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Title: Greville Fane
Author: James, Henry
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Greville Fane" ***

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Transcribed from 1893 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org.  Proofed by Nina Hall, Mohua Sen, Bridie, Francine
Smith and David.



                              GREVILLE FANE.


COMING in to dress for dinner, I found a telegram: “Mrs. Stormer dying;
can you give us half a column for to-morrow evening?  Let her off easy,
but not too easy.”  I was late; I was in a hurry; I had very little time
to think, but at a venture I dispatched a reply: “Will do what I can.”
It was not till I had dressed and was rolling away to dinner that, in the
hansom, I bethought myself of the difficulty of the condition attached.
The difficulty was not of course in letting her off easy but in
qualifying that indulgence.  “I simply won’t qualify it,” I said to
myself.  I didn’t admire her, but I liked her, and I had known her so
long that I almost felt heartless in sitting down at such an hour to a
feast of indifference.  I must have seemed abstracted, for the early
years of my acquaintance with her came back to me.  I spoke of her to the
lady I had taken down, but the lady I had taken down had never heard of
Greville Fane.  I tried my other neighbour, who pronounced her books “too
vile.”  I had never thought them very good, but I should let her off
easier than that.

I came away early, for the express purpose of driving to ask about her.
The journey took time, for she lived in the north-west district, in the
neighbourhood of Primrose Hill.  My apprehension that I should be too
late was justified in a fuller sense than I had attached to it—I had only
feared that the house would be shut up.  There were lights in the
windows, and the temperate tinkle of my bell brought a servant
immediately to the door, but poor Mrs. Stormer had passed into a state in
which the resonance of no earthly knocker was to be feared.  A lady, in
the hall, hovering behind the servant, came forward when she heard my
voice.  I recognised Lady Luard, but she had mistaken me for the doctor.

“Excuse my appearing at such an hour,” I said; “it was the first possible
moment after I heard.”

“It’s all over,” Lady Luard replied.  “Dearest mamma!”

She stood there under the lamp with her eyes on me; she was very tall,
very stiff, very cold, and always looked as if these things, and some
others beside, in her dress, her manner and even her name, were an
implication that she was very admirable.  I had never been able to follow
the argument, but that is a detail.  I expressed briefly and frankly what
I felt, while the little mottled maidservant flattened herself against
the wall of the narrow passage and tried to look detached without looking
indifferent.  It was not a moment to make a visit, and I was on the point
of retreating when Lady Luard arrested me with a queer, casual, drawling
“Would you—a—would you, perhaps, be _writing_ something?”  I felt for the
instant like an interviewer, which I was not.  But I pleaded guilty to
this intention, on which she rejoined: “I’m so very glad—but I think my
brother would like to see you.”  I detested her brother, but it wasn’t an
occasion to act this out; so I suffered myself to be inducted, to my
surprise, into a small back room which I immediately recognised as the
scene, during the later years, of Mrs. Stormer’s imperturbable industry.
Her table was there, the battered and blotted accessory to innumerable
literary lapses, with its contracted space for the arms (she wrote only
from the elbow down) and the confusion of scrappy, scribbled sheets which
had already become literary remains.  Leolin was also there, smoking a
cigarette before the fire and looking impudent even in his grief, sincere
as it well might have been.

To meet him, to greet him, I had to make a sharp effort; for the air that
he wore to me as he stood before me was quite that of his mother’s
murderer.  She lay silent for ever upstairs—as dead as an unsuccessful
book, and his swaggering erectness was a kind of symbol of his having
killed her.  I wondered if he had already, with his sister, been
calculating what they could get for the poor papers on the table; but I
had not long to wait to learn, for in reply to the scanty words of
sympathy I addressed him he puffed out: “It’s miserable, miserable, yes;
but she has left three books complete.”  His words had the oddest effect;
they converted the cramped little room into a seat of trade and made the
“book” wonderfully feasible.  He would certainly get all that could be
got for the three.  Lady Luard explained to me that her husband had been
with them but had had to go down to the House.  To her brother she
explained that I was going to write something, and to me again she made
it clear that she hoped I would “do mamma justice.”  She added that she
didn’t think this had ever been done.  She said to her brother: “Don’t
you think there are some things he ought thoroughly to understand?” and
on his instantly exclaiming “Oh, thoroughly—thoroughly!” she went on,
rather austerely: “I mean about mamma’s birth.”

