MRS HUMPHRY WARD
MY DEAR SISTER
A PREFATORY WORD
The story told in the present book owes something to the past, in its picturing of the present, as its predecessors have done; though in much less degree. The artist, as I hold, may gather from any field, so long as he sacredly respects what other artists have already made their own by the transmuting processes of the mind. To draw on the conceptions or the phrases that have once passed through the warm minting of another's brain, is, for us moderns, at any rate, the literary crime of crimes. But to the teller of stories, all that is recorded of the real life of men, as well as all that his own eyes can see, is offered for the enrichment of his tale. This is a clear and simple principle; yet it has been often denied. To insist upon it is, in my belief, to uphold the true flag of Imagination, and to defend the wide borders of Romance.
In addition to this word of notice, which my readers will perhaps accept from me once for all, this small preface must also contain a word of thanks to my friend Mr. Sterner, whose beautiful art has contributed to this story, as to several of its forerunners. I have to thank him, indeed, not only as an artist, but as a critic. In the interpreting of Fenwick, he has given me valuable aid; has corrected mistakes, and illumined his own painter's craft for me, as none but a painter can. But his poetic intelligence as an artist is what makes him so rare a colleague. In the first lovely drawing of the husband and wife sitting by the Westmoreland stream, Phoebe's face and look will be felt, I think, by any sympathetic reader, as a light on the course of the story; reappearing, now in storm, as in the picture of her despair, before the portrait of her supposed rival; and now in tremulous afterglow, as in the scene with which the drawings close. To be so understood and so bodied forth is great good-fortune; and I beg to be allowed this word of gratitude.
The lines quoted on page 166 are taken, as any lover of modern poetry will recognise, from the 'Elegy on the Death of a Lady,' by Mr. Robert Bridges, first printed in 1873.
MARY A. WARD.
PART I. WESTMORELAND
PART II. LONDON
PART III. AFTER TWELVE YEARS
NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATIONS
This cottage, known as Robin Ghyll, is situated near the Langdale Pikes in Westmoreland. It is owned by Miss Dorothy Ward, the author's daughter. The older part of the building served as the model for Fenwick's cottage.
HUSBAND AND WIFE
From an original drawing by Albert Sterner.
From an original drawing by Albert Sterner.
From an original drawing by Albert Sterner.
'BE MY MESSENGER'
From an original drawing by Albert Sterner.
ROBIN GHYLL COTTAGE
A nearer view of Miss Ward's cottage. (See frontispiece.)
FENWICK STOOD LOOKING AT THE CANVAS
From an original drawing by Albert Sterner.
All of the illustrations in this volume are photogravures, and except where otherwise stated, are from photographs taken especially for this edition.
Fenwick's career was in the first instance suggested by some incidents in the life of the painter George Romney. Romney, as is well known, married a Kendal girl in his early youth, and left her behind him in the North, while he went to seek training and fortune in London. There he fell under other influences, and finally under the fascinations of Lady Hamilton, and it was not till years later that he returned to Westmoreland and his deserted wife to die.
The story attracted me because it was a Westmoreland story, and implied, in part at least, that setting of fell and stream, wherein, whether in the flesh or in the spirit, I am always a willing wanderer. But in the end it really gave me nothing but a bare situation into which I had breathed a wholly new meaning. For in Eugenie de Pastourelles, who is Phoebe's unconscious rival, I tried to embody, not the sensuous intoxicating power of an Emma Hamilton, but those more exquisite and spiritual influences which many women have exercised over some of the strongest and most virile of men. Fenwick indeed possesses the painter's susceptibility to beauty. Beauty comes to him and beguiles him, but it is a beauty akin to that of Michel Angelo's 'Muse and dominant Lady, spirit-wed'—which yet, for all its purity, is not, as Fenwick's case shows, without its tragic effects in the world.
On looking through my notes, I find that this was not my first idea. The distracting intervening woman was to have been of a commoner type, intellectual indeed rather than sensuous, but yet of the predatory type and class, which delights in the capture of man. When I began to write the first scene in which Eugenie was to appear, she was still nebulous and uncertain. Then she did appear—suddenly!—as though the mists parted. It was not the woman I had been expecting and preparing for. But I saw her quite distinctly; she imposed herself; and thenceforward I had nothing to do but to draw her.
The drawing of Eugenie made perhaps my chief pleasure in the story, combined with that of the two landscapes—the two sharply contrasted landscapes—Westmoreland and Versailles, which form its main background. I find in a note-book that it was begun 'early in May, 1905, at Robin Ghyll. Finished (at Stocks) on Tuesday night or rather Wednesday morning, 1 A.M., Dec. 6, 1905. Deo Gratias!' And an earlier note, written in Westmoreland itself, records some of the impressions amid which the first chapters were written. I give it just as I find it:
'The exquisiteness of the spring. The strong-limbed sycamores with their broad expanding leaves. The leaping streams, and the small waterfalls, white and foaming—the cherry blossom, the white farms, the dark yews which are the northern cypresses—and the tall upstanding firs and hollies, vigorously black against the delicate bareness of the fells, like some passionate self-assertive life....
'The "old" statesman B——. His talk of the gentle democratic poet who used to live in the cottage before us. "He wad never taeak wi the betther class o' foak—but he'd coom mony a time, an hae a crack wi my missus an me."
'The swearing ploughman that I watched this morning—driving his plough through old pastures and swearing at the horse—"Dang ye! Darned old hoss! Pull up, will ye—pull up, dang ye!"
'Elterwater, and the soft grouping of the hills. The blue lake, the woods in tints of pale green and pinkish brown, nestling into the fells, the copses white with wind flowers. Everywhere, softness and austerity side by side—the "cheerful silence of the fells," the high exhilarating air, dark tortured crags and ghylls—then a soft and laughing scene, gentle woods, blue water, lovely outlines, and flower-carpeted fields.
'The exquisite colour of Westmoreland in May! The red of the autumn still on the hills,—while the bluebells are rushing over the copses.'
The little cottage of Robin Ghyll, where the first chapters were written, stands, sheltered by its sycamore, high on the fell-side, above the road that leads to the foot of the Langdale Pikes. But—in the dream-days when the Fenwicks lived there!—it was the old cottage, as it was up to ten or fifteen years ago;—a deep-walled, low-ceiled labourer's cottage of the sixteenth century, and before any of the refinements and extensions of to-day were added.
The book was continued at Stocks, during a quiet summer. Then with late September came fatigue and discouragement. It was imperative to find some stimulus, some complete change of scene both for the tale and its writer. Was it much browsing in Saint-Simon that suggested to me Versailles? I cannot remember. At any rate by the beginning of October we were settled in an apartment on the edge of the park and a stone's throw from the palace. Some weeks of quickened energy and more rapid work followed—and the pleasures of that chill golden autumn are reflected in the later chapters of the book. Each sunny day was more magnificent than the last. Yet there was no warmth in the magnificence. The wind was strangely bitter; it was winter before the time. And the cold splendour of the weather heightened the spell of the great, dead, regal place; so that the figures and pageants of a vanished world seemed to be still latent in the sharp bright air—a filmy multitude.
This brilliance of an incomparable decor followed me back to Hertfordshire, and remained with me through winter days. But when the last pages came, in December, I turned back in spirit to the softer, kinder beauty amid which the little story had taken its rise, and I placed the sad second spring of the two marred lives under the dear shelter of the fells.
MARY A. WARD.
'Who can contemplate Fame through clouds unfold The star which rises o'er her steep, nor climb?'
Really, mother, I can't sit any more. I'm that stiff!—and as cold as anything.'
So said Miss Bella Morrison, as she rose from her seat with an affected yawn and stretch. In speaking she looked at her mother, and not at the painter to whom she had been sitting for nearly two hours. The young man in question stood embarrassed and silent, his palette on his thumb, brush and mahlstick suspended. His eyes were cast down: a flush had risen in his cheek. Miss Bella's manner was not sweet; she wished evidently to slight somebody, and the painter could not flatter himself that the somebody was Mrs. Morrison, the only other person in the room beside the artist and his subject. The mother looked up slightly, and without pausing in her knitting—'It's no wonder you're cold,' she said, sharply, 'when you wear such ridiculous dresses in this weather.'
It was now the daughter's turn to flush; she coloured and pouted. The artist, John Fenwick, returned discreetly to his canvas, and occupied himself with a fold of drapery.
'I put it on, because I thought Mr. Fenwick wanted something pretty to paint. And as he clearly don't see anything in me!'—she looked over her shoulder at the picture, with a shrug of mock humility concealing a very evident annoyance—'I thought anyway he might like my best frock.'
'I'm sorry you're not satisfied, Miss Morrison,' said the artist, stepping back from his canvas and somewhat defiantly regarding the picture upon it. Then he turned and looked at the girl—a coarsely pretty young woman, very airily clothed in a white muslin dress, of which the transparency displayed her neck and arms with a freedom not at all in keeping with the nipping air of Westmoreland in springtime—going up to his easel again after the look to put in another touch.
