GEORGE MOORE Author of "Spring Days," "A Mummer's Wife" Etc.
With Introduction By TEMPLE SCOTT
NEW YORK 1915
COPYRIGHT, 1895, BY MACMILLAN AND CO.
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY BRENTANO'S.
Looking back over the twenty years since "Celibates" was first published I find that the George Moore of the earlier year is the George Moore of to-day. The novelist of 1895 and the novelist of 1915 are one and the same person. Each is really interested in himself; each is more concerned with how the world and its humanity appear to him than how they appear to the casual observer or how they may be in themselves. The writer is always expressing himself through the facts and personalities which have stirred his imagination to creative effort. George Moore has never been a reporter or a philosopher; he has always been an artist.
Now to say that the author of "Celibates" is always expressing himself does not at all mean that he is recording merely his private sensations, emotions, and moods. Egoist as he is, George Moore could not write his autobiography. He tried to do this lately in "Ave," "Vale," and "Salve," and failed—failed captivatingly. He is always most himself when he is dealing with what is not himself—with skies and hills and ocean and gardens and men and women. Moore is a naturalist in the finest sense of that word. He deals with nature as the artist must deal with it if nature is to be understood and enjoyed. For Moore's relationship with nature, and especially with human nature, is of that rare kind which is the experience of the very few—of those fine spirits endowed with the highest sympathy—a sympathy which is not a feeling with or for others but an actual union with others, a union which brings suffering as well as enjoyment. This is the artist's burden of sorrow and it is also his privilege. It is because of it that every true work of art has in it also something of a religious influence—a binding power which unites the separated onlookers in an experience of a common emotion. If the artist have not this peculiar sympathy he can have no vision and will never be a creator; he will never show us or tell us the new and strange mysteries of life which nature is continually unfolding. The artist's mission is to reveal to us the visions he alone has been vouchsafed to see, and to reveal them so that the revelation is a creation. The men and women he is introducing to us must be as real and as living to us as they are to him. That is what George Moore has done in "Celibates" and that is why I say he is an artist.
"Celibates" consists of three stories—two of women and one of a man. Mildred Lawson and John Norton are celibates by nature. Agnes Lahens is a celibate from environment and circumstance. Each of the three is utterly different from the other, and yet all are alike in that they are the products of a modern civilization. Mildred and John are without that compulsive force which is known as the sexual passion. If they have it at all, it has been diluted by tradition and so-called culture into a mere sensation. Agnes's passion is an arrested one, so that what there is of it is easily diverted into an expression of religious aspiration.
Mildred Lawson would be called a born flirt. She is pretty, charming, and talented; but she is cold, unresponsive, selfish, and futile. She is also eminently respectable after the English middle-class manner. She has ambition, but she lacks the will-power to school herself and the determination to accomplish. She is rich in goods but very poor in goodness. She is often moved profoundly by beautiful thoughts and uplifting emotions of which she herself is the pleasing, pulsating centre; but her soul is negative, so that her spiritual states evaporate when the opportunity is given her for transforming them into acts. She never gets anywhere. She is self-conscious to a degree and unstable as water. After breaking one man's heart and deadening the hearts of three other men, she finally accepts an old and rejected sweetheart, only to be torn by suspicions that he no longer cares for her and is marrying her only for her money. We leave her a prey to thoughts of a life which, unconsciously, she has brought on herself.
John Norton might be called the born monk. He is, however, but the male embodiment of that cultured selfishness of which Mildred Lawson is the female expression. He is not a flirt. He takes life too seriously to be that; but he takes it so seriously that there is only room in the world for himself alone. He comes of a fine old English stock, is rich, and is his own master. He treats his mother as a cold- blooded English gentleman, with Norton's peculiar nature, would treat a mother—with polite but firm disregard of her claims. He has enough and to spare of will-power, but it is become degenerated into obstinacy. He fails because he wants too much, because he is unsocial at heart, and does not understand that life means giving as well as taking. His sexual passion finds expression in a religious fanaticism which is but the expression of utter selfishness, as all sexual passion is. In the company of Kitty he has moments of exaltation, when his degenerate passion scents the pure air of love; but he can never let himself go. When, on one occasion, he so far forgets himself as to allow his heart to be responsive to Kitty's natural purity and he kisses her, he is so shocked at what he has done that he runs away and leaves the girl to a terrible fate. We leave him also a prey to thoughts of what he might have prevented. He, too, like Mildred Lawson, must henceforth face a life of his own unconscious making.
Agnes Lahens is the victim of a heartless, selfish society in which the abuse of love has made its world a desert and its products Dead Sea fruit. Out of a sheer impulse for self-protection she flies to the nunnery, which is ready to give her life at the price of her womanhood and her self-sacrifice.
As portraits, these of Mildred Lawson and John Norton are exquisitely finished. They are half-lengths, with a quality of coloring fascinating in its repelling truth. Every tint and shade have been cunningly and caressingly laid in, so that the features, living and animated, are yet filled with suggestions of the spiritual barrenness in the originals. Very human they are, and yet they are without those gracious qualities which link humanity with what we feel to be divine. There is the touch of nature here, but it is not the touch which makes the whole world kin. That touch we ourselves supply; and it speaks eloquently for Moore's art that in picturing these unlovely beings he throws us back on our better selves. Beyond the vision of these celibates here revealed we see a passionate humanity, working, hating, sorrowing, and dying, yet always loving, and in loving finding its fullest life in an earthly salvation. True love is a mighty democrat. Knowing these "Celibates," we welcome the more gladly those who, even if less gifted, are ready to walk with us, hand in hand, along the common human highway of the "pilgrim's progress."
The tall double stocks were breathing heavily in the dark garden; the delicate sweetness of the syringa moved as if on tip-toe towards the windows; but it was the aching smell of lilies that kept Mildred awake.
As she tossed to and fro the recollections of the day turned and turned in her brain, ticking loudly, and she could see each event as distinctly as the figures on the dial of a great clock.
'What a strange woman that Mrs. Fargus—her spectacles, her short hair, and that dreadful cap which she wore at the tennis party! It was impossible not to feel sorry for her, she did look so ridiculous. I wonder her husband allows her to make such a guy of herself. What a curious little man, his great cough and that foolish shouting manner; a good-natured, empty-headed little fellow. They are a funny couple! Harold knew her husband at Oxford; they were at the same college. She took honours at Oxford; that's why she seemed out of place in a little town like Sutton. She is quite different from her husband; he couldn't pass his examinations; he had been obliged to leave. ... What made them marry?
'I don't know anything about Comte—I wish I did; it is so dreadful to be ignorant. I never felt my ignorance before, but that little woman does make me feel it, not that she intrudes her learning on any one; I wish she did, for I want to learn. I wish I could remember what she told me: that all knowledge passes through three states: the theological, the—the—metaphysical, and the scientific. We are religious when we are children, metaphysical when we are one-and- twenty, and as we get old we grow scientific. And I must not forget this, that what is true for the individual is true for the race. In the earliest ages man was religious (I wonder what our vicar would say if he heard this). In the Middle Ages man was metaphysical, and in these latter days he is growing scientific.
'The other day when I came into the drawing-room she didn't say a word. I waited and waited to see if she would speak—no, not a word. She sat reading. Occasionally she would look up, stare at the ceiling, and then take a note. I wonder what she put down on that slip of paper? But when I spoke she seemed glad to talk, and she told me about Oxford. It evidently was the pleasantest time of her life. It must have been very curious. There were a hundred girls, and they used to run in and out of each other's rooms, and they had dances; they danced with each other, and never thought about men. She told me she never enjoyed any dances so much as those; and they had a gymnasium, and special clothes to wear there—a sort of bloomer costume. It must have been very jolly. I wish I had gone to Oxford. Girls dancing together, and never thinking about men. How nice!
'At Oxford they say that marriage is not the only mission for women— that is to say, for some women. They don't despise marriage, but they think that for some women there is another mission. When I spoke to Mrs. Fargus about her marriage, she had to admit that she had written to her college friends to apologise—no, not to apologise, she said, but to explain. She was not ashamed, but she thought she owed them an explanation. Just fancy any of the girls in Sutton being ashamed of being married!'
The darkness was thick with wandering scents, and Mildred's thoughts withered in the heat. She closed her eyes; she lay quite still, but the fever of the night devoured her; the sheet burned like a flame; she opened her eyes, and was soon thinking as eagerly as before.
