[The two recent editions of William Fryer Harvey’s short stories from Tartarus Press and Wordsworth Classics have between them left a dozen or so of his tales unpublished, possibly because Harvey’s rare 1920 book The Misadventures of Athelstan Digby is generally excluded from bibliographies of his fiction. Yet this website has obtained a copy and the ten tales from Misadventures will be serialised on Tychy over the coming months.
Harvey eventually rewrote the first story, “The Schalcken Replica, as “Old Masters” (1951), which has since been republished by Wordsworth. Godfried Schalcken was a real historical figure, but Harvey’s use of this particular old master may reference Sheridan Le Fanu’s early ghost story “Schalken the Painter” (1851). It may be also not irrelevant to the following story that Schalcken actually portrayed himself displaying a middle finger to the viewer. Ed.]
“THE SCHALCKEN REPLICA” (2/2).
Next day as he travelled from St. Pancras to Bradborough in a crowded third-class non-smoking compartment, wedged tightly between a soldier home on leave and a woman with two children on her knee, Athelstan Digby had the image of Evans’s Schalcken constantly before his mind. Long before they passed the glare of the Sheffield forges, he had made up his mind to buy it provided that the man would sell. If he had been hit by the war, and from what he had seen of him Digby thought that this was more than probable, he might jump at the opportunity of finding a purchaser.
During the week that followed, he made arrangements for the picture to be photographed, leaving particular instructions with Dawson to keep a careful eye on the photographer’s man and not to allow him to handle the picture. A fortnight elapsed before he received the proofs, and three days later a letter came from Evans, enclosing the photograph of his picture for comparison. “I had the glass removed,” he wrote, “but the result has not been altogether satisfactory, though it may be sufficient for your purpose.”
Mr. Digby made a careful scrutiny of the two, as they lay before him on the table. The Evans proof was darker than his own – the picture obviously wanted cleaning – and the photograph, as a photograph, was a poor one, only faintly indicating the cloak that covered the chair in the right-hand corner. Apart from that there seemed to be no difference between the two.
“They are both genuine,” said Digby at last. That evening he wrote to Evans, asking him if he were prepared to sell. He named a price, three thousand guineas, which was certainly generous, far more than it would have realised at Christie’s. If Evans would not part with the picture, the matter was ended.
It was nearly ten days before he received his reply. Evans had been confined to bed with a sharp attack of asthma and had been unable even to attend to his correspondence.
“With regard to your offer,” he wrote, “I had not had the slightest intention of parting with the picture when I first saw you. But the war has hit me heavily, and with the inevitable depreciation of my investments I must confess that the opportunity to realise a little ready capital is not one lightly to be set aside. The price you mention is, I admit, generous, though, of course, you have a special interest in the possession of the picture. I have consulted my solicitor, who advises me to accept your offer. In the matter of transit, railway companies, in my opinion, cannot be relied upon at the present time. I suggest that if you are in town during the next ten days, you should take back the picture yourself – it could be packed in an ordinary suit case – and you could then at the same time make out a cheque for the sum you mention.”
Athelstan Digby turned over the pages of his pocket diary. He had two Board meetings on the tenth and the eleventh; there was a special meeting of the West African Industrial Mission on the evening of the twelfth, at which he was announced to preside.
“I could see him on the eleventh,” he said, “at eight”; and he entered the appointment in his minute handwriting opposite the date.
February in Bradborough, with east winds blowing down the narrow streets from the rain-sodden moors, was even at the best of times a trying month. Three days before the meeting which he had arranged with Evans, Digby was in bed, with a bottle of cough medicine and the second volume of Motley’s “Dutch Republic” on the table by his side. Dawson was more than usually assiduous in his care.
“If any man could make me keep that appointment,” said Digby, “you’re the one. Oh, I shall be fit enough to travel by the eleventh! I’ll see Evans in any case, even if I have to miss my board meetings.”
“I trust you will, sir,” Dawson replied, “but you can’t be too careful of a cold. My wife’s mother – she lives up in London – was taken ill last week with what she thought was a simple chill; from what we’ve heard it’s doubtful if she’ll pull through.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Dawson,” said Mr. Digby. I thought you’d been rather worried lately. Mrs. Dawson should be with her instead of looking after me. She must go whenever she wishes. Mary is quite capable of taking her place for a short time.”
“Thank you, sir; it’s very considerate. The old woman’s close on eighty, so it’s only what we can expect; but if she should take a turn for the worse, my wife would like to go.”
By a curious coincidence they travelled together; for, as Mr. Digby, wrapped in his warmest overcoat and wearing a somewhat dilapidated pair of goloshes, was being escorted to the cab by Dawson, Mrs. Dawson came hurrying down the path. She had on her bonnet and cloak and carried an old-fashioned carpet bag in one hand and an unopened telegram in the other. She seemed to be very much out of breath and very perturbed.
“Oh, sir!” she exclaimed, “I beg your pardon, but this telegram has just come,” and she thrust it into his hand.
“Essential to catch the 10.35 if you would see mother,” he read.
“I am afraid that means bad news,” he said. “Your bag is packed? Jump in, Mrs. Dawson; we shall be in plenty of time to catch the train. Dawson, you can expect me back in time for dinner the day after to-morrow. See that today’s letters are forwarded to Mackay’s Hotel.”
