THE TRAGIC MUSE
MacMillan and Co., Limited St. Martin's Street, London
I profess a certain vagueness of remembrance in respect to the origin and growth of The Tragic Muse, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly again, beginning January 1889 and running on, inordinately, several months beyond its proper twelve. If it be ever of interest and profit to put one's finger on the productive germ of a work of art, and if in fact a lucid account of any such work involves that prime identification, I can but look on the present fiction as a poor fatherless and motherless, a sort of unregistered and unacknowledged birth. I fail to recover my precious first moment of consciousness of the idea to which it was to give form; to recognise in it—as I like to do in general—the effect of some particular sharp impression or concussion. I call such remembered glimmers always precious, because without them comes no clear vision of what one may have intended, and without that vision no straight measure of what one may have succeeded in doing. What I make out from furthest back is that I must have had from still further back, must in fact practically have always had, the happy thought of some dramatic picture of the "artist-life" and of the difficult terms on which it is at the best secured and enjoyed, the general question of its having to be not altogether easily paid for. To "do something about art"—art, that is, as a human complication and a social stumbling-block—must have been for me early a good deal of a nursed intention, the conflict between art and "the world" striking me thus betimes as one of the half-dozen great primary motives. I remember even having taken for granted with this fond inveteracy that no one of these pregnant themes was likely to prove under the test more full of matter. This being the case, meanwhile, what would all experience have done but enrich one's conviction?—since if, on the one hand, I had gained a more and more intimate view of the nature of art and the conditions therewith imposed, so the world was a conception that clearly required, and that would for ever continue to take, any amount of filling-in. The happy and fruitful truth, at all events, was that there was opposition—why there should be was another matter—and that the opposition would beget an infinity of situations. What had doubtless occurred in fact, moreover, was that just this question of the essence and the reasons of the opposition had shown itself to demand the light of experience; so that to the growth of experience, truly, the treatment of the subject had yielded. It had waited for that advantage.
Yet I continue to see experience giving me its jog mainly in the form of an invitation from the gentle editor of the Atlantic, the late Thomas Bailey Aldrich, to contribute to his pages a serial that should run through the year. That friendly appeal becomes thus the most definite statement I can make of the "genesis" of the book; though from the moment of its reaching me everything else in the matter seems to live again. What lives not least, to be quite candid, is the fact that I was to see this production make a virtual end, for the time, as by its sinister effect—though for reasons still obscure to me—of the pleasant old custom of the "running" of the novel. Not for many years was I to feel the practice, for my benefit, confidingly revive. The influence of The Tragic Muse was thus exactly other than what I had all earnestly (if of course privately enough) invoked for it, and I remember well the particular chill, at last, of the sense of my having launched it in a great grey void from which no echo or message whatever would come back. None, in the event, ever came, and as I now read the book over I find the circumstance make, in its name, for a special tenderness of charity; even for that finer consideration hanging in the parental breast about the maimed or slighted, the disfigured or defeated, the unlucky or unlikely child—with this hapless small mortal thought of further as somehow "compromising." I am thus able to take the thing as having quite wittingly and undisturbedly existed for itself alone, and to liken it to some aromatic bag of gathered herbs of which the string has never been loosed; or, better still, to some jar of potpourri, shaped and overfigured and polished, but of which the lid, never lifted, has provided for the intense accumulation of the fragrance within. The consistent, the sustained, preserved tone of The Tragic Muse, its constant and doubtless rather fine-drawn truth to its particular sought pitch and accent, are, critically speaking, its principal merit—the inner harmony that I perhaps presumptuously permit myself to compare to an unevaporated scent.
After which indeed I may well be summoned to say what I mean, in such a business, by an appreciable "tone" and how I can justify my claim to it—a demonstration that will await us later. Suffice it just here that I find the latent historic clue in my hand again with the easy recall of my prompt grasp of such a chance to make a story about art. There was my subject this time—all mature with having long waited, and with the blest dignity that my original perception of its value was quite lost in the mists of youth. I must long have carried in my head the notion of a young man who should amid difficulty—the difficulties being the story—have abandoned "public life" for the zealous pursuit of some supposedly minor craft; just as, evidently, there had hovered before me some possible picture (but all comic and ironic) of one of the most salient London "social" passions, the unappeasable curiosity for the things of the theatre; for every one of them, that is, except the drama itself, and for the "personality" of the performer (almost any performer quite sufficiently serving) in particular. This latter, verily, had struck me as an aspect appealing mainly to satiric treatment; the only adequate or effective treatment, I had again and again felt, for most of the distinctively social aspects of London: the general artlessly histrionised air of things caused so many examples to spring from behind any hedge. What came up, however, at once, for my own stretched canvas, was that it would have to be ample, give me really space to turn round, and that a single illustrative case might easily be meagre fare. The young man who should "chuck" admired politics, and of course some other admired object with them, would be all very well; but he wouldn't be enough—therefore what should one say to some other young man who would chuck something and somebody else, admired in their way too?
There need never, at the worst, be any difficulty about the things advantageously chuckable for art; the question is all but of choosing them in the heap. Yet were I to represent a struggle—an interesting one, indispensably—with the passions of the theatre (as a profession, or at least as an absorption) I should have to place the theatre in another light than the satiric. This, however, would by good luck be perfectly possible too—without a sacrifice of truth; and I should doubtless even be able to make my theatric case as important as I might desire it. It seemed clear that I needed big cases—small ones would practically give my central idea away; and I make out now my still labouring under the illusion that the case of the sacrifice for art can ever be, with truth, with taste, with discretion involved, apparently and showily "big." I daresay it glimmered upon me even then that the very sharpest difficulty of the victim of the conflict I should seek to represent, and the very highest interest of his predicament, dwell deep in the fact that his repudiation of the great obvious, great moral or functional or useful character, shall just have to consent to resemble a surrender for absolutely nothing. Those characters are all large and expansive, seated and established and endowed; whereas the most charming truth about the preference for art is that to parade abroad so thoroughly inward and so naturally embarrassed a matter is to falsify and vulgarise it; that as a preference attended with the honours of publicity it is indeed nowhere; that in fact, under the rule of its sincerity, its only honours are those of contradiction, concentration and a seemingly deplorable indifference to everything but itself. Nothing can well figure as less "big," in an honest thesis, than a marked instance of somebody's willingness to pass mainly for an ass. Of these things I must, I say, have been in strictness aware; what I perhaps failed of was to note that if a certain romantic glamour (even that of mere eccentricity or of a fine perversity) may be flung over the act of exchange of a "career" for the esthetic life in general, the prose and the modesty of the matter yet come in with any exhibition of the particular branch of esthetics selected. Then it is that the attitude of hero or heroine may look too much—for the romantic effect—like a low crouching over proved trifles. Art indeed has in our day taken on so many honours and emoluments that the recognition of its importance is more than a custom, has become on occasion almost a fury: the line is drawn—especially in the English world—only at the importance of heeding what it may mean.
The more I turn my pieces over, at any rate, the more I now see I must have found in them, and I remember how, once well in presence of my three typical examples, my fear of too ample a canvas quite dropped. The only question was that if I had marked my political case, from so far back, for "a story by itself," and then marked my theatrical case for another, the joining together of these interests, originally seen as separate, might, all disgracefully, betray the seam, show for mechanical and superficial. A story was a story, a picture a picture, and I had a mortal horror of two stories, two pictures, in one. The reason of this was the clearest—my subject was immediately, under that disadvantage, so cheated of its indispensable centre as to become of no more use for expressing a main intention than a wheel without a hub is of use for moving a cart. It was a fact, apparently, that one had on occasion seen two pictures in one; were there not for instance certain sublime Tintorettos at Venice, a measureless Crucifixion in especial, which showed without loss of authority half-a-dozen actions separately taking place? Yes, that might be, but there had surely been nevertheless a mighty pictorial fusion, so that the virtue of composition had somehow thereby come all mysteriously to its own. Of course the affair would be simple enough if composition could be kept out of the question; yet by what art or process, what bars and bolts, what unmuzzled dogs and pointed guns, perform that feat? I had to know myself utterly inapt for any such valour and recognise that, to make it possible, sundry things should have begun for me much further back than I had felt them even in their dawn. A picture without composition slights its most precious chance for beauty, and is, moreover, not composed at all unless the painter knows how that principle of health and safety, working as an absolutely premeditated art, has prevailed. There may in its absence be life, incontestably, as The Newcomes has life, as Les Trois Mousquetaires, as Tolstoi's Peace and War, have it; but what do such large, loose, baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary, artistically mean? We have heard it maintained, we well remember, that such things are "superior to art"; but we understand least of all what that may mean, and we look in vain for the artist, the divine explanatory genius, who will come to our aid and tell us. There is life and life, and as waste is only life sacrificed and thereby prevented from "counting," I delight in a deep-breathing economy and an organic form. My business was accordingly to "go in" for complete pictorial fusion, some such common interest between my two first notions as would, in spite of their birth under quite different stars, do them no violence at all.
