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Michael   By: (1867-1940)

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by E. F. Benson


Though there was nothing visibly graceful about Michael Comber, he apparently had the art of giving gracefully. He had already told his cousin Francis, who sat on the arm of the sofa by his table, that there was no earthly excuse for his having run into debt; but now when the moment came for giving, he wrote the cheque quickly and eagerly, as if thoroughly enjoying it, and passed it over to him with a smile that was extraordinarily pleasant.

"There you are, then, Francis," he said; "and I take it from you that that will put you perfectly square again. You've got to write to me, remember, in two days' time, saying that you have paid those bills. And for the rest, I'm delighted that you told me about it. In fact, I should have been rather hurt if you hadn't."

Francis apparently had the art of accepting gracefully, which is more difficult than the feat which Michael had so successfully accomplished.

"Mike, you're a brick," he said. "But then you always are a brick. Thanks awfully."

Michael got up, and shuffled rather than walked across the room to the bell by the fireplace. As long as he was sitting down his big arms and broad shoulders gave the impression of strength, and you would have expected to find when he got up that he was tall and largely made. But when he rose the extreme shortness of his legs manifested itself, and he appeared almost deformed. His hands hung nearly to his knees; he was heavy, short, lumpish.

"But it's more blessed to give than to receive, Francis," he said. "I have the best of you there."

"Well, it's pretty blessed to receive when you are in a tight place, as I was," he said, laughing. "And I am so grateful."

"Yes, I know you are. And it's that which makes me feel rather cheap, because I don't miss what I've given you. But that's distinctly not a reason for your doing it again. You'll have tea, won't you?"

"Why, yes," said Francis, getting up, also, and leaning his elbow on the chimney piece, which was nearly on a level with the top of Michael's head. And if Michael had gracefulness only in the art of giving, Francis's gracefulness in receiving was clearly of a piece with the rest of him. He was tall, slim and alert, with the quick, soft movements of some wild animal. His face, brown with sunburn and pink with brisk going blood, was exceedingly handsome in a boyish and almost effeminate manner, and though he was only eighteen months younger than his cousin, he looked as if nine or ten years might have divided their ages.

"But you are a brick, Mike," he said again, laying his long, brown hand on his cousin's shoulder. "I can't help saying it twice."

"Twice more than was necessary," said Michael, finally dismissing the subject.

The room where they sat was in Michael's flat in Half Moon Street, and high up in one of those tall, discreet looking houses. The windows were wide open on this hot July afternoon, and the bourdon hum of London, where Piccadilly poured by at the street end, came in blended and blunted by distance, but with the suggestion of heat, of movement, of hurrying affairs. The room was very empty of furniture; there was a rug or two on the parquet floor, a long, low bookcase taking up the end near the door, a table, a sofa, three or four chairs, and a piano. Everything was plain, but equally obviously everything was expensive, and the general impression given was that the owner had no desire to be surrounded by things he did not want, but insisted on the superlative quality of the things he did. The rugs, for instance, happened to be of silk, the bookcase happened to be Hepplewhite, the piano bore the most eminent of makers' names. There were three mezzotints on the walls, a dragon's blood vase on the high, carved chimney piece; the whole bore the unmistakable stamp of a fine, individual taste.

"But there's something else I want to talk to you about, Francis," said Michael, as presently afterwards they sat over their tea. "I can't say that I exactly want your advice, but I should like your opinion... Continue reading book >>

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