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Title: And This is Fame!
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1100291.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: March 2011
Date most recently updated: March 2011

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

Title: And This is Fame!
Author: Fred M White

*

Author of "A Dog's Life," "The Midnight Quest," "On Peace Night," etc.,
etc.

*

Published in the Sunday Times (Perth, W.A.), Sunday 18 October, 1931.

*

WHEN Tommy Allnatt, the famous comedian, arrived at the studio of the
equally famous painter, Alonzo Paradine, there was no sign of the lunch
to which Tommy had been invited; in fact, there was no sign of anybody,
not even a servant to answer the bell. Therefore, Tommy was pardonably
annoyed.

None the less because the front door gave to a turn of the lock and
Tommy found himself free to enter the studio proper. Just like Paradine
to forget all about the lunch and give his domestic staff a holiday for
the day.

Left to himself. London's leading low comedian--and the greatest
practical joker since J. L. Toole--prowled about the studio where the
immortal Paradine painted his pictures and entertained the salt of the
earth.

But Tommy was not concerned with Paradine's greatness at the moment. He
was torn between wolfish hunger and humorous irritability. None the less
so because this was not the first time Paradine had played the same
trick on his friends. Time he had a lesson. Time to teach him that his
absentmindedness was not a paying game. Perhaps an epoch-making
practical joke----

The idea shaped as Tommy sat eating caviare and biscuits looted from a
Tudor buffet and washed down with a whisky and soda imbibed from a
priceless goblet of Venetian glass. As the inner man swung to
equilibrium the grin on Tommy's face broadened. The great idea was
burgeoning like a flower.

"It would serve him right," he muttered. "Hang me if I don't do it!"

From a huge wardrobe in ebony and ivory inlay Tommy produced certain
sartorial properties such as artists keep for their models. A wig and a
beard and a pair of spectacles; a suit of rags, complete with rusty
boots; and in these Tommy proceeded to array himself. An impromptu
make-up completed the picture of honest poverty under a cloud of
financial depression. Hastily gathering together half-a-dozen or so of
canvasses from a corner of the studio, Tommy crept into the street until
he reached the spot he had in mind, and there on a stretch of pavement
in view of Chelsea's best and brightest, sat down to do business with
all and sundry in search of masterpieces at jumble sale prices. Not that
he would sell a single one, and thus, cover the great Paradine with
confusion and ridicule.

For some time he had the cold, hard world to himself. In a harsh,
commercial age, art seemed to be a drug on the market. Then presently
there shuffled into sight a snuffy man whose beady eyes lighted on the
array of pictures displayed on the pavement. The little man checked and
for some moments stood contemplating the show with his head on one side,
like a thrush gloating over a particularly fat snail.

"Dear me!" he piped. "Your own work? What?"

"And for sale, sir," Tommy said meekly.

"Very sad, very sad!" the little man declared. "Clever, very clever.
Distinct touches of originality. The later French school. You have
studied in Paris?"

"Never had a lesson in my life," Tommy said, truthfully.

"Amazing!" the little man cried. "Amazing! you haven't stolen those
sketches by any chance?"

Tommy contrived a sad, disarming smile. The little man hopped around
excitedly.

"I apologise!" he wheezed. "I am in a humble way a collector. But my
means are limited, very limited. If you care to take fifteen shillings
each for those----What, what?"

Tommy shuffled uneasily. The great joke was not developing according to
plan. His scheme had been to sit there the best part of the afternoon
peddling choice Paradines and being able to boast afterwards that he
never secured an offer for one. It was imperative that he should hedge.

"Sir," he said, grandly, "I may be poor, but I have my pride. And the
laborer is worthy of his hire. A fiver a head all round and call it a
deal."

If Tommy was under the impression that this appreciation of stock would
choke off the snuffy old gentleman he was speedily disillusioned. He
merely smiled a crafty smile.

"My friend," he wheezed, "before you took up your stand here did it
occur to you that a hawker's license was requisite--indeed, imperative?"