At the station he saw his cook comfortably settled – as far as a flustered cook can be said ever to be comfortably settled – in a third class carriage. On account of his cold he adopted Dawson’s suggestion and travelled first.
Athelstan Digby had an old-fashioned courtesy in his dealings with women. As soon as the train arrived at St. Pancras, he gave his own bag to a porter, while he helped Mrs. Dawson to find a taxi, insisted on paying the fare, much to the good woman’s perturbation, and then took the Tube to the city and his Board meeting.
That night he dined at Mackay’s punctually at half past six. Not for years had he had an opportunity of buying a picture that gave him half as much pleasure as this.
Mr. Digby, carrying an empty suit case, arrived in Patmore Street on the stroke of eight.
“I hardly know whether I am pleased or sorry to see you,” said Mr. Evans, with a smile.
“It’s hard to part with old friends. I shall miss my little girl here. Do you know, Mr. Digby, there’s something after all to be said for your plan of not hanging pictures. Certainly one is less likely to miss them. But my Schalcken, at least, will be in good hands. You will want to have it cleaned, I expect. And here is the receipt, which my secretary forwarded to me, from the man in Leicester, our mutual benefactor.”
Mr. Digby placed it in his pocket and took out his cheque book.
“I can well understand your feelings, Mr. Evans,” he said. “I’ve been through it all myself. How shall I make out the cheque?”
“To Evan Mornington Evans. I should prefer an open cheque, if you don’t mind. How would you like the picture packed? As it’s glazed, it will be really only necessary to protect the frame. It will go into your suit-case admirably.”
The packing of the picture was a matter of a few minutes.
“I was nearly forgetting that I had not given you my address in Wales,” said Evans, as Digby rose to go. “Kidbury Hall, Pembrokeshire, will always find me. We are about six miles out of Haverfordwest, and if you are ever in those parts, Mr. Digby, my sister and I will be delighted if you will pay us a visit.”
“Thank you,” said Athelstan Digby, “and you too, I hope, will not forget to look me up in Bradborough. Good evening!”
He took a taxi back to the hotel, and in the solitude of his bedroom, made cheerful by a blazing fire, examined his purchase at leisure.
“After all,” he thought, “pictures were made to be hung. As soon as I get back home, Dawson and I will make a start, though we shan’t have room on the walls for a quarter of them.”
That night the picture stood on the dressing-table on his bedroom, lit by the warm glow of the firelight. The following day it lay under lock and key in the manager’s office, while Athelstan Digby busied himself with the affairs of the West African Industrial Mission, and Mr. Evans, far away in Bradborough, cashed a cheque for three thousand guineas.
When in the course of time Athelstan Digby was able to view the transaction with a mind devoid of the natural resentment that followed the discovery he made five minutes after his return home, he was filled with admiration. Since he was a wealthy man, he could afford both to admire and to laugh.
Dawson, so the elderly house parlour-maid informed him, had been summoned to London on the evening of Mrs. Dawson’s departure. He had told her that he expected to be back within twenty-four hours, and, after leaving particular instructions about locking up the house at night, had ordered some veal cutlets and a rice pudding for Mr. Digby’s dinner on Friday evening. He had taken nothing with him, except a small portmanteau containing his clothes. Behind him he had left a letter, containing a postal order for two-and-six.
Mr. Digby read it as he ate the excellent veal cutlets, while the hot rice pudding on the hearth slowly changed into a cold rice pudding.
And this is what he read:
Dear Mr. Digby,
By the time you receive this, Mrs. Dawson and I will have left your service. We wish to thank you for the unfailing courtesy which, for the last ten years, you have shown to us, and which Mrs. Dawson experienced on what to her was an unusually trying journey. I enclose a postal order for two-and-six, for the cab fare which you so kindly paid.
In selling you your own picture, I acted from motives of necessity. It is my first, and I hope my last, excursion into the domain of crime. My accomplice, Evans, who was at one time an auctioneer and valuer, is my wife’s brother. He has already served a period of imprisonment for an offence of which he was not morally guilty, and has decided, like ourselves, to turn over a new leaf and forget the past. We trust that your money, which I propose to regard in the nature of a loan, may be the ultimate means of allowing us to fill an honest and respectable position in society.
The plan we adopted was entirely my own. It was made comparatively easy by your refusal to hang your pictures, the extreme regularity of your habits, and your avoidance of all night travelling. I was thus able, by arranging your meetings with Evans to take place in the evening, to convey the picture back to Bradborough by the night train.
We came nearest to failure, when, owing to your cold (which I hope is no longer troubling you), you had to give up your engagement; and it consequently became necessary for the picture to travel by the same train as yourself. I expect you remember carrying it in my wife’s carpet bag. My brother-in-law tells me that he had only just time to exchange frames from the unglazed to the glazed and hastily to wash his preparation of lamp-black over portions of the canvas to make it appear in need of cleaning, before you arrived in Patmore Street.
I give these few particulars, as I know you will be as interested in the scheme as I am proud of it. The money, I can assure you, will be well spent and not lightly squandered. A portion of it has already been invested in War Saving Certificates.
CHARLES E. DAWSON
“Faithfully!” Mr. Digby exclaimed. “It’s time I bought a twentieth-century dictionary,”
Next day he began to hang his pictures.