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Title: Some Short Stories [by Henry James]
Author: James, Henry, 1843-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SOME SHORT STORIES

BY HENRY JAMES



Contents:

Brooksmith

The Real Thing

The Story of It

Flickerbridge

Mrs. Medwin



BROOKSMITH


We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord; but
whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a certain
esoteric respect for each other. "Yes, you too have been in Arcadia," we
seem not too grumpily to allow. When I pass the house in Mansfield
Street I remember that Arcadia was there. I don't know who has it now,
and don't want to know; it's enough to be so sure that if I should ring
the bell there would be no such luck for me as that Brooksmith should
open the door. Mr. Offord, the most agreeable, the most attaching of
bachelors, was a retired diplomatist, living on his pension and on
something of his own over and above; a good deal confined, by his
infirmities, to his fireside and delighted to be found there any
afternoon in the year, from five o'clock on, by such visitors as
Brooksmith allowed to come up. Brooksmith was his butler and his most
intimate friend, to whom we all stood, or I should say sat, in the same
relation in which the subject of the sovereign finds himself to the
prime minister. By having been for years, in foreign lands, the most
delightful Englishman any one had ever known, Mr. Offord had in my
opinion rendered signal service to his country. But I suppose he had
been too much liked--liked even by those who didn't like IT--so that as
people of that sort never get titles or dotations for the horrid things
they've NOT done, his principal reward was simply that we went to see
him.

Oh we went perpetually, and it was not our fault if he was not
overwhelmed with this particular honour. Any visitor who came once came
again; to come merely once was a slight nobody, I'm sure, had ever put
upon him. His circle therefore was essentially composed of habitués, who
were habitués for each other as well as for him, as those of a happy
salon should be. I remember vividly every element of the place, down to
the intensely Londonish look of the grey opposite houses, in the gap of
the white curtains of the high windows, and the exact spot where, on a
particular afternoon, I put down my tea-cup for Brooksmith, lingering an
instant, to gather it up as if he were plucking a flower. Mr. Offord's
drawing-room was indeed Brooksmith's garden, his pruned and tended human
parterre, and if we all flourished there and grew well in our places it
was largely owing to his supervision.

Many persons have heard much, though most have doubtless seen little, of
the famous institution of the salon, and many are born to the depression
of knowing that this finest flower of social life refuses to bloom where
the English tongue is spoken. The explanation is usually that our women
have not the skill to cultivate it--the art to direct through a smiling
land, between suggestive shores, a sinuous stream of talk. My
affectionate, my pious memory of Mr. Offord contradicts this induction
only, I fear, more insidiously to confirm it. The sallow and slightly
smoked drawing-room in which he spent so large a portion of the last
years of his life certainly deserved the distinguished name; but on the
other hand it couldn't be said at all to owe its stamp to any
intervention throwing into relief the fact that there was no Mrs.
Offord. The dear man had indeed, at the most, been capable of one of
those sacrifices to which women are deemed peculiarly apt: he had
recognised--under the influence, in some degree, it is true, of physical
infirmity--that if you wish people to find you at home you must manage
not to be out. He had in short accepted the truth which many dabblers in
the social art are slow to learn, that you must really, as they say,
take a line, and that the only way as yet discovered of being at home is
to stay at home. Finally his own fireside had become a summary of his
habits. Why should he ever have left it?--since this would have been
leaving what was notoriously pleasantest in London, the compact charmed
cluster (thinning away indeed into casual couples) round the fine old
last-century chimney-piece which, with the exception of the remarkable
collection of miniatures, was the best thing the place contained. Mr.
Offord wasn't rich; he had nothing but his pension and the use for life
of the somewhat superannuated house.

When I'm reminded by some opposed discomfort of the present hour how
perfectly we were all handled there, I ask myself once more what had
been the secret of such perfection. One had taken it for granted at the
time, for anything that is supremely good produces more acceptance than
surprise. I felt we were all happy, but I didn't consider how our
happiness was managed. And yet there were questions to be asked,
questions that strike me as singularly obvious now that there's nobody
to answer them. Mr. Offord had solved the insoluble; he had, without
feminine help--save in the sense that ladies were dying to come to him
and that he saved the lives of several--established a salon; but I might
have guessed that there was a method in his madness, a law in his
success. He hadn't hit it off by a mere fluke. There was an art in it
all, and how was the art so hidden? Who indeed if it came to that was
the occult artist? Launching this inquiry the other day I had already
got hold of the tail of my reply. I was helped by the very wonder of
some of the conditions that came back to me--those that used to seem as
natural as sunshine in a fine climate.

How was it for instance that we never were a crowd, never either too
many or too few, always the right people WITH the right people--there
must really have been no wrong people at all--always coming and going,
never sticking fast nor overstaying, yet never popping in or out with an
indecorous familiarity? How was it that we all sat where we wanted and
moved when we wanted and met whom we wanted and escaped whom we wanted;
joining, according to the accident of inclination, the general circle or
falling in with a single talker on a convenient sofa? Why were all the
sofas so convenient, the accidents so happy, the talkers so ready, the
listeners so willing, the subjects presented to you in a rotation as
quickly foreordained as the courses at dinner? A dearth of topics would
have been as unheard of as a lapse in the service. These speculations
couldn't fail to lead me to the fundamental truth that Brooksmith had
been somehow at the bottom of the mystery. If he hadn't established the
salon at least he had carried it on. Brooksmith in short was the artist!

We felt this covertly at the time, without formulating it, and were
conscious, as an ordered and prosperous community, of his even-handed
justice, all untainted with flunkeyism. He had none of that
vulgarity--his touch was infinitely fine. The delicacy of it was clear
to me on the first occasion my eyes rested, as they were so often to
rest again, on the domestic revealed, in the turbid light of the street,
by the opening of the house-door. I saw on the spot that though he had
plenty of school he carried it without arrogance--he had remained
articulate and human. L'Ecole Anglaise Mr. Offord used laughingly to
call him when, later on, it happened more than once that we had some
conversation about him. But I remember accusing Mr. Offord of not doing
him quite ideal justice. That he wasn't one of the giants of the school,
however, was admitted by my old friend, who really understood him
perfectly and was devoted to him, as I shall show; which doubtless poor
Brooksmith had himself felt, to his cost, when his value in the market
was originally determined. The utility of his class in general is
estimated by the foot and the inch, and poor Brooksmith had only about
five feet three to put into circulation. He acknowledged the inadequacy
of this provision, and I'm sure was penetrated with the everlasting
fitness of the relation between service and stature. If HE had been Mr.
Offord he certainly would have found Brooksmith wanting, and indeed the
laxity of his employer on this score was one of many things he had had
to condone and to which he had at last indulgently adapted himself.

I remember the old man's saying to me: "Oh my servants, if they can live
with me a fortnight they can live with me for ever. But it's the first
fortnight that tries 'em." It was in the first fortnight for instance
that Brooksmith had had to learn that he was exposed to being addressed
as "my dear fellow" and "my poor child." Strange and deep must such a
probation have been to him, and he doubtless emerged from it tempered
and purified. This was written to a certain extent in his appearance; in
his spare brisk little person, in his cloistered white face and
extraordinarily polished hair, which told of responsibility, looked as
if it were kept up to the same high standard as the plate; in his small
clear anxious eyes, even in the permitted, though not exactly
encouraged, tuft on his chin. "He thinks me rather mad, but I've broken
him in, and now he likes the place, he likes the company," said the old
man. I embraced this fully after I had become aware that Brooksmith's
main characteristic was a deep and shy refinement, though I remember I
was rather puzzled when, on another occasion, Mr. Offord remarked: "What
he likes is the talk--mingling in the conversation." I was conscious I
had never seen Brooksmith permit himself this freedom, but I guessed in
a moment that what Mr. Offord alluded to was a participation more
intense than any speech could have represented--that of being
perpetually present on a hundred legitimate pretexts, errands,
necessities, and breathing the very atmosphere of criticism, the famous
criticism of life. "Quite an education, sir, isn't it, sir?" he said to
me one day at the foot of the stairs when he was letting me out; and
I've always remembered the words and the tone as the first sign of the
quickening drama of poor Brooksmith's fate. It was indeed an education,
but to what was this sensitive young man of thirty-five, of the servile
class, being educated?

Practically and inevitably, for the time, to companionship, to the
perpetual, the even exaggerated reference and appeal of a person brought
to dependence by his time of life and his infirmities and always
addicted moreover--this was the exaggeration--to the art of giving you
pleasure by letting you do things for him. There were certain things Mr.
Offord was capable of pretending he liked you to do even when he
didn't--this, I mean, if he thought YOU liked them. If it happened that
you didn't either--which was rare, yet might be--of course there were
cross-purposes; but Brooksmith was there to prevent their going very
far. This was precisely the way he acted as moderator; he averted
misunderstandings or cleared them up. He had been capable, strange as it
may appear, of acquiring for this purpose an insight into the French
tongue, which was often used at Mr. Offord's; for besides being habitual
to most of the foreigners, and they were many, who haunted the place or
arrived with letters--letters often requiring a little worried
consideration, of which Brooksmith always had cognisance--it had really
become the primary language of the master of the house. I don't know if
all the malentendus were in French, but almost all the explanations
were, and this didn't a bit prevent Brooksmith's following them. I know
Mr. Offord used to read passages to him from Montaigne and Saint-Simon,
for he read perpetually when alone--when THEY were alone, that is--and
Brooksmith was always about. Perhaps you'll say no wonder Mr. Offord's
butler regarded him as "rather mad." However, if I'm not sure what he
thought about Montaigne I'm convinced he admired Saint-Simon. A certain
feeling for letters must have rubbed off on him from the mere handling
of his master's books, which he was always carrying to and fro and
putting back in their places.

I often noticed that if an anecdote or a quotation, much more a lively
discussion, was going forward, he would, if busy with the fire or the
curtains, the lamp or the tea, find a pretext for remaining in the room
till the point should be reached. If his purpose was to catch it you
weren't discreet, you were in fact scarce human, to call him off, and I
shall never forget a look, a hard stony stare--I caught it in its
passage--which, one day when there were a good many people in the room,
he fastened upon the footman who was helping him in the service and who,
in an undertone, had asked him some irrelevant question. It was the only
manifestation of harshness I ever observed on Brooksmith's part, and I
at first wondered what was the matter. Then I became conscious that Mr.
Offord was relating a very curious anecdote, never before perhaps made
so public, and imparted to the narrator by an eye-witness of the fact,
bearing on Lord Byron's life in Italy. Nothing would induce me to
reproduce it here, but Brooksmith had been in danger of losing it. If I
ever should venture to reproduce it I shall feel how much I lose in not
having my fellow auditor to refer to.

The first day Mr Offord's door was closed was therefore a dark date in
contemporary history. It was raining hard and my umbrella was wet, but
Brooksmith received it from me exactly as if this were a preliminary for
going upstairs. I observed however that instead of putting it away he
held it poised and trickling over the rug, and I then became aware that
he was looking at me with deep acknowledging eyes--his air of universal
responsibility. I immediately understood--there was scarce need of
question and answer as they passed between us. When I took in that our
good friend had given up as never before, though only for the occasion,
I exclaimed dolefully: "What a difference it will make--and to how many
people!"

"I shall be one of them, sir!" said Brooksmith; and that was the
beginning of the end.

Mr. Offord came down again, but the spell was broken, the great sign
being that the conversation was for the first time not directed. It
wandered and stumbled, a little frightened, like a lost child--it had
let go the nurse's hand. "The worst of it is that now we shall talk
about my health--C'EST LA FIN DE TOUT," Mr. Offord said when he
reappeared; and then I recognised what a note of change that would
be--for he had never tolerated anything so provincial. We "ran" to each
other's health as little as to the daily weather. The talk became ours,
in a word--not his; and as ours, even when HE talked, it could only be
inferior. In this form it was a distress to Brooksmith, whose attention
now wandered from it altogether: he had so much closer a vision of his
master's intimate conditions than our superficialities represented.
There were better hours, and he was more in and out of the room, but I
could see he was conscious of the decline, almost of the collapse, of
our great institution. He seemed to wish to take counsel with me about
it, to feel responsible for its going on in some form or other. When for
the second period--the first had lasted several days--he had to tell me
that his employer didn't receive, I half expected to hear him say after
a moment "Do you think I ought to, sir, in his place?"--as he might have
asked me, with the return of autumn, if I thought he had better light
the drawing-room fire.

He had a resigned philosophic sense of what his guests--our guests, as I
came to regard them in our colloquies--would expect. His feeling was
that he wouldn't absolutely have approved of himself as a substitute for
Mr. Offord; but he was so saturated with the religion of habit that he
would have made, for our friends, the necessary sacrifice to the
divinity. He would take them on a little further, till they could look
about them. I think I saw him also mentally confronted with the
opportunity to deal--for once in his life--with some of his own dumb
preferences, his limitations of sympathy, WEEDING a little in prospect
and returning to a purer tradition. It was not unknown to me that he
considered that toward the end of our host's career a certain laxity of
selection had crept in.

At last it came to be the case that we all found the closed door more
often than the open one; but even when it was closed Brooksmith managed
a crack for me to squeeze through; so that practically I never turned
away without having paid a visit. The difference simply came to be that
the visit was to Brooksmith. It took place in the hall, at the familiar
foot of the stairs, and we didn't sit down, at least Brooksmith didn't;
moreover it was devoted wholly to one topic and always had the air of
being already over--beginning, so to say, at the end. But it was always
interesting--it always gave me something to think about. It's true that
the subject of my meditation was ever the same--ever "It's all very
well, but what WILL become of Brooksmith?" Even my private answer to
this question left me still unsatisfied. No doubt Mr. Offord would
provide for him, but WHAT would he provide?--that was the great point.
He couldn't provide society; and society had become a necessity of
Brooksmith's nature. I must add that he never showed a symptom of what I
may call sordid solicitude--anxiety on his own account. He was rather
livid and intensely grave, as befitted a man before whose eyes the
"shade of that which once was great" was passing away. He had the
solemnity of a person winding up, under depressing circumstances, a
long-established and celebrated business; he was a kind of social
executor or liquidator. But his manner seemed to testify exclusively to
the uncertainty of OUR future. I couldn't in those days have afforded
it--I lived in two rooms in Jermyn Street and didn't "keep a man"; but
even if my income had permitted I shouldn't have ventured to say to
Brooksmith (emulating Mr. Offord) "My dear fellow, I'll take you on."
The whole tone of our intercourse was so much more an implication that
it was I who should now want a lift. Indeed there was a tacit assurance
in Brooksmith's whole attitude that he should have me on his mind.

One of the most assiduous members of our circle had been Lady Kenyon,
and I remember his telling me one day that her ladyship had in spite of
her own infirmities, lately much aggravated, been in person to inquire.
In answer to this I remarked that she would feel it more than any one.
Brooksmith had a pause before saying in a certain tone--there's no
reproducing some of his tones--"I'll go and see her." I went to see her
myself and learned he had waited on her; but when I said to her, in the
form of a joke but with a core of earnest, that when all was over some
of us ought to combine, to club together, and set Brooksmith up on his
own account, she replied a trifle disappointingly: "Do you mean in a
public-house?" I looked at her in a way that I think Brooksmith himself
would have approved, and then I answered: "Yes, the Offord Arms." What I
had meant of course was that for the love of art itself we ought to look
to it that such a peculiar faculty and so much acquired experience
shouldn't be wasted. I really think that if we had caused a few
black-edged cards to be struck off and circulated--"Mr. Brooksmith will
continue to receive on the old premises from four to seven; business
carried on as usual during the alterations"--the greater number of us
would have rallied.

Several times he took me upstairs--always by his own proposal--and our
dear old friend, in bed (in a curious flowered and brocaded casaque
which made him, especially as his head was tied up in a handkerchief to
match, look, to my imagination, like the dying Voltaire) held for ten
minutes a sadly shrunken little salon. I felt indeed each time as if I
were attending the last coucher of some social sovereign. He was royally
whimsical about his sufferings and not at all concerned--quite as if the
Constitution provided for the case about his successor. He glided over
OUR sufferings charmingly, and none of his jokes--it was a gallant
abstention, some of them would have been so easy--were at our expense.
Now and again, I confess, there was one at Brooksmith's, but so
pathetically sociable as to make the excellent man look at me in a way
that seemed to say: "Do exchange a glance with me, or I shan't be able
to stand it." What he wasn't able to stand was not what Mr. Offord said
about him, but what he wasn't able to say in return. His idea of
conversation for himself was giving you the convenience of speaking to
him; and when he went to "see" Lady Kenyon for instance it was to carry
her the tribute of his receptive silence. Where would the speech of his
betters have been if proper service had been a manifestation of sound?
In that case the fundamental difference would have had to be shown by
their dumbness, and many of them, poor things, were dumb enough without
that provision. Brooksmith took an unfailing interest in the
preservation of the fundamental difference; it was the thing he had most
on his conscience.

What had become of it however when Mr. Offord passed away like any
inferior person--was relegated to eternal stillness after the manner of
a butler above-stairs? His aspect on the event--for the several
successive days--may be imagined, and the multiplication by funereal
observance of the things he didn't say. When everything was over--it was
late the same day--I knocked at the door of the house of mourning as I
so often had done before. I could never call on Mr. Offord again, but I
had come literally to call on Brooksmith. I wanted to ask him if there
was anything I could do for him, tainted with vagueness as this inquiry
could only be. My presumptuous dream of taking him into my own service
had died away: my service wasn't worth his being taken into. My offer
could only be to help him to find another place, and yet there was an
indelicacy, as it were, in taking for granted that his thoughts would
immediately be fixed on another. I had a hope that he would be able to
give his life a different form--though certainly not the form, the
frequent result of such bereavements, of his setting up a little shop.
That would have been dreadful; for I should have wished to forward any
enterprise he might embark in, yet how could I have brought myself to go
and pay him shillings and take back coppers, over a counter? My visit
then was simply an intended compliment. He took it as such, gratefully
and with all the tact in the world. He knew I really couldn't help him
and that I knew he knew I couldn't; but we discussed the situation--with
a good deal of elegant generality--at the foot of the stairs, in the
hall already dismantled, where I had so often discussed other situations
with him. The executors were in possession, as was still more apparent
when he made me pass for a few minutes into the dining-room, where
various objects were muffled up for removal.

Two definite facts, however, he had to communicate; one being that he
was to leave the house for ever that night (servants, for some
mysterious reason, seem always to depart by night), and the other--he
mentioned it only at the last and with hesitation--that he was already
aware his late master had left him a legacy of eighty pounds. "I'm very
glad," I said, and Brooksmith was of the same mind: "It was so like him
to think of me." This was all that passed between us on the subject, and
I know nothing of his judgement of Mr. Offord's memento. Eighty pounds
are always eighty pounds, and no one has ever left ME an equal sum; but,
all the same, for Brooksmith, I was disappointed. I don't know what I
had expected, but it was almost a shock. Eighty pounds might stock a
small shop--a VERY small shop; but, I repeat, I couldn't bear to think
of that. I asked my friend if he had been able to save a little, and he
replied: "No, sir; I've had to do things." I didn't inquire what things
they might have been; they were his own affair, and I took his word for
them as assentingly as if he had had the greatness of an ancient house
to keep up; especially as there was something in his manner that seemed
to convey a prospect of further sacrifice.

"I shall have to turn round a bit, sir--I shall have to look about me,"
he said; and then he added indulgently, magnanimously: "If you should
happen to hear of anything for me--"

I couldn't let him finish; this was, in its essence, too much in the
really grand manner. It would be a help to my getting him off my mind to
be able to pretend I COULD find the right place, and that help he wished
to give me, for it was doubtless painful to him to see me in so false a
position. I interposed with a few words to the effect of how well aware
I was that wherever he should go, whatever he should do, he would miss
our old friend terribly--miss him even more than I should, having been
with him so much more. This led him to make the speech that has remained
with me as the very text of the whole episode.

"Oh sir, it's sad for YOU, very sad indeed, and for a great many
gentlemen and ladies; that it is, sir. But for me, sir, it is, if I may
say so, still graver even than that: it's just the loss of something
that was everything. For me, sir," he went on with rising tears, "he was
just ALL, if you know what I mean, sir. You have others, sir, I
daresay--not that I would have you understand me to speak of them as in
any way tantamount. But you have the pleasures of society, sir; if it's
only in talking about him, sir, as I daresay you do freely--for all his
blest memory has to fear from it--with gentlemen and ladies who have had
the same honour. That's not for me, sir, and I've to keep my
associations to myself. Mr. Offord was MY society, and now, you see, I
just haven't any. You go back to conversation, sir, after all, and I go
back to my place," Brooksmith stammered, without exaggerated irony or
dramatic bitterness, but with a flat unstudied veracity and his hand on
the knob of the street-door. He turned it to let me out and then he
added: "I just go downstairs, sir, again, and I stay there."

"My poor child," I replied in my emotion, quite as Mr. Offord used to
speak, "my dear fellow, leave it to me: WE'LL look after you, we'll all
do something for you."

"Ah if you could give me some one LIKE him! But there ain't two such in
the world," Brooksmith said as we parted.

He had given me his address--the place where he would be to be heard of.
For a long time I had no occasion to make use of the information: he
proved on trial so very difficult a case. The people who knew him and
had known Mr. Offord didn't want to take him, and yet I couldn't bear to
try to thrust him among strangers--strangers to his past when not to his
present. I spoke to many of our old friends about him and found them all
governed by the odd mixture of feelings of which I myself was
conscious--as well as disposed, further, to entertain a suspicion that
he was "spoiled," with which, I then would have nothing to do. In plain
terms a certain embarrassment, a sensible awkwardness when they thought
of it, attached to the idea of using him as a menial: they had met him
so often in society. Many of them would have asked him, and did ask him,
or rather did ask me to ask him, to come and see them, but a mere
visiting-list was not what I wanted for him. He was too short for people
who were very particular; nevertheless I heard of an opening in a
diplomatic household which led me to write him a note, though I was
looking much less for something grand than for something human. Five
days later I heard from him. The secretary's wife had decided, after
keeping him waiting till then, that she couldn't take a servant out of a
house in which there hadn't been a lady. The note had a P.S.: "It's a
good job there wasn't, sir, such a lady as some."

A week later he came to see me and told me he was "suited," committed to
some highly respectable people--they were something quite immense in the
City--who lived on the Bayswater side of the Park. "I daresay it will be
rather poor, sir," he admitted; "but I've seen the fireworks, haven't I,
sir?--it can't be fireworks EVERY night. After Mansfield Street there
ain't much choice." There was a certain amount, however, it seemed; for
the following year, calling one day on a country cousin, a lady of a
certain age who was spending a fortnight in town with some friends of
her own, a family unknown to me and resident in Chester Square, the door
of the house was opened, to my surprise and gratification, by Brooksmith
in person. When I came out I had some conversation with him from which I
gathered that he had found the large City people too dull for endurance,
and I guessed, though he didn't say it, that he had found them vulgar as
well. I don't know what judgement he would have passed on his actual
patrons if my relative hadn't been their friend; but in view of that
connexion he abstained from comment.