"Is that a fact, old bean?" Tommy asked, forgetting himself in face of
this startling riposte. "Mean to say----"

"Quite," the little man chuckled. "Show me your license, or the
policeman on point duty yonder----"

"All right," Tommy said recklessly. "Take the bally lot at your own
price. A quid a piece. Come!"

The snuffy little man produced a roll of notes and counted out six of
them into Tommy's shrinking palm. A few moments later the purchaser was
rolling away in a taxi and Tommy was after him in another. There was a
little delay in getting away, for the driver of the second cab shied
openly at Tommy's rags until the sight of a Treasury note calmed his
fears.

"I'm fly, gov'nor," he grinned. "Not the first time as I've 'ad a copper
in disguise in my keb."

Exactly seventeen minutes later the first cab pulled up in front of a
palatial mansion in Park-street, where the little man alighted, and let
himself in with a latchkey.

"Well, I'm done!" Tommy groaned dismally.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It was well into the marrow of the afternoon when Tommy, divested of his
rags, crept into the smoking room of his club and ordered a whisky and
soda. He was grateful to find the room comparatively deserted, save for
a group of three discussing art in the big bay window. The big boom of
Lucius Farmiloe laying down the law came mistily to Tommy's ears. The
great editor of 'Thought' holding his audience in thrall like the
Ancient Mariner. It was a way that majestic art critic had.

"These amateur collectors are all alike," he said. "A man like Grimstein
thinks he knows everything, because he possesses the money-making
instinct. Oh, I grant you his collection of modern art is a fine one,
but when those chaps come to rely on their own judgment--well, there!"

"Go on--we'll buy it," a listener said wearily.

"Well, it's like this," Farmiloe went on, "Grimstein 'phoned me about
three o'clock to give him a call as he had just got hold of a lot of
early Paradines. Bought 'em from a marine store dealer or something like
that. All rot, because there are no early Paradines knocking about. I
ought to know."

"Course," Gregory of the 'Daily Messenger' agreed. "Paradine was
invented and patented by you. Did you go?"

"What do you think? I knew what I was going to find, my boy. Forgeries.
Still, if Grimstein was anxious to pay my fee as a professional expert,
I was agreeable. So round to Park-street I went without delay."

Tommy Allnatt started. The words 'Park-street' struck on his ears like a
bomb. Beyond a doubt Farmiloe was speaking of the snuffy little man who
had brought the great joke tumbling in ruins about the comedian's head.

"Well, go on," Gregory said. "The plot intrigues me."

"So I went," Farmiloe resumed. "There were six of those things
altogether and it didn't take me long to tell my man just what my
opinion of the rubbish was."

"Then they weren't Paradines at all?"

"Naw," Farmiloe snarled in deep contempt. "Not altogether bad stuff and
not devoid of feeling, but palpable forgeries. The old chap was mad with
me because I refused to be bullied, and we paraded on terms of armed
neutrality. Just as if Paradine ever painted a picture I couldn't trace,
you chaps."

All of which was pleasant hearing for the unhappy Tommy. He sat there
apparently absorbed in a paper whilst he was drinking in every word that
the eminent critic was saying. The great Joke had not only fizzled out,
but the aftermath promised to make Tommy a figure of fun for many a day
to come. And suppose that Grimstein chose to appeal to Caesar himself,
represented in this case by Paradine? If he did, what then? The whole
story would trickle into the popular press--just the kind of thing the
master of pungent paragraphs, one Hannibal Barr, would love to handle in
one of his social columns.

And then, as fate would have it. Barr himself appeared just in time to
gather what Farmiloe was saying.

"Let's have that all over again," he demanded.

Tommy smothered a groan. Unless some miracle happened, he could see
himself the victim of every little street boy in London. But what could
he do? Go to Paradine and make a clean breast of it and invoke his aid.
But then he had always regarded Paradine as little better than a child
in arms in worldly matters, which in point of fact, he was. Or perhaps
Farmiloe himself would help. But he didn't want to go to that superior
person with his patronising pomposity if there was any other way out.
And he didn't want to be laughed at--it is the one thing your practical
Joker all over the world most dreads.

