Mr. Prohack
E. Arnold Bennett

Part 8 out of 8

thousand pounds. I never indulge in wildcat stock myself. And let me
tell you there can be no question of _your_ permitting or not
permitting. I'm your father, and please don't forget it. It doesn't
happen to suit me that my infant prodigy of a son should make a mess of
his career; and I won't have it. If there's any doubt in your mind as to
whether you or I are the strongest, rule yourself out of the competition
this instant,--it'll save you trouble in the end."

Mr. Prohack had never felt so happy in his life; and yet he had had
moments of intense happiness in the past. He could feel the skin of his
face burning.

"You'll get it all back, dad," said Charlie later. "No amount of
suicides can destroy the assets of the R.R. It's only that the market
lost its head and absolutely broke to pieces under me. In three

"My poor boy," Mr. Prohack interrupted him. "Do try not to be an ass."
And he had the pleasing illusion that Charles was just home from school.
"And, mind, not one word, not one word, to anybody whatever."


The other three were still modestly chatting in the living-room when the
two great mysterious men of affairs returned to them, but Sissie had
cleared the dining-room table and transformed the place into a
drawing-room for the remainder of the evening. They were very feminine;
even Ozzie had something of the feminine attitude of fatalistic
attending upon events beyond feminine control; he had it, indeed, far
more than the vigorous-minded Sissie had it. They were cheerful, with a
cheerfulness that made up in tact what it lacked in sincerity. Mr.
Prohack compared them to passengers on a ship which is in danger. With a
word, with an inflection, he reassured everybody--and yet said
naught--and the cheerfulness instantly became genuine.

Mr. Prohack was surprised at the intensity of his own feelings. He was
thoroughly thrilled by what he himself had done. Perhaps he had gone too
far in telling Charlie that the putting down of a hundred and fifty
thousand pounds could be accomplished without necessitating any change
in his manner of living; but he did not care what change might be
involved. He had the sense of having performed a huge creative act, and
of the reality of the power of riches,--for weeks he had not been
imaginatively cognisant of the fact that he was rich.

He glanced secretly at the boy Charles, and said to himself: "To that
boy I am like a god. He was dead, and I have resurrected him. He may
achieve an enormous reputation after all. Anyhow he is an amazing devil
of a fellow, and he's my son, and no one comprehends him as I do." And
Mr. Prohack became jolly to the point of uproariousness--without
touching a glass. He was intoxicated, not by the fermentation of grapes,
but by the magnitude and magnificence of his own gesture. He was the
monarch of the company, and getting a bit conceited about it.

The sole creature who withstood him in any degree was Sissie. She had
firmness. "She has married the right man,-" said Mr. Prohack to himself.
"The so-called feminine instinct is for the most part absurd, but
occasionally it justifies its reputation. She has chosen her husband
with unerring insight into her needs and his. He will be happy; she
will have the anxieties of responsible power. But _I_ am not her
husband." And he spoke aloud, masterfully:


"Yes, dad? What now?"

"I've satisfactorily transacted affairs with my son. I will now try to
do the same with my daughter. A few moments with you in the
council-chamber, please. Oswald also, if you like."

Sissie smiled kindly at her awaiting spouse.

"Perhaps I'd better deal with my own father alone, darling."

Ozzie accepted the decision.

"Look here. I think I must be off," Charlie put in. "I've got a lot of
work to do."

"I expect you have," Mr. Prohack concurred. "By the way, you might meet
me at Smathe and Smathe's at ten fifteen in the morning."

Charlie nodded and slipped away.

"Infant," said Mr. Prohack to the defiantly smiling bride who awaited
him in the council chamber. "Has your mother said anything to you about
our wedding present?"

"No, dad."

"No, of course she hasn't. And do you know why? Because she daren't!
With your infernal independence you've frightened the life out of the
poor lady; that's what you've done. Your mother will doubtless have a
talk with me to-night. And to-morrow she will tell you what she has
decided to give you. Please let there be no nonsense. Whatever the gift
is, I shall be obliged if you will accept it--and use it, without
troubling us with any of your theories about the proper conduct of life.
Wisdom and righteousness existed before you, and there's just a chance
that they'll exist after you. Do you take me?"

"Quite, father."

