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Title: The Gentlemen in Possession
Author: Katharine Tynan
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100151.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Gentlemen in Possession
Author: Katharine Tynan

*

Author of "The Dear Irish Girl," "The Way of a Maid," "A Red, Red Rose,"
"The Adventures of Alicia," &c., &c.

*

Published in The Queenslander, Saturday, 17 October, 1914.

*

When Belinda Grove-Smith, the daughter of a prosperous stockbroker of
Evangelical leanings, married Jack Gascoigne, a poor artist, it was a
severe blow to the Grove-Smith family.

Jack was then unknown to Fame. Today his posters make him famous all
over England and farther, and he is held in the highest regard by the
Grove-Smith family, who make a deal of capital out of him at suburban
tennis and tea parties. At the time of his marriage his brother artists
predicted a brilliant future for him; but if their predictions reached
the Grove-Smith family they simply did not believe them.

Belinda was a little person who knew her own mind. A staunch little
woman, brown-eyed and gentle, with a bubbling sense of humour which had
overflowed all her days, discreetly, on her highly respectable
surroundings. She was a perpetual wonder to Jack Gascoigne. How she had
ever sprung in such a soil as the Grove-Smiths! Belinda was a freak, a
jest of Nature, else it would have been as risky an experiment for her
and Jack Gascoigne to marry as his artist friends feared at first,
before they met Jack's wife.

Papa pursy, prosperous and prim--mamma exuding a stately respectability
at every pore--the Grove-Smith sons and other than Belinda, qualifying
for as honourable positions as their parents filled so happily--no
wonder they didn't understand Jack Gascoigne. Mrs. Grove-Smith found it
necessary to explain to her rich suburban friends that dear John's
parentage had been quite unimpeachable; his father a distinguished
officer in the army; his mother the daughter of Sir Beverley Bindon. The
suburb believed her or not, according to its nature; but there was an
inflexibility in its manner of receiving Mrs. Grove-Smith's assurances
which boded ill for its acceptance of Bella's marriage.

Bella simply didn't care a pin. The parents were very good to her. Even
Mrs. Grove-Smith, whom Jack's friends--the one or two he dared present
at Fairgrove--pronounced a holy terror, had really a tender, maternal
heart under her somewhat overwhelming exterior. It was not in her, nor
was it in Peregrine Grove-Smith, to bear the unhappiness of one of the
children. And there was really nothing very bad about Jack except that
he had no money, was that feckless thing, an artist, and had such very
odd ways. When he turned up in a grey flannel shirt the very day Lady
Druce came to tea--the Grove-Smiths had asked Lady Druce so many times,
and this was the very first time she had come--it was a blow to the
Grove-Smiths. Mrs. Grove-Smith, presiding over the tea table, was nearly
turned to stone when she heard Jack explaining to Lady Druce, with
demonstrations, that he always had a clean shirt by making a new turn on
his cuffs. It was nothing that Lady Druce laughed heartily, seemed
delighted with Jack, and asked him to lunch next day. As Lucy, newly
home from Paris, said, Jack was 'impayable'; and Lady Druce, who had not
included the Grove-Smiths, beyond Belinda, in her invitations, was
plainly interested in Jack for malicious reasons and none other.

It was rather a relief to all the Grove-Smiths that the engagement was a
short one. Jack was not very keen about Fairgrove, and had steadily
rejected all social advances from the Pendlehurst people. There had been
a good many--and were actuated by curiosity, the Grove-Smiths felt sure.
It was as well Jack did not respond to them, for one never knew what
audacity he might commit. To be sure some people might find his
audacities amusing. Not so the Grove-Smiths. In a spirit of pious
resignation they saw the wedding through. Jack's speech at the wedding
breakfast was something sever to be forgotten. It was with a sign of
very real relief that Mrs. Grove-Smith saw the newly-married couple
depart in a motor for Folkestone on their way abroad. She was quite
determined that Jack should only be asked to Fairgrove for family
occasions. He was really too awful. That squashing of his top hat
now--bought at the last moment in deference to the wishes of the
Grove-Smith family; Jack had somehow or other contrived to get it on to
his chair while he returned thanks for himself and Belinda, and had then
sat down on it. Pendlehurst had roared over his expression when he took
it up and set it sideways on his handsome dark head. The Grove-Smiths
had seen nothing to laugh at. To them it was, as Mrs. Grove-Smith
described it, a painfully vulgar exhibition.