As to his expression of regret, Miss Morrison tossed her head.
'It doesn't matter to me!' she declared. 'It was father's fad, and so I sat. He promised me, if I didn't like it, he'd put it in his own den, where my friends couldn't see it. So I really don't care a straw!'
'Bella! don't be rude!' said her mother, severely. She rose and came to look at the picture.
Bella's colour took a still sharper accent; her chest rose and fell; she fidgeted an angry foot.
'I told Mr. Fenwick hundreds of times,' she protested, 'that he was making my upper lip miles too long—and that I hadn't got a nasty staring look like that—nor a mouth like that—nor—nor anything. It's—it's too bad!'
The girl turned away, and Fenwick, glancing at her in dismay, saw that she was on the point of indignant tears.
Mrs. Morrison put on her spectacles. She was a small, grey-haired woman with a face, wrinkled and drawn, from which all smiles seemed to have long departed. Even in repose, her expression suggested hidden anxieties—fears grown habitual and watchful; and when she moved or spoke, it was with a cold caution or distrust, as though in all directions she was afraid of what she might touch, of possibilities she might set loose.
She looked at the picture, and then at her daughter.
'It's not flattered,' she said, slowly. 'But I can't say it isn't like you, Bella.'
'Oh, I knew you'd say something like that, mother!' said the daughter, scornfully. She stooped and threw a shawl round her shoulders; gathered up some working materials and a book with which she had been toying during the sitting; and then straightened herself with an air at once tragic and absurd.
'Well, good-bye, Mr. Fenwick.' She turned to the painter. 'I'd rather not sit again, please.'
'I shouldn't think of asking you, Miss Morrison,' murmured the young man, moving aside to let her pass.
'Hullo, hullo! what's all this?' said a cheery voice at the door. 'Bella, where are you off to? Is the sitting done?'
'It's been going on two hours, papa, so I should think I'd had about enough,' said Miss Bella, making for the door.
But her father caught her by the arm.
'I say, we are smart!—aren't we, mamma? Well, now then—let me have a look.'
And drawing the unwilling girl once more towards the painter, he detained her while he scrutinised the picture.
'Do I squint, papa?' said Miss Morrison, with her head haughtily turned away.
'Wait a minute, my dear.'
'Have I got the colour of a barmaid, and a waist like Fanny's?' Fanny was the Morrison's housemaid, and was not slim.
'Be quiet, Bella; you disturb me.'
Bella's chin mounted still higher; her foot once more beat the ground impatiently, while her father looked from the picture to her, and back again.
Then he released her with a laugh. 'You may run away, child, if you want to. Upon my word, Fenwick, you're advancing! You are: no doubt about that. Some of the execution there is astonishing. But all the same I don't see you earning your bread-and-butter at portrait-painting; and I guess you don't either.'
The speaker threw out a thin hand and patted Fenwick on the shoulder, returning immediately to a close examination of the picture.
'I told you, sir, I should only paint portraits if I were compelled!' said the young man, in a proud, muffled voice. He began to gather up his things and clean his palette.
'But of course you'll be compelled—unless you wish to die "clemmed," as we say in Lancashire,' returned the other, briskly. 'What do you say, mamma?'
He turned towards his wife, pushing up his spectacles to look at her. He was a tall man, a little bent at the shoulders from long years of desk-work; and those who saw him for the first time were apt to be struck by a certain eager volatility of aspect—expressed by the small head on its thin neck, by the wavering blue eyes, and smiling mouth—not perhaps common in the chief cashiers of country banks.
As his wife met his appeal to her, the slight habitual furrow on her own brow deepened. She saw that her husband held a newspaper crushed in his right hand, and that his whole air was excited and restless. A miserable, familiar pang passed through her. As the chief and trusted official of an old-established bank in one of the smaller cotton-towns, Mr. Morrison had a large command of money. His wife had suspected him for years of using bank funds for the purposes of his own speculations. She had never dared to say a word to him on the subject, but she lived in terror—being a Calvinist by nature and training—of ruin here, and Hell hereafter.
Of late, some instinct told her that he had been forcing the pace; and as she turned to him, she felt certain that he had just received some news which had given him great pleasure, and she felt certain also that it was news of which he ought rather to have been ashamed.
She drew herself together in a dumb recoil. Her hands trembled as she put down her knitting.
'I'd be sorry if a son of mine did nothing but paint portraits.'
John Fenwick looked up, startled.
'Why?' laughed her husband.
'Because it often seems to me,' she said, in a thin, measured voice, 'that a Christian might find a better use for his time than ministering to the vanity of silly girls, and wasting hours and hours on making a likeness of this poor body, that's of no real matter to anybody.'
'You'd make short work of art and artists, my dear!' said Morrison, throwing up his hands. 'You forget, perhaps, that St. Luke was a painter?'
'And where do you get that from, Mr. Morrison, I'd like to ask?' said his wife, slowly; 'it's not in the Bible—though I believe you think it is. Well, good-night to you, Mr. Fenwick. I'm sorry you haven't enjoyed yourself, and I'm not going to deny that Bella was very rude and trying. Good-night.'
And with a frigid touch of the hand, Mrs. Morrison departed. She looked again at her husband as she closed the door—a sombre, shrinking look.
Morrison avoided it. He was pacing up and down in high spirits. When he and Fenwick were left alone, he went up to the painter and laid an arm across his shoulders.
'Well!—how's the money holding out?'
'I've got scarcely any left,' said the painter, instinctively moving away. It might have been seen that he felt himself dependent, and hated to feel it.
'Any more commissions?'
'I've painted a child up in Grasmere, and a farmer's wife just married. And Satterthwaite, the butcher, says he'll give me a commission soon. And there's a clergyman, up Easedale way, wants me to paint his son.'
'Well; and what do you get for these things?'
'Three pounds—sometimes five,' said the young man, reluctantly.
'A little more than a photograph.'
'Yes. They say if I won't be reasonable there's plenty as'll take their pictures, and they can't throw away money.'
'H'm! Well, at this rate, Fenwick, you're not exactly galloping into a fortune. And your father?'
Fenwick made a bitter gesture, as much as to say, 'What's the good of discussing that?'
'H'm!—Well, now, Fenwick, what are your plans? Can you live on what you make?'
'No,' said the other, abruptly. 'I'm getting into debt.'
'That's bad. But what's your own idea? You must have some notion of a way out.'
'If I could get to London,' said the other, in a low, dragging voice, 'I'd soon find a way out.'
'And what prevents you?'
'Well, it's simple enough. You don't really, sir, need to ask. I've no money—and I've a wife and child.'
Fenwick's tone was marked by an evident ill-humour. He had thrown back his handsome head, and his eyes sparkled. It was plain that Mr. Morrison's catechising manner had jarred upon a pride that was all on edge—wounded by poverty and ill-success.
'Yes—that was an imprudent match of yours, my young man! However—however—'
Mr. Morrison walked up and down ruminating. His long, thin hands were clasped before him. His head hung in meditation. And every now and then he looked towards the newspaper he had thrown down. At last he again approached the artist.
'Upon my word, Fenwick, I've a mind to do something for you—I have indeed. I believe you'd justify it—I do! And I've always had a soft heart for artists. You look at the things in this room'—he waved his hand towards the walls, which were covered with water-colour drawings—'I've known most of the men who painted them, and I've assisted a very great many of them. Those pictures—most of them—represent loans, sir!—loans at times of difficulty, which I was proud to make'—Mr. Morrison struck his hand on the table—'yes, proud—because I believed in the genius of the men to whom I made them. I said, "I'll take a picture"—and they had the money—and the money saved their furniture—and their homes—and their wives and children. Well, I'm glad and proud to have done it, Fenwick!—you mark my words.'
He paused, his eyes on the artist, his attitude grasping, as it were, at the other's approval—hungry for it. Fenwick said nothing. He stood in the shadow of a curtain, and the sarcasm his lip could not restrain escaped the notice of his companion. 'And so, you see, I'm only following out an old custom when I say, I believe in you, Fenwick!—I believe in your abilities—I'm sorry for your necessities—and I'll come to your assistance. Now, how much would take you to London and keep you there for six months, till you've made a few friends and done some work?'
'A hundred pounds,' said the painter, breathing hard.
'A hundred pounds. And what about the wife?'
'Her father very likely would give her shelter, and the child. And of course I should leave her provided.'
'Well, and what about my security? How, John, in plain words, do you propose to repay me?'
Mr. Morrison spoke with extreme mildness. His blue eyes, whereof the whites were visible all round the pupils, shone benevolently on the artist—his mouth was all sensibility. Whereas, for a moment, there had been something of the hawk in his attitude and expression, he was now the dove—painfully obliged to pay a passing attention to business.