She thought of the various possibilities that marriage would shut out to her for ever. She reproached herself for having engaged herself to Alfred Stanby, and remembered that Harold had been opposed to the match, and had refused to give his consent until Alfred was in a position to settle five hundred a year upon her. ... Alfred would expect her to keep house for him exactly as she was now keeping house for her brother. Year after year the same thing, seeing Alfred go away in the morning, seeing him come home in the evening. That was how her life would pass. She did not wish to be cruel; she knew that Alfred would suffer terribly if she broke off her engagement, but it would be still more cruel to marry him if she did not think she would make him happy, and the conviction that she would not make him happy pressed heavily upon her. What was she to do? She could not, she dared not, face the life he offered her. It would be selfish of her to do so.
The word 'selfish' suggested a new train of thought to Mildred. She argued that it was not for selfish motives that she desired freedom. If she thought that, she would marry him to-morrow. It was because she did not wish to lead a selfish life that she intended to break off her engagement. She wished to live for something; she wished to accomplish something; what could she do? There was art. She would like to be an artist! She paused, astonished at the possibility. But why not she as well as the other women whom she had met at Mrs. Fargus'? She had met many artists—ladies who had studios—at Mrs. Fargus'.
She had been to their studios and had admired their independence. They had spoken of study in Paris, and of a village near Paris where they went to paint landscape. Each had a room at the inn; they met at meal times, and spent the day in the woods and fields. Mildred had once been fond of drawing, and in the heat of the summer night she wondered if she could do anything worth doing. She knew that she would like to try. She would do anything sooner than settle down with Alfred. Marriage and children were not the only possibilities in woman's life. The girls she knew thought so, but the girls Mrs. Fargus knew didn't think so.
And rolling over in her hot bed she lamented that there was no escape for a girl from marriage. If so, why not Alfred Stanby—he as well as another? But no, she could not settle down to keep house for Alfred for the rest of her life. She asked herself again why she should marry at all—what it was that compelled all girls, rich or poor, it was all the same, to marry and keep house for their husbands. She remembered that she had five hundred a year, and that she would have four thousand a year if her brother died—the distillery was worth that. But money made no difference. There was something in life which forced all girls into marriage, with their will or against their will. Marriage, marriage, always marriage—always the eternal question of sex, as if there was nothing else in the world. But there was much else in life. There was a nobler purpose in life than keeping house for a man. Of that she felt quite sure, and she hoped that she would find a vocation. She must first educate herself, so far she knew, and that was all that was at present necessary for her to know.
'But how hot it is; I shan't be able to go out in the cart to-morrow. ... I wish everything would change, especially the weather. I want to go away. I hate living in a house without another woman. I wish Harold would let me have a companion—a nice elderly lady, but not too elderly—a woman about forty, who could talk; some one like Mrs. Fargus. When mother was alive it was different. She has been dead now three years. How long it seems! ... Poor mother! I wish she were here. I scarcely knew much of father; he went to the city every morning, just as Harold does, by that dreadful ten minutes past nine. It seems to me that I have never heard of anything all my life but that horrible ten minutes past nine and the half-past six from London Bridge. I don't hear so much about the half-past six, but the ten minutes past nine is never out of my head. Father is dead seven years, mother is dead three, and since her death I have kept house for Harold.'
Then as sleep pressed upon her eyelids Mildred's thoughts grew disjointed. ... 'Alfred, I have thought it all over. I cannot marry you. ... Do not reproach me,' she said between dreaming and waking; and as the purple space of sky between the trees grew paler, she heard the first birds. Then dream and reality grew undistinguishable, and listening to the carolling of a thrush she saw a melancholy face, and then a dejected figure pass into the twilight.
'What a fright I am looking! I did not get to sleep till after two o'clock; the heat was something dreadful, and to-day will be hotter still. One doesn't know what to wear.'
She settled the ribbons in her white dress, and looked once again in the glass to see if the soft, almost fluffy, hair, which the least breath disturbed was disarranged. She smoothed it with her short white hand. There was a wistful expression in her brown eyes, a little pathetic won't-you-care-for-me expression which she cultivated, knowing its charm in her somewhat short, rather broad face, which ended in a pointed chin: the nose was slightly tip-tilted, her teeth were white, but too large. Her figure was delicate, and with quick steps she hurried along the passages and down the high staircase. Harold was standing before the fireplace, reading the Times, when she entered.
'You are rather late, Mildred. I am afraid I shall lose the ten minutes past nine.'
'My dear Harold, you have gone up to town for the last ten years by that train, and every day we go through a little scene of fears and doubts; you have never yet missed it, I may safely assume you will not miss it this morning.'
'I'm afraid I shall have to order the cart, and I like to get a walk if possible in the morning.'
'I can walk it in twelve minutes.'
'I shouldn't like to walk it in this broiling sun in fifteen. ... By the way, have you looked at the glass this morning?'
'No; I am tired of looking at it. It never moves from "set fair."'
'It is intolerably hot—can you sleep at night?'
'No; I didn't get to sleep till after two. I lay awake thinking of Mrs. Fargus.'
'I never saw you talk to a woman like that before. I wonder what you see in her. She's very plain. I daresay she's very clever, but she never says anything—at least not to me.'
'She talks fast enough on her own subjects. You didn't try to draw her out. She requires drawing out. ... But it wasn't so much Mrs. Fargus as having a woman in the house. It makes one's life so different; one feels more at ease. I think I ought to have a companion.'
'Have a middle-aged lady here, who would bore me with her conversation all through dinner when I come home from the City tired and worn out!'
'But you don't think that your conversation when you "come home from the City tired and worn out" has no interest whatever for me; that this has turned out a good investment; that the shares have gone up, and will go up again? I should like to know how I am to interest myself in all that. What has it to do with me?'
'What has it to do with you! How do you think that this house and grounds, carriages and horses and servants, glasshouses without end, are paid for? Do I ever grumble about the dressmakers' bills?—and heaven knows they are high enough. I believe all your hats and hosiery are put down to house expenses, but I never grumble. I let you have everything you want—horses, carriages, dresses, servants. You ought to be the happiest girl in the world in this beautiful place.'
'Beautiful place! I hate the place; I hate it—a nasty, gaudy, vulgar place, in a vulgar suburb, where nothing but money-grubbing is thought of from morning, noon, till night; how much percentage can be got out of everything; cut down the salaries of the employees; work everything on the most economic basis; it does not matter what the employees suffer so long as seven per cent. dividend is declared at the end of the year. I hate the place.'
'My dear, dear Mildred, what are you saying? I never heard you talk like this before. Mrs. Fargus has been filling your head with nonsense. I wish I had never asked her to the house; absurd little creature, with her eternal talk about culture, her cropped hair, and her spectacles glimmering. What nonsense she has filled your head with!'
'Mrs. Fargus is a very clever woman. ... I think I should like go to Girton.'
'Go to Girton!'
'Yes, go to Girton. I've never had any proper education. I should like to learn Greek. Living here, cooped up with a man all one's life isn't my idea. I should like to see more of my own sex. Mrs. Fargus told me about the emulation of the class-rooms, about the gymnasium, about the dances the girls had in each other's rooms. She never enjoyed any dances like those. She said that I must feel lonely living in a house without another woman.'
'I know what it'll be. I shall never hear the end of Mrs. Fargus. I wish I'd never asked them.'
'Men are so selfish! If by any chance they do anything that pleases any one but themselves, how they regret it.'
Harold was about the middle height, but he gave the impression of a small man. He was good-looking; but his features were without charm, for his mind was uninteresting—a dry, barren mind, a somewhat stubbly mind—but there was an honest kindliness in his little eyes which was absent from his sister's. The conversation had paused, and he glanced quickly every now and then at her pretty, wistful face, expressive at this moment of much irritated and nervous dissatisfaction; also an irritated obstinacy lurked in her eyes, and, knowing how obstinate she was in her ideas, Harold sincerely dreaded that she might go off to Girton to learn Greek—any slightest word might precipitate the catastrophe.
'I think at least that I might have a companion,' she said at last.
'Of course you can have a companion if you like, Mildred; but I thought you were going to marry Alfred Stanby?'
'You objected to him; you said he had nothing—that he couldn't afford to marry.'
'Yes, until he got his appointment; but I hear now that he's nearly certain of it.'
'I don't think I could marry Alfred.'
'You threw Lumly over, who was an excellent match, for Alfred. So long as Alfred wasn't in a position to marry you, you would hear of no one else, and now—but you don't mean to say you are going to throw him over.'
'I don't know what I shall do.'
'Well, I have no time to discuss the matter with you now. It is seven minutes to nine. I shall only have just time to catch the train by walking very fast. Good-bye.'
'Please, mam, any orders to-day for the butcher?'