None was necessary, however, for before the lady in question brought her
visit to a close they honoured me with an invitation to dinner, which I
accepted. There was a largeish party on the occasion, but I confess I
thought of Brooksmith rather more than of the seated company. They
required no depth of attention--they were all referable to usual
irredeemable inevitable types. It was the world of cheerful commonplace
and conscious gentility and prosperous density, a full-fed material
insular world, a world of hideous florid plate and ponderous order and
thin conversation. There wasn't a word said about Byron, or even about a
minor bard then much in view. Nothing would have induced me to look at
Brooksmith in the course of the repast, and I felt sure that not even my
overturning the wine would have induced him to meet my eye. We were in
intellectual sympathy--we felt, as regards each other, a degree of
social responsibility. In short we had been in Arcadia together, and we
had both come to THIS! No wonder we were ashamed to be confronted. When
he had helped on my overcoat, as I was going away, we parted, for the
first time since the earliest days of Mansfield Street, in silence. I
thought he looked lean and wasted, and I guessed that his new place
wasn't more "human" than his previous one. There was plenty of beef and
beer, but there was no reciprocity. The question for him to have asked
before accepting the position wouldn't have been "How many footmen are
kept?" but "How much imagination?"

The next time I went to the house--I confess it wasn't very soon--I
encountered his successor, a personage who evidently enjoyed the good
fortune of never having quitted his natural level. Could any be higher?
he seemed to ask--over the heads of three footmen and even of some
visitors. He made me feel as if Brooksmith were dead; but I didn't dare
to inquire--I couldn't have borne his "I haven't the least idea, sir." I
despatched a note to the address that worthy had given me after Mr.
Offord's death, but I received no answer. Six months later however I was
favoured with a visit from an elderly dreary dingy person who introduced
herself to me as Mr. Brooksmith's aunt and from whom I learned that he
was out of place and out of health and had allowed her to come and say
to me that if I could spare half an hour to look in at him he would take
it as a rare honour.

I went the next day--his messenger had given me a new address--and found
my friend lodged in a short sordid street in Marylebone, one of those
corners of London that wear the last expression of sickly meanness. The
room into which I was shown was above the small establishment of a dyer
and cleaner who had inflated kid gloves and discoloured shawls in his
shop-front. There was a great deal of grimy infant life up and down the
place, and there was a hot moist smell within, as of the "boiling" of
dirty linen. Brooksmith sat with a blanket over his legs at a clean
little window where, from behind stiff bluish-white curtains, he could
look across at a huckster's and a tinsmith's and a small greasy
public-house. He had passed through an illness and was convalescent, and
his mother, as well as his aunt, was in attendance on him. I liked the
nearer relative, who was bland and intensely humble, but I had my doubts
of the remoter, whom I connected perhaps unjustly with the opposite
public-house--she seemed somehow greasy with the same grease--and whose
furtive eye followed every movement of my hand as to see if it weren't
going into my pocket. It didn't take this direction--I couldn't,
unsolicited, put myself at that sort of ease with Brooksmith. Several
times the door of the room opened and mysterious old women peeped in and
shuffled back again. I don't know who they were; poor Brooksmith seemed
encompassed with vague prying beery females.

He was vague himself, and evidently weak, and much embarrassed, and not
an allusion was made between us to Mansfield Street. The vision of the
salon of which he had been an ornament hovered before me however, by
contrast, sufficiently. He assured me he was really getting better, and
his mother remarked that he would come round if he could only get his
spirits up. The aunt echoed this opinion, and I became more sure that in
her own case she knew where to go for such a purpose. I'm afraid I was
rather weak with my old friend, for I neglected the opportunity, so
exceptionally good, to rebuke the levity which had led him to throw up
honourable positions--fine stiff steady berths in Bayswater and
Belgravia, with morning prayers, as I knew, attached to one of them.
Very likely his reasons had been profane and sentimental; he didn't want
morning prayers, he wanted to be somebody's dear fellow; but I couldn't
be the person to rebuke him. He shuffled these episodes out of sight--I
saw he had no wish to discuss them. I noted further, strangely enough,
that it would probably be a questionable pleasure for him to see me
again: he doubted now even of my power to condone his aberrations. He
didn't wish to have to explain; and his behaviour was likely in future
to need explanation. When I bade him farewell he looked at me a moment
with eyes that said everything: "How can I talk about those exquisite
years in this place, before these people, with the old women poking
their heads in? It was very good of you to come to see me; it wasn't my
idea--SHE brought you. We've said everything; it's over; you'll lose all
patience with me, and I'd rather you shouldn't see the rest." I sent him
some money in a letter the next day, but I saw the rest only in the
light of a barren sequel.

A whole year after my visit to him I became aware once, in dining out,
that Brooksmith was one of the several servants who hovered behind our
chairs. He hadn't opened the door of the house to me, nor had I
recognised him in the array of retainers in the hall. This time I tried
to catch his eye, but he never gave me a chance, and when he handed me a
dish I could only be careful to thank him audibly. Indeed I partook of
two ENTRÉES of which I had my doubts, subsequently converted into
certainties, in order not to snub him. He looked well enough in health,
but much older, and wore in an exceptionally marked degree the glazed
and expressionless mask of the British domestic DE RACE. I saw with
dismay that if I hadn't known him I should have taken him, on the
showing of his countenance, for an extravagant illustration of
irresponsive servile gloom. I said to myself that he had become a
reactionary, gone over to the Philistines, thrown himself into religion,
the religion of his "place," like a foreign lady SUR LE RETOUR. I
divined moreover that he was only engaged for the evening--he had become
a mere waiter, had joined the band of the white-waistcoated who "go
out." There was something pathetic in this fact--it was a terrible
vulgarisation of Brooksmith. It was the mercenary prose of butlerhood;
he had given up the struggle for the poetry. If reciprocity was what he
had missed where was the reciprocity now? Only in the bottoms of the
wine-glasses and the five shillings--or whatever they get--clapped into
his hand by the permanent man. However, I supposed he had taken up a
precarious branch of his profession because it after all sent him less
downstairs. His relations with London society were more superficial, but
they were of course more various. As I went away on this occasion I
looked out for him eagerly among the four or five attendants whose
perpendicular persons, fluting the walls of London passages, are
supposed to lubricate the process of departure; but he was not on duty.
I asked one of the others if he were not in the house, and received the
prompt answer: "Just left, sir. Anything I can do for you, sir?" I
wanted to say "Please give him my kind regards"; but I abstained--I
didn't want to compromise him; and I never came across him again.

Often and often, in dining out, I looked for him, sometimes accepting
invitations on purpose to multiply the chances of my meeting him. But
always in vain; so that as I met many other members of the casual class
over and over again I at last adopted the theory that he always procured
a list of expected guests beforehand and kept away from the banquets
which he thus learned I was to grace. At last I gave up hope, and one
day at the end of three years I received another visit from his aunt.
She was drearier and dingier, almost squalid, and she was in great
tribulation and want. Her sister, Mrs. Brooksmith, had been dead a year,
and three months later her nephew had disappeared. He had always looked
after her a bit since her troubles; I never knew what her troubles had
been--and now she hadn't so much as a petticoat to pawn. She had also a
niece, to whom she had been everything before her troubles, but the
niece had treated her most shameful. These were details; the great and
romantic fact was Brooksmith's final evasion of his fate. He had gone
out to wait one evening as usual, in a white waistcoat she had done up
for him with her own hands--being due at a large party up Kensington
way. But he had never come home again and had never arrived at the large
party, nor at any party that any one could make out. No trace of him had
come to light--no gleam of the white waistcoat had pierced the obscurity
of his doom. This news was a sharp shock to me, for I had my ideas about
his real destination. His aged relative had promptly, as she said,
guessed the worst. Somehow, and somewhere he had got out of the way
altogether, and now I trust that, with characteristic deliberation, he
is changing the plates of the immortal gods. As my depressing visitant
also said, he never HAD got his spirits up. I was fortunately able to
dismiss her with her own somewhat improved. But the dim ghost of poor
Brooksmith is one of those that I see. He had indeed been spoiled.



THE REAL THING



CHAPTER I


When the porter's wife, who used to answer the house-bell, announced "A
gentleman and a lady, sir," I had, as I often had in those days--the
wish being father to the thought--an immediate vision of sitters.
Sitters my visitors in this case proved to be; but not in the sense I
should have preferred. There was nothing at first however to indicate
that they mightn't have come for a portrait. The gentleman, a man of
fifty, very high and very straight, with a moustache slightly grizzled
and a dark grey walking-coat admirably fitted, both of which I noted
professionally--I don't mean as a barber or yet as a tailor--would have
struck me as a celebrity if celebrities often were striking. It was a
truth of which I had for some time been conscious that a figure with a
good deal of frontage was, as one might say, almost never a public
institution. A glance at the lady helped to remind me of this
paradoxical law: she also looked too distinguished to be a
"personality." Moreover one would scarcely come across two variations
together.

Neither of the pair immediately spoke--they only prolonged the
preliminary gaze suggesting that each wished to give the other a chance.
They were visibly shy; they stood there letting me take them in--which,
as I afterwards perceived, was the most practical thing they could have
done. In this way their embarrassment served their cause. I had seen
people painfully reluctant to mention that they desired anything so
gross as to be represented on canvas; but the scruples of my new friends
appeared almost insurmountable. Yet the gentleman might have said "I
should like a portrait of my wife," and the lady might have said "I
should like a portrait of my husband." Perhaps they weren't husband and
wife--this naturally would make the matter more delicate. Perhaps they
wished to be done together--in which case they ought to have brought a
third person to break the news.

"We come from Mr. Rivet," the lady finally said with a dim smile that
had the effect of a moist sponge passed over a "sunk" piece of painting,
as well as of a vague allusion to vanished beauty. She was as tall and
straight, in her degree, as her companion, and with ten years less to
carry. She looked as sad as a woman could look whose face was not
charged with expression; that is her tinted oval mask showed waste as an
exposed surface shows friction. The hand of time had played over her
freely, but to an effect of elimination. She was slim and stiff, and so
well-dressed, in dark blue cloth, with lappets and pockets and buttons,
that it was clear she employed the same tailor as her husband. The
couple had an indefinable air of prosperous thrift--they evidently got a
good deal of luxury for their money. If I was to be one of their
luxuries it would behove me to consider my terms.

"Ah Claude Rivet recommended me?" I echoed and I added that it was very
kind of him, though I could reflect that, as he only painted landscape,
this wasn't a sacrifice.

The lady looked very hard at the gentleman, and the gentleman looked
round the room. Then staring at the floor a moment and stroking his
moustache, he rested his pleasant eyes on me with the remark: "He said
you were the right one."

"I try to be, when people want to sit."

"Yes, we should like to," said the lady anxiously.

"Do you mean together?"

My visitors exchanged a glance. "If you could do anything with ME I
suppose it would be double," the gentleman stammered.

"Oh yes, there's naturally a higher charge for two figures than for
one."

"We should like to make it pay," the husband confessed.

"That's very good of you," I returned, appreciating so unwonted a
sympathy--for I supposed he meant pay the artist.

A sense of strangeness seemed to dawn on the lady. "We mean for the
illustrations--Mr. Rivet said you might put one in."

"Put in--an illustration?" I was equally confused.

"Sketch her off, you know," said the gentleman, colouring.

It was only then that I understood the service Claude Rivet had rendered
me; he had told them how I worked in black-and-white, for magazines, for
story-books, for sketches of contemporary life, and consequently had
copious employment for models. These things were true, but it was not
less true--I may confess it now; whether because the aspiration was to
lead to everything or to nothing I leave the reader to guess--that I
couldn't get the honours, to say nothing of the emoluments, of a great
painter of portraits out of my head. My "illustrations" were my
pot-boilers; I looked to a different branch of art--far and away the
most interesting it had always seemed to me--to perpetuate my fame.
There was no shame in looking to it also to make my fortune but that
fortune was by so much further from being made from the moment my
visitors wished to be "done" for nothing. I was disappointed; for in the
pictorial sense I had immediately SEEN them. I had seized their type--I
had already settled what I would do with it. Something that wouldn't
absolutely have pleased them, I afterwards reflected.

"Ah you're--you're--a--?" I began as soon as I had mastered my surprise.
I couldn't bring out the dingy word "models": it seemed so little to fit
the case.

"We haven't had much practice," said the lady.

"We've got to do something, and we've thought that an artist in your
line might perhaps make something of us," her husband threw off. He
further mentioned that they didn't know many artists and that they had
gone first, on the off-chance--he painted views of course, but sometimes
put in figures; perhaps I remembered--to Mr. Rivet, whom they had met a
few years before at a place in Norfolk where he was sketching.

"We used to sketch a little ourselves," the lady hinted.

"It's very awkward, but we absolutely must do something," her husband
went on.

"Of course we're not so VERY young," she admitted with a wan smile.

With the remark that I might as well know something more about them the
husband had handed me a card extracted from a neat new
pocket-book--their appurtenances were all of the freshest--and inscribed
with the words "Major Monarch." Impressive as these words were they
didn't carry my knowledge much further; but my visitor presently added:
"I've left the army and we've had the misfortune to lose our money. In
fact our means are dreadfully small."

"It's awfully trying--a regular strain,", said Mrs. Monarch.

They evidently wished to be discreet--to take care not to swagger
because they were gentlefolk. I felt them willing to recognise this as
something of a drawback, at the same time that I guessed at an
underlying sense--their consolation in adversity--that they HAD their
points. They certainly had; but these advantages struck me as
preponderantly social; such for instance as would help to make a
drawing-room look well. However, a drawing-room was always, or ought to
be, a picture.

In consequence of his wife's allusion to their age Major Monarch
observed: "Naturally it's more for the figure that we thought of going
in. We can still hold ourselves up." On the instant I saw that the
figure was indeed their strong point. His "naturally" didn't sound vain,
but it lighted up the question. "SHE has the best one," he continued,
nodding at his wife with a pleasant after-dinner absence of
circumlocution. I could only reply, as if we were in fact sitting over
our wine, that this didn't prevent his own from being very good; which
led him in turn to make answer: "We thought that if you ever have to do
people like us we might be something like it. SHE particularly--for a
lady in a book, you know."

I was so amused by them that, to get more of it, I did my best to take
their point of view; and though it was an embarrassment to find myself
appraising physically, as if they were animals on hire or useful blacks,
a pair whom I should have expected to meet only in one of the relations
in which criticism is tacit, I looked at Mrs. Monarch judicially enough
to be able to exclaim after a moment with conviction: "Oh yes, a lady in
a book!" She was singularly like a bad illustration.

"We'll stand up, if you like," said the Major; and he raised himself
before me with a really grand air.

I could take his measure at a glance--he was six feet two and a perfect
gentleman. It would have paid any club in process of formation and in
want of a stamp to engage him at a salary to stand in the principal
window. What struck me at once was that in coming to me they had rather
missed their vocation; they could surely have been turned to better
account for advertising purposes. I couldn't of course see the thing in
detail, but I could see them make somebody's fortune--I don't mean their
own. There was something in them for a waistcoat-maker, an hotel-keeper
or a soap-vendor. I could imagine "We always use it" pinned on their
bosoms with the greatest effect; I had a vision of the brilliancy with
which they would launch a table d'hôte.

Mrs. Monarch sat still, not from pride but from shyness, and presently
her husband said to her: "Get up, my dear, and show how smart you are."
She obeyed, but she had no need to get up to show it. She walked to the
end of the studio and then came back blushing, her fluttered eyes on the
partner of her appeal. I was reminded of an incident I had accidentally
had a glimpse of in Paris--being with a friend there, a dramatist about
to produce a play, when an actress came to him to ask to be entrusted
with a part. She went through her paces before him, walked up and down
as Mrs. Monarch was doing. Mrs. Monarch did it quite as well, but I
abstained from applauding. It was very odd to see such people apply for
such poor pay. She looked as if she had ten thousand a year. Her husband
had used the word that described her: she was in the London current
jargon essentially and typically "smart." Her figure was, in the same
order of ideas, conspicuously and irreproachably "good." For a woman of
her age her waist was surprisingly small; her elbow moreover had the
orthodox crook. She held her head at the conventional angle, but why did
she come to ME? She ought to have tried on jackets at a big shop. I
feared my visitors were not only destitute but "artistic"--which would
be a great complication. When she sat down again I thanked her,
observing that what a draughtsman most valued in his model was the
faculty of keeping quiet.

"Oh SHE can keep quiet," said Major Monarch. Then he added jocosely:
"I've always kept her quiet."

"I'm not a nasty fidget, am I?" It was going to wring tears from me, I
felt, the way she hid her head, ostrich-like, in the other broad bosom.

The owner of this expanse addressed his answer to me. "Perhaps it isn't
out of place to mention--because we ought to be quite business-like,
oughtn't we?--that when I married her she was known as the Beautiful
Statue."

"Oh dear!" said Mrs. Monarch ruefully.

"Of course I should want a certain amount of expression," I rejoined.

"Of COURSE!"--and I had never heard such unanimity.

"And then I suppose you know that you'll get awfully tired."

"Oh we NEVER get tired!" they eagerly cried.

"Have you had any kind of practice?"

They hesitated--they looked at each other. "We've been
photographed--IMMENSELY," said Mrs. Monarch.

"She means the fellows have asked us themselves," added the Major.

"I see--because you're so good-looking."

"I don't know what they thought, but they were always after us."

"We always got our photographs for nothing," smiled Mrs. Monarch.

"We might have brought some, my dear," her husband remarked.

"I'm not sure we have any left. We've given quantities away," she
explained to me.

"With our autographs and that sort of thing," said the Major.

"Are they to be got in the shops?" I inquired as a harmless pleasantry.

"Oh yes, HERS--they used to be."

"Not now," said Mrs. Monarch with her eyes on the floor.



CHAPTER II


I could fancy the "sort of thing" they put on the presentation copies of
their photographs, and I was sure they wrote a beautiful hand. It was
odd how quickly I was sure of everything that concerned them. If they
were now so poor as to have to cam shillings and pence they could never
have had much of a margin. Their good looks had been their capital, and
they had good-humouredly made the most of the career that this resource
marked out for them. It was in their faces, the blankness, the deep
intellectual repose of the twenty years of country-house visiting that
had given them pleasant intonations. I could see the sunny
drawing-rooms, sprinkled with periodicals she didn't read, in which Mrs.
Monarch had continuously sat; I could see the wet shrubberies in which
she had walked, equipped to admiration for either exercise. I could see
the rich covers the Major had helped to shoot and the wonderful garments
in which, late at night, he repaired to the smoking-room to talk about
them. I could imagine their leggings and waterproofs, their knowing
tweeds and rugs, their rolls of sticks and cases of tackle and neat
umbrellas; and I could evoke the exact appearance of their servants and
the compact variety of their luggage on the platforms of country
stations.

They gave small tips, but they were liked; they didn't do anything
themselves, but they were welcome. They looked so well everywhere; they
gratified the general relish for stature, complexion and "form." They
knew it without fatuity or vulgarity, and they respected themselves in
consequence. They weren't superficial: they were thorough and kept
themselves up--it had been their line. People with such a taste for
activity had to have some line. I could feel how even in a dull house
they could have been counted on for the joy of life. At present
something had happened--it didn't matter what, their little income had
grown less, it had grown least--and they had to do something for
pocket-money. Their friends could like them, I made out, without liking
to support them. There was something about them that represented
credit--their clothes, their manners, their type; but if credit is a
large empty pocket in which an occasional chink reverberates, the chink
at least must be audible. What they wanted of me was help to make it so.
Fortunately they had no children--I soon divined that. They would also
perhaps wish our relations to be kept secret: this was why it was "for
the figure"--the reproduction of the face would betray them.

I liked them--I felt, quite as their friends must have done--they were
so simple; and I had no objection to them if they would suit. But
somehow with all their perfections I didn't easily believe in them.
After all they were amateurs, and the ruling passion of my life was--the
detestation of the amateur. Combined with this was another
perversity--an innate preference for the represented subject over the
real one: the defect of the real one was so apt to be a lack of
representation. I liked things that appeared; then one was sure. Whether
they WERE or not was a subordinate and almost always a profitless
question. There were other considerations, the first of which was that I
already had two or three recruits in use, notably a young person with
big feet, in alpaca, from Kilburn, who for a couple of years had come to
me regularly for my illustrations and with whom I was still--perhaps
ignobly--satisfied. I frankly explained to my visitors how the case
stood, but they had taken more precautions than I supposed. They had
reasoned out their opportunity, for Claude Rivet had told them of the
projected ÉDITION DE LUXE of one of the writers of our day--the rarest
of the novelists--who, long neglected by the multitudinous vulgar, and
dearly prized by the attentive (need I mention Philip Vincent?) had had
the happy fortune of seeing, late in life, the dawn and then the full
light of a higher criticism; an estimate in which on the part of the
public there was something really of expiation. The edition preparing,
planned by a publisher of taste, was practically an act of high
reparation; the woodcuts with which it was to be enriched were the
homage of English art to one of the most independent representatives of
English letters. Major and Mrs. Monarch confessed to me they had hoped I
might be able to work THEM into my branch of the enterprise. They knew I
was to do the first of the books, Rutland Ramsay, but I had to make
clear to them that my participation in the rest of the affair--this
first book was to be a test--must depend on the satisfaction I should
give. If this should be limited my employers would drop me with scarce
common forms. It was therefore a crisis for me, and naturally I was
making special preparations, looking about for new people, should they
be necessary, and securing the best types. I admitted however that I
should like to settle down to two or three good models who would do for
everything.

"Should we have often to--a--put on special clothes?" Mrs. Monarch
timidly demanded.

"Dear yes--that's half the business."

"And should we be expected to supply our own costumes?

"Oh no; I've got a lot of things. A painter's models put on--or put
off--anything he likes."

"And you mean--a--the same?"

"The same?"

Mrs. Monarch looked at her husband again.

"Oh she was just wondering," he explained, "if the costumes are in
GENERAL use." I had to confess that they were, and I mentioned further
that some of them--I had a lot of, genuine greasy last-century
things--had served their time, a hundred years ago, on living,
world-stained men and women; on figures not perhaps so far removed, in
that vanished world, from THEIR type, the Monarchs', QUOI! of a breeched
and bewigged age. "We'll put, on anything that FITS," said the Major.

"Oh I arrange that--they fit in the pictures."

