False Dawn, by Edith Wharton

6.

MR. RAYCIE stood silent for a long time after making the round of the room in the Canal Street house where the unpacked pictures had been set out.

He had driven to town alone with Lewis, sternly rebuffing his daughters’ timid hints, and Mrs. Raycie’s mute but visible yearning to accompany him. Though the gout was over he was till weak and irritable, and Mrs. Raycie, fluttered at the thought of “crossing him,” had swept the girls away at his first frown.

Lewis’s hopes rose as he followed his parent’s limping progress. The pictures, though standing on chairs and tables, and set clumsily askew to catch the light, bloomed out of the half-dusk of the empty house with a new and persuasive beauty. Ah, how right he had been — how inevitable that his father should own it!

Mr. Raycie halted in the middle of the room. He was still silent, and his face, so quick to frown and glare, wore the calm, almost expressionless look known to Lewis as the mask of inward perplexity. “Oh, of course it will take a little time,” the son thought, tingling with the eagerness of youth.

At last, Mr. Raycie woke the echoes by clearing his throat; but the voice which issued from it was as inexpressive as his face. “It is singular,” he said, “how little the best copies of the Old Masters resemble the originals. For these ARE Originals?” he questioned, suddenly swinging about on Lewis.

“Oh, absolutely, sir! Besides — ” The young man was about to add: “No one would ever have taken the trouble to copy them” — but hastily checked himself.

“Besides —?”

“I meant, I had the most competent advice obtainable.”

“So I assume; since it was the express condition on which I authorised your purchases.”

Lewis felt himself shrinking and his father expanding; but he sent a glance along the wall, and beauty shed her reviving beam on him.

Mr. Raycie’s brows projected ominously; but his face remained smooth and dubious. Once more he cast a slow glance about him.

“Let us,” he said pleasantly, “begin with the Raphael.” And it was evident that he did not know which way to turn.

“Oh, sir, a Raphael nowadays — I warned you it would be far beyond my budget.”

Mr. Raycie’s face fell slightly. “I had hoped nevertheless . . . for an inferior specimen . . . ” Then with an effort: “The Sassoferrato, then.”

Lewis felt more at his ease; he even ventured a respectful smile. “Sassoferrato is ALL inferior, isn’t he? The fact is, he no longer stands . . . quite as he used to . . . ”

Mr. Raycie stood motionless: his eyes were vacuously fixed on the nearest picture.

“Sassoferrato . . . no longer . . .?”

“Well, sir, NO; not for a collection of this quality.”

Lewis saw that he had at last struck the right note. Something large and uncomfortable appeared to struggle in Mr. Raycie’s throat; then he gave a cough which might almost have been said to cast out Sassoferrato.

There was another pause before he pointed with his stick to a small picture representing a snub-nosed young woman with a high forehead and jewelled coif, against a background of delicately interwoven columbines. “Is THAT,” he questioned, “your Carlo Dolce? The style is much the same, I see; but it seems to me lacking in his peculiar sentiment.”

“Oh, but it’s not a Carlo Dolce: it’s a Piero della Francesca, sir!” burst in triumph from the trembling Lewis.

His father sternly faced him. “It’s a COPY, you mean? I thought so!”

“No, no; not a copy, it’s by a great painter . . . a much greater . . . ”

Mr. Raycie had reddened sharply at his mistake. To conceal his natural annoyance he assumed a still more silken manner. “In that case,” he said, “I think I should like to see the inferior painters first. Where IS the Carlo Dolce?”

“There IS no Carlo Dolce,” said Lewis, white to the lips.

The young man’s next distinct recollection was of standing, he knew not how long afterward, before the armchair in which his father had sunk down, almost as white and shaken as himself.

“This,” stammered Mr. Raycie, “this is going to bring back my gout . . . ” But when Lewis entreated: “Oh, sir, do let us drive back quietly to the country, and give me a chance later to explain . . . to put my case” . . . the old gentleman had struck through the pleading with a furious wave of his stick.

“Explain later? Put your case later? It’s just what I insist upon your doing here and now!” And Mr. Raycie added hoarsely, and as if in actual physical anguish: “I understand that young John Huzzard returned from Rome last week with a Raphael.”

After that, Lewis heard himself — as if with the icy detachment of a spectator — marshalling his arguments, pleading the cause he hoped his pictures would have pleaded for him, dethroning the old Powers and Principalities, and setting up these new names in their place. It was first of all the names that stuck in Mr. Raycie’s throat: after spending a life-time committing to memory the correct pronunciation of words like Lo Spagnoletto and Giulio Romano, it was bad enough, his wrathful eyes seemed to say, to have to begin a new set of verbal gymnastics before you could be sure of saying to a friend with careless accuracy: “And THIS is my Giotto da Bondone.”

But that was only the first shock, soon forgotten in the rush of greater tribulation. For one might conceivably learn how to pronounced Giotto da Bondone, and even enjoy doing so, provided the friend in question recognized the name and bowed to its authority. But to have your effort received by a blank stare, and the playful request: “You’ll have to say that over again, please” — to know that, in going the round of the gallery (the Raycie Gallery!) the same stare and the same request were likely to be repeated before each picture; the bitterness of this was so great that Mr. Raycie, without exaggeration, might have likened his case to that of Agag.