'Always the same question—how tired I am of hearing the same words. I suppose it is very wicked of me to be so discontented,' thought Mildred, as she sat on the sofa with her key-basket in her hand; 'but I have got so tired of Sutton. I know I shouldn't bother Harold; he is very good and he does his best to please me. It is very odd. I was all right till Mrs. Fargus came, she upset me. It was all in my mind before, no doubt; but she brought it out. Now I can't interest myself in anything. I really don't care to go to this tennis party, and the people who go there are not in the least interesting. I am certain I should not meet a soul whom I should care to speak to. No, I won't go there. There's a lot to be done in the greenhouses, and in the afternoon I will write a long letter to Mrs. Fargus. She promised to send me a list of books to read.'
There was nothing definite in her mind, but something was germinating within her, and when the work of the day was done, she wondered at the great tranquillity of the garden. A servant was there in a print dress, and the violet of the skies and the green of the trees seemed to be closing about her like a tomb. 'How beautiful!' Mildred mused softly; 'I wish I could paint that.'
A little surprised and startled, she went upstairs to look for her box of water-colours; she had not used it since she left school. She found also an old block, with a few sheets remaining; and she worked on and on, conscious only of the green stillness of the trees and the romance of rose and grey that the sky unfolded. She had begun her second water-colour, and was so intent upon it as not to be aware that a new presence had come into the garden. Alfred Stanby was walking towards her. He was a tall, elegantly dressed, good-looking young man.
'What! painting? I thought you had given it up. Let me see.'
'Oh, Alfred, how you startled me!'
He took the sketch from the girl's lap, and handing it back, he said:
'I suppose you had nothing else to do this afternoon; it was too hot to go out in the cart. Do you like painting?'
'Yes, I think I do.'
They were looking at each other—and there was a questioning look in the girl's eyes—for she perceived in that moment more distinctly than she had before the difference in their natures.
'Have you finished the smoking cap you are making for me?'
'No; I did not feel inclined to go on with it.'
Something in Mildred's tone of voice and manner struck Alfred, and, dropping his self-consciousness, he said:
'You thought that I'd like a water-colour sketch better.'
Mildred did not answer.
'I should like to have some drawings to hang in the smoking-room when we're married. But I like figures better than landscapes. You never tried horses and dogs, did you?'
'No, I never did,' Mildred answered languidly, and she continued to work on her sky. But her thoughts were far from it, and she noticed that she was spoiling it. 'No, I never tried horses and dogs.'
'But you could, dearest, if you were to try. You could do anything you tried. You are so clever.'
'I don't know that I am; I should like to be.'
They looked at each other, and anxiously each strove to read the other's thoughts.
'Landscapes are more suited to a drawing-room than a smoking-room. It will look very well in your drawing-room when we're married. We shall want some pictures to cover the walls.'
At the word marriage, Mildred's lips seemed to grow thinner. The conversation paused. Alfred noticed that she hesitated, that she was striving to speak. She had broken off her engagement once before with him, and he had begun to fear that she was going to do so again. There was a look of mingled irresolution and determination in her face. She continued to work on her sky; but at every touch it grew worse, and, feeling that she had irretrievably spoilt her drawing, she said:
'But do you think that we shall ever be married, Alfred?'
'Of course. Why? Are you going to break it off?'
'We have been engaged nearly two years, and there seems no prospect of our being married. Harold will never consent. It does not seem fair to keep you waiting any longer.'
'I'd willingly wait twenty years for you, Mildred.'
She looked at him a little tenderly, and he continued more confidently. 'But I'm glad to say there is no longer any question of waiting. My father has consented to settle four hundred a year upon me, the same sum as your brother proposes to settle on you. We can be married when you like.'
She only looked at the spoilt water-colour, and it was with difficulty that Alfred restrained himself from snatching it out of her hands.
'You do not answer. You heard what I said, that my father had agreed to settle four hundred a year upon me?'
'I'm sure I'm very glad, for your sake.'
'That's a very cold answer, Mildred. I think I can say that I'm sure of the appointment.'
'I'm glad, indeed I am, Alfred.'
'But only for my sake?'
Mildred sat looking at the water-colour.
'You see our marriage has been delayed so long; many things have come between us.'
'Much that I'm afraid you'd not understand. You've often reproached me,' she said, her voice quickening a little, 'with coldness. I'm cold; it is not my fault. I'm afraid I'm not like other girls. ... I don't think I want to be married.'
'This is Mrs. Fargus' doing. What do you want?'
'I'm not quite sure. I should like to study.'
'This must be Mrs. Fargus.'
'I should like to do something.'
'Marriage is not everything. There are other things. I should like to study art.'
'But marriage won't prevent your studying art.'
'I want to go away, to leave Sutton. I should like to travel.'
'But we should travel—our honeymoon.'
'I don't think I could give up my freedom, Alfred; I've thought it all over. I'm afraid I'm not the wife for you.'
'Some one else has come between us? Some one richer. Who's this other fellow?'
'No; there's no one else. I assure you there's no one else. I don't think I shall marry at all. There are other things besides marriage.... I'm not fitted for marriage. I'm not strong. I don't think I could have children. It would kill me.'
'All this is the result of Mrs. Fargus. I can read her ideas in every word you say. Women like Mrs. Fargus ought to be ducked in the horse- pond. They're a curse.'
'You're as strong as other girls. I never heard of anything being the matter with you. You're rather thin, that's all. You ought to go away for a change of air. I never heard such things; a young girl who has been brought up like you. I don't know what Harold would say—not fitted for marriage; not strong enough to bear children. What conversations you must have had with Mrs. Fargus; studying art, and the rest of it. Really, Mildred, I did not think a young girl ever thought of such things.'
'We cannot discuss the subject. We had better let it drop.'
'Yes,' he said, 'we'd better say no more; the least said the soonest mended. You're ill, you don't know what you're saying. You're not looking well; you've been brooding over things. You'd better go away for a change. When you come back you'll think differently.'
'Go away for a change! Yes,' she said, 'I've been thinking over things and am not feeling well. But I know my own mind now. I can never love you as I should like to.'
'Then you'd like to love me. Ah, I will make you love me.. I'll teach you to love me! Only give me the chance.'
'I don't think I shall ever love—at least, not as other girls do.'
He leaned forward and took her hand; he caught her other hand, and the movement expressed his belief in his power to make her love him.
'No,' she said, resisting him. 'You cannot. I'm as cold as ice.'
'Think what you're doing, Mildred. You're sacrificing a great love— (no man will ever love you as I do)—and for a lot of stuff about education that Mrs. Fargus has filled your head with. You're sacrificing your life for that,' he said, pointing to the sketch that had fallen on the grass. 'Is it worth it?'
She picked up the sketch.
'It was better before you came,' she said, examining it absent- mindedly. 'I went on working at it; I've spoiled it.' Then, noticing the incongruity, she added, 'But it doesn't matter. Art is not the only thing in the world. There is good to be done if one only knew how to do it. I don't mean charity, such goodness is only on the surface, it is merely a short cut to the real true goodness. Art may be only selfishness, indeed I'm inclined to think it is, but art is education, not the best, perhaps, but the best within my reach.'
'Mildred, I really do not understand. You cannot be well, or you wouldn't talk so.'
'I'm quite well,' she said. 'I hardly expected you would understand. But I beg you to believe that I cannot act otherwise. My life is not with you. I feel sure of that.'
The words were spoken so decisively that he knew he would not succeed in changing her. Then his face grew pale with anger, and he said: 'Then everything you've said—all your promises—everything was a lie, a wretched lie.'
'No, Alfred, I tried to believe. I did believe, but I had not thought much then. Remember, I was only eighteen.' She gathered up her painting materials, and, holding out her hand, said, 'Won't you forgive me?'
'No, I cannot forgive you.' She saw him walk down the pathway, she saw him disappear in the shadow. And this rupture was all that seemed real in their love story. It was in his departure that she felt, for the first time, the touch of reality.
Mildred did not see Alfred again. In the pauses of her painting she wondered if he thought of her, if he missed her. Something had gone out of her life, but a great deal more had come into it.
Mr. Hoskin, a young painter, whose pictures were sometimes rejected in the Academy, but who was a little lion in the minor exhibitions, came once a week to give her lessons, and when she went to town she called at his studio with her sketches. Mr. Hoskin's studio was near the King's Road, the last of a row of red houses, with gables, cross- beams, and palings. He was a good-looking, blond man, somewhat inclined to the poetical and melancholy type; his hair bristled, and he wore a close-cut red beard; the moustache was long and silky; there was a gentle, pathetic look in his pale blue eyes; and a slight hesitation of speech, an inability to express himself in words, created a passing impression of a rather foolish, tiresome person. But beneath this exterior there lay a deep, true nature, which found expression in twilit landscapes, the tenderness of cottage lights in the gloaming, vague silhouettes, and vague skies and fields. Ralph Hoskin was very poor: his pathetic pictures did not find many purchasers, and he lived principally by teaching.