"I'm afraid I should do better for the modern books. I'd come as you
like," said Mrs. Monarch.

"She has got a lot of clothes at home: they might do for contemporary
life," her husband continued.

"Oh I can fancy scenes in which you'd be quite natural." And indeed I
could see the slipshod re-arrangements of stale properties--the stories
I tried to produce pictures for without the exasperation of reading
them--whose sandy tracts the good lady might help to people. But I had
to return to the fact that--for this sort of work--the daily mechanical
grind--I was already equipped: the people I was working with were fully
adequate.

"We only thought we might be more like SOME characters," said Mrs.
Monarch mildly, getting up.

Her husband also rose; he stood looking at me with a dim wistfulness
that was touching in so fine a man. "Wouldn't it be rather a pull
sometimes to have--a--to have--?" He hung fire; he wanted me to help him
by phrasing what he meant. But I couldn't--I didn't know. So he brought
it out awkwardly: "The REAL thing; a gentleman, you know, or a lady." I
was quite ready to give a general assent--I admitted that there was a
great deal in that. This encouraged Major Monarch to say, following up
his appeal with an unacted gulp: "It's awfully hard--we've tried
everything." The gulp was communicative; it proved too much for his
wife. Before I knew it Mrs. Monarch had dropped again upon a divan and
burst into tears. Her husband sat down beside her, holding one of her
hands; whereupon she quickly dried her eyes with the other, while I felt
embarrassed as she looked up at me. "There isn't a confounded job I
haven't applied for--waited for--prayed for. You can fancy we'd be
pretty bad first. Secretaryships and that sort of thing? You might as
well ask for a peerage. I'd be ANYTHING--I'm strong; a messenger or a
coalheaver. I'd put on a gold-laced cap and open carriage-doors in front
of the haberdasher's; I'd hang about a station to carry portmanteaux;
I'd be a postman. But they won't LOOK at you; there are thousands as
good as yourself already on the ground. GENTLEMEN, poor beggars, who've
drunk their wine, who've kept their hunters!"

I was as reassuring as I knew how to be, and my visitors were presently
on their feet again while, for the experiment, we agreed on an hour. We
were discussing it when the door opened and Miss Churm came in with a
wet umbrella. Miss Churm had to take the omnibus to Maida Vale and then
walk half a mile. She looked a trifle blowsy and slightly splashed. I
scarcely ever saw her come in without thinking afresh how odd it was
that, being so little in herself, she should yet be so much in others.
She was a meagre little Miss Churm, but was such an ample heroine of
romance. She was only a freckled cockney, but she could represent
everything, from a fine lady to a shepherdess, she had the faculty as
she might have had a fine voice or long hair. She couldn't spell and she
loved beer, but she had two or three "points," and practice, and a
knack, and mother-wit, and a whimsical sensibility, and a love of the
theatre, and seven sisters,--and not an ounce of respect, especially for
the H. The first thing my visitors saw was that her umbrella was wet,
and in their spotless perfection they visibly winced at it. The rain had
come on since their arrival.

"I'm all in a soak; there WAS a mess of people in the 'bus. I wish you
lived near a stytion," said Miss Churm. I requested her to get ready as
quickly as possible, and she passed into the room in which she always
changed her dress. But before going out she asked me what she was to get
into this time.

"It's the Russian princess, don't you know?" I answered; "the one with
the 'golden eyes,' in black velvet, for the long thing in the
CHEAPSIDE."

"Golden eyes? I SAY!" cried Miss Churm, while my companions watched her
with intensity as she withdrew. She always arranged herself, when she
was late, before I could turn round; and I kept my visitors a little on
purpose, so that they might get an idea, from seeing her, what would be
expected of themselves. I mentioned that she was quite my notion of an
excellent model--she was really very clever.

"Do you think she looks like a Russian princess?" Major Monarch asked
with lurking alarm.

"When I make her, yes."

"Oh if you have to MAKE her--!" he reasoned, not without point.

"That's the most you can ask. There are so many who are not makeable."

"Well now, HERE'S a lady"--and with a persuasive smile he passed his arm
into his wife's--"who's already made!"

"Oh I'm not a Russian princess," Mrs. Monarch protested a little coldly.
I could see she had known some and didn't like them. There at once was a
complication of a kind I never had to fear with Miss Churm.

This young lady came back in black velvet--the gown was rather rusty and
very low on her lean shoulders--and with a Japanese fan in her red
hands. I reminded her that in the scene I was doing she had to look over
some one's head. "I forget whose it is but it doesn't matter. Just look
over a head."

"I'd rather look over a stove," said Miss Churm and she took her station
near the fire. She fell into Position, settled herself into a tall
attitude, gave a certain backward inclination to her head and a certain
forward droop to her fan, and looked, at least to my prejudiced sense,
distinguished and charming, foreign and dangerous. We left her looking
so while I went downstairs with Major and Mrs. Monarch.

"I believe I could come about as near it as that," said Mrs. Monarch.

"Oh you think she's shabby, but you must allow for the alchemy of art."

However, they went off with an evident increase of comfort founded on
their demonstrable advantage in being the real thing. I could fancy them
shuddering over Miss Churm. She was very droll about them when I went
back, for I told her what they wanted.

"Well, if SHE can sit I'll tyke to bookkeeping," said my model.

"She's very ladylike," I replied as an innocent form of aggravation.

"So much the worse for YOU. That means she can't turn round."

"She'll do for the fashionable novels."

"Oh yes, she'll DO for them!" my model humorously declared. "Ain't they
bad enough without her?" I had often sociably denounced them to Miss
Churm.



CHAPTER III


It was for the elucidation of a mystery in one of these works that I
first tried Mrs. Monarch. Her husband came with her, to be useful if
necessary--it was sufficiently clear that as a general thing he would
prefer to come with her. At first I wondered if this were for
"propriety's" sake--if he were going to be jealous and meddling. The
idea was too tiresome, and if it had been confirmed it would speedily
have brought our acquaintance to a close. But I soon saw there was
nothing in it and that if he accompanied Mrs. Monarch it was--in
addition to the chance of being wanted--simply because he had nothing
else to do. When they were separate his occupation was gone, and they
never HAD been separate. I judged rightly that in their awkward
situation their close union was their main comfort and that this union
had no weak spot. It was a real marriage, an encouragement to the
hesitating, a nut for pessimists to crack. Their address was humble--I
remember afterwards thinking it had been the only thing about them that
was really professional--and I could fancy the lamentable lodgings in
which the Major would have been left alone. He could sit there more or
less grimly with his wife--he couldn't sit there anyhow without her.

He had too much tact to try and make himself agreeable when he couldn't
be useful; so when I was too absorbed in my work to talk he simply sat
and waited. But I liked to hear him talk--it made my work, when not
interrupting it, less mechanical, less special. To listen to him was to
combine the excitement of going out with the economy of staying at home.
There was only one hindrance--that I seemed not to know any of the
people this brilliant couple had known. I think he wondered extremely,
during the term of our intercourse, whom the deuce I DID know. He hadn't
a stray sixpence of an idea to fumble for, so we didn't spin it very
fine; we confined ourselves to questions of leather and even of
liquor-saddlers and breeches-makers and how to get excellent claret
cheap--and matters like "good trains" and the habits of small game. His
lore on these last subjects was astonishing--he managed to interweave
the station-master with the ornithologist. When he couldn't talk about
greater things he could talk cheerfully about smaller, and since I
couldn't accompany him into reminiscences of the fashionable world he
could lower the conversation without a visible effort to my level.

So earnest a desire to please was touching in a man who could so easily
have knocked one down. He looked after the fire and had an opinion on
the draught of the stove without my asking him, and I could see that he
thought many of my arrangements not half knowing. I remember telling him
that if I were only rich I'd offer him a salary to come and teach me how
to live. Sometimes he gave a random sigh of which the essence might have
been: "Give me even such a bare old-barrack as this, and I'd do
something with it!" When I wanted to use him he came alone; which was an
illustration of the superior courage of women. His wife could bear her
solitary second floor, and she was in general more discreet; showing by
various small reserves that she was alive to the propriety of keeping
our relations markedly professional--not letting them slide into
sociability. She wished it to remain clear that she and the Major were
employed, not cultivated, and if she approved of me as a superior, who
could be kept in his place, she never thought me quite good enough for
an equal.

She sat with great intensity, giving the whole of her mind to it, and
was capable of remaining for an hour almost as motionless as before a
photographer's lens. I could see she had been photographed often, but
somehow the very habit that made her good for that purpose unfitted her
for mine. At first I was extremely pleased with her ladylike air, and it
was a satisfaction, on coming to follow her lines, to see how good they
were and how far they could lead the pencil. But after a little
skirmishing I began to find her too insurmountably stiff; do what I
would with it my drawing looked like a photograph or a copy of a
photograph. Her figure had no variety of expression--she herself had no
sense of variety. You may say that this was my business and was only a
question of placing her. Yet I placed her in every conceivable position
and she managed to obliterate their differences. She was always a lady
certainly, and into the bargain was always the same lady. She was the
real thing, but always the same thing. There were moments when I rather
writhed under the serenity of her confidence that she WAS the real
thing. All her dealings with me and all her husband's were an
implication that this was lucky for ME. Meanwhile I found myself trying
to invent types that approached her own, instead of making her own
transform itself--in the clever way that was not impossible for instance
to poor Miss Churm. Arrange as I would and take the precautions I would,
she always came out, in my pictures, too tall--landing me in the dilemma
of having represented a fascinating woman as seven feet high, which (out
of respect perhaps to my own very much scantier inches) was far from my
idea of such a personage.

The case was worse with the Major--nothing I could do would keep HIM
down, so that he became useful only for the representation of brawny
giants. I adored variety and range, I cherished human accidents, the
illustrative note; I wanted to characterise closely, and the thing in
the world I most hated was the danger of being ridden by a type. I had
quarrelled with some of my friends about it; I had parted company with
them for maintaining that one HAD to be, and that if the type was
beautiful--witness Raphael and Leonardo--the servitude was only a gain.
I was neither Leonardo nor Raphael--I might only be a presumptuous young
modern searcher; but I held that everything was to be sacrificed sooner
than character. When they claimed that the obsessional form could easily
BE character I retorted, perhaps superficially, "Whose?" It couldn't be
everybody's--it might end in being nobody's.

After I had drawn Mrs. Monarch a dozen times I felt surer even than
before that the value of such a model as Miss Churm resided precisely in
the fact that she had no positive stamp, combined of course with the
other fact that what she did have was a curious and inexplicable talent
for imitation. Her usual appearance was like a curtain which--she could
draw up at request for a capital performance. This performance was
simply suggestive; but it was a word to the wise--it was vivid and
pretty. Sometimes even I thought it, though she was plain herself, too
insipidly pretty; I made it a reproach to her that the figures drawn
from her were monotonously (BÊTEMENT, as we used to say) graceful.
Nothing made her more angry: it was so much her pride to feel she could
sit for characters that had nothing in common with each other. She would
accuse me at such moments of taking away her "reputytion."

It suffered a certain shrinkage, this queer quantity, from the repeated
visits of my new friends. Miss Churm was greatly in demand, never in
want of employment, so I had no scruple in putting her off occasionally,
to try them more at my ease. It was certainly amusing at first to do the
real thing--it was amusing to do Major Monarch's trousers. They WERE the
real thing, even if he did come out colossal. It was amusing to do his
wife's back hair--it was so mathematically neat--and the particular
"smart" tension of her tight stays. She lent herself especially to
positions in which the face was somewhat averted or blurred, she
abounded in ladylike back views and PROFILS PERDUS. When she stood erect
she took naturally one of the attitudes in which court-painters
represent queens and princesses; so that I found myself wondering
whether, to draw out this accomplishment, I couldn't get the editor of
the CHEAPSIDE to publish a really royal romance, "A Tale of Buckingham
Palace." Sometimes however the real thing and the make-believe came into
contact; by which I mean that Miss Churm, keeping an appointment or
coming to make one on days when I had much work in hand, encountered her
invidious rivals. The encounter was not on their part, for they noticed
her no more than if she had been the housemaid; not from intentional
loftiness, but simply because as yet, professionally, they didn't know
how to fraternise, as I could imagine they would have liked--or at least
that the Major would. They couldn't talk about the omnibus--they always
walked; and they didn't know what else to try--she wasn't interested in
good trains or cheap claret. Besides, they must have felt--in the
air--that she was amused at them, secretly derisive of their ever
knowing how. She wasn't a person to conceal the limits of her faith if
she had had a chance to show them. On the other hand Mrs. Monarch didn't
think her tidy; for why else did she take pains to say to me--it was
going out of the way, for Mrs. Monarch--that she didn't like dirty
women?

One day when my young lady happened to be present with my other
sitters--she even dropped in, when it was convenient, for a chat--I
asked her to be so good as to lend a hand in getting tea, a service with
which she was familiar and which was one of a class that, living as I
did in a small way, with slender domestic resources, I often appealed to
my models to render. They liked to lay hands on my property, to break
the sitting, and sometimes the china--it made them feel Bohemian. The
next time I saw Miss Churm after this incident she surprised me greatly
by making a scene about it--she accused me of having wished to humiliate
her. She hadn't resented the outrage at the time, but had seemed
obliging and amused, enjoying the comedy of asking Mrs. Monarch, who sat
vague and silent, whether she would have cream and sugar, and putting an
exaggerated simper into the question. She had tried intonations--as if
she too wished to pass for the real thing--till I was afraid my other
visitors would take offence.

Oh they were determined not to do this, and their touching patience was
the measure of their great need. They would sit by the hour,
uncomplaining, till I was ready to use them; they would come back on the
chance of being wanted and would walk away cheerfully if it failed. I
used to go to the door with them to see in what magnificent order they
retreated. I tried to find other employment for them--I introduced them
to several artists. But they didn't "take," for reasons I could
appreciate, and I became rather anxiously aware that after such
disappointments they fell back upon me with a heavier weight. They did
me the honour to think me most their form. They weren't romantic enough
for the painters, and in those days there were few serious workers in
black-and-white.

Besides, they had an eye to the great job I had mentioned to them--they
had secretly set their hearts on supplying the right essence for my
pictorial vindication of our fine novelist. They knew that for this
undertaking I should want no costume--effects, none of the frippery of
past ages--that it was a case in which everything would be contemporary
and satirical and presumably genteel. If I could work them into it their
future would be assured, for the labour would of course be long and the
occupation steady.

One day Mrs. Monarch came without her husband--she explained his absence
by his having had to go to the City. While she sat there in her usual
relaxed majesty there came at the door a knock which I immediately
recognised as the subdued appeal of a model out of work. It was followed
by the entrance of a young man whom I at once saw to be a foreigner and
who proved in fact an Italian acquainted with no English word but my
name, which he uttered in a way that made it seem to include all others.
I hadn't then visited his country, nor was I proficient in his tongue;
but as he was not so meanly constituted--what Italian is?--as to depend
only on that member for expression he conveyed to me, in familiar but
graceful mimicry, that he was in search of exactly the employment in
which the lady before me was engaged. I was not struck with him at
first, and while I continued to draw I dropped few signs of interest or
encouragement. He stood his ground however--not importunately, but with
a dumb dog-like fidelity in his eyes that amounted to innocent
impudence, the manner of a devoted servant--he might have been in the
house for years--unjustly suspected. Suddenly it struck me that this
very attitude and expression made a picture; whereupon I told him to sit
down and wait till I should be free. There was another picture in the
way he obeyed me, and I observed as I worked that there were others
still in the way he looked wonderingly, with his head thrown back, about
the high studio. He might have been crossing himself in Saint Peter's.
Before I finished I said to myself "The fellow's a bankrupt
orange-monger, but a treasure."

When Mrs. Monarch withdrew he passed across the room like a flash to
open the door for her, standing there with the rapt pure gaze of the
young Dante spellbound by the young Beatrice. As I never insisted, in
such situations, on the blankness of the British domestic, I reflected
that he had the making of a servant--and I needed one, but couldn't pay
him to be only that--as well as of a model; in short I resolved to adopt
my bright adventurer if he would agree to officiate in the double
capacity. He jumped at my offer, and in the event my rashness--for I had
really known nothing about him--wasn't brought home to me. He proved a
sympathetic though a desultory ministrant, and had in a wonderful degree
the SENTIMENT DE LA POSE. It was uncultivated, instinctive, a part of
the happy instinct that had guided him to my door and helped him to
spell out my name on the card nailed to it. He had had no other
introduction to me than a guess, from the shape of my high north window,
seen outside, that my place was a studio and that as a studio it would
contain an artist. He had wandered to England in search of fortune, like
other itinerants, and had embarked, with a partner and a small green
hand-cart, on the sale of penny ices. The ices had melted away and the
partner had dissolved in their train. My young man wore tight yellow
trousers with reddish stripes and his name was Oronte. He was sallow but
fair, and when I put him into some old clothes of my own he looked like
an Englishman. He was as good as Miss Churm, who could look, when
requested, like an Italian.



CHAPTER IV


I thought Mrs. Monarch's face slightly convulsed when, on her coming
back with her husband, she found Oronte installed. It was strange to
have to recognise in a scrap of a lazzarone a competitor to her
magnificent Major. It was she who scented danger first, for the Major
was anecdotically unconscious. But Oronte gave us tea, with a hundred
eager confusions--he had never been concerned in so queer a process--and
I think she thought better of me for having at last an "establishment."
They saw a couple of drawings that I had made of the establishment, and
Mrs. Monarch hinted that it never would have struck her he had sat for
them. "Now the drawings you make from US, they look exactly like us,"
she reminded me, smiling in triumph; and I recognised that this was
indeed just their defect. When I drew the Monarchs I couldn't anyhow get
away from them--get into the character I wanted to represent; and I
hadn't the least desire my model should be discoverable in my picture.
Miss Churm never was, and Mrs. Monarch thought I hid her, very properly,
because she was vulgar; whereas if she was lost it was only as the dead
who go to heaven are lost--in the gain of an angel the more.

By this time I had got a certain start with "Rutland Ramsay," the first
novel in the great projected series; that is I had produced a dozen
drawings, several with the help of the Major and his wife, and I had
sent them in for approval. My understanding with the publishers as I
have already hinted, had been that I was to be left to do my work, in
this particular case, as I liked, with the whole book committed to me;
but my connexion with the rest of the series was only contingent. There
were moments when, frankly, it WAS a comfort to have the real thing
under one's hand for there were characters in "Rutland Ramsay" that were
very much like it. There were people presumably as erect as the Major
and women of as good a fashion as Mrs. Monarch. There was a great deal
of country-house life-treated, it is true, in a fine fanciful ironical
generalised way--and there was a considerable implication of
knickerbockers and kilts. There were certain things I had to settle at
the outset; such things for instance as the exact appearance of the hero
and the particular bloom and figure of the heroine. The author of course
gave me a lead, but there was a margin for interpretation. I took the
Monarchs into my confidence, I told them frankly what I was about, I
mentioned my embarrassments and alternatives. "Oh take HIM!" Mrs.
Monarch murmured sweetly, looking at her husband; and "What could you
want better than my wife?" the Major inquired with the comfortable
candour that now prevailed between us.

I wasn't obliged to answer these remarks--I was only obliged to place my
sitters. I wasn't easy in mind, and I postponed a little timidly perhaps
the solving of my question. The book was a large canvas, the other
figures were numerous, and I worked off at first some of the episodes in
which the hero and the heroine were not concerned. When once I had set
THEM up I should have to stick to them--I couldn't make my young man
seven feet high in one place and five feet nine in another. I inclined
on the whole to the latter measurement, though the Major more than once
reminded me that he looked about as young as any one. It was indeed
quite possible to arrange him, for the figure, so that it would have
been difficult to detect his age. After the spontaneous Oronte had been
with me a month, and after I had given him to understand several times
over that his native exuberance would presently constitute an
insurmountable barrier to our further intercourse, I waked to a sense of
his heroic capacity. He was only five feet seven, but the remaining
inches were latent. I tried him almost secretly at first, for I was
really rather afraid of the judgement my other models would pass on such
a choice. If they regarded Miss Churm as little better than a snare what
would they think of the representation by a person so little the real
thing as an Italian street-vendor of a protagonist formed by a public
school?

If I went a little in fear of them it wasn't because they bullied me,
because they had got an oppressive foothold, but because in their really
pathetic decorum and mysteriously permanent newness they counted on me
so intensely. I was therefore very glad when Jack Hawley came home: he
was always of such good counsel. He painted badly himself, but there was
no one like him for putting his finger on the place. He had been absent
from England for a year; he had been somewhere--I don't remember
where--to get a fresh eye. I was in a good deal of dread of any such
organ, but we were old friends; he had been away for months and a sense
of emptiness was creeping into my life. I hadn't dodged a missile for a
year.

He came back with a fresh eye, but with the same old black velvet
blouse, and the first evening he spent in my studio we smoked cigarettes
till the small hours. He had done no work himself, he had only got the
eye; so the field was clear for the production of my little things. He
wanted to see what I had produced for the CHEAPSIDE, but he was
disappointed in the exhibition. That at least seemed the meaning of two
or three comprehensive groans which, as he lounged on my big divan, his
leg folded under him, looking at my latest drawings, issued from his
lips with the smoke of the cigarette.

"What's the matter with you?" I asked.

"What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing save that I'm mystified."

"You are indeed. You're quite off the hinge. What's the meaning of this
new fad?" And he tossed me, with visible irreverence, a drawing in which
I happened to have depicted both my elegant models. I asked if he didn't
think it good, and he replied that it struck him as execrable, given the
sort of thing I had always represented myself to him as wishing to
arrive at; but I let that pass--I was so anxious to see exactly what he
meant. The two figures in the picture looked colossal, but I supposed
this was not what he meant, inasmuch as, for aught he knew to the
contrary, I might have been trying for some such effect. I maintained
that I was working exactly in the same way as when he last had done me
the honour to tell me I might do something some day. "Well, there's a
screw loose somewhere," he answered; "wait a bit and I'll discover it."
I depended upon him to do so: where else was the fresh eye? But he
produced at last nothing more luminous than "I don't know--I don't like
your types." This was lame for a critic who had never consented to
discuss with me anything but the question of execution, the direction of
strokes and the mystery of values.

"In the drawings you've been looking at I think my types are very
handsome."

"Oh they won't do!"

"I've been working with new models."

"I see you have. THEY won't do."

"Are you very sure of that?"

"Absolutely--they're stupid."

"You mean I am--for I ought to get round that."

"You can't--with such people. Who are they?"

I told him, so far as was necessary, and he concluded heartlessly: "CE
SONT DES GENS QU'IL FAUT METTRE A LA PORTE."

"You've never seen them; they're awfully good"--I flew to their defence.

"Not seen them? Why all this recent work of yours drops to pieces with
them. It's all I want to see of them."