“Yes, and her connections,” Leolin added.

I professed every willingness, and for five minutes I listened, but it
would be too much to say that I understood.  I don’t even now, but it is
not important.  My vision was of other matters than those they put before
me, and while they desired there should be no mistake about their
ancestors I became more and more lucid about themselves.  I got away as
soon as possible, and walked home through the great dusky, empty
London—the best of all conditions for thought.  By the time I reached my
door my little article was practically composed—ready to be transferred
on the morrow from the polished plate of fancy.  I believe it attracted
some notice, was thought “graceful” and was said to be by some one else.
I had to be pointed without being lively, and it took some tact.  But
what I said was much less interesting than what I thought—especially
during the half-hour I spent in my armchair by the fire, smoking the
cigar I always light before going to bed.  I went to sleep there, I
believe; but I continued to moralise about Greville Fane.  I am reluctant
to lose that retrospect altogether, and this is a dim little memory of
it, a document not to “serve.”  The dear woman had written a hundred
stories, but none so curious as her own.

When first I knew her she had published half-a-dozen fictions, and I
believe I had also perpetrated a novel.  She was more than a dozen years
older than I, but she was a person who always acknowledged her
relativity.  It was not so very long ago, but in London, amid the big
waves of the present, even a near horizon gets hidden.  I met her at some
dinner and took her down, rather flattered at offering my arm to a
celebrity.  She didn’t look like one, with her matronly, mild, inanimate
face, but I supposed her greatness would come out in her conversation.  I
gave it all the opportunities I could, but I was not disappointed when I
found her only a dull, kind woman.  This was why I liked her—she rested
me so from literature.  To myself literature was an irritation, a
torment; but Greville Fane slumbered in the intellectual part of it like
a Creole in a hammock.  She was not a woman of genius, but her faculty
was so special, so much a gift out of hand, that I have often wondered
why she fell below that distinction.  This was doubtless because the
transaction, in her case, had remained incomplete; genius always pays for
the gift, feels the debt, and she was placidly unconscious of obligation.
She could invent stories by the yard, but she couldn’t write a page of
English.  She went down to her grave without suspecting that though she
had contributed volumes to the diversion of her contemporaries she had
not contributed a sentence to the language.  This had not prevented
bushels of criticism from being heaped upon her head; she was worth a
couple of columns any day to the weekly papers, in which it was shown
that her pictures of life were dreadful but her style really charming.
She asked me to come and see her, and I went.  She lived then in
Montpellier Square; which helped me to see how dissociated her
imagination was from her character.

An industrious widow, devoted to her daily stint, to meeting the butcher
and baker and making a home for her son and daughter, from the moment she
took her pen in her hand she became a creature of passion.  She thought
the English novel deplorably wanting in that element, and the task she
had cut out for herself was to supply the deficiency.  Passion in high
life was the general formula of this work, for her imagination was at
home only in the most exalted circles.  She adored, in truth, the
aristocracy, and they constituted for her the romance of the world or,
what is more to the point, the prime material of fiction.  Their beauty
and luxury, their loves and revenges, their temptations and surrenders,
their immoralities and diamonds were as familiar to her as the blots on
her writing-table.  She was not a belated producer of the old fashionable
novel, she had a cleverness and a modernness of her own, she had
freshened up the fly-blown tinsel.  She turned off plots by the hundred
and—so far as her flying quill could convey her—was perpetually going
abroad.  Her types, her illustrations, her tone were nothing if not
cosmopolitan.  She recognised nothing less provincial than European
society, and her fine folk knew each other and made love to each other
from Doncaster to Bucharest.  She had an idea that she resembled Balzac,
and her favourite historical characters were Lucien de Rubempré and the
Vidame de Pamiers.  I must add that when I once asked her who the latter
personage was she was unable to tell me.  She was very brave and healthy
and cheerful, very abundant and innocent and wicked.  She was clever and
vulgar and snobbish, and never so intensely British as when she was
particularly foreign.