However, Belinda seemed to enjoy it more than anybody; and she went off
with Jack, looking as radiantly happy a bride as ever left a parental
roof. So long as the child was happy--Mrs. Grove-Smith said to Mr.
Grove-Smith, and he answered gloomily that when Bella ceased to be happy
with that queer fellow there was always room for her at Fairgrove;
suggested further that there need be no change in Belinda's room yet
awhile, till they saw how the marriage worked.

"Oh, it will work well enough, Peregrine," Mrs. Grove-Smith replied,
with an air as though the prophesy were the other way about. "Strange as
it may seem, Bella is devoted to him. And I must say that beyond his
queerness and his occasional vulgarities there seems no harm in John."

As the months passed Mr. Grove-Smith acknowledged the perspicacity of
his wife, as he was ever ready to do Belinda's happiness seemed quite
unclouded; although it was something of a mystery to the Grove-Smiths
how she could be happy in such a tiny house, even though there was a
very liberal allowance of garden. Everything was rather cut at elbows.
The garden was permitted to run wild because Jack liked it so. Jack
objected to curtains, so there were none. The floors were bare except
for an ancient Persian rug--the Grove-Smiths called them rags--flung
here and there. There were pictures all over the place--pictures and
well-worn books and Jack's pipes. You never knew when you might come on
Jack's old coats, or his slippers. They were all over the house. There
was very little furniture, and what there was was shabby, although it
might be beautiful. The Grove-Smiths couldn't see the beauty. They liked
their furniture new from Maple's or Waringa. Jack's pair of Scotch'
terriers sat in the chairs and growled at Mrs. Grove-Smith when she
tried to dispossess them. How Bella could be happy, after the comfort,
even luxury, of life at Fairgrove! But of her happiness there was no
doubt.

At first Mrs. Grove-Smith made various suggestions to her daughter for
the bettering of things. She presented Bella with some new furniture and
a drawing room carpet, over which Jack groaned as though he were in
intolerable pain, although he was too good-hearted a fellow to let his
mother-in-law see his distaste. Bella took a humorous view of it. She
would run and kiss Jack when he averted his eyes from her
wedding-presents. There were the two big vases in modern Dresden for
which Aunt Maria, Mr. Grove-Smith's rich sister, had paid a huge sum at
the Stores. They seemed to draw Jack's eyes by some magnetic power
whenever he came into Bella's drawing-room. It used to make Bella laugh
until the tears ran.

Now Bella's dot had been a quite in considerable one. Mr. Grove-Smith
did not believe in giving his money away while he lived; and he knew
better than to let a Bohemian like Jack squander his girl's money. The
sum he put down with Bella would, he thought, keep them going for a bit
in addition to Jack's earnings. He had no idea how little Jack's
earnings amounted at the moment. He supposed Jack had an allowance from
old General Gascoigne, his uncle in Hampshire, who had been too bad with
gout to come to the wedding.

This little assumption was quite unfounded. As a matter of fact, General
Gascoigne had pitched Jack to the deuce when he refused to give up Miss
Grove-Smith for a little lady who was the daughter of an old flame of
the General's. The General hadn't thought of inquiring the young
people's wishes in the matter. He knew his own; and it was no use Jack's
telling him that Maisie Fairfax wouldn't have looked at him. The General
thought he knew better. He had been allowing Jack a couple of hundred a
year. Now he withdrew it. Jack said nothing about the withdrawal of the
allowance, even to Bella, though it leaked out after they were married.
He was not greatly concerned about it. He had a belief in himself,
somewhat incompatible with a very real humility. With Bella by his side
he was going to accomplish wonders. And with the dot, and what he had in
hand, they could tide over the time till success came.