But he had not given Mildred her fourth lesson in landscape painting when he received an advantageous offer to copy two pictures by Turner in the National Gallery. Would it be convenient to her to take her lesson on Friday instead of on Thursday? She listened to him, her eyes wide open, and then in her little allusive way suggested that she would like to copy something. She might as well take her lesson in the National Gallery as in Sutton. Besides, he would be able to take her round the gallery and explain the merits of the pictures.
She was anxious to get away from Sutton, and the prospect of long days spent in London pleased her, and on the following Thursday Harold took her up to London by the ten minutes past nine. For the first time she found something romantic in that train. They drove from Victoria in a. hansom. Mr. Hoskin was waiting for her on the steps of the National Gallery.
'I'm so frightened,' she said; 'I'm afraid I don't paint well enough.'
'You'll get on all right. I'll see you through. This way. I've got your easel, and your place is taken.'
They went up to the galleries.
'Oh, dear me, this seems rather alarming!' she exclaimed, stopping before the crowd of easels, the paint-boxes, the palettes on the thumbs, the sheaves of brushes, the maulsticks in the air. She glanced at the work, seeking eagerly for copies, worse than any she was likely to perpetrate. Mr. Hoskin assured her that there were many in the gallery who could not do as well as she. And she experienced a little thrill when he led her to the easel. A beautiful white canvas stood on it ready for her to begin, and on a chair by the side of the easel was her paint-box and brushes. He told her where she would find him, in the Turner room, and that she must not hesitate to come and fetch him whenever she was in difficulties.
'I should like you to see the drawing,' she said, 'before I begin to paint.'
'I shall look to your drawing many times before I allow you to begin painting. It will take you at least a couple of days to get it right.... Don't be afraid,' he said, glancing round; 'lots of them can't do as well as you. I shall be back about lunch time.'
The picture that Mildred had elected to copy was Reynolds's angel heads. She looked at the brown gold of their hair, and wondered what combination of umber and sienna would produce it. She studied the delicate bloom of their cheeks, and wondered what mysterious proportions of white, ochre, and carmine she would have to use to obtain it. The bright blue and grey of the eyes frightened her. She felt sure that such colour did not exist in the little tin tubes that lay in rows in the black japanned box by her side. Already she despaired. But before she began to paint she would have to draw those heavenly faces in every feature. It was more difficult than sketching from nature. She could not follow the drawing, it seemed to escape her. It did not exist in lines which she could measure, which she could follow. It seemed to have grown out of the canvas rather than to have been placed there. The faces were leaned over—illusive foreshortenings which she could not hope to catch. The girl in front of her was making, it seemed to Mildred, a perfect copy. There seemed to be no difference, or very little, between her work and Reynolds's. Mildred felt that she could copy the copy easier than she could the original.
But on the whole she got on better than she had expected, and it was not till she came to the fifth head, that she found she had drawn them all a little too large, and had not sufficient space left on her canvas. This was a disappointment. There was nothing for it but to dust out her drawing and begin it all again. She grew absorbed in her work; she did not see the girl in front of her, nor the young man copying opposite; she did not notice their visits to each other's easels; she forgot everything in the passion of drawing. Time went by without her perceiving it; she was startled by the sound of her master's voice and looked in glad surprise.
'How are you getting on?' he said.
'Very badly. Can't you see?'
'No, not so badly. Will you let me sit down? Will you give me your charcoal?'
'The first thing is to get the heads into their places on the canvas; don't think of detail; but of two or three points, the crown of the head, the point of the chin, the placing of the ear. If you get them exactly right the rest will come easily. You see there was not much to correct.' He worked on the drawing for some few minutes, and then getting up he said, 'But you'll want some lunch; it is one o'clock. There's a refreshment room downstairs. Let me introduce you to Miss Laurence,' he said. The women bowed. 'You're doing an excellent copy, Miss Laurence.'
'Praise from you is praise indeed.'
'I would give anything to paint like that,' said Mildred.
'You've only just begun painting,' said Miss Laurence.
'Only a few months,' said Mildred.
'Miss Lawson does some very pretty sketches from nature,' said Mr. Hoskin; 'this is her first attempt at copying.'
'I shall never get those colours,' said Mildred. 'You must tell me which you use.'
'Mr. Hoskin can tell you better than I. You can't have a better master.'
'Do you copy much here?' asked Mildred.
'I paint portraits when I can get them to do; when I can't, I come here and copy.... We're in the same boat,' she said, turning to Mr. Hoskin. 'Mr. Hoskin paints beautiful landscapes as long as he can find customers; when he can't, he undertakes to copy a Turner.'
Mildred noticed the expression that passed over her master's face. It quickly disappeared, and he said, 'Will you take Miss Lawson to the refreshment room, Miss Laurence? You're going there I suppose.'
'Yes, I'm going to the lunch-room, and shall be very glad to show Miss Lawson the way.'
And, in company with quite a number of students, they walked through the galleries. Mildred noticed that Miss Laurence's nose was hooked, that her feet were small, and that she wore brown-leather shoes. Suddenly Miss Laurence said 'This way,' and she went through a door marked 'Students only.' Mr. Hoskin held the door open for her, they went down some stone steps looking on a courtyard. Mr. Hoskin said, 'I always think of Peter De Hooch when I go down these stairs. The contrast between its twilight and the brightness of the courtyard is quite in his manner.'
'And I always think how much I can afford to spend on my lunch,' said Elsie laughing.
The men turned to the left top to go to their room, the women turned to the right to go to theirs.
'This way,' said Miss Laurence, and she opened a glass door, and Mildred found herself in what looked like an eating-house of the poorer sort. There was a counter where tea and coffee and rolls and butter were sold. Plates of beef and ham could be had there, too. The students paid for their food at the counter, and carried it to the tables.
'I can still afford a plate of beef,' said Miss Laurence, 'but I don't know how long I shall be able to if things go on as they've been going. But you don't know what it is to want money,' and in a rapid glance Miss Laurence roughly calculated the price of Mildred's clothes.
A tall, rather handsome girl, with dark coarse hair and a face lit up by round grey eyes, entered.
'So you are here, Elsie,' and she stared at Mildred.
'Let me introduce you to Miss Lawson. Miss Lawson, Miss Cissy Clive.'
'I'm as hungry as a hawk,' Cissy said, and she selected the plate on which there was most beef.
'I haven't seen you here before, Miss Lawson. Is this your first day?'
'Yes, this is my first day.'
They took their food to the nearest table and Elsie asked Cissy if she had finished her copy of Etty's 'Bather.' Cissy told how the old gentleman in charge of the gallery had read her a lecture on the subject. He did not like to see such pictures copied, especially by young women. Copies of such pictures attracted visitors. But Cissy had insisted, and he had put her and the picture into a little room off the main gallery, where she could pursue her nefarious work unperceived.
The girls laughed heartily. Elsie asked for whom Cissy was making the copy.
'For a friend of Freddy's—a very rich fellow. Herbert is going to get him to give me a commission for a set of nude figures. Freddy has just come back from Monte Carlo. He has lost all his money.... He says he's "stony" and doesn't know how he'll pull through.'
'Was he here this morning?'
'He ran in for a moment to see me.... I'm dining with him to-night.'
You're not at home, then?'
'No, I forgot to tell you, I'm staying with you, so be careful not to give me away if you should meet mother. Freddy will be back this afternoon. I'll get him to ask you if you'll come.'
'I promised to go out with Walter to-night.'
'You can put him off. Say that you've some work to finish—some black and white.'
'Then he'd want to come round to the studio. I don't like to put him off.'
'As you like.... It'll be a very jolly dinner. Johnny and Herbert are coming. But I daresay Freddy'll ask Walter. He'll do anything I ask him.'
When lunch was over Cissy and Elsie took each other's arms and went upstairs together. Mildred heard Cissy ask who she was.
Elsie whispered, 'A pupil of Ralph's. You shouldn't have talked so openly before her.'
'So his name is Ralph,' Mildred said to herself, and thought that she liked the name.
Mildred soon began to perceive and to understand the intimate life of the galleries, a strange life full of its special idiosyncrasies. There were titled ladies who came with their maids and commanded respect from the keeper of the gallery, and there was a lady with bright yellow hair who occasioned him much anxiety. For she allowed visitors not only to enter into conversation with her, but if they pleased her fancy she would walk about the galleries with them and take them out to lunch. There was an old man who copied Hogarth, he was madly in love with a young woman who copied Rossetti. But she was in love with an academy student who patronised all the girls and spent his time in correcting their drawings. A little further away was another old man who copied Turner. By a special permission he came at eight o'clock, two hours before the galleries were open. It was said that with a tree from one picture, a foreground from another, a piece of distance from a third, a sky from a fourth, he had made a picture which had taken in the Academicians, and had been hung in Burlington House as an original work by Crome. Most of his work was done before the students entered the galleries; he did very little after ten o'clock; he pottered round from easel to easel chattering; but he never imparted the least of his secrets. He knew how to evade questions, and after ten minutes' cross-examination he would say 'Good morning,' and leave the student no wiser than he was before. A legend was in circulation that to imitate Turner's rough surfaces he covered his canvas with plaster of Paris and glazed upon it.
