P G Wodehouse – The Man Upstairs, 1910

“It must be great to be able to do things—artistic things, I mean, like composing.”

“Well, you do, don’t you? You paint.”

The young man shook his head with a cheerful grin.

“I fancy,” he said, “I should make a pretty good housepainter. I want scope. Canvas seems to cramp me.”

It seemed to cause him no discomfort. He appeared rather amused than otherwise.

“Let me look.”

She crossed over to the easel.

“I shouldn’t,” he warned her. “You really want to? Is this not mere recklessness? Very well, then.”

To the eye of an experienced critic the picture would certainly have seemed crude. It was a study of a dark-eyed child holding a large black cat. Statisticians estimate that there is no moment during the day when one or more young artists somewhere on the face of the globe are not painting pictures of children holding cats.

“I call it ‘Child and Cat,’ ” said the young man. “Rather a neat title, don’t you think? Gives you the main idea of the thing right away. That,” he explained, pointing obligingly with the stem of his pipe, “is the cat.”

Annette belonged to that large section of the public which likes or dislikes a picture according to whether its subject happens to please or displease them. Probably there was not one of the million or so child- and-cat eyesores at present in existence which she would not have liked. Besides, he had been very nice about her music.

“I think it’s splendid,” she announced.

The young man’s face displayed almost more surprise than joy.

“Do you really?” he said. “Then I can die happy—that is, if you’ll let me come down and listen to those songs of yours first.”

“You would only knock on the floor,” objected Annette.

“I’ll never knock on another floor as long as I live,” said the ex-brute, reassuringly. “I hate knocking on floors. I don’t see what people want to knock on floors for, anyway.”

Friendships ripen quickly in Chelsea. Within the space of an hour and a quarter Annette had learned that the young man’s name was Alan Beverley (for which Family Heraldic affliction she pitied rather than despised him), that he did not depend entirely on his work for a living, having a little money of his own, and that he considered this a fortunate thing. From the very beginning of their talk he pleased her. She found him an absolutely new and original variety of the unsuccessful painter. Unlike Reginald Sellers, who had a studio in the same building, and sometimes dropped in to drink her coffee and pour out his troubles, he did not attribute his nonsuccess to any malice or stupidity on the part of the public. She was so used to hearing Sellers lash the Philistine and hold forth on unappreciated merit that she could hardly believe the miracle when, in answer to a sympathetic bromide on the popular lack of taste in Art, Beverley replied that, as far as he was concerned, the public showed strong good sense. If he had been striving with every nerve to win her esteem, he could not have done it more surely than with that one remark. Though she invariably listened with a sweet patience which encouraged them to continue long after the point at which she had begun in spirit to throw things at them, Annette had no sympathy with men who whined. She herself was a fighter. She hated as much as anyone the sickening blows which Fate hands out to the struggling and ambitious; but she never made them the basis of a monologue act. Often, after a dreary trip round the offices of the music-publishers, she would howl bitterly in secret, and even gnaw her pillow in the watches of the night; but in public her pride kept her unvaryingly bright and cheerful.

P G Wodehouse, 1881-1975

The Man Upstairs, 1910

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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