THE COXON FUND
THE COXON FUND
"They've got him for life!" I said to myself that evening on my way
back to the station; but later on alone in the compartment (from
Wimbledon to Waterloo before the glory of the District Railway) I
amended this declaration in the light of the sense that my friends
would probably after all not enjoy a monopoly of Mr. Saltram. I
won't pretend to have taken his vast measure on that first
occasion but I think I had achieved a glimpse of what the
privilege of his acquaintance might mean for many persons in the
way of charges accepted. He had been a great experience and it
was this perhaps that had put me into the frame of foreseeing how
we should all sooner or later have the honour of dealing with him
as a whole. Whatever impression I then received of the amount of
this total I had a full enough vision of the patience of the
Mulvilles. He was to stay all the winter: Adelaide dropped it in
a tone that drew the sting from the inevitable emphasis. These
excellent people might indeed have been content to give the circle
of hospitality a diameter of six months; but if they didn't say he
was to stay all summer as well it was only because this was more
than they ventured to hope. I remember that at dinner that evening
he wore slippers new and predominantly purple of some queer
carpet-stuff; but the Mulvilles were still in the stage of
supposing that he might be snatched from them by higher bidders.
At a later time they grew poor dears to fear no snatching; but
theirs was a fidelity which needed no help from competition to make
them proud. Wonderful indeed as when all was said you inevitably
pronounced Frank Saltram it was not to be overlooked that the Kent
Mulvilles were in their way still more extraordinary: as striking
an instance as could easily be encountered of the familiar truth
that remarkable men find remarkable conveniences.
They had sent for me from Wimbledon to come out and dine and there
had been an implication in Adelaide's note--judged by her notes
alone she might have been thought silly--that it was a case in
which something momentous was to be determined or done. I had
never known them not be in a "state" about somebody and I dare say
I tried to be droll on this point in accepting their invitation.
On finding myself in the presence of their latest discovery I had
not at first felt irreverence droop--and thank heaven I have
never been absolutely deprived of that alternative in Mr. Saltram's
company. I saw however--I hasten to declare it--that compared to
this specimen their other phoenixes had been birds of
inconsiderable feather and I afterwards took credit to myself for
not having even in primal bewilderments made a mistake about the
essence of the man. He had an incomparable gift; I never was blind
to it--it dazzles me still. It dazzles me perhaps even more in
remembrance than in fact for I'm not unaware that for so rare a
subject the imagination goes to some expense inserting a jewel
here and there or giving a twist to a plume. How the art of
portraiture would rejoice in this figure if the art of portraiture
had only the canvas! Nature in truth had largely rounded it and
if memory hovering about it sometimes holds her breath this is
because the voice that comes back was really golden.
Though the great man was an inmate and didn't dress he kept dinner
on this occasion waiting and the first words he uttered on coming
into the room were an elated announcement to Mulville that he had
found out something. Not catching the allusion and gaping
doubtless a little at his face I privately asked Adelaide what he
had found out. I shall never forget the look she gave me as she
replied: "Everything!" She really believed it. At that moment
at any rate he had found out that the mercy of the Mulvilles was
infinite. He had previously of course discovered as I had myself
for that matter that their dinners were soignes. Let me not
indeed in saying this neglect to declare that I shall falsify my
counterfeit if I seem to hint that there was in his nature any
ounce of calculation. He took whatever came but he never plotted
for it and no man who was so much of an absorbent can ever have
been so little of a parasite. He had a system of the universe but
he had no system of sponging--that was quite hand-to-mouth. He had
fine gross easy senses but it was not his good-natured appetite
that wrought confusion. If he had loved us for our dinners we
could have paid with our dinners and it would have been a great
economy of finer matter. I make free in these connexions with the
plural possessive because if I was never able to do what the
Mulvilles did and people with still bigger houses and simpler
charities I met first and last every demand of reflexion of
emotion--particularly perhaps those of gratitude and of resentment.
No one I think paid the tribute of giving him up so often and if
it's rendering honour to borrow wisdom I've a right to talk of my
sacrifices. He yielded lessons as the sea yields fish--I lived for
a while on this diet. Sometimes it almost appeared to me that his
massive monstrous failure--if failure after all it was--had been
designed for my private recreation. He fairly pampered my
curiosity; but the history of that experience would take me too
far. This is not the large canvas I just now spoke of and I
wouldn't have approached him with my present hand had it been a
question of all the features. Frank Saltram's features for
artistic purposes are verily the anecdotes that are to be
gathered. Their name is legion and this is only one of which the
interest is that it concerns even more closely several other
persons. Such episodes as one looks back are the little dramas
that made up the innumerable facets of the big drama--which is yet
to be reported.