The little life of the galleries was alive with story. Walter was a fair young man with abundant hair and conversation. Elsie hung about his easel. He covered a canvas with erratic blots of colour and quaint signs, but his plausive eloquence carried him through, and Elsie thought more highly of his talents than he did of hers. They were garrulous one as the other, and it was pleasant to see them strolling about the galleries criticising and admiring, until Elsie said:
'Now, Walter, I must get back to my work, and don't you think it would be better if you went on with yours?'
So far as Mildred could see, Elsie's life seemed from the beginning to have been made up of painting and young men. She was fond of Walter, but she wasn't sure that she did not like Henry best, and later, others—a Jim, a Hubert, and a Charles—knocked at her studio door, and they were all admitted, and they wasted Elsie's time and drank her tea. Very often they addressed their attentions to Mildred, but she said she could not encourage them, they were all fast, and she said she did not like fast men.
'I never knew a girl like you; you're not like other girls. Did you never like a man? I never really. I once thought you liked Ralph.'
'Yes, I do like him. But he's different from these men; he doesn't make love to me. I like him to like me, but I don't think I should like him if he made love to me.'
'You're an odd girl; I don't believe there's another like you.'
'I can't think how you can like all these men to make love to you.'
'They don't all make love to me,' Elsie answered quickly. 'I hope you don't think there's anything wrong. It is merely Platonic.'
'I should hope so. But they waste a great deal of your time.'
'Yes, that's the worst of it. I like men, men are my life, I don't mind admitting it. But I know they've interfered with my painting. That's the worst of it.'
Then the conversation turned on Cissy Clive. 'Cissy is a funny girl,' Elsie said. 'For nine months out of every twelve she leads a highly- respectable life in West Kensington. But every now and then the fit takes her, and she tells her mother, who believes every word she says, that she's staying with me. In reality, she takes rooms in Clarges Street, and has a high old time.'
'I once heard her whispering to you something about not giving her away if you should happen to meet her mother.'
'I remember, about Hopwood Blunt. He had just returned from Monte Carlo.'
'But I suppose it is all right. She likes talking to him.'
'I don't think she can find much to talk about to Hopwood Blunt,' said Elsie, laughing. 'Haven't you seen him? He is often in the galleries.'
'What does she say?'
'She says he's a great baby—that he amuses her.'
Next day, Mildred went to visit Cissy in the unfrequented gallery where her 'Bather' would not give scandal to the visitors. She had nearly completed her copy; it was excellent, and Mildred could not praise it sufficiently. Then the girls spoke of Elsie and Walter. Mildred said:
'She seems very fond of him.'
'And of how many others? Elsie never could be true to a man. It was just the same in the Academy schools. And that studio of hers? Have you been to any of her tea-parties? They turn down the lights, don't they?'
As Mildred was about to answer, Cissy said, 'Oh, here's Freddy.'
Mr. Hopwood Blunt was tall and fair, a brawny young Englishman still, though the champagne of fashionable restaurants and racecourses was beginning to show itself in a slight puffiness in his handsome florid cheeks. He shook hands carelessly with Miss Clive, whom he called Cis, and declared himself dead beat. She hastened to hand him her chair.
'I know what's the matter with you,' she said, 'too much champagne last night at the Cafe Royal.'
'Wrong again. We weren't at the Cafe Royal, we dined at the Bristol. Don't like the place; give me the good old Cafe Savoy.'
'How many bottles?'
'Don't know; know that I didn't drink my share. It was something I had after.'
Then followed an account of the company and the dinner. The conversation was carried on in allusions, and Mildred heard something about Tommy's girl and a horse that was worth backing at Kempton. At last it occurred to Cissy to introduce Mildred. Mr. Hopwood Blunt made a faint pretence of rising from his chair, and the conversation turned on the 'Bather.'
'I think you ought to make her a little better looking. What do you say, Miss Lawson? Cis is painting that picture for a smoking-room, and in the smoking-room we like pretty girls.'
He thought that they ought to see a little more of the lady's face; and he did not approve of the drapery. Cissy argued that she could not alter Etty's composition; she reproved him for his facetiousness, and was visibly annoyed at the glances he bestowed on Mildred. A moment after Ralph appeared.
'Don't let me disturb you,' he said, 'I did not know where you were, Miss Lawson, that was all. I thought you might like me to see how you're getting on.'
Ralph and Mildred walked through two galleries in silence. Elsie had gone out to lunch with Walter; the old lady with the grey ringlets, who copied Gainsborough's 'Watering Place,' was downstairs having a cup of coffee and a roll; the cripple leaned on his crutch, and compared his drawing of Mrs. Siddons's nose with Gainsborough's. Ralph waited till he hopped away, and Mildred was grateful to him for the delay; she did not care for her neighbours to see what work her master did on her picture.
'You've got the background wrong,' he said, taking off a yellowish grey with the knife. 'The cloud in the left-hand corner is the deepest dark you have in the picture,' and he prepared a tone. 'What a lovely quality Reynolds has got into the sky! ... This face is not sufficiently foreshortened. Too long from the nose to the chin,' he said, taking off an eighth of an inch. Then the mouth had to be raised. Mildred watched, nervous with apprehension lest Elsie or the old lady or the cripple should return and interrupt him.
'There, it is better now,' he said, surveying the picture, his head on one side.
'I should think it was,' she answered enthusiastically. 'I shall be able to get on now. I could not get the drawing of that face right. And the sky—what a difference! I like it as well as the original. It's quite as good.'
Ralph laughed, and they walked through the galleries. The question, of course, arose, which was the greater, the Turner or the Claude?
Mildred thought that she liked the Claude.
'One is romance, the other is common sense.'
'If the Turner is romance, I wonder I don't prefer it to the Claude. I love romance.'
'School-girl romance, very likely.' Mildred didn't answer and, without noticing her, Ralph continued, 'I like Turner best in the grey and English manner: that picture, for instance, on the other side of the doorway. How much simpler, how much more original, how much more beautiful. That grey and yellow sky, the delicacy of the purple in the clouds. But even in classical landscape Turner did better than Claude —Turner created—all that architecture is dreamed; Claude copied his.'
At the end of each little sentence he stared at Mildred, half ashamed at having expressed himself so badly, half surprised at having expressed himself so well. Anxious to draw him out, she said:
'But the picture you admire is merely a strip of sea with some fishing-boats. I've seen it a hundred times before—at Brighton, at Westgate, at whatever seaside place we go to, just like that, only not quite so dark.'
'Yes, just like that, only not quite so dark. That "not quite so dark" makes the difference. Turner didn't copy, he transposed what he saw. Transposed what he saw,' he repeated. 'I don't explain myself very well, I don't know if you understand. But what I mean is that the more realistic you are the better; so long as you transpose, there must always be a transposition of tones.'
Mildred admitted that she did not quite understand. Ralph stammered, and relinquished the attempt to explain. They walked in silence until they came to the Rembrandts—the portrait of the painter as a young man and the portrait of the 'Jew Merchant.' Mildred preferred the portrait of the young man. 'But not because it's a young man,' she pleaded, 'but because it is, it is—-'
'Compared with the "Jew Merchant" it is like a coloured photograph... Look at him, he rises up grand and mysterious as a pyramid, the other is as insignificant as life. Look at the Jew's face, it is done with one tint; a synthesis, a dark red, and the face is as it were made out of nothing—hardly anything, and yet everything is said... You can't say where the picture begins or ends, the Jew surges out of the darkness like a vision. Look at his robe, a few folds, that is all, and yet he's completely dressed, and his hand, how large, how great... Don't you see, don't you understand?'
'I think I do,' Mildred replied a little wistfully, and she cast a last look on the young man whom she must admire no more. Ralph opened the door marked students only, and they went down the stone steps. When they came to where the men and women separated for their different rooms, Mildred asked Ralph if he were going out to lunch? He hesitated, and then answered that it took too long to go to a restaurant. Mildred guessed by his manner that he had no money.
'There's no place in the gallery where we can get lunch—you women are luckier than us men. What do they give you in your room?'
'You mean in the way of meat? Cold meat, beef and ham, pork pies. But I don't care for meat, I never touch it.'
'What do you eat?'