Still, it was wonderful how the money melted. To make a long story
short, Jack and Bella were in monetary difficulties within eighteen
months of their marriage. It happened just a week before midsummer when
Bella, coming home one day from an outing with Baby--baby was just eight
months old, and had been an expensive addition to the family circle, for
Bella was only beginning to learn economy, and Baby had everything of
the very best--Bella coming in happy because of the beautiful air and
the happy time she had been enjoying with Baby, was met by Parker, the
manservant, with a serious, not to say gloomy, wink.

"I wouldn't if I was you go into the dinin'-room, ma'am," he said. "Mr.
Gascoigne--e' 'as visitors."

Bella didn't the least bit in the world understand why she was not to go
into the dining-room because Jack had visitors. Then a sudden happy
thought struck her. Perhaps some one had come to buy a picture.

"Is Mr. Gascoigne with his visitors, Parker?" she asked, her hand on the
door handle.

Parker had an insufferable familiarity from Mrs. Grove-Smith's point of
view. He was an old soldier who had served Jack faithfully during his
days of batchelorhood, and Jack had been adamant though so easy-going
usually, when Mrs. Grove-Smith had suggested replacing him by a neat
parlour-maid. Parker acted as model to Jack occasionally and was a very
efficient as well as devoted servant. Jack didn't see himself getting
rid of him for a parlour-maid of Mrs. Grove-Smith's choosing, even if he
did join in the conversation as he handed round the dishes and behave as
one of the family generally. It only showed that Parker was a friendly
chap, said Jack to his horrified mother-in-law.

"Mr. Gascoigne's gone out, ma'am," he said, quietly but firmly
preventing Bella from turning the door-handle. "I was to say--if you'll
come in 'ere, ma'am ..."

He guided the alarmed Bella towards the drawing-room door, opened it and
part pushed, part guided her within.

"I was to say that Satterthwaite and Mason 'as put in ... a couple of
gentlemen--for ... a little matter o' thirty pounds or so for frames. I
did tell 'im as it was no use a-puttin' their bills be'ind the
droring-room fire. I've 'ad considerable experience--'im, too, for the
matter o' that; an' it only riles 'em. 'E 'asn't opened the last dozen
or so; an' if 'e 'ad 'e'd nave known as it was comin' nearer an' nearer
to their ultimatum. 'E said you wasn't to trouble. 'E'd be back soon as
ever 'e could raise the oof--them there were 'is words--an' you wasn't
to trouble your dear little 'eart."

"Oh, Parker!" said Belinda, very pale, and supporting herself by leaning
one hand on the drawing-room table. "What do you mean? Who are those
dreadful people in the dining-room? You said gentlemen--but what have
gentlemen got to do with Satterthwaite and Mason and Mr. Gascoigne's
frames? I don't understand you a bit."

"Bless your innocent 'eart!" said Parker, executing a more solemn wink
than before. "W'y, they're bailiffs. Don't you take on so, ma'am. Many's
the time we've 'ad 'em in before. W'y, Mr. Gascoigne, time was 'e felt
lonesome if 'e 'adn't a gentleman in possession, as 'e calls 'em. 'E's
very popular in the profession, master is. I've been told by some o'
them there gentlemen as they'd as soon be put in with us as anywhere in
London. W'y, I've known them and Mr. Gascoigne to sit up 'arf the night
a-singin' comic songs, an' they laughin' fit to die at Master's
play-actin'. I've known 'em go off with tears in their eyes at partin'
from us. My word! we 'aye 'ad some nights. There'd be a policeman or two
in off the beat--any one Mr. Gascoigne picked up on his way 'ome,
thinkin' as they looked cold an' 'ungry."

The colour began to come back to Bella's cheeks, although whatever of
Grove-Smith there was in her composition was still alarmed and shocked
at bailiffs being in possession of her pretty house. Still, her sense of
humour carried her through many things. Oh, Jack, Jack! What a dear,
delightful, irresponsible, good-hearted fellow he was!

"Mr. Gascoigne is sure to find the money, Parker?" she said, still
trembling a little, but with a smile drawing at the corners of her
month.

"Bless your 'eart--yes! That is s'posin' 'e finds any of 'is friends at
'ome. 'Tis unfortunate, rayther, that it should come this very minute.
If the worst comes to the worst, w'y there's plenty we can pop,' 'm.
Wot's thirty pounds? It's low of Satterthwaite and Mason, seein 'all as
we've paid 'em."