'You mentioned six guineas, I think, for this portrait?' He nodded towards the canvas, on which he had been at work.
'I did. It is unfortunate, of course, that Bella dislikes it so. I shan't be able to hang it. Never mind. A bargain's a bargain.'
The young man drew himself up proudly.
'It is so, Mr. Morrison. And you wished me to paint your portrait, I think, and Mrs. Morrison's.' The elder man made a sign of assent. 'Well, I could run up to your place—to Bartonbury—and paint those in the winter, when I come to see my wife. As to the rest—I'll repay you within the year—unless—well, unless I go utterly to grief, which of course I may.'
'Wait here a moment. I'll fetch you the money. Better not promise to repay me in cash. It'll be a millstone round your neck. I'll take it in pictures.'
'Very well; then I'll either paint you an original finished picture—historical or romantic subject—medium size, by the end of the year, or make you copies—you said you wanted two or three—one large or two small, from anything you like in the National Gallery.'
Morrison laughed good-temperedly. He touched a copy of The Art Journal lying on the table.
'There's an article here about that German painter—Lenbach—whom they crack up so nowadays. When he was a young man, Baron Schack, it appears, paid him one hundred pounds a year, for all his time, as a copyist in Italy and Spain.' He spoke very delicately, mincing his words a little.
Fenwick's colour rose suddenly. Morrison was not looking at him, or he would have seen a pair of angry eyes.
'Prices have gone up,' said the painter, dryly. 'And I guess living in London's dearer now than living in Italy was when Lenbach (which he pronounced Lenback) was young!'
'Oh! so you know all about Lenbach?'
'You lent me the article. However'—Fenwick rose—'is that our bargain?'
The note in the voice was trenchant, even aggressive. Nothing of the suppliant, in tone or attitude. Morrison surveyed him, amused.
'If you like to call it so,' he said, lifting his delicate eyebrows a moment. 'Well, I'll take the risk.'
He left the room. Fenwick thrust his hands into his pockets, with a muttered exclamation, and walked to the window. He looked out upon a Westmoreland valley in the first flush of spring; but he saw nothing. His blood beat in heart and brain with a suffocating rapidity. So his chance was come! What would Phoebe say?
As he stood by the large window, face and form in strong relief against the crude green without, the energy of the May landscape was, as it were, repeated and expressed in the man beholding it. He was tall, a little round-shouldered, with a large, broad-browed head, covered with brown, straggling hair; eyes, glancing and darkish, full of force, of excitement even, curiously veiled, often, by suspicion; nose, a little crooked owing to an injury at football; and mouth, not coarse, but large and freely cut, and falling readily into lines of sarcasm.
The general look was one of great acuteness, rather antagonistic, as a rule, than sympathetic; and the hands, which were large and yet slender, were those of a craftsman finely endowed with all the instincts of touch.
Suddenly the young man turned on his heel and looked at the water-colours on the wall.
'The old hypocrite!' he thought; 'they're worth hundreds—and I'll be bound he got them for nothing. He'll try to get mine for nothing; but he'll find I'm his match!'
For among these pictures were a number of drawings by men long since well known, and of steady repute among the dealers or in the auctions, especially of Birmingham and the northern towns. Morrison had been for years a bank-clerk in Birmingham before his appointment to the post he now held. A group of Midland artists, whose work had become famous, and costly in proportion, had evidently been his friends at one time—or perhaps merely his debtors. They were at any rate well represented on the wall of this small Westmoreland house in which he spent his holidays.
Presently Mr. Morrison was heard returning. He placed an envelope in Fenwick's hand, and then, pointing him to a chair at the table, he dictated a form of IOU, specifying that the debt was to be returned within a year, either in money or in the pictures agreed upon.
'Oh, no fine speeches, please, my boy—no fine speeches!' said Morrison, as the artist rose, stammering out his thanks. 'That's been my nature all my life, I tell you—to help the lame dogs—ask anybody that knows me. That'll do; that'll do! Now then, what's going to be your line of action?'
Fenwick turned on him a face that vainly endeavoured to hide the joy of its owner.
'I shall look out, of course, first of all, for some bread-and-butter work. I shall go to the editors of the illustrated papers and show them some things. I shall attend some life-school in the evenings. And the rest of the time I shall paint—paint like Old Harry!'
The words caused a momentary wrinkling of Mr. Morrison's brow.
'I should avoid those expressions, if I were you, Fenwick. But paint what, my dear boy?—paint what?'
'Of course I have my ideas,' said Fenwick, staring at the floor.
'I think I have earned a right to hear them.'
'Certainly. I propose to combine the colour and romance of the Pre-Raphaelites with the truth and drawing of the French school,' said the young man, suddenly looking up.
Surprise betrayed his companion into a broad grin.
'Upon my word, Fenwick, you won't fail for lack of ambition!'
The young man reddened, then quietly nodded.
'No one gets on without ambition. My ideas have been pretty clear for a long time. The English Romantic school have no more future, unless they absorb French drawing and French technique. When they have done that, they will do the finest work in the world.'
Morrison's astonishment increased. The decision and self-confidence with which Fenwick spoke had never yet shown themselves so plainly in the harassed and humbly born painter of Miss Bella's portrait.
'And you intend to do the finest work in the world?' said the patron, in a voice of banter.
'I shall do good work,' he said, doggedly, after a pause. Then, suddenly raising his head, he added, 'And if I weren't sure of it, I'd never let you lend me money.'
'That's all right.—And now what will Mrs. Fenwick say to us?'
Fenwick turned away. He repossessed himself of the envelope, and buttoned his coat over it, before he replied.
'I shall, of course, consult her immediately. What shall I do with this picture?' He pointed to the portrait on the easel.
'Take it home with you, and see if you can't beautify it a little,' said Morrison, in a tone of good-humour. 'You've got a lot of worldly wisdom to learn yet, my dear Fenwick. The women must be flattered.'
Fenwick repeated that he was sorry if Miss Bella was disappointed, but the tone was no less perfunctory than before. After stooping and looking sharply for a moment into the picture—which was a strong, ugly thing, with some passages of remarkable technique—he put it aside, saving that he would send for it in the evening. Then, having packed up and shouldered the rest of his painter's gear, he stood ready to depart.
'I'm awfully obliged to you!' he said, holding out his hand.
Morrison looked at the handsome young fellow, the vivacity of the eyes, the slight agitation of the lip.
'Don't mention it,' he said, with redoubled urbanity. 'It's my way—only my way! When'll you be off?'
'Probably next week. I'll come and say good-bye.'
'I must have a year! But Phoebe will take it hard.' John Fenwick had paused on his way home, and was leaning over a gate beside a stream, now thinking anxiously of his domestic affairs, and now steeped in waves of delight—vague, sensuous, thrilling—that flowed from the colours and forms around him. He found himself in an intricate and lovely valley, through which lay his path to Langdale. On either side of the stream, wooded or craggy fells, gashed with stone-quarries, accompanied the windings of the water, now leaving room for a scanty field or two, and now hemming in the river with close-piled rock and tree. Before him rose a white Westmoreland farm, with its gabled porch and moss-grown roof, its traditional yews and sycamores; while to his left, and above the farm, hung a mountain-face, dark with rock, and purple under the evening shadows—a rich and noble shape, lost above in dim heights of cloud, and, below, cleft to the heart by one deep ghyll, whence the golden trees—in the glittering green of May—descended single or in groups, from shelf to shelf, till their separate brilliance was lost in the dense wood which girdled the white farmhouse.
The pleasure of which he was conscious in the purple of the mountain, the colour of the trees, and all that magic of light and shade which filled the valley—a pleasure involuntary, physical, automatic, depending on certain delicacies of nerve and brain—rose and persisted, while yet his mind was full of harassing and disagreeable thoughts.
Well, Phoebe might take her choice!—for they had come to the parting of the ways. Either a good painter, a man on the level of the best, trained and equipped as they, or something altogether different—foreman, a clerk, perhaps, in his uncle's upholstery business at Darlington, a ticket-collector on the line—anything! He could always earn his own living and Phoebe's. There was no fear of that. But if he was finally to be an artist, he would be a first-rate one. Let him only get more training; give him time and opportunity; and he would be as good as any one.
Morrison, plainly, had thought him a conceited ass. Well, let him!
What chance had he ever had of proving what was in him? As he hung over the gate smoking, he thought of his father and mother, and of his childhood in the little Kendal shop—the bookseller's shop which had been the source and means of his truest education.
Not that he had been a neglected child. Far from it. He remembered his gentle mother, troubled by his incessant drawing, by his growing determination to be an artist, by the constant effort as he grew to boyhood to keep the peace between him and his irritable old father. He remembered her death—and those pictorial effects in the white-sheeted room—effects of light and shadow—of flowers—of the grey head uplifted; he remembered also trying to realise them, stealthily, at night, in his own room, with chalk and paper—and then his passion with himself, and the torn drawing, and the tears, which, as it were, another self saw and approved.