'There are some nice cakes. I'll go and get some; we'll share them.'
'No, no, I really am not hungry, much obliged.'
'Oh, do let me go and get some cakes, it'll be such fun, and so much nicer than sitting with a lot of women in that little room.'
They shared their cakes, walking up and down the great stone passages, and this was the beginning of their intimacy. On the following week she wrote to say what train she was coming up by; he met her at the station, and they went together to the National Gallery. But their way led through St. James' Park; they lingered there, and, as the season advanced, their lingerings in the park grew longer and longer.
'What a pretty park this is. It always seems to me like a lady's boudoir, or what I imagine a lady's boudoir must be like.'
'Have you never seen a lady's boudoir?'
'No; I don't think I have. I've never been in what you call society. I had to make my living ever since I was sixteen. My father was a small tradesman in Brixton. When I was sixteen I had to make my own living. I used to draw in the illustrated papers. I began by making two pounds a week. Then, as I got on, I used to live as much as possible in the country. You can't paint landscapes in London.'
'You must have had a hard time.'
'I suppose I had. It was all right as long as I kept to my newspaper work. But I was ambitious, and wanted to paint in oils; but I never had a hundred pounds in front of me. I could only get away for a fortnight or a month at a time. Then, as things got better, I had to help my family. My father died, and I had to look after my mother.'
Mildred raised her eyes and looked at him affectionately.
'I think I could have done something if I had had a fair chance.'
'Done something? But you have done something. Have you forgotten what the Spectator said of your farmyard?'
'That's nothing. If I hadn't to think of getting my living I could do better than that. Oil painting is the easiest material of all until you come to a certain point; after that point, when you begin to think of quality and transparency, it is most difficult.'
They were standing on the bridge. The water below them was full of ducks. The birds balanced themselves like little boats on the waves, and Mildred thought of her five hundred a year and the pleasure it would be to help Ralph to paint the pictures he wanted to paint. She imagined him a great artist; his success would be her doing. At that same moment he was thinking that there never had been any pleasure in his life; and Mildred—her hat, her expensive dress, her sunshade— seemed in such bitter contrast to himself, to his own life, that he could not hide a natural irritation.
'Your life has been all pleasure,' he said, glancing at her disdainfully.
'No, indeed, it has not. My life has been miserable enough. We are rich, it is true, but our riches have never brought me happiness. The best time I've had has been since I met you.'
'Is that true? I wonder if that's true.'
Their eyes met and she said hastily, with seeming desire to change the subject:
'So you're a Londoner born and bred, and yet you'd like to live in the country.'
'Only for my painting. I love London, but you can't paint landscapes in London.'
'I wonder why not. You said you loved this park. There's nothing more beautiful in the country—those trees, this quiet, misty lake; it is exquisite, and yet I suppose it wouldn't make a picture.'
'I don't know. I've often thought of trying to do something with it. But what's beautiful to look at doesn't do well in a picture. The hills and dales in the Green Park are perfect—their artificiality is their beauty. There's one bit that I like especially.'
'Which is that?'
'The bit by Buckingham Palace where the sheep feed; the trees there are beautiful, large spreading trees, and they give the place a false air of Arcady. But in a picture it wouldn't do.'
'I can't say. I don't think it would mean much if it were painted.'
'You couldn't have a shepherd, or if you had he'd have to be cross- gartered, and his lady-love in flowery silk would have to be sitting on a bank, and there is not a bank there, you'd have to invent one.'
'That's it; the park is eighteenth century, a comedy of the restoration.'
'But why couldn't you paint that?' said Mildred, pointing to where a beautiful building passed across the vista.
'I suppose one ought to be able to. The turrets in the distance are fine. But no, it wouldn't make a picture. The landscape painter never will be able to do much with London. He'll have to live in the country, and if he can't afford to do that he'd better turn it up.'
'Elsie Laurence and Cissy Clive are going to France soon. They say that's the only place to study. In the summer they're going to a place called Barbizon, near Fontainebleau. I was thinking of going with them.'
'Were you? I wish I were going. Especially to Barbizon. The country would suit me.'
Mildred longed to say, 'I shall be glad if you'll let me lend you the money,' but she didn't dare. At the end of a long silence, Ralph said:
'I think we'd better be going on. It must be nearly ten.'
As the spring advanced they spent more and more time in the park. They learnt to know it in its slightest aspects; they anticipated each bend of the lake's bank; they looked out for the tall trees at the end of the island, and often thought of the tree that leaned until its lower leaves swept the water's edge. Close to this tree was their favourite seat. And, as they sat by the water's edge in the vaporous afternoons, the park seemed part and parcel of their love of each other; it was their refuge; it was only there that they were alone; the park was a relief from the promiscuity of the galleries. In the park they could talk without fear of being overheard, and they took interest in the changes that spring was effecting in this beautiful friendly nature— their friend and their accomplice.
'The park is greener than it was yesterday,' he said. 'Look at that tree! How bright the green, and how strange it seems amid all the blackness.'
'And that rose cloud and the reflection of the evening in the lake, how tranquil.'
'And that great block of buildings, Queen Anne's Mansions, is it not beautiful in the blue atmosphere? In London the ugliest things are beautiful in the evening. No city has so pictorial an atmosphere.'
'I've not seen Paris; I've never been out of England.'
'Then you're speaking of things you haven't seen.'
'Of things that I've only imagined.'
The conversation paused a moment, and then Ralph said:
'Are you still thinking of going to Paris with Elsie Laurence and Cissy Clive?'
'I think so. Paris is the only place one can study art, so they say.'
'You'll be away a long while—several months?'
'It wouldn't be much good going if I didn't stop some time, six or seven months, would it?'
'I suppose not.'
Mildred raised her eyes cautiously and looked at him. His eyes were averted. He was looking where some ducks were swimming. They came towards the bank slowly—a drake and two ducks. A third duck paddled aimlessly about at some little distance. There was a slight mist on the water.
'If you go to Paris I hope I may write to you. Send me your drawings to correct. Any advice I can give you is at your service; I shall only be too pleased.'
'Oh, yes, I hope you will write to me. I shall be so glad to hear from you. I shall be lonely all that time away from home.'
'And you'll write to me?'
'Of course. And if I write to you, you won't misunderstand?'
Ralph looked up surprised.
'I mean, if I write affectionately you won't misunderstand. It will be because—-'
'Because you feel lonely?'
'Partly. But you don't misunderstand, do you?'
They watched the ducks in silence. At last Mildred said, 'That duck wanders about by herself; why doesn't she join the others?'
'Perhaps she can't find a drake.'
'Perhaps she prefers to be alone.'
'We shall see—the drake is going to her.'
'She is going away from him. She doesn't want him.'
'She's jealous of the others. If there were no other she would.'
'There are always others.'
'Do you think so?'
Mildred did not answer. Ralph waited a few moments, then he said:
'So you're going away for six or seven months; the time will seem very long while you're away.'
Again Mildred was tempted to ask him if she might lend him the money to go to Paris. She raised her eyes to his (he wondered what was passing in her mind), but he did not find courage to speak until some days later. He had asked her to come to his studio to see a picture he had begun. It was nearly six o'clock; Mildred had been there nearly an hour; the composition had been exhaustively admired; but something still unsaid seemed to float in the air, and every moment that something seemed to grow more imminent.
'You are decided to go to France. When do you leave?'
'Some time next week. The day is not yet fixed.'
'Elsie Laurence and Cissy Clive are going?'
'Yes.... Why don't you come too?'
'I wish I could. I can't. I have no money.'
'But I can lend you what you want. I have more than I require. Let me lend you a hundred pounds. Do.'
Ralph smiled through his red moustache, and his grey gentle eyes smiled too, a melancholy little smile that passed quickly.
'It is very kind of you. But it would be impossible for me to borrow money from you. Even if I had the money, I could hardly go with you.'
'Why not, there's a party. Walter is going, and Hopwood Blunt is going. I'm the fifth wheel.'
Ralph was about to say something, but he checked himself; he never spoke ill of any one. So, putting his criticism of her companions aside, he said:
'Only under one condition could I go abroad with you. You know, Mildred, I love you.'
An expression of pleasure came upon her face, and, seeing it, he threw his arms out to draw her closer. She drew away.
'You shrink from me.... I suppose I'm too rough. You could never care for me.'
'Yes, indeed, Ralph, I do care for you. I like you very much indeed, but not like that.'
'You could not like me enough to marry me.'
'I don't think I could marry any one.'
'I don't know.'
'Do you care for any one else?'
'No, indeed I don't. I like you very much. I want you to be my friend.... But you don't understand. Men never do. I suppose affection would not satisfy you.'
'But you could not marry me?'