I recall with this confirmed infatuation of retrospect that through the mild perceptions I here glance at there struck for The Tragic Muse the first hour of a season of no small subjective felicity; lighted mainly, I seem to see, by a wide west window that, high aloft, looked over near and far London sunsets, a half-grey, half-flushed expanse of London life. The production of the thing, which yet took a good many months, lives for me again all contemporaneously in that full projection, upon my very table, of the good fog-filtered Kensington mornings; which had a way indeed of seeing the sunset in and which at the very last are merged to memory in a different and a sharper pressure, that of an hotel bedroom in Paris during the autumn of 1889, with the Exposition du Centenaire about to end—and my long story, through the usual difficulties, as well. The usual difficulties—and I fairly cherish the record as some adventurer in another line may hug the sense of his inveterate habit of just saving in time the neck he ever undiscourageably risks—were those bequeathed as a particular vice of the artistic spirit, against which vigilance had been destined from the first to exert itself in vain, and the effect of which was that again and again, perversely, incurably, the centre of my structure would insist on placing itself not, so to speak, in the middle. It mattered little that the reader with the idea or the suspicion of a structural centre is the rarest of friends and of critics—a bird, it would seem, as merely fabled as the phoenix: the terminational terror was none the less certain to break in and my work threaten to masquerade for me as an active figure condemned to the disgrace of legs too short, ever so much too short, for its body. I urge myself to the candid confession that in very few of my productions, to my eye, has the organic centre succeeded in getting into proper position.
Time after time, then, has the precious waistband or girdle, studded and buckled and placed for brave outward show, practically worked itself, and in spite of desperate remonstrance, or in other words essential counterplotting, to a point perilously near the knees—perilously I mean for the freedom of these parts. In several of my compositions this displacement has so succeeded, at the crisis, in defying and resisting me, has appeared so fraught with probable dishonour, that I still turn upon them, in spite of the greater or less success of final dissimulation, a rueful and wondering eye. These productions have in fact, if I may be so bold about it, specious and spurious centres altogether, to make up for the failure of the true. As to which in my list they are, however, that is another business, not on any terms to be made known. Such at least would seem my resolution so far as I have thus proceeded. Of any attention ever arrested by the pages forming the object of this reference that rigour of discrimination has wholly and consistently failed, I gather, to constitute a part. In which fact there is perhaps after all a rough justice—since the infirmity I speak of, for example, has been always but the direct and immediate fruit of a positive excess of foresight, the overdone desire to provide for future need and lay up heavenly treasure against the demands of my climax. If the art of the drama, as a great French master of it has said, is above all the art of preparations, that is true only to a less extent of the art of the novel, and true exactly in the degree in which the art of the particular novel comes near that of the drama. The first half of a fiction insists ever on figuring to me as the stage or theatre for the second half, and I have in general given so much space to making the theatre propitious that my halves have too often proved strangely unequal. Thereby has arisen with grim regularity the question of artfully, of consummately masking the fault and conferring on the false quantity the brave appearance of the true.
But I am far from pretending that these desperations of ingenuity have not—as through seeming most of the very essence of the problem—their exasperated charm; so far from it that my particular supreme predicament in the Paris hotel, after an undue primary leakage of time, no doubt, over at the great river-spanning museum of the Champ de Mars and the Trocadero, fairly takes on to me now the tender grace of a day that is dead. Re-reading the last chapters of The Tragic Muse I catch again the very odour of Paris, which comes up in the rich rumble of the Rue de la Paix—with which my room itself, for that matter, seems impregnated—and which hangs for reminiscence about the embarrassed effort to "finish," not ignobly, within my already exceeded limits; an effort prolonged each day to those late afternoon hours during which the tone of the terrible city seemed to deepen about one to an effect strangely composed at once of the auspicious and the fatal. The "plot" of Paris thickened at such hours beyond any other plot in the world, I think; but there one sat meanwhile with another, on one's hands, absolutely requiring precedence. Not the least imperative of one's conditions was thus that one should have really, should have finely and (given one's scale) concisely treated one's subject, in spite of there being so much of the confounded irreducible quantity still to treat. If I spoke just now, however, of the "exasperated" charm of supreme difficulty, that is because the challenge of economic representation so easily becomes, in any of the arts, intensely interesting to meet. To put all that is possible of one's idea into a form and compass that will contain and express it only by delicate adjustments and an exquisite chemistry, so that there will at the end be neither a drop of one's liquor left nor a hair's breadth of the rim of one's glass to spare—every artist will remember how often that sort of necessity has carried with it its particular inspiration. Therein lies the secret of the appeal, to his mind, of the successfully foreshortened thing, where representation is arrived at, as I have already elsewhere had occasion to urge, not by the addition of items (a light that has for its attendant shadow a possible dryness) but by the art of figuring synthetically, a compactness into which the imagination may cut thick, as into the rich density of wedding-cake. The moral of all which indeed, I fear, is, perhaps too trivially, but that the "thick," the false, the dissembling second half of the work before me, associated throughout with the effort to weight my dramatic values as heavily as might be, since they had to be so few, presents that effort as at the very last a quite convulsive, yet in its way highly agreeable, spasm. Of such mild prodigies is the "history" of any specific creative effort composed!
But I have got too much out of the "old" Kensington light of twenty years ago—a lingering oblique ray of which, to-day surely quite extinct, played for a benediction over my canvas. From the moment I made out, at my high-perched west window, my lucky title, that is from the moment Miriam Rooth herself had given it me, so this young woman had given me with it her own position in the book, and so that in turn had given me my precious unity, to which no more than Miriam was either Nick Dormer or Peter Sherringham to be sacrificed. Much of the interest of the matter was immediately, therefore, in working out the detail of that unity and—always entrancing range of questions—the order, the reason, the relation, of presented aspects. With three general aspects, that of Miriam's case, that of Nick's and that of Sherringham's, there was work in plenty cut out; since happy as it might be to say, "My several actions beautifully become one," the point of the affair would be in showing them beautifully become so—without which showing foul failure hovered and pounced. Well, the pleasure of handling an action (or, otherwise expressed, of a "story") is at the worst, for a storyteller, immense, and the interest of such a question as for example keeping Nick Dormer's story his and yet making it also and all effectively in a large part Peter Sherringham's, of keeping Sherringham's his and yet making it in its high degree his kinsman's too, and Miriam Rooth's into the bargain; just as Miriam Rooth's is by the same token quite operatively his and Nick's, and just as that of each of the young men, by an equal logic, is very contributively hers—the interest of such a question, I say, is ever so considerably the interest of the system on which the whole thing is done. I see to-day that it was but half a system to say, "Oh Miriam, a case herself, is the link between the two other cases"; that device was to ask for as much help as it gave and to require a good deal more application than it announced on the surface. The sense of a system saves the painter from the baseness of the arbitrary stroke, the touch without its reason, but as payment for that service the process insists on being kept impeccably the right one.
These are intimate truths indeed, of which the charm mainly comes out but on experiment and in practice; yet I like to have it well before me here that, after all, The Tragic Muse makes it not easy to say which of the situations concerned in it predominates and rules. What has become in that imperfect order, accordingly, of the famous centre of one's subject? It is surely not in Nick's consciousness—since why, if it be, are we treated to such an intolerable dose of Sherringham's? It can't be in Sherringham's—we have for that altogether an excess of Nick's. How, on the other hand, can it be in Miriam's, given that we have no direct exhibition of hers whatever, that we get at it all inferentially and inductively, seeing it only through a more or less bewildered interpretation of it by others. The emphasis is all on an absolutely objective Miriam, and, this affirmed, how—with such an amount of exposed subjectivity all round her—can so dense a medium be a centre? Such questions as those go straight—thanks to which they are, I profess, delightful; going straight they are of the sort that makes answers possible. Miriam is central then to analysis, in spite of being objective; central in virtue of the fact that the whole thing has visibly, from the first, to get itself done in dramatic, or at least in scenic conditions—though scenic conditions which are as near an approach to the dramatic as the novel may permit itself and which have this in common with the latter, that they move in the light of alternation. This imposes a consistency other than that of the novel at its loosest, and, for one's subject, a different view and a different placing of the centre. The charm of the scenic consistency, the consistency of the multiplication of aspects, that of making them amusingly various, had haunted the author of The Tragic Muse from far back, and he was in due course to yield to it all luxuriously, too luxuriously perhaps, in The Awkward Age, as will doubtless with the extension of these remarks be complacently shown.
To put himself at any rate as much as possible under the protection of it had been ever his practice (he had notably done so in The Princess Casamassima, so frankly panoramic and processional); and in what case could this protection have had more price than in the one before us? No character in a play (any play not a mere monologue) has, for the right expression of the thing, a usurping consciousness; the consciousness of others is exhibited exactly in the same way as that of the "hero"; the prodigious consciousness of Hamlet, the most capacious and most crowded, the moral presence the most asserted, in the whole range of fiction, only takes its turn with that of the other agents of the story, no matter how occasional these may be. It is left, in other words, to answer for itself equally with theirs: wherefore (by a parity of reasoning if not of example) Miriam's might without inconsequence be placed on the same footing; and all in spite of the fact that the "moral presence" of each of the men most importantly concerned with her—or with the second of whom she at least is importantly concerned—is independently answered for. The idea of the book being, as I have said, a picture of some of the personal consequences of the art-appetite raised to intensity, swollen to voracity, the heavy emphasis falls where the symbol of some of the complications so begotten might be made (as I judged, heaven forgive me!) most "amusing": amusing I mean in the best very modern sense. I never "go behind" Miriam; only poor Sherringham goes, a great deal, and Nick Dormer goes a little, and the author, while they so waste wonderment, goes behind them: but none the less she is as thoroughly symbolic, as functional, for illustration of the idea, as either of them, while her image had seemed susceptible of a livelier and "prettier" concretion. I had desired for her, I remember, all manageable vividness—so ineluctable had it long appeared to "do the actress," to touch the theatre, to meet that connexion somehow or other, in any free plunge of the speculative fork into the contemporary social salad.