Then came school-days. His father had sent him to an old endowed school at Penrith, that he might be away from home and under discipline. There he had received a plain commercial education, together with some Latin and Greek. His quick, restless mind had soaked it all in; nothing had been a trouble to him; though, as he well knew, he had done nothing supremely well. But Homer and Virgil had been unlocked for him; and in the school library he found Shakespeare and Chaucer, 'Morte d'Arthur' and 'Don Quixote,' fresh and endless material for his drawing, which never stopped. Drawing everywhere—on his books and slates, on doors and gate-posts, or on the whitewashed wall of the old Tudor school-room, where a hunt, drawn with a burned stick, and gloriously dominating the whole room, had provoked the indulgence, even the praise, of the headmaster.
And the old drawing-master!—a German—half blind, though he would never confess it—who dabbled in oil-painting, and let the boy watch his methods. How he would twirl his dirty brush round and dab down a lump of Prussian blue, imagining it to be sepia, hastily correcting it a moment afterwards with a lump of lake, and then say chuckling to himself: 'By Gode, dat is fine!—dat is very nearly a good purple. Fenwick, my boy, mark me—you vill not find a good purple no-vere! Some-vere—in de depths of Japanese art—dere is a good purple. Dat I believe. But not in Europe. Ve Europeans are all tam fools. But I vill not svear!—no!—you onderstand, Fenwick; you haf never heard me svear?' And then a round oath, smothered in a hasty fit of coughing. And once he had cut off part of the skirt of his Sunday coat, taking it in his blindness for an old one, to clean his palette with; and it was thought, by the boys, that it was the unseemly result of this rash act, as disclosed at church the following Sunday morning, which had led to the poor old man's dismissal.
But from him John had learnt a good deal about oil-painting—something too of anatomy—though more of this last from that old book—Albinus, was it?—that he had found in his father's stock. He could see himself lying on the floor—poring over the old plates, morning, noon, and night—then using a little lad, his father's apprentice, to examine him in what he had learnt—the two going about arm-in-arm—Backhouse asking the questions according to a paper drawn up by John—'How many heads to the deltoid?'—and so on—over and over again—and with what an eagerness, what an ardour!—till the brain was bursting and the hand quivering with new knowledge—and the power to use it. Then Leonardo's 'Art of Painting' and Reynolds's Discourses'—both discovered in the shop, and studied incessantly, till the boy of eighteen felt himself the peer of any Academician, and walked proudly down the Kendal streets, thinking of the half-finished paintings in his garret at home, and of the dreams, the conceptions, the ambitions of which that garret had already been the scene.
After that—some evil days! Quarrels with his father, refusals to be bound to the trade, to accept the shop as his whole future and inheritance—painful scenes with the old man, and with the customers who complained of the son's rudeness and inattention—attempts of relations to mediate between the two, and all the time his own burning belief in himself and passion to be free. And at last a time of truce, of conditions made and accepted—the opening of the new Art School—evenings of delightful study there—and, suddenly, out of the mists, Phoebe's brown eyes, and Phoebe's soft encouragement!
Yes, it was Phoebe, Phoebe herself who had determined his career; let her consider that, when he asked for sacrifices! But for the balm she had poured upon his sore ambitions—but for those long walks and talks, in which she had been to him first the mere recipient of his dreams and egotisms, and then—since she had the loveliest eyes, and a young wild charm—a creature to be hotly wooed and desired, he might never have found courage enough to seize upon his fate.
For her sake indeed he had dared it all. She had consoled and inspired him; but she had made the breach with his father final. When they met she was only a struggling teacher in Miss Mason's school, the daughter of a small farmer in the Vale of Keswick. Old Fenwick looked much higher for his son. So there was renewed battle at home, till at last a couple of portrait commissions from a big house near Kendal clinched the matter. A hurried marriage had been followed by the usual parental thunders. And now they had five years to look back upon, years of love and struggle and discontent. By turning his hand to many things, Fenwick had just managed to keep the wolf from the door. He had worked hard, but without much success; and what had been an ordinary good opinion of himself had stiffened into a bitter self-assertion. He knew very well that he was regarded as a conceited, quarrelsome fellow, and rather gloried in it. The world, he considered, had so far treated him ill; he would at any rate keep his individuality.
Phoebe, too, once so sweet, so docile, so receptive, had begun to be critical, to resist him now and then. He knew that in some ways he had disappointed her; and there was gall in the thought. As to the London plan, his word would no longer be enough. He would have to wrestle with and overcome her.
London!—the word chimed him from the past—threw wide the future. He moved on along the rough road, possessed by dreams. He had a vision of his first large picture; himself rubbing in the figures, life-size, or at work on the endless studies for every part—fellow-students coming to look, Academicians, buyers; he heard himself haranguing, plunging headlong into ideas and theories, holding his own with the best of 'the London chaps.' Between whiles, of course, there would be hack-work—illustration—portraits—anything to keep the pot boiling. And always, at the end of this vista, there was success—success great and tangible.
He was amused by his own self-confidence, and laughed as he walked. But his mood never wavered.
He had the power—the gift. Nobody ever doubted that who saw him draw. And he had, besides, what so many men of his own class made shipwreck for want of—he had imagination—enough to show him what it is that makes the mere craftsman into the artist, enough to make him hunger night and day for knowledge, travel, experience. Thanks to his father's shop, he had read a great deal already; and with a little money, how he would buy books, how he would read them!—
And at the thought, fresh images, now in rushing troops, and now in solitary fantastic beauty, began to throng before the inward eye, along the rich background of the valley; images from poetry and legend, stored deep in a greedy fancy, a retentive mind. They came from all sources—Greek, Arthurian, modern; Hephaestus, the lame god and divine craftsman, receiving Thetis in his workshop of the skies, the golden automata wrought by his own hands supporting him on either side; the maidens of Achilles washing the dead and gory body of Hector in the dark background of the hut, while in front swift-foot Achilles holds old Priam in talk till the sad offices are over, and the father may be permitted to behold his son; Arthur and Sir Bedivere beside the lake; Crusaders riding to battle—the gleam of their harness—the arched necks of their steeds—the glory of their banners—the shade and sunlight of the deep vales through which they pass; the Lady of Shalott as the curse conies upon her—Oenone—Brunhilda—Atalanta. Swift along the May woods the figures fled, vision succeeding vision, beauty treading on beauty. It became hallucination—a wildness—an ecstasy. Fenwick stood still, gave himself up to the possession—let it hold him—felt the strangeness and the peril of it—then, suddenly, wrenched himself free.
Running down to the edge of the river, he began to pick up stones and throw them violently into the stream. It was a remedy he had long learnt to use. The physical action released the brain from the tyranny of the forms which held it. Gradually they passed away. He began to breathe more quietly, and, sitting down by the water, his head in his hands, he gave himself up to a quieter pleasure in the nature round him, and in the strength of his own faculty.
To something else also. For while he was sitting there, he found himself praying ardently for success—that he might do well in London, might make a name for himself, and leave his mark on English art. This was to him a very natural outlet of emotion; he was not sure what he meant by it precisely; but it calmed him.
Meanwhile Phoebe Fenwick was watching for her husband.
She had come out upon the green strip of ground in front of Green Nab Cottage, and was looking anxiously along the portion of high-road which was visible from where she stood.
The small, whitewashed house—on this May day, more than a generation ago—stood on a narrow shelf that juts out from the face of one of the eastern fells, bounding the valley of Great Langdale.
When Phoebe, seeing no one on the road, turned to look how near the sun might be to its setting, she saw it, as Wordsworth saw it of old, dropping between the peaks of those 'twin brethren' which to the northwest close in the green bareness of the vale. Between the two pikes the blaze lingered, enthroned; the far winding of the valley, hemmed in also by blue and craggy fells, was pierced by rays of sunset; on the broad side of the pikes the stream of Dungeon Ghyll shone full-fed and white; the sheep, with their new-born lambs beside them, studded the green pastures of the valley; and sounds of water came from the fell-sides. Everywhere lines of broad and flowing harmony, moulded by some subtle union of rock and climate and immemorial age into a mountain beauty which is the peculiar possession of Westmoreland and Cumberland. Neither awful, nor yet trivial; neither too soft for dignity, nor too rugged for delight. The Westmoreland hills are the remains of an infinitely older world—giants decayed, but of a great race and ancestry; they have the finish, the delicate or noble loveliness—one might almost say the manner—that comes of long and gentle companionship with those chief forces that make for natural beauty, with air and water, with temperate suns and too abundant rains. Beside them the Alps are inhuman; the Apennines mere forest-grown heaps—mountains in the making; while all that Scotland gains from the easy enveloping glory of its heather, Westmoreland, which is almost heatherless, must owe to an infinitude of fine strokes, tints, curves, and groupings, to touches of magic and to lines of grace, yet never losing the wild energy of precipice and rock that belongs of right to a mountain world.