'I'd sooner marry you than any one. But—-'
Mildred told the story of her engagement, and how in the end she had been forced to break it off.
'And you think if you engaged yourself to me it might end in the same way?'
'Yes. And I would not cause you pain. Forgive me.'
'But if you never intend to marry, what do you intend to do?'
'There are other things to do surely.'
'You think I shall not succeed with my painting?'
'No. I did not mean that. I hope you will. But painting is very difficult. I've found it so. It seems hopeless.'
'You think I shall be a failure? You think that I'd better remain at home and marry than go to France and study?'
'It's impossible to say who will succeed. I only know it is very difficult—too difficult for me.... Women never have succeeded in painting.'
'Some have, to a certain extent.'
'But you're not angry, offended at my having spoken?'
'No; I hope we shall always be friends. You know that I like you very much.'
'Then why not, why not be engaged? It will give you time to consider, to find out if you could.'
'But, you see, I've broken off one engagement, so that I might be free to devote myself to painting.'
'But that man was not congenial to you. He was not an artist, he would have opposed your painting; you'd have had to give up painting if you had married him. But I'm quite different. I should help and encourage you in your art. All you know I have taught you. I could teach you a great deal more. Mildred—-'
'Do you think that you could?'
'Yes; will you let me try?'
'But, you see, I'm going away. Shall I see you again before I go?'
'When you like. When? To-morrow?'
'To-morrow would be nice.'
'Where—in the National?'
'No, in the park. It will be nicer in the park. Then about eleven.'
At five minutes past eleven he saw her coming through the trees, and she signed to him with a little movement of her parasol, which was particularly charming, and which seemed to him to express her. They walked from the bridge along the western bank; the trees were prettier there, and from their favourite seat they saw the morning light silver the water, the light mist evaporate, and the trees on the other bank emerge from vague masses into individualities of trunk and bough. The day was warm, though there was little sun, and the park swung a great mass of greenery under a soft, grey sky.
The drake and the two ducks came swimming towards them—the drake, of course, in the middle, looking very handsome and pleased, and at a little distance the third duck pursued her rejected and disconsolate courtship. Whenever she approached too near, the drake rushed at her with open beak, and drove her back. Then she affected not to know where she was going, wandering in an aimless, absent-minded fashion, getting near and nearer her recalcitrant drake. But these ruses were wasted upon him; he saw through them all, and at last he attacked the poor broken-hearted duck so determinedly that she was obliged to seek safety in flight. And the entire while of the little aquatic comedy the wisdom of an engagement had been discussed between Ralph and Mildred. She had consented. But her promise had not convinced Ralph, and he said, referring to the duck which they had both been watching:
'I shall dangle round you for a time, and when I come too near you'll chase me away until at last you'll make up your mind that you can stand it no longer, and will refuse ever to see me again.'
She had had a rough passage: sea sickness still haunted in her, she was pale with fatigue, and her eyes longed for sleep. But Elsie and Cissy were coming to take her to the studio at ten o'clock. So she asked to be called at nine, and she got up when she was called.
The gilt clock was striking ten in the empty drawing-room when she entered. 'I didn't expect her to get up at six to receive me, but she might be up at ten, I think. However, it doesn't much matter. I suppose she's looking after her sick husband. ... Well, I don't think much of her drawing-room. Red plush sofas and chairs. It is just like an hotel, and the street is dingy enough,' thought Mildred, as she pulled one of the narrow lace curtains aside: I don't think much of Paris. But it doesn't matter, I shall be at the studio nearly all day.'
A moment after Mrs. Fargus entered. 'I'm so sorry,' she said, 'I wasn't up to receive you, but—-'
'I didn't expect you to get up at five, which you would have had to do. I was here soon after six.'
Mrs. Fargus asked her if she had had a good passage, if she felt fatigued, and what she thought of Paris. And then the conversation dropped.
'She's a good little soul,' thought Mildred, 'even though she does dress shabbily. It is pure kindness of her to have me here; she doesn't want the three pounds a week I pay her. But I had to pay something. I couldn't sponge on her hospitality for six months... I wonder she doesn't say something. I suppose I must.'
'You know it is very kind of you to have me here. I don't know how to thank you.'
Mrs. Fargus' thoughts seemed on their way back from a thousand miles. 'From the depths of Comte,' thought Mildred.
'My dear, you wanted to study.'
'Yes, but if it hadn't been for you I should never have got the chance. As it was Harold did his best to keep me. He said he'd have to get a housekeeper, and it would put him to a great deal of inconvenience: men are so selfish. He'd like me to keep house for him always.'
'We're all selfish, Mildred. Men aren't worse than women, only it takes another form. We only recognise selfishness when it takes a form different from our practice.'
Mildred listened intently, but Mrs. Fargus said no more, and the conversation seemed as if it were going to drop. Suddenly, to Mildred's surprise, Mrs. Fargus said:
'When do you propose to begin work?'
'This morning. Elsie Laurence and Cissy Clive are coming to take me to the studio. I'm expecting them every moment. They're late.'
'They know the studio they're taking you to, I suppose?'
'Oh yes, they've worked there before... The question is whether I ought to work in the men's studio, or if it would be better, safer, to join the ladies' class.'
'What does Miss Laurence say?'
'Oh, Elsie and Cissy are going to work with the men. They wouldn't work with a lot of women.'
'Because they like being with men in the first place.'
'Oh! But you?'
'No, I don't mind, and yet I don't think I should care to be cooped up all day with a lot of women.'
'You mean that there would be more emulation in a mixed class?'
'Yes; and Elsie says it is better to work in the men's studio. There are cleverer pupils there than in the ladies' studio, and one learns as much from one's neighbours as from the professor; more.'
'Are you sure of that? Do you not think that we are all far too ready to assume that whatever men do is the best?'
'I suppose we are.'
'Men kept us uneducated till a hundred years ago; we are only gaining our rights inch by inch, prejudice is only being overcome very slowly, and whenever women have had equal, or nearly equal, advantages they have proved themselves equal or superior to men. Women's inferiority in physical strength is immaterial, for, as mankind grows more civilised, force will be found in the brain and not in the muscles.'
Mrs. Fargus was now fairly afloat on her favourite theme, viz., if men were kind to women, their kindness was worse than their cruelty—it was demoralising.
Eventually the conversation returned whence it had started, and Mrs. Fargus said:
'Then why do you hesitate? What is the objection to the men's studio?'
'I do not know that there is any particular objection, nothing that I ought to let stand in the way of my studies. It was only something that Elsie and Cissy said. They said the men's conversation wasn't always very nice. But they weren't sure, for they understand French hardly at all—they may have been mistaken. But if the conversation were coarse it would be very unpleasant for me; the students would know that I understood... Then there's the model, there's that to be got over. But Elsie and Cissy say that the model's nothing; no more than a statue.'
'The model is undraped?'
'That's the disadvantage of being a girl. Prejudice closes the opportunity of study to one.'
Mrs. Fargus did not speak for a long time. At last she said:
'Of course, Mildred, you must consult your own feeling; if it's the custom, if it's necessary—Your vocation is of course everything.'
Then it was Mildred's turn to pause before answering. At last she said:
'It does seem rather—well, disgusting, but if it is necessary for one's art. In a way I'd as soon work in the ladies' studio.'
'I daresay you derive just as much advantage.'
'Do you think so? It's from the students round one that one learns, and there's no use coming to Paris if one doesn't make the most of one's opportunities.'
'You might give the ladies' studio a trial, and if you didn't find you were getting on you could join the men's.'
'After having wasted three months! As you say my vocation is everything. It would be useless for me to think of taking up painting as a profession, if I did not work in the men's studio.'
'But are you going there?'
'I can't make up my mind. You have frightened me, you've put me off it.'
'I think I hardly offered an opinion.'
'Perhaps Harold would not like me to go there.'
'You might write to him. Yes, write to him.'
'Write to Harold about such a thing—the most conventional man in the world!'
At that moment the servant announced Elsie and Cissy. They wore their best dresses and were clearly atingle with desire of conversation and Paris.
'We're a little late, aren't we, dear. We're so sorry,' said Elsie.
'How do you do, dear,' said Cissy.
Mildred introduced her friends. They bowed, and shook hands with Mrs. Fargus, but were at no pains to conceal their indifference to the drab and dowdy little woman in the soiled sage green, and the glimmering spectacles. 'What a complexion,' whispered Elsie the moment they were outside the door. 'What's her husband like?' asked Cissy as they descended the first flight. Mildred answered that Mr. Fargus suffered from asthma, and hoped no further questions would be asked, so happy was she in the sense of real emancipation from the bondage of home—so delighted was she in the spectacle of the great boulevard, now radiant with spring sunlight.