"No one else has said anything against it--the CHEAPSIDE people are
pleased."

"Every one else is an ass, and the CHEAPSIDE people the biggest asses of
all. Come, don't pretend at this time of day to have pretty illusions
about the public, especially about publishers and editors. It's not for
SUCH animals you work--it's for those who know, COLORO CHE SANNO; so
keep straight for me if you can't keep straight for yourself. There was
a certain sort of thing you used to try for--and a very good thing it
was. But this twaddle isn't in it." When I talked with Hawley later
about "Rutland Ramsay" and its possible successors he declared that I
must get back into my boat again or I should go to the bottom. His voice
in short was the voice of warning.

I noted the warning, but I didn't turn my friends out of doors. They
bored me a good deal; but the very fact that they bored me admonished me
not to sacrifice them--if there was anything to be done with
them--simply to irritation. As I look back at this phase they seem to me
to have pervaded my life not a little. I have a vision of them as most
of the time in my studio, seated against the wall on an old velvet bench
to be out of the way, and resembling the while a pair of patient
courtiers in a royal antechamber. I'm convinced that during the coldest
weeks of the winter they held their ground because it saved them fire.
Their newness was losing its gloss, and it was impossible not to feel
them objects of charity. Whenever Miss Churm arrived they went away, and
after I was fairly launched in "Rutland Ramsay" Miss Churm arrived
pretty often. They managed to express to me tacitly that they supposed I
wanted her for the low life of the book, and I let them suppose it,
since they had attempted to study the work--it was lying about the
studio--without discovering that it dealt only with the highest circles.
They had dipped into the most brilliant of our novelists without
deciphering many passages. I still took an hour from them, now and
again, in spite of Jack Hawley's warning: it would be time enough to
dismiss them, if dismissal should be necessary, when the rigour of the
season was over. Hawley had made their acquaintance--he had met them at
my fireside--and thought them a ridiculous pair. Learning that he was a
painter they tried to approach him, to show him too that they were the
real thing; but he looked at them across the big room, as if they were
miles away: they were a compendium of everything he most objected to in
the social system of his country. Such people as that, all convention
and patent-leather, with ejaculations that stopped conversation, had no
business in a studio. A studio was a place to learn to see, and how
could you see through a pair of feather-beds?

The main inconvenience I suffered at their hands was that at first I was
shy of letting it break upon them that my artful little servant had
begun to sit to me for "Rutland Ramsay." They knew I had been odd
enough--they were prepared by this time to allow oddity to artists--to
pick a foreign vagabond out of the streets when I might have had a
person with whiskers and credentials; but it was some time before they
learned how high I rated his accomplishments. They found him in an
attitude more than once, but they never doubted I was doing him as an
organ-grinder. There were several things they never guessed, and one of
them was that for a striking scene in the novel, in which a footman
briefly figured, it occurred to me to make use of Major Monarch as the
menial. I kept putting this off, I didn't like to ask him to don the
livery--besides the difficulty of finding a livery to fit him. At last,
one day late in the winter, when I was at work on the despised Oronte,
who caught one's idea on the wing, and was in the glow of feeling myself
go very straight, they came in, the Major and his wife, with their
society laugh about nothing (there was less and less to laugh at); came
in like country-callers--they always reminded me of that--who have
walked across the park after church and are presently persuaded to stay
to luncheon. Luncheon was over, but they could stay to tea--I knew they
wanted it. The fit was on me, however, and I couldn't let my ardour cool
and my work wait, with the fading daylight, while my model prepared it.
So I asked Mrs. Monarch if she would mind laying it out--a request which
for an instant brought all the blood to her face. Her eyes were on her
husband's for a second, and some mute telegraphy passed between them.
Their folly was over the next instant; his cheerful shrewdness put an
end to it. So far from pitying their wounded pride, I must add, I was
moved to give it as complete a lesson as I could. They bustled about
together and got out the cups and saucers and made the kettle boil. I
know they felt as if they were waiting on my servant, and when the tea
was prepared I said: "He'll have a cup, please--he's tired." Mrs.
Monarch brought him one where he stood, and he took it from her as if he
had been a gentleman at a party squeezing a crush-hat with an elbow.

Then it came over me that she had made a great effort for me--made it
with a kind of nobleness--and that I owed her a compensation. Each time
I saw her after this I wondered what the compensation could be. I
couldn't go on doing the wrong thing to oblige them. Oh it WAS the wrong
thing, the stamp of the work for which they sat--Hawley was not the only
person to say it now. I sent in a large number of the drawings I had
made for "Rutland Ramsay," and I received a warning that was more to the
point than Hawley's. The artistic adviser of the house for which I was
working was of opinion that many of my illustrations were not what had
been looked for. Most of these illustrations were the subjects in which
the Monarchs had figured. Without going into the question of what HAD
been looked for, I had to face the fact that at this rate I shouldn't
get the other books to do. I hurled myself in despair on Miss Churm--I
put her through all her paces. I not only adopted Oronte publicly as my
hero, but one morning when the Major looked in to see if I didn't
require him to finish a CHEAPSIDE figure for which he had begun to sit
the week before, I told him I had changed my mind--I'd do the drawing
from my man. At this my visitor turned pale and stood looking at me. "Is
HE your idea of an English gentleman?" he asked.

I was disappointed, I was nervous, I wanted to get on with my work; so.
I replied with irritation: "Oh my dear Major--I can't be ruined for
YOU!"

It was a horrid speech, but he stood another moment--after which,
without a word, he quitted the studio. I drew a long breath, for I said
to myself that I shouldn't see him again. I hadn't told him definitely
that I was in danger of having my work rejected, but I was vexed at his
not having felt the catastrophe in the air, read with me the moral of
our fruitless collaboration, the lesson that in the deceptive atmosphere
of art even the highest respectability may fail of being plastic.

I didn't owe my friends money, but I did see them again. They reappeared
together three days later, and, given all the other facts, there was
something tragic in that one. It was a clear proof they could find
nothing else in life to do. They had threshed the matter out in a dismal
conference--they had digested the bad news that they were not in for the
series. If they weren't useful to me even for the CHEAPSIDE their
function seemed difficult to determine, and I could only judge at first
that they had come, forgivingly, decorously, to take a last leave. This
made me rejoice in secret that I had little leisure for a scene; for I
had placed both my other models in position together and I was pegging
away at a drawing from which I hoped to derive glory. It had been
suggested by the passage in which Rutland Ramsay, drawing up a chair to
Artemisia's piano-stool, says extraordinary things to her while she
ostensibly fingers out a difficult piece of music. I had done Miss Churm
at the piano before--it was an attitude in which she knew how to take on
an absolutely poetic grace. I wished the two figures to "compose"
together with intensity, and my little Italian had entered perfectly
into my conception. The pair were vividly before me, the piano had been
pulled out; it was a charming show of blended youth and murmured love,
which I had only to catch and keep. My visitors stood and looked at it,
and I was friendly to them over my shoulder.

They made no response, but I was used to silent company and went on with
my work, only a little disconcerted--even though exhilarated by the
sense that this was at least the ideal thing--at not having got rid of
them after all. Presently I heard Mrs. Monarch's sweet voice beside or
rather above me: "I wish her hair were a little better done." I looked
up and she was staring with a strange fixedness at Miss Churm, whose
back was turned to her. "Do you mind my just touching it?" she went
on--a question which made me spring up for an instant as with the
instinctive fear that she might do the young lady a harm. But she
quieted me with a glance I shall never forget--I confess I should like
to have been able to paint that--and went for a moment to my model. She
spoke to her softly, laying a hand on her shoulder and bending over her;
and as the girl, understanding, gratefully assented, she disposed her
rough curls, with a few quick passes, in such a way as to make Miss
Churm's head twice as charming. It was one of the most heroic personal
services I've ever seen rendered. Then Mrs. Monarch turned away with a
low sigh and, looking about her as if for something to do, stooped to
the floor with a noble humility and picked up a dirty rag that had
dropped out of my paint-box.

The Major meanwhile had also been looking for something to do, and,
wandering to the other end of the studio, saw before him my
breakfast-things neglected, unremoved. "I say, can't I be useful HERE?"
he called out to me with an irrepressible quaver. I assented with a
laugh that I fear was awkward, and for the next ten minutes, while I
worked, I heard the light clatter of china and the tinkle of spoons and
glass. Mrs. Monarch assisted her husband--they washed up my crockery,
they put it away. They wandered off into my little scullery, and I
afterwards found that they had cleaned my knives and that my slender
stock of plate had an unprecedented surface. When it came over me, the
latent eloquence of what they were doing, I confess that my drawing was
blurred for a moment--the picture swam. They had accepted their failure,
but they couldn't accept their fate. They had bowed their heads in
bewilderment to the perverse and cruel law in virtue of which the real
thing could be so much less precious than the unreal; but they didn't
want to starve. If my servants were my models, then my models might be
my servants. They would reverse the parts--the others would sit for the
ladies and gentlemen and THEY would do the work. They would still be in
the studio--it was an intense dumb appeal to me not to turn them out.
"Take us on," they wanted to say--"we'll do ANYTHING."

My pencil dropped from my hand; my sitting was spoiled and I got rid of
my sitters, who were also evidently rather mystified and awestruck.
Then, alone with the Major and his wife I had a most uncomfortable
moment. He put their prayer into a single sentence: "I say, you
know--just let US do for you, can't you?" I couldn't--it was dreadful to
see them emptying my slops; but I pretended I could, to oblige them, for
about a week. Then I gave them a sum of money to go away, and I never
saw them again. I obtained the remaining books, but my friend Hawley
repeats that Major and Mrs. Monarch did me a permanent harm, got me into
false ways. If it be true I'm content to have paid the price--for the
memory.



THE STORY OF IT



CHAPTER I


The weather had turned so much worse that the rest of the day was
certainly lost. The wind had risen and the storm gathered force; they
gave from time to time a thump at the firm windows and dashed even
against those protected by the verandah their vicious splotches of rain.
Beyond the lawn, beyond the cliff, the great wet brush of the sky dipped
deep into the sea. But the lawn, already vivid with the touch of May,
showed a violence of watered green; the budding shrubs and trees
repeated the note as they tossed their thick masses, and the cold
troubled light, filling the pretty saloon, marked the spring afternoon
as sufficiently young. The two ladies seated there in silence could
pursue without difficulty--as well as, clearly, without
interruption--their respective tasks; a confidence expressed, when the
noise of the wind allowed it to be heard, by the sharp scratch of Mrs.
Dyott's pen at the table where she was busy with letters.

Her visitor, settled on a small sofa that, with a palm-tree, a screen, a
stool, a stand, a bowl of flowers and three photographs in silver
frames, had been arranged near the light wood-fire as a choice
"corner"--Maud Blessingbourne, her guest, turned audibly, though at
intervals neither brief nor regular, the leaves of a book covered in
lemon-coloured paper and not yet despoiled of a certain fresh crispness.
This effect of the volume, for the eye, would have made it, as
presumably the newest French novel--and evidently, from the attitude of
the reader, "good"--consort happily with the special tone of the room, a
consistent air of selection and suppression, one of the finer aesthetic
evolutions. If Mrs. Dyott was fond of ancient French furniture and
distinctly difficult about it, her inmates could be fond--with whatever
critical cocks of charming dark-braided heads over slender sloping
shoulders--of modern French authors. Nothing had passed for half an
hour--nothing at least, to be exact, but that each of the companions
occasionally and covertly intermitted her pursuit in such a manner as to
ascertain the degree of absorption of the other without turning round.
What their silence was charged with therefore was not only a sense of
the weather, but a sense, so to speak, of its own nature. Maud
Blessingbourne, when she lowered her book into her lap, closed her eyes
with a conscious patience that seemed to say she waited; but it was
nevertheless she who at last made the movement representing a snap of
their tension. She got up and stood by the fire, into which she looked a
minute; then came round and approached the window as if to see what was
really going on. At this Mrs. Dyott wrote with refreshed intensity. Her
little pile of letters had grown, and if a look of determination was
compatible with her fair and slightly faded beauty, the habit of
attending to her business could always keep pace with any excursion of
her thought. Yet she was the first who spoke.

"I trust your book has been interesting."

"Well enough; a little mild."

A louder throb of the tempest had blurred the sound of the words. "A
little wild?"

"Dear no--timid and tame; unless I've quite lost my sense."

"Perhaps you have," Mrs. Dyott placidly suggested--"reading so many."

Her companion made a motion of feigned despair. "Ah you take away my
courage for going to my room, as I was just meaning to, for another."

"Another French one?"

"I'm afraid."

"Do you carry them by the dozen--?"

"Into innocent British homes?" Maud tried to remember. "I believe I
brought three--seeing them in a shop-window as I passed through town. It
never rains but it pours! But I've already read two."

"And are they the only ones you do read?"

"French ones?" Maud considered. "Oh no. D'Annunzio."

"And what's that?" Mrs. Dyott asked as she affixed a stamp.

"Oh you dear thing!" Her friend was amused, yet almost showed pity. "I
know you don't read," Maud went on; "but why should you? YOU live!"

"Yes--wretchedly enough," Mrs. Dyott returned, getting her letters
together. She left her place, holding them as a neat achieved handful,
and came over to the fire, while Mrs. Blessingbourne turned once more to
the window, where she was met by another flurry.

Maud spoke then as if moved only by the elements. "Do you expect him
through all this?"

Mrs. Dyott just waited, and it had the effect, indescribably, of making
everything that had gone before seem to have led up to the question.
This effect was even deepened by the way she then said "Whom do you
mean?"

"Why I thought you mentioned at luncheon that Colonel Voyt was to walk
over. Surely he can't."

"Do you care very much?" Mrs. Dyott asked.

Her friend now hesitated. "It depends on what you call 'much.' If you
mean should I like to see him--then certainly."

"Well, my dear, I think he understands you're here."

"So that as he evidently isn't coming," Maud laughed, "it's particularly
flattering! Or rather," she added, giving up the prospect again, "it
would be, I think, quite extraordinarily flattering if he did. Except
that of course," she threw in, "he might come partly for you."

"'Partly' is charming. Thank you for 'partly.' If you ARE going
upstairs, will you kindly," Mrs Dyott pursued, "put these into the box
as you pass?"

The younger woman, taking the little pile of letters, considered them
with envy. "Nine! You ARE good. You're always a living reproach!"

Mrs. Dyott gave a sigh. "I don't do it on purpose. The only thing, this
afternoon," she went on, reverting to the other question, "would be
their not having come down."

"And as to that you don't know."

"No--I don't know." But she caught even as she spoke a rat-tat-tat of
the knocker, which struck her as a sign. "Ah there!"

"Then I go." And Maud whisked out.

Mrs. Dyott, left alone, moved with an air of selection to the window,
and it was as so stationed, gazing out at the wild weather, that the
visitor, whose delay to appear spoke of the wiping of boots and the
disposal of drenched mackintosh and cap, finally found her. He was tall
lean fine, with little in him, on the whole, to confirm the titular in
the "Colonel Voyt" by which he was announced. But he had left the army,
so that his reputation for gallantry mainly depended now on his fighting
Liberalism in the House of Commons. Even these facts, however, his
aspect scantily matched; partly, no doubt, because he looked, as was
usually said, un-English. His black hair, cropped close, was lightly
powdered with silver, and his dense glossy beard, that of an emir or a
caliph, and grown for civil reasons, repeated its handsome colour and
its somewhat foreign effect. His nose had a strong and shapely arch, and
the dark grey of his eyes was tinted with blue. It had been said of
him--in relation to these signs--that he would have struck you as a Jew
had he not, in spite of his nose, struck you so much as an Irishman.
Neither responsibility could in fact have been fixed upon him, and just
now, at all events, he was only a pleasant weather-washed wind-battered
Briton, who brought in from a struggle with the elements that he
appeared quite to have enjoyed a certain amount of unremoved mud and an
unusual quantity of easy expression. It was exactly the silence ensuing
on the retreat of the servant and the closed door that marked between
him and his hostess the degree of this ease. They met, as it were,
twice: the first time while the servant was there and the second as soon
as he was not. The difference was great between the two encounters,
though we must add in justice to the second that its marks were at first
mainly negative. This communion consisted only in their having drawn
each other for a minute as close as possible--as possible, that is, with
no help but the full clasp of hands. Thus they were mutually held, and
the closeness was at any rate such that, for a little, though it took
account of dangers, it did without words. When words presently came the
pair were talking by the fire and she had rung for tea. He had by this
time asked if the note he had despatched to her after breakfast had been
safely delivered.

"Yes, before luncheon. But I'm always in a state when--except for some
extraordinary reason--you send such things by hand. I knew, without it,
that you had come. It never fails. I'm sure when you're there--I'm sure
when you're not."

He wiped, before the glass, his wet moustache. "I see. But this morning
I had an impulse."

"It was beautiful. But they make me as uneasy, sometimes, your impulses,
as if they were calculations; make me wonder what you have in reserve."

"Because when small children are too awfully good they die? Well, I AM a
small child compared to you--but I'm not dead yet. I cling to life."

He had covered her with his smile, but she continued grave. "I'm not
half so much afraid when you're nasty."

"Thank you! What then did you do," he asked, "with my note?"

"You deserve that I should have spread it out on my dressing-table--or
left it, better still, in Maud Blessingbourne's room."

He wondered while he laughed. "Oh but what does SHE deserve?"

It was her gravity that continued to answer. "Yes--it would probably
kill her."

"She believes so in you?"

"She believes so in YOU. So don't be TOO nice to her."

He was still looking, in the chimney-glass, at the state of his
beard--brushing from it, with his handkerchief, the traces of wind and
wet. "If she also then prefers me when I'm nasty it seems to me I ought
to satisfy her. Shall I now at any rate see her?"

"She's so like a pea on a pan over the possibility of it that she's
pulling herself together in her room."

"Oh then we must try and keep her together. But why, graceful, tender,
pretty too--quite or almost as she is--doesn't she re-marry?"

Mrs. Dyott appeared--and as if the first time--to look for the reason.
"Because she likes too many men."

It kept up his spirits. "And how many MAY a lady like--?"

"In order not to like any of them too much? Ah that, you know, I never
found out--and it's too late now. When," she presently pursued, "did you
last see her?"

He really had to think. "Would it have been since last November or
so?--somewhere or other where we spent three days."

"Oh at Surredge? I know all about that. I thought you also met
afterwards."

He had again to recall. "So we did! Wouldn't it have been somewhere at
Christmas? But it wasn't by arrangement!" he laughed, giving with his
forefinger a little pleasant nick to his hostess's chin. Then as if
something in the way she received this attention put him back to his
question of a moment before: "Have you kept my note?"

She held him with her pretty eyes. "Do you want it back?"

"Ah don't speak as if I did take things--!"

She dropped her gaze to the fire. "No, you don't; not even the hard
things a really generous nature often would." She quitted, however, as
if to forget that, the chimney-place. "I put it THERE!"

"You've burnt it? Good!" It made him easier, but he noticed the next
moment on a table the lemon-coloured volume left there by Mrs.
Blessingbourne, and, taking it up for a look, immediately put it down.
"You might while you were about it have burnt that too."

"You've read it?"

"Dear yes. And you?"

"No," said Mrs. Dyott; "it wasn't for me Maud brought it."

It pulled her visitor up. "Mrs. Blessingbourne brought it?"

"For such a day as this." But she wondered. "How you look! Is it so
awful?"

"Oh like his others." Something had occurred to him; his thought was
already far. "Does she know?"

"Know what?"

"Why anything."

But the door opened too soon for Mrs. Dyott, who could only murmur
quickly--"Take care!"



CHAPTER II


It was in fact Mrs. Blessingbourne, who had under her arm the book she
had gone up for--a pair of covers showing this time a pretty, a candid
blue. She was followed next minute by the servant, who brought in tea,
the consumption of which, with the passage of greetings, inquiries and
other light civilities between the two visitors, occupied a quarter of
an hour. Mrs. Dyott meanwhile, as a contribution to so much amenity,
mentioned to Maud that her fellow guest wished to scold her for the
books she read--a statement met by this friend with the remark that he
must first be sure about them. But as soon as he had picked up the new,
the blue volume he broke out into a frank "Dear, dear!"

"Have you read that too?" Mrs. Dyott inquired. "How much you'll have to
talk over together! The other one," she explained to him, "Maud speaks
of as terribly tame."

"Ah I must have that out with her! You don't feel the extraordinary
force of the fellow?" Voyt went on to Mrs. Blessingbourne.

And so, round the hearth, they talked--talked soon, while they warmed
their toes, with zest enough to make it seem as happy a chance as any of
the quieter opportunities their imprisonment might have involved. Mrs.
Blessingbourne did feel, it then appeared, the force of the fellow, but
she had her reserves and reactions, in which Voyt was much interested.
Mrs. Dyott rather detached herself, mainly gazing, as she leaned back,
at the fire; she intervened, however, enough to relieve Maud of the
sense of being listened to. That sense, with Maud, was too apt to convey
that one was listened to for a fool. "Yes, when I read a novel I mostly
read a French one," she had said to Voyt in answer to a question about
her usual practice; "for I seem with it to get hold more of the real
thing--to get more life for my money. Only I'm not so infatuated with
them but that sometimes for months and months on end I don't read any
fiction at all."

The two books were now together beside them. "Then when you begin again
you read a mass?"

"Dear no. I only keep up with three or four authors."

He laughed at this over the cigarette he had been allowed to light. "I
like your 'keeping up,' and keeping up in particular with 'authors.'"

"One must keep up with somebody," Mrs. Dyott threw off.

"I daresay I'm ridiculous," Mrs. Blessingbourne conceded without heeding
it; "but that's the way we express ourselves in my part of the country."

"I only alluded," said Voyt, "to the tremendous conscience of your sex.
It's more than mine can keep up with. You take everything too hard. But
if you can't read the novel of British and American manufacture, heaven
knows I'm at one with you. It seems really to show our sense of life as
the sense of puppies and kittens."

"Well," Maud more patiently returned, "I'm told all sorts of people are
now doing wonderful things; but somehow I remain outside."

"Ah it's THEY, it's our poor twangers and twaddlers who remain outside.
They pick up a living in the street. And who indeed would want them in?"

Mrs. Blessingbourne seemed unable to say, and yet at the same time to
have her idea. The subject, in truth, she evidently found, was not so
easy to handle. "People lend me things, and I try; but at the end of
fifty pages--"

"There you are! Yes--heaven help us!"

"But what I mean," she went on, "isn't that I don't get woefully weary
of the eternal French thing. What's THEIR sense of life?"

"AH VOILÀ!" Mrs. Dyott softly sounded.