The late R. L. Stevenson was to write to me, I recall—and precisely on the occasion of The Tragic Muse—that he was at a loss to conceive how one could find an interest in anything so vulgar or pretend to gather fruit in so scrubby an orchard; but the view of a creature of the stage, the view of the "histrionic temperament," as suggestive much less, verily, in respect to the poor stage per se than in respect to "art" at large, affected me in spite of that as justly tenable. An objection of a more pointed order was forced upon me by an acute friend later on and in another connexion: the challenge of one's right, in any pretended show of social realities, to attach to the image of a "public character," a supposed particular celebrity, a range of interest, of intrinsic distinction, greater than any such display of importance on the part of eminent members of the class as we see them about us. There was a nice point if one would—yet only nice enough, after all, to be easily amusing. We shall deal with it later on, however, in a more urgent connexion. What would have worried me much more had it dawned earlier is the light lately thrown by that admirable writer M. Anatole France on the question of any animated view of the histrionic temperament—a light that may well dazzle to distress any ingenuous worker in the same field. In those parts of his brief but inimitable Histoire Comique on which he is most to be congratulated—for there are some that prompt to reserves—he has "done the actress," as well as the actor, done above all the mountebank, the mummer and the cabotin, and mixed them up with the queer theatric air, in a manner that practically warns all other hands off the material for ever. At the same time I think I saw Miriam, and without a sacrifice of truth, that is of the particular glow of verisimilitude I wished her most to benefit by, in a complexity of relations finer than any that appear possible for the gentry of M. Anatole France.
Her relation to Nick Dormer, for instance, was intended as a superior interest—that of being (while perfectly sincere, sincere for her, and therefore perfectly consonant with her impulse perpetually to perform and with her success in performing) the result of a touched imagination, a touched pride for "art," as well as of the charm cast on other sensibilities still. Dormer's relation to herself is a different matter, of which more presently; but the sympathy she, poor young woman, very generously and intelligently offers him where most people have so stinted it, is disclosed largely at the cost of her egotism and her personal pretensions, even though in fact determined by her sense of their together, Nick and she, postponing the "world" to their conception of other and finer decencies. Nick can't on the whole see—for I have represented him as in his day quite sufficiently troubled and anxious—why he should condemn to ugly feebleness his most prized faculty (most prized, at least, by himself) even in order to keep his seat in Parliament, to inherit Mr. Carteret's blessing and money, to gratify his mother and carry out the mission of his father, to marry Julia Dallow in fine, a beautiful imperative woman with a great many thousands a year. It all comes back in the last analysis to the individual vision of decency, the critical as well as the passionate judgement of it under sharp stress; and Nick's vision and judgement, all on the esthetic ground, have beautifully coincided, to Miriam's imagination, with a now fully marked, an inspired and impenitent, choice of her own: so that, other considerations powerfully aiding indeed, she is ready to see their interest all splendidly as one. She is in the uplifted state to which sacrifices and submissions loom large, but loom so just because they must write sympathy, write passion, large. Her measure of what she would be capable of for him—capable, that is, of not asking of him—will depend on what he shall ask of her, but she has no fear of not being able to satisfy him, even to the point of "chucking" for him, if need be, that artistic identity of her own which she has begun to build up. It will all be to the glory, therefore, of their common infatuation with "art": she will doubtless be no less willing to serve his than she was eager to serve her own, purged now of the too great shrillness.
This puts her quite on a different level from that of the vivid monsters of M. France, whose artistic identity is the last thing they wish to chuck—their only dismissal is of all material and social over-draping. Nick Dormer in point of fact asks of Miriam nothing but that she shall remain "awfully interesting to paint"; but that is his relation, which, as I say, is quite a matter by itself. He at any rate, luckily for both of them it may be, doesn't put her to the test: he is so busy with his own case, busy with testing himself and feeling his reality. He has seen himself as giving up precious things for an object, and that object has somehow not been the young woman in question, nor anything very nearly like her. She, on the other hand, has asked everything of Peter Sherringham, who has asked everything of her; and it is in so doing that she has really most testified for art and invited him to testify. With his professed interest in the theatre—one of those deep subjections that, in men of "taste," the Comedie Francaise used in old days to conspire for and some such odd and affecting examples of which were to be noted—he yet offers her his hand and an introduction to the very best society if she will leave the stage. The power—and her having the sense of the power—to "shine" in the world is his highest measure of her, the test applied by him to her beautiful human value; just as the manner in which she turns on him is the application of her own standard and touchstone. She is perfectly sure of her own; for—if there were nothing else, and there is much—she has tasted blood, so to speak, in the form of her so prompt and auspicious success with the public, leaving all probations behind (the whole of which, as the book gives it, is too rapid and sudden, though inevitably so: processes, periods, intervals, stages, degrees, connexions, may be easily enough and barely enough named, may be unconvincingly stated, in fiction, to the deep discredit of the writer, but it remains the very deuce to represent them, especially represent them under strong compression and in brief and subordinate terms; and this even though the novelist who doesn't represent, and represent "all the time," is lost, exactly as much lost as the painter who, at his work and given his intention, doesn't paint "all the time").
Turn upon her friend at any rate Miriam does; and one of my main points is missed if it fails to appear that she does so with absolute sincerity and with the cold passion of the high critic who knows, on sight of them together, the more or less dazzling false from the comparatively grey-coloured true. Sherringham's whole profession has been that he rejoices in her as she is, and that the theatre, the organised theatre, will be, as Matthew Arnold was in those very days pronouncing it, irresistible; and it is the promptness with which he sheds his pretended faith as soon as it feels in the air the breath of reality, as soon as it asks of him a proof or a sacrifice, it is this that excites her doubtless sufficiently arrogant scorn. Where is the virtue of his high interest if it has verily never been an interest to speak of and if all it has suddenly to suggest is that, in face of a serious call, it shall be unblushingly relinquished? If he and she together, and her great field and future, and the whole cause they had armed and declared for, have not been serious things they have been base make-believes and trivialities—which is what in fact the homage of society to art always turns out so soon as art presumes not to be vulgar and futile. It is immensely the fashion and immensely edifying to listen to, this homage, while it confines its attention to vanities and frauds; but it knows only terror, feels only horror, the moment that, instead of making all the concessions, art proceeds to ask for a few. Miriam is nothing if not strenuous, and evidently nothing if not "cheeky," where Sherringham is concerned at least: these, in the all-egotistical exhibition to which she is condemned, are the very elements of her figure and the very colours of her portrait. But she is mild and inconsequent for Nick Dormer (who demands of her so little); as if gravely and pityingly embracing the truth that his sacrifice, on the right side, is probably to have very little of her sort of recompense. I must have had it well before me that she was all aware of the small strain a great sacrifice to Nick would cost her—by reason of the strong effect on her of his own superior logic, in which the very intensity of concentration was so to find its account.
If the man, however, who holds her personally dear yet holds her extremely personal message to the world cheap, so the man capable of a consistency and, as she regards the matter, of an honesty so much higher than Sherringham's, virtually cares, "really" cares, no straw for his fellow-struggler. If Nick Dormer attracts and all-indifferently holds her it is because, like herself and unlike Peter, he puts "art" first; but the most he thus does for her in the event is to let her see how she may enjoy, in intimacy, the rigour it has taught him and which he cultivates at her expense. This is the situation in which we leave her, though there would be more still to be said about the difference for her of the two relations—that to each of the men—could I fondly suppose as much of the interest of the book "left over" for the reader as for myself. Sherringham, for instance, offers Miriam marriage, ever so "handsomely"; but if nothing might lead me on further than the question of what it would have been open to us—us novelists, especially in the old days—to show, "serially," a young man in Nick Dormer's quite different position as offering or a young woman in Miriam's as taking, so for that very reason such an excursion is forbidden me. The trade of the stage-player, and above all of the actress, must have so many detestable sides for the person exercising it that we scarce imagine a full surrender to it without a full surrender, not less, to every immediate compensation, to every freedom and the largest ease within reach: which presentment of the possible case for Miriam would yet have been condemned—and on grounds both various and interesting to trace—to remain very imperfect.
I feel, moreover, that I might still, with space, abound in remarks about Nick's character and Nick's crisis suggested to my present more reflective vision. It strikes me, alas, that he is not quite so interesting as he was fondly intended to be, and this in spite of the multiplication, within the picture, of his pains and penalties; so that while I turn this slight anomaly over I come upon a reason that affects me as singularly charming and touching and at which indeed I have already glanced. Any presentation of the artist in triumph must be flat in proportion as it really sticks to its subject—it can only smuggle in relief and variety. For, to put the matter in an image, all we then—in his triumph—see of the charm-compeller is the back he turns to us as he bends over his work. "His" triumph, decently, is but the triumph of what he produces, and that is another affair. His romance is the romance he himself projects; he eats the cake of the very rarest privilege, the most luscious baked in the oven of the gods—therefore he mayn't "have" it, in the form of the privilege of the hero, at the same time. The privilege of the hero—that is, of the martyr or of the interesting and appealing and comparatively floundering person—places him in quite a different category, belongs to him only as to the artist deluded, diverted, frustrated or vanquished; when the "amateur" in him gains, for our admiration or compassion or whatever, all that the expert has to do without. Therefore I strove in vain, I feel, to embroil and adorn this young man on whom a hundred ingenious touches are thus lavished: he has insisted in the event on looking as simple and flat as some mere brass check or engraved number, the symbol and guarantee of a stored treasure. The better part of him is locked too much away from us, and the part we see has to pass for—well, what it passes for, so lamentedly, among his friends and relatives. No, accordingly, Nick Dormer isn't "the best thing in the book," as I judge I imagined he would be, and it contains nothing better, I make out, than that preserved and achieved unity and quality of tone, a value in itself, which I referred to at the beginning of these remarks. What I mean by this is that the interest created, and the expression of that interest, are things kept, as to kind, genuine and true to themselves. The appeal, the fidelity to the prime motive, is, with no little art, strained clear (even as silver is polished) in a degree answering—at least by intention—to the air of beauty. There is an awkwardness again in having thus belatedly to point such features out; but in that wrought appearance of animation and harmony, that effect of free movement and yet of recurrent and insistent reference, The Tragic Muse has struck me again as conscious of a bright advantage.
