The Dancer’s Son
Sebastian Bach Joses was the son of an artist of Portuguese extraction. The artist was a waster and a wanderer. In his youth he mated with a Marseillaise dancing-girl who had posed as his model. Joses had been the result. The father shortly deserted the mother, who took to the music-hall stage.
After a brief and somewhat lurid career on the halls in London and elsewhere she died.
The lad had as little chance as a human being can have. As a boy, with the red-gold mass of hair he inherited from his mother, and a certain farouche air, he had been attractive, especially to women. Clever, alert, and sensitive, brought up in a Bohemian set, without money, or morals, or the steadying factor of position, he had early acquired all the tricks of the artist, the parasite, and the adventurer. He could play the guitar quite prettily, could sing a song, dabbled with pen and brush, and talked with considerable facility of poetry and art.
An old-time admirer of his mother’s, on whom that lady when dying had fathered the boy, paid for the lad’s keep as a child. Later, attracted by the boy’s beauty, and secretly proud of his putative share in it, he had sent him to a college in a south coast watering place and afterward to Oxford.
There Joses had swiftly worked his way into a vicious set of stupid rich men, morally his equals, intellectually his inferiors, but socially and economically vastly his superiors. They were all lads from public schools who desired above all to be thought men of the world. Joses, on the other hand, was a man of the world who desired above all else to be taken for a public-school man.
Each of the two parties to the unwritten contract got what was desired from the other. Joses had knocked about the Continent; he knew the Quartier Latin, Berlin night-life, and the darker haunts of Naples. His rich allies kept horses, hunted, and raced. They learned a good deal that Joses was ready to impart; and on his side he acquired from them some knowledge of the racing world and an entree into it. His manners were good—rather too good; and the touch of the artist and the exotic appealed to the coarse and simple minds of his companions. He wore longish hair, softish collars, cultivated eccentricities and a slightly foreign accent; all of which things the jeunesse doree tolerated with a touch of patronage. And Joses was quite content to be patronized so long as his patrons would pay.
After two years at Oxford his putative father died. Joses went down perforce, leaving behind him many debts, a girl behind a bar who was fond of him, and a reputation as a brilliant rogue who might some day prove the poet of the sport of kings.
Equipped with the knowledge acquired at the ancient University, he went to London and there earned his living as a sporting journalist, attending race-meetings, adding to his income by betting, and performing certain unlovely services for the more vicious of his Oxford friends.