At this moment of all others there came a tremendous rat-tat at the
front door. Mamma! No one ever knocked like that except mamma, who had
once been kept waiting by Parker, and had used that special rat-tat by
way of protest ever since.

"'Tis your ma, ma'am," said Parker. "I'll say you're not at 'ome."

"You can't do that, Parker," said Bella. "Poor mamma! It's so hot, and
she's walked all the way up the hill from the railway station. And
she'll want her lunch."

"Your ma'll find out 'oo we've got in our dinin'-room," said Parker in a
sepulchral whisper. "If I know anythink of ladies, your ma's just the
one to find out."

While they hesitated the drawing-room door opened, and Mrs. Grove-Smith
made her appearance.

"I found your door on the latch, Bella," she said, not noticing Parker
in the obscurity of the room, after the brilliant frosty sunshine
outside. "It's very careless of that man of yours. You ought to speak to
him about it. It would never happen if you had taken that excellent
creature I brought you."

Parker glided from the room before Mrs. Grove-Smith had time to
recognise his presence.

Mrs. Grove-Smith deposited herself in the nearest easy chair.

"Your sisters are all out for the day," she said. "So I thought I'd ask
myself to lunch with you." She was opening her cloak and taking off her
bonnet, with its nodding plumes, as she spoke. "John not at home?" she
went on. Jack Gascoigne'e relatives by marriage were the only people who
ever called him John. "I suppose not, else I should find you in the
studio. I must say it is a blessing to find John out sometimes. A man
who is always at home is something of a nuisance. You'll excuse me
saying so, my dear Bella. That incessant posing for him must be very
tiresome. You should send him out oftener; you should indeed. Why, is
anything the matter, Bella?"

Mrs. Gascoigne was indeed looking pale and disturbed. How on earth was
she going to conceal from her mother the presence of those awful men in
the dining-room? Mrs. Grove-Smith had a lynxeyed sharpness as her
daughter knew; and it was very difficult to frustrate her in anything
she wanted to do.

"There is nothing at all the matter, mamma," she said hastily. "And I am
delighted to have you. But, I was thinking of proposing a little jaunt.
Why shouldn't I put on my hat?--I shouldn't be a minute--we could catch
the eleven forty, and the two of us lunch in town and look at the shops.
It isn't often I have an opportunity for such gaieties now."

"What on earth do you mean, Bella?" Mrs. Grove-Smith asked in a tone of
offence. "I've only just come on, and I am very tired. Lunch in your
little quiet dining-room would suit me much better than the crowds of
Regent-street. Anything will do for me. You know I'm not exacting.
Whatever you have will suit me very well. It's not so often I have the
chance of having lunch alone with you. You ought really to send John out
more, Bella. Why shouldn't he teach drawing as Mr. Smithers used to do?
It would give him an occupation."

Bella passed over the implied strictures on Jack. She hastened to
propitiate her mother.

"Of course, darling, I am delighted to have you," she said. "I was only
thinking--in fact, supposing we have our lunch out-of-doors in the
garden. I'll tell Parker. He's so clever. He'll turn us out a delightful
little hot-weather lunch. You shall see, dearest mamma!"

"Bella!" said Mrs. Grove-Smith in a deep voice. "No lunches in the
garden for me. I know those small gardens. Nests of earwigs and spiders.
No, thanks, my dear. I am quite satisfied with your dining-room and the
cold mutton. Dear me, you mustn't think of running out to lunch. With a
husband like yours it would be most unwise to get a habit of
extravagance."

Bella was at her wits' end. It was time to give Parker instructions
about the lunch if she could not move mamma, and she could not.

"Darling," she said, "I am so sorry, but some friends of Jack's are
waiting for him in the dining-room. Most important business. I've
nowhere else I can put them. Would you mind having lunch in here?"

"My dear Bella, why didn't you say so at first? It's a pity to bring
food into your drawing-room. Still, why didn't you tell me before that
the dining-room was occupied without so much beating about the bush? I
am a most easily pleased person. I don't care really where I have my
lunch, or if I have any lunch at all."

