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The Satyr by Barry Pain

 

Myra Larose was a good governess, capable, and highly certificated.

At Salston Hill School they rewarded her services with forty pounds per annum, and board and lodging during term-time. She had often been fortunate enough to secure private pupils for the holidays, and she knew a stationer who bought hand-painted Christmas cards. At the end of four years' work she had thirty-five pounds saved and in the Post Office. And then Aunt Jane, the last of her relatives, died, and left her a fine two hundred and fifty. This meant another ten pounds per annum.

Things were not so bad, but they did not, of course, justify the very mad idea that came into her pretty head—a head that, so far, had proved itself sane and practical.

The girls of the school considered that Miss Larose was strict but just, and that she had nice eyes. The principal, Mrs Dewlop, when prostrate from the horrible Davenant scandal, had declared that she would never think highly of any human being again; but she did think highly of Myra, even to the extent of considering the possibility of an increase of salary. Myra's fellow-teachers thought her sensible, and chaffed her mildly at times about her economies and her accumulation of wealth. No one would have supposed her capable of anything wild and extravagant.

Possibly a book that she had been reading put the idea into her head. Then there was the accident that nearly all her clothes were new simultaneously. Her eyes fell on the advertisement which showed her the advantages of hiring a petrol landaulet by the day in London. Thoughts of the theatre swam into her head. She loved the theatre, and had not been in one for years. She might lunch at the Ritz. She might deny herself nothing—for one day. Grey routine and miserable economies suddenly found her insurgent. Yes, she would have one great day—one day during which she would live at the rate of two thousand a year.

So, on one splendid morning, at the station of her northern suburb, she had occasion to be severe with the booking-clerk. (“I said first return—not third. You should pay more attention.”) She bought a sixpenny periodical to read on the way up, and when she reached King's Cross she deliberately left the valuable magazine in the carriage behind her. That struck the high, reckless note. How often had she nursed a halfpenny paper through the whole of a traffic-distracted day that she might read the feuilleton at night!

“Taxi, miss?” suggested the porter when he had ascertained that she had no luggage.

“I think not,” said Myra. “I believe my car's waiting for me.” She felt that she had said it perfectly—without obvious pleasure, and without that air of intense languor that is always accepted on the stage as indicative of aristocracy, and never seen elsewhere.

She could tell the porter how to recognise the car—information supplied to her by the company from whom she had hired it—and the porter brought it up for her. Her first thought was that it looked splendid. Her second thought was that beyond a doubt she had recognised the face of the liveried driver.

She gave the porter a shilling, and sent him away. (Her usual tips for porters had varied from nothing to twopence, with a preference for the former.) Then she turned to the driver, a young man, with a handsome, clean-shaven face and dark, rebellious eyes.

“I know you,” she said. “You are Mr Davenant.”

“Quite true, Miss Larose. But that need make no difference. You have bought my services for the day, you know. You will find me just as attentive and respectful as any other servant. Where to, miss?”

“No, no. I want to talk to you. I must. Oh, it's too awful that you should have come down to this. Mrs Dewlop must have been vindictive indeed.”

“She was certainly angry.” He smiled reminiscently—he had a charming smile. “She had every right to be.”

“Look here,” she said impulsively, “what is to prevent you from lunching with me?”

“Your plans for the day—this car—and, for the matter of that, my clothes.”

“I have no appointments, and no fixed plans. I was going to amuse myself just anyhow. I shall like this far better. Oh, can't you arrange it for me?”

“I should like it, too, and I can arrange it all very easily if you don't mind waiting half an hour.”

“Of course I'll wait—wait here, if you like.”

“You would find the National Gallery more interesting, and I can take you there in a few minutes.”

“Yes, that's better. Thanks awfully. This is splendid.”

At the National Gallery she looked at certain pictures with appreciative intelligence. Then she sat down and half-closed her eyes, and saw a picture from the gallery of her memory.

It was the big classroom at Salston Hill School. At one end of the room Myra Larose took the elementary class in drawing. At the other end, much older girls took the lesson in advanced drawing from a master who was, as the prospectus stated, an exhibitor at the Royal Academy. His name was Hilary Davenant, and in the bills he was charged extra. The older girls were ten in number, and were provided with easels, charcoal, and stumps. They formed the circumference of a circle of which the centre was a life-size cast with a blackboard adjacent.

Myra watched as she saw Davenant going from one drawing-board to another, and noted the waning of patience and the growth of irritation. He went to the blackboard and addressed the entire class on the anatomy of the hand, illustrating his remarks by rapid drawings on the blackboard. They were admirable drawings in their way—swift, right, certain, slick. And suddenly he flung the chalk to the floor and spake with his tongue. He also used gesture—a foreign and reprehensible practice.

“You poor, silly idiots! Not one of you will ever do it, except perhaps Miss Stenson. And if you did, it wouldn't be the real thing.” He checked himself, and went on in a nice, suave schoolmaster's voice. “I was joking, of course. As I said, this cast presents considerable difficulties to some of you. But you must face your difficulties and overcome them. You must not let yourselves be discouraged.” And so on.

Dora Stenson, aged sixteen, blushed and put her hand over her eyes. The other pupils smiled in a weak, wan way. They had been told that it was a joke, and they believed everything they were told, and did their best. At the other end of the room Myra Larose developed a good deal of interest in Hilary Davenant.

An incident which occurred two days later formed another picture in the memory-gallery. Myra, with other assistants, had been summoned with every circumstance of solemnity to the principal's private study.