This combination of qualities had brought her early success, and I
remember having heard with wonder and envy of what she “got,” in those
days, for a novel.  The revelation gave me a pang: it was such a proof
that, practising a totally different style, I should never make my
fortune.  And yet when, as I knew her better she told me her real tariff
and I saw how rumour had quadrupled it, I liked her enough to be sorry.
After a while I discovered too that if she got less it was not that _I_
was to get any more.  My failure never had what Mrs. Stormer would have
called the banality of being relative—it was always admirably absolute.
She lived at ease however in those days—ease is exactly the word, though
she produced three novels a year.  She scorned me when I spoke of
difficulty—it was the only thing that made her angry.  If I hinted that a
work of art required a tremendous licking into shape she thought it a
pretension and a _pose_.  She never recognised the “torment of form”; the
furthest she went was to introduce into one of her books (in satire her
hand was heavy) a young poet who was always talking about it.  I couldn’t
quite understand her irritation on this score, for she had nothing at
stake in the matter.  She had a shrewd perception that form, in prose at
least, never recommended any one to the public we were condemned to
address, and therefore she lost nothing (putting her private humiliation
aside) by not having any.  She made no pretence of producing works of
art, but had comfortable tea-drinking hours in which she freely confessed
herself a common pastrycook, dealing in such tarts and puddings as would
bring customers to the shop.  She put in plenty of sugar and of
cochineal, or whatever it is that gives these articles a rich and
attractive colour.  She had a serene superiority to observation and
opportunity which constituted an inexpugnable strength and would enable
her to go on indefinitely.  It is only real success that wanes, it is
only solid things that melt.  Greville Fane’s ignorance of life was a
resource still more unfailing than the most approved receipt.  On her
saying once that the day would come when she should have written herself
out I answered: “Ah, you look into fairyland, and the fairies love you,
and _they_ never change.  Fairyland is always there; it always was from
the beginning of time, and it always will be to the end.  They’ve given
you the key and you can always open the door.  With me it’s different; I
try, in my clumsy way, to be in some direct relation to life.”  “Oh,
bother your direct relation to life!” she used to reply, for she was
always annoyed by the phrase—which would not in the least prevent her
from using it when she wished to try for style.  With no more prejudices
than an old sausage-mill, she would give forth again with patient
punctuality any poor verbal scrap that had been dropped into her.  I
cheered her with saying that the dark day, at the end, would be for the
like of _me_; inasmuch as, going in our small way by experience and
observation, we depended not on a revelation, but on a little tiresome
process.  Observation depended on opportunity, and where should we be
when opportunity failed?

One day she told me that as the novelist’s life was so delightful and
during the good years at least such a comfortable support (she had these
staggering optimisms) she meant to train up her boy to follow it.  She
took the ingenious view that it was a profession like another and that
therefore everything was to be gained by beginning young and serving an
apprenticeship.  Moreover the education would be less expensive than any
other special course, inasmuch as she could administer it herself.  She
didn’t profess to keep a school, but she could at least teach her own
child.  It was not that she was so very clever, but (she confessed to me
as if she were afraid I would laugh at her) that _he_ was.  I didn’t
laugh at her for that, for I thought the boy sharp—I had seen him at
sundry times.  He was well grown and good-looking and unabashed, and both
he and his sister made me wonder about their defunct papa, concerning
whom the little I knew was that he had been a clergyman.  I explained
them to myself by suppositions and imputations possibly unjust to the
departed; so little were they—superficially at least—the children of
their mother.  There used to be, on an easel in her drawing-room, an
enlarged photograph of her husband, done by some horrible posthumous
“process” and draped, as to its florid frame, with a silken scarf, which
testified to the candour of Greville Fane’s bad taste.  It made him look
like an unsuccessful tragedian; but it was not a thing to trust.  He may
have been a successful comedian.  Of the two children the girl was the
elder, and struck me in all her younger years as singularly colourless.
She was only very long, like an undecipherable letter.  It was not till
Mrs. Stormer came back from a protracted residence abroad that Ethel
(which was this young lady’s name) began to produce the effect, which was
afterwards remarkable in her, of a certain kind of high resolution.  She
made one apprehend that she meant to do something for herself.  She was
long-necked and near-sighted and striking, and I thought I had never seen
sweet seventeen in a form so hard and high and dry.  She was cold and
affected and ambitious, and she carried an eyeglass with a long handle,
which she put up whenever she wanted not to see.  She had come out, as
the phrase is, immensely; and yet I felt as if she were surrounded with a
spiked iron railing.  What she meant to do for herself was to marry, and
it was the only thing, I think, that she meant to do for any one else;
yet who would be inspired to clamber over that bristling barrier?  What
flower of tenderness or of intimacy would such an adventurer conceive as
his reward?

