Good Reading : May 2006
BOOKBITE point that out; it might encourage him. But go near him in person – is it likely!’ The next day was one of great liter- ary activity. Augustine was so deeply immersed in his new poetical drama that he neglected his correspondence and almost his meals – except his dinner, which seemed that evening to be shared most agreeably and excitingly by these new creations of his brain. Such, in fact, was his preoccupation with them that it was not until he had finished the savoury and poured out a glass of his superlative port that he remembered a telegram which had been handed to him as he came in to dinner. It still lay unopened by his plate. Now, tearing apart the envelope, he read with growing bewilderment these words above his publishers’ names: Please inform us immediately what steps to take are prepared send to France recover drawings if possible what suggestions can you make as to successor Rossell and Ward Augustine was more than bewildered; he was stupefied. Had some accident befallen Lawrence Storey of which he knew nothing? But he had opened all his letters this morning, though he had not answered any. A prey to a sudden very nasty anxiety, he got up and rang the bell. ‘Burrows, bring me The Times from the library.’ The newspaper came, unopened. Augustine, now in a frenzy of uneasi- ness, scanned the pages rapidly. But it was some seconds before he came upon the headline: ‘TRAGIC DEATH OF A YOUNG ENGLISH ARTIST’, and read the following, furnished by the Paris correspondent: Connoisseurs who were looking forward to 52 goodreading ı MAY 2006 the appearance of the superb illustrated edition of Mr Augustine Marchant’s Queen Theodora and Queen Marozia will learn with great regret of the death by drowning of the gifted young artist, Mr Lawrence Storey, who was engaged upon the designs for it. Mr Storey had recently been staying in Paris, but left one day last week for a remote spot in Brittany, it was supposed in pursuance of his work. On Friday last his body was discovered floating in a lonely pool near Carhaix. It is hard to see how Mr Storey could have fallen in, since this piece of water – the Mare de Plougouven – has a completely level shore surrounded by reeds, and is not in itself very deep, nor is there any boat upon it. It is said that the unfortunate young Englishman had been somewhat strange in his manner recently and complained of hallucinations; it is therefore possible that under their influence he deliberately waded out into the Mare de Plougouven.A strange feature of the case is that he had fastened round him under his coat the finished drawings for Mr Marchant’s book, which were, of course, completely spoilt by the water before the body was found. It is to be hoped that they were not the only – Augustine threw The Times furiously from him and struck the dinner-table with his clenched fist. ‘Upon my soul, that is too much! It is criminal! My property – and I who had done so much for him! Fastened them round himself – he must have been crazy!’ But had he been so crazy? When his wrath had subsided a little, Augustine could not but ask himself whether the young artist had not in some awful moment of insight guessed the truth, or a part of it – that his patron had delib- erately corrupted him? It looked almost like it. But, if he had really taken all the finished drawings with him to this place in Brittany, what an unspeakably mean trick of revenge thus to destroy them! … Yet, even if it were so, their loss must be regarded as the price of deliverance, since, from his point of view, the desper- ate expedient of passing on his ‘familiar’ had been a complete success. By getting someone else to plunge even deeper than he had done into the unlawful (for he had seen to it that Lawrence Storey should do that) he had proved, as that verse in Genesis said, that he had rule over … what had pursued him in tangible form as a consequence of his own night in Prague. He could not be too thankful. The literary world might well be thankful too. For his own art was of infinitely more importance than the subservient, the para- sitic art of an illustrator. He could with a little search find half a dozen just as gifted as that poor hallucination-ridden Storey to finish Theodora and Marozia – even, if necessary, to begin an entirely fresh set of drawings. And meanwhile, in the new lease of creative energy which this unfortunate but necessary sacrifice had made possible for him, he would begin to put on paper the masterpiece which was now taking brilliant shape in his liberated mind. A final glass, and then an evening in the workshop! Augustine poured out some port, and was raising the glass, prepared to drink to his own success, when he thought he heard a sound near the door. He looked over his shoulder. Next instant the stem of the wineglass had snapped in his hand, and he had sprung back to the farthest limit of the room. Reared up for quite five feet against the door, huge, dark, sleeked with wet and flecked with bits of green water- weed, was something half-python, half gigantic cobra, its head drawn back as if to strike – its head, for in its former featureless tapering end were now two reddish eyes, such as the furriers put into the heads of stuffed creatures. And these eyes were fixed upon him in an unwaver- ing and malevolent glare. Couching at the Door by D(orothy) K(athleen) Broster (1877-1950) first appeared in The Cornhill Magazine in December 1933, and was published in a collection of short stories, Couching at the Door: Strange and Macabre Stories, in 1942. Augustine poured out some port, and was raising the glass, prepared to drink to his own success, when he thought he heard a sound near the door.