Bella ran off relieved, and gave Parker his instructions. A little cold
soup, the wing of a chicken, a salad, an omelette and black coffee to
follow she suggested, with perhaps some of Parker's delicious pastry.

"In the drawing-room, Parker," she added. "I've told Mamma that some of
Mr. Gascoigne's friends are waiting for him in the dining-room. She is
quite satisfied about it."

Parker nodded his head, but remarked to himself gloomily as Mrs.
Gascoigne ran off, that, "if he knew anythink, the likes of 'er was not
so easy satisfied."

Coming back to the drawing-room, Bella found her mother, bonnet and
cloak laid aside, patting her hair in front of the glass.

As Bella came in she turned about.

"My dear Belinda," she said, with a majestic air, "you have seen your
husband's friends, of course?"

"No; they didn't want to see me. It was Jack--Jack--" She was about to
say that Jack had seen them, but some instinct of caution arrested the
words on her lips. "Jack may be back at any moment," she went on lamely.
"They really don't want to see me."

"I think you said important business, Belinda. Has it not occurred to
you that you ought to see them? Supposing they came to offer John
employment? My dear Belinda, I really think it very silly of you to
stuff your husband's callers away like that in the dining-room without
even discovering their business. A woman can do so much. Your Papa often
said that without a woman like me by his side he could have done
nothing, positively nothing. A woman's smiles, my dear Belinda, a
woman's tact--"

"They're not patrons, mamma," Belinda put in. "I assure you they are not
patrons. They are just some friends of Jack's."

"But you'll ask them to lunch, Bella? You're not going to leave them
without lunch?"

"Parker will see to them. Please don't bother, mamma. Let us have our
lunch in peace together. I wonder if baby's in yet? Ah, that was nurse's
ring!"

She ran out and opened the hall door, Baby's return was most opportune.
Mrs. Grove-Smith was an adoring grandmother. The inspection of baby's
first tooth would distract her from those horrid men in the dining-room.
And Jack might return at any moment.

However, baby's toilet needed some attention before he was presented to
his grandmother. Picking him up in her arms Belinda ran with him
upstairs, while nurse took the mail-cart round the back way.

To take off baby's bonnet and cloak, to sponge his face and brush up his
silky curls, was a matter of a few moments. When Belinda came downstairs
again carrying him in her arms she had almost forgotten the wretched men
in the dining room. Baby had said something which she was almost certain
bore a striking resemblance to "mamma."

At the bottom of the stairs Parker confronted her with a catastrophe
face.

"She 'as gone in!" he said, with a jerk of his thumb backward over his
shoulder in the direction of the diningroom.

If nurse hadn't appeared opportunely Belinda would certainly have let
baby fall. However, nurse, a brown-faced little person, who never
displayed any curiosity about things which didn't concern her, took baby
from his mother and went away upstairs.

"Oh, Parker," said Belinda, in a horrifled whisper--"what am I to do?"

"I knowed as she'd do it," said Parker gloomily. "They won't tell. Bless
your 'eart, they won't tell. They're used to keepin' things to
theirselves. Best thing you can do, ma'am, is to go in an' talk too--if
you can do it without makin' a fuss. Keep 'er off 'em as much as you
can. I'll 'urry up lunch. Your mamma's always 'ungry when she comes
'ere."

Bella opened the door and went in. Once again the humorous faculty that
had so often stood her friend came to her aid.

Mrs. Grove-Smith had sat down in the easy chair by the window. She had
turned it so as to command a good view of the visitors. Facing her
across the table sat two men, one bottle-nosed with a distressing cough
and watery eyes--the other, small, shrewd, with a good-humoured,
twinkling face.

This one turned about as Bella came in. Bella had glanced in terror at
her mother. To her relief, and somewhat also to her mystification, Mrs.
Grove-Smith wore her blandest smile.

"This gentleman tells me, Bella," she said; then she introduced Bella
with a wave of her hand; "Mrs. Gascoigne--Mr. Spink. Mr. Spink tells me,
Bella...."

"As 'ow we're dealers in picture, ma'am," the little man put in hastily.
"We thought as 'ow, me an' my friend Bowcher--'ave another coughdrop,
Bill!--as 'ow your good gentleman might 'ave somethink in our line. 'Is
picturs are gittin' arsked for. I can tell you. Me 'an Bowcher, we
thought as 'ow we'd secure somethink before his prices was beyond us. We
ain't exactly Bond-street, nor yet 'Aymarket. Still, a fair price....."