The people of France have made it no secret that those of England, as a general thing, are to their perception an inexpressive and speechless race, perpendicular and unsociable, unaddicted to enriching any bareness of contact with verbal or other embroidery. This view might have derived encouragement, a few years ago, in Paris, from the manner in which four persons sat together in silence, one fine day about noon, in the garden, as it is called, of the Palais de l'Industrie—the central court of the great glazed bazaar where, among plants and parterres, gravelled walks and thin fountains, are ranged the figures and groups, the monuments and busts, which form in the annual exhibition of the Salon the department of statuary. The spirit of observation is naturally high at the Salon, quickened by a thousand artful or artless appeals, but it need have put forth no great intensity to take in the characters I mention. As a solicitation of the eye on definite grounds these visitors too constituted a successful plastic fact; and even the most superficial observer would have marked them as products of an insular neighbourhood, representatives of that tweed-and-waterproof class with which, on the recurrent occasions when the English turn out for a holiday—Christmas and Easter, Whitsuntide and the autumn—Paris besprinkles itself at a night's notice. They had about them the indefinable professional look of the British traveller abroad; the air of preparation for exposure, material and moral, which is so oddly combined with the serene revelation of security and of persistence, and which excites, according to individual susceptibility, the ire or the admiration of foreign communities. They were the more unmistakable as they presented mainly the happier aspects of the energetic race to which they had the honour to belong. The fresh diffused light of the Salon made them clear and important; they were finished creations, in their way, and, ranged there motionless on their green bench, were almost as much on exhibition as if they had been hung on the line.
Three ladies and a young man, they were obviously a family—a mother, two daughters and a son; a circumstance which had the effect at once of making each member of the group doubly typical and of helping to account for their fine taciturnity. They were not, with each other, on terms of ceremony, and also were probably fatigued with their course among the pictures, the rooms on the upper floor. Their attitude, on the part of visitors who had superior features even if they might appear to some passers-by to have neglected a fine opportunity for completing these features with an expression, was after all a kind of tribute to the state of exhaustion, of bewilderment, to which the genius of France is still capable of reducing the proud.
"En v'la des abrutis!" more than one of their fellow-gazers might have been heard to exclaim; and certain it is that there was something depressed and discouraged in this interesting group, who sat looking vaguely before them, not noticing the life of the place, somewhat as if each had a private anxiety. It might have been finely guessed, however, that though on many questions they were closely united this present anxiety was not the same for each. If they looked grave, moreover, this was doubtless partly the result of their all being dressed in such mourning as told of a recent bereavement. The eldest of the three ladies had indeed a face of a fine austere mould which would have been moved to gaiety only by some force more insidious than any she was likely to recognise in Paris. Cold, still, and considerably worn, it was neither stupid nor hard—it was firm, narrow and sharp. This competent matron, acquainted evidently with grief but not weakened by it, had a high forehead to which the quality of the skin gave a singular polish—it glittered even when seen at a distance; a nose which achieved a high free curve; and a tendency to throw back her head and carry it well above her, as if to disengage it from the possible entanglements of the rest of her person. If you had seen her walk you would have felt her to tread the earth after a fashion suggesting that in a world where she had long since discovered that one couldn't have one's own way one could never tell what annoying aggression might take place, so that it was well, from hour to hour, to save what one could. Lady Agnes saved her head, her white triangular forehead, over which her close-crinkled flaxen hair, reproduced in different shades in her children, made a looped silken canopy like the marquee at a garden-party. Her daughters were as tall as herself—that was visible even as they sat there—and one of them, the younger evidently, altogether pretty; a straight, slender, grey-eyed English girl of the sort who show "good" figures and fresh complexions. The sister, who was not pretty, was also straight and slender and grey-eyed. But the grey in this case was not so pure, nor were the straightness and the slenderness so maidenly. The brother of these young ladies had taken off his hat as if he felt the air of the summer day heavy in the great pavilion. He was a lean, strong, clear-faced youth, with a formed nose and thick light-brown hair which lay continuously and profusely back from his forehead, so that to smooth it from the brow to the neck but a single movement of the hand was required. I cannot describe him better than by saying that he was the sort of young Englishman who looks particularly well in strange lands and whose general aspect—his inches, his limbs, his friendly eyes, the modulation of his voice, the cleanness of his flesh-tints and the fashion of his garments—excites on the part of those who encounter him in far countries on the ground of a common speech a delightful sympathy of race. This sympathy may sometimes be qualified by the seen limits of his apprehension, but it almost revels as such horizons recede. We shall see quickly enough how accurate a measure it might have taken of Nicholas Dormer. There was food for suspicion perhaps in the wandering blankness that sat at moments in his eyes, as if he had no attention at all, not the least in the world, at his command; but it is no more than just to add without delay that this discouraging symptom was known among those who liked him by the indulgent name of dreaminess. By his mother and sisters, for instance, his dreaminess was constantly noted. He is the more welcome to the benefit of such an interpretation as there is always held to be something engaging in the combination of the muscular and the musing, the mildness of strength.
After some time, an interval during which these good people might have appeared to have come, individually, to the Palais de l'Industrie much less to see the works of art than to think over their domestic affairs, the young man, rousing himself from his reverie, addressed one of the girls.
"I say, Biddy, why should we sit moping here all day? Come and take a turn about with me."
His younger sister, while he got up, leaned forward a little, looking round her, but she gave for the moment no further sign of complying with his invitation.
"Where shall we find you, then, if Peter comes?" asked the other Miss Dormer, making no movement at all.
"I daresay Peter won't come. He'll leave us here to cool our heels."
"Oh Nick dear!" Biddy exclaimed in a small sweet voice of protest. It was plainly her theory that Peter would come, and even a little her fond fear that she might miss him should she quit that spot.
"We shall come back in a quarter of an hour. Really I must look at these things," Nick declared, turning his face to a marble group which stood near them on the right—a man with the skin of a beast round his loins, tussling with a naked woman in some primitive effort of courtship or capture.
Lady Agnes followed the direction of her son's eyes and then observed: "Everything seems very dreadful. I should think Biddy had better sit still. Hasn't she seen enough horrors up above?"
"I daresay that if Peter comes Julia'll be with him," the elder girl remarked irrelevantly.
"Well then he can take Julia about. That will be more proper," said Lady Agnes.
"Mother dear, she doesn't care a rap about art. It's a fearful bore looking at fine things with Julia," Nick returned.
"Won't you go with him, Grace?"—and Biddy appealed to her sister.
"I think she has awfully good taste!" Grace exclaimed, not answering this inquiry.
"Don't say nasty things about her!" Lady Agnes broke out solemnly to her son after resting her eyes on him a moment with an air of reluctant reprobation.
"I say nothing but what she'd say herself," the young man urged. "About some things she has very good taste, but about this kind of thing she has no taste at all."
"That's better, I think," said Lady Agnes, turning her eyes again to the "kind of thing" her son appeared to designate.
"She's awfully clever—awfully!" Grace went on with decision.
"Awfully, awfully!" her brother repeated, standing in front of her and smiling down at her.
"You are nasty, Nick. You know you are," said the young lady, but more in sorrow than in anger.
Biddy got up at this, as if the accusatory tone prompted her to place herself generously at his side. "Mightn't you go and order lunch—in that place, you know?" she asked of her mother. "Then we'd come back when it was ready."
"My dear child, I can't order lunch," Lady Agnes replied with a cold impatience which seemed to intimate that she had problems far more important than those of victualling to contend with.
"Then perhaps Peter will if he comes. I'm sure he's up in everything of that sort."
"Oh hang Peter!" Nick exclaimed. "Leave him out of account, and do order lunch, mother; but not cold beef and pickles."
"I must say—about him—you're not nice," Biddy ventured to remark to her brother, hesitating and even blushing a little.
"You make up for it, my dear," the young man answered, giving her chin—a very charming, rotund, little chin—a friendly whisk with his forefinger.
"I can't imagine what you've got against him," her ladyship said gravely.
"Dear mother, it's disappointed fondness," Nick argued. "They won't answer one's notes; they won't let one know where they are nor what to expect. 'Hell has no fury like a woman scorned'; nor like a man either."
"Peter has such a tremendous lot to do—it's a very busy time at the embassy; there are sure to be reasons," Biddy explained with her pretty eyes.
"Reasons enough, no doubt!" said Lady Agnes—who accompanied these words with an ambiguous sigh, however, as if in Paris even the best reasons would naturally be bad ones.
"Doesn't Julia write to you, doesn't she answer you the very day?" Grace asked, looking at Nick as if she were the bold one.
He waited, returning her glance with a certain severity. "What do you know about my correspondence? No doubt I ask too much," he went on; "I'm so attached to them. Dear old Peter, dear old Julia!"
"She's younger than you, my dear!" cried the elder girl, still resolute.
"Yes, nineteen days."
"I'm glad you know her birthday."
"She knows yours; she always gives you something," Lady Agnes reminded her son.
"Her taste is good then, isn't it, Nick?" Grace Dormer continued.
"She makes charming presents; but, dear mother, it isn't her taste. It's her husband's."
"How her husband's?"
"The beautiful objects of which she disposes so freely are the things he collected for years laboriously, devotedly, poor man!"