“God! God! God! Carpatcher, you say this other fellow’s called? Kept him back till the last because it’s the gem of the collection, did you? Carpatcher — well, he’d have done better to stick to his trade. Something to do with those new European steam-cars, I suppose, eh?” Mr. Raycie was so incensed that his irony was less subtle than usual. “And Angelico you say did that kind of Noah’s Ark soldier in pink armour on gold leaf? Well, THERE I’ve caught you tripping, my boy. Not AngelicO, AngelicA; Angelica Kauffman was a lady. And the damned swindler who foisted that barbarous daub on you as a picture of hers deserves to be drawn and quartered — and shall be, sir, by God, if the law can reach him! He shall disgorge every penny he’s rooked you out of, or my name’s not Halston Raycie! A bargain . . . you say the thing was a BARGAIN? Why, the price of a clean postage stamp would be too dear for it! God — my son; do you realize you had a TRUST to carry out?”

“Yes, sir, yes; and it’s just because — ”

“You might have written; you might at least have placed your views before me . . . ”

How could Lewis say: “If I had, I knew you’d have refused to let me buy the pictures?” He could only stammer: “I DID allude to the revolution in taste . . . new names coming up . . . you may remember . . . ”

“Revolution! New names! Who says so? I had a letter last week from the London dealers to whom I especially recommended you, telling me that an undoubted Guido Reni was coming into the market this summer.”

“Oh, the dealers — THEY don’t know!”

“The dealers . . . don’t? . . . Who does . . . except yourself?” Mr. Raycie pronounced in a white sneer.

Lewis, as white, still held his ground. “I wrote you, sir, about my friends; in Italy, and afterward in England.”

“Well, God damn it, I never heard of one of THEIR names before, either; no more’n of these painters of yours here. I supplied you with the names of all the advisers you needed, and all the painters, too; I all but made the collection for you myself, before you started . . . I was explicit enough, in all conscience, wasn’t I?”

Lewis smiled faintly. “That’s what I hoped the pictures would be . . . ”

“What? Be what? What’d you mean?”

“Be explicit . . . Speak for themselves . . . make you see that their painters are already superseding some of the better known . . . ”

Mr. Raycie gave an awful laugh. “They are, are they?” In whose estimation? Your friends’, I suppose. What’s the name, again, of that fellow you met in Italy, who picked ’em out for you?”

“Ruskin — John Ruskin,” said Lewis.

Mr. Raycie’s laugh, prolonged, gathered up into itself a fresh shower of expletives. “Ruskin — Ruskin — just plain John Ruskin, eh? And who IS this great John Ruskin, who sets God A’mighty right in his judgments? Who’d you say John Ruskin’s father was, now?”

“A respected wine-merchant in London, sir.”

Mr. Raycie ceased to laugh: he looked at his son with an expression of unutterable disgust.

“Retail?”

“I . . . believe so . . . ”

“Faugh!” said Mr. Raycie.

“It wasn’t only Ruskin, father . . . I told you of those other friends in London, whom I met on the way home. They inspected the pictures, and all of them agreed that . . . that the collection would some day be very valuable.”

“SOME DAY— did they give you a date . . . the month and the year? Ah, those other friends; yes. You said there was a Mr. Brown and a Mr. Hunt and a Mr. Rossiter, was it? Well, I never heard of any of those names either — except perhaps in a trades’ directory.”

“It’s not Rossiter, father: Dante Rossetti.”

“Excuse me: Rossetti. And what does Mr. Dante Rossetti’s father do? Sell macaroni, I presume?”

Lewis was silent, and Mr. Raycie went on, speaking now with a deadly steadiness: “The friends I sent you to were judges of art, sir; men who know what a picture’s worth; not one of ’em but could pick out a genuine Raphael. Couldn’t you find ’em when you got to England? Or hadn’t they the time to spare for you? You’d better not,” Mr. Raycie added, “tell me THAT, for I know how they’d have received your father’s son.”

“Oh, most kindly . . . they did indeed, sir . . . ”

“Ay; but that didn’t suit you. You didn’t WANT to be advised. You wanted to show off before a lot of ignoramuses like yourself. You wanted — how’d I know what you wanted? It’s as if I’d never given you an instruction or laid a charge on you! And the money — God! Where’d it go to? Buying THIS? Nonsense — .” Mr. Raycie raised himself heavily on his stick and fixed his angry eyes on his son. “Own up, Lewis; tell me they got it out of you at cards. Professional gamblers the lot, I make no doubt; your Ruskin and your Morris and your Rossiter. Make a business to pick up young American greenhorns on their travels, I daresay . . . No? Not that, you say? Then — women? God A’mighty, Lewis,” gasped Mr. Raycie, tottering toward his son with outstretched stick, “I’m no blue-nosed Puritan, sir, and I’d a damn sight rather you told me you’d spent it on a woman, every penny of it, than let yourself be fleeced like a simpleton, buying these things that look more like cuts out o’ Foxe’s book of Martyrs than Originals of the Old Masters for a Gentleman’s Gallery . . . Youth’s youth . . . Gad, sir, I’ve been young myself . . . a fellow’s got to go through his apprenticeship . . . Own up now: women?”

“Oh, not women — ”

“Not even!” Mr. Raycie groaned. “All in pictures, then? Well, say no more to me now . . . I’ll get home, I’ll get home . . . ” He cast a last apoplectic glance about the room. “The Raycie Gallery! That pack of bones and mummers’ finery! . . . Why, let alone the rest, there’s not a full-bodied female among ’em . . . Do you know what those Madonna’s of yours are like, my son? Why, there ain’t one of ’em that don’t remind me of a bad likeness of poor Treeshy Kent . . . I should say you’d hired half the sign-painters of Europe to do her portrait for you — if you could imagine your wanting it . . . No, sir! I don’t need your arm,” Mr. Raycie snarled, heaving his great bulk painfully across the hall. He withered Lewis with a last look from the doorstep. “And to buy THAT you overdrew your account? — No, I’ll drive home alone.”

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30