To-day Langdale was in spring. The withered fern was still red on the sides of the pikes; there was not a leaf on the oaks, still less on the ashes; but the larches were green in various plantations, and the sycamores were bursting. Half a mile eastward the woods were all in soft bloom, carpeted with windflowers and bluebells. Here, but for the larches, and the few sycamores and yews that guard each lonely farm, all was naked fell and pasture. The harsh spring wind came rioting up the valley, to fling itself on the broad sides of the pikes; the lambs made a sad bleating; the water murmured in the ghyll beyond the house; the very sunshine was clear and cold.
Calculations quick and anxious passed through the young wife's brain. Debts here, and debts there; the scanty list of small commissions ahead, which she knew by heart; the uncertainty of the year before them; clothes urgently wanted for the child, for John, for herself. She drew a long and harassed breath.
Phoebe Fenwick was a tall, slender creature, very young; with a little golden head on a thin neck, features childishly cut, and eyes that made the chief adornment of a simple face. The lines of the brow, the lids and lashes, and the clear brown eye itself were indeed of a most subtle and distinguished beauty; they accounted, perhaps, for the attention with which most persons of taste and cultivation observed Fenwick's wife. For the eyes seemed to promise a character, a career; whereas the rest of the face was no more, perhaps, than a piece of agreeable pink-and-white.
She wore a dress of dark-blue cotton, showing the spring of her beautiful throat. The plain gown with its long folds, the uncovered throat, and rich simplicity of her fair hair had often reminded Fenwick and a few of his patrons of those Florentine photographs which now, since the spread of the later Pre-Raphaelites and the opening of the Grosvenor Gallery, were to be seen even in the shops of country towns. There was a literary gentleman in Kendal who said that Mrs. Fenwick was like one of Ghirlandajo's tall women in Santa Maria Novella. Phoebe had sometimes listened uncomfortably to these comparisons. She was a Cumberland girl, and had no wish at all to be like people in Italy. It seemed somehow to cut her off from her own folk.
'John is late!' said a voice beside her. An elderly woman had stepped out of the cottage porch. Miss Anna Mason, the head-mistress of an endowed girls school in Hawkshead, had come to spend a Saturday afternoon with her old pupil, Phoebe Fenwick. A masterful-looking woman—ample in figure, with a mouth of decision. She wore a grey alpaca dress, adorned with a large tatted collar, made by herself, and fastened by a brooch containing a true-lover's knot in brown hair.
'He'll have stayed on to finish,' said Phoebe, looking round. 'Where's Carrie?'
Miss Mason replied that the child wouldn't wait any longer for her supper, and that Daisy, the little servant, was feeding her. Then, slipping her arm inside Mrs. Fenwick's, Miss Mason looked at the sunset.
'It's a sweet little cottage,' she said, shading her eyes from the fast-sinking orb, and then turning them on the tiny house—'but I dare say you'll not be here long, Phoebe.'
Mrs. Fenwick started.
'John told Mr. Harrock he'd pay him rent for it till next Easter.'
Miss Mason laughed.
'Are you going to let John go wasting his time here till next Easter?'
The arm she held moved involuntarily.
'He has several commissions—people not far from here,' said Mrs. Fenwick, hurriedly. 'And if the weather's too bad, we can always go to rooms in Kendal or Ambleside.'
'Well, if that's what you're thinking of, my dear, you'd better make a clerk of him at once and have done with it! He told me his uncle would always find him work in the upholstery business.'
Phoebe's soft cheeks trembled a little.
'Some day we'll have saved some money,' she said, in a low voice—'and then we'll go to London; and—and John will get on.'
'Yes—when you stop holding him back, Mrs. Phoebe Fenwick!'
'Oh! Miss Anna, I don't hold him back!' cried the wife, suddenly, impetuously.
Miss Mason shook an incredulous head.
'I haven't heard a single word of his bettering himself—of his doing anything but muddle on here—having a "crack" with this farmer and that—and painting pictures he's a sight too good for, since I came this morning; and we've talked for hours. No—I may as well have it out—I'm a one for plain speaking; I'm a bit disappointed in you both. As for you, Phoebe, you'll be precious sorry for it some day if you don't drive him out of this.'
'Where should I drive him to?' cried Mrs. Fenwick, stifled. She had broken a sycamore twig, and was stripping it violently of its buds.
Miss Anna looked at her unmoved. The grey-haired schoolmistress was a woman of ideas and ambitions beyond her apparent scope in life. She had read her Carlyle and Ruskin, and in her calling she was an enthusiast. But, in the words of the Elizabethan poet, she was perhaps 'unacquainted still with her own soul.' She imagined herself a Radical; she was in truth a tyrant. She preached Ruskin and the simple life; no worldling ever believed more fiercely in the gospel of success. But, let it be said promptly, it was success for others, rarely or never for herself; she despised the friend who could not breast and conquer circumstance; as for her own case, there were matters much more interesting to think of. But she was the gadfly, the spur of all to whom she gave her affection. Phoebe, first her pupil, then her under-mistress, and moulded still by the old habit of subordination to her, both loved and dreaded her. It was said that she had made the match between her protegee and old Fenwick's rebellious and gifted son. She had certainly encouraged it, and, whether from conscience or invincible habit, she had meddled a good deal with it ever since.
In reply to Phoebe's question, Miss Anna merely inquired whether Mrs. Fenwick supposed that George Romney—the Westmoreland artist—would have had much chance with his art if he had stayed on in Westmoreland? Why, the other day a picture by Romney had been sold for three thousand pounds! And pray, would he ever have become a great painter at all if he had stuck to Kendal or Dalton-in-Furness all his life?—if he had never been brought in contact with the influences, the money, and the sitters of London? Those were the questions that Phoebe had to answer. 'Would the beautiful Lady This and Lady That ever have come to Kendal to be painted?—would he ever have seen Lady Hamilton?'
At this Mrs. Fenwick flushed hotly from brow to chin.
'I rather wonder at you, Miss Anna!' she said, breathing fast; 'you think it was all right he should desert his wife for thirty years—so—so long as he painted pictures of that bad woman, Lady Hamilton, for you to look at!'
Miss Anna looked curiously at her companion. The schoolmistress was puzzled—and provoked.
'Well!—you don't suppose that John's going to desert you for thirty years!' said the other, with an impatient laugh. 'Don't be absurd, Phoebe.'
Phoebe said nothing. She heard a cry from the baby Carrie, and she hurried across the little garden to the house. At the same moment there was a shout of greeting from below, and Fenwick came into sight on the steep pitch of lane that led from the high-road to the cottage. Miss Anna strolled down to meet him.
In the eyes of his old friend, John Fenwick made a very handsome figure as he approached her, his painter's wallet slung over his shoulder. That something remarkable had happened to him she divined at once. In moments of excitement a certain foreign look—as some people thought, a gypsyish look—was apt to show itself. The roving eyes, the wild manner, the dancing step betrayed the in most man—banishing altogether the furtive or jealous reserve of the North-Countryman, which were at other times equally to be noticed. Miss Anna had often wondered how the same man could be so shy—and so vain!
However, though elation of some sort was uppermost, he was not at first inclined to reveal himself. He told Miss Anna as they walked up together that he had done with Miss Bella; that old Morrison praised the portrait, and the girl hated it; that she was a vulgar, conceited creature, and he was thankful to have finished.
'If I were to show it at Manchester next month, you'd see what the papers would say. But I suppose Miss Bella would sooner die than let her father send it. Silly goose! Powdering every time—and sucking her lips to make them red—and twisting her neck about—ugh! I've no patience with women like that! When I get on a bit, I'll paint nobody I don't want to paint.'
'All right—but get on first,' said Miss Anna, patting him on the arm. 'What next, John—what next?'
He hesitated. His look grew for a moment veiled and furtive. 'Oh, there's plenty to do,' he said, evasively.
They paused on the green ledges outside the cottage.
He nodded uncertainly.
'You'll not grow fat on Great Langdale,' said Miss Anna, waving an ironical hand towards the green desolation of the valley.
He looked at her, walked up and down a moment, then said with an outburst, though in a low tone, and with a look over his shoulder at the open window of the cottage, 'Morrison's lent me a hundred pounds. He advises me to go to London at once.'
Miss Anna raised her eyebrows. 'Oh—oh!' she said—'that's news! What do you mean by "at once"?—September?'
'Next week—I won't lose a day.'
Miss Anna pondered.
'Well, I dare say Phoebe can hurry up.'
'Oh! I can't take Phoebe,' he said, in a hasty, rather injured voice.
'Not take Phoebe!' cried the other under her breath, seeming to hear around her the ghosts of words which had but just passed between her and Phoebe—'and what on earth are you going to do with her?'
He led her away towards the edge of the little garden—arguing, prophesying, laying down the law.