"She disposes of them to you, but not to others," said Lady Agnes. "But that's all right," she added, as if this might have been taken for a complaint of the limitations of Julia's bounty. "She has to select among so many, and that's a proof of taste," her ladyship pursued.
"You can't say she doesn't choose lovely ones," Grace remarked to her brother in a tone of some triumph.
"My dear, they're all lovely. George Dallow's judgement was so sure, he was incapable of making a mistake," Nicholas Dormer returned.
"I don't see how you can talk of him, he was dreadful," said Lady Agnes.
"My dear, if he was good enough for Julia to marry he's good enough for us to talk of."
"She did him a very great honour."
"I daresay, but he was not unworthy of it. No such enlightened collection of beautiful objects has been made in England in our time."
"You think too much of beautiful objects!" Lady Agnes sighed.
"I thought you were just now lamenting that I think too little."
"It's very nice—his having left Julia so well off," Biddy interposed soothingly, as if she foresaw a tangle.
"He treated her en grand seigneur, absolutely," Nick went on.
"He used to look greasy, all the same"—Grace bore on it with a dull weight. "His name ought to have been Tallow."
"You're not saying what Julia would like, if that's what you are trying to say," her brother observed.
"Don't be vulgar, Grace," said Lady Agnes.
"I know Peter Sherringham's birthday!" Biddy broke out innocently, as a pacific diversion. She had passed her hand into Nick's arm, to signify her readiness to go with him, while she scanned the remoter reaches of the garden as if it had occurred to her that to direct their steps in some such sense might after all be the shorter way to get at Peter.
"He's too much older than you, my dear," Grace answered without encouragement.
"That's why I've noticed it—he's thirty-four. Do you call that too old? I don't care for slobbering infants!" Biddy cried.
"Don't be vulgar," Lady Agnes enjoined again.
"Come, Bid, we'll go and be vulgar together; for that's what we are, I'm afraid," her brother said to her. "We'll go and look at all these low works of art."
"Do you really think it's necessary to the child's development?" Lady Agnes demanded as the pair turned away. And then while her son, struck as by a challenge, paused, lingering a moment with his little sister on his arm: "What we've been through this morning in this place, and what you've paraded before our eyes—the murders, the tortures, all kinds of disease and indecency!"
Nick looked at his mother as if this sudden protest surprised him, but as if also there were lurking explanations of it which he quickly guessed. Her resentment had the effect not so much of animating her cold face as of making it colder, less expressive, though visibly prouder. "Ah dear mother, don't do the British matron!" he replied good-humouredly.
"British matron's soon said! I don't know what they're coming to."
"How odd that you should have been struck only with the disagreeable things when, for myself, I've felt it to be most interesting, the most suggestive morning I've passed for ever so many months!"
"Oh Nick, Nick!" Lady Agnes cried with a strange depth of feeling.
"I like them better in London—they're much less unpleasant," said Grace Dormer.
"They're things you can look at," her ladyship went on. "We certainly make the better show."
"The subject doesn't matter, it's the treatment, the treatment!" Biddy protested in a voice like the tinkle of a silver bell.
"Poor little Bid!"—her brother broke into a laugh.
"How can I learn to model, mamma dear, if I don't look at things and if I don't study them?" the girl continued.
This question passed unheeded, and Nicholas Dormer said to his mother, more seriously, but with a certain kind explicitness, as if he could make a particular allowance: "This place is an immense stimulus to me; it refreshes me, excites me—it's such an exhibition of artistic life. It's full of ideas, full of refinements; it gives one such an impression of artistic experience. They try everything, they feel everything. While you were looking at the murders, apparently, I observed an immense deal of curious and interesting work. There are too many of them, poor devils; so many who must make their way, who must attract attention. Some of them can only taper fort, stand on their heads, turn somersaults or commit deeds of violence, to make people notice them. After that, no doubt, a good many will be quieter. But I don't know; to-day I'm in an appreciative mood—I feel indulgent even to them: they give me an impression of intelligence, of eager observation. All art is one—remember that, Biddy dear," the young man continued, smiling down from his height. "It's the same great many-headed effort, and any ground that's gained by an individual, any spark that's struck in any province, is of use and of suggestion to all the others. We're all in the same boat."
"'We,' do you say, my dear? Are you really setting up for an artist?" Lady Agnes asked.
Nick just hesitated. "I was speaking for Biddy."
"But you are one, Nick—you are!" the girl cried.
Lady Agnes looked for an instant as if she were going to say once more "Don't be vulgar!" But she suppressed these words, had she intended them, and uttered sounds, few in number and not completely articulate, to the effect that she hated talking about art. While her son spoke she had watched him as if failing to follow; yet something in the tone of her exclamation hinted that she had understood him but too well.
"We're all in the same boat," Biddy repeated with cheerful zeal.
"Not me, if you please!" Lady Agnes replied. "It's horrid messy work, your modelling."
"Ah but look at the results!" said the girl eagerly—glancing about at the monuments in the garden as if in regard even to them she were, through that unity of art her brother had just proclaimed, in some degree an effective cause.
"There's a great deal being done here—a real vitality," Nicholas Dormer went on to his mother in the same reasonable informing way. "Some of these fellows go very far."
"They do indeed!" said Lady Agnes.
"I'm fond of young schools—like this movement in sculpture," Nick insisted with his slightly provoking serenity.
"They're old enough to know better!"
"Mayn't I look, mamma? It is necessary to my development," Biddy declared.
"You may do as you like," said Lady Agnes with dignity.
"She ought to see good work, you know," the young man went on.
"I leave it to your sense of responsibility." This statement was somewhat majestic, and for a moment evidently it tempted Nick, almost provoked him, or at any rate suggested to him an occasion for some pronouncement he had had on his mind. Apparently, however, he judged the time on the whole not quite right, and his sister Grace interposed with the inquiry—
"Please, mamma, are we never going to lunch?"
"Ah mother, mother!" the young man murmured in a troubled way, looking down at her with a deep fold in his forehead.
For Lady Agnes also, as she returned his look, it seemed an occasion; but with this difference that she had no hesitation in taking advantage of it. She was encouraged by his slight embarrassment, for ordinarily Nick was not embarrassed. "You used to have so much sense of responsibility," she pursued; "but sometimes I don't know what has become of it—it seems all, all gone!"
"Ah mother, mother!" he exclaimed again—as if there were so many things to say that it was impossible to choose. But now he stepped closer, bent over her and in spite of the publicity of their situation gave her a quick expressive kiss. The foreign observer whom I took for granted in beginning to sketch this scene would have had to admit that the rigid English family had after all a capacity for emotion. Grace Dormer indeed looked round her to see if at this moment they were noticed. She judged with satisfaction that they had escaped.
Nick Dormer walked away with Biddy, but he had not gone far before he stopped in front of a clever bust, where his mother, in the distance, saw him playing in the air with his hand, carrying out by this gesture, which presumably was applausive, some critical remark he had made to his sister. Lady Agnes raised her glass to her eyes by the long handle to which rather a clanking chain was attached, perceiving that the bust represented an ugly old man with a bald head; at which her ladyship indefinitely sighed, though it was not apparent in what way such an object could be detrimental to her daughter. Nick passed on and quickly paused again; this time, his mother discerned, before the marble image of a strange grimacing woman. Presently she lost sight of him; he wandered behind things, looking at them all round.
"I ought to get plenty of ideas for my modelling, oughtn't I, Nick?" his sister put to him after a moment.
"Ah my poor child, what shall I say?"
"Don't you think I've any capacity for ideas?" the girl continued ruefully.
"Lots of them, no doubt. But the capacity for applying them, for putting them into practice—how much of that have you?"
"How can I tell till I try?"
"What do you mean by trying, Biddy dear?"
"Why you know—you've seen me."
"Do you call that trying?" her brother amusedly demanded.
"Ah Nick!" she said with sensibility. But then with more spirit: "And please what do you call it?"
"Well, this for instance is a good case." And her companion pointed to another bust—a head of a young man in terra-cotta, at which they had just arrived; a modern young man to whom, with his thick neck, his little cap and his wide ring of dense curls, the artist had given the air of some sturdy Florentine of the time of Lorenzo.
Biddy looked at the image a moment. "Ah that's not trying; that's succeeding."
"Not altogether; it's only trying seriously."
"Well, why shouldn't I be serious?"
"Mother wouldn't like it. She has inherited the fine old superstition that art's pardonable only so long as it's bad—so long as it's done at odd hours, for a little distraction, like a game of tennis or of whist. The only thing that can justify it, the effort to carry it as far as one can (which you can't do without time and singleness of purpose), she regards as just the dangerous, the criminal element. It's the oddest hind-part-before view, the drollest immorality."
"She doesn't want one to be professional," Biddy returned as if she could do justice to every system.
"Better leave it alone then. There are always duffers enough."
"I don't want to be a duffer," Biddy said. "But I thought you encouraged me."
"So I did, my poor child. It was only to encourage myself."
"With your own work—your painting?"
"With my futile, my ill-starred endeavours. Union is strength—so that we might present a wider front, a larger surface of resistance."
Biddy for a while said nothing and they continued their tour of observation. She noticed how he passed over some things quickly, his first glance sufficing to show him if they were worth another, and then recognised in a moment the figures that made some appeal. His tone puzzled but his certainty of eye impressed her, and she felt what a difference there was yet between them—how much longer in every case she would have taken to discriminate. She was aware of how little she could judge of the value of a thing till she had looked at it ten minutes; indeed modest little Biddy was compelled privately to add "And often not even then." She was mystified, as I say—Nick was often mystifying, it was his only fault—but one thing was definite: her brother had high ability. It was the consciousness of this that made her bring out at last: "I don't so much care whether or no I please mamma, if I please you."