"Good. You may become a great girl yet. We are now going home. Thanks
for a very pleasant evening."

In the car, beautifully alone with Eve, who was in a restful mood, Mr.
Prohack said:

"I shall be very ill in a few hours. Pate de foi gras is the devil, but
caviare is Beelzebub himself."

Eve merely gazed at him in gentle, hopeless reproach. He prophesied
truly. He was very ill. And yet through the succeeding crises he kept
smiling, sardonically.

"When I think," he murmured once with grimness, "that that fellow
Bishop had the impudence to ask us to lunch--and Charlie too! Charlie
too!" Eve, attendant, enquired sadly what he was talking about.

"Nothing, nothing," said he. "My mind is wandering. Let it."




Mr. Prohack was lounging over his breakfast in the original old house in
the Square behind Hyde Park. He came to be there because that same house
had been his wedding present to Sissie, who now occupied it with her
spouse, and because the noble mansion in Manchester Square was being
re-decorated (under compulsion of some clause in the antique lease) and
Eve had invited him to leave the affair entirely to her. In the few
months since Charlie's great crisis, all things conspired together to
prove once more to Mr. Prohack that calamities expected never arrive.
Even the British Empire had continued to cohere, and revolution seemed
to be further off than ever before. The greatest menace to his peace of
mind, the League of all the Arts, had of course quietly ceased to exist;
but it had established Eve as a hostess. And Eve as a hostess had
gradually given up boring herself and her husband by large and stiff
parties, and they had gone back to entertaining none but
well-established and intimate friends with the maximum of informality as
of old,--to such an extent that occasionally in the vast and gorgeous
dining-room of the noble mansion Eve would have the roast planted on the
table and would carve it herself, also as of old; Brool did not seem to

Mr. Prohack had bought the lease of the noble mansion, with all the
contents thereof, merely because this appeared to be the easiest thing
to do. He had not been forced to change his manner of life; far from it.
Owing to a happy vicissitude in the story of the R.R. Corporation
Charlie had called upon his father for only a very small portion of the
offered one hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and had even repaid that
within a few weeks. Matters had thereafter come to such a pass with
Charlie that he had reached the pages of _The Daily Picture_, and was
reputed to be arousing the jealousy of youthful millionaires in the
United States; also the figure which he paid weekly for rent of his
offices in the Grand Babylon Hotel was an item of common knowledge in
the best clubs and not to know it was to be behind the times in current
information. No member of his family now ventured to offer advice to
Charlie, who still, however, looked astonishingly like the old Charlie
of motor-bicycle transactions.

The fact is, people do not easily change. Mr. Prohack had seemed to
change for a space, but if indeed any change had occurred in him, he had
changed back. Scientific idleness? Turkish baths? Dandyism? All
vanished, contemned, forgotten. To think of them merely annoyed him. He
did not care what necktie he wore. Even dancing had gone the same way.
The dancing season was over until October, and he knew he would never
begin again. He cared not to dance with the middle-aged, and if he
danced with the young he felt that he was making a fool of himself.

It had been rather a lark to come and stay for a few days in his old
home,--to pass the sacred door of the conjugal bedroom (closed for ever
to him) and mount to Charlie's room, into which Sissie had put the bulk
of the furniture from the Japanese flat--without overcrowding it.
Decidedly amusing to sleep in Charlie's old little room! But the
romantic sensation had given way to the sensation of the hardness of the

Breakfast achieved, Mr. Prohack wondered what he should do next, for he
had nothing to do; he had no worries, and almost no solicitudes; he had
successfully adapted himself to his environment. Through the half-open
door of the dining-room he heard Sissie and Ozzie. Ozzie was off to the
day's business, and Sissie was seeing him out of the house, as Eve used
to see Mr. Prohack out. Ozzie, by reason of a wedding present of ten
thousand pounds given in defiance of Sissie's theories, and with the
help of his own savings, was an important fellow now in the theatrical
world, having attained a partnership with the Napoleon of the stage.

"You'd no business to send for the doctor without telling me," Sissie
was saying in her harsh tone. "What do I want with a doctor?"

"I thought it would be for the best, dear," came Ozzie's lisping reply.

"Well, it won't, my boy."

The door banged.

"Eve never saw me off like that," Mr. Prohack reflected.