"My son-in-law will be back presently," said Mrs. Grove-Smith, leaving
Bella out of it. "You must discuss it with him. Of course there is a
very great demand for his pictures. You mustn't expect to get them too
cheap. I know he has some framed, and beautifully framed, too, that he
might let you have."

"Lor' bless you, mum," said Mr. Spink mendaciously, "we ain't 'ere along
of 'is frames. 'Tis picturs we're after."

"Of course," said Mrs. Grove-Smith. "I quite understand it is pictures.
Still to the non-professional eye like mine, the frame counts."

"Lor' bless you, mum, don't be callin' yourself names," said Mr. Spink
handsomely, "if I 'ad an eye like yours, taint's much it'ud let slip."

Bella could stand it no longer. She left the rest to Providence and Mr.
Spink, and slipped out to laugh and cry together in the intervals of
looking up and down the road to see if Jack was in sight.

When she came back she found Parker announcing lunch and Mrs.
Grove-Smith, in high good-humour, concluding a discussion on pictures
with Mr. Spink.

"I quite agree with you, Bella," she said, as she sat down to the dainty
meal Parker had provided, "that it wouldn't really do to ask them to
lunch. I had no idea picture-dealers belonged to such a humble class;
and Mr. Spink, although very intelligent, seemed never to have heard of
Whistler--thought I was talking about some one who performed on a
tinwhistle. Still--I think I've sold one or two pictures for Jack. I
could see they were pleased by my attention. The madness of your
neglecting them as you were doing! My dearest Bella, as I have often
said to you, a man's success in life depends on his wife's diplomacy."

There was the sound of a latch-key in the door, which Bella heard, but
her mother did not. Yet Jack did not appear for quite a long time. When
he came in he was apparently in high good humour, and kissed his
mother-in-law as well as his wife. It was the first time he had kissed
Mrs. Grove-Smith on his own account, and she looked quite pleased over
it. She did not notice the shy, humorous, apologetic look he sent his
wife across the table.

"I hope you've done some business, John," she said.

"Thanks to you, ma'am," said Jack. "It was a matter of thirty pounds.
They weren't long over it either. It was very kind of you to go in and
talk to them."

"Your wife would have left them severely alone," Mrs. Grove-Smith said,
smiling and exhilarated. "We must teach her some worldly wisdom, John.
Are they gone?''

"Oh, yes, they've gone, well pleased with you, ma'am, and themselves."

Bella did not dare meet Jack's eyes, though she scolded him about it
afterwards. But that day marked the beginning of a much better
understanding between Jack Gascoigne and his wife's family, especially
his mother-in-law. As I have said earlier, the Grove-Smiths are
extremely proud of Jack now that he is famous. Mrs. Grove-Smith is fond
of telling how the first step upwards was accomplished through her
intervention.

"Of course, Jack has nothing to do with those kind of people now," she
will say. "He goes only to the big dealers and private patrons. But I
may say that he was very glad when I sold his first picture for thirty
pounds,"--it has come to be that in the course of time and Mrs.
Grove-Smith really believes what she says--"and the dear fellow has
never forgotten it. He says that was really his turning point. They were
such odd creatures. You know Jack used them for that picture of his.
'The Men in Possession.' It was, rather audacious of him, for after all
they were nearly his first customers. But the picture is considered very
clever. I don't care for low life myself. But the furniture is very
realistically painted. I always tell Jack it was too bad of him. Mr.
Spink might have been offended, and the other dealer, too."

"Not a bit of it, ma'am," says Jack. "You never saw a pair of men better
pleased. I never see Spink that I haven't to stand him a drink for it."

Jack's eccentricities are much more tolerable in his mother-in-law's
eyes than of old, to her rebuke is a smiling one.

"My dear Jack, in your position----"

But, after all, Jack can do anything he pleases, seeing that he is a
famous person, as Mrs. Grove-Smith remarks to her neighbours with an air
of honest pride when Jack does something very much out of the ordinary.



THE END


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