"Oh but it IS one; you can make it out," Voyt promptly declared. "They
do what they feel, and they feel more things than we. They strike so
many more notes, and with so different a hand. When it comes to any
account of a relation say between a man and a woman--I mean an intimate
or a curious or a suggestive one--where are we compared to them? They
don't exhaust the subject, no doubt," he admitted; "but we don't touch
it, don't even skim it. It's as if we denied its existence, its
possibility. You'll doubtless tell me, however," he went on, "that as
all such relations ARE for us at the most much simpler we can only have
all round less to say about them."

She met this imputation with the quickest amusement. "I beg your pardon.
I don't think I shall tell you anything of the sort. I don't know that I
even agree with your premiss."

"About such relations?" He looked agreeably surprised. "You think we
make them larger?--or subtler?"

Mrs. Blessingbourne leaned back, not looking, like Mrs. Dyott, at the
fire, but at the ceiling. "I don't know what I think."

"It's not that she doesn't know," Mrs. Dyott remarked. "It's only that
she doesn't say."

But Voyt had this time no eye for their hostess. For a moment he watched
Maud. "It sticks out of you, you know, that you've yourself written
something. Haven't you--and published? I've a notion I could read YOU."

"When I do publish," she said without moving, "you'll be the last one I
shall tell. I HAVE," she went on, "a lovely subject, but it would take
an amount of treatment--!"

"Tell us then at least what it is."

At this she again met his eyes. "Oh to tell it would be to express it,
and that's just what I can't do. What I meant to say just now," she
added, "was that the French, to my sense, give us only again and again,
for ever and ever, the same couple. There they are once more, as one has
had them to satiety, in that yellow thing, and there I shall certainly
again find them in the blue."

"Then why do you keep reading about them?" Mrs. Dyott demanded.

Maud cast about. "I don't!" she sighed. "At all events, I shan't any
more. I give it up."

"You've been looking for something, I judge," said Colonel Voyt, "that
you're not likely to find. It doesn't exist."

"What is it?" Mrs. Dyott desired to know.

"I never look," Maud remarked, "for anything but an interest."

"Naturally. But your interest," Voyt replied, "is in something different
from life."

"Ah not a bit! I LOVE life in art, though I hate it anywhere else. It's
the poverty of the life those people show, and the awful bounders, of
both sexes, that they represent."

"Oh now we have you!" her interlocutor laughed. "To me, when all's said
and done, they seem to be--as near as art can come--in the truth of the
truth. It can only take what life gives it, though it certainly may be a
pity that that isn't better. Your complaint of their monotony is a
complaint of their conditions. When you say we get always the same
couple what do you mean but that we get always the same passion? Of
course we do!" Voyt pursued. "If what you're looking for is another,
that's what you won't anywhere find."

Maud for a while said nothing, and Mrs. Dyott seemed to wait. "Well, I
suppose I'm looking, more than anything else, for a decent woman."

"Oh then you mustn't look for her in pictures of passion. That's not her
element nor her whereabouts."

Mrs. Blessingbourne weighed the objection. "Does it not depend on what
you mean by passion?"

"I think I can mean only one thing: the enemy to behaviour."

"Oh I can imagine passions that are on the contrary friends to it."

Her fellow-guest thought. "Doesn't it depend perhaps on what you mean by
behaviour?"

"Dear no. Behaviour's just behaviour--the most definite thing in the
world."

"Then what do you mean by the 'interest' you just now spoke of? The
picture of that definite thing?"

"Yes--call it that. Women aren't ALWAYS vicious, even when they're--"

"When they're what?" Voyt pressed.

"When they're unhappy. They can be unhappy and good."

"That one doesn't for a moment deny. But can they be 'good' and
interesting?"

"That must be Maud's subject!" Mrs. Dyott interposed. "To show a woman
who IS. I'm afraid, my dear," she continued, "you could only show
yourself."

"You'd show then the most beautiful specimen conceivable"--and Voyt
addressed himself to Maud. "But doesn't it prove that life is, against
your contention, more interesting than art? Life you embellish and
elevate; but art would find itself able to do nothing with you, and, on
such impossible terms, would ruin you."

The colour in her faint consciousness gave beauty to her stare. "'Ruin'
me?"

"He means," Mrs. Dyott again indicated, "that you'd ruin 'art.'"

"Without on the other hand"--Voyt seemed to assent--"its giving at all a
coherent impression of you."

"She wants her romance cheap!" said Mrs. Dyott.

"Oh no--I should be willing to pay for it. I don't see why the
romance--since you give it that name--should be all, as the French
inveterately make it, for the women who are bad."

"Oh they pay for it!" said Mrs. Dyott.

"DO they?"

"So at least"--Mrs. Dyott a little corrected herself--"one has gathered
(for I don't read your books, you know!) that they're usually shown as
doing."

Maud wondered, but looking at Voyt, "They're shown often, no doubt, as
paying for their badness. But are they shown as paying for their
romance?"

"My dear lady," said Voyt, "their romance is their badness. There isn't
any other. It's a hard law, if you will, and a strange, but goodness has
to go without that luxury. Isn't to BE good just exactly, all round, to
go without?" He put it before her kindly and clearly--regretfully too,
as if he were sorry the truth should be so sad. He and she, his pleasant
eyes seemed to say, would, had they had the making of it, have made it
better. "One has heard it before--at least I have; one has heard your
question put. But always, when put to a mind not merely muddled, for an
inevitable answer. 'Why don't you, CHER MONSIEUR, give us the drama of
virtue?' 'Because, CHÈRE MADAME, the high privilege of virtue is
precisely to avoid drama.' The adventures of the honest lady? The honest
lady hasn't, can't possibly have, adventures."

Mrs. Blessingbourne only met his eyes at first, smiling with some
intensity. "Doesn't it depend a little on what you call adventures?"

"My poor Maud," said Mrs. Dyott as if in compassion for sophistry so
simple, "adventures are just adventures. That's all you can make of
them!"

But her friend talked for their companion and as if without hearing.
"Doesn't it depend a good deal on what you call drama?" Maud spoke as
one who had already thought it out. "Doesn't it depend on what you call
romance?"

Her listener gave these arguments his very best attention. "Of course
you may call things anything you like--speak of them as one thing and
mean quite another. But why should it depend on anything? Behind these
words we use--the adventure, the novel, the drama, the romance, the
situation, in short, as we most comprehensively say--behind them all
stands the same sharp fact which they all in their different ways
represent."

"Precisely!" Mrs. Dyott was full of approval.

Maud however was full of vagueness. "What great fact?"

"The fact of a relation. The adventure's a relation; the relation's an
adventure. The romance, the novel, the drama are the picture of one. The
subject the novelist treats is the rise, the formation, the development,
the climax and for the most part the decline of one. And what is the
honest lady doing on that side of the town?"

Mrs. Dyott was more pointed. "She doesn't so much as FORM a relation."

But Maud bore up. "Doesn't it depend again on what you call a relation?"

"Oh," said Mrs. Dyott, "if a gentleman picks up her
pocket-handkerchief--"

"Ah even that's one," their friend laughed, "if she has thrown it to
him. We can only deal with one that is one."

"Surely," Maud replied. "But if it's an innocent one--"

"Doesn't it depend a good deal," Mrs. Dyott asked, "on what you call
innocent?"

"You mean that the adventures of innocence have so often been the
material of fiction? Yes," Voyt replied; "that's exactly what the bored
reader complains of. He has asked for bread and been given a stone. What
is it but, with absolute directness, a question of interest or, as
people say, of the story? What's a situation undeveloped but a subject
lost? If a relation stops, where's the story? If it doesn't stop,
where's the innocence? It seems to me you must choose. It would be very
pretty if it were otherwise, but that's how we flounder. Art is our
flounderings shown."

Mrs. Blessingbourne--and with an air of deference scarce supported
perhaps by its sketchiness--kept her deep eyes on this definition. "But
sometimes we flounder out."

It immediately touched in Colonel Voyt the spring of a genial derision.
"That's just where I expected YOU would! One always sees it come."

"He has, you notice," Mrs. Dyott parenthesised to Maud, "seen it come so
often; and he has always waited for it and met it."

"Met it, dear lady, simply enough! It's the old story, Mrs.
Blessingbourne. The relation's innocent that the heroine gets out of.
The book's innocent that's the story of her getting out. But what the
devil--in the name of innocence--was she doing IN?"

Mrs. Dyott promptly echoed the question. "You have to be in, you know,
to GET out. So there you are already with your relation. It's the end of
your goodness."

"And the beginning," said Voyt, "of your play!"

"Aren't they all, for that matter, even the worst," Mrs. Dyott pursued,
"supposed SOME time or other to get out? But if meanwhile they've been
in, however briefly, long enough to adorn a tale?"

"They've been in long enough to point a moral. That is to point ours!"
With which, and as if a sudden flush of warmer light had moved him,
Colonel Voyt got up. The veil of the storm had parted over a great red
sunset.

Mrs. Dyott also was on her feet, and they stood before his charming
antagonist, who, with eyes lowered and a somewhat fixed smile, had not
moved.

"We've spoiled her subject!" the elder lady sighed.

"Well," said Voyt, "it's better to spoil an artist's subject than to
spoil his reputation. I mean," he explained to Maud with his indulgent
manner, "his appearance of knowing what he has got hold of, for that, in
the last resort, is his happiness."

She slowly rose at this, facing him with an aspect as handsomely mild as
his own. "You can't spoil my happiness."

He held her hand an instant as he took leave. "I wish I could add to
it!"



CHAPTER III


When he had quitted them and Mrs. Dyott had candidly asked if her friend
had found him rude or crude, Maud replied--though not immediately--that
she had feared showing only too much how charming she found him. But if
Mrs. Dyott took this it was to weigh the sense. "How could you show it
too much?"

"Because I always feel that that's my only way of showing anything. It's
absurd, if you like," Mrs. Blessingbourne pursued, "but I never know, in
such intense discussions, what strange impression I may give."

Her companion looked amused. "Was it intense?"

"_I_ was," Maud frankly confessed.

"Then it's a pity you were so wrong. Colonel Voyt, you know, is right."
Mrs. Blessingbourne at this gave one of the slow soft silent headshakes
to which she often resorted and which, mostly accompanied by the light
of cheer, had somehow, in spite of the small obstinacy that smiled in
them, a special grace. With this grace, for a moment, her friend,
looking her up and down, appeared impressed, yet not too much so to take
the next minute a decision. "Oh my dear, I'm sorry to differ from any
one so lovely--for you're awfully beautiful to-night, and your frock's
the very nicest I've ever seen you wear. But he's as right as he can
be."

Maud repeated her motion. "Not so right, at all events as he thinks he
is. Or perhaps I can say," she went on, after an instant, "that I'm not
so wrong. I do know a little what I'm talking about."

Mrs. Dyott continued to study her. "You ARE vexed. You naturally don't
like it--such destruction."

"Destruction?"

"Of your illusion."

"I HAVE no illusion. If I had moreover it wouldn't be destroyed. I have
on the whole, I think, my little decency."

Mrs. Dyott stared. "Let us grant it for argument. What, then?"

"Well, I've also my little drama."

"An attachment?"

"An attachment."

"That you shouldn't have?"

"That I shouldn't have."

"A passion?"

"A passion."

"Shared?"

"Ah thank goodness, no!"

Mrs. Dyott continued to gaze. "The object's unaware--?"

"Utterly."

Mrs. Dyott turned it over. "Are you sure?"

"Sure."

"That's what you call your decency? But isn't it," Mrs. Dyott asked,
"rather his?"

"Dear no. It's only his good fortune."

Mrs. Dyott laughed. "But yours, darling--your good fortune: where does
THAT come in?"

"Why, in my sense of the romance of it."

"The romance of what? Of his not knowing?"

"Of my not wanting him to. If I did"--Maud had touchingly worked it
out--"where would be my honesty?"

The inquiry, for an instant, held her friend, yet only, it seemed, for a
stupefaction that was almost amusement. "Can you want or not want as you
like? Where in the world, if you don't want, is your romance?"

Mrs. Blessingbourne still wore her smile, and she now, with a light
gesture that matched it, just touched the region of her heart. "There!"

Her companion admiringly marvelled. "A lovely place for it, no
doubt!--but not quite a place, that I can see, to make the sentiment a
relation."

"Why not? What more is required for a relation for me?"

"Oh all sorts of things, I should say! And many more, added to those, to
make it one for the person you mention."

"Ah that I don't pretend it either should be or CAN be. I only speak for
myself."

This was said in a manner that made Mrs. Dyott, with a visible mixture
of impressions, suddenly turn away. She indulged in a vague movement or
two, as if to look for something; then again found herself near her
friend, on whom with the same abruptness, in fact with a strange
sharpness, she conferred a kiss that might have represented either her
tribute to exalted consistency or her idea of a graceful close of the
discussion. "You deserve that one should speak FOR you!"

Her companion looked cheerful and secure. "How CAN you without
knowing--?"

"Oh by guessing! It's not--?"

But that was as far as Mrs. Dyott could get. "It's not," said Maud, "any
one you've ever seen."

"Ah then I give you up!"

And Mrs. Dyott conformed for the rest of Maud's stay to the spirit of
this speech. It was made on a Saturday night, and Mrs. Blessingbourne
remained till the Wednesday following, an interval during which, as the
return of fine weather was confirmed by the Sunday, the two ladies found
a wider range of action. There were drives to be taken, calls made,
objects of interest seen at a distance; with the effect of much easy
talk and still more easy silence. There had been a question of Colonel
Voyt's probable return on the Sunday, but the whole time passed without
a sign from him, and it was merely mentioned by Mrs. Dyott, in
explanation, that he must have been suddenly called, as he was so liable
to be, to town. That this in fact was what had happened he made clear to
her on Thursday afternoon, when, walking over again late, he found her
alone. The consequence of his Sunday letters had been his taking, that
day, the 4.15. Mrs. Voyt had gone back on Thursday, and he now, to
settle on the spot the question of a piece of work begun at his place,
had rushed down for a few hours in anticipation of the usual collective
move for the week's end. He was to go up again by the late train, and
had to count a little--a fact accepted by his hostess with the hard
pliancy of practice--his present happy moments. Too few as these were,
however, he found time to make of her an inquiry or two not directly
bearing on their situation. The first was a recall of the question for
which Mrs. Blessingbourne's entrance on the previous Saturday had
arrested her answer. Had that lady the idea of anything between them?

"No. I'm sure. There's one idea she has got," Mrs. Dyott went on; "but
it's quite different and not so very wonderful."

"What then is it?"

"Well, that she's herself in love."

Voyt showed his interest. "You mean she told you?"

"I got it out of her."

He showed his amusement. "Poor thing! And with whom?"

"With you."

His surprise, if the distinction might be made, was less than his
wonder. "You got that out of her too?"

"No--it remains in. Which is much the best way for it. For you to know
it would be to end it."

He looked rather cheerfully at sea. "Is that then why you tell me?"

"I mean for her to know you know it. Therefore it's in your interest not
to let her."

"I see," Voyt after a moment returned. "Your real calculation is that my
interest will be sacrificed to my vanity--so that, if your other idea is
just, the flame will in fact, and thanks to her morbid conscience,
expire by her taking fright at seeing me so pleased. But I promise you,"
he declared, "that she shan't see it. So there you are!" She kept her
eyes on him and had evidently to admit after a little that there she
was. Distinct as he had made the case, however, he wasn't yet quite
satisfied. "Why are you so sure I'm the man?"

"From the way she denies you."

"You put it to her?"

"Straight. If you hadn't been she'd of course have confessed to you--to
keep me in the dark about the real one."

Poor Voyt laughed out again. "Oh you dear souls!"

"Besides," his companion pursued, "I wasn't in want of that evidence."

"Then what other had you?"

"Her state before you came--which was what made me ask you how much you
had seen her. And her state after it," Mrs. Dyott added. "And her
state," she wound up, "while you were here."

"But her state while I was here was charming."

"Charming. That's just what I say."

She said it in a tone that placed the matter in its right light--a light
in which they appeared kindly, quite tenderly, to watch Maud wander away
into space with her lovely head bent under a theory rather too big for
it. Voyt's last word, however, was that there was just enough in it--in
the theory--for them to allow that she had not shown herself, on the
occasion of their talk, wholly bereft of sense. Her consciousness, if
they let it alone--as they of course after this mercifully must--WAS, in
the last analysis, a kind of shy romance. Not a romance like their own,
a thing to make the fortune of any author up to the mark--one who should
have the invention or who COULD have the courage; but a small scared
starved subjective satisfaction that would do her no harm and nobody
else any good. Who but a duffer--he stuck to his contention--would see
the shadow of a "story" in it?



FLICKERBRIDGE



CHAPTER I


Frank Granger had arrived from Paris to paint a portrait--an order given
him, as a young compatriot with a future, whose early work would some
day have a price, by a lady from New York, a friend of his own people
and also, as it happened, of Addie's, the young woman to whom it was
publicly both affirmed and denied that he was engaged. Other young women
in Paris--fellow-members there of the little tight transpontine world of
art-study--professed to know that the pair had "several times" over
renewed their fond understanding. This, however, was their own affair;
the last phase of the relation, the last time of the times, had passed
into vagueness; there was perhaps even an impression that if they were
inscrutable to their friends they were not wholly crystalline to each
other and themselves. What had occurred for Granger at all events in
connexion with the portrait was that Mrs. Bracken, his intending model,
whose return to America was at hand, had suddenly been called to London
by her husband, occupied there with pressing business, but had yet
desired that her displacement should not interrupt her sittings. The
young man, at her request, had followed her to England and profited by
all she could give him, making shift with a small studio lent him by a
London painter whom he had known and liked a few years before in the
French atelier that then cradled, and that continued to cradle, so many
of their kind.

The British capital was a strange grey world to him, where people
walked, in more ways than one, by a dim light; but he was happily of
such a turn that the impression, just as it came, could nowhere ever
fail him, and even the worst of these things was almost as much an
occupation--putting it only at that--as the best. Mrs. Bracken moreover
passed him on, and while the darkness ebbed a little in the April days
he found himself consolingly committed to a couple of fresh subjects.
This cut him out work for more than another month, but meanwhile, as he
said, he saw a lot--a lot that, with frequency and with much expression,
he wrote about to Addie. She also wrote to her absent friend, but in
briefer snatches, a meagreness to her reasons for which he had long
since assented. She had other play for her pen as well as, fortunately,
other remuneration; a regular correspondence for a "prominent Boston
paper," fitful connexions with public sheets perhaps also in cases
fitful, and a mind above all engrossed at times, to the exclusion of
everything else, with the study of the short story. This last was what
she had mainly come out to go into, two or three years after he had
found himself engulfed in the mystery of Carolus. She was indeed, on her
own deep sea, more engulfed than he had ever been, and he had grown to
accept the sense that, for progress too, she sailed under more canvas.
It hadn't been particularly present to him till now that he had in the
least got on, but the way in which Addie had--and evidently still more
would--was the theme, as it were, of every tongue. She had thirty short
stories out and nine descriptive articles. His three or four portraits
of fat American ladies--they were all fat, all ladies and all
American--were a poor show compared with these triumphs; especially as
Addie had begun to throw out that it was about time they should go home.
It kept perpetually coming up in Paris, in the transpontine world, that,
as the phrase was, America had grown more interesting since they left.
Addie was attentive to the rumour, and, as full of conscience as she was
of taste, of patriotism as of curiosity, had often put it to him
frankly, with what he, who was of New York, recognised as her New
England emphasis: "I'm not sure, you know, that we do REAL justice to
our country." Granger felt he would do it on the day--if the day ever
came--he should irrevocably marry her. No other country could possibly
have produced her.



CHAPTER II


But meanwhile it befell that, in London, he was stricken with influenza
and with subsequent sorrow. The attack was short but sharp--had it
lasted Addie would certainly have come to his aid; most of a blight
really in its secondary stage. The good ladies his sitters--the ladies
with the frizzled hair, with the diamond earrings, with the chins
tending to the massive--left for him, at the door of his lodgings,
flowers, soup and love, so that with their assistance he pulled through;
but his convalescence was slow and his weakness out of proportion to the
muffled shock. He came out, but he went about lame; it tired him to
paint--he felt as if he had been ill three months. He strolled in
Kensington Gardens when he should have been at work; he sat long on
penny chairs and helplessly mused and mooned. Addie desired him to
return to Paris, but there were chances under his hand that he felt he
had just wit enough left not to relinquish. He would have gone for a
week to the sea--he would have gone to Brighton; but Mrs. Bracken had to
be finished--Mrs. Bracken was so soon to sail. He just managed to finish
her in time--the day before the date fixed for his breaking ground on a
greater business still, the circumvallation of Mrs. Dunn. Mrs. Dunn duly
waited on him, and he sat down before her, feeling, however, ere he
rose, that he must take a long breath before the attack. While asking
himself that night, therefore, where he should best replenish his lungs
he received from Addie, who had had from Mrs. Bracken a poor report of
him, a communication which, besides being of sudden and startling
interest, applied directly to his case.

His friend wrote to him under the lively emotion of having from one day
to another become aware of a new relative, an ancient cousin, a
sequestered gentlewoman, the sole survival of "the English branch of the
family," still resident, at Flickerbridge, in the "old family home," and
with whom, that he might immediately betake himself to so auspicious a
quarter for change of air, she had already done what was proper to place
him, as she said, in touch. What came of it all, to be brief, was that
Granger found himself so placed almost as he read: he was in touch with
Miss Wenham of Flickerbridge, to the extent of being in correspondence
with her, before twenty-four hours had sped. And on the second day he
was in the train, settled for a five-hours' run to the door of this
amiable woman who had so abruptly and kindly taken him on trust and of
whom but yesterday he had never so much as heard. This was an
oddity--the whole incident was--of which, in the corner of his
compartment, as he proceeded, he had time to take the size. But the
surprise, the incongruity, as he felt, could but deepen as he went. It
was a sufficiently queer note, in the light, or the absence of it, of
his late experience, that so complex a product as Addie should have ANY
simple insular tie; but it was a queerer note still that she should have
had one so long only to remain unprofitably unconscious of it. Not to
have done something with it, used it, worked it, talked about it at
least, and perhaps even written--these things, at the rate she moved,
represented a loss of opportunity under which as he saw her, she was
peculiarly formed to wince. She was at any rate, it was clear, doing
something with it now; using it, working it, certainly, already
talking--and, yes, quite possibly writing--about it. She was in short
smartly making up what she had missed, and he could take such comfort
from his own action as he had been helped to by the rest of the facts,
succinctly reported from Paris on the very morning of his start.

