I told him what it was, and he hoisted up his shoulders.
“And these things?” he asked, moving to something else.
They were a pair of boot-trees of which I had permitted myself the economy. I remember they cost me four shillings in the old Brompton Road.
“And that’s your bath, I suppose.... Dumb-bells too.... And—oh, good Lord!...”
He had picked up, and dropped again as if it had been hot, somebody or other’s card with the date of a “day” written across the corner of it....
As I helped him on with his overcoat he made no secret of the condition of its armholes and lining. I don’t for one moment suppose that the garment was his. I took a candle to light him down as soon as it should please him to depart.
“Well, so long, and joy to you on the high road to success,” he said with another grin for which I could have bundled him down the stairs....
In later days I never looked to Andriaovsky for tact; but I stared at him for his lack of it that night. And as I stared I noticed for the first time the broad and low pylon of his forehead, his handsome mouth and chin, and the fire and wit and scorn that smouldered behind his cheap spectacles. I looked again; and his smallness, his malice, his pathetic little braggings about his poverty, seemed all to disappear. He had strolled back to my hearthrug, wishing, I have no doubt now, to be able to exclaim suddenly that it was too late for the pint of beer for which he hadn’t the money, and to curse his luck; and the pigmy quality of his colossusship had somehow gone.
As I watched him, a neighbouring clock struck the half-hour, and he did even as I had surmised—cursed the closing time of the English public-houses....
I lighted him down. For one moment, under the hall gas, he almost dropped his jesting manner.
“You do know better, Harrison, you know,” he said. “But, of course, you’re going to be a famous author in almost no time. Oh, ca se voit! No garrets for you! It was a treat,’ the way you handled those fellows—really ... Well don’t forget us others when you’re up there—I may want you to write my ‘Life’ some day....”
I heard the slapping of the loose sole as he shuffled down the path. At the gate he turned for a moment.
“Good night, Brutus,” he called.
When I had mounted to my garret again my eyes fell once more on that ridiculous assemblage of empty chairs, all solemnly talking to one another. I burst out into a laugh. Then I undressed, put my jacket on the hanger, took the morrow’s boots from the trees and treed those I had removed, changed the pair of trousers under my mattress, and went, still laughing at the chairs, to bed.
This was Michael Andriaovsky, the Polish painter, who died four weeks ago.