"Oh don't lean on me. I'm a wretched broken reed—I'm no use really!" he promptly admonished her.
"Do you mean you're a duffer?" Biddy asked in alarm.
"So that you intend to give up your work—to let it alone, as you advise me?"
"It has never been my work, all that business, Biddy. If it had it would be different. I should stick to it."
"And you won't stick to it?" the girl said, standing before him open-eyed.
Her brother looked into her eyes a moment, and she had a compunction; she feared she was indiscreet and was worrying him. "Your questions are much simpler than the elements out of which my answer should come."
"A great talent—what's simpler than that?"
"One excellent thing, dear Biddy: no talent at all!"
"Well, yours is so real you can't help it."
"We shall see, we shall see," said Nick Dormer. "Let us go look at that big group."
"We shall see if your talent's real?" Biddy went on as she accompanied him.
"No; we shall see if, as you say, I can't help it. What nonsense Paris makes one talk!" the young man added as they stopped in front of the composition. This was true perhaps, but not in a sense he could find himself tempted to deplore. The present was far from his first visit to the French capital: he had often quitted England and usually made a point of "putting in," as he called it, a few days there on the outward journey to the Continent or on the return; but at present the feelings, for the most part agreeable, attendant upon a change of air and of scene had been more punctual and more acute than for a long time before, and stronger the sense of novelty, refreshment, amusement, of the hundred appeals from that quarter of thought to which on the whole his attention was apt most frequently, though not most confessedly, to stray. He was fonder of Paris than most of his countrymen, though not so fond perhaps as some other captivated aliens: the place had always had the virtue of quickening in him sensibly the life of reflexion and observation. It was a good while since his impressions had been so favourable to the city by the Seine; a good while at all events since they had ministered so to excitement, to exhilaration, to ambition, even to a restlessness that was not prevented from being agreeable by the excess of agitation in it. Nick could have given the reason of this unwonted glow, but his preference was very much to keep it to himself. Certainly to persons not deeply knowing, or at any rate not deeply curious, in relation to the young man's history the explanation might have seemed to beg the question, consisting as it did of the simple formula that he had at last come to a crisis. Why a crisis—what was it and why had he not come to it before? The reader shall learn these things in time if he cares enough for them.
Our young man had not in any recent year failed to see the Salon, which the general voice this season pronounced not particularly good. None the less it was the present exhibition that, for some cause connected with his "crisis," made him think fast, produced that effect he had spoken of to his mother as a sense of artistic life. The precinct of the marbles and bronzes spoke to him especially to-day; the glazed garden, not florally rich, with its new productions alternating with perfunctory plants and its queer, damp smell, partly the odour of plastic clay, of the studios of sculptors, put forth the voice of old associations, of other visits, of companionships now ended—an insinuating eloquence which was at the same time somehow identical with the general sharp contagion of Paris. There was youth in the air, and a multitudinous newness, for ever reviving, and the diffusion of a hundred talents, ingenuities, experiments. The summer clouds made shadows on the roof of the great building; the white images, hard in their crudity, spotted the place with provocations; the rattle of plates at the restaurant sounded sociable in the distance, and our young man congratulated himself more than ever that he had not missed his chance. He felt how it would help him to settle something. At the moment he made this reflexion his eye fell upon a person who appeared—just in the first glimpse—to carry out the idea of help. He uttered a lively ejaculation, which, however, in its want of finish, Biddy failed to understand; so pertinent, so relevant and congruous, was the other party to this encounter.
The girl's attention followed her brother's, resting with it on a young man who faced them without seeing them, engaged as he was in imparting to two companions his ideas about one of the works exposed to view. What Biddy remarked was that this young man was fair and fat and of the middle stature; he had a round face and a short beard and on his crown a mere reminiscence of hair, as the fact that he carried his hat in his hand permitted to be observed. Bridget Dormer, who was quick, placed him immediately as a gentleman, but as a gentleman unlike any other gentleman she had ever seen. She would have taken him for very foreign but that the words proceeding from his mouth reached her ear and imposed themselves as a rare variety of English. It was not that a foreigner might not have spoken smoothly enough, nor yet that the speech of this young man was not smooth. It had in truth a conspicuous and aggressive perfection, and Biddy was sure no mere learner would have ventured to play such tricks with the tongue. He seemed to draw rich effects and wandering airs from it—to modulate and manipulate it as he would have done a musical instrument. Her view of the gentleman's companions was less operative, save for her soon making the reflexion that they were people whom in any country, from China to Peru, you would immediately have taken for natives. One of them was an old lady with a shawl; that was the most salient way in which she presented herself. The shawl was an ancient much-used fabric of embroidered cashmere, such as many ladies wore forty years ago in their walks abroad and such as no lady wears to-day. It had fallen half off the back of the wearer, but at the moment Biddy permitted herself to consider her she gave it a violent jerk and brought it up to her shoulders again, where she continued to arrange and settle it, with a good deal of jauntiness and elegance, while she listened to the talk of the gentleman. Biddy guessed that this little transaction took place very frequently, and was not unaware of its giving the old lady a droll, factitious, faded appearance, as if she were singularly out of step with the age. The other person was very much younger—she might have been a daughter—and had a pale face, a low forehead, and thick dark hair. What she chiefly had, however, Biddy rapidly discovered, was a pair of largely-gazing eyes. Our young friend was helped to the discovery by the accident of their resting at this moment for a time—it struck Biddy as very long—on her own. Both these ladies were clad in light, thin, scant gowns, giving an impression of flowered figures and odd transparencies, and in low shoes which showed a great deal of stocking and were ornamented with large rosettes. Biddy's slightly agitated perception travelled directly to their shoes: they suggested to her vaguely that the wearers were dancers—connected possibly with the old-fashioned exhibition of the shawl-dance. By the time she had taken in so much as this the mellifluous young man had perceived and addressed himself to her brother. He came on with an offered hand. Nick greeted him and said it was a happy chance—he was uncommonly glad to see him.
"I never come across you—I don't know why," Nick added while the two, smiling, looked each other up and down like men reunited after a long interval.
"Oh it seems to me there's reason enough: our paths in life are so different." Nick's friend had a great deal of manner, as was evinced by his fashion of saluting Biddy without knowing her.
"Different, yes, but not so different as that. Don't we both live in London, after all, and in the nineteenth century?"
"Ah my dear Dormer, excuse me: I don't live in the nineteenth century. Jamais de la vie!" the gentleman declared.
"Nor in London either?"
"Yes—when I'm not at Samarcand! But surely we've diverged since the old days. I adore what you burn, you burn what I adore." While the stranger spoke he looked cheerfully, hospitably, at Biddy; not because it was she, she easily guessed, but because it was in his nature to desire a second auditor—a kind of sympathetic gallery. Her life was somehow filled with shy people, and she immediately knew she had never encountered any one who seemed so to know his part and recognise his cues.
"How do you know what I adore?" Nicholas Dormer asked.
"I know well enough what you used to."
"That's more than I do myself. There were so many things."
"Yes, there are many things—many, many: that's what makes life so amusing."
"Do you find it amusing?"
"My dear fellow, c'est a se tordre. Don't you think so? Ah it was high time I should meet you—I see. I've an idea you need me."
"Upon my word I think I do!" Nick said in a tone which struck his sister and made her wonder still more why, if the gentleman was so important as that, he didn't introduce him.
"There are many gods and this is one of their temples," the mysterious personage went on. "It's a house of strange idols—isn't it?—and of some strange and unnatural sacrifices."
To Biddy as much as to her brother this remark might have been offered; but the girl's eyes turned back to the ladies who for the moment had lost their companion. She felt irresponsive and feared she should pass with this easy cosmopolite for a stiff, scared, English girl, which was not the type she aimed at; but wasn't even ocular commerce overbold so long as she hadn't a sign from Nick? The elder of the strange women had turned her back and was looking at some bronze figure, losing her shawl again as she did so; but the other stood where their escort had quitted her, giving all her attention to his sudden sociability with others. Her arms hung at her sides, her head was bent, her face lowered, so that she had an odd appearance of raising her eyes from under her brows; and in this attitude she was striking, though her air was so unconciliatory as almost to seem dangerous. Did it express resentment at having been abandoned for another girl? Biddy, who began to be frightened—there was a moment when the neglected creature resembled a tigress about to spring—was tempted to cry out that she had no wish whatever to appropriate the gentleman. Then she made the discovery that the young lady too had a manner, almost as much as her clever guide, and the rapid induction that it perhaps meant no more than his. She only looked at Biddy from beneath her eyebrows, which were wonderfully arched, but there was ever so much of a manner in the way she did it. Biddy had a momentary sense of being a figure in a ballet, a dramatic ballet—a subordinate motionless figure, to be dashed at to music or strangely capered up to. It would be a very dramatic ballet indeed if this young person were the heroine. She had magnificent hair, the girl reflected; and at the same moment heard Nick say to his interlocutor: "You're not in London—one can't meet you there?"
"I rove, drift, float," was the answer; "my feelings direct me—if such a life as mine may be said to have a direction. Where there's anything to feel I try to be there!" the young man continued with his confiding laugh.
"I should like to get hold of you," Nick returned.
"Well, in that case there would be no doubt the intellectual adventure. Those are the currents—any sort of personal relation—that govern my career."
"I don't want to lose you this time," Nick continued in a tone that excited Biddy's surprise. A moment before, when his friend had said that he tried to be where there was anything to feel, she had wondered how he could endure him.