It was the singular story of a sharp split--in a good English
house--that dated now from years back. A worthy Briton, of the best
middling stock, had, during the fourth decade of the century, as a very
young man, in Dresden, whither he had been despatched to qualify in
German for a stool in an uncle's counting-house, met, admired, wooed and
won an American girl, of due attractions, domiciled at that period with
her parents and a sister, who was also attractive, in the Saxon capital.
He had married her, taken her to England, and there, after some years of
harmony and happiness, lost her. The sister in question had, after her
death, come to him and to his young child on a visit, the effect of
which, between the pair, eventually defined itself as a sentiment that
was not to be resisted. The bereaved husband, yielding to a new
attachment and a new response, and finding a new union thus prescribed,
had yet been forced to reckon with the unaccommodating law of the land.
Encompassed with frowns in his own country, however, marriages of this
particular type were wreathed in smiles in his sister's-in-law, so that
his remedy was not forbidden. Choosing between two allegiances he had
let the one go that seemed the least close, and had in brief
transplanted his possibilities to an easier air. The knot was tied for
the couple in New York, where, to protect the legitimacy of such other
children as might come to them, they settled and prospered. Children
came, and one of the daughters, growing up and marrying in her turn,
was, if Frank rightly followed, the mother of his own Addie, who had
been deprived of the knowledge of her indeed, in childhood, by death,
and been brought up, though without undue tension, by a stepmother--a
character breaking out thus anew.

The breach produced in England by the invidious action, as it was there
held, of the girl's grandfather, had not failed to widen--all the more
that nothing had been done on the American side to close it. Frigidity
had settled, and hostility had been arrested only by indifference.
Darkness therefore had fortunately supervened, and a cousinship
completely divided. On either side of the impassable gulf, of the
impenetrable curtain, each branch had put forth its leaves--a foliage
wanting, in the American quarter, it was distinct enough to Granger, of
no sign or symptom of climate and environment. The graft in New York had
taken, and Addie was a vivid, an unmistakable flower. At Flickerbridge,
or wherever, on the other hand, strange to say, the parent stem had had
a fortune comparatively meagre. Fortune, it was true, in the vulgarest
sense, had attended neither party. Addie's immediate belongings were as
poor as they were numerous, and he gathered that Miss Wenham's
pretensions to wealth were not so marked as to expose the claim of
kinship to the imputation of motive. To this lady's single identity the
original stock had at all events dwindled, and our young man was
properly warned that he would find her shy and solitary. What was
singular was that in these conditions she should desire, she should
endure, to receive him. But that was all another story, lucid enough
when mastered. He kept Addie's letters, exceptionally copious, in his
lap; he conned them at intervals; he held the threads.

He looked out between whiles at the pleasant English land, an April
AQUARELLE washed in with wondrous breadth. He knew the French thing, he
knew the American, but he had known nothing of this. He saw it already
as the remarkable Miss Wenham's setting. The doctor's daughter at
Flickerbridge, with nippers on her nose, a palette on her thumb and
innocence in her heart, had been the miraculous link. She had become
aware even there, in our world of wonders, that the current fashion for
young women so equipped was to enter the Parisian lists. Addie had
accordingly chanced upon her, on the slopes of Montparnasse, as one of
the English girls in one of the thorough-going sets. They had met in
some easy collocation and had fallen upon common ground; after which the
young woman, restored to Flickerbridge for an interlude and retailing
there her adventures and impressions, had mentioned to Miss Wenham, who
had known and protected her from babyhood, that that lady's own name of
Adelaide was, as well as the surname conjoined with it, borne, to her
knowledge, in Paris, by an extraordinary American specimen. She had then
recrossed the Channel with a wonderful message, a courteous challenge,
to her friend's duplicate, who had in turn granted through her every
satisfaction. The duplicate had in other words bravely let Miss Wenham
know exactly who she was. Miss Wenham, in whose personal tradition the
flame of resentment appeared to have been reduced by time to the palest
ashes--for whom indeed the story of the great schism was now but a
legend only needing a little less dimness to make it romantic--Miss
Wenham had promptly responded by a letter fragrant with the hope that
old threads might be taken up. It was a relationship that they must
puzzle out together, and she had earnestly sounded the other party to it
on the subject of a possible visit. Addie had met her with a definite
promise; she would come soon, she would come when free, she would come
in July; but meanwhile she sent her deputy. Frank asked himself by what
name she had described, by what character introduced him to
Flickerbridge. He mainly felt on the whole as if he were going there to
find out if he were engaged to her. He was at sea really now as to which
of the various views Addie herself took of it. To Miss Wenham she must
definitely have taken one, and perhaps Miss Wenham would reveal it. This
expectation was in fact his excuse for a possible indiscretion.



CHAPTER III


He was indeed to learn on arrival to what he had been committed; but
that was for a while so much a part of his first general impression that
the particular truth took time to detach itself, the first general
impression demanding verily all his faculties of response. He almost
felt for a day or two the victim of a practical joke, a gross abuse of
confidence. He had presented himself with the moderate amount of flutter
involved in a sense of due preparation; but he had then found that,
however primed with prefaces and prompted with hints, he hadn't been
prepared at all. How COULD he be, he asked himself, for anything so
foreign to his experience, so alien to his proper world, so little to be
preconceived in the sharp north light of the newest impressionism, and
yet so recognised after all in the event, so noted and tasted and
assimilated? It was a case he would scarce have known how to
describe--could doubtless have described best with a full clean brush,
supplemented by a play of gesture; for it was always his habit to see an
occasion, of whatever kind, primarily as a picture, so that he might get
it, as he was wont to say, so that he might keep it, well together. He
had been treated of a sudden, in this adventure, to one of the sweetest
fairest coolest impressions of his life--one moreover visibly complete
and homogeneous from the start. Oh it was THERE, if that was all one
wanted of a thing! It was so "there" that, as had befallen him in Italy,
in Spain, confronted at last, in dusky side-chapel or rich museum, with
great things dreamed of or with greater ones unexpectedly presented, he
had held his breath for fear of breaking the spell; had almost, from the
quick impulse to respect, to prolong, lowered his voice and moved on
tiptoe. Supreme beauty suddenly revealed is apt to strike us as a
possible illusion playing with our desire--instant freedom with it to
strike us as a possible rashness.

This fortunately, however--and the more so as his freedom for the time
quite left him--didn't prevent his hostess, the evening of his advent
and while the vision was new, from being exactly as queer and rare and
IMPAYABLE, as improbable, as impossible, as delightful at the eight
o'clock dinner--she appeared to keep these immense hours--as she had
overwhelmingly been at the five o'clock tea. She was in the most natural
way in the world one of the oddest apparitions, but that the particular
means to such an end COULD be natural was an inference difficult to
make. He failed in fact to make it for a couple of days; but
then--though then only--he made it with confidence. By this time indeed
he was sure of everything, luckily including himself. If we compare his
impression, with slight extravagance, to some of the greatest he had
ever received, this is simply because the image before him was so
rounded and stamped. It expressed with pure perfection, it exhausted its
character. It was so absolutely and so unconsciously what it was. He had
been floated by the strangest of chances out of the rushing stream into
a clear still backwater--a deep and quiet pool in which objects were
sharply mirrored. He had hitherto in life known nothing that was old
except a few statues and pictures; but here everything was old, was
immemorial, and nothing so much so as the very freshness itself. Vaguely
to have supposed there were such nooks in the world had done little
enough, he now saw, to temper the glare of their opposites. It was the
fine touches that counted, and these had to be seen to be believed.

Miss Wenham, fifty-five years of age and unappeasably timid,
unaccountably strange, had, on her reduced scale, an almost Gothic
grotesqueness; but the final effect of one's sense of it was an amenity
that accompanied one's steps like wafted gratitude. More flurried, more
spasmodic, more apologetic, more completely at a loss at one moment and
more precipitately abounding at another, he had never before in all his
days seen any maiden lady; yet for no maiden lady he had ever seen had
he so promptly conceived a private enthusiasm. Her eyes protruded, her
chin receded and her nose carried on in conversation a queer little
independent motion. She wore on the top of her head an upright circular
cap that made her resemble a caryatid disburdened, and on other parts of
her person strange combinations of colours, stuffs, shapes, of metal,
mineral and plant. The tones of her voice rose and fell, her facial
convulsions, whether tending--one could scarce make out--to expression
or REpression, succeeded each other by a law of their own; she was
embarrassed at nothing and at everything, frightened at everything and
at nothing, and she approached objects, subjects, the simplest questions
and answers and the whole material of intercourse, either with the
indirectness of terror or with the violence of despair. These things,
none the less, her refinements of oddity and intensities of custom, her
betrayal at once of conventions and simplicities, of ease and of agony,
her roundabout retarded suggestions and perceptions, still permitted her
to strike her guest as irresistibly charming. He didn't know what to
call it; she was a fruit of time. She had a queer distinction. She had
been expensively produced and there would be a good deal more of her to
come.

The result of the whole quality of her welcome, at any rate, was that
the first evening, in his room, before going to bed, he relieved his
mind in a letter to Addie, which, if space allowed us to embody it in
our text, would usefully perform the office of a "plate." It would
enable us to present ourselves as profusely illustrated. But the process
of reproduction, as we say, costs. He wished his friend to know how
grandly their affair turned out. She had put him in the way of something
absolutely special--an old house untouched, untouchable, indescribable,
an old corner such as one didn't believe existed, and the holy calm of
which made the chatter of studios, the smell of paint, the slang of
critics, the whole sense and sound of Paris, come back as so many signs
of a huge monkey-cage. He moved about, restless, while he wrote; he
lighted cigarettes and, nervous and suddenly scrupulous, put them out
again; the night was mild and one of the windows of his large high room,
which stood over the garden, was up. He lost himself in the things about
him, in the type of the room, the last century with not a chair moved,
not a point stretched. He hung over the objects and ornaments,
blissfully few and adorably good, perfect pieces all, and never one, for
a change, French. The scene was as rare as some fine old print with the
best bits down in the corners. Old books and old pictures, allusions
remembered and aspects conjectured, reappeared to him; he knew not what
anxious islanders had been trying for in their backward hunt for the
homely. But the homely at Flickerbridge was all style, even as style at
the same time was mere honesty. The larger, the smaller past--he scarce
knew which to call it--was at all events so hushed to sleep round him as
he wrote that he had almost a bad conscience about having come. How one
might love it, but how one might spoil it! To look at it too hard was
positively to make it conscious, and to make it conscious was positively
to wake it up. Its only safety, of a truth, was to be left still to
sleep--to sleep in its large fair chambers and under its high clean
canopies.

He added thus restlessly a line to his letter, maundered round the room
again, noted and fingered something else, and then, dropping on the old
flowered sofa, sustained by the tight cubes of its cushions, yielded
afresh to the cigarette, hesitated, stared, wrote a few words more. He
wanted Addie to know, that was what he most felt, unless he perhaps
felt, more how much she herself would want to. Yes, what he supremely
saw was all that Addie would make of it. Up to his neck in it there he
fairly turned cold at the sense of suppressed opportunity, of the
outrage of privation that his correspondent would retrospectively and,
as he even divined with a vague shudder, almost vindictively nurse.
Well, what had happened was that the acquaintance had been kept for her,
like a packet enveloped and sealed for delivery, till her attention was
free. He saw her there, heard her and felt her--felt how she would feel
and how she would, as she usually said, "rave." Some of her young
compatriots called it "yell," and in the reference itself, alas!
illustrated their meaning. She would understand the place at any rate,
down to the ground; there wasn't the slightest doubt of that. Her sense
of it would be exactly like his own, and he could see, in anticipation,
just the terms of recognition and rapture in which she would abound. He
knew just what she would call quaint, just what she would call bland,
just what she would call weird, just what she would call wild. She would
take it all in with an intelligence much more fitted than his own, in
fact, to deal with what he supposed he must regard as its literary
relations. She would have read the long-winded obsolete memoirs and
novels that both the figures and the setting ought clearly to remind one
of; she would know about the past generations--the lumbering country
magnates and their turbaned wives and round-eyed daughters, who, in
other days, had treated the ruddy sturdy tradeless town,--the solid
square houses and wide walled gardens, the streets to-day all grass and
gossip, as the scene of a local "season." She would have warrant for the
assemblies, dinners, deep potations; for the smoked sconces in the dusky
parlours; for the long muddy century of family coaches, "holsters,"
highwaymen. She would put a finger in short, just as he had done, on the
vital spot--the rich humility of the whole thing, the fact that neither
Flickerbridge in general nor Miss Wenham in particular, nor anything nor
any one concerned, had a suspicion of their characters and their merit.
Addie and he would have to come to let in light.

He let it in then, little by little, before going to bed, through the
eight or ten pages he addressed to her; assured her that it was the
happiest case in the world, a little picture--yet full of "style"
too--absolutely composed and transmitted, with tradition, and tradition
only, in every stroke, tradition still noiselessly breathing and visibly
flushing, marking strange hours in the tall mahogany clocks that were
never wound up and that yet audibly ticked on. All the elements, he was
sure he should see, would hang together with a charm, presenting his
hostess--a strange iridescent fish for the glazed exposure of an
aquarium--as afloat in her native medium. He left his letter open on the
table, but, looking it over next morning, felt of a sudden indisposed to
send it. He would keep it to add more, for there would be more to know;
yet when three days had elapsed he still had not sent it. He sent
instead, after delay, a much briefer report, which he was moved to make
different and, for some reason, less vivid. Meanwhile he learned from
Miss Wenham how Addie had introduced him. It took time to arrive with
her at that point, but after the Rubicon was crossed they went far
afield.



CHAPTER IV


"Oh yes, she said you were engaged to her. That was why--since I HAD
broken out--she thought I might like to see you; as I assure you I've
been so delighted to. But AREN'T you?" the good lady asked as if she saw
in his face some ground for doubt.

"Assuredly--if she says so. It may seem very odd to you, but I haven't
known, and yet I've felt that, being nothing whatever to you directly, I
need some warrant for consenting thus to be thrust on you. We WERE," the
young man explained, "engaged a year ago; but since then (if you don't
mind my telling you such things; I feel now as if I could tell you
anything!) I haven't quite known how I stand. It hasn't seemed we were
in a position to marry. Things are better now, but I haven't quite known
how she'd see them. They were so bad six months ago that I understood
her, I thought, as breaking off. I haven't broken; I've only accepted,
for the time--because men must be easy with women--being treated as 'the
best of friends.' Well, I try to be. I wouldn't have come here if I
hadn't been. I thought it would be charming for her to know you--when I
heard from her the extraordinary way you had dawned upon her; and
charming therefore if I could help her to it. And if I'm helping you to
know HER," he went on, "isn't that charming too?"

"Oh I so want to!" Miss Wenham murmured in her unpractical impersonal
way. "You're so different!" she wistfully declared.

"It's YOU, if I may respectfully, ecstatically say so, who are
different. That's the point of it all. I'm not sure that anything so
terrible really ought to happen to you as to know us."

"Well," said Miss Wenham, "I do know you a little by this time, don't I?
And I don't find it terrible. It's a delightful change for me."

"Oh I'm not sure you ought to have a delightful change!"

"Why not--if you do?"

"Ah I can bear it. I'm not sure you can. I'm too bad to spoil--I AM
spoiled. I'm nobody, in short; I'm nothing. I've no type. You're ALL
type. It has taken delicious long years of security and monotony to
produce you. You fit your frame with a perfection only equalled by the
perfection with which your frame fits you. So this admirable old house,
all time-softened white within and time-faded red without, so everything
that surrounds you here and that has, by some extraordinary mercy,
escaped the inevitable fate of exploitation: so it all, I say, is the
sort of thing that, were it the least bit to fall to pieces, could
never, ah never more be put together again. I have, dear Miss Wenham,"
Granger went on, happy himself in his extravagance, which was yet all
sincere, and happier still in her deep but altogether pleased
mystification--"I've found, do you know, just the thing one has ever
heard of that you most resemble. You're the Sleeping Beauty in the
Wood."

He still had no compunction when he heard her bewilderedly sigh: "Oh
you're too delightfully droll!"

"No, I only put thing's just as they are, and as I've also learned a
little, thank heaven, to see them--which isn't, I quite agree with you,
at all what any one does. You're in the deep doze of the spell that has
held you for long years, and it would be a shame, a crime, to wake you
up. Indeed I already feel with a thousand scruples that I'm giving you
the fatal shake. I say it even though it makes me sound a little as if I
thought myself the fairy prince."

She gazed at him with her queerest kindest look, which he was getting
used to in spite of a faint fear, at the back of his head, of the
strange things that sometimes occurred when lonely ladies, however
mature, began to look at interesting young men from over the seas as if
the young men desired to flirt. "It's so wonderful," she said, "that you
should be so very odd and yet so very good-natured." Well, it all came
to the same thing--it was so wonderful that SHE should be so simple and
yet so little of a bore. He accepted with gratitude the theory of his
languor--which moreover was real enough and partly perhaps why he was so
sensitive; he let himself go as a convalescent, let her insist on the
weakness always left by fever. It helped him to gain time, to preserve
the spell even while he talked of breaking it; saw him through slow
strolls and soft sessions, long gossips, fitful hopeless
questions--there was so much more to tell than, by any contortion, she
COULD--and explanations addressed gallantly and patiently to her
understanding, but not, by good fortune, really reaching it. They were
perfectly at cross-purposes, and it was the better, and they wandered
together in the silver haze with all communication blurred.

When they sat in the sun in her formal garden he quite knew how little
even the tenderest consideration failed to disguise his treating her as
the most exquisite of curiosities. The term of comparison most present
to him was that of some obsolete musical instrument. The old-time order
of her mind and her air had the stillness of a painted spinnet that was
duly dusted, gently rubbed, but never tuned nor played on. Her opinions
were like dried rose-leaves; her attitudes like British sculpture; her
voice what he imagined of the possible tone of the old gilded
silver-stringed harp in one of the corners of the drawing-room. The
lonely little decencies and modest dignities of her life, the fine grain
of its conservatism, the innocence of its ignorance, all its monotony of
stupidity and salubrity, its cold dulness and dim brightness, were there
before him. Meanwhile within him strange things took place. It was
literally true that his impression began again, after a lull, to make
him nervous and anxious, and for reasons peculiarly confused, almost
grotesquely mingled, or at least comically sharp. He was distinctly an
agitation and a new taste--that he could see; and he saw quite as much
therefore the excitement she already drew from the vision of Addie, an
image intensified by the sense of closer kinship and presented to her,
clearly, with various erratic enhancements, by her friend the doctor's
daughter. At the end of a few days he said to her: "Do you know she
wants to come without waiting any longer? She wants to come while I'm
here. I received this morning her letter proposing it, but I've been
thinking it over and have waited to speak to you. The thing is, you see,
that if she writes to YOU proposing it--"

"Oh I shall be so particularly glad!"



CHAPTER V


They were as usual in the garden, and it hadn't yet been so present to
him that if he were only a happy cad there would be a good way to
protect her. As she wouldn't hear of his being yet beyond precautions
she had gone into the house for a particular shawl that was just the
thing for his knees, and, blinking in the watery sunshine, had come back
with it across the fine little lawn. He was neither fatuous nor asinine,
but he had almost to put it to himself as a small task to resist the
sense of his absurd advantage with her. It filled him with horror and
awkwardness, made him think of he didn't know what, recalled something
of Maupassant's--the smitten "Miss Harriet" and her tragic fate. There
was a preposterous possibility--yes, he held the strings quite in his
hands--of keeping the treasure for himself. That was the art of
life--what the real artist would consistently do. He would close the
door on his impression, treat it as a private museum. He would see that
he could lounge and linger there, live with wonderful things there, lie
up there to rest and refit. For himself he was sure that after a little
he should be able to paint there--do things in a key he had never
thought of before. When she brought him the rug he took it from her and
made her sit down on the bench and resume her knitting; then, passing
behind her with a laugh, he placed it over her own shoulders; after
which he moved to and fro before her, his hands in his pockets and his
cigarette in his teeth. He was ashamed of the cigarette--a villainous
false note; but she allowed, liked, begged him to smoke, and what he
said to her on it, in one of the pleasantries she benevolently missed,
was that he did so for fear of doing worse. That only showed how the end
was really in sight. "I dare say it will strike you as quite awful, what
I'm going to say to you, but I can't help it. I speak out of the depths
of my respect for you. It will seem to you horrid disloyalty to poor
Addie. Yes--there we are; there _I_ am at least in my naked
monstrosity." He stopped and looked at her till she might have been
almost frightened. "Don't let her come. Tell her not to. I've tried to
prevent it, but she suspects."

The poor woman wondered. "Suspects?"

"Well, I drew it, in writing to her, on reflexion, as mild as I
could--having been visited in the watches of the night by the instinct
of what might happen. Something told me to keep back my first letter--in
which, under the first impression, I myself rashly 'raved'; and I
concocted instead of it an insincere and guarded report. But guarded as
I was I clearly didn't keep you 'down,' as we say, enough. The wonder of
your colour--daub you over with grey as I might--must have come through
and told the tale. She scents battle from afar--by which I mean she
scents 'quaintness.' But keep her off. It's hideous, what I'm
saying--but I owe it to you. I owe it to the world. She'll kill you."

"You mean I shan't get on with her?"

"Oh fatally! See how _I_ have. And see how you have with ME. She's
intelligent, moreover, remarkably pretty, remarkably good. And she'll
adore you."

"Well then?"

"Why that will be just how she'll do for you."

"Oh I can hold my own!" said Miss Wenham with the headshake of a horse
making his sleigh-bells rattle in frosty air.

"Ah but you can't hold hers! She'll rave about you. She'll write about
you. You're Niagara before the first white traveller--and you know, or
rather you can't know, what Niagara became AFTER that gentleman. Addie
will have discovered Niagara. She'll understand you in perfection;
she'll feel you down to the ground; not a delicate shade of you will she
lose or let any one else lose. You'll be too weird for words, but the
words will nevertheless come. You'll be too exactly the real thing and
be left too utterly just as you are, and all Addie's friends and all
Addie's editors and contributors and readers will cross the Atlantic and
flock to Flickerbridge just in order so--unanimously, universally,
vociferously--to leave you. You'll be in the magazines with
illustrations; you'll be in the papers with headings; you'll be
everywhere with everything. You don't understand--you think you do, but
you don't. Heaven forbid you SHOULD understand! That's just your
beauty--your 'sleeping' beauty. But you needn't. You can take me on
trust. Don't have her. Give as a pretext, as a reason, anything in the
world you like. Lie to her--scare her away. I'll go away and give you
up--I'll sacrifice everything myself." Granger pursued his exhortation,
convincing himself more and more. "If I saw my way out, my way
completely through, I'D pile up some fabric of fiction for her--I should
only want to be sure of its not tumbling down. One would have, you see,
to keep the thing up. But I'd throw dust in her eyes. I'd tell her you
don't do at all--that you're not in fact a desirable acquaintance. I'd
tell her you're vulgar, improper, scandalous; I'd tell her you're
mercenary, designing, dangerous; I'd tell her the only safe course is
immediately to let you drop. I'd thus surround you with an impenetrable
legend of conscientious misrepresentation, a circle of pious fraud, and
all the while privately keep you for myself."

