16 AUGUST 1930, Page 11

The Unsetting Sun

THE burly red-faced dealer in antiques was civil; and apologetic. He had been buying a desk from Sir James Barton, and had " just called, lady, to see if you have any little thing to sell."

" Nothing at all," said Aunt Martha, decidedly. She was vexed at this, his third fruitless visit. Just at lunch-time, too. Ellen would be furious.

" You know how I want this needlework, lady. I'll give yOu five pounds for it."

" I've told you I don't want to sell anything. Least of all an heirloom. And I don't need money."

They were looking at a needlework picture in her dining-room. It was about two feet square, glazed, and framed in gilt.. At the top was worked a yellow silken sun whose benevolent human face peered through shaded yellow silken clouds. Unsetting, through the nights and days of a century and a half, he had beamed on the various figures of his yellow-white satin grounded world bounded by its fourfold horizon of tarnished silver braid.

" I am giving fancy prices for rich Americans. This old English needlework," he explained with a frankness and a provincial accent not unpleasing, " is just what I want to complete an order for a folding screen."

" Impossible. My grandmother would turn in her gr ."

" S'euse me, lady. Listen. I want it now for a special purpose. Any expert will tell you it has no special value by itself. When you're gone, 'sense me, lady, the young folk have no use for sentiment ; it'll go into a sale and fetch about a pound. Why not enjoy the extra money yourself whilst you're alive ? "

(Impertinence. She should have dismissed him at once. Secretly, she liked to listen to his appreciation

and play with it. She had never thought of the picture's money value. It had just always been there, amongst other Lares and Penates, beyond money.)

" No," she repeated, curtly. " A few pounds are soon gone, but the picture is here to be a joy for " 'Sense me, lady, that's just what it is not. Eighteenth century. Cushion cover, or fire screen. But about sixty years ago some later ancestor put it into this gilt frame. Victorian. Bad."

(Horrid man. But he knew his business, and was no doubt honest or Sir James would not have dealt with him. She thought a lot of Sir James.)

" The design, lady, is too higgledy-piggledy. It's the bits in silk I want. The sun and his clouds arc

gems ; as are the rickety vases with flowers. All unbotanical, lady, except the natural carnation. And I want the gay silky butterflies and snails and beetles. Put 'em in their right places on the third panel of my screen and there is a joy for ever, and worth no end o' money."

" The foliage in looped wool ain't no good. Moth starting, lady. See ? And the human figures are crude."

" I've been told that one is Elijah fed by ravens, one the—er—Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, and the other Moses," said Aunt Martha, tremulously. She was unspilt about the moth.

He smiled indulgently. " Well, anyway I'll give you seven pounds ten—No ? You still say no ? " His voice rose. " You'll be sorry."

He brought out a wad of Treasury notes, spread them like playing cards and brandished them ostentatiously.

(How amusing and thrilling !) He repeated his argu- ments with blustering emphasis. " . . . No ? You don't need the money ? You're lucky, lady. Consider the good that can be done with a few unexpected pounds." (Visions of a little impecunious widow with tiny child- ren, one of her residuary legatees. Nice to help in life- time. But not by selling this.)

He carefully counted the notes. " Eight. No ? Well, another, I mean it. No ? Ten. Now then. No ? "

Always talking, Ise came so close to her, fluttering the notes on her frail hands that she drew back shrinking. She had never meant to let herself be tempted thus far.

There was a knock and the door opened impatiently.

" Come in, Ellen, and lay the table. We don't want to part with that picture, do we Ellen ? "

" No'm," said the parlourmaid, vehemently, casting a hatred at the man. " You'll regret it if you do."

" You'll regret it if you don't," thundered the man, redder than ever. " Kindly let your mistress speak for herself."

" Once more. Eleven. What ? No ? "

(Horrors. She saw his greedy eyes sweeping the silver. He would want the spoons next. She was beginning to quail before his sledge-hammer determina- tion.) " Dash it all. Twelve, then," he almost roared.

Oh, misery of indecision. He saw her wavering.

" Now or never. Take twelve, or I go."

. . . Such a lot of notes. Dangling. For a thing never valued like that. Ought she to refuse ? She heSitated and was lost.

He thrust the money into her unwilling hands, took the picture from the wall, and the little world with its faithful unsetting sun was whisked out into the rain and a car of mysterious destiny.

For a moment she stood numbed, dazedly aware that one note was dirtier than the rest. Mechanically she put them in the desk, and ate her lunch.

Wise Ellen, foreseeing regret, only remarked cheerfully, " Well'm, anyhow we got his price up."

That afternoon Aunt Martha went out to tea and told her friends the story. They gasped at what they con- sidered her credulity.

" Oh, Martha, how could you ? If it's worth all that to him, it's worth much more to you."

" The horrid man came here, but we sent him away." " My niece was offered two hundred pounds for Potiphar's Wife in needlework, but refused."

How they rubbed it in.

But it was not till sleepless night that full reaction came.

What had she done ?. . . That picture was an epitome of her youth, spent, it seemed now, in continuously contented sunshine, among flowers, trees and animals, dominated insensibly by Moses, Elijah and the Sermon on the Mount. She had sacrilegiously sold, bartered, a priceless possession for a few paltry pounds, and too few, probably, at that. She had been a fool, and fooled.

Only one ray of comfort. She herself was the only victim. Nobody else would suffer. She had no near relations. She staggered across the room, drew the curtain and opened the east window for a breath of morning air.

What a vision l Over the distant wolds the sun had just risen flooding his little clouds with living gold. The real thing. Not unsetting, yet how enduring ; and nothing, not even her heart, was hid from the heat thereof.

She got back into bed, picturing the unexpected delight coming to that little widow legatee.

Then gentle sleep slid into her soul.