Sissie entered the room, some letters in her hand. She was exceedingly
attractive, matron-like, interesting--but formidable.

Said Mr. Prohack, glancing up at her:

"It is the duty of the man to protect and the woman to charm--and I
don't care who knows it."

"What on earth do you mean, dad?"

"I mean that it is the duty of the man to protect and the woman to

Sissie flushed.

"Ozzie and I understand each other, but you don't," said she, and made a
delicious rude face. "Carthew's brought these letters and he's waiting
for orders about the car." She departed.

Among the few letters was one from Softly Bishop, dated Rangoon. It was
full of the world-tour. "We had a success at Calcutta that really does
baffle description," it said.

"'We!'" commented Mr. Prohack. There was a postscript: "By the way, I've
only just learnt that it was your son who was buying those Royal Rubber
shares. I do hope he was not inconvenienced. I need not say that if I
had had the slightest idea who was standing the racket I should have
waived--" And so on.

"Would you!" commented Mr. Prohack. "I see you doing it. And what's more
I bet you only wrote the letter for the sake of the postscript. Your
tour is not a striking success, and you'll be wanting to do business
with me when you come back, but you won't do it.... And here I am
lecturing Sissie about hardness!"

He rang the bell and told a servant who was a perfect stranger to him to
tell Carthew that he should not want the car.

"May Carthew speak to you, sir?" said the servant returning.

"Carthew may," said he, and the servant thought what an odd gentleman
Mr. Prohack was.

"Well, Carthew," said he, when the chauffeur, perturbed, entered the
room. "This is quite like old times, isn't it? Sit down and have a
cigarette. What's wrong?"

"Well, sir," replied Carthew, after he had lighted the cigarette and
ejected a flake of tobacco into the hearth. "There may be something
wrong or there mayn't, if you understand what I mean. But I'm thinking
of getting married."

"Oh! But what about that wife of yours?"

"Oh! Her! She's dead, all right. I never said anything, feeling as it
might be ashamed of her."

"But I thought you'd done with women!"

"So did I, sir. But the question always is, Have women done with you? I
was helping her to lift pictures down yesterday, and she was standing
on a chair. And something came over me. And there you are before you
know where you are, sir, if you understand what I mean."

"Perfectly, Carthew. But who is it?"

"Machin, sir. To cut a long story short, sir, I'd been thinking about
her for the better part of some time, because of the boy, sir, because
of the boy. She likes him. If it hadn't been for the boy--"

"Careful, Carthew!"

"Well, perhaps you're right, sir. She'd have copped me anyway."

"I congratulate you, Carthew. You've been copped by the best parlourmaid
in London."

"Thank you, sir. I think I'll be getting along, sir."

"Have you told Mrs. Prohack?"

"I thought I'd best leave that to Machin, sir."

Mr. Prohack waved a hand, thoughtful. He heard Carthew leave. He heard
Dr. Veiga arrive, and then he heard Dr. Veiga leaving, and rushed to the
dining-room door.

"Veiga! A moment. Come in. Everything all right?"

"Of course. Absolutely normal. But you know what these young husbands
are. I can't stop unless you're really ill, my friend."

"I'm worse than really ill," said Mr. Prohack, shutting the door. "I'm
really bored. I'm surrounded by the most interesting phenomena and I'm
really bored. I've taken to heart all your advice and I'm really bored.
So there!"

The agreeable, untidy, unprofessional Portuguese quack twinkled at him,
and then said in his thick, southern, highly un-English voice: "The
remedy may be worse than the disease. You are bored because you have no
worries, my friend. I will give you advice. Go back to your Treasury."

"I cannot," said Mr. Prohack. "I've resigned. I found out that my friend
Hunter was expecting promotion in my place."

"Ah, well!" replied Dr. Veiga with strange sardonic indifference. "If
you will sacrifice yourself to your friends you must take the
consequences like a man. I will talk to you some other time, when I've
got nothing better to do. I am very busy, telling people what they
already know." And he went.

A minute later Charlie arrived in a car suitable to his grandeur.

"Look here, dad," said Charlie in a hurry. "If you're game for a day out
I particularly want to show you something. And incidentally you'll see
some driving, believe me!"

"My will is made! I am game," answered Mr. Prohack, delighted at the
prospect of any diversion, however perilous.