While he was thus engaged came Phoebe's silver voice from the parlour:
'Is that you, John? Supper's ready.'
He and Miss Anna turned.
'Hush, please!' said Fenwick to his companion, finger on lip; and they entered.
'You'll have got the money from Mr. Morrison, John?' said Phoebe, presently, when they were settled to their meal.
'Aye,' said Fenwick, 'that's all right. Phoebe, that's a real pretty dress of yours.'
Soft colour rose in the wife's cheeks.
'I'm glad you like it,' said Phoebe, soberly. Then looking up—
'John—don't give Carrie that!—it'll make her sick.'
For Fenwick was stealthily feeding the baby beside him with morsels from his own plate. The child's face—pink mouth and blue eyes, both wide open—hung upon him in a fixed expectancy.
'She does like it so—the little greedy puss! It won't do her any harm.'
But the mother persisted. Then the child cried, and the father and mother wrangled over it, till Fenwick caught up the babe by Phoebe's peremptory directions and carried it away upstairs. At the door of the little parlour, while Phoebe was at his shoulder, wiping away the child's tears and cooing to it, Fenwick suddenly turned his head and kissed his wife's cheek, or rather her pretty ear, which presented itself. Miss Anna, still at table, laughed discreetly behind their backs—the laugh of the sweet-natured old maid.
When the child was asleep upstairs, Phoebe and the little servant cleared away while Fenwick and Miss Anna read the newspaper, and talked on generalities. In this talk Phoebe had no share, and it might have been noticed by one who knew them well, that in his conversation with Miss Mason, Fenwick became another man. He used tones and phrases that he either had never used, or used no longer, with Phoebe. He showed himself, in fact, intellectually at ease, expansive, and, at times, amazingly arrogant. For instance, in discussing a paragraph about the Academy in the London letter of the Westmoreland Gazette, he fired up and paced the room, haranguing his listener in a loud, eager voice. Of course she knew—every one knew—that all the best men and all the coming forces were now outside the Academy. Millais, Leighton, Watts—spent talents, extinct volcanoes!—Tadema a marvellous mechanic, without ideas!—the landscape men, chaotic,—no standard anywhere, no style. On the other hand, Burne-Jones and the Grosvenor Gallery group—ideas without drawing, without knowledge, feet and hands absurd, muscles anyhow. While as for Whistler and the Impressionists—a lot of maniacs, running a fad to death—but clever—by Jove!—
No!—there was a new art coming!—the creation of men who had learnt to draw, and could yet keep a hold on ideas—
'Character!—that's what we want!' He struck the table; and finally with a leap he was at the goal which Miss Anna—sitting before him, arms folded, her strong old face touched with satire—had long foreseen. 'By George, I'd show them!—if I only had the chance.'
He threw the pictures back into the cupboard.
'No doubt,' said Miss Anna, dryly. 'I think you are a great man, John, though you say it. But you've got to prove it.'
He laughed uncomfortably.
'I've written a good many of these things to the Gazette,' he said, evading her direct attack. 'They'll put them in next week.'
'I wish you hadn't, John!' said Phoebe, anxiously. She was sitting under the lamp with her needlework.
He turned upon her aggressively.
'And why, please?'
'Because the last article you wrote lost you a commission. Don't you remember—that gentleman at Grasmere—what he said?'
She nodded her fair head gravely. It struck Miss Anna that she was looking pale and depressed.
'Old fool!' said Fenwick. 'Yes, I remember. He wouldn't ask anybody to paint his children who'd written such a violent article. As if I wanted to paint his children! Besides, it was a mere excuse—to save the money.'
'I don't think so,' murmured Phoebe. 'And oh, I had counted on that five pounds!'
'What does five pounds matter, compared to speaking to one's mind?' said Fenwick, roughly.
There was a silence. Fenwick, looking at the two women, felt them unsympathetic, and abruptly changed the subject.
'I wish you'd give us some music, Phoebe.'
Phoebe rose obediently. He opened the little pianette for her, and lit the candles.
She played some Irish and Scotch airs, in poor settings, and with much stumbling. After a little, Fenwick listened restlessly, his brow frowning, his fingers drumming on the arm of his chair. They were all glad when it was over.
Phoebe, hearing a whimper from the child, went upstairs. The two others were soon in hushed but earnest conversation.
Miss Anna had gone to bed. Fenwick was sitting with a book before him—lost in anxious and exciting calculations—when Phoebe entered the room.
'Is that you?' he said, jumping up. 'That's all right. I wanted to talk to you.'
'I thought you did,' she said, with a very quiet, drooping air; then going to the window, which was open, she leaned out into the May night. 'Where shall we go? It's warmer.'
'Let's go to the ghyll,' said Fenwick; 'I'll fetch you a shawl.'
For, as both remembered, Miss Anna was upstairs, and in that tiny cottage all sounds were audible.
Fenwick wrapt a shawl round his companion, and they sallied forth.
The valley lay below them. A young moon was near its setting over the farthest pike, and the fine lines of the mountain rose dimly clear, from its base on the valley floor to the dark cliffs of Pavey Ark. Not a light was visible anywhere. Their little cottage on its shelf, with the rays of its small lamp shining through the window, seemed to be the only spectator of the fells; it talked with them in a lonely companionship.
They passed through the fence of the small garden out on to the fell-side. Dim forms of sheep rose in alarm as they came near, and bleating lambs hurried beside them. Soft sounds of wind, rising and falling along the mountain or stirring amid last year's bracken, pursued them, till they reached the edge of the ghyll, and, descending its side, found the water murmuring among the stones, the only audible thing in a deep shade and silence.
They sat down by the stream, and Fenwick, taking up some pebbles, began to drop them nervously into the water. Phoebe, beside him, clasped her hands round her knees; in a full light it would have been seen that the hands were trembling.
'Phoebe—old Morrison's offered to lend me some money.'
'I—I thought perhaps he had.'
'And he wants me to go to London at once.'
'You've got the money?'
'In my pocket'—he laid his hand upon it. Then he laughed: 'He didn't pay me for the portrait, though. That's like him. And of course I couldn't ask for it.'
Fenwick turned round and took one of her hands.
'Well, little woman, what do you think? Are you going to let me go and make my fortune?—our fortune?'
'As if I could stop you!' she said, hoarsely. 'It's what you've wanted for months.'
'Well, and if I have, where's the harm? We can't go on living like this!'
And he began to talk, with great rapidity, about the absurdity of attempting to make a living as an artist out of Westmoreland—out of any place, indeed, but London, the natural centre and clearing-house of talent.
'I could make a living out of teaching, I suppose, up here. I could get—in time—a good many lessons going round to schools. But that would be a dog's life. You wouldn't want to see me at that for ever, would you, Phoebe? Or at painting portraits at five guineas apiece? I could chuck it all, of course, and go in for business. But I can tell you, England would lose something if I did.'
And, catching up another stone, he threw it into the beck with a passion which made the clash of it, as it struck upon a rock, echo through the ghyll. There was something magnificent in the gesture, and a movement, half thrill, half shudder, ran through the wife's delicate frame. She clasped her hands round his arm, and drew close to him.
'John!—are you going to leave baby and me behind?'
Her voice, as she pressed towards him, her face upraised to his, rose from deep founts of feeling; but she kept the sob in it restrained. Fenwick felt the warmth and softness of her young body; the fresh face, the fragrant hair were close upon his lips. He threw both his arms round her and folded her to him.
'Just for a little while,' he pleaded—'till I get my footing. One year! For both our sakes—Phoebe!'
'I could live on such a little—we could get two rooms, which would be cheaper for you than lodgings.'
'It isn't that!' he said, impatiently, but kissing her. 'It is that I must be my own master—I must have nothing to think of but my art—I must slave night and day—I must live with artists—I must get to know all sorts of people who might help me on. If you and Carrie came up—just at first—I couldn't do the best for myself—I couldn't, I tell you. And of course I mean the best for you, in the long run. If I go, I must succeed. And if I can give all my mind, I shall succeed. Don't you think I shall?'
He drew away from her abruptly—holding her at arm's length, scrutinising her face almost with hostility.
'Yes,' said Phoebe, slowly, 'Yes, of course you'll succeed—if you don't quarrel with people.'
'Quarrel,' he repeated, angrily. 'You're always harping on that—you're always so afraid of people. It does a man no harm, I tell you, to be a bit quick-tempered. I shan't be a fool.'
'No, but—I could warn you often. And then you know,' she said, slowly, caressing his shoulder with her hand—'I could look after money. You're dreadfully bad about money, John. Directly you've got it, you spend it—and sometimes when you borrow you forget all about paying it back.'
He was struck dumb for a moment with astonishment; feeling at the same time the trembling of the form which his arm still encircled.
'Well, Phoebe,' he said, at last, 'you seem determined to say disagreeable things to me to-night. I suppose I might remind you that you're much younger than I; and that of course a man knows much more about business than a young thing like you can. How, I should like to know, could we have done any better than we have done, since we married? As far as money goes, we've had a hell of a time, from first to last!'