"Don't lose me, don't lose me!" cried the stranger after a fashion which affected the girl as the highest expression of irresponsibility she had ever seen. "After all why should you? Let us remain together unless I interfere"—and he looked, smiling and interrogative, at Biddy, who still remained blank, only noting again that Nick forbore to make them acquainted. This was an anomaly, since he prized the gentleman so. Still, there could be no anomaly of Nick's that wouldn't impose itself on his younger sister.
"Certainly, I keep you," he said, "unless on my side I deprive those ladies—!"
"Charming women, but it's not an indissoluble union. We meet, we communicate, we part! They're going—I'm seeing them to the door. I shall come back." With this Nick's friend rejoined his companions, who moved away with him, the strange fine eyes of the girl lingering on Biddy's brother as well as on Biddy herself as they receded.
"Who is he—who are they?" Biddy instantly asked.
"He's a gentleman," Nick made answer—insufficiently, she thought, and even with a shade of hesitation. He spoke as if she might have supposed he was not one, and if he was really one why didn't he introduce him? But Biddy wouldn't for the world have put this question, and he now moved to the nearest bench and dropped upon it as to await the other's return. No sooner, however, had his sister seated herself than he said: "See here, my dear, do you think you had better stay?"
"Do you want me to go back to mother?" the girl asked with a lengthening visage.
"Well, what do you think?" He asked it indeed gaily enough.
"Is your conversation to be about—about private affairs?"
"No, I can't say that. But I doubt if mother would think it the sort of thing that's 'necessary to your development.'"
This assertion appeared to inspire her with the eagerness with which she again broke out: "But who are they—who are they?"
"I know nothing of the ladies. I never saw them before. The man's a fellow I knew very well at Oxford. He was thought immense fun there. We've diverged, as he says, and I had almost lost sight of him, but not so much as he thinks, because I've read him—read him with interest. He has written a very clever book."
"What kind of a book?"
"A sort of novel."
"What sort of novel?"
"Well, I don't know—with a lot of good writing." Biddy listened to this so receptively that she thought it perverse her brother should add: "I daresay Peter will have come if you return to mother."
"I don't care if he has. Peter's nothing to me. But I'll go if you wish it."
Nick smiled upon her again and then said: "It doesn't signify. We'll all go."
"All?" she echoed.
"He won't hurt us. On the contrary he'll do us good."
This was possible, the girl reflected in silence, but none the less the idea struck her as courageous, of their taking the odd young man back to breakfast with them and with the others, especially if Peter should be there. If Peter was nothing to her it was singular she should have attached such importance to this contingency. The odd young man reappeared, and now that she saw him without his queer female appendages he seemed personally less weird. He struck her moreover, as generally a good deal accounted for by the literary character, especially if it were responsible for a lot of good writing. As he took his place on the bench Nick said to him, indicating her, "My sister Bridget," and then mentioned his name, "Mr. Gabriel Nash."
"You enjoy Paris—you're happy here?" Mr. Nash inquired, leaning over his friend to speak to the girl.
Though his words belonged to the situation it struck her that his tone didn't, and this made her answer him more dryly than she usually spoke. "Oh yes, it's very nice."
"And French art interests you? You find things here that please?"
"Oh yes, I like some of them."
Mr. Nash considered her kindly. "I hoped you'd say you like the Academy better."
"She would if she didn't think you expected it," said Nicholas Dormer.
"Oh Nick!" Biddy protested.
"Miss Dormer's herself an English picture," their visitor pronounced in the tone of a man whose urbanity was a general solvent.
"That's a compliment if you don't like them!" Biddy exclaimed.
"Ah some of them, some of them; there's a certain sort of thing!" Mr. Nash continued. "We must feel everything, everything that we can. We're here for that."
"You do like English art then?" Nick demanded with a slight accent of surprise.
Mr. Nash indulged his wonder. "My dear Dormer, do you remember the old complaint I used to make of you? You had formulas that were like walking in one's hat. One may see something in a case and one may not."
"Upon my word," said Nick, "I don't know any one who was fonder of a generalisation than you. You turned them off as the man at the street-corner distributes hand-bills."
"They were my wild oats. I've sown them all."
"We shall see that!"
"Oh there's nothing of them now: a tame, scanty, homely growth. My only good generalisations are my actions."
"We shall see them then."
"Ah pardon me. You can't see them with the naked eye. Moreover, mine are principally negative. People's actions, I know, are for the most part the things they do—but mine are all the things I don't do. There are so many of those, so many, but they don't produce any effect. And then all the rest are shades—extremely fine shades."
"Shades of behaviour?" Nick inquired with an interest which surprised his sister, Mr. Nash's discourse striking her mainly as the twaddle of the under-world.
"Shades of impression, of appreciation," said the young man with his explanatory smile. "All my behaviour consists of my feelings."
"Well, don't you show your feelings? You used to!"
"Wasn't it mainly those of disgust?" Nash asked. "Those operate no longer. I've closed that window."
"Do you mean you like everything?"
"Dear me, no! But I look only at what I do like."
"Do you mean that you've lost the noble faculty of disgust?"
"I haven't the least idea. I never try it. My dear fellow," said Gabriel Nash, "we've only one life that we know anything about: fancy taking it up with disagreeable impressions! When then shall we go in for the agreeable?"
"What do you mean by the agreeable?" Nick demanded.
"Oh the happy moments of our consciousness—the multiplication of those moments. We must save as many as possible from the dark gulf."
Nick had excited surprise on the part of his sister, but it was now Biddy's turn to make him open his eyes a little. She raised her sweet voice in appeal to the stranger.
"Don't you think there are any wrongs in the world—any abuses and sufferings?"
"Oh so many, so many! That's why one must choose."
"Choose to stop them, to reform them—isn't that the choice?" Biddy asked. "That's Nick's," she added, blushing and looking at this personage.
"Ah our divergence—yes!" Mr. Nash sighed. "There are all kinds of machinery for that—very complicated and ingenious. Your formulas, my dear Dormer, your formulas!"
"Hang 'em, I haven't got any!" Nick now bravely declared.
"To me personally the simplest ways are those that appeal most," Mr. Nash went on. "We pay too much attention to the ugly; we notice it, we magnify it. The great thing is to leave it alone and encourage the beautiful."
"You must be very sure you get hold of the beautiful," said Nick.
"Ah precisely, and that's just the importance of the faculty of appreciation. We must train our special sense. It's capable of extraordinary extension. Life's none too long for that."
"But what's the good of the extraordinary extension if there is no affirmation of it, if it all goes to the negative, as you say? Where are the fine consequences?" Dormer asked.
"In one's own spirit. One is one's self a fine consequence. That's the most important one we have to do with. I am a fine consequence," said Gabriel Nash.
Biddy rose from the bench at this and stepped away a little as to look at a piece of statuary. But she had not gone far before, pausing and turning, she bent her eyes on the speaker with a heightened colour, an air of desperation and the question, after a moment: "Are you then an aesthete?"
"Ah there's one of the formulas! That's walking in one's hat! I've no profession, my dear young lady. I've no etat civil. These things are a part of the complicated ingenious machinery. As I say, I keep to the simplest way. I find that gives one enough to do. Merely to be is such a metier; to live such an art; to feel such a career!"
Bridget Dormer turned her back and examined her statue, and her brother said to his old friend: "And to write?"
"To write? Oh I shall never do it again!"
"You've done it almost well enough to be inconsistent. That book of yours is anything but negative; it's complicated and ingenious."
"My dear fellow, I'm extremely ashamed of that book," said Gabriel Nash.
"Ah call yourself a bloated Buddhist and have done with it!" his companion exclaimed.
"Have done with it? I haven't the least desire to have done with it. And why should one call one's self anything? One only deprives other people of their dearest occupation. Let me add that you don't begin to have an insight into the art of life till it ceases to be of the smallest consequence to you what you may be called. That's rudimentary."
"But if you go in for shades you must also go in for names. You must distinguish," Nick objected. "The observer's nothing without his categories, his types and varieties."
"Ah trust him to distinguish!" said Gabriel Nash sweetly. "That's for his own convenience; he has, privately, a terminology to meet it. That's one's style. But from the moment it's for the convenience of others the signs have to be grosser, the shades begin to go. That's a deplorable hour! Literature, you see, is for the convenience of others. It requires the most abject concessions. It plays such mischief with one's style that really I've had to give it up."
"And politics?" Nick asked.
"Well, what about them?" was Mr. Nash's reply with a special cadence as he watched his friend's sister, who was still examining her statue. Biddy was divided between irritation and curiosity. She had interposed space, but she had not gone beyond ear-shot. Nick's question made her curiosity throb as a rejoinder to his friend's words.
"That, no doubt you'll say, is still far more for the convenience of others—is still worse for one's style."
Biddy turned round in time to hear Mr. Nash answer: "It has simply nothing in life to do with shades! I can't say worse for it than that."
Biddy stepped nearer at this and drew still further on her courage. "Won't mamma be waiting? Oughtn't we to go to luncheon?"
Both the young men looked up at her and Mr. Nash broke out: "You ought to protest! You ought to save him!"
"To save him?" Biddy echoed.
"He had a style, upon my word he had! But I've seen it go. I've read his speeches."
"You were capable of that?" Nick laughed.
"For you, yes. But it was like listening to a nightingale in a brass band."
"I think they were beautiful," Biddy declared.
Her brother got up at this tribute, and Mr. Nash, rising too, said with his bright colloquial air: "But, Miss Dormer, he had eyes. He was made to see—to see all over, to see everything. There are so few like that."
"I think he still sees," Biddy returned, wondering a little why Nick didn't defend himself.