When Charlie drew up at the Royal Pier, Southampton (having reached
there in rather less time than the train journey and a taxi at each end
would have required), he silently handed over the wheel to the
chauffeur, and led his mystified but unenquiring father down the steps
on the west side of the pier. A man in a blue suit with a peaked cap and
a white cover on the cap was standing at the foot of the steps, just
above the water and above a motor-launch containing two other men in
blue jerseys with the name "Northwind" on their breasts and on their
foreheads. A blue ensign was flying at the stem of the launch.

"How d'ye do, Snow?" Charlie greeted the first man, who raised his cap.

Father and son got into the launch and the man after them: the launch
began to snort, and off it went at a racing speed from the pier towards
midchannel. Mr. Prohack, who said not a word, perceived a string of
vessels of various sizes which he judged to be private yachts, though he
had no experience whatever of yachts. Some of them flew bunting and some
of them didn't; but they all without exception appeared, as Mr. Prohack
would have expected, to be the very symbols of complicated elegance and
luxury, shining and glittering buoyantly there on the brilliant blue
water under the summer sun. The launch was rushing headlong through its
own white surge towards the largest of these majestic toys. As it
approached the string Mr. Prohack saw that all the yachts were much
larger than he imagined, and that the largest was enormous. The launch
flicked itself round the stern of that yacht, upon which Mr. Prohack
read the word "Northwind" in gold, and halted bobbing at a staircase
whose rails were white ropes, slung against a dark blue wall; the wall
was the side of the yacht. Mr. Prohack climbed out of the bobbing
launch, and the staircase had the solidity under his feet of masonry on
earth. High up, glancing over the wall, was a capped face.

"How d'ye do, skipper," called Charlie, and when he had got his parent
on to the deck, he said: "Skipper, this is my father. Dad--Captain

Mr. Prohack shook hands with a short, stoutish nervous man with an
honest, grim, marine face.

"Everything all right?"

"Yes, sir. Glad you've come at last, sir."


Charlie turned away from the captain to his father. Mr. Prohack saw a
man hauling a three-cornered flag up the chief of the three masts which
the ship possessed, and another man hauling a large oblong flag up a
pole at the stern.

"What is the significance of this flag-raising?" asked Mr. Prohack.

"The significance is that the owner has come aboard," Charlie replied,
not wholly without self-consciousness. "Come on. Have a look at her.
Come on, skipper. Do the honours. She used to be a Mediterranean trader.
The former owner turned her into a yacht. He says she cost him a hundred
thousand by the time she was finished. I can believe it."

Mr. Prohack also believed it, easily; he believed it more and more
easily as he was trotted from deck to deck and from bedroom to bedroom,
and sitting-room to sitting-room, and library to smoking-room, and
music-room to lounge, and especially from bathroom to bathroom. In no
land habitation had Mr. Prohack seen so many, or such marmoreal, or such
luxurious bathrooms. What particularly astonished Mr. Prohack was the
exceeding and minute finish of everything, and what astonished him even
more than the finish was the cleanliness of everything.

"Dirty place to be in, sir, Southampton," grinned the skipper. "We do
the best we can."

They reached the dining-room, an apartment in glossy bird's-eye maple
set in the midst of the virgin-white promenade deck.

"By the way, lunch, please," said Charlie.

"Yes, sir," responded eagerly the elder of two attendants in jackets
striped blue and white.

"Have a wash, guv'nor? Thanks, skipper, that'll do for the present."

Mr. Prohack washed in amplitudinous marble, and wiped his paternal face
upon diaper into which was woven the name "Northwind." He then, with his
son, ate an enormous and intricate lunch and drank champagne out of
crystal engraved with the name "Northwind," served to him by a
ceremonious person in white gloves. Charlie was somewhat taciturn, but
over the coffee he seemed to brighten up.

"Well, what do you think of the old hulk?"

"She must need an awful lot of men," said Mr. Prohack.

"Pretty fair. The wages bill is seven hundred a month."

"She's enormous," continued Mr. Prohack lamely.

"Oh, no! Seven hundred tons Thames measurement. You see those funnels
over there," and Charlie pointed through the port windows to a row of
four funnels rising over great sheds. "That's the _Mauretania_. She's a
hundred times as big as this thing. She could almost sling this affair
in her davits."