'It would have been much worse,' said Phoebe, softly, 'if I hadn't been there—you know it would. You know last year when we were in such straits, and all our things were nearly sold up, you let me take over things, and keep the money. And I went to see all the people we owed money to—and—and it's pretty bad—but it isn't as bad as it was—'
She hid her face on her knees, choked by the sob she could no longer repress.
'Well, of course it's better,' said Fenwick, ungraciously; 'I don't say you haven't got a head, Phoebe—why, I know you have! You did first-rate! But, after all, I had to earn the money.'
She looked up eagerly.
'That's what I say. You'd never be able to think about little things—you'd have to be painting always—and going about—and—'
He bit his lip.
'Why, I could manage for myself—for a bit,' he said, with a laugh. 'I'm not such an idiot as all that. Old Morrison's lent me a hundred pounds, Phoebe!'
He enjoyed her amazement.
'A hundred pounds!' she repeated, faintly. 'And however are we going to repay all that?'
He drew her back to him triumphantly.
'Why, you silly child, I'm going to earn it, of course—and a deal more. Don't you hinder me, Phoebe! and I shall be a rich man before we can look round, and you'll be a lady—with a big house—and your carriage, perhaps!'
He kissed her vehemently, as though to coerce her into agreeing with him.
But she released herself.
'You and I'll never be rich. We don't know how.'
'Speak for yourself, please.' He stretched out his right hand, laughing. 'Look at that hand. If it gets a fair chance it's got money in it—and fame—and happiness for us both! Don't you believe in me, Phoebe? Don't you believe I shall make a painter?'
He spoke with an imperious harshness, repeating his query. It was evident, curiously evident, that he cared for her opinion.
'Of course I believe in you,' she said, her chest heaving. 'It's—it's—other things.'
Then, coming to him again, she flung her arms piteously round him. 'Oh, John, John—for a year past—and more—you've been sorry you married me!'
'What on earth's the matter with you?' he cried, half in wrath, half astonished. 'What's come to you, Phoebe?'
'Oh! I know,' she said, withdrawing herself and speaking in a low current of speech. 'You were very fond of me when we married—and—and I dare say you're fond of me now—but it's different. You were a boy then—and you thought you'd get drawing-lessons in Kendal, and perhaps a place at a school—and you didn't seem to want anything more. And now you're so ambitious—so ambitious, John—I'—she turned her head away—'I sometimes feel when I'm with you—I can't breathe—it's just burning you away—and me too. You've found out what you can do—and people tell you you're so clever—and then you think you've thrown yourself away—and that I'm a clog on you. John'—she approached him suddenly, panting—'John, do you mean that baby and I are to stay all the winter alone in that cottage?' She motioned towards it.
He protested that he had elaborately thought out all that she must do. She must go to her father at Keswick for the summer and possibly for the winter, till he had got a footing. He would come up to see her as often as work and funds would permit. She must look after the child, make a little money perhaps by her beautiful embroidery.
'I'll not go to my father,' she said, with energy.
'But why not?'
'You seem to forget that he married a second wife, John, last year.'
'I'm sure Mrs. Gibson was most friendly when we were there last month. And we'd pay, of course—we'd pay.'
'I'm not going to plant myself and Carrie down on Mrs. Gibson for six months and more, John, so don't ask me. No, we'll stay here—we'll stay here!'
She began to pluck at the grass with her hand, staring before her at the moonlit stream like one who sees visions of the future. The beauty of her faintly visible head and neck suddenly worked on John Fenwick's senses. He threw his arm round her.
'And I shall soon be back. You little silly, can't you understand that I shall always be wanting you?'
'We'll stay here,' she repeated, slowly. 'And you'll be in London making smart friends—and dining with rich folk—and having ladies to sit to you—'
'Phoebe, you're not jealous of me?' he cried, with a great, good-humoured laugh—'that would be the last straw.'
'Yes, I am jealous of you!' she said, with low-voiced passion; 'and you know very well that I've had some cause to be.'
He was silent. Through both their minds there passed the memory of some episodes in their married life—slight, but quite sufficient to show that John Fenwick was a man of temperament inevitably attracted by womankind.
He murmured that she had made mountains out of mole-hills. She merely raised his hand and kissed it. 'The women make a fool of you, John,' she said, 'and I ought to be there to protect you—for you do love me, you know—you do!'
And then with tears she broke down and clung to him again, in a mood that was partly the love of wife for husband and partly an exquisite maternity—the same feeling she gave her child. He responded with eagerness, feeling indeed that he had won his battle.
For she lay in his arms—weak—protesting no more. The note of anguish, of deep, incalculable foreboding, which she had shown, passed away from her manner and words; while on his side he began to draw pictures of the future so full of exultation and of hope that her youth presently could but listen and believe. The sickle moon descended behind the pikes; only the stars glimmered on the great side of the fell, on solitary yews black upon the night, on lines of wall, on dim, mysterious paths, old as the hills themselves, on the softly chiding water. The May night breathed upon them, calmed them, brought out the better self of each. They returned to the cottage like children, hand in hand, talking of a hundred practical details, thankful that the jarring moment had passed away, each refraining from any word that could wound the other. Nor was it till Fenwick was sound asleep beside her that Phoebe, replunged in loneliness and dread, gave herself in the dawn-silence to a passion of unconquerable tears.
'Was that the landmark? What,—the foolish well Whose wave, low down, I did not stoop to drink, But sat and flung the pebbles from its brink In sport to send its imaged skies pell-mell, (And mine own image, had I noted well!) Was that my point of turning? I had thought The stations of my course should rise unsought, As altar-stone, or ensigned citadel.'
'Why does that fellow upstairs always pass you as though he were in a passion with somebody?' said Richard Watson, stepping back as he spoke, palette on thumb, from the picture upon which he was engaged. 'He almost knocked me down this morning, and I am not conscious of having done anything to offend his worship.'
His companion in the dingy Bloomsbury studio, where they were both at work, also put down palette and brush, examining the canvas before him with a keen, cheerful air.
'Perhaps he loathes mankind, as I did yesterday.'
'And to-day it's all right?'
'Well, come and look.'
Watson crossed over. He was a tall and splendid man, a 'black Celt' from Merionethshire, with coal-black hair, and eyes deeply sunken and lined, with fatigue or ill health. Beside him, his comrade, Philip Cuningham, had the air of a shrewd clerk or man of business—with his light alertness of frame, his reddish hair, and sharp, small features. A pleasant, serviceable ability was stamped on Cuningham's whole aspect; while Watson's large, lounging way, and dishevelled or romantic good looks suggested yet another perennial type—the dreamer entangled in the prose of life.
He looked at the picture which Cuningham turned towards him—his hands thrust into the vast pockets of his holland coat. It was a piece of charming genre—a crowded scene in Rotten Row, called 'Waiting for the Queen,' painted with knowledge and grace; owing more to Wilkie than to Frith, and something to influences more modern than either; a picture belonging to a familiar English tradition, and worthily representing it.
'Yes—you've got it!' he said, at last, in a voice rather colourless and forced. Then he made one or two technical comments, to which the other listened with something that was partly indulgence, partly deference; adding, finally, as he moved away, 'And it'll sell, of course—like hot potatoes!'
'Well, I hope so,' said Philip, beginning to put away his brushes and tubes with what seemed to be a characteristic orderliness—'or I shall be in Queer Street. But I think Lord Findon wants it. I shouldn't wonder if he turned up this afternoon!'
'Ah?' Watson raised his great shoulders with a gesture which might have been sarcastic, but was perhaps more than anything else languid and weary. He returned to his own picture, looking at it with a painful intensity.
'Nobody will ever want to buy that!' he said, quietly.
Cuningham stood beside him, embarrassed.
'It's full of fine things,' he said, after a moment. 'But—'
'You wish I wouldn't paint such damned depressing subjects?'
'I wish you'd sometimes condescend to think of the public, old fellow!'
'That—never!' said the other, under his breath. 'Starve—and please yourself! But I shan't starve—you forget that.'
'Worse luck!' laughed Cuningham. 'I believe Providence ordained the British Philistine for our good—drat him! It does no one any harm to have to hook the public. All the great men have done it. You're too squeamish, Master Dick!'
Watson went on painting in silence, his lips working. Presently Cuningham caught—half lost in the beard—'There's a public of to-day, though—and a public of to-morrow!'
'Oh, all right,' said Philip. 'So long as you take a public of some sort into consideration! I like your jester.'
He bent forward to look into the front line of the large composition crowded with life-size figures on which Watson was engaged. It was an illustration of some Chaucerian lines, describing the face of a man on his way to execution, seen among a crowd:
'a pale face Among a press ...'
so stricken that, amid all the thronging multitude, 'men might know his face that was bestead' from all the rest.