"He sees his 'side,' his dreadful 'side,' dear young lady. Poor man, fancy your having a 'side'—you, you—and spending your days and your nights looking at it! I'd as soon pass my life looking at an advertisement on a hoarding."
"You don't see me some day a great statesman?" said Nick.
"My dear fellow, it's exactly what I've a terror of."
"Mercy! don't you admire them?" Biddy cried.
"It's a trade like another and a method of making one's way which society certainly condones. But when one can be something better—!"
"Why what in the world is better?" Biddy asked.
The young man gasped and Nick, replying for him, said: "Gabriel Nash is better! You must come and lunch with us. I must keep you—I must!" he added.
"We shall save him yet," Mr. Nash kept on easily to Biddy while they went and the girl wondered still more what her mother would make of him.
After her companions left her Lady Agnes rested for five minutes in silence with her elder daughter, at the end of which time she observed: "I suppose one must have food at any rate," and, getting up, quitted the place where they had been sitting. "And where are we to go? I hate eating out of doors," she went on.
"Dear me, when one comes to Paris—!" Grace returned in a tone apparently implying that in so rash an adventure one must be prepared for compromises and concessions. The two ladies wandered to where they saw a large sign of "Buffet" suspended in the air, entering a precinct reserved for little white-clothed tables, straw-covered chairs and long-aproned waiters. One of these functionaries approached them with eagerness and with a "Mesdames sont seules?" receiving in return from her ladyship the slightly snappish announcement "Non; nous sommes beaucoup!" He introduced them to a table larger than most of the others, and under his protection they took their places at it and began rather languidly and vaguely to consider the question of the repast. The waiter had placed a carte in Lady Agnes's hands and she studied it, through her eye-glass, with a failure of interest, while he enumerated with professional fluency the resources of the establishment and Grace watched the people at the other tables. She was hungry and had already broken a morsel from a long glazed roll.
"Not cold beef and pickles, you know," she observed to her mother. Lady Agnes gave no heed to this profane remark, but dropped her eye-glass and laid down the greasy document. "What does it signify? I daresay it's all nasty," Grace continued; and she added inconsequently: "If Peter comes he's sure to be particular."
"Let him first be particular to come!" her ladyship exclaimed, turning a cold eye upon the waiter.
"Poulet chasseur, filets mignons sauce bearnaise," the man suggested.
"You'll give us what I tell you," said Lady Agnes; and she mentioned with distinctness and authority the dishes of which she desired that the meal should be composed. He interjected three or four more suggestions, but as they produced absolutely no impression on her he became silent and submissive, doing justice apparently to her ideas. For Lady Agnes had ideas, and, though it had suited her humour ten minutes before to profess herself helpless in such a case, the manner in which she imposed them on the waiter as original, practical, and economical, showed the high executive woman, the mother of children, the daughter of earls, the consort of an official, the dispenser of hospitality, looking back upon a lifetime of luncheons. She carried many cares, and the feeding of multitudes—she was honourably conscious of having fed them decently, as she had always done everything—had ever been one of them. "Everything's absurdly dear," she remarked to her daughter as the waiter went away. To this remark Grace made no answer. She had been used for a long time back to hearing that everything was very dear; it was what one always expected. So she found the case herself, but she was silent and inventive about it, and nothing further passed, in the way of conversation with her mother, while they waited for the latter's orders to be executed, till Lady Agnes reflected audibly: "He makes me unhappy, the way he talks about Julia."
"Sometimes I think he does it to torment one. One can't mention her!" Grace responded.
"It's better not to mention her, but to leave it alone."
"Yet he never mentions her of himself."
"In some cases that's supposed to show that people like people—though of course something more's required to prove it," Lady Agnes continued to meditate. "Sometimes I think he's thinking of her, then at others I can't fancy what he's thinking of."
"It would be awfully suitable," said Grace, biting her roll.
Her companion had a pause, as if looking for some higher ground to put it upon. Then she appeared to find this loftier level in the observation: "Of course he must like her—he has known her always."
"Nothing can be plainer than that she likes him," Grace opined.
"Poor Julia!" Lady Agnes almost wailed; and her tone suggested that she knew more about that than she was ready to state.
"It isn't as if she wasn't clever and well read," her daughter went on. "If there were nothing else there would be a reason in her being so interested in politics, in everything that he is."
"Ah what Nick is—that's what I sometimes wonder!"
Grace eyed her parent in some despair: "Why, mother, isn't he going to be like papa?" She waited for an answer that didn't come; after which she pursued: "I thought you thought him so like him already."
"Well, I don't," said Lady Agnes quietly.
"Who is then? Certainly Percy isn't."
Lady Agnes was silent a space. "There's no one like your father."
"Dear papa!" Grace handsomely concurred. Then with a rapid transition: "It would be so jolly for all of us—she'd be so nice to us."
"She's that already—in her way," said Lady Agnes conscientiously, having followed the return, quick as it was. "Much good does it do her!" And she reproduced the note of her bitterness of a moment before.
"It does her some good that one should look out for her. I do, and I think she knows it," Grace declared. "One can at any rate keep other women off."
"Don't meddle—you're very clumsy," was her mother's not particularly sympathetic rejoinder. "There are other women who are beautiful, and there are others who are clever and rich."
"Yes, but not all in one: that's what's so nice in Julia. Her fortune would be thrown in; he wouldn't appear to have married her for it."
"If he does he won't," said Lady Agnes a trifle obscurely.
"Yes, that's what's so charming. And he could do anything then, couldn't he?"
"Well, your father had no fortune to speak of."
"Yes, but didn't Uncle Percy help him?"
"His wife helped him," said Lady Agnes.
"Dear mamma!"—the girl was prompt. "There's one thing," she added: "that Mr. Carteret will always help Nick."
"What do you mean by 'always'?"
"Why whether he marries Julia or not."
"Things aren't so easy," Lady Agnes judged. "It will all depend on Nick's behaviour. He can stop it to-morrow."
Grace Dormer stared; she evidently thought Mr. Carteret's beneficence a part of the scheme of nature. "How could he stop it?"
"By not being serious. It isn't so hard to prevent people giving you money."
"Serious?" Grace repeated. "Does he want him to be a prig like Lord Egbert?"
"Yes—that's exactly what he wants. And what he'll do for him he'll do for him only if he marries Julia."
"Has he told you?" Grace inquired. And then, before her mother could answer, "I'm delighted at that!" she cried.
"He hasn't told me, but that's the way things happen." Lady Agnes was less optimistic than her daughter, and such optimism as she cultivated was a thin tissue with the sense of things as they are showing through. "If Nick becomes rich Charles Carteret will make him more so. If he doesn't he won't give him a shilling."
"Oh mamma!" Grace demurred.
"It's all very well to say that in public life money isn't as necessary as it used to be," her ladyship went on broodingly. "Those who say so don't know anything about it. It's always intensely necessary."
Her daughter, visibly affected by the gloom of her manner, felt impelled to evoke as a corrective a more cheerful idea. "I daresay; but there's the fact—isn't there?—that poor papa had so little."
"Yes, and there's the fact that it killed him!"
These words came out with a strange, quick, little flare of passion. They startled Grace Dormer, who jumped in her place and gasped, "Oh mother!" The next instant, however, she added in a different voice, "Oh Peter!" for, with an air of eagerness, a gentleman was walking up to them.
"How d'ye do, Cousin Agnes? How d'ye do, little Grace?" Peter Sherringham laughed and shook hands with them, and three minutes later was settled in his chair at their table, on which the first elements of the meal had been placed. Explanations, on one side and the other, were demanded and produced; from which it appeared that the two parties had been in some degree at cross-purposes. The day before Lady Agnes and her companions travelled to Paris Sherringham had gone to London for forty-eight hours on private business of the ambassador's, arriving, on his return by the night-train, only early that morning. There had accordingly been a delay in his receiving Nick Dormer's two notes. If Nick had come to the embassy in person—he might have done him the honour to call—he would have learned that the second secretary was absent. Lady Agnes was not altogether successful in assigning a motive to her son's neglect of this courteous form; she could but say: "I expected him, I wanted him to go; and indeed, not hearing from you, he would have gone immediately—an hour or two hence, on leaving this place. But we're here so quietly—not to go out, not to seem to appeal to the ambassador. Nick put it so—'Oh mother, we'll keep out of it; a friendly note will do.' I don't know definitely what he wanted to keep out of, unless anything like gaiety. The embassy isn't gay, I know. But I'm sure his note was friendly, wasn't it? I daresay you'll see for yourself. He's different directly he gets abroad; he doesn't seem to care." Lady Agnes paused a moment, not carrying out this particular elucidation; then she resumed: "He said you'd have seen Julia and that you'd understand everything from her. And when I asked how she'd know he said, 'Oh she knows everything!'"
"He never said a word to me about Julia," Peter Sherringham returned. Lady Agnes and her daughter exchanged a glance at this: the latter had already asked three times where Julia was, and her ladyship dropped that they had been hoping she would be able to come with Peter. The young man set forth that she was at the moment at an hotel in the Rue de la Paix, but had only been there since that morning; he had seen her before proceeding to the Champs Elysees. She had come up to Paris by an early train—- she had been staying at Versailles, of all places in the world. She had been a week in Paris on her return from Cannes—her stay there had been of nearly a month: fancy!—and then had gone out to Versailles to see Mrs. Billinghurst. Perhaps they'd remember her, poor Dallow's sister. She was staying there to teach her daughters French—she had a dozen or two!—and Julia had spent three days with her. She was to return to England about the twenty-fifth. It would make seven weeks she must have been away from town—a rare thing for her; she usually stuck to it so in summer.