Archibald Joseph Cronin was born in 1896. In 1919 he graduated from Glasgow University where he took a medical course. After that he practised medicine for over ten years and gained a lot of experience of life.
Though Cronin was an excellent doctor, he hoped some time to take up a literary career. The opportunity to write came when his medical practice was interrupted by an illness. His first novel, “Hatter’s Castle”, came out in 1931. It was followed by a number of other novels. “A Thing of Beauty” was published in 1955.
Stephen Desmonde had returned home after several years at Oxford, where he had been taking a course of theology. Stephen himself did not want to be a parson and had only taken up the course because his father wished him to do so. He was fond of painting and wanted to devote his life to art.
Against his father’s will he left England to study painting in France. On arriving in Paris he entered Professor Dupret’s
Art School. The extract given below is an account of his meeting with other students from England.
At one o’clock a bell rang. Immediately a cry went up from everywhere and all around the students began crowding towards the door, pushing Stephen forward against his will. Suddenly he heard a pleasant voice behind him.
“You’re English, aren’t you? I noticed you come in. My name’s Harry Chester.”
Stephen turned his head and discovered a good-looking young man of about his own age smiling down at him.
“I’ll wait for you downstairs,” Chester called out as the crowd carried him away.
Outside Chester offered his hand. “I hope you don’t mind my speaking to you.” Stephen, who felt lonely in Paris, was glad to find a friend. When Stephen had introduced himself Chester paused for a moment, then exclaimed: “How about lunching with me?” They started off together along the street. The restaurant they went to was quite near, a narrow, low-ceilinged room, opening into a dark little kitchen. Already the place was crowded, mainly by students, but Chester led the way through to a little yard and, calmly removing the card marked ‘Reserved’ from a table at the far end, invited Stephen to be seated.
Immediately a stout, red-faced woman in black ran out of the kitchen in protest.
“No, no, Harry… this place is reserved for Monsieur Lambert.”
“Do not get excited, Madame Chobert,” Chester smiled. “You know Monsieur Lambert is my good friend. Besides, he is always late.”
Madame Chobert was not pleased; she tried to argue, but in the end Harry Chester’s pleasant manner was too much for her. She stopped arguing and offered the title-card for their inspection.
At Chester’s suggestion they ordered tomato soup, steak and cheese. Beer was already on the table.
“Strange, isn’t it,” Chester said, “how you can always tell a University man. Philip Lambert is one too. After Harrow” – he shot a quick glance at Stephen – “I should have gone to Cambridge myself… if I hadn’t given it up for art.” He went on to say, with a smile, that his father had been a well-known tea-planter in Ceylon. His mother, now a widow, lived in England and was quite rich. Naturally she spoiled him by giving him too much money. He had been in Paris eighteen) months.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said finally.
They had finished their coffee. People were beginning to leave.
“Your friend Lambert doesn’t seem to be coming,” Stephen said at last, to break the silence.
Chester laughed, “You never quite know when he’ll turn up. His habits are quite irregular.”
After a few more remarks about Philip Lambert, Harry Chester suddenly sat up.