The idea—of helpless pain, in the grip of cruel and triumphant force—had been realised with a passionate wealth of detail, comparable to some of the early work of Holman Hunt. The head of the victim bound with blood-stained linen, a frightened girl hiding her eyes, a mother weeping, a jester with the laugh withered on his lip by this sudden vision of death and irremediable woe—and in the distance a frail, fainting form, sweetheart or sister—each figure and group, rendered often with very unequal technical merit, had yet in it something harshly, intolerably true. The picture was too painful to be borne; but it was neither common nor mean.
Cuningham turned away from it with a shudder.
'Some of it's magnificent, Dick—but I couldn't live with it if you paid me!'
'Because you look at it wrongly,' said Watson, gruffly. 'You take it as an anecdote. It isn't an anecdote—it's a symbol.'
'What?—The World?—and The Victim?—from all time?—and to all time? Well, that makes it more gruesome than ever. Hullo, who's that? Come in!'
The door opened. A young man, in some embarrassment, appeared on the threshold.
'I believe these letters are yours,' he said, offering a couple to Cuningham. 'They brought them up to me by mistake.'
Philip Cuningham took them with thanks, then scanned the newcomer as he was turning to depart.
'I think I saw you at Berners Street the other night?'
John Fenwick paused.
'Yes—' he said, awkwardly.
'Have you been attending all the summer?'
'Pretty well. There were about half a dozen fellows left in August. We clubbed together to keep the model going.'
'I don't remember you in the Academy.'
'No. I come from the North. I've painted a lot already—I couldn't be bothered with the Academy!'
Watson turned and looked at the figure in the doorway.
'Won't you come in and sit down?'
The young man hesitated. Then something in his look kindled as it fell on Watson's superb head, with its strong, tossed locks of ebon-black hair touched with grey, the penthouse brows, and the blue eyes beneath with their tragic force of expression.
Fenwick came in and shut the door. Cuningham pushed him a chair, and Watson offered him a cigarette, which he somewhat doubtfully accepted. His two hosts—men of the educated middle-class—divined at once that he was self-taught, and risen from the ranks. Both Cuningham and Watson were shabbily dressed; but it was an artistic and metropolitan shabbiness. Fenwick's country clothes were clumsy and unbecoming; and his manner seemed to fit him as awkwardly as his coat. The sympathy of both the older artists did but go out to him the more readily.
Cuningham continued the conversation, while Watson, still painting, occasionally intervened.
They discussed the personnel of the life-school Fenwick was attending, the opening of a new atelier in North London by a well-known Academician, the successes at the current 'Academy,' the fame of certain leading artists. At least Cuningham talked; Fenwick's contributions were mostly monosyllabic; he seemed to be feeling his way.
Suddenly, by a change of attitude on the painter's part, the picture on which Dick Watson was engaged became visible to Fenwick. He walked eagerly up to it.
'I say!'—his face flushed with admiration. 'That figure's wonderful.' He pointed to the terror-stricken culprit. 'But that horse there—you don't mind, do you?—that horse is wrong!'
'I know he is! I've worked at him till I'm sick. Can't work at him any more!'
'It should be like this.'
He took out a sketch-book from his pocket, caught up a piece of charcoal and rapidly sketched the horse in the attitude required. Then he handed the book to Watson, who looked first at the sketch, and then at some of the neighbouring pages, which were covered with studies of horses observed mostly on the day of some trade-union procession, when mounted police were keeping the road.
Watson was silent a moment, then, walking up to his picture, he took his palette-knife and scraped out the whole passage. 'I see!' he said, and, laying down the knife, he threw himself into a chair, flushed and discomposed.
'Oh, you'll soon put it right!' said Fenwick, encouragingly.
Watson winced—then nodded.
'May I see that book?' He held out his hand, and Fenwick yielded it.
Watson and Cuningham turned it over together. The 'notes,' of which it was full, showed great brilliancy and facility, an accurate eye, and a very practised hand. They were the notes of a countryman artist newly come to London. The sights, and tones, and distances of London streets—the human beings, the vehicles, the horses—were all freshly seen, as though under a glamour. Cuningham examined them with care.
'Is this the sort of thing you're going to do?' he said, looking up, and involuntarily his eye glanced towards his own picture on the distant easel.
'That's only for practice. I want to do big things—romantic things—if I get the chance.'
'What a delightful subject!' said Cuningham, stooping suddenly over the book.
Fenwick started, made a half-movement as though to reclaim his property, and then withdrew his hand. Cuningham was looking at a charcoal study of a cottage interior. The round table of rude black oak was set for a meal, and a young woman was feeding a child in a pinafore who sat in a high-chair. The sketch might have been a mere piece of domestic prettiness; but the handling of it was so strong and free that it became a significant, typical thing. It breathed the North, a life rustic and withdrawn—the sweetness of home and motherhood.
'Are you going to make a picture of that?' said Watson, putting on his spectacles, and peering into it. 'You'd better.'
Fenwick replied that he might some day, but had too many things on hand to think of it yet a while. Then with no explanation and a rather hasty hand he turned the page. Cuningham looked at him curiously.
They were still busy with the sketch-book when a voice was heard on the stairs outside.
'Lord Findon,' said Cunningham.
He coloured a little, ran to his picture, arranged it in the best light, and removed a small fly which had stuck to one corner.
'Shall I go?' said Fenwick.
He too had been clearly fluttered by the name, which was that of one of the best-known buyers of the day.
Watson in reply beckoned him on to the leads, upon which the Georgian bow-window at the end of the room opened. They found themselves on a railed terrace looking to right and left on a row of gardens, each glorified by one of the plane-trees which even still make the charm of Bloomsbury.
Watson hung over the rail, smoking. He explained that Lord Findon had come to see Cuningham's picture, which he had commissioned, but not without leaving himself a loophole, in case he didn't like it.
'He will like it,' said Fenwick. 'It's just the kind of thing people want.'
Watson said nothing, but smoked with energy. Fenwick went on talking, letting it be clearly understood that he personally thought the picture of no account, but that he knew very well that it was of a kind to catch buyers. In a few minutes Watson resented his attitude as offensive; he fell into a cold silence; Fenwick's half-concealed contempt threw him fiercely on his friend's side.
'Well, I've done the trick!' said Cuningham, coming out jauntily, his hands in his trousers pockets; then, with a jerk of the head towards the studio, and a lowered voice, 'He's writing the cheque.'
'How much?' said Watson, without turning his head. Fenwick thought it decent to walk away, but he could not prevent himself from listening. It seemed to him that he heard the words 'Two hundred and fifty,' but he could not be sure. What a price!—for such a thing. His own blood ran warm and quick.
As he stood at the further end of the little terrace ruminating, Cuningham touched him on the shoulder.
'I say, have you got anything to show upstairs?'
Fenwick turned to see in the sparkling eyes and confident bearing of the Scotchman, success writ large, expressing itself in an impulse of generosity.
'Yes—I've got a picture nearly finished.'
'Come and be introduced to Findon. He's a crank—but a good sort—lots of money—thinks he knows everything about art—they all do—give him his head when he talks.'
Fenwick nodded, and followed Cuningham back to the studio, where Lord Findon was now examining Watson's picture with no assistance whatever from the artist, who seemed to have been struck with dumbness.
Fenwick was introduced to a remarkably tall and handsome man, with the bearing of a sportsman or a soldier, who greeted him with a cordial shake of the hand, and a look of scrutiny so human and kindly that the very sharp curiosity which was in truth the foundation of it passed without offence. Lord Findon was indeed curious about everything; interested in everything; and a dabbler in most artistic pursuits. He liked the society of artists; and he was accustomed to spend some hundreds, or even thousands, a year out of his enormous income, in the purchase of modern pictures. Possibly the sense of power over human lives which these acquisitions gave him pleased him even more than the acquisitions themselves.
He asked Fenwick a few easy questions, sitting rakishly on the edge of a tilted chair, his hat slipping back on his handsome, grizzled head. Where did he come from—with whom had he studied—what were his plans? Had he ever been abroad? No. Strange! The artists nowadays neglected travel. 'But you go! Beg your way, paint your way—but go! Go before the wife and the babies come! Matrimony is the deuce. Don't you agree with me, Philip?' He laid a familiar hand on the artist's arm.
'Take care!' said Cuningham, laughing. 'You don't know what I may have been up to this summer.'
Findon shrugged his shoulders. 'I know a wise man when I see him. But the fools there are about! Well, I take a strong line'—he waved his hand, with a kind of laughing pomposity, rolling his words—'whenever I see a young fellow marrying before he has got his training—before he has seen a foreign gallery—before he can be sure of a year's income ahead—above all, before he knows anything at all about women, and the different ways in which they can play the devil with you!—well, I give him up—I don't go to see his pictures—I don't bother about him any more. The man's an ass—must be an ass!—let him bray his bray! Why, you remember Perry?—Marindin?'