This was for Sir Baldwin Luard to say; but he naturally never confided to
me the secret.  He was a joyless, jokeless young man, with the air of
having other secrets as well, and a determination to get on politically
that was indicated by his never having been known to commit himself—as
regards any proposition whatever—beyond an exclamatory “Oh!”  His wife
and he must have conversed mainly in prim ejaculations, but they
understood sufficiently that they were kindred spirits.  I remember being
angry with Greville Fane when she announced these nuptials to me as
magnificent; I remember asking her what splendour there was in the union
of the daughter of a woman of genius with an irredeemable mediocrity.
“Oh! he’s awfully clever,” she said; but she blushed for the maternal
fib.  What she meant was that though Sir Baldwin’s estates were not vast
(he had a dreary house in South Kensington and a still drearier “Hall”
somewhere in Essex, which was let), the connection was a “smarter” one
than a child of hers could have aspired to form.  In spite of the social
bravery of her novels she took a very humble and dingy view of herself,
so that of all her productions “my daughter Lady Luard” was quite the one
she was proudest of.  That personage thought her mother very vulgar and
was distressed and perplexed by the occasional license of her pen, but
had a complicated attitude in regard to this indirect connection with
literature.  So far as it was lucrative her ladyship approved of it, and
could compound with the inferiority of the pursuit by doing practical
justice to some of its advantages.  I had reason to know (my reason was
simply that poor Mrs. Stormer told me) that she suffered the inky fingers
to press an occasional bank-note into her palm.  On the other hand she
deplored the “peculiar style” to which Greville Fane had devoted herself,
and wondered where an author who had the convenience of so lady-like a
daughter could have picked up such views about the best society.  “She
might know better, with Leolin and me,” Lady Luard had been known to
remark; but it appeared that some of Greville Fane’s superstitions were
incurable.  She didn’t live in Lady Luard’s society, and the best was not
good enough for her—she must make it still better.

I could see that this necessity grew upon her during the years she spent
abroad, when I had glimpses of her in the shifting sojourns that lay in
the path of my annual ramble.  She betook herself from Germany to
Switzerland and from Switzerland to Italy; she favoured cheap places and
set up her desk in the smaller capitals.  I took a look at her whenever I
could, and I always asked how Leolin was getting on.  She gave me
beautiful accounts of him, and whenever it was possible the boy was
produced for my edification.  I had entered from the first into the joke
of his career—I pretended to regard him as a consecrated child.  It had
been a joke for Mrs. Stormer at first, but the boy himself had been
shrewd enough to make the matter serious.  If his mother accepted the
principle that the intending novelist cannot begin too early to see life,
Leolin was not interested in hanging back from the application of it.  He
was eager to qualify himself, and took to cigarettes at ten, on the
highest literary grounds.  His poor mother gazed at him with extravagant
envy and, like Desdemona, wished heaven had made _her_ such a man.  She
explained to me more than once that in her profession she had found her
sex a dreadful drawback.  She loved the story of Madame George Sand’s
early rebellion against this hindrance, and believed that if she had worn
trousers she could have written as well as that lady.  Leolin had for the
career at least the qualification of trousers, and as he grew older he
recognised its importance by laying in an immense assortment.  He grew up
in gorgeous apparel, which was his way of interpreting his mother’s
system.  Whenever I met her I found her still under the impression that
she was carrying this system out and that Leolin’s training was bearing
fruit.  She was giving him experience, she was giving him impressions,
she was putting a _gagnepain_ into his hand.  It was another name for
spoiling him with the best conscience in the world.  The queerest
pictures come back to me of this period of the good lady’s life and of
the extraordinarily virtuous, muddled, bewildering tenor of it.  She had
an idea that she was seeing foreign manners as well as her petticoats
would allow; but, in reality she was not seeing anything, least of all
fortunately how much she was laughed at.  She drove her whimsical pen at
Dresden and at Florence, and produced in all places and at all times the
same romantic and ridiculous fictions.  She carried about her box of
properties and fished out promptly the familiar, tarnished old puppets.
She believed in them when others couldn’t, and as they were like nothing
that was to be seen under the sun it was impossible to prove by
comparison that they were wrong.  You can’t compare birds and fishes; you
could only feel that, as Greville Fane’s characters had the fine plumage
of the former species, human beings must be of the latter.