“I have to inform you, ladies,” said Mrs Dewlop, “that owing to circumstances which have come to my knowledge, I have been compelled to dismiss Mr H. Davenant at a moment's notice.” She readjusted her pince-nez, and her refined face squirmed. “Mr Davenant is not a man: he is a satyr. I have sufficiently indicated the nature of his offence, which he admitted; and I do not care to dwell upon the subject further. This has been a great shock to me. One can only hope in time to live it down. That,” she added tragically, “is all.”

It had happened six months before, and at the time had filled Myra with curiosity and also with a touch of horror. Was it wise of her to make appointments with a man who had been so described? Had not her feeling of compassion for an old colleague—one, moreover, whom she had found sympathetic—carried her too far? This was not at all the kind of thing she had come out to do. But—well, she had done it. And if the satyr added punctuality to his other vices, he would be waiting outside for her.

He was there. He had changed his car as well as his clothes. He did not look poor. He looked as if he owned that car and a good deal of the rest of the earth.

“I hope you don't mind,” he said. “I thought this open car might be useful. If you would be kind enough to take the seat beside me we could talk as we go. I thought, as it was such a ripping morning, you might like to drive into the country somewhere for lunch. But that must be just as you like, of course.”

“It is exactly what I like. Let's see. We've got lots of time before lunch. You shall choose where we go.”

“If you don't mind lunching a little late, we might do Brighton.”

“Yes, we lunch at Brighton,” she said decisively. The spirit of adventure was hot within her. She had meant the day to be rather exciting. It was more than fulfilling expectations.

As they crawled through the traffic she asked him how he had persuaded his firm to let her have the open car instead of the other. She was told that it was the policy of his people to oblige a customer in every possible way, and that they had made no trouble. Then she spoke of things she had seen at the National Gallery, and found him just as enthusiastic about art as she had done once in the old days at the school, when chance gave them a few minutes' talk together. But it was not till they sat at lunch in a good little hotel overlooking the sea that they became confidential.

“I gather,” he said, “that you knew that Mrs Dewlop sacked me.”

“She told all of us.”

“Did she say why?”

“Not exactly. She said that you were a satyr. I—I didn't believe that.”

“Well, I'll tell you exactly what I did. I kissed Dora Stenson.”

This was a blow. “I don't think I want to hear about it,” said Myra coldly.

“It's all very well,” said Davenant mournfully, “but I'd had very little experience as a teacher. What do you do yourself when a girl begins to cry?”

“If she's quite a child, I try to comfort her. If it's one of the older girls, I tell her that I dislike hysteria, and that she had better go away until she has recovered. But it rarely happens with the older girls. What made Dora Stenson cry?”

“All my own fault—the whole thing. You know the beauties I had to teach. Dora was the only one that had any gift. As for the rest, you might as well have tried to teach blind pigs to draw. What was the consequence? I gave Dora most of the teaching, and I was harder on her than I was on the others. I judged her by a different standard, and I drove her as hard as I could. Well, one day, at the end of the hour, she brought me up some bad work. She'd taken no trouble. It was rotten. All the same, if any of the others had shown me anything nearly as good, I should have been more than satisfied. As it was Dora, I lost my wool and told her what I thought. Classes were dismissed. You went out. I was left alone in the room. Back came Dora to pick up some truck she'd left behind, and she was crying—crying like anything. Well, I couldn't stand it. I'd never meant to be a brute, and there was that girl—very pretty she is, too—crying like anything. I began to talk to her, and, before I knew where I was, I had kissed her. I'm making a clean breast of the whole thing—I kissed her two or three times.”

Miss Myra Larose, who had not wanted to hear about it, had listened with breathless interest, and now put in a shrewd question.

“And did Dora kiss you?”

“As I was saying, where I was wrong was in—”

“All right, I know. If she had not kissed you, you would have said so. But, seeing that she did kiss you, why on earth did she complain to Mrs Dewlop?”

“She never did. She wrote a letter to a girl friend of hers, and left it lying about. Mrs Dewlop read it. Now, what do you think?”

Myra considered a moment. “I think,” she said deliberately, “that Dora was a braggart, and that Mrs Dewlop was a sneak, and—er—not very wise, and that you——”

“Do you also think me a satyr?”

“Of course not. You were all wrong, but you were just a baby.”

He gave a sigh of relief.

“It makes me angry,” said Myra impulsively. “What right had that woman to ruin you, and turn you into a cab-driver?”

“I must explain further. It is true that she refused me any kind of a character, and that my teaching career was closed. But I am not exactly a cab-driver. When I was turned out I had to give up the idea of making a living by art. I could no longer teach, and modern pictures sell seldom and badly. But I had another string to my bow. I understand motors, and I had had plenty of driving experience. An uncle of mine is in the motor business to some considerable extent. Amongst other things, he is a director and principal share-holder in the company from which you hired your car. He has often asked me to join him, and now I did so. He is a thorough sort of man, and he insisted that I should go through every side. I've washed cars; for three months I was an ordinary mechanic; I've been in the office; the last few weeks I've been driving these privately let cars, and picking up some interesting information as to the amount of tips that the drivers get. Next week I shall be a manager. Well, now, I saw your order when it came in. I remembered you very well—very well, indeed. I determined to drive you myself—to be your good servant, if that was all that was possible, but to be as much more as you would let me be.”

As the car purred smoothly through the dusk in the direction of the northern suburb where Myra had her inexpensive lodging, Davenant said: “Then you will give notice that you leave at the end of next term, darling?”

And she said: “Yes, dearest.”