She had listened to him as if he were a band of music and she herself a
small shy garden-party. "I shouldn't like you to go away. I shouldn't in
the least like you not to come again."

"Ah there it is!" he replied. "How can I come again if Addie ruins you?"

"But how will she ruin me--even if she does what you say? I know I'm too
old to change and really much too queer to please in any of the
extraordinary ways you speak of. If it's a question of quizzing me I
don't think my cousin, or any one else, will have quite the hand for it
that YOU seem to have. So that if YOU haven't ruined me--!"

"But I HAVE--that's just the point!" Granger insisted. "I've undermined
you at least. I've left after all terribly little for Addie to do."

She laughed in clear tones. "Well then, we'll admit that you've done
everything but frighten me."

He looked at her with surpassing gloom. "No--that again is one of the
most dreadful features. You'll positively like it--what's to come.
You'll be caught up in a chariot of fire like the prophet--wasn't there,
was there one?--of old. That's exactly why--if one could but have done
it--you'd have been to be kept ignorant and helpless. There's something
or other in Latin that says it's the finest things that change the most
easily for the worse. You already enjoy your dishonour and revel in your
shame. It's too late--you're lost!"



CHAPTER VI


All this was as pleasant a manner of passing the time as any other, for
it didn't prevent his old-world corner from closing round him more
entirely, nor stand in the way of his making out from day to day some
new source as well as some new effect of its virtue. He was really
scared at moments at some of the liberties he took in talk--at finding
himself so familiar; for the great note of the place was just that a
certain modern ease had never crossed its threshold, that quick
intimacies and quick oblivions were a stranger to its air. It had known
in all its days no rude, no loud invasion. Serenely unconscious of most
contemporary things, it had been so of nothing so much as of the
diffused social practice of running in and out. Granger held his breath
on occasions to think how Addie would run. There were moments when, more
than at others, for some reason, he heard her step on the staircase and
her cry in the hall. If he nevertheless played freely with the idea with
which we have shown him as occupied it wasn't that in all palpable ways
he didn't sacrifice so far as mortally possible to stillness. He only
hovered, ever so lightly, to take up again his thread. She wouldn't hear
of his leaving her, of his being in the least fit again, as she said, to
travel. She spoke of the journey to London--which was in fact a matter
of many hours--as an experiment fraught with lurking complications. He
added then day to day, yet only hereby, as he reminded her, giving other
complications a larger chance to multiply. He kept it before her, when
there was nothing else to do, that she must consider; after which he had
his times of fear that she perhaps really would make for him this
sacrifice.

He knew she had written again to Paris, and knew he must himself again
write--a situation abounding for each in the elements of a plight. If he
stayed so long why then he wasn't better, and if he wasn't better Addie
might take it into her head--! They must make it clear that he WAS
better, so that, suspicious, alarmed at what was kept from her, she
shouldn't suddenly present herself to nurse him. If he was better,
however, why did he stay so long? If he stayed only for the attraction
the sense of the attraction might be contagious. This was what finally
grew clearest for him, so that he had for his mild disciple hours of
still sharper prophecy. It consorted with his fancy to represent to her
that their young friend had been by this time unsparingly warned; but
nothing could be plainer than that this was ineffectual so long as he
himself resisted the ordeal. To plead that he remained because he was
too weak to move was only to throw themselves back on the other horn of
their dilemma. If he was too weak to move Addie would bring him her
strength--of which, when she got there, she would give them specimens
enough. One morning he broke out at breakfast with an intimate
conviction. They'd see that she was actually starting--they'd receive a
wire by noon. They didn't receive it, but by his theory the portent was
only the stronger. It had moreover its grave as well as its gay side,
since Granger's paradox and pleasantry were only the method most open to
him of conveying what he felt. He literally heard the knell sound, and
in expressing this to Miss Wenham with the conversational freedom that
seemed best to pay his way he the more vividly faced the contingency. He
could never return, and though he announced it with a despair that did
what might be to make it pass as a joke, he saw how, whether or no she
at last understood, she quite at last believed him. On this, to his
knowledge, she wrote again to Addie, and the contents of her letter
excited his curiosity. But that sentiment, though not assuaged, quite
dropped when, the day after, in the evening, she let him know she had
had a telegram an hour before.

"She comes Thursday."

He showed not the least surprise. It was the deep calm of the fatalist.
It HAD to be. "I must leave you then to-morrow."

She looked, on this, as he had never seen her; it would have been hard
to say whether what showed in her face was the last failure to follow or
the first effort to meet. "And really not to come back?"

"Never, never, dear lady. Why should I come back? You can never be again
what you HAVE been. I shall have seen the last of you."

"Oh!" she touchingly urged.

"Yes, for I should next find you simply brought to self-consciousness.
You'll be exactly what you are, I charitably admit--nothing more or
less, nothing different. But you'll be it all in a different way. We
live in an age of prodigious machinery, all organised to a single end.
That end is publicity--a publicity as ferocious as the appetite of a
cannibal. The thing therefore is not to have any illusions--fondly to
flatter yourself in a muddled moment that the cannibal will spare you.
He spares nobody. He spares nothing. It will be all right. You'll have a
lovely time. You'll be only just a public character--blown about the
world 'for all you're worth,' and proclaimed 'for all you're worth' on
the house-tops. It will be for THAT, mind, I quite recognise--because
Addie is superior--as well as for all you aren't. So good-bye."

He remained however till the next day, and noted at intervals the
different stages of their friend's journey; the hour, this time, she
would really have started, the hour she'd reach Dover, the hour she'd
get to town, where she'd alight at Mrs. Dunn's. Perhaps she'd bring Mrs.
Dunn, for Mrs. Dunn would swell the chorus. At the last, on the morrow,
as if in anticipation of this stillness settled between them: he became
as silent as his hostess. But before he went she brought out shyly and
anxiously, as an appeal, the question that for hours had clearly been
giving her thought. "Do you meet her then to-night in London?"

"Dear no. In what position am I, alas! to do that? When can I EVER meet
her again?" He had turned it all over. "If I could meet Addie after
this, you know, I could meet YOU. And if I do meet Addie," he lucidly
pursued, "what will happen by the same stroke is that I SHALL meet you.
And that's just what I've explained to you I dread."

"You mean she and I will be inseparable?"

He hesitated. "I mean she'll tell me all about you. I can hear her and
her ravings now."

She gave again--and it was infinitely sad--her little whinnying laugh.
"Oh but if what you say is true you'll know."

"Ah but Addie won't! Won't, I mean, know that _I_ know--or at least
won't believe it. Won't believe that any one knows. Such," he added with
a strange smothered sigh, "is Addie. Do you know," he wound up, "that
what, after all, has most definitely happened is that you've made me see
her as I've never done before?"

She blinked and gasped, she wondered and despaired. "Oh no, it will be
YOU. I've had nothing to do with it. Everything's all you!"

But for all it mattered now! "You'll see," he said, "that she's
charming. I shall go for to-night to Oxford. I shall almost cross her on
the way."

"Then if she's charming what am I to tell her from you in explanation of
such strange behaviour as your flying away just as she arrives?"

"Ah you needn't mind about that--you needn't tell her anything."

She fixed him as if as never again. "It's none of my business, of course
I feel; but isn't it a little cruel if you're engaged?"

Granger gave a laugh almost as odd as one of her own. "Oh you've cost me
that!"--and he put out his hand to her.

She wondered while she took it. "Cost you--?"

"We're not engaged. Good-bye."



MRS. MEDWIN



CHAPTER I


"Well, we ARE a pair!" the poor lady's visitor broke out to her at the
end of her explanation in a manner disconcerting enough. The poor lady
was Miss Cutter, who lived in South Audley Street, where she had an
"upper half" so concise that it had to pass boldly for convenient; and
her visitor was her half-brother, whom she hadn't seen for three years.
She was remarkable for a maturity of which every symptom might have been
observed to be admirably controlled, had not a tendency to stoutness
just affirmed its independence. Her present, no doubt, insisted too much
on her past, but with the excuse, sufficiently valid, that she must
certainly once have been prettier. She was clearly not contented with
once--she wished to be prettier again. She neglected nothing that could
produce that illusion, and, being both fair and fat, dressed almost
wholly in black. When she added a little colour it was not, at any rate,
to her drapery. Her small rooms had the peculiarity that everything they
contained appeared to testify with vividness to her position in society,
quite as if they had been furnished by the bounty of admiring friends.
They were adorned indeed almost exclusively with objects that nobody
buys, as had more than once been remarked by spectators of her own sex,
for herself, and would have been luxurious if luxury consisted mainly in
photographic portraits slashed across with signatures, in baskets of
flowers beribboned with the cards of passing compatriots, and in a neat
collection of red volumes, blue volumes, alphabetical volumes, aids to
London lucidity, of every sort, devoted to addresses and engagements. To
be in Miss Cutter's tiny drawing-room, in short, even with Miss Cutter
alone--should you by any chance have found her so--was somehow to be in
the world and in a crowd. It was like an agency--it bristled with
particulars.

This was what the tall lean loose gentleman lounging there before her
might have appeared to read in the suggestive scene over which, while
she talked to him, his eyes moved without haste and without rest. "Oh
come, Mamie!" he occasionally threw off; and the words were evidently
connected with the impression thus absorbed. His comparative youth spoke
of waste even as her positive--her too positive--spoke of economy. There
was only one thing, that is, to make up in him for everything he had
lost, though it was distinct enough indeed that this thing might
sometimes serve. It consisted in the perfection of an indifference, an
indifference at the present moment directed to the plea--a plea of
inability, of pure destitution--with which his sister had met him. Yet
it had even now a wider embrace, took in quite sufficiently all
consequences of queerness, confessed in advance to the false note that,
in such a setting, he almost excruciatingly constituted. He cared as
little that he looked at moments all his impudence as that he looked all
his shabbiness, all his cleverness, all his history. These different
things were written in him--in his premature baldness, his seamed
strained face, the lapse from bravery of his long tawny moustache; above
all in his easy friendly universally acquainted eye, so much too
sociable for mere conversation. What possible relation with him could be
natural enough to meet it? He wore a scant rough Inverness cape and a
pair of black trousers, wanting in substance and marked with the sheen
of time, that had presumably once served for evening use. He spoke with
the slowness helplessly permitted to Americans--as something too slow to
be stopped--and he repeated that he found himself associated with Miss
Cutter in a harmony calling for wonder. She had been telling him not
only that she couldn't possibly give him ten pounds, but that his
unexpected arrival, should he insist on being much in view, might
seriously interfere with arrangements necessary to her own maintenance;
on which he had begun by replying that he of course knew she had long
ago spent her money, but that he looked to her now exactly because she
had, without the aid of that convenience, mastered the art of life.

"I'd really go away with a fiver, my dear, if you'd only tell me how you
do it. It's no use saying only, as you've always said, that 'people are
very kind to you.' What the devil are they kind to you FOR?"

"Well, one reason is precisely that no particular inconvenience has
hitherto been supposed to attach to me. I'm just what I am," said Mamie
Cutter; "nothing less and nothing more. It's awkward to have to explain
to you, which moreover I really needn't in the least. I'm clever and
amusing and charming." She was uneasy and even frightened, but she kept
her temper and met him with a grace of her own. "I don't think you ought
to ask me more questions than I ask you."

"Ah my dear," said the odd young man, "I'VE no mysteries. Why in the
world, since it was what you came out for and have devoted so much of
your time to, haven't you pulled it off? Why haven't you married?"

"Why haven't YOU?" she retorted. "Do you think that if I had it would
have been better for you?--that my husband would for a moment have put
up with you? Do you mind my asking you if you'll kindly go NOW?" she
went on after a glance at the clock. "I'm expecting a friend, whom I
must see alone, on a matter of great importance--"

"And my being seen with you may compromise your respectability or
undermine your nerve?" He sprawled imperturbably in his place, crossing
again, in another sense, his long black legs and showing, above his low
shoes, an absurd reach of parti-coloured sock. "I take your point well
enough, but mayn't you be after all quite wrong? If you can't do
anything for me couldn't you at least do something with me? If it comes
to that, I'm clever and amusing and charming too! I've been such an ass
that you don't appreciate me. But people like me--I assure you they do.
They usually don't know what an ass I've been; they only see the
surface, which"--and he stretched himself afresh as she looked him up
and down--"you CAN imagine them, can't you, rather taken with? I'M 'what
I am' too; nothing less and nothing more. That's true of us as a family,
you see. We ARE a crew!" He delivered himself serenely. His voice was
soft and flat, his pleasant eyes, his simple tones tending to the
solemn, achieved at moments that effect of quaintness which is, in
certain connexions, socially so known and enjoyed. "English people have
quite a weakness for me--more than any others. I get on with them
beautifully. I've always been with them abroad. They think me," the
young man explained, "diabolically American."

"You!" Such stupidity drew from her a sigh of compassion.

Her companion apparently quite understood it. "Are you homesick, Mamie?"
he asked, with wondering irrelevance.

The manner of the question made her, for some reason, in spite of her
preoccupations, break into a laugh. A shade of indulgence, a sense of
other things, came back to her. "You are funny, Scott!"

"Well," remarked Scott, "that's just what I claim. But ARE you so
homesick?" he spaciously inquired, not as to a practical end, but from
an easy play of intelligence.

"I'm just dying of it!" said Mamie Cutter.

"Why so am I!" Her visitor had a sweetness of concurrence.

"We're the only decent people," Miss Cutter declared. "And I know. You
don't--you can't; and I can't explain. Come in," she continued with a
return of her impatience and an increase of her decision, "at seven
sharp."

She had quitted her seat some time before, and now, to get him into
motion, hovered before him while, still motionless, he looked up at her.
Something intimate, in the silence, appeared to pass between them--a
community of fatigue and failure and, after all, of intelligence. There
was a final cynical humour in it. It determined him, in any case, at
last, and he slowly rose, taking in again as he stood there the
testimony of the room. He might have been counting the photographs, but
he looked at the flowers with detachment. "Who's coming?"

"Mrs. Medwin."

"American?"

"Dear no!"

"Then what are you doing for her?"

"I work for every one," she promptly returned.

"For every one who pays? So I suppose. Yet isn't it only we who do pay?"

There was a drollery, not lost on her, in the way his queer presence
lent itself to his emphasised plural.

"Do you consider that YOU do?"

At this, with his deliberation, he came back to his charming idea.
"Only try me, and see if I can't be MADE to. Work me in." On her sharply
presenting her back he stared a little at the clock. "If I come at seven
may I stay to dinner?"

It brought her round again. "Impossible. I'm dining out."

"With whom?"

She had to think. "With Lord Considine."

"Oh my eye!" Scott exclaimed.

She looked at him gloomily. "Is THAT sort of tone what makes you pay? I
think you might understand," she went on, "that if you're to sponge on
me successfully you mustn't ruin me. I must have SOME remote resemblance
to a lady."

"Yes? But why must _I_?" Her exasperated silence was full of answers, of
which however his inimitable manner took no account. "You don't
understand my real strength; I doubt if you even understand your own.
You're clever, Mamie, but you're not so clever as I supposed. However,"
he pursued, "it's out of Mrs. Medwin that you'll get it."

"Get what?"

"Why the cheque that will enable you to assist me."

On this, for a moment, she met his eyes. "If you'll come back at seven
sharp--not a minute before, and not a minute after, I'll give you two
five-pound notes."

He thought it over. "Whom are you expecting a minute after?"

It sent her to the window with a groan almost of anguish, and she
answered nothing till she had looked at the street. "If you injure me,
you know, Scott, you'll be sorry."

"I wouldn't injure you for the world. What I want to do in fact is
really to help you, and I promise you that I won't leave you--by which I
mean won't leave London--till I've effected something really pleasant
for you. I like you, Mamie, because I like pluck; I like you much more
than you like me. I like you very, VERY much." He had at last with this
reached the door and opened it, but he remained with his hand on the
latch. "What does Mrs. Medwin want of you?" he thus brought out.

She had come round to see him disappear, and in the relief of this
prospect she again just indulged him.

"The impossible."

He waited another minute. "And you're going to do it?"

"I'm going to do it," said Mamie Cutter.

"Well then that ought to be a haul. Call it THREE fivers!" he laughed.
"At seven sharp." And at last he left her alone.



CHAPTER II


Miss Cutter waited till she heard the house-door close; after which, in
a sightless mechanical way, she moved about the room readjusting various
objects he had not touched. It was as if his mere voice and accent had
spoiled her form. But she was not left too long to reckon with these
things, for Mrs. Medwin was promptly announced. This lady was not, more
than her hostess, in the first flush of her youth; her appearance--the
scattered remains of beauty manipulated by taste--resembled one of the
light repasts in which the fragments of yesterday's dinner figure with a
conscious ease that makes up for the want of presence. She was perhaps
of an effect still too immediate to be called interesting, but she was
candid, gentle and surprised--not fatiguingly surprised, only just in
the right degree; and her white face--it was too white--with the fixed
eyes, the somewhat touzled hair and the Louis Seize hat, might at the
end of the very long neck have suggested the head of a princess carried
on a pike in a revolution. She immediately took up the business that had
brought her, with the air however of drawing from the omens then
discernible less confidence than she had hoped. The complication lay in
the fact that if it was Mamie's part to present the omens, that lady yet
had so to colour them as to make her own service large. She perhaps
over-coloured; for her friend gave way to momentary despair.

"What you mean is then that it's simply impossible?"

"Oh no," said Mamie with a qualified emphasis. "It's POSSIBLE."

"But disgustingly difficult?"

"As difficult as you like."

"Then what can I do that I haven't done?"

"You can only wait a little longer."

"But that's just what I HAVE done. I've done nothing else. I'm always
waiting a little longer!"

Miss Cutter retained, in spite of this pathos, her grasp of the subject.
"THE thing, as I've told you, is for you first to be seen."

"But if people won't look at me?"

"They will."

"They WILL?" Mrs. Medwin was eager.

"They shall," her hostess went on. "It's their only having
heard--without having seen."'

"But if they stare straight the other way?" Mrs. Medwin continued to
object. "You can't simply go up to them and twist their heads about."

"It's just what I can," said Mamie Cutter.

But her charming visitor, heedless for the moment of this attenuation,
had found the way to put it. "It's the old story. You can't go into the
water till you swim, and you can't swim till you go into the water. I
can't be spoken to till I'm seen, but I can't be seen till I'm spoken
to."

She met this lucidity, Miss Cutter, with but an instant's lapse. "You
say I can't twist their heads about. But I HAVE twisted them."

It had been quietly produced, but it gave her companion a jerk. "They
say 'Yes'?"

She summed it up. "All but one. SHE says 'No.'"

Mrs. Medwin thought; then jumped. "Lady Wantridge?"

Miss Cutter, as more delicate, only bowed admission. "I shall see her
either this afternoon or late to-morrow. But she has written."

Her visitor wondered again. "May I see her letter?"

"No." She spoke with decision. "But I shall square her."

"Then how?"

"Well"--and Miss Cutter, as if looking upward for inspiration, fixed her
eyes a while on the ceiling--"well, it will come to me."

Mrs. Medwin watched her--it was impressive. "And will they come to
you--the others?" This question drew out the fact that they would--so
far at least as they consisted of Lady Edward, Lady Bellhouse and Mrs.
Pouncer, who had engaged to muster, at the signal of tea, on the
14th--prepared, as it were, for the worst. There was of course always
the chance that Lady Wantridge might take the field, in such force as to
paralyse them, though that danger, at the same time, seemed inconsistent
with her being squared. It didn't perhaps all quite ideally hang
together; but what it sufficiently came to was that if she was the one
who could do most FOR a person in Mrs. Medwin's position she was also
the one who could do most against. It would therefore be distinctly what
our friend familiarly spoke of as "collar-work." The effect of these
mixed considerations was at any rate that Mamie eventually acquiesced in
the idea, handsomely thrown out by her client, that she should have an
"advance" to go on with. Miss Cutter confessed that it seemed at times
as if one scarce COULD go on; but the advance was, in spite of this
delicacy, still more delicately made--made in the form of a banknote,
several sovereigns, some loose silver, and two coppers, the whole
contents of her purse, neatly disposed by Mrs. Medwin on one of the tiny
tables. It seemed to clear the air for deeper intimacies, the fruit of
which was that Mamie, lonely after all in her crowd and always more
helpful than helped, eventually brought out that the way Scott had been
going on was what seemed momentarily to overshadow her own power to do
so.

"I've had a descent from him." But she had to explain. "My
half-brother--Scott Homer. A wretch."

"What kind of a wretch?"

"Every kind. I lose sight of him at times--he disappears abroad. But he
always turns up again, worse than ever."

"Violent?"

"No."

"Maudlin?"

"No."

"Only unpleasant?"

"No. Rather pleasant. Awfully clever--awfully travelled and easy."

"Then what's the matter with him?"

Mamie mused, hesitated--seemed to see a wide past. "I don't know."

"Something in the background?" Then as her friend was silent, "Something
queer about cards?" Mrs. Medwin threw off.

"I don't know--and I don't want to!"

"Ah well, I'm sure _I_ don't," Mrs. Medwin returned with spirit. The
note of sharpness was perhaps also a little in the observation she made
as she gathered herself to go. "Do you mind my saying something?"

Mamie took her eyes quickly from the money on the little stand. "You may
say what you like."

"I only mean that anything awkward you may have to keep out of the way
does seem to make more wonderful, doesn't it, that you should have got
just where you are? I allude, you know, to your position."

"I see." Miss Cutter somewhat coldly smiled. "To my power."

"So awfully remarkable in an American."

"Ah you like us so."

Mrs. Medwin candidly considered. "But we don't, dearest."

Her companion's smile brightened. "Then why do you come to me?"

"Oh I like YOU!" Mrs. Medwin made out.

"Then that's it. There are no 'Americans.' It's always 'you.'"

"Me?" Mrs. Medwin looked lovely, but a little muddled.

"ME!" Mamie Cutter laughed. "But if you like me, you dear thing, you can
judge if I like YOU." She gave her a kiss to dismiss her. "I'll see you
again when I've seen her."

"Lady Wantridge? I hope so, indeed. I'll turn up late to-morrow, if you
don't catch me first. Has it come to you yet?" the visitor, now at the
door, went on.

"No; but it will. There's time."

"Oh a little less every day!"

Miss Cutter had approached the table and glanced again at the gold and
silver and the note, not indeed absolutely overlooking the two coppers.
"The balance," she put it, "the day after?"

"That very night if you like."

"Then count on me."