It would have been droll if it had not been so exemplary to see her
tracing the loves of the duchesses beside the innocent cribs of her
children.  The immoral and the maternal lived together in her diligent
days on the most comfortable terms, and she stopped curling the mustaches
of her Guardsmen to pat the heads of her babes.  She was haunted by
solemn spinsters who came to tea from continental _pensions_, and by
unsophisticated Americans who told her she was just loved in _their_
country.  “I had rather be just paid there,” she usually replied; for
this tribute of transatlantic opinion was the only thing that galled her.
The Americans went away thinking her coarse; though as the author of so
many beautiful love-stories she was disappointing to most of these
pilgrims, who had not expected to find a shy, stout, ruddy lady in a cap
like a crumbled pyramid.  She wrote about the affections and the
impossibility of controlling them, but she talked of the price of
_pension_ and the convenience of an English chemist.  She devoted much
thought and many thousands of francs to the education of her daughter,
who spent three years at a very superior school at Dresden, receiving
wonderful instruction in sciences, arts and tongues, and who, taking a
different line from Leolin, was to be brought up wholly as a _femme du
monde_.  The girl was musical and philological; she made a specialty of
languages and learned enough about them to be inspired with a great
contempt for her mother’s artless accents.  Greville Fane’s French and
Italian were droll; the imitative faculty had been denied her, and she
had an unequalled gift, especially pen in hand, of squeezing big mistakes
into small opportunities.  She knew it, but she didn’t care; correctness
was the virtue in the world that, like her heroes and heroines, she
valued least.  Ethel, who had perceived in her pages some remarkable
lapses, undertook at one time to revise her proofs; but I remember her
telling me a year after the girl had left school that this function had
been very briefly exercised.  “She can’t read me,” said Mrs. Stormer; “I
offend her taste.  She tells me that at Dresden—at school—I was never
allowed.”  The good lady seemed surprised at this, having the best
conscience in the world about her lucubrations.  She had never meant to
fly in the face of anything, and considered that she grovelled before the
Rhadamanthus of the English literary tribunal, the celebrated and awful
Young Person.  I assured her, as a joke, that she was frightfully
indecent (she hadn’t in fact that reality any more than any other) my
purpose being solely to prevent her from guessing that her daughter had
dropped her not because she was immoral but because she was vulgar.  I
used to figure her children closeted together and asking each other while
they exchanged a gaze of dismay: “Why should she _be_ so—and so
_fearfully_ so—when she has the advantage of our society?  Shouldn’t _we_
have taught her better?”  Then I imagined their recognising with a blush
and a shrug that she was unteachable, irreformable.  Indeed she was, poor
lady; but it is never fair to read by the light of taste things that were
not written by it.  Greville Fane had, in the topsy-turvy, a serene good
faith that ought to have been safe from allusion, like a stutter or a
_faux pas_.

She didn’t make her son ashamed of the profession to which he was
destined, however; she only made him ashamed of the way she herself
exercised it.  But he bore his humiliation much better than his sister,
for he was ready to take for granted that he should one day restore the
balance.  He was a canny and far-seeing youth, with appetites and
aspirations, and he had not a scruple in his composition.  His mother’s
theory of the happy knack he could pick up deprived him of the wholesome
discipline required to prevent young idlers from becoming cads.  He had,
abroad, a casual tutor and a snatch or two of a Swiss school, but no
consecutive study, no prospect of a university or a degree.  It may be
imagined with what zeal, as the years went on, he entered into the
pleasantry of there being no manual so important to him as the massive
book of life.  It was an expensive volume to peruse, but Mrs. Stormer was
willing to lay out a sum in what she would have called her _premiers
frais_.  Ethel disapproved—she thought this education far too
unconventional for an English gentleman.  Her voice was for Eton and
Oxford, or for any public school (she would have resigned herself) with
the army to follow.  But Leolin never was afraid of his sister, and they
visibly disliked, though they sometimes agreed to assist, each other.
They could combine to work the oracle—to keep their mother at her desk.