Meanwhile the paragraphist was gleaning what promised to be a rich
harvest of copy from Farmiloe's story. Tommy could almost see the
pungent narrative in print.

"Mean to say the stuff was all junk?" Barr asked when at length Farmiloe
had finished. "Impudent forgeries?"

"Looks like it," Farmiloe said. "Lots of that sort of thing going on.
Traps to catch flats like Grimstein."

"But I thought he was a connoisseur, Farmiloe."

"My dear fellow, they an are. Or think so. But when they start out
buying on their own without consulting experts like myself they usually
come a cropper as Grimstein did today. He was infernally cocksure, but I
think I shook him up a bit. If he gives out to the world that he has
bought a lot of early Paradines on his own judgment and exhibits them,
as he threatened to do, he is asking for it, my boy. Fancy trying to
bluff me into agreeing that that junk is Paradine's work!"

Hannibal Barr's dry chuckle irritated Tommy to the verge of
manslaughter. Here was a rich field for the paragraphist and one on
which Tommy Allnatt would figure as leading character. Nothing else
would be discussed in the club for months.

"Funny chap, Paradine," Barr remarked. "Thorpe of 'The Bacon,' was
chasing him yesterday and ran him to earth in some poisonous eating
house in Soho where he was entertaining a tramp in filthy rags.
Picturesque, murderous-looking bloke, Thorpe said. Picked up in the
gutter by Paradine who was mad to paint him on his native heath, so to
speak. 'Pears that the chap lives in some sort of wood in Surrey and
subsists on roots and mushrooms. So nothing would do but that Paradine
must rush off at once and sketch the unsavory hermit outside his cave.
Last thing Thorpe saw was the two setting out for the wilds."

"The deuce!" Farmiloe exclaimed. "I happen to know that Paradine had an
appointment this very morning with no less a personage than the King of
Asturia."

"In other words, a royal command, what?"

"You've said it. It's like this. About a week ago Paradine was down at
Hurlingham watching the polo and made a sketch of the King in action.
One of Paradine's best, I'm told, though I have not seen it as yet. The
King happened to hear about it and asked to see the drawing. He was so
pleased that he asked Paradine to finish it in pastel for another royal
potentate as a birthday present and the great man was going to the
studio this morning for a final look at the work."

"And Paradine clean forgot it," Barr grinned. "Make a topping story out
of that, what?"

"You'd make a story out of your grandmother's coffin." said Farmiloe
nastily. "Surely you'd never have the cheek----"

"'Fraid not," Barr sighed. "It doesn't pay to bring royalty into tabloid
journalism--editors shy at it. And, anyway, King Pedro is a topping good
sportsman. But I'd like to have seen him this morning being received by
the kitchen maid with the information that Paradine was off indefinitely
in company with a lousy tramp. Bet His Majesty was amused."

A hollow groan rumbled in Tommy's throat. It had come to him with
stunning force that a picture he had sold to the snuffy old gentleman
was one showing a handsome, manly figure in polo kit, A gentle dew
bespangled Tommy's brow.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was a good half-hour later before Tommy contrived to get Farmiloe
into a quiet corner with a view to enlisting the powerful aid of the
distinguished critic in saving the stricken field. But would the arbiter
of art do it?

On the whole Tommy thought that he would. The greatest practical joker
of his time was rarely at a loss to escape the dire consequences of a
miscarried jape, and now that things were at their blackest. Tommy began
to see his way.

"Well, of all the infernal cheek!" Farmiloe cried when at length the
tale was told. "What the deuce----"

"Just a rag," Tommy went on hastily. "Besides, I was a bit biffed at
being done out of my lunch. So I decided to give Paradine a lesson. My
idea was to sit on the pavement trying to sell genuine Paradines at
break up prices, if you get me. But never expectin' to sell one. See the
joke? Set the clubs laughin' like blazes for months, eh?"

