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Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: The Gentlemen in Possession
Author: Katharine Tynan
eBook No.: 1100151h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: February 2011
Most recent update: December 2023

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy and Colin Choat

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The Gentlemen in Possession


Katharine Tynan

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

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

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.


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