When she came back to England, telling me she had got all the continent
could give her, Leolin was a broad-shouldered, red-faced young man, with
an immense wardrobe and an extraordinary assurance of manner.  She was
fondly obstinate about her having taken the right course with him, and
proud of all that he knew and had seen.  He was now quite ready to begin,
and a little while later she told me he _had_ begun.  He had written
something tremendously clever, and it was coming out in the _Cheapside_.
I believe it came out; I had no time to look for it; I never heard
anything about it.  I took for granted that if this contribution had
passed through his mother’s hands it had practically become a specimen of
her own genius, and it was interesting to consider Mrs. Stormer’s future
in the light of her having to write her son’s novels as well as her own.
This was not the way she looked at it herself; she took the charming
ground that he would help her to write hers.  She used to tell me that he
supplied passages of the greatest value to her own work—all sorts of
technical things, about hunting and yachting and wine—that she couldn’t
be expected to get very straight.  It was all so much practice for him
and so much alleviation for her.  I was unable to identify these pages,
for I had long since ceased to “keep up” with Greville Fane; but I was
quite able to believe that the wine-question had been put, by Leolin’s
good offices, on a better footing, for the dear lady used to mix her
drinks (she was perpetually serving the most splendid suppers) in the
queerest fashion.  I could see that he was willing enough to accept a
commission to look after that department.  It occurred to me indeed, when
Mrs. Stormer settled in England again, that by making a shrewd use of
both her children she might be able to rejuvenate her style.  Ethel had
come back to gratify her young ambition, and if she couldn’t take her
mother into society she would at least go into it herself.  Silently,
stiffly, almost grimly, this young lady held up her head, clenched her
long teeth, squared her lean elbows and made her way up the staircases
she had elected.  The only communication she ever made to me, the only
effusion of confidence with which she ever honoured me, was when she
said: “I don’t want to know the people mamma knows; I mean to know
others.”  I took due note of the remark, for I was not one of the
“others.”  I couldn’t trace therefore the steps of her process; I could
only admire it at a distance and congratulate her mother on the results.
The results were that Ethel went to “big” parties and got people to take
her.  Some of them were people she had met abroad, and others were people
whom the people she had met abroad had met.  They ministered alike to
Miss Ethel’s convenience, and I wondered how she extracted so many
favours without the expenditure of a smile.  Her smile was the dimmest
thing in the world, diluted lemonade, without sugar, and she had arrived
precociously at social wisdom, recognising that if she was neither pretty
enough nor rich enough nor clever enough, she could at least in her
muscular youth be rude enough.  Therefore if she was able to tell her
mother what really took place in the mansions of the great, give her
notes to work from, the quill could be driven at home to better purpose
and precisely at a moment when it would have to be more active than ever.
But if she did tell, it would appear that poor Mrs. Stormer didn’t
believe.  As regards many points this was not a wonder; at any rate I
heard nothing of Greville Fane’s having developed a new manner.  She had
only one manner from start to finish, as Leolin would have said.

She was tired at last, but she mentioned to me that she couldn’t afford
to pause.  She continued to speak of Leolin’s work as the great hope of
their future (she had saved no money) though the young man wore to my
sense an aspect more and more professional if you like, but less and less
literary.  At the end of a couple of years there was something monstrous
in the impudence with which he played his part in the comedy.  When I
wondered how she could play _her_ part I had to perceive that her good
faith was complete and that what kept it so was simply her extravagant
fondness.  She loved the young impostor with a simple, blind, benighted
love, and of all the heroes of romance who had passed before her eyes he
was by far the most brilliant.