"Rotten bad taste," Farmiloe sniffed. "I must decline to interfere. If
it hadn't been for the King of Asturia, perhaps I might ... You are not
seriously suggesting that I should go to Grimstein and bully those
drawings out of him?"

"Well, something like that," Tommy grinned.

The maker of reputations shook his head vigorously.

"Forget it," he snapped. "With a name like mine, my dear Allnatt, with
the great British public depending----"

"I'm not the British public," Tommy smiled, "but a poor devil of a
comedian in a deuced tight place. And doesn't it strike you, pompous
ass, that you are as deep in the soup as I am. If not, then let me
enlighten you."

"Is this a threat?" Farmiloe demanded.

"Something like it, old bird. You are a great man in your own line and
thousands of would-be-intellectuals sit at your feet and eat the
literary oysters peddled monthly by your Review. From your edict one may
judge that Paradine has the half nelson on John, and Orpen on the mat
for the count. And, yet with all your wonderful flair and intuition for
genius, you scoffed at a set of genuine Paradines when Grimstein showed
them to you."

"What precisely do you mean?" Farmiloe stammered.

"Well, haven't I proved it? You, who can feel a Paradine in the dark
actually handled a batch of his work in Grimstein's Park-street house
and laughed them to scorn. Lord, if I wasn't a kind-hearted bloke, I
could bust your wonderful critical reputation sky high in 24 hours."

Farmiloe winced, he saw the red light plainly now.

"What sort of a critic do you call yourself?" Tommy went on pushing his
advantage home. "Granted, you made Paradine, but only to spite Inigo
Chrome. One of the finest bits of logrolling ever put across the public.
And with all your intimate knowledge of the great man's work, you fail
to recognise it when it is actually shoved under your nose. What will
your disciples say when they discover that fact?"

Tommy was feeling on firm ground now. He was the brilliant general who
sees defeat turned to victory.

"But surely," Farmiloe stammered, "you wouldn't----"

"Oh, wouldn't I," Tommy cried viciously. "I don't propose to be laughed
out of London if I can help it. If that is to be my fate then you will
share it, old scout."

Farmiloe was beginning to see the point of the argument. Tommy lost no
time in ramming it home.

"You laughed in old Grimstein's face. You insulted his judgment and
touched his pocket. Then you came here to boast about it. Before
Hannibal Barr, mind. London's premier paragraph gossip. If only he
realises the real truth! My boy, you will never hear the last of it
unless you manage to bluff Grimstein and get hold of those pictures
before Paradine gets back to his studio. Make Grimstein realise that he
has been had by some practical joker who laid a plant to catch him. Say
that you have been making exhaustive inquiries, and, by a lucky chance,
hit on the authors of the jape. Say you forced the truth out of the
rascals and managed to get the money paid for the sketches back. If you
fail to do that, then we are both up to our necks in it. And here's the
notes Grimstein gave me this morning."

"You think it would work?" the unhappy Farmiloe gulped.

"Of course," Tommy said. "You have been a bluffer all your life, and it
will come easy. Pose as the saviour of Grimstein's reputation as a judge
of paintings. Condole with him, kiss him if you like. But, for heaven's
sake, get those pictures back. And get them back now."

Farmiloe was moved at last.

"You little blighter," he snarled, speaking, for once, like an ordinary
human being. "You little blighter, this stunt of yours has landed me in
a nice mess. Not that I am entirely blameless in the matter."

"Blameless!" Tommy laughed. "Hoist with your own petard, as Bill
Shakespeare says. Now get on with it."

"At once," Farmiloe said, quite meekly. "Stay here till I get back. Hi,
waiter, call me up a taxi."

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

An hour later Farmiloe was back in the club with a bulky parcel under
his arm, and, without a word, dragged Tommy into his waiting taxi and
thence to Paradine's studio. And that was how a great scandal was
averted, and Tommy Allnatt's face saved.



THE END


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