"Indeed! Still, I maintain that this antique wreck is enormous," Mr.
Prohack insisted.

They walked out on deck.

"Hello! Here's the chit. You can always count on _her_!" said Charles.

The launch was again approaching the yacht, and a tiny figure with a
despatch case on her lap sat smiling in the stern-sheets.

"She's come down by train," Charles explained.

Miss Winstock in her feminineness made a delicious spectacle on the
spotless deck. She nearly laughed with delight as she acknowledged Mr.
Prohack's grave salute and shook hands with him, but when Charlie said:
"Anything urgent?" she grew grave and tense, becoming the faithful,
urgent, confidential employe in an instant.

"Only this," she said, opening the despatch case and producing a

"Confound it!" remarked Charles, having read the telegram. "Here, you,
Snow. Please see that Miss Winstock has something to eat at once.
That'll do, Miss Winstock."

"Yes, Mr. Prohack," she said dutifully.

"And his mother thought he would be marrying her!" Mr. Prohack senior
reflected. "He'll no more marry her than he'll marry Machin. Goodness
knows whom he will marry. It might be a princess."

"You remember that paper concern--newsprint stuff--I've mentioned to you
once or twice," said Charlie to his father, dropping into a
basket-chair. "Sit down, will you, dad? I've had no luck with it yet."
He flourished the telegram. "Here the new manager I appointed has gone
and got rheumatic fever up in Aberdeen. No good for six months at least,
if ever. It's a great thing if I could only really get it going. But no!
The luck's wrong. And yet a sound fellow with brains could put that
affair into such shape in a year that I could sell it at a profit of
four hundred per cent to the Southern Combine. However--"

Soon afterwards he went below to talk to the chit, and the skipper took
charge of Mr. Prohack and displayed to him the engine-room, the
officers' quarters, the forecastle, the galley, and all manner of arcana
that Charlie had grandiosely neglected.

"It's a world!" said Mr. Prohack, but the skipper did not quite
comprehend the remark.

"Well," said Charlie, returning. "We'll have some tea and then we must
be off again. I have to be in town to-night. Have you seen everything?
What's the verdict? Some ship, eh?"

"Some ship," agreed Mr. Prohack. "But the most shockingly uneconomic
thing I've ever met with in all my life. How often do you use the

"Well, I haven't been able to use her yet. She's been lying here waiting
for me for nearly a month. I hope to get a few days off soon."

"I understand there's a crew of thirty odd, all able-bodied and knowing
their job, I suppose. And all waiting for a month to give you and me a
lunch and a tea. Seven hundred pounds in wages alone for lunch and a tea
for two, without counting the food and the washing!"

"And why not, dad?" Charlie retorted calmly. "I've got to spend a bit of
money uneconomically, and there's nothing like a yacht for doing it.
I've no use for racing, and moreover it's too difficult not to mix with
rascals if you go in for racing, and I don't care for rascals. Also it's
a mug's game, and I don't want to be a mug. As for young women, no! They
only interest me at present as dancing partners, and they cost me
nothing. A good yacht's the sole possible thing for my case, and a yacht
brings you into contact with clean and decent people, not bookmakers. I
bought this boat for thirty-three thousand, and she's a marvellous
bargain, and that's something."

"But why spend money uneconomically at all?"

"Because I said and swore I would. Didn't I come back from the war and
try all I knew to obtain the inestimable privilege of earning my living
by doing something useful? Did I succeed in obtaining the privilege?
Why, nobody would look at me! And there were tens of thousands like me.
Well, I said I'd take it out of this noble country of mine, and I am
doing; and I shall keep on doing until I'm tired. These thirty men or so
here might be at some useful productive work, fishing or
merchant-marining. They're otherwise engaged. They're spending a
pleasant wasteful month over our lunch and tea. That's what I enjoy. It
makes me smile to myself when I wake up in the middle of the night....
I'm showing my beloved country who's won the Peace."

"It's a scheme," murmured Mr. Prohack, rendered thoughtful as much by
the quiet and intense manner, as by the matter, of his son's oration.
"Boyish, of course, but not without charm."

"We were most of us boys," said Charlie.