He was at any rate the most real—she could touch him, pay for him, suffer
for him, worship him.  He made her think of her princes and dukes, and
when she wished to fix these figures in her mind’s eye she thought of her
boy.  She had often told me she was carried away by her own creations,
and she was certainly carried away by Leolin.  He vivified, by
potentialities at least, the whole question of youth and passion.  She
held, not unjustly, that the sincere novelist should feel the whole flood
of life; she acknowledged with regret that she had not had time to feel
it herself, and it was a joy to her that the deficiency might be supplied
by the sight of the way it was rushing through this magnificent young
man.  She exhorted him, I suppose, to let it rush; she wrung her own
flaccid little sponge into the torrent.  I knew not what passed between
them in her hours of tuition, but I gathered that she mainly impressed on
him that the great thing was to live, because that gave you material.  He
asked nothing better; he collected material, and the formula served as a
universal pretext.  You had only to look at him to see that, with his
rings and breastpins, his cross-barred jackets, his early _embonpoint_,
his eyes that looked like imitation jewels, his various indications of a
dense, full-blown temperament, his idea of life was singularly vulgar;
but he was not so far wrong as that his response to his mother’s
expectations was not in a high degree practical.  If she had imposed a
profession on him from his tenderest years it was exactly a profession
that he followed.  The two were not quite the same, inasmuch as _his_ was
simply to live at her expense; but at least she couldn’t say that he
hadn’t taken a line.  If she insisted on believing in him he offered
himself to the sacrifice.  My impression is that her secret dream was
that he should have a _liaison_ with a countess, and he persuaded her
without difficulty that he had one.  I don’t know what countesses are
capable of, but I have a clear notion of what Leolin was.

He didn’t persuade his sister, who despised him—she wished to work her
mother in her own way, and I asked myself why the girl’s judgment of him
didn’t make me like her better.  It was because it didn’t save her after
all from a mute agreement with him to go halves.  There were moments when
I couldn’t help looking hard into his atrocious young eyes, challenging
him to confess his fantastic fraud and give it up.  Not a little tacit
conversation passed between us in this way, but he had always the best of
it.  If I said: “Oh, come now, with _me_ you needn’t keep it up; plead
guilty, and I’ll let you off,” he wore the most ingenuous, the most
candid expression, in the depths of which I could read: “Oh, yes, I know
it exasperates you—that’s just why I do it.”  He took the line of earnest
inquiry, talked about Balzac and Flaubert, asked me if I thought Dickens
_did_ exaggerate and Thackeray _ought_ to be called a pessimist.  Once he
came to see me, at his mother’s suggestion he declared, on purpose to ask
me how far, in my opinion, in the English novel, one really might venture
to “go.”  He was not resigned to the usual pruderies—he suffered under
them already.  He struck out the brilliant idea that nobody knew how far
we might go, for nobody had ever tried.  Did I think _he_ might safely
try—would it injure his mother if he did?  He would rather disgrace
himself by his timidities than injure his mother, but certainly some one
ought to try.  Wouldn’t _I_ try—couldn’t I be prevailed upon to look at
it as a duty?  Surely the ultimate point ought to be fixed—he was
worried, haunted by the question.  He patronised me unblushingly, made me
feel like a foolish amateur, a helpless novice, inquired into my habits
of work and conveyed to me that I was utterly _vieux jeu_ and had not had
the advantage of an early training.  I had not been brought up from the
germ, I knew nothing of life—didn’t go at it on _his_ system.  He had
dipped into French feuilletons and picked up plenty of phrases, and he
made a much better show in talk than his poor mother, who never had time
to read anything and could only be vivid with her pen.  If I didn’t kick
him downstairs it was because he would have alighted on her at the
bottom.

When she went to live at Primrose Hill I called upon her and found her
weary and wasted.  It had waned a good deal, the elation caused the year
before by Ethel’s marriage; the foam on the cup had subsided and there
was a bitterness in the draught.

