“There’s only me,” said the grimy sphinx.

“Can you buy it?”

“No, I ain’t no use for buying. Mr Fernandez is gone on—-”

“Oh, go to the devil!”

“This is a nice sort of thing,” said Leavesley to himself as he stood in
Wardour Street perspiring. “There’s nothing for it now but a frontal
attack on uncle.”

He made for Southampton Row, reaching the office at ten o’clock, about
five minutes after James Hancock.

Hancock was dealing with his morning correspondence. A most unbendable
old gentleman he looked as he sat at his table before a pile of letters,
backed by the numerous tin boxes Leavesley knew so well. Boxes marked
“The Gleeson Estate,” “Sir H. Tempest, Bart,” etc. Boxes that spoke of
wealth and business in mocking tones to the unfortunate artist, who felt
very much as the grasshopper must have felt in the presence of the
industrious ant. Despite this he noticed that his uncle was more
sprucely dressed than usual, and that he had on a lilac satin tie.

Hancock looked at his nephew over his spectacles, then through his
spectacles, then he pushed his spectacles up on his forehead.

“Good morning, uncle.”

“Good morning.”

“I just looked in,” said Leavesley, in a light-hearted way, “as I was
going by, to see how you were.”

This was a very bad opening.

“Sit down,” said Hancock. “Um–I wasn’t aware that there was anything
the matter with me.”

“You were complaining of the gout last time.”

“Oh, bother the gout!” said the old gentleman, who hated to be reminded
of his infirmity. “It isn’t gout–Garrod says it’s Rheumatoid
Arthritis.”

Leavesley repented of having played the gout gambit.

“–Rheumatoid Arthritis. Well, what are you doing?”

“Oh, I’m painting.”

“Are you _selling_?” said Hancock, “that’s more to the point.”

“Oh yes, I’m selling–mildly.”

“Um!”

“I sold two pictures quite recently.”

“I always told you,” said the lawyer, ignoring the last statement in a
most irritating way, and speaking as if Leavesley were made of glass and
all his affairs were arranged inside him for view like damaged goods in
a shop window–“I always told you painting doesn’t pay. If you had come
into the office you might have got on well; but there you are, you’ve
made your bed, and on it you must lie,” then in a voice three shades
gloomier, “on it you must lie.”

Leavesley glanced at the office clock, it pointed to quarter past ten,
and Fanny was due at one.

“I had a little business to talk to you about,” he said. “Look here,
will you give me a commission?”

“A what?”

“A commission for a picture.”

“And five pounds on account,” was in his brain, but it did not pass his
tongue.

“A picture?” said Hancock. “What on earth do I want with pictures?”

“Let me paint your portrait.”

Hancock made a movement with his hand as if to say “Pish!”

“Well, look here,” said Leavesley, with the cynicism of despair, “let me
paint Bridgewater, let me paint the office, whitewash the ceilings, only
give me a show.”

“I would not mind the money I have spent on you,” said Hancock, ignoring
all this, “the bills I have paid, if, to use your own expression, there
was any show for it; but, as far as I can see, you are like a man in a
quagmire, the only advance you are making, the only advance visible to
mortal eye, is that you are getting deeper into debt;” then two tones
lower, “deeper into debt.”

“Well, see here, lend me a fiver,” cried Leavesley, now grown desperate
and impudent.

James Hancock put his fingers into the upper pocket of his waistcoat,
and Leavesley’s heart made a spring for his throat.

But Mr Hancock did not produce a five-pound note. He produced a small
piece of chamois leather with which he polished his glasses, which he
had taken off, in a reflective manner.

“I’m awfully hard up for the moment, and I have pressing need of it. I
don’t want you to give me the money, I’ll pay it back.”

Mr Hancock put on his glasses again.

“You come to me as one would come to a milch cow, as one would come to a
bank in which he had a large deposit.”

He put his hand in his breast-pocket and took out a note-case that
seemed simply bursting with bank-notes.

“Now if I accommodate you with a five-pound note I must know, at least,
what the pressing need is you speak of.”

“I want to take a girl up the river, for one thing,” answered his
nephew, who could no more tell him a lie about the matter, than he could
steal a note from that plethoric note-case.

James Hancock replaced the case in his pocket and made a motion with his
hands as if to say “that ends everything.”

Leavesley rose to go.

“I’d have paid you it back. No matter. I’m going to write a book, and
make money out of it. I’ll call it the ‘Art of Being an Uncle.'”

Hancock made a motion with his hands that said, “Go away, I want to read
my letters.”

“Now, look here,” said Leavesley, with his hand on the door handle, and
inspired with another accession of impudence, “if you’d take _ten_
pounds and put it in your pocket, and come with me and her, and have a
jolly good day on the river, wouldn’t it be better than sitting in this
stuffy old office making money that is no use to any one–you can only
live once.”

“Go away!” said his uncle.

“I’m going. Tell me, if I went round to aunt would she accommodate me,
do you think?”

“Accommodate you to make a fool of yourself with a girl? I hope not, I
sincerely hope not.”

“Well, I’ll try. Good day.”

“Good day.”

Leavesley went out, and shut the door. Then he suddenly turned, opened
the door and looked in.

“I say, uncle!”

“Well?” replied the unfortunate Mr Hancock, in a testy voice.

“Did _you_ never make a fool of yourself with a girl?”

The old gentleman grew suddenly so crimson that his nephew shut the door
and bolted. He little guessed how _àpropos_ that question was.