It is furthermore remarkable that though the two stories are
distinct--my own as it were and this other--they equally began
in a manner the first night of my acquaintance with Frank Saltram
the night I came back from Wimbledon so agitated with a new sense
of life that in London for the very thrill of it I could only
walk home. Walking and swinging my stick I overtook at
Buckingham Gate George Gravener and George Gravener's story may
be said to have begun with my making him as our paths lay
together come home with me for a talk. I duly remember let me
parenthesise that it was still more that of another person and
also that several years were to elapse before it was to extend to a
second chapter. I had much to say to him none the less about my
visit to the Mulvilles whom he more indifferently knew and I was
at any rate so amusing that for long afterwards he never
encountered me without asking for news of the old man of the sea.
I hadn't said Mr. Saltram was old and it was to be seen that he
was of an age to outweather George Gravener. I had at that time a
lodging in Ebury Street and Gravener was staying at his brother's
empty house in Eaton Square. At Cambridge five years before even
in our devastating set his intellectual power had seemed to me
almost awful. Some one had once asked me privately with blanched
cheeks what it was then that after all such a mind as that left
standing. "It leaves itself!" I could recollect devoutly replying.
I could smile at present for this remembrance since before we got
to Ebury Street I was struck with the fact that save in the sense
of being well set up on his legs George Gravener had actually
ceased to tower. The universe he laid low had somehow bloomed
again--the usual eminences were visible. I wondered whether he had
lost his humour or only dreadful thought had never had any--not
even when I had fancied him most Aristophanesque. What was the
need of appealing to laughter however I could enviously enquire
where you might appeal so confidently to measurement? Mr.
Saltram's queer figure his thick nose and hanging lip were fresh
to me: in the light of my old friend's fine cold symmetry they
presented mere success in amusing as the refuge of conscious
ugliness. Already at hungry twenty-six Gravener looked as blank
and parliamentary as if he were fifty and popular. In my scrap of
a residence--he had a worldling's eye for its futile conveniences
but never a comrade's joke--I sounded Frank Saltram in his ears; a
circumstance I mention in order to note that even then I was
surprised at his impatience of my enlivenment. As he had never
before heard of the personage it took indeed the form of impatience
of the preposterous Mulvilles his relation to whom like mine had
had its origin in an early a childish intimacy with the young
Adelaide the fruit of multiplied ties in the previous generation.
When she married Kent Mulville who was older than Gravener and I
and much more amiable I gained a friend but Gravener practically
lost one. We reacted in different ways from the form taken by what
he called their deplorable social action--the form (the term was
also his) of nasty second-rate gush. I may have held in my 'for
interieur' that the good people at Wimbledon were beautiful fools
but when he sniffed at them I couldn't help taking the opposite
line for I already felt that even should we happen to agree it
would always be for reasons that differed. It came home to me that
he was admirably British as without so much as a sociable sneer at
my bookbinder he turned away from the serried rows of my little
"Of course I've never seen the fellow but it's clear enough he's a
"Clear 'enough' is just what it isn't" I replied; "if it only
were!" That ejaculation on my part must have been the beginning of
what was to be later a long ache for final frivolous rest.
Gravener was profound enough to remark after a moment that in the
first place he couldn't be anything but a Dissenter and when I
answered that the very note of his fascination was his
extraordinary speculative breadth my friend retorted that there was
no cad like your cultivated cad and that I might depend upon
discovering--since I had had the levity not already to have
enquired--that my shining light proceeded a generation back from
a Methodist cheesemonger. I confess I was struck with his
insistence and I said after reflexion: "It may be--I admit it
may be; but why on earth are you so sure?"--asking the question
mainly to lay him the trap of saying that it was because the poor
man didn't dress for dinner. He took an instant to circumvent my
trap and come blandly out the other side.
"Because the Kent Mulvilles have invented him. They've an
infallible hand for frauds. All their geese are swans. They were
born to be duped they like it they cry for it they don't know
anything from anything and they disgust one--luckily perhaps!--
with Christian charity." His vehemence was doubtless an accident
but it might have been a strange foreknowledge. I forget what
protest I dropped; it was at any rate something that led him to go
on after a moment: "I only ask one thing--it's perfectly simple.
Is a man in a given case a real gentleman?"
"A real gentleman my dear fellow--that's so soon said!"
"Not so soon when he isn't! If they've got hold of one this time
he must be a great rascal!"
"I might feel injured" I answered "if I didn't reflect that they
don't rave about ME."
"Don't be too sure! I'll grant that he's a gentleman" Gravener
presently added "if you'll admit that he's a scamp."
"I don't know which to admire most your logic or your
My friend coloured at this but he didn't change the subject.
"Where did they pick him up?"
"I think they were struck with something he had published."
"I can fancy the dreary thing!"
"I believe they found out he had all sorts of worries and
"That of course wasn't to be endured so they jumped at the
privilege of paying his debts!" I professed that I knew nothing
about his debts and I reminded my visitor that though the dear
Mulvilles were angels they were neither idiots nor millionaires.
What they mainly aimed at was reuniting Mr. Saltram to his wife.
"I was expecting to hear he has basely abandoned her" Gravener
went on at this "and I'm too glad you don't disappoint me."
I tried to recall exactly what Mrs. Mulville had told me. "He
didn't leave her--no. It's she who has left him."
"Left him to US?" Gravener asked. "The monster--many thanks! I