Mr. Prohack marshalled, in his head, the perfectly plain, simple
reasoning necessary to crush Charlie to powder, and, before crushing
him, to expose to him the crudity of his conceptions of organised social
existence. But he said nothing, having hit on another procedure for
carrying out his parental duty to Charles. Shortly afterwards they
departed from the yacht in the launch. Long ere they reached the waiting
motor-car the bunting had been hauled down.

In the car Mr. Prohack said:

"Tell me something more about that paper-making business. It sounds


When Mr. Prohack reached his daughter's house again late in the night,
it was his wife who opened the door to him.

"Good heavens, Arthur! Where have you been? Poor Sissie is in such a
state--I was obliged to come over and stay with her. She needs the
greatest care."

"We had a breakdown," said Mr. Prohack, rather guiltily.

"Who's we? Where? What breakdown? You went off without saying a word to
any one. I really can't imagine what you were thinking about. You're
just like a child sometimes."

"I went down to Southampton with Charlie," the culprit explained, giving
a brief and imperfect history of the day, and adding that on the way
home he had made a detour with Charles to look at a paper-manufactory.

"And you couldn't have telephoned!"

"Never thought of it!"

"I'll run and tap at Sissie's door and tell her. Ozzie's with her. You'd
better go straight to bed."

"I'm hungry."

Eve made a deprecating and expostulatory noise with her tongue against
her upper teeth.

"I'll bring you something to eat. At least I'll try to find something,"
said she.

"And are you sleeping here, too? Where?" Mr. Prohack demanded when Eve
crept into Charlie's old bedroom with a tray in her hands.

"I had to stay. I couldn't leave the girl. I'm sleeping in her old

"The worst of these kids' rooms," said Mr. Prohack, with an affectation
of calm, "is that there are no easy chairs in them. It never struck me
before. Look here, you sit on the bed and put the tray down _there_,
and I'll occupy this so-called chair. Now, I don't want any sermons. And
what is more, I can't eat unless you do. But I tell you I'm very hungry.
So would you be, if you'd had my day."

"You won't sleep if you eat much."

"I don't care if I don't. Is this whiskey? What--bread and cheese? The
simple life! I'm not used to it.... Where are you off to?"

"There came a letter for you. I brought it along. It's in the other

"Open it for me, my good child," said Mr. Prohack, his mouth full and
his hands occupied, when she returned. She did so.

"It seems to me that you'd better read this yourself," she said,

The letter was from Lady Massulam, signed only with her initials,
announcing with a queer brevity that she had suddenly decided to go back
at once to her native country to live.

"How strange!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack, trying to be airy. "Listen! What
do you make of it. You're a woman, aren't you?"

"I make of it," said Eve, "that she's running away from you. She's
afraid of herself, that's what she is! Didn't I always tell you? Oh!
Arthur. How simple you are! But fancy! At her age! Oh, my poor boy!
Shall you get over it?" Eve bent forward and kissed the poor boy, who
was cursing himself for not succeeding in not being self-conscious.

"Rot!" he exploded at last. "I said you were a woman, and by all the
gods you are! Give me some more food."

He was aware of a very peculiar and unprecedented thrill. He hated to
credit Eve's absurd insinuation, but...! And Eve looked at him
superiorly, triumphant, sure of him, sure of her everlasting power over
him! Yet she was not romantic, and her plump person did not in the least
symbolise romance.

"I've a piece of news for you," he said, after a pause. "After to-night
I've done with women and idleness. I'm going into business. I've bought
half of that paper-making concern from your singular son, and I'm going
to put it on its legs. I know nothing about paper-making, and I can only
hope that the London office is not as dirty and untidy as the works. I'd
no idea what works were. The whole thing will be a dreadful worry, and I
shall probably make a horrid mess of it, but Charlie seems to think I

"But why--what's come over you, Arthur? Surely we've got enough money.
What _has_ come over you? I never could make you out and I never shall."

"Nothing! Nothing!" said he. "Only I've got a sort of idea that some one
Ought to be economic and productive. It may kill me, but I'll die
producing, anyhow."

He waited for her to begin upbraiding him for capricious folly and
expatiating upon the fragility of his health. But you never know where
you are with an Eve. Eves have the most disconcerting gleams of insight.
She said:

"I'm rather glad. I was getting anxious about you."


Back to Full Books