Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

In Trust
by [?]

IN the good days, just after we all left college, Ned Halidon and I used to listen, laughing and smoking, while Paul Ambrose set forth his plans.

They were immense, these plans, involving, as it sometimes seemed, the ultimate aesthetic redemption of the whole human race; and provisionally restoring the sense of beauty to those unhappy millions of our fellow country-men who, as Ambrose movingly pointed out, now live and die in surroundings of unperceived and unmitigated ugliness.

“I want to bring the poor starved wretches back to their lost inheritance, to the divine past they’ve thrown away–I want to make ’em hate ugliness so that they’ll smash nearly everything in sight,” he would passionately exclaim, stretching his arms across the shabby black-walnut writing-table and shaking his thin consumptive fist in the fact of all the accumulated ugliness in the world.

“You might set the example by smashing that table,” I once suggested with youthful brutality; and Paul, pulling himself up, cast a surprised glance at me, and then looked slowly about the parental library, in which we sat.

His parents were dead, and he had inherited the house in Seventeenth Street, where his grandfather Ambrose had lived in a setting of black walnut and pier glasses, giving Madeira dinners, and saying to his guests, as they rejoined the ladies across a florid waste of Aubusson carpet: “This, sir, is Dabney’s first study for the Niagara–the Grecian Slave in the bay window was executed for me in Rome twenty years ago by my old friend Ezra Stimpson–” by token of which he passed for a Maecenas in the New York of the ‘forties,’ and a poem had once been published in the Keepsake or the Book of Beauty “On a picture in the possession of Jonathan Ambrose, Esqre.”

Since then the house had remained unchanged. Paul’s father, a frugal liver and hard-headed manipulator of investments, did not inherit old Jonathan’s artistic sensibilities, and was content to live and die in the unmodified black walnut and red rep of his predecessor. It was only in Paul that the grandfather’s aesthetic faculty revived, and Mrs. Ambrose used often to say to her husband, as they watched the little pale-browed boy poring over an old number of the Art Journal: “Paul will know how to appreciate your father’s treasures.”

In recognition of these transmitted gifts Paul, on leaving Harvard, was sent to Paris with a tutor, and established in a studio in which nothing was ever done. He could not paint, and recognized the fact early enough to save himself much wasted labor and his friends many painful efforts in dissimulation. But he brought back a touching enthusiasm for the forms of beauty which an old civilization had revealed to him and an apostolic ardour in the cause of their dissemination.

He had paused in his harangue to take in my ill-timed parenthesis, and the color mounted slowly to his thin cheek-bones.

“It is an ugly room,” he owned, as though he had noticed the library for the first time.

The desk was carved at the angles with the heads of helmeted knights with long black-walnut moustaches. The red cloth top was worn thread-bare, and patterned like a map with islands and peninsulas of ink; and in its centre throned a massive bronze inkstand representing a Syrian maiden slumbering by a well beneath a palm-tree.

“The fact is,” I said, walking home that evening with Ned Halidon, “old Paul will never do anything, for the simple reason that he’s too stingy.”

Ned, who was an idealist, shook his handsome head. “It’s not that, my dear fellow. He simply doesn’t see things when they’re too close to him. I’m glad you woke him up to that desk.”

The next time I dined with Paul he said, when we entered the library, and I had gently rejected one of his cheap cigars in favour of a superior article of my own: “Look here, I’ve been looking round for a decent writing-table. I don’t care, as a rule, to turn out old things, especially when they’ve done good service, but I see now that this is too monstrous–“