"Oh if I didn't--!" But the door closed on the dark idea. Yearningly
then, and only when it had done so, Miss Cutter took up the money.

She went out with it ten minutes later, and, the calls on her time being
many, remained out so long that at half-past six she hadn't come back.
At that hour, on the other hand, Scott Homer knocked at her door, where
her maid, who opened it with a weak pretence of holding it firm,
ventured to announce to him, as a lesson well learnt, that he hadn't
been expected till seven. No lesson, none the less, could prevail
against his native art. He pleaded fatigue, her, the maid's, dreadful
depressing London, and the need to curl up somewhere. If she'd just
leave him quiet half an hour that old sofa upstairs would do for it; of
which he took quickly such effectual possession that when five minutes
later she peeped, nervous for her broken vow, into the drawing-room, the
faithless young woman found him extended at his length and peacefully
asleep.



CHAPTER III


The situation before Miss Cutter's return developed in other directions
still, and when that event took place, at a few minutes past seven,
these circumstances were, by the foot of the stair, between mistress and
maid, the subject of some interrogative gasps and scared admissions.
Lady Wantridge had arrived shortly after the interloper, and wishing, as
she said, to wait, had gone straight up in spite of being told he was
lying down.

"She distinctly understood he was there?"

"Oh yes ma'am; I thought it right to mention."

"And what did you call him?"

"Well, ma'am, I thought it unfair to YOU to call him anything but a
gentleman."

Mamie took it all in, though there might well be more of it than one
could quickly embrace. "But if she has had time," she flashed, "to find
out he isn't one?"

"Oh ma'am, she had a quarter of an hour."

"Then she isn't with him still?"

"No ma'am; she came down again at last. She rang, and I saw her here,
and she said she wouldn't wait longer."

Miss Cutter darkly mused. "Yet had already waited--?"

"Quite a quarter."

"Mercy on us!" She began to mount. Before reaching the top however she
had reflected that quite a quarter was long if Lady Wantridge had only
been shocked. On the other hand it was short if she had only been
pleased. But how COULD she have been pleased? The very essence of their
actual crisis was just that there was no pleasing her. Mamie had but to
open the drawing-room door indeed to perceive that this was not true at
least of Scott Homer, who was horribly cheerful.

Miss Cutter expressed to her brother without reserve her sense of the
constitutional, the brutal selfishness that had determined his mistimed
return. It had taken place, in violation of their agreement, exactly at
the moment when it was most cruel to her that he should be there, and if
she must now completely wash her hands of him he had only himself to
thank. She had come in flushed with resentment and for a moment had been
voluble, but it would have been striking that, though the way he
received her might have seemed but to aggravate, it presently justified
him by causing their relation really to take a stride. He had the art of
confounding those who would quarrel with him by reducing them to the
humiliation of a stirred curiosity.

"What COULD she have made of you?" Mamie demanded.

"My dear girl, she's not a woman who's eager to make too much of
anything--anything, I mean, that will prevent her from doing as she
likes, what she takes into her head. Of course," he continued to
explain, "if it's something she doesn't want to do, she'll make as much
as Moses."

Mamie wondered if that was the way he talked to her visitor, but felt
obliged to own to his acuteness. It was an exact description of Lady
Wantridge, and she was conscious of tucking it away for future use in a
corner of her miscellaneous little mind. She withheld however all
present acknowledgment, only addressing him another question. "Did you
really get on with her?"

"Have you still to learn, darling--I can't help again putting it to
you--that I get on with everybody? That's just what I don't seem able to
drive into you. Only see how I get on with YOU."

She almost stood corrected. "What I mean is of course whether--"

"Whether she made love to me? Shyly, yet--or because--shamefully? She
would certainly have liked awfully to stay."

"Then why didn't she?"

"Because, on account of some other matter--and I could see it was
true--she hadn't time. Twenty minutes--she was here less--were all she
came to give you. So don't be afraid I've frightened her away. She'll
come back."

Mamie thought it over. "Yet you didn't go with her to the door?"

"She wouldn't let me, and I know when to do what I'm told--quite as much
as what I'm not told. She wanted to find out about me. I mean from your
little creature; a pearl of fidelity, by the way."

"But what on earth did she come up for?" Mamie again found herself
appealing, and just by that fact showing her need of help.

"Because she always goes up." Then as, in the presence of this rapid
generalisation, to say nothing of that of such a relative altogether,
Miss Cutter could only show as comparatively blank: "I mean she knows
when to go up and when to come down. She has instincts; she didn't know
whom you might have up here. It's a kind of compliment to you anyway.
Why Mamie," Scott pursued, "you don't know the curiosity we any of us
inspire. You wouldn't believe what I've seen. The bigger bugs they are
the more they're on the lookout."

Mamie still followed, but at a distance. "The lookout for what?"

"Why for anything that will help them to live. You've been here all this
time without making out then, about them, what I've had to pick out as I
can? They're dead, don't you see? And WE'RE alive."

"You? Oh!"--Mamie almost laughed about it.

"Well, they're a worn-out old lot anyhow; they've used up their
resources. They do look out and I'll do them the justice to say they're
not afraid--not even of me!" he continued as his sister again showed
something of the same irony. "Lady Wantridge at any rate wasn't; that's
what I mean by her having made love to me. She does what she likes. Mind
it, you know." He was by this time fairly teaching her to read one of
her best friends, and when, after it, he had come back to the great
point of his lesson--that of her failure, through feminine inferiority,
practically to grasp the truth that their being just as they were, he
and she, was the real card for them to play--when he had renewed that
reminder he left her absolutely in a state of dependence. Her impulse to
press him on the subject of Lady Wantridge dropped; it was as if she had
felt that, whatever had taken place, something would somehow come of it.
She was to be in a manner disappointed, but the impression helped to
keep her over to the next morning, when, as Scott had foretold, his new
acquaintance did reappear, explaining to Miss Cutter that she had acted
the day before to gain time and that she even now sought to gain it by
not waiting longer. What, she promptly intimated she had asked herself,
could that friend be thinking of? She must show where she stood before
things had gone too far. If she had brought her answer without more
delay she wished to make it sharp. Mrs. Medwin? Never! "No, my dear--not
I. THERE I stop."

Mamie had known it would be "collar-work," but somehow now, at the
beginning she felt her heart sink. It was not that she had expected to
carry the position with a rush, but that, as always after an interval,
her visitor's defences really loomed--and quite, as it were, to the
material vision--too large. She was always planted with them,
voluminous, in the very centre of the passage; was like a person
accommodated with a chair in some unlawful place at the theatre. She
wouldn't move and you couldn't get round. Mamie's calculation indeed had
not been on getting round; she was obliged to recognise that, too
foolishly and fondly, she had dreamed of inducing a surrender. Her dream
had been the fruit of her need; but, conscious that she was even yet
unequipped for pressure, she felt, almost for the first time in her
life, superficial and crude. She was to be paid--but with what was she,
to that end, to pay? She had engaged to find an answer to this question,
but the answer had not, according to her promise, "come." And Lady
Wantridge meanwhile massed herself, and there was no view of her that
didn't show her as verily, by some process too obscure to be traced, the
hard depository of the social law. She was no younger, no fresher, no
stronger, really, than any of them; she was only, with a kind of haggard
fineness, a sharpened taste for life, and, with all sorts of things
behind and beneath her, more abysmal and more immoral, more secure and
more impertinent. The points she made were two in number. One was that
she absolutely declined; the other was that she quite doubted if Mamie
herself had measured the job. The thing couldn't be done. But say it
COULD be; was Mamie quite the person to do it? To this Miss Cutter, with
a sweet smile, replied that she quite understood how little she might
seem so. "I'm only one of the persons to whom it has appeared that YOU
are."

"Then who are the others?"

"Well, to begin with, Lady Edward, Lady Bellhouse and Mrs. Pouncer."

"Do you mean that they'll come to meet her?"

"I've seen them, and they've promised."

"To come, of course," Lady Wantridge said, "if _I_ come."

Her hostess cast about. "Oh of course you could prevent them. But I
should take it as awfully kind of you not to. WON'T you do this for me?"
Mamie pleaded.

Her friend looked over the room very much as Scott had done. "Do they
really understand what it's FOR?"

"Perfectly. So that she may call."

"And what good will that do her?"

Miss Cutter faltered, but she presently brought it out. "Naturally what
one hopes is that, you'll ask her."

"Ask her to call?"

"Ask her to dine. Ask her, if you'd be so truly sweet, for a Sunday; or
something of that sort, and even if only in one of your MOST mixed
parties, to Catchmore."

Miss Cutter felt the less hopeful after this effort in that her
companion only showed a strange good nature. And it wasn't a satiric
amiability, though it WAS amusement. "Take Mrs. Medwin into my family?"

"Some day when you're taking forty others."

"Ah but what I don't see is what it does for YOU. You're already so
welcome among us that you can scarcely improve your position even by
forming for us the most delightful relation."

"Well, I know how dear you are," Mamie Cutter replied; "but one has
after all more than one side and more than one sympathy. I like her, you
know." And even at this Lady Wantridge wasn't shocked; she showed that
ease and blandness which were her way, unfortunately, of being most
impossible. She remarked that SHE might listen to such things, because
she was clever enough for them not to matter; only Mamie should take
care how she went about saying them at large. When she became definite
however, in a minute, on the subject of the public facts, Miss Cutter
soon found herself ready to make her own concession. Of course she
didn't dispute THEM: there they were; they were unfortunately on record,
and, nothing was to be done about them but to--Mamie found it in truth
at this point a little difficult.

"Well, what? Pretend already to have forgotten them?"

"Why not, when you've done it in so many other cases?"

"There ARE no other cases so bad. One meets them at any rate as they
come. Some you can manage, others you can't. It's no use, you must give
them up. They're past patching; there's nothing to be done with them.
There's nothing accordingly to be done with Mrs. Medwin but to put her
off." And Lady Wantridge rose to her height.

"Well, you know, I DO do things," Mamie quavered with a smile so
strained that it partook of exaltation.

"You help people? Oh yes, I've known you to do wonders. But stick," said
Lady Wantridge with strong and cheerful emphasis, "to your Americans!"

Miss Cutter, gazing, got up. "You don't do justice, Lady Wantridge, to
your own compatriots. Some of them are really charming. Besides," said
Mamie, "working for mine often strikes me, so far as the interest--the
inspiration and excitement, don't you know?--go, as rather too easy. You
all, as I constantly have occasion to say, like us so!"

Her companion frankly weighed it. "Yes; it takes that to account for
your position. I've always thought of you nevertheless as keeping for
their benefit a regular working agency. They come to you, and you place
them. There remains, I confess," her ladyship went on in the same free
spirit, "the great wonder--"

"Of how I first placed my poor little self? Yes," Mamie bravely
conceded, "when _I_ began there was no agency. I just worked my passage.
I didn't even come to YOU, did I? You never noticed me till, as Mrs.
Short Stokes says, 'I was 'way, 'way up!' Mrs. Medwin," she threw in,
"can't get over it." Then, as her friend looked vague: "Over my social
situation."

"Well, it's no great flattery to you to say," Lady Wantridge
good-humouredly returned, "that she certainly can't hope for one
resembling it." Yet it really seemed to spread there before them. "You
simply MADE Mrs. Short Stokes."

"In spite of her name!" Mamie smiled.

"Oh your 'names'--! In spite of everything."

"Ah I'm something of an artist." With which, and a relapse marked by her
wistful eyes into the gravity of the matter, she supremely fixed her
friend. She felt how little she minded betraying at last the extremity
of her need, and it was out of this extremity that her appeal proceeded.
"Have I really had your last word? It means so much to me."

Lady Wantridge came straight to the point. "You mean you depend on it?"

"Awfully!"

"Is it all you have?"

"All. Now."

"But Mrs. Short Stokes and the others--'rolling,' aren't they? Don't
they pay up?"

"Ah," sighed Mamie, "if it wasn't for THEM--!"

Lady Wantridge perceived. "You've had so much?"

"I couldn't have gone on."

"Then what do you do with it all?"

"Oh most of it goes back to them. There are all sorts, and it's all
help. Some of them have nothing."

"Oh if you feed the hungry," Lady Wantridge laughed, "you're indeed in a
great way of business. Is Mrs. Medwin"--her transition was
immediate--"really rich?"

"Really. He left her everything."

"So that if I do say 'yes'--"

"It will quite set me up."

"I see--and how much more responsible it makes one! But I'd rather
myself give you the money."

"Oh!" Mamie coldly murmured.

"You mean I mayn't suspect your prices? Well, I daresay I don't! But I'd
rather give you ten pounds."

"Oh!" Mamie repeated in a tone that sufficiently covered her prices. The
question was in every way larger. "Do you never forgive?" she
reproachfully inquired. The door opened however at the moment she spoke
and Scott Homer presented himself.



CHAPTER IV


Scott Homer wore exactly, to his sister's eyes, the aspect he had worn
the day before, and it also formed to her sense the great feature of his
impartial greeting.

"How d'ye do, Mamie? How d'ye do, Lady Wantridge?"

"How d'ye do again?" Lady Wantridge replied with an equanimity striking
to her hostess. It was as if Scott's own had been contagious; it was
almost indeed as if she had seen him before. Had she ever so seen
him--before the previous day? While Miss Cutter put to herself this
question her visitor at all events met the one she had previously
uttered. "Ever 'forgive'?" this personage echoed in a tone that made as
little account as possible of the interruption. "Dear yes! The people I
HAVE forgiven!" She laughed--perhaps a little nervously; and she was now
looking at Scott. The way she looked at him was precisely what had
already had its effect for his sister. "The people I can!"

"Can you forgive me?" asked Scott Homer.

She took it so easily. "But--what?"

Mamie interposed; she turned directly to her brother. "Don't try her.
Leave it so." She had had an inspiration, it was the most extraordinary
thing in the world. "Don't try HIM"--she had turned to their companion.
She looked grave, sad, strange. "Leave it so." Yes, it was a distinct
inspiration, which she couldn't have explained, but which had come,
prompted by something she had caught--the extent of the recognition
expressed--in Lady Wantridge's face. It had come absolutely of a sudden,
straight out of the opposition of the two figures before her--quite as
if a concussion had struck a light. The light was helped by her
quickened sense that her friend's silence on the incident of the day
before showed some sort of consciousness. She looked surprised. "Do you
know my brother?"

"DO I know you?" Lady Wantridge asked of him.

"No, Lady Wantridge," Scott pleasantly confessed, "not one little mite!"

"Well then if you MUST go--" and Mamie offered her a hand. "But I'll go
down with you. NOT YOU!" she launched at her brother, who immediately
effaced himself. His way of doing so--and he had already done so, as for
Lady Wantridge, in respect to their previous encounter--struck her even
at the moment as an instinctive if slightly blind tribute to her
possession of an idea; and as such, in its celerity, made her so admire
him, and their common wit, that she on the spot more than forgave him
his queerness. He was right. He could be as queer as he liked! The
queerer the better! It was at the foot of the stairs, when she had got
her guest down, that what she had assured Mrs. Medwin would come did
indeed come. "DID you meet him here yesterday?"

"Dear yes. Isn't he too funny?"

"Yes," said Mamie gloomily. "He IS funny. But had you ever met him
before?"

"Dear no!"

"Oh!"--and Mamie's tone might have meant many things.

Lady Wantridge however, after all, easily overlooked it. "I only knew he
was one of your odd Americans. That's why, when I heard yesterday here
that he was up there awaiting your return, I didn't let that prevent me.
I thought he might be. He certainly," her ladyship laughed, "IS."

"Yes, he's very American," Mamie went on in the same way.

"As you say, we ARE fond of you! Good-bye," said Lady Wantridge.

But Mamie had not half done with her. She felt more and more--or she
hoped at least--that she looked strange. She WAS, no doubt, if it came
to that, strange. "Lady Wantridge," she almost convulsively broke out,
"I don't know whether you'll understand me, but I seem to feel that I
must act with you--I don't know what to call it!--responsibly. He IS my
brother."

"Surely--and why not?" Lady Wantridge stared. "He's the image of you!"

"Thank you!"--and Mamie was stranger than ever.

"Oh he's good-looking. He's handsome, my dear. Oddly--but distinctly!"
Her ladyship was for treating it much as a joke.

But Mamie, all sombre, would have none of this. She boldly gave him up.
"I think he's awful."

"He is indeed--delightfully. And where DO you get your ways of saying
things? It isn't anything--and the things aren't anything. But it's so
droll."

"Don't let yourself, all the same," Mamie consistently pursued, "be
carried away by it. The thing can't be done--simply."

Lady Wantridge wondered. "'Done simply'?"

"Done at all."

"But what can't be?"

"Why, what you might think--from his pleasantness. What he spoke of your
doing for him."

Lady Wantridge recalled. "Forgiving him?"

"He asked you if you couldn't. But you can't. It's too dreadful for me,
as so near a relation, to have, loyally--loyally to YOU--to say it. But
he's impossible."

It was so portentously produced that her ladyship had somehow to meet
it. "What's the matter with him?"

"I don't know."

"Then what's the matter with YOU?" Lady Wantridge inquired.

"It's because I WON'T know," Mamie--not without dignity--explained.

"Then _I_ won't either."

"Precisely. Don't. It's something," Mamie pursued, with some
inconsequence, "that--somewhere or other, at some time or other--he
appears to have done. Something that has made a difference in his life."

"'Something'?" Lady Wantridge echoed again. "What kind of thing?"

Mamie looked up at the light above the door, through which the London
sky was doubly dim. "I haven't the least idea."

"Then what kind of difference?"

Mamie's gaze was still at the light. "The difference you see."

Lady Wantridge, rather obligingly, seemed to ask herself what she saw.
"But I don't see any! It seems, at least," she added, "such an amusing
one! And he has such nice eyes."

"Oh DEAR eyes!" Mamie conceded; but with too much sadness, for the
moment, about the connexions of the subject, to say more.

It almost forced her companion after an instant to proceed. "Do you mean
he can't go home?"

She weighed her responsibility. "I only make out--more's the pity!--that
he doesn't."

"Is it then something too terrible--?"

She thought again. "I don't know what--for men--IS too terrible."

"Well then as you don't know what 'is' for women either--good-bye!" her
visitor laughed.

It practically wound up the interview; which, however, terminating thus
on a considerable stir of the air, was to give Miss Cutter for several
days the sense of being much blown about. The degree to which, to begin
with, she had been drawn--or perhaps rather pushed--closer to Scott was
marked in the brief colloquy that she on her friend's departure had with
him. He had immediately said it. "You'll see if she doesn't ask me
down!"

"So soon?"

"Oh I've known them at places--at Cannes, at Pau, at Shanghai--do it
sooner still. I always know when they will. You CAN'T make out they
don't love me!" He spoke almost plaintively, as if he wished she could.

"Then I don't see why it hasn't done you more good."

"Why Mamie," he patiently reasoned, "what more good COULD it? As I tell
you," he explained, "it has just been my life."

"Then why do you come to me for money?"

"Oh they don't give me THAT!" Scott returned.

"So that it only means then, after all, that I, at the best, must keep
you up?"

He fixed on her the nice eyes Lady Wantridge admired. "Do you mean to
tell me that already--at this very moment--I'm not distinctly keeping
you?"

She gave him back his look. "Wait till she HAS asked you, and then,"
Mamie added, "decline."

Scott, not too grossly, wondered. "As acting for YOU?"

Mamie's next injunction was answer enough. "But BEFORE--yes--call."

He took it in. "Call--but decline. Good!"

"The rest," she said, "I leave to you." And she left it in fact with
such confidence that for a couple of days she was not only conscious of
no need to give Mrs. Medwin another turn of the screw, but positively
evaded, in her fortitude, the reappearance of that lady. It was not till
the fourth day that she waited upon her, finding her, as she had
expected, tense.

"Lady Wantridge WILL--?"

"Yes, though she says she won't."

"She says she won't? O-oh!" Mrs. Medwin moaned.

"Sit tight all the same. I HAVE her!"

"But how?"

"Through Scott--whom she wants."

"Your bad brother!" Mrs. Medwin stared. "What does she want of him?"

"To amuse them at Catchmore. Anything for that. And he WOULD. But he
shan't!" Mamie declared. "He shan't go unless she comes. She must meet
you first--you're my condition."

"O-o-oh!" Mrs. Medwin's tone was a wonder of hope and fear. "But doesn't
he want to go?"

"He wants what I want. She draws the line at YOU. I draw the line at
HIM."

"But SHE--doesn't she mind that he's bad?"

It was so artless that Mamie laughed. "No--it doesn't touch her.
Besides, perhaps he isn't. It isn't as for you--people seem not to know.
He has settled everything, at all events, by going to see her. It's
before her that he's the thing she'll have to have."

"Have to?"

"For Sundays in the country. A feature--THE feature."

"So she has asked him?"

"Yes--and he has declined."

"For ME?" Mrs. Medwin panted.

"For me," said Mamie on the door-step. "But I don't leave him for long."
Her hansom had waited. "She'll come."

Lady Wantridge did come. She met in South Audley Street, on the
fourteenth, at tea, the ladies whom Mamie had named to her, together
with three or four others, and it was rather a master-stroke for Miss
Cutter that if Mrs. Medwin was modestly present Scott Homer was as
markedly not. This occasion, however, is a medal that would take rare
casting, as would also, for that matter, even the minor light and shade,
the lower relief, of the pecuniary transaction that Mrs. Medwin's
flushed gratitude scarce awaited the dispersal of the company
munificently to complete. A new understanding indeed on the spot
rebounded from it, the conception of which, in Mamie's mind, had
promptly bloomed. "He shan't go now unless he takes you." Then, as her
fancy always moved quicker for her client than her client's own--"Down
with him to Catchmore! When he goes to amuse them YOU," she serenely
developed, "shall amuse them too." Mrs. Medwin's response was again
rather oddly divided, but she was sufficiently intelligible when it came
to meeting the hint that this latter provision would represent success
to the tune of a separate fee. "Say," Mamie had suggested, "the same."

"Very well; the same."

The knowledge that it was to be the same had perhaps something to do
also with the obliging spirit in which Scott eventually went. It was all
at the last rather hurried--a party rapidly got together for the Grand
Duke, who was in England but for the hour, who had good-naturedly
proposed himself, and who liked his parties small, intimate and funny.
This one was of the smallest and was finally judged to conform neither
too little nor too much to the other conditions--after a brief whirlwind
of wires and counterwires, and an iterated waiting of hansoms at various
doors--to include Mrs. Medwin. It was from Catchmore itself that,
snatching, a moment--on the wondrous Sunday afternoon, this lady had the
harmonious thought of sending the new cheque. She was in bliss enough,
but her scribble none the less intimated that it was Scott who amused
them most. He WAS the feature.





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