She wondered at the large blue cravats of idlers, sitting in cafes freshly strewn with bright clean sand, at the aprons of the waiters,— the waiters were now pouring out green absinthe,—at the little shop girls in tight black dresses and frizzled hair, passing three together arm in arm; all the boulevard amused and interested Mildred. It looked so different, she said, from what it had done four hours before. 'But none of us look our best at six in the morning,' she added laughing, and her friends laughed too. Elsie and Cissy chattered of some project to dine with Walter, and go to the theatre afterwards, and incidentally Mildred learnt that Hopwood Blunt would not be in Paris before the end of the week. But where was the studio? The kiosques were now open, the morning papers were selling briskly, the roadway was full of fiacres plying for hire, or were drawn up in lines three deep, the red waistcoated coachmen slept on their box-seats. But where was the studio?
Suddenly they turned into an Arcade. The shops on either side were filled with jet ornaments, fancy glass, bon-bons, boxes, and fans. Cissy thought of a present for Hopwood—that case of liqueur glasses. Mildred examined a jet brooch which she thought would suit Mrs. Fargus. Elsie wished that Walter would present her with a fan; and then they went up a flight of wooden stairs and pushed open a swing door. In a small room furnished with a divan, a desk, and a couple of cane chairs, they met M. Daveau. He wore a short jacket and a brown- black beard. He shook hands with Elsie and Cissy, and was introduced to Mildred. Elsie said:
'You speak better than we do. Tell him you've come here to study.'
'I've come to Paris to study painting,' said Mildred. 'But I don't know which I shall join, the ladies' studio or the men's studio. Miss Laurence and Miss Clive advised me to work here, in the men's studio.'
'I know Miss Laurence and Miss Clive very well.' There was charm in his voice, and Mildred was already interested in him. Cissy and Elsie had drawn a curtain at the end of the room and were peeping into the studio. 'Miss Laurence and Miss Clive,' he said, 'worked here for more than a year. They made a great deal of progress—a great deal. They worked also in the ladies' studio, opposite.'
'Ah, that is what I wanted to speak to you about. Would you advise me to work in the men's studio? Do you think it would be advisable? Do you think there would be any advantages?'
'We have some very clever pupils here—very clever; of course it is of great advantage to work with clever pupils.'
'That is what I think, but I am not certain.'
'If Mademoiselle intends to study painting seriously.'
'Oh, but I do; I am very serious.'
'Then I do not think there can be any doubt which studio she should choose.'
'This studio is a hundred francs a month—for a lady; the ladies' studio is sixty francs a month.'
'Why is that?'
'Because, if it were not so, we should be overcrowded. Ladies prefer to work in this studio, it is much more advantageous. If you would like to see the studio first?'
There were more than thirty in the studio; about twenty men and fifteen women. Some sat on low stools close under the platform whereon the model stood, some worked at easels drawn close together in a semicircle round the room. The model was less shocking than Mildred had imagined; he stood with his hands on his hip, a staff in his hand; and, had it not been for a slight swaying motion, she would hardly have known he was alive. She had never drawn before from the living model, and was puzzled to know how to begin. She was going to ask Elsie to tell her, when M. Daveau drew the curtain aside, and picking his way through the pupils, came straight to her. He took the stool next her, and with a pleasant smile asked if she had ever drawn from the life.
'No,' she said, 'I have only copied a few pictures, you learn nothing from copying.'
He told her how she must count the number of heads, and explained to her the advantage of the plumb-line in determining the action of the figure. Mildred was much interested; she wondered if she would be able to put the instruction she was receiving into practice, and was disappointed when the model got down from the table and put on his trousers.
'The model rests for ten minutes every three quarters of an hour. He'll take the pose again presently. It is now eleven o'clock.'
M. Daveau laid the charcoal upon her easel, and promised to come and see how she was getting on later in the afternoon. But, just as the model was about to take the pose again, a young girl entered the studio.
'Do you want a model?'
'Yes, if she has a good figure,' said a student. 'Have you a good figure?' he added with a smile.
'Some people think so. You must judge for yourselves,' she answered, taking off her hat.
'Surely she is not going to undress in public!' said Mildred to Elsie, who had come to her easel.
Mildred worked hard in the studio. She was always one of the first to arrive, and she did not leave till the model had finished sitting, and during the eight hours, interrupted only by an hour in the middle of the day for lunch, she applied herself to her drawing, eschewing conversation with the students, whether French or English. She did not leave her easel when the model rested; she waited patiently sharpening her pencils or reading—she never came to the studio unprovided with a book. And she made a pretty picture sitting on her high stool, and the students often sketched her during the rests. Although quietly, she was always beautifully dressed. Simple though they appeared to be, her black crepe de chine skirts told of large sums of money spent in fashionable millinery establishments, and her large hats profusely trimmed with ostrich feathers, which suited her so well, contrasted strangely with the poor head-gear of the other girls; and when the weather grew warmer she appeared in a charming shot silk grey and pink, and a black straw hat lightly trimmed with red flowers. In answer to Elsie, who had said that she looked as if she were going to a garden-party, Mildred said:
'I don't see why, because you're an artist, you should be a slattern. I don't feel comfortable in a dirty dress. It makes me feel quite ill.'
Although Mildred was constantly with Elsie and Cissy she never seemed to be of their company; and seeing them sitting together in the Bouillon Duval, at their table next the window, an observer would be sure to wonder what accident had sent out that rare and subtle girl with such cheerful commonness as Elsie and Cissy. The contrast was even more striking when they entered the eating-house, Mildred looking a little annoyed, and always forgetful of the tariff card which she should take from the door-keeper. Elsie and Cissy triumphant, making for the staircase, as Mildred said to herself, 'with a flourish of cards.' Mildred instinctively hated the Bouillon Duval, and only went there because her friends could not afford a restaurant. The traffic of the Bouillon disgusted her; the food, she admitted, was well enough, but, as she said, it was mealing—feeding like an animal in a cage,—not dining or breakfasting. Very often she protested.
'Oh, nonsense,' said Cissy, 'we shall get one of Catherine's tables if we make haste.'
Catherine was their favourite waitress. Like a hen she seemed to have taken them under her protection. And she told them what were the best dishes, and devoted a large part of her time to attending on them. She liked Mildred especially; she paid her compliments and so became a contrary influence in Mildred's dislike of the Bouillon. She seemed to understand them thoroughly from the first. Elsie and Cissy she knew would eat everything, they were never without their appetites, but Mildred very often said she could eat nothing. Then Catherine would come to the rescue with a tempting suggestion, Une belle aile de poulet avec sauce remoulade. 'Well, perhaps I could pick a bone,' Mildred would answer, and these wings of chicken seemed to her the best she had ever eaten. She liked the tiny strawberries which were beginning to come into season; she liked les petites suisses; and she liked the chatter of her friends, and her own chatter across the little marble table. She thought that she had never enjoyed talking so much before.
One evening, as they stirred their coffee, Elsie said, looking down the street, 'What a pretty effect.'
Mildred leaned over her friend's shoulder and saw the jagged outline of the street and a spire beautiful in the sunset. She was annoyed that she had not first discovered the picturesqueness of the perspective, and, when Elsie sketched the street on the marble table, she felt that she would never be able to draw like that.
The weather grew warmer, and, in June, M. Daveau and three or four of the leading students proposed that they should make up a party to spend Sunday at Bas Mendon. To arrive at Bas Mendon in time for breakfast they would have to catch the ten o'clock boat from the Pont Neuf. Cissy, Elsie, and Mildred were asked: there were no French girls to ask, so, as Elsie said, 'they'd have the men to themselves.'
The day impressed itself singularly on Mildred's mind. She never forgot the drive to the Pont Neuf in the early morning, the sunshine had seemed especially lovely; she did not forget her fear lest she should be late—she was only just in time; they were waiting for her, their paint-boxes slung over their shoulders, and the boat was moving alongside as she ran down the steps. She did not forget M. Daveau's black beard; she saw it and remembered it long afterwards. But she never could recall her impressions of the journey—she only remembered that it had seemed a long while, and that she was very hungry when they arrived. She remembered the trellis and the boiled eggs and the cutlets, and that after breakfast M. Daveau had painted a high stairway that led to the top of the hill and she remembered how she had stood behind him wondering at the ease with which he drew in the steps. In the evening there had been a little exhibition of sketches, and in the boat going home he had talked to her; and she had enjoyed talking to him. Of his conversation she only recalled one sentence. She had asked him if he liked classical music, and he had answered, 'There is no music except classical music.' And it was this chance phrase that made the day memorable; its very sententiousness had pleased her; in that calm bright evening she had realised and it had helped her to realise that there existed a higher plane of appreciation and feeling than that on which her mind moved.