She had had to take a cheaper house and she had to work still harder to
pay even for that.  Sir Baldwin was obliged to be close; his charges were
fearful, and the dream of her living with her daughter (a vision she had
never mentioned to me) must be renounced.  “I would have helped with
things, and I could have lived perfectly in one room,” she said; “I would
have paid for everything, and—after all—I’m some one, ain’t I?  But I
don’t fit in, and Ethel tells me there are tiresome people she _must_
receive.  I can help them from here, no doubt, better than from there.
She told me once, you know, what she thinks of my picture of life.
‘Mamma, your picture of life is preposterous!’  No doubt it is, but she’s
vexed with me for letting my prices go down; and I had to write three
novels to pay for all her marriage cost me.  I did it very well—I mean
the outfit and the wedding; but that’s why I’m here.  At any rate she
doesn’t want a dingy old woman in her house.  I should give it an
atmosphere of literary glory, but literary glory is only the eminence of
nobodies.  Besides, she doubts my glory—she knows I’m glorious only at
Peckham and Hackney.  She doesn’t want her friends to ask if I’ve never
known nice people.  She can’t tell them I’ve never been in society.  She
tried to teach me better once, but I couldn’t learn.  It would seem too
as if Peckham and Hackney had had enough of me; for (don’t tell any one!)
I’ve had to take less for my last than I ever took for anything.”  I
asked her how little this had been, not from curiosity, but in order to
upbraid her, more disinterestedly than Lady Luard had done, for such
concessions.  She answered “I’m ashamed to tell you,” and then she began
to cry.

I had never seen her break down, and I was proportionately moved; she
sobbed, like a frightened child, over the extinction of her vogue and the
exhaustion of her vein.  Her little workroom seemed indeed a barren place
to grow flowers, and I wondered, in the after years (for she continued to
produce and publish) by what desperate and heroic process she dragged
them out of the soil.  I remember asking her on that occasion what had
become of Leolin, and how much longer she intended to allow him to amuse
himself at her cost.  She rejoined with spirit, wiping her eyes, that he
was down at Brighton hard at work—he was in the midst of a novel—and that
he _felt_ life so, in all its misery and mystery, that it was cruel to
speak of such experiences as a pleasure.  “He goes beneath the surface,”
she said, “and he _forces_ himself to look at things from which he would
rather turn away.  Do you call that amusing yourself?  You should see his
face sometimes!  And he does it for me as much as for himself.  He tells
me everything—he comes home to me with his _trouvailles_.  We are artists
together, and to the artist all things are pure.  I’ve often heard you
say so yourself.”  The novel that Leolin was engaged in at Brighton was
never published, but a friend of mine and of Mrs. Stormer’s who was
staying there happened to mention to me later that he had seen the young
apprentice to fiction driving, in a dogcart, a young lady with a very
pink face.  When I suggested that she was perhaps a woman of title with
whom he was conscientiously flirting my informant replied: “She is
indeed, but do you know what her title is?”  He pronounced it—it was
familiar and descriptive—but I won’t reproduce it here.  I don’t know
whether Leolin mentioned it to his mother: she would have needed all the
purity of the artist to forgive him.  I hated so to come across him that
in the very last years I went rarely to see her, though I knew that she
had come pretty well to the end of her rope.  I didn’t want her to tell
me that she had fairly to give her books away—I didn’t want to see her
cry.  She kept it up amazingly, and every few months, at my club, I saw
three new volumes, in green, in crimson, in blue, on the book-table that
groaned with light literature.  Once I met her at the Academy soirée,
where you meet people you thought were dead, and she vouchsafed the
information, as if she owed it to me in candour, that Leolin had been
obliged to recognise insuperable difficulties in the question of _form_,
he was so fastidious; so that she had now arrived at a definite
understanding with him (it was such a comfort) that _she_ would do the
form if he would bring home the substance.  That was now his position—he
foraged for her in the great world at a salary.  “He’s my ‘devil,’ don’t
you see? as if I were a great lawyer: he gets up the case and I argue
it.”  She mentioned further that in addition to his salary he was paid by
the piece: he got so much for a striking character, so much for a pretty
name, so much for a plot, so much for an incident, and had so much
promised him if he would invent a new crime.

“He _has_ invented one,” I said, “and he’s paid every day of his life.”

“What is it?” she asked, looking hard at the picture of the year; “Baby’s
Tub,” near which we happened to be standing.

I hesitated a moment.  “I myself will write a little story about it, and
then you’ll see.”

But she never saw; she had never seen anything, and she passed away with
her fine blindness unimpaired.  Her son published every scrap of
scribbled paper that could be extracted from her table-drawers, and his
sister quarrelled with him mortally about the proceeds, which showed that
she only wanted a pretext, for they cannot have been great.  I don’t know
what Leolin lives upon, unless it be on a queer lady many years older
than himself, whom he lately married.  The last time I met him he said to
me with his infuriating smile: “Don’t you think we can go a little
further still—just a